Houston, We Have a Problem
Our hoophouse survived the wind last year but wasn’t up to the heavy snow loads. The weight broke the PVC between the sides and the midrib. Even before the total failure though, the plastic was ripped in a few places, so we knew that something needed to be done before spring. Mr. B and I are trying to decide what to do for this year. We have two choices:
1) Replace the PVC with metal ribs (probably the top rail of a chain link fence), and make the ribs solid from one side to the other. You can buy a tool to bend the hoops (for example). We would also need to replace the plastic with the same kind of plastic or upgrade to nicer greenhouse plastic.
Buy a real greenhouse. Harbor Freight sells a 10×12 greenhouse that appears to be the IKEA product of greenhouses. They apparently have trouble standing up to snow or wind, but because of their low cost many people buy and retrofit them to be stronger. There are so many posts about them on GardenWeb that they use the abbreviation HFGH.
We were pretty set on the greenhouse until we started talking about what I wanted to use the space for. Hoophouses are by far the most common greenhouse type on farms (that I’ve seen). The floor in hoophouses is often bare dirt, and most people use them to both start seeds and to grow crops in the ground. This allows you to use the same space for multiple purposes: starting seeds, growing heat loving crops, housing chicks or chickens – you are just adding a cover to ground. In contrast, a greenhouse (especially the HFGH) is seen as a permanent structure that requires a more solid base. Most people use them to provide heat, but grow plants in pots. Obviously, these are broad categories Many people put down gravel and only use their hoophouse for plants in pots. Other people probably have their greenhouse on dirt and grow plants in the ground. However, Mr. B feels like the HFGH will require a more structurally sound base than our hoophouse, including gravel to prevent water from collecting in and around the base.
The greenhouse is attractive because the polycarbonate panels will likely keep heat in better than the plastic. By the time we replace the ribs and plastic on our hoophouse, we will have easily paid for the greenhouse as well. I can also build some raised beds in the greenhouse to grow plants in, and putting down gravel would make it very nice to work in (my hoophouse is full of mud and tall weeds). I can always build a mobile hoophouse out in the garden to cover tomatoes in the summer and cold weather crops in the fall. Of course, if we upgrade the hoophouse it could last for several years before the plastic needs to be replaced.