Field-expedient Hoop House

I paid a visit to Brother Harold’s spread this weekend for a garden tour. As usual, his superior solar aspect, soil quality, and gardening skill put my results to shame. But at least I was able to offer him zucchini and pickles.

One thing I learned was that my sweet potatoes could be so much further along than they are. We planted at the same time from some of the same stock, but his plants are much happier than mine. Typically not thought of as a New England crop, I’ve been keen to try growing sweet potatoes for a few reasons. First and foremost is Mrs. P – she loves sweet potatoes. There’s also the dog to think of – he loves them too, and if we ever need to supplement his stored kibble, a sack of sweet potatoes would go a long way to keeping him healthy. But the real reason – I need my sweet potato pie. It’s not Thanksgiving without that pie. Keep your pumpkin pie – I need sweet potato pie.

Sweet potato plants need heat to set tubers, as Brother Harold pointed out last year. I decided to copy his low-tunnel hoop house for my sweet potatoes, and figured I’d borrow his hoop-bender. But as usual, we got to jawing and forgot the bender. Just as well – I hate borrowing tools. And besides, the hoops cover four foot rows, but I have only a single row that’s maybe two feet wide. The big hoops would be overkill for my purposes. What to do?

A quick trip to Lowe’s for inspiration did the trick (note to self – it’s going to suck in Idaho when Lowe’s isn’t five minutes away.) I found 72″ long fiberglass driveway markers for like $3 each. A quick test bend in the store told me they’d bend nicely to a 1′ radius without breaking, so I picked up six of those, a roll of 3.5 mil poly film from the paint department, and a pack of wooden clothespins. $30 out the door.

IMG_20140817_094716_867I sunk the poles about 6″ into the ground, poking around as needed to avoid the rocks. It was a little tough bending them over and sticking the other end into the soil – I thought for sure the poles were going to crack and send shards of fiberglass shooting into my eyes. I worry about stuff like that.

IMG_20140817_171936_357A quick covering with the roll of poly,┬ásecured to the hoops with the clothespins and weighted down with rocks, and the greenhouse was complete. Quick and easy, and the results were just as dramatic as Brother Harold first reported for his hoop house last year. Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen daytime temps easily 20┬░ warmer than the outside air temperature. Given that we’re having trouble reaching the 70s these days, that should really help the sweet potatoes this year.

And if it gets me even one sweet potato pie, than it was well worth the $30.



  1. Brother Harold

    The hoops are brilliant! Hard to tell from the picture, but the poly looks a little on the heavy side – how thick is it? I shoot for 2-3 mil painter’s plastic for the best possible insolation. A less opaque plastic might yield a higher temperature differential. Also, don’t forget to put a vent hole in the ends just so there’s some circulation of fresh air.

    1. APB

      That’s 3.5 mil poly, if the packaging is to be believed. Feels pretty heavy, that’s for sure. I’m afraid to go any lighter, to tell the truth – one puff of wind and my several minutes of hard work will be for naught. It’s downright tropical in there, even on a cloudy day like today was. The sweet potatoes are clearly loving it in there – just a few days under cover and they’ve definitely put on more foliage. Hope it’s translating into tuber growth.

      I hadn’t thought about venting – I’ll have to knock a few holes in it tonight.


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