Maybe it’s the weather. With the onset of these colder than average winter months, Farmer John started going a little goofy over hoop houses, stockpiling more hoop house components than ever before. Notwithstanding his sudden, almost maniacal enthusiasm for them, there’s no denying that a hoop house serves its purpose beautifully. Be it draped with plastic to block the cold, or with shade cloth to buffer the heat, each hoop house we’ve built has been worth the trouble.

Unlike some hoop houses you’ll see on other farms, ours aren’t permanent. A larger hoop house stays in place, and the farmer is able to drive a tractor through it. Our narrower and shorter (and less expensive) version is constructed over pre-tilled rows at the beginning of a season, and deconstructed at the end. Then we move it elsewhere. It takes a day or so to get it all put together, but it’s usually not a big problem.

Unless, that is, we do it on a windy day.

Until this winter, we’ve only had two hoop houses in operation at any one time. After we closed our stands for the season, Farmer John and Mary put together a short hoop house to protect the dinosaur kale (we greedily enjoy all the leftover crops during our “off time”) and that got John to thinking about utilizing more. He even went to far as to borrow an entire set of hoop house bows from a farmer friend who didn’t plan to use all of his – a friend who apparently hadn’t gone as wacky over hoop houses as John had. We ordered new rolls of plastic to add to our stash of the old, dirty pieces we reuse every year, and construction began in earnest.

These two hold our early-early tomato plants, along with the first two rows of spring broccoli. While Farmer John’s idea of putting wire mesh screens on each end to block the eventual onslaught of insects was quite possibly a stroke of genius, it was still a little kooky to plant broccoli in the same structure as tomatoes.

Broccoli likes cooler weather; tomatoes like it hot. When we secure the plastic flaps over the screens on each end to protect the maters, the broccoli isn’t so pleased. We’re just hoping the broc begins to head up soon, before it gets too toasty in there.

The second hoop house is all tomatoes.

(Notice they got the brand spankin’ new plastic, where the other hoop house cover is more brown than clear. The poor broccoli is going to start feeling like a second class citizen, at this rate.)

The third hoop house is at the opposite end of the farm. This one is used primarily as a bug blocker – specifically to keep out the dreaded harlequin bugs that are sure to show up in droves in the early spring. The crops inside this house are freshly planted brassicas and mustards, both of which are gourmet treats to the harlequins.

Once warm weather sets in, we’ll replace this plastic covering with black shade cloth. Otherwise, these cool-weather plants will get too burned up even for a harlequin bug’s palette.

For our final hoop house (in the distance, below) – the one that covers last fall’s dinosaur kale – John started to consider potatoes.

Potatoes! When he mentioned that to me back in January, I knew he had a screw loose for sure. Nobody uses a hoop house for potatoes, for heaven’s sake. Besides, that last hoop house would hold only a tiny fraction of the potatoes we plant.

Still, the fourth hoop house is serving no purpose right now. It’s a thorn in John’s side having to walk past it several times a day, knowing it could be covering a new crop rather than last season’s kale, which will soon be cut off at the base and removed. It’s driving him over the edge. I know this because recently, one morning before I’d even rolled out of bed, John showed up at the bedroom door, obviously agitated, and exclaimed, “I have an idea! How about we plant some of our potatoes under that last hoop house?!”

I blinked a couple times to make sure I wasn’t still asleep. We’d already discussed this in some detail a couple weeks prior to that morning, after all, so there was a real possibility I was dreaming. I looked at him for a second, standing in the doorway with a sheepish grin on his face, and knew I was indeed awake.

“Do you think you haven’t said this to me before?” I asked gently, while making a mental note to look online for area psychologists or obsessive/compulsive disorder rehab clinics.

Luckily, he did remember having already talked about it (or so he said). Luckily, too, in order to beat yet another rain event we had to plant the lion’s share of our seed potatoes before there was time to relocate that last hoop house. We do have a few more crates of potatoes to put in the ground, however, yet there’s been no mention of planting them anywhere except right out in the open, like all the other potatoes.

It’s a good thing. Because that would just be crazy talk.

* * * *
We’re reopening the farm stands this coming week – Wednesday March 3rd (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) and Saturday March 6th (NEW HOURS IN JONESTOWN: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.). Our various hoop houses haven’t saved us from this mostly cold, dark, rainy winter, so we’re not going to start out with as big a selection as we’d like…but we do have enough to open the stands, so we’re going for it!

Here’s what we’ll have this coming Wednesday at the Jollyville Road location, beginning at 10:00 a.m.:

LOTS of spinach; brussels sprouts; green storage cabbage; bunches of King Richard leeks; “Purplette” green onions; green garlic; bags of chard; dinosaur kale; and collards.

Hope to see you soon!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm