Season Extension

edited February 2014 in Horticultural Crops
Next innovations in poly covers -

I have been working on mobile/modular hoophouse designs that are basically slight variations on the Johnny bender 12' caterpillar tunnel. Eliot Coleman and I have taken somewhat similar paths to lately, creating a hyper-mobile 14' wide structure. His "leaves no trace" and is anchored in place at each location it is moved to. My SideStep Hoophouse model does what it says, stepping sideways in 16' long modules onto additional sets of ground posts that stay in place, defining growing beds that can be under poly or not at various times. Each of these designs can be built for about half the cost of Gothic Hoophouses, with the additional value of mobility that some would say is a doubling of production capacity.

The democratization of hoophouse design through the Johnny's bender, and youtube, these forums and all is really exciting. So many opportunities as we explore what is efficient, what works in various climates, what is scalable, how we learn from other mistakes, and avoid making every one of them ourselves (!) and how we lower the barriers to entry for all.

What I am interested in here is to ask if others are out there working with new innovations on simple, low cost structures, and especially on the new growing rotations that can emerge when we begin to think of what these hyper-mobile structures can do. The SideStep Hoophouse can be relocated at the rate of 1000 sf/ person-hour (2 people moving 2000 sf in one hour). This seems to be transforming mobile structures from something that can never make it to the top of a grower's priority list ("oh, let's just put some more compost in there and grow the next crop") and/or is a serious capital expenditure (often half again to twice the cost of stationary Gothics), to a model where we can really think about the most valuable place for a piece of poly to be on any given day.

Rotation models my grower friends are working with now include:
- animal/vegetable rotations (chickens working through a space between structures say, cleaning up an old crop and leaving behind some fertility while the structures grow on new spaces and create "fencing" for the animals
- mobile animal overwintering structures, possibly planted out in each positions with food crops that never needed harvesting and handling, then rich in nutrients in spring for something like a sweet corn crop that can handle the initial nitrogen
- a one-cut salad model where the hoops can also be covered with shade cloth for heat tolerance
- a "propagation in place" system, seeding out crops in February and March for the shortest possible time, moving the structure to nest positions and leaving each crop under low tunnels, seeking to plant out much greater area of the field before cool-wet springs allow equipment onto the land.
- etc. etc.

All of this seems to me to have the potential to really be the tipping point of large scale import substitution. One obvious low hanging fruit being salad crops from California and Mexico, to local northern climates. Right now we still seem to need to ask our eaters to pay a premium for local and/or go without local much of the year while our production spikes and bottoms out with the weather. No real problem there. It has gotten us this far. But I would love to see us innovate models that open up opportunities for many more individuals that wish to work in local food production, while even solving issues like food access and affordability.

I believe that this forum has the potential to raise all boats. I hope it reaches the type of critical mass of adoption that proves this wide value. I look forward to being a part of the discussion. Jeff McCabe - Nifty Hoops

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