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Hoop House Cover Cropping Keeps Soil Fertile
Anne and Eric Nordell like their hoop houses, but they are also believers in crop rotation and cover crops. That’s what prompted them to come up with easy-to-move “portahoopies” with space in between for cover crops. They outlined the pioneering system they have used for 25 years in a recent issue of Rural Heritage Magazine (www.ruralheritage.com and gave permission for us to share their story with FARM SHOW readers.
  “We grow produce in the tunnels for 2 years, followed by 2 years of cover cropping,” they say. “This simple rotation reduces weed pressure while preventing the buildup of salt and disease in the soil.”
  Their gardens are laid out with alternating 18-ft. strips of hoop houses and cover crops. The cover crop strips are planted, mowed and tilled with a team of horses. Every 2 years the hoop houses are moved laterally onto fresh soil, and the previously planted soil is rejuvenated for 2 years.
  To move each house, the Nordells take them apart and move the 4 by 4-in. rough-cut beams that run down either side. They are placed on 12-ft. centers and are anchored with 20-in. long, 5/8-in. rebar driven through drilled holes every 4 ft. They are driven to a 12-in. depth, leaving 4 in. of rebar above the beam.
  “Even in our stony soils, the rebar is easy to pound in and pull out,” say the Nordells.
  The hoops are 20-ft. lengths of 1-in. schedule 40 pvc pipe that slide on over the exposed rebar. A ridgepole made with 20-ft. lengths of pvc pipe are secured to every 5 hoops with 1/4-in. carriage bolts. Pvc couplers left unglued connect the ridgepoles.
  “To move the portahoopies, we simply tap the couplers apart from the ridgepoles, grab a couple of hoops and walk the half a dozen steps to the new site,” explain the Nordells.
  Once the hoops are in place, plastic is secured to the sill beam with lath. While the plastic helps stabilize the hoop house, it doesn’t allow for side ventilation. Instead, the Nordells limit the length of their hoop houses to no more than 60 ft. and use end door ventilation.
  “Originally, we built double doors made from plywood and 1 by 4’s. Now as these doors have begun to deteriorate, we are replacing them with a single drop-down curtain made from greenhouse plastic with wire battens. These make the end walls considerably lighter and easier to move.”
  The Nordells can also hook the drop-down plastic at different heights to regulate ventilation and keep out pets and wildlife.
  Each house has room for three, 3-ft. beds with two, 15 1/2 in. pathways. “We plant 2 rows of lettuce in each bed and then interplant a row of tomatoes down the center of the bed a few weeks later,” say the Nordells.
  Their system has served them well. In 2016, they reported sales of nearly $20,000 from the 4,000-sq. ft. of bed space.
   The Nordells practice cover cropping across the entire farm. More details can be found in their “Weed the Soil, Not the Crop” booklet. It’s available for $10 plus $3 S&H or in a DVD form for $15 plus $3.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Ann and Eric Nordell, 3410 Rt. 184, Trout Run, Penn. 17771.

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #5