Thanks to grant from Liberty Prairie Foundation, we received the funds to build a high tunnel, movable hoop house for growing tomatoes in spring 2018. Our tomatoes had been suffering from a fungal disease called blight from cool, damp weather, spread by wind and found in soil.
Up until now, my strategy for handling blight was 1) use landscape fabric or mulch to prevent possibly fungal contaminated soil from splashing onto leaves when it rained. 2) removing yellowing leaves as soon as I saw them and practicing good hygiene (washing hands to prevent spread from disease plant to healthy one and 3) plant blight resistant varieties. There are a handful of heirlooms reported to have some blight resistance (Matt’s Wild Cherry was my hands down best) as well as a number of hybrids. In the end though, I feel like our tomato season continued to be cut short by blight, rather than the cool weather in fall.
We chose a portable hoop house design with a gothic frame. The arched roof with a peak sheds snow better than the half circle shaped hoop houses. Our design instruction came from Johnnys Seeds website. Per their design, most of the hardware and framing pieces can be found at local home improvement stores, using pieces such as 3/4″ conduit and the 1 1/4″ bars found on the top of chainlink fences. Johnnys sells a jig to assist in bending this straight pieces into the appropriate curve.
I had a busy spring planned, but thankfully I had the help of two horticulture students from CLC! In a weekend, Sarah, Char and I transformed our stack of steel into a 14×16′ high tunnel hoop house. Tools required included a chop saw for cutting the steel, a vice for crimping ends, a grinder for smoothing cuts, and a drill.
Covering the hoop house required some extra hands from the highway department staff and a very, very calm day. We used earth anchors and eye hooks (later to be replaced with lashing straps) to secure the hoop house, combating some fierce winds on our open, exposed property.
Inside the hoop house, we spread a shade cloth for some extra shielding from the hot sun of summer. The rows were outfitted with 1/2″ drip irrigation line and connected to a timer to automate the watering process.
The paths were lined with landscape fabric and string trellis hung from cables overhead. Training tomatoes up a string requires judicious pruning. Choosing tomatoes that grow with less branching makes for a neater growing habit indoors. We used compostable tomato clips from Johnnys to secure the vine to the string.
Our tomatoes grew wonderfully and no blight was observed for the first time in 4 years.
Lessons learned with the hoop house:
–Anchor the hoop house better than you think you need to! The wind really moves the house around–even eye bolts that feel secure one minute, come loose the next. We had two mishaps that caused damage to the hoop house from wind, so we continue to evaluate our anchoring. For repairs in torn plastic, I am using Clear Gorilla Tape.
–I bought a couple of greenhouse variety tomatoes from Home Depot, in addition to the varieties I had started by seed. No coincidence I think that I had army worms on my tomatoes for the first time ever! My theory is that they must have traveled home on my Home Depot plants as eggs.
–Over ventilate rather than under. When in doubt, leave the doors cracked at the sides up because the hoop house can heat up quickly!
–Stay on top of pruning!
Thanks Liberty Prairie! Our hoop house jig is available to the community for use–just want to spread the food growing love! 💕