A Hoop House in western South Dakota

Project Overview

FNC12-892
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $5,290.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Cathy Timmons
Timmons Ranch

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: cucurbits, peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, marketing management
  • Pest Management: chemical control, physical control, mulching - plastic, sanitation, mulching - vegetative
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, analysis of personal/family life, social capital, sustainability measures

    Summary:

    FARM DESCRIPTION and BACKGROUND

    • 820 acres operated with 28- and 15-year-old sons.
    • 120 acres alfalfa, oats, grass mix, put up hay on the shares
    • Hereford and Angus cattle, have been fencing pastures into smaller units, will use electric fence this year, have built dams on draws in past years and will be trenching in some waterlines this spring. My husband had a heart attack at 48 with complications, his health is poor. He helps the boys on his good days.

    We work very hard not to overgraze, selling down when dry, cut grain fairly high, leave the stubble to hold the soil, and most of the straw is put back for tilth. Put manure from corrals and lots on hardpan spots. We raise a large garden, and rotate where we plant corn and potatoes. We try very hard to grow as much as we can of what we eat. There are usually eight here for meals.

    PROJECT GOALS

    –To plant sooner and stay productive longer

    –To have a better yield for my labor

    –To have another source of income

    –To be as self-sufficient as possible

    –To encourage others to grow their own food

    –To inform others of the opportunities and information available through SARE

    PROCESS
    I read an article in the Green Sheet about SARE and I applied for a grant. I had a miserable time gardening in 2011 with drought, wind, and varmints. A hoop house would control the weather and wind, and exposure to animals. It did all of those things. I had been reading articles in Mother Earth News and online about hoophouses and early and extended seasons. The FarmTek catalogue did say the hoophouse should be placed in a sheltered area. I thought I had one. It wasn’t sheltered enough. Because of a late start the first season, I had knowledge only of the promise of what could be produced in a hoophouse. All my plants were just blooming and hitting production the first time the wind tore it apart. The second season was great fun; tomatoes a month sooner than usual, really good lettuce and peas, a great environment to work in, and going into October, a hoophouse full of produce, till alas, two feet of snow, and a whole lot of wind hit. I did have produce to use, the animals didn’t ruin my work, and the quality of the produce was very good, especially the heirloom tomatoes which can be fragile to the elements. I did trade produce for milk and I had enough produce to share at community functions. I did not have enough to take to town to market to others as I was still canning tomatoes for my own family. There are at least eight of us most of the time for meals, with my daughter’s family. She lives on the ranch and I watch her children as my extra job, while she works as a nurse.

    When I had my open house and 4-H tour I told everyone about my grant and the SARE website. I had invited an extension agent but he could not attend. I have visited with all of my younger neighbors about SARE and encouraged them to look up your website.

    RESULTS
    The hoophouse has much potential. The plants do well without being buffeted by the wind; water usage is less as evaporation isn’t such an issue. Plants like tomatoes benefit from staking as slugs can be an issue. Certain crops do much better in a hoophouse environment. The lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, flowers, carrots, and parsnips did very well; potatoes and onions, not so much.

    My plants were not eaten by turkeys, deer, crows, skunks, or raccoons in the hoophouse. I did have some grasshoppers which ate the blossoms out of the pepper plants. I borrowed my granddaughter’s two runner ducks and put them in the hoophouse to eat the grasshoppers.

    The air flow through the hoophouse was very important. On really warm days, I would turn on my standing sprinkler and water to lower the temperature through the hottest part of the day. I planted sunflowers at either end to attract bees. The cucumbers climbed the flowers. I put ropes around the sunflowers and tied them up to some of the beams to help keep them from sprawling out too much. The cucumbers didn’t climb strings like I thought they would.

    The first year, with a late start, I was just a week or so out from having my open house when we had 70 mph straight-line winds that ripped my hoophouse apart, followed by 20 degree temperatures. Without that storm, I am confident I could have continued harvesting vegetables well into November. I found that if I put an extra cover of plastic over my plants at night they stood temperatures below freezing remarkably well.

    I replaced the cover on the hoophouse with two railroad car plastic covers that I bought from Repurposed Materials. The plastic was reinforced with filaments and much tougher than the original plastic that came with the hoophouse kit. I used ropes instead of cording the second time. One needs to keep an eye out for sun rot. My son reworked all the bent and broken pieces of my no-so-now-lovely crank up doors.

    The second season on the hoophouse found us eating lettuce radishes, chard, and peas before Memorial Day. What a lovely place to work in on chilly spring days. I canned tomatoes, I had fresh vegetables to use every day for my large family, I furnished lettuce and tomatoes for funerals and family gatherings. I traded with a neighbor for milk. I harvested a five gallon pail of carrots December 31 out of the hoophouse from carrots under an extra cover of plastic, even though the hoophouse was only partially together at that time.

    In October we were hit with the Atlas Storm; two feet of snow and terrible winds. Tears started at one end by the roll-up door. With each of our succeeding wind storms the damage has continued until it is now necessary to start over again on straightening and repairing doors and replacing plastic. I did salvage most of the tomatoes and peppers in the hoophouse at the time of the Atlas Storm in early October. I covered everything inside with plastic and just kept using it up. I have ordered hybrid willows to make a windbreak; I will put a soaker hose on them and see if they do grow as fast as advertised.

    Siting is so very important. Everyone who came to the openhouse commented on it. We all thought we had it in a sheltered spot. But our weather has been very extreme and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues. With hay prices being what they are, I can’t afford a hay windbreak or tin ones, so this seems an option. I will give it my best try. In the meantime, I’ll cobble up my hoophouse one more time.

    PEOPLE
    DeAnne Thompson wrote a letter of recommendation for me. She is one of my son’s 4-H leaders. She is a teacher, community leader, and volunteer. She brought her family for tours of the hoophouse. She was interested in the project and encouraging that I try.

    DISCUSSION
    I learned to be careful what I wished for. Not everything works out like you hope. I have been lucky that my son can and will fix the hoophouse. All of my family has been very supportive of it, wanting it to work, offering help to put it back together, and encouragement to persevere. We all eat and it helped put food on the table, even enough to share, and trade a little.

    My computer skills aren’t very good so real notices and paperwork and better for me. I would tell others that your program could really help them. Opportunities to try something new don’t happen every day. I’m not giving up yet. I’m going to get some more shelter for the hoophouse, and I’m going to be more selective about the varieties of vegetables I put in it. It won’t be a pretty hoophouse, but I’ll get more food out of it. I’m not giving up yet.

    PROJECT IMPACTS
    Economically I have not had enough produce out of the hoophouse to pay for what it has cost. Environmentally; it takes less water in the hoophouse; the plants do very well; it is a healthy, pleasant place to work and it doesn’t leave much of a footprint on the earth. Socially, it encouraged people to garden, to come look and see some of what was possible.

    OUTREACH
    I told people about my project at social events. I had an openhouse which was advertised on the radio; 28 people came. I had a 4-H tour with eight people. I visited with other 4-H leaders at Project Day and Achievement Day. I am sending articles to The Faith Independent and The Green Sheet.

    Project objectives:

    Summer of 2012 hoop house to be completed. Extended season for tomatoes and peppers.

    Summer of 2013 hoop house fully operational, tours to public, vegetables direct marketed to local public.

    Summer of 2014, possible profit, continued community outreach.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.