Hoop houses extend growing season

MARQUETTE – Passive solar greenhouses. Unheated greenhouses. High tunnels.

Hoop houses go by several names, but they all have common purposes: extending the growing season and leading to higher sustainability.

Abbey Palmer, special projects coordinator for the Marquette Food Co-op, helped lead a class about these structures Wednesday at the Jacobetti Complex and the Northern Michigan University Hoop House. Since 2009, the hoop house has served as a collaborative learning center for people interested in growing food.

Hoop houses are structures made with materials such as pipes and plastic.

“It’s the plastic that does all the work,” Palmer said. “This greenhouse is heated only with passive solar energy, so even on a cloudy day like today, it’s maybe 10 or 15 degrees warmer in here.”

The Upper Peninsula still provides its challenges to food growers. If there’s a clear night and the heat isn’t kept in the structure by clouds or humidity, it can be just as cold as the outside, so only cold-hardy plants such as lettuce, spinach and onions are safe in a hoop house, Palmer said.

Peas seeded at the hoop house on March 15, for example, are thriving, as is the spinach seeded last October, which Palmer said sprang back to life when it recently became sunny, renewing her “faith living in the Upper Peninsula.”

Food gleaned from the NMU Hoop House is donated throughout the community, Palmer said.

“We try to get it out in as many places as we can, because access to fresh food is one of the things that can be really, really difficult when you’re hungry,” she said.

The advantages of having a hoop house, which makes for an extended growing season, include higher yields, better quality and more time in the garden. However, Palmer did point out there are disadvantages, such as increased management demands, higher production costs and disposing of plastic.

Palmer said there are things to consider about operating a hoop house, such as finding level ground, installing it close to good drainage, obtaining access to water and electricity, maximizing sun exposure and considering how snow will be removed.

Building a hoop house with strong, greenhouse grade plastic also is important, she said.

Class participants had the opportunity to pick up hand-out materials for further information on hoop houses.

One of those participants was Kate Petersen of Marquette, who said she’s interested in hoop houses “because I think it’s important for the community, for sustainability of our local food system.”

Chris Cookingham of Moonrise Gardens in Chocolay Township helped conduct the Wednesday class. He said hoop houses can help gardeners grow for a longer period in the U.P.

“It’s a way for people to take charge of their own food-growing systems,” Cookingham said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.