Cold Frames & Hoop Houses Are Less Work than You Might Think
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Cold Frames & Hoop Houses Are Less Work than You Might Think

October 19, 2019

Extending the season for cold hardy crops using cold frames and hoop houses probably seems like a lot of work, but it might be less than you think. While it’s true that the initial construction of cold frames and hoop houses requires some work, their ongoing use requires relatively little effort. Today I thought I’d share with you our four basic season extension chores and try to give you a sense of how much time and effort are involved – at least for us here in zone 5. The four chores are: Setting up and taking down venting snow removal and harvesting. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention watering. That’s because when temperatures are consistently below freezing, the plants aren’t really growing; they’re hibernating. And they don’t require additional water. In fact, watering plants when it’s below freezing will do more harm than good, as ice can form on the plants. So, this is one chore you won’t have to worry about during the cold months. Because we extend the season only for cold hardy crops that tolerate frost, we don’t even have to set up the cold frames and hoop houses until temperatures are about to dip well below freezing – say around 20 Fahrenheit. This year we set them up on November 8th. They’ll remain in place for the rest of the fall and winter, and we’ll take them back down sometime in April or May when there’s little threat of snow or temperatures of 20 degrees or colder. To minimize the work involved, we leave the hoops on this bed year-round, but store the greenhouse plastic and cold frames during the warm months. I’d guess that setting up takes about half an hour, and taking everything down and cleaning and storing it takes about an hour. Venting is the chore that many assume would be the most time consuming, but it’s actually one of the least. To understand why, you have to consider that we’re not trying to maintain optimal temperatures for the plants 24/7; we’re just trying to keep them alive, which mostly involves keeping them from overheating on sunny days that are above freezing. Maintaining optimal temperatures and trying to prevent large temperature swings, on the other hand, would require more frequent venting, not to mention heating the structures, which we don’t do. In the fall, we apply the covers as late as we can to avoid losing the plants to the cold, and by this time very few adjustments to venting are needed. So far, the hoop houses have remained covered, without venting, ever since plastic was added on November 8th. Because the cold frames tend to get warmer, I left them slightly open until temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Since then they’ve remained on. So, since November 8th, I’ve only made one adjustment to the venting. Between now and the beginning of winter, if we have sunny days above freezing, I may have to vent the cold frames, and possibly the hoop houses again, but don’t anticipate having to do this more than a handful of times. And when winter sets in, all covers will remain on until late winter, or possibly early spring, when, again, we’ll return to this minimal venting approach on days that are above freezing and sunny. When we no longer expect temps below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll keep everything partially vented until it’s time to remove the covers entirely in April or May. Snow removal is also a relatively minor chore, at least here in zone 5. Again, I take a minimalistic approach. You won’t see me out in the middle of a snowstorm removing snow – that’s for sure. Instead, I wait for the snow to subside. If it’s very cold and overcast, I may wait even longer until it’s sunny. In the meantime, the snow provides insulation, and the plants wouldn’t be getting much sun anyway when it’s overcast. I just brush the snow off with a broom, which takes a matter of minutes. I have to admit, it gets harder and harder to harvest crops as the temperatures drop. It’s more of a motivation issue than anything else. Perhaps after I build my new walk-in hoop house it will get easier. Even so, we usually harvest from the garden a couple times per week during the cold months. Most winters there’s plenty to choose from, though last winter’s record cold had the garden looking pretty barren by January. Even so, we usually manage to get outside and pick something fresh from the garden most weeks. It’s easy enough to pop open a cold frame or open the side of a hoop house for a quick harvest. We just have to be careful to only harvest when the crops aren’t frozen, which is usually midday when the sun is shining. So, hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how much time and effort we put into the cold frames and hoop houses when extending the growing season for cold hardy crops. It’s really not as much work as you might think. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

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  1. With your new walk in hoophouse you should add some passive solar heating implements like black water barrels. The next thing that I thought would be really effective is to pipe the venting from your drier vent and if you have an electric furnace vent the steam escape into the greenhouse.That air is about 90-110 degrees and would warm the greenhouse up very nicely. 

  2. Excellent video.  Mine have been bundled up nicely through this cold snap.  The issue I likely had was not starting my winter garden early enough.  that said I should be able to pick a few things and hopefully get a good jump on spring harvests.

  3. Its 20 degrees here as I watch this video and would have loved to have done this.  Is it too late to make a cold frame and start up something?  I have a large piece of glass from my neighbors old picture frame window.  Im itching to use it.  I might just make a solar heater if its too late to make a cold frame.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Patrick! Great job! I am going to pick your brain a little next spring when I try to construct a hoop house for my melons.

  5. Thanks Patrick. I am in zone 7a so I haven't put my plastic on yet…but it was down to 16 F the other morning. My plants did not look happy.

    I saw a cool video where they dug down 10 feet and put drain pipe in. They blew air through the pipes to keep the greenhouse warm

  6. My biggest problem is having two gardens in two different locations…hard to vent and check on things!  Right now what I'm dreaming about is an Earthship greenhouse and only one BIG garden 😀
    Nice vid as always and good luck with your winter gardening Patrick.

  7. Great video!!. I've been thinking about incorporating small hoop houses over my raised beds. Even in the far northern part of Florida, it was 22F yesterday morning at my house. All my brassicas, as well as my cilantro and other herbs survived, but they were definitely not happy. It's usually another month before my winter veggies go dormant- I'm thinking this year it's gonna be sooner.

  8. What do you do if you can't be around to vent cold frames during the day? Often the temps are well below freezing when I leave for work in the early morning, but quickly warm up while I am gone, making venting necessary.

  9. Will you be posting videos on your design process and construction of you new walk in hoop house? I'd love to see it – considering building my own here in zone 7a.

  10. Your harvests look really good for this time of year. Makes me wish I had planned ahead and set up some cold frames for this winter. At least there's always next year! Thanks for the informative video.

  11. Patrick,
    I enjoy all of your videos. I do have a question. Have you ever tried a secondary layer of frost blanket such as thin frost cover fabric? I read about this in Eliot Coleman's book and he said it adds the extra layer needed. I am trying it this year for the first time with your hoop house design for the 4 mil greenhouse plastic. Under that I am using the AG-19 frost blanket suspended on #9 wire above the plants. I am in zone 6 and was at 11F the other morning. Eliot Coleman claims this brings you another zone south with the secondary layer which would get you to zone 7. The frost fabric is around $25 for about 25 X 10. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your expertise.

  12. In areas that is cold is so hard. Here we don't need to do any. we can plant all year. Winter has come to early and that means that people has to take care of their plants earlier. Love to see the snow but inside a warm place. lol  Wild Plant

  13. Great video Patrick. Have you got any of your Comfrey plants in the cold frames or hoop houses? I`m interested if the increased temperature would keep the Comfrey producing leaves during the winter.

  14. I watched this video the other day but had no time to comment then. This is a great video @OneYardRevolution I haven't really used hoop houses before but I think they're worth it after watching this video. It was straight to the point and very useful, thank you Patrick!

  15. If the crops aren't growing much due to the cold do you have to watch what you harvest more carefully to avoid over-harvesting?

  16. I just found your channel and its good.  I've subscribed for future videos.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  17. Great video!  We have had the full size walk in hoop house in the past but haven't done cold frames.  I was thinking of trying out cold frames in 2015.  I am "favouriting" this video to watch again later. ~Amanda

  18. Thanks for sharing! I've tried a hoop house for the first time this year. I was afraid to open it to harvest anything when it was in the 20s. I have carrots, spinach, cale and parsley growing. I was in to get parsley over Thanksgiving and everything looked good. I was only opening it when the temps were over 32 during sunny days. You cleared some things up I had questions about.

  19. compared to a plant without protection, how much of a yield difference is there if a cold frame is used for cold-hardy plants that can survive no matter what?

  20. Hey Patrick…   So have you decided on big and tall you are going to make your walk-in hoop house?   I'm curious on the interior layout you're going to have.

  21. Nice work Patrick!

    It has been good to learn more about myself and the challenges I face recently. Having looked at the causes of my situation I am now more confident in sharing the solution. I do not have what I need to cultivate the desire to live alone and find a female companion. The only time I have felt that I have been able to regularly challenge my anxieties and work towards something positive over a prolonged period was almost 13 years ago now when I moved into my first apartment and, for the first time in my adult life, had a sincere and genuine desire to find a wife.
    The solution to the misery I endure Patrick is to have whatever I need so that I can feel I am working towards a situation where I live alone and have a sincere desire in my heart to find a female companion and I would be touched if those who feel some meaning in my words would include me in their thoughts.

  22. hello Patrick…enjoy your channel greatly….a few questions as I am looking to set up a small hoop house….how thick is the plastic….where did you get a piece big enough to cover the desired area…..retailer?…cost?…thanks….keep up the good work!

  23. Great video like always….i live in zone 10 very hot i will thinking to get up i grow before very good vegetables but this year my water system is going to get me mead ….i have it a lot problems with my water in my garden and i do not have help i think is very good to grow you food in home but if you not have help is not very hot and i do not want to kill my plants.but very good job my friend.

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