What Is A Hoop House And Is It Different From A Greenhouse?

Growing season always seem too short? Wish you could start your own seedlings? Wish that you could eat freshly grown lettuce even in the middle of winter? A hoop house can help you do all that and more.

A hoop house is a type of greenhouse, usually constructed with tubes and covered in heavy-duty, UV-resistant plastic. A hoop house is less expensive and more temporary than a glass or plexiglass greenhouse, but has no inbuilt artificial lighting or temperature controls. Hoop houses are used to grow seedlings, protect blight-sensitive crops in the summer, and to extend the growing season.

What Is The Purpose Of A Hoop House?

Originally developed for vegetable farming, hoop houses are used to protect blight-sensitive crops (like tomatoes and cucumbers) in the summer and to extend the season so you can grow cold-tolerant vegetables in the fall, early spring, and even during the winter (depending on how cold it gets).

A hoop house can help gardeners:

  • Extend the growing season and harvest. The plastic will protect cold tolerant vegetables from frost and snow and keep the soil warmer, which means you can start your crops earlier in the spring and grow them later in the fall. If your winters are mild enough, you can even grow cold-tolerant vegetables through the winter. Everything will grow a lot slower from the lack of sun, though, so start your vegetables in early fall.
  • Start and harden off transplants. A hoop house is also a handy place to start your plants in the early spring. Just watch out for cold snaps. Though the hoop house will be warmer than outside, transplants are delicate and vulnerable to the cold.
  • Provides protection from pests (with insect netting). In the summer, you can replace the heavy-duty plastic with insect netting. Insect netting is a lot lighter than plastic tarps and can protect your crops from tiny insects like flea beetle or from larger pests like cucumber beetles and squash bugs. (You will need to open it up when vegetables fruit so bees can pollinate them.)
  • Protect plants from blight and other fungal diseases. Ah, the dreadful blight. It rides into your garden with the wind and feasts on damp leaves. The plastic cover will keep your plants dry from rain (you will have to drip irrigate) and protect your plants from the wind, which protects your tomatoes from blight.
  • Provide shade with shade cloth. If the past few summers have taught us anything, it’s to expect scorching hot weather. Shade cloth is a dark, thick material that will shade your vegetables and provide some relief from the scorching heat.

How Much Does A Hoop House Cost?

The cost of a hoop house depends on how big the hoop house is, whether you DIY it or buy a kit, and how many extras you add (fans and heaters). Most hoop houses kits will require some carpentry skills to install.

A large farm-sized hoop house will cost about $5 to $10 per square foot. A hoop house kit starts at around $1500.

A hoop house kit designed for a backyard will cost about $200, but if you DIY it, you can build one for $25 – $100 (depending on the price of the materials).

What’s The Difference Between A Hoop House And A Greenhouse?

The difference between a hoop house (or high tunnel) and a greenhouse is that while a hoop house is a type of greenhouse, greenhouse usually refers to permanent structures while hoop houses are temporary structures built using hoops that are easy to build and move when needed.

There are a lot of “greenhouse” kits on the market that are a cross between a hoop house and a plant nursery greenhouse, made with a plastic tarp and can be moved around, while including shelves for seedlings and potted plants.

Hoop House Greenhouse
Structure Type Temporary Permanent
Materials Steel and heavy-duty UV-resistant plastic Steel or aluminum frame and glass or plexiglass
Cost Cost-effective at $5 to $10 per square foot. Expensive as it starts at $25 per square foot. Long-term investment.
Ease Of Building Can either DIY or buy a kit with some carpentry skills Challenging. Many backyard greenhouse kits are flimsy, although they’re easier to put together.
Aesthetics Not very good looking Aesthetically pleasing
Utilities No inbuilt utilities, but can add fans, portable heating units, and water. Can include utilities, including fans, heating, water, and lights.
Weather Durability Durable in most weather, but high winds and heavy snowfall can cause a lot of damage. Very durable.
Soil Management Can move the structure to new soil to give the soil a rest. Salt buildup poses challenges, but you can either move the hoop house or water heavily with overhead irrigation while growing lettuces in the spring to flush the salt. When using permanent beds,you have more control over fertilizer and amendments, but salt buildup poses challenges. Soil quality entirely depends on you. (If using a greenhouse for a seedling nursery, this doesn’t matter.)
Water Management More control over water than outdoor growing. More control over water and humidity than outdoor growing.
Pest Management Prevents a lot of pests, but when pests get in and you’re unable to open up the flaps, there are no natural predators to keep them in check. You can order predatory insects to release them inside. Prevents a lot of pests, but if you have a pest outbreak (like aphids), they will quickly spiral out of control. You can order some predatory insects to release inside.
Temperature Control No inbuilt control, but you can install fans at both ends for air flow and raise the plastic tarps side when it’s hot. Some control over temperature, although it’s difficult to prevent it getting too hot during heatwaves.

Is A Hoop House Or Greenhouse Better?

Whether a hoop house is better than a greenhouse depends on your particular situation.

On a farming scale, hoop houses have the advantage because they’re much less expensive per square foot of growing space and you can move them, meaning you can grow tomatoes in one spot, then when they’re done for the season, you can move the greenhouse to cover your lettuce seedlings.

If you live in a rental, then a hoop house can be easily put up and taken down with no permanent damage to the site (given that you’re allowed to garden).

Hoop houses are also easier to scale. You can easily build a hoop house to cover a raised bed, for example, so that you can use it to protect cold tolerant vegetables through the winter, then remove it entirely for summer.

But if you own your house, only have a small space, only want to use the space for seedlings, and/or want something aesthetically pleasing, then building a greenhouse is worth the money.

Greenhouses last a lot longer than hoop houses, especially in windy conditions, as the heavy plastic will tear. The heavy duty plastic will last between 5 and 7 years with regular patching. A greenhouse can last a lifetime or longer with proper maintenance.

Where Can You Buy A Hoop House?

You can buy large hoop house kits online from farm supply retailers, or smaller backyard kits from garden supply retailers. If you’re DIYing a small hoop house, you can pick up everything you need at a local hardware store. Bootstrap Farmer offers a DIY hoop house/high tunnel kit that starts at 20 ft and includes all the hardware and tools, but not the parts that would be cheaper to buy locally (they provide a list).

If you’re in the US and you grow food on a large scale, you can apply for the High Tunnel System Initiative, a program to help farmers add hoop houses to their farms.

If you’re looking to save money, check local listings for used hoop houses or ask around with local vegetable farmers to see if anyone is selling their farm equipment. You can save a lot of money that way and it’s more sustainable.

Hoop House FAQs

How Long Do Hoop Houses Last?

The structure of the hoop house can last many years, but the UV-resistant plastic cover will only last between 5 and 7 years with proper patching. To patch up the cover, just use duct tape to patch the holes. A plastic cover without UV resistance will break down after one growing season, so it pays to get an outdoor cover.

What Is The Difference Between A Hoop House And A High Tunnel?

There is no difference between a hoop house and a high tunnel. They’re different terms used for the same thing. Agricultural engineers use the term high tunnel because it’s literally a high tunnel, a tunnel tall enough to stand under. Hoop house is another literal turn, as it’s literally a structure that’s made of hoops.

What Vegetables Grow Best In A Hoop House?

In the spring, fall, and winter, the best plants to grow in a hoop house are cold-tolerant plants like lettuce, spinach, herbs, radishes, turnips, carrots, and beets.

In the summer, when it gets pretty warm inside of a hoop house, the best vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.

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