The Year-Round Hoophouse with author Pam Dawling

by: Sara on 11/21/2018

Today's author interview is with Pam Dawling, the author of The Year-round Hoophouse: Polytunnels for All Seasons and All Climates. Pam Dawling has been farming and providing training in sustainable vegetable production in a large variety of climates for over 40 years, 14 of which have been hoophouse growing. She is also the author of the best-selling Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few AcresShe lives and grows at Twin Oaks community in Virginia.

 How do hoop houses contribute to the lowering of our carbon footprint?

Hoophouses increase the supply of locally-grown food, thus reducing the amount of fuel used to transport food over distance. A study at the University of Chicago showed that 17% of the fossil fuel used in the USA is burned by agriculture,  (not even including shipping produce to markets or consumers driving themselves shopping). By capturing solar energy, hoophouses help crops grow faster, meaning more food can be produced in each season. Also meaning growers find their efforts rewarding and will be more likely to continue producing food. By protecting crops from the extremes of outdoor weather, hoophouses help growers be more resilient in the face of climate change, and mitigate some of the farming risks. It's also true that people are less inclined to waste food they grew themselves. Food waste is terribly high in developed countries.  Organic agriculture does not use petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. People who grow for local markets tend to be more likely to use organic methods. Buying local produce encourages us to eat seasonally, rather than out-of-season (which uses more energy in its production). The Willy Street Co-op in Madison, Wisconsin has great information on their website . For the technically minded there is this: Comparative carbon footprint assessment of winter lettuce production in two climatic zones for Midwestern market   The study concludes that unheated, hoophouse lettuce production has a smaller carbon footprint than outdoor, distant production. The distant system has a CO2 footprint 4.3 times the locally grown lettuce.

What should one consider when choosing a site for their hoop house?

Plenty of sunshine year round, but especially in winter - nothing big that will cast shade; fairly level ground (a 1 in 100 slope to one end is perfect); orientation for maximum daylight (usually that's ends to the east and west and long south and north sides); good frost-drainage (not at the foot of a slope); proximity to road/path, electricity and water; not too far from your packing shed or house. Secondary factors are well-drained soil in good heart, protection from strong winds (without that protection casting shade); additional contiguous space for a second hoophouse later, because you will like the first one so much!

What is growing in the Twin Oaks hoop house right now?

Leaf lettuce, baby lettuce mix, baby mustard salad mix, spinach, radishes, scallions, chard, beet greens, turnips, Chinese cabbage, pak choy, tatsoi, yukina savoy, Tokyo bekana, senposai, mizuna, Ruby Streaks, Scarlet Frills and Golden Frills mustards, Red and White Russian kales. 

And our winning question from our book giveaway.

Double layers of plastic - worth it? How much of a difference does it make? I am in zone 6, high elevation NE TN, with very windy winters.

Yes, definitely! A double layer will keep the space 8F degrees warmer on cold nights. A single layer doesn't add much insulation. A double layer gives more stability against wind and snow. A double layer means there's a "spare" layer if a big rip appears in one layer. It's much more pleasant to work in a double layer structure, where it's warmer, than in a single layer house with inner row covers! I'm in zone 7, for comparison.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our book giveaway contest. Our next giveaway will start on Facebook and Instagram  Thursday, November 29th.

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