Earth Notes - Hoop Houses

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Hoop Houses

The seed catalog for "Native Seed Search," a Tucson-based seed source, plaintively allows that "farming in the Southwest is challenging."

Anyone who's ever tried to coax lush lettuce out of desert soils, or harvest a crimson tomato before the first frost, knows how true this is. In the upland Southwest, gardening challenges include short growing seasons, frosty nights, arid conditions, and blistering winds. But there's a one-size-fits-all solution: hoop houses.

Hoop houses are simply a series of large hoops set in the ground and covered with a translucent greenhouse plastic pulled taut. The hoops are made from metal, PVC or even wood. These simple shelters perform the indispensable service of lengthening the growing season, buffering plants from wind, and slowing soil evaporation.

Rosie Carter at Stone Free Farm in Arriola, Colorado, employs hoop houses to start carrot, spinach and beet seeds in mid-February. This system ensures that carrots are available at the first farmers market in early June, six weeks earlier than average for her elevation.

Stone Free Farm tomatoes, for which customers line up, are grown in hoop houses all season. The coveted tomatoes make their appearance in June, adding tremendous value to the Stone Free Farm market stand at a time when most tomato plants are just beginning to flower.

A simple hoop house or two can add over a month to the beginning and end of your gardening season. When it comes to eating locally in a challenging climate, that can be the difference between merely surviving and thriving.

-Rachel Turiel