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Construction Junction - Part 1 (Length and Width Decisions)

Now that the (really) cold weather is behind us and the ground has softened, the phone seems to be constantly ringing with construction questions. I guess everyone is ready to stretch (or build) their muscles by pounding posts, screwing things together and climbing up and down ladders - a much better work-out than a stair machine!

So we might as well start with the hoophouse style. For what we have been doing we build single bay (one hoop wide) hoophouses for a number of reasons. First, they are easier to build than multi-bay ones since there is no need to pour and level cement piers to support the middle verticle pieces like needed with most multi-bay ones. While there are clearly some people who have those skills there are many more who do not (me included). Having to pay someone to build your hoophouse can be an investment so if we can do it ourselves it can save a lot of money. It takes time to build but it goes a lot faster the more of them you build and the more experience you get. It always helps, but isn't necessary, to have someone around that has done it before. We have also been building gothic-shaped (think of a peaked bow - like the picture below) as compard to quonset (think a half-circle shaped bow). There is nothing wrong with the quonset shape, but the gothic gives us more room for the heat to get up and away from the crops in the summer and a better angle for light to enter the hoophouse in the winter.

Now, for length and width...I usually recommend going wider to start than longer. Standard widths for commercial hoophouses are usually 20 ft, 30 ft, or 34/35 ft depending on the manufacturer. Standard lengths for commercial production are 48 ft, 72 ft, 96, ft and 144 ft. More narrow and shorter houses are available for homeowner/backyard use. If you have to make a decision between width or length I usually suggest to go wider. You can always add length down the road, but you are usually stuck with the width once you decide (although there are conversion kits that can be purchased). So why wider? It mostly has to do with how cold and moisture moves into the hoophouse. No matter how wide you are there tends to be about 1 1/2 or 2 ft on each side that is cool/cold, wet, and even shaded. If we are 20 ft wide and we have 2 ft on each side we have have 4/20ths or 20% of our available growing space that we could call marginal. If we are 30 ft wide then we have 4/30ths or about 13% of our space that falls into that category. You can obviously still grow in that area but it is definiately not as nice as growing more than 2 ft away from the edge. So again, I tend to recommend going wider rather than longer if that is a decision that has to be made early on. That being said we have both 20 and 30 ft wide hoophouses at the MSU Student Farm and grow year-round in all of them.

On Wednesday I am off to the Traverse City, MI area to work with Marty Heller and Michelle Ferrarese at Birch Point Farm to build their hoophouse frame. Look for pictures from this build in next week's post when we talk about height and choosing and preparing the hoophouse site.

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