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Photo courtesy Farmtek
Equipment storage is another popular use for hoop houses.
Introduced in 2009, the structures are available in a 16- by 24-foot gardener size and larger sizes for market growers. They’re catching on fast, and not just for vegetables. Jeff Bahnck and his wife, Alethea, of Bridport, Vt., have modified a 20- by 48-foot Four Season Tools movable high tunnel for their 500 laying hens. Bahnck built and installed laying boxes, roosts, feeders and waterers—all hung from the hoops and braces of the high tunnel. In the summer, shade cloth over the top and galvanized mesh on the sides protects the hens from predators of all kinds. In the winter, clear poly provides plenty of light and keeps the temperature above freezing. Special bases allow Bahnck to move the high tunnel coop laterally as well as forward and back across the field.
“As soon as the chickens hear the tractor, they all run to the side [of the hoop house] where it is, as they know they are moving to fresh pasture,” he explains.
Bahnck is working on special caster wheels that will make lateral moves easier. Meanwhile, Garbos is developing a turnkey, high-tunnel, Hoop Coop kit with bracing for lateral moves, a watering system and plans for wooden components.
Photo courtesy Four Season Tools
The Bahncks modified a hoop house to act as a chicken tractor by suspending feeders and waterers from the structure's supports.
Tod Hanley and his wife, Jamie, can’t move any of their high-tunnel hoop houses with a tractor, but they can take down any one of their five 17- by 100-foot structures and re-erect it in about 21⁄2 hours in calm weather conditions. Hanley designed a quick-anchor system using rebar driven into the ground. The hoop ends simply slide over the portion of the rebar sticking out of the ground. Tensioning ropes attach to links on the rebar. Hanley designed a hoop bender that cuts his hoop costs in half and lets him use square steel tubing instead of the more common round steel or electric conduit.
“We’ve tried different types of plastic and also shade cloth to cool the temperature down in the summer, something that is needed for vegetable production during Oklahoma summers,” he says.
Hanley uses off-the-shelf components to construct his high tunnels. Many of the components come from FarmTek. Barry Goldsher, president of FarmTek, says both the demand for hoop buildings and the options available have grown tremendously.
“The variety of hoop houses and coverings is unbelievable,” says Goldsher. “But with smaller structures, many of the components are the same, whether covered with greenhouse film or fabric. Our customers use them for everything from greenhouses to aquaculture and even as solar-powered kilns for drying wood.”
He advises anyone thinking about buying a hoop house to consider the end use in evaluating the construction materials, whether fabricating the structure yourself or buying a turnkey kit. He notes that high humidity can quickly rust poor-quality steel, even if it’s powder coated. Some steel products, including FarmTek’s Allied Gatorshield structural steel tubing, are galvanized inside and outside to prevent rusting or corrosion.
“To build a structure that will last, you need the right diameter pipes [hoops] and rafters, purlins, connectors and anchors,” says Goldsher. “The cover needs to be attached correctly so it doesn’t blow away or tear. It has to be tight. You can always buy something cheaper, but it doesn’t really pay.” About the Author: Jim Ruen lives, writes and works with his gardens and tree farm in the Bluff Country of southeastern Minnesota.
This article first appeared in the January/February 2010
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