High Tunnel–Phase One

ground posts are in, 14 total, 7 on each side. 2 rows 20 feet apart and spaced 6 feet apart. Thanks to Paco and Longhouse Farm's loan, they are sunk 4 feet into the ground
pound, pound, pound
the hoop bender on loan from Longhouse Farm
using the hoop benderhoop bender makes this part a breeze
Phase one is almost complete.  Hoops are done and bolted together.  We need to insert them into ground posts and bolt those in as well (insurance).  Then 3 purlins (think of these as the spine that holds all the ribs together) will be connected to provide strength and support. One will run right down the middle and one on each side (about halfway between the center and the ground post).
each hoop consists of three 10'6" chain link fence top rails that are then bolted together, there will be 7 hoops

High Tunnel Dreams

Here we are at Home Depot purchasing chain link fence top rail for our latest farm venture–a high tunnel.  For those of you who don’t know a high tunnel is a greenhouse-like structure made out of “hoops” (also known as a hoop house) and covered with transparent greenhouse plastic.  Our tunnel will allow us to extend our garden harvest into late fall and starting in early spring.  Crops such as hardy greens can be grown until early January and hot weather crops can be started earlier to get a jump on the season.  This is not quite what we are building, but has some great pictures to give you an idea of what we are going to be doing: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/cornucop/msg0508291217612.html

We have looked at several local ones (thank you Wade family and the gals at Longhouse Farm!) and have gotten comfortable with the how-to of it.  Lucky for me,  I have a husband that is a natural builder and very precise.  I would need a minor miracle to be able to build this myself.  he can build.  I can grow.  We are a good team.  Looks like we are shooting for a structure 20 feet wide by 36 long.  This is what we bought (about $600, so far):

32  pieces of 10 foot 1 3/8 top rail

14 pieces of 6 foot 1 5/8 fence posts

40 or so  2″ x 1/4″ bolts and nuts

15 or so 2.5″ x 1/4″ bolts and nuts

Nancy and Barb from Longhouse Farm are loaning us their hoop bender and their post driver.  http://www.longhousefarm.com/  Thanks!

The fence posts will be sunk into the ground at 6′ intervals–7 on each side.  Then the top rails (3 for each hoop) will be bent and inserted into each corresponding pair of fence posts. After all the “ribs” are done, purlins will be added.  The purlin is the backbone of the structure.  we will run three the length of the structure–one down the middle and one on each side.  Where the purlin meets the hoop we need a strong, secure connection to hold the hoops and purlins in place during all kinds of weather.  We  have already ordered and received “cross connectors” from Farmtek for just this purpose. They are designed to hold the intersection of the two 1 3/8 rails together.  Check them out:  http://www.farmtek.com/farm/supplies/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10052&storeId=10001&langId=-1&division=FarmTek&productId=267066

This will complete phase one.  Let’s see how long it takes………..

Onions

The first year I did a BIG garden, I bought onion sets at the local hardware store–the ones that look like little pearl onions.  After months in the soil, they maybe doubled in size.  That’s it.  They weren’t even worth the trouble of peeling them.   The next year I decided onions weren’t worth the real estate in my garden. 

This year, remembering that the teacher from my Master Gardener’s classes who covered vegetable gardening started hers from seed, I was determined to do the same.  When Mother Earth News ran a mid-winter article about growing onions, I knew it was fate.  So, I got seeds.  I seeded them individually into cells and fairly quickly I had tiny little seedlings.  Well,  that was easy, I thought.    At this point, the seedlings were under high quality grow lights indoors.  They grew slowly, but did not get very robust looking.  They stayed like this growing nearly imperceptibly.

Once the hooophouse was done, I moved some of them out there.  However, they were so sad-looking that I held out little hope.  I eagerly purchased starts from my neighbor’s greenhouse.  Those were planted outdoors in early April and are flourishing.  Now, the ones I planted tin the hoophouse are growing just as well.  So, I did do it!  I also have learned that instead of growing each little seedling in its own cell both onions and shalots can be seeded in a larger container as a clump and then separated at planting time. 

Now, we are starting to enjoy the bunching onions (spring onions) I planted.  Some of these were transplants from seeds I started indoors and others were direct seeded in the hoophouse.  I am growing Evergreen and Crimson bunching onions.  Delicious!  Will seed more this week to stagger the harvest.

Well into Spring

We are well into spring now and life seems to be rushing past.  I need to slow down and savor the miracles around us.  New lives are abundant here.  The daffodils bloomed today for the first time.  The now one week old kittens are starting to open their eyes.  I knew kittens were born with closed eyes, but I did not realize that their eyelids slowly unzipped.  A tiny amount each day starting at about one week old.  2 of the 4 still have eyes that are completely sealed, but 2 now have tiny openings starting at the inside.  It gives them an alien-like appearance.  What must those little creatures think as their dark world becomes one of images?  It is like a second birth.

The 26 new chicks in the barn are doing great and are already in their gawky preteen feathering out stage.  The laying flock has been sick.  Some kind of respiratory infection.  It has affected about 1/2, but has been very mild.  Some have had wheezing and many are coughing and/or sneezing.  I was very alarmed at first because there are a number of things this could be and some are pretty devastating.  I contacted Purdue Extension and was referred to where I could take dead birds for necropsy, but looks like we lucked out on this one–it has been mild and have not lost any of the flock.  We did add electrolytes to their water just to boost them.  It seems to be mostly over with just a few still coughing.  The new chicks are in a separate stall and did not get sick.  We did our best to try not to cross contaminate and it seems to have worked. 

The hoophouses are working well and we are almost ready to start harvesting some salads from there.  Seedlings are up in there and doing well with one major exception–onions.  My onions from seed are weak little things and seem to be languishing.  I will be buying some already started ones when Hamilton’s Greenhouse (our neighbors!) opens.  What I did start from seed successfully for the first time is broccoli.  I have never done well on it before and always end up buying transplants, but the hoophouse seems to be a big boost for it.   I have a great micro greens blend that is going crazy in there too.  

Paco and 2 of his employees worked a good portion of the day to move the 4 apple trees (which we had planted way to close together 2 years ago)  and 8 grapes (4 new) into what is becoming our orchard.  We now have 4 apples, 8 grapes, 3 kiwi, 2 peaches, and 1 pear all behind the garden.  In the garden are 50 strawberries, 8 raspberries, 3 blueberries, and 3 blackberries.  I got the raspberries and blackberries pruned in the nick of time.  What a long way we have come!  I have a dream that 5 years from now I can walk into the backyard (in all seasons) and get supper.  Never satisfied, now that I have a hoophouse, I want a high tunnel or two that I can grow in year round.  How wonderful it would be to go stand inside in the depths of winter and get some fresh greens.  My idea of nirvana.

Pepper, eggplant, herb, raddichio, and tomato seedlings are all up and looking fantastic. I started at least 70 tomatoes and might need a 12 step program, but I imagine I will find good homes for the ones that I can’t plant.