Noteworthy: Tunnel Vision – Hoop Houses Extend Growing Season

News from the Noteworthy: Sustainable Otsego

Tunnel Vision – Hoop Houses Extend Growing Season

Farmers have sought protection from climate and weather since the beginning of agriculture. Gardeners of Roman emperor Tiberius are credited with creating the first greenhouse “effect” by placing sheets of selenite, a translucent form of gypsum, over winter crops. Now climate change is bringing extremes of heat and cold, rain bombs, blights, and other challenges.

An increasingly popular and economical protection for row crops is the passive solar hoop house (AKA high tunnel). Thousands are being built throughout the U.S. annually, often through federal grants.

Unlike the traditional glass greenhouse—which is usually heated, expensive, rigid, yet fragile—the hoop house is cheap and versatile, and almost always unheated. On average costing between $5.00 and $10.00 per square foot, they are made of anchored metal hoops covered with a plastic sheeting.

In cold Northeastern winters, a passive solar hoop house moderates the temperature from U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone 5 to Zone 7. The addition of row covers adds another 500 miles of cold protection, bringing upstate New York to Georgia. The fabric for row covers is designed to minimize heat loss and maximize light penetration.

We know that light, lots of it, is necessary for plant growth. So it is refreshing to be reminded that day length is determined by latitude, and that Cooperstown is on the same latitude as Paris—and further south than the Netherlands. In both areas, much fresh food is grown in hoop houses. The temperature and day length inside an upstate New York hoop house won’t allow you to grow tomatoes in winter, but there are many greens which thrive, and even germinate, in these conditions.

In the other three seasons, the sides of a hoop house can be rolled up and down to about four feet above ground level. This allows—depending on the need—ventilation, or protection from wind, heavy rains or airborne blights. In hot weather, shade cloth is fixed over the hoop, allowing sun-sensitive crops like lettuce to thrive all summer.
Since the real estate inside a hoop house is so valuable, serious farmers build tracks on which they can slide the structure over onto adjacent land. The previously covered area is then seeded with a restorative cover crop until the next season under the hoop house.

The plastic covering the hoop house is said to require replacement about every five years. However, the author’s hoop house, with a little help from duct tape, is still going strong after 15 years. Recycling of used plastic is facilitated by Cornell’s Recycling Agricultural Plastics Program.

In our next “Life of the Land” column, we visit local farms which make good use of this low cost, high yield technology.

Authored by Sustainable Otsego. Since 2007 we have promoted ecologically sound practices – locally, regionally, and nationally. We advocate sustainable living, economic independence, and home rule. Visit or

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