Hoop Houses: How a cool, gray Martha’s Vineyard spring produces a summer’s bounty

Photo essay by Molly Glasgow

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Driving around, you might notice the Island is heavily populated with farm stands overflowing with gorgeous vegetables and fruits, grown right in the Island soil. This was not always the case — with a growing season typically held hostage to an often cool, gray spring, crops could be slow to grow, and Islanders ended up with farm-fresh Vineyard produce sometime in late June (if we were lucky).

In the past, farmers had open fields just waiting for the perfect temperature to warm the soil enough to drop fragile seedlings into the cool earth. Over the past few years, Island farmers, like farmers around the country, are looking at their farmland acreage and their growing season differently. Many are using hoop houses to extend the season by several months, basically adding an additional growing and harvesting season starting in April — with lettuces, kale, pea shoots, hakurei turnips, carrots, bok choy, arugula, and more being harvested from the shelters you see on these pages, and ending up on your dinner table. Many farm stands may also be loaded up with young plants like tomatoes, herbs, chard, kale, celery, and others ready for outdoor planting, long before they traditionally ever were. How lucky are we?

So, what are hoop houses? A hoop house, also known as a polyhouse, hoop greenhouse, or hoophouse, grow tunnel, polytunnel, or high tunnel, is as defined by Wikipedia as “a tunnel typically made from steel and covered in polyethylene, usually semicircular, square, or elongated in shape.” The interior heats up with incoming solar radiation from the sun warming the plants, soil, and other things inside the building faster than heat can escape the structure.

And what is the difference between a hoop house and a greenhouse? Greenhouses are a permanent structure on your farmland, made of glass and steel, sealed tight, with heat and fans for temperature control. Greenhouses are not cheap to design and install. A hoop house works as a combination of greenhouse and open field production, basically a hybrid.

So go enjoy your June turnips.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Congratulations to Molly Glasgow on her beautiful photography!

    The caption of Slide #5 can be further identified as a partial view of the three big hoops recently erected at Chilmark’s Beetlebung Farm by its new corporate owner. The neighbour’s little old grey farmhouse in the background sits just on the other side of the wall.
    For generations, its small courtyard had been blessed by the natural beauty and silence that are the treasured marks of Chilmark life. Unfortunately, no more. Reality today is a immense wall of industrial plastic and the relentless low hum of industrial fans that will now run around the clock, year-round, forever.

    High tunnels with sophisticated ventilation permit more intensive multi-season agriculture. This is good. How many, and where the island can accommodate them without needlessly damaging old communities is a question that will need more attention in the future.

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