Hoop (house) Dreams

An interior view of the plastic on the hoop house
An interior view of the plastic on the hoop house

Guest post by Peter

“It’ll take twice as long, and be twice as expensive.”

This is a frequently heard adage when you reveal a dream to build any structure bigger than a chicken coop. And the last chicken coop we built proves that such adages can overestimate a builder’s skillset and underestimate their budget. Having built five structures with footprints ranging from 70 to 2070 square feet, we should’ve known better.

Many hours were spent getting the arches and bases assembled
Many hours from March to May were spent getting the arches and bases assembled

But we didn’t. By buying a kit for a greenhouse made by someone else, we assumed that the building process would be more like raising a tent than raising a barn. The truth lies somewhere in between. I spent days drilling over 1000 holes in wood and metal. I spent some sleep-deprived nights dreaming up solutions to seemingly intractable problems that apparently few people in the greenhouse world had pondered before. And I spent all my spare time from March to May constructing framing and preparing for the Big Day. The Big Day would be the day when we would sheathe the greenhouse in a protective skin of plastic.

I assumed that because I had spent so much money and time and brainpower to that point, all we needed was a hired hand, our family, and a calm day to slip the gigantic pieces of cling-wrap over the metal frame. We waited for the right day. We assembled the family and hired our friend Mark. We called our friend’s the DeJongs just in case, because they had shown interest in helping out.

Getting the plastic over the arches required fastening a golfball to one edge and throwing it over the top. It took several tries...
Getting the plastic over the arches required fastening a golfball to one edge and throwing it over the top. It took several tries…

I thought we might be done by noon. When Brian and his daughters showed up late in the morning, we were far from done. When Brian’s wife Anita showed up in the afternoon, we were far from done. But the wind was picking up, tempting our huge plastic pieces to channel their inner kite-ness. Despite my planning and our hard work, without the DeJong’s, the plastic still might not be on the greenhouse.

Putting the plastic on the hoop house was a huge undertaking.
Putting the plastic on the hoop house was a huge undertaking.

Everyone had a job, but only one person was paid. Friends like me sometimes cost other people money. Others like the DeJong’s are priceless.

 

South and Souther

Dottie the chicken patrols the new chicken pasture
Dottie happily patrols the chicken pasture after spending the winter indoors. Next year we hope to house her in a greenhouse.

Guest post by Peter

The ancestors of our polka-dot hen, Dottie, came from the Basque region of Spain. It may seem odd that a southern chicken could feel at home as far north as Great Lake Huron’s Bruce Peninsula, but the two areas share some things in common. One is the almost identical seasonal light and day length: both coastal areas share the same 45-degrees-north latitude as sun-spots like Monaco, Bordeaux, and Tuscany. But in midwinter, there’s no way Dottie could mistake her current home for her ancestors’ on the coast of Spain, or for her more distant ancestors’ home in South-East Asia.

For our chicken’s winter comfort, we want to capture the daylight of southern Europe while insulating them from the frigid winds and temperatures of frozen Lake Huron. It’s not too hard to do–we housed them in our light-filled garage last winter, and plan to introduce them to shelter in a greenhouse next winter. But even poultry from South-East Asia can’t take the summer heat trapped in a greenhouse for long. Which leaves us with a nice problem to have: after evicting Dottie and her friends, what plants can we grow in an environment hotter than a balmy Bruce Peninsula summer?

Chickens eat snow during the winter
Chickens in the garage during the winter, dining on snow. Kinda looking guilty.

If we’re going to go south, let’s go a lot further south. How about to Mexico and Peru, two countries that bracket the tropics at the equator? We could grow their peppers and tomatoes. We like fruits and veggies like those and could sell some of them to help pay for the greenhouse/barn.

Skis allow the hoop house to be moveable
Skis allow the hoop house to be moveable

But an “ordinary” greenhouse barn isn’t enough for us. We want one that we can move around, yet still anchor to the earth so it doesn’t imitate a huge, expensive kite. Many greenhouses or hoop houses are linked to the earth with spiral ground anchors or big beefy metal stakes. This is a challenge at our site: the current depth of soil over bedrock ranges from 2 to 6 inches. What to do when you are surrounded by such boundless constraints? Get creative.

An article in Forbes magazine (July 12, 2013)  details how constraints drive genius. How did all-world architect Frank Gehry dream up his iconic billowing steel museum in Bilbao, the capital of Dottie’s Basque homeland? According to creativity experts including Gehry himself, it took constraints. Our greenhouse will not be a work of genius, but the amount of constraints leave a lot of room for creativity to sprout up. Stay tuned for the harvest.