Friday, August 30, 2013

Making your own very large hoop house.

Here's the very first hoop house I made a few years ago.  Notice the clothespins.  Haha!  Those didn't last very long. 

The summer season is coming to an end and its time for me to start preparing my garden for cooler temperatures.  Doing this involves two very important things.
  1. Planting seeds or starts that will be ready for harvest in the Fall.  The only seeds I will be planting are lettuces/greens because they grow so quickly.  I got a late start this year so I will be planting mostly starts from Joe's Gardens
  2. Making a hoop house. 

Now you might be asking what a hoop house is and what it's used for. 

Basically, a hoop house is a little house that you make for your plants/seeds. The structure is made from plastic flexible pipes and is hoop-like in shape. The "roof" of the hoop house is either plastic sheeting or yards of frost blanket.  
There are many benefits to putting one in your garden. Some of these are:
  1. Heat!
    A hoop house traps heat inside.  This accelerates plant/seed growth and it allows you to grow things that would not otherwise grow in your climate.  I am wanting the heat for this middle bed to help my peppers continue to grow.
  2. Bug damage prevention
    If your hoop house is closed and tight it will keep most bugs out.  It's like a nice protective house that keeps those predators away.  However, always put down an organically certified slug bait.  You don't want to trap those suckers in and if you garden in the Northwest you know what problems they cause. 
  3. Animal damage prevention.
    Nothing is worse than waking up to find damage from animals to your garden.  Animals are naturally drawn to home gardens and a hoop house is a nice environmentally friendly way of keeping them in their place.  I have lots of animals in my yard and it keeps them out.  Deer, rabbits, squirrels, cats, and other dogs just find it too much of a bother. 
  4. Extends your growing season. 
    If you gardened and harvested only when the seasons naturally allowed you wouldn't harvest very much.  Our really active growing season in my area is really only 4-5 months long.  My cucumbers are not going to make it another month and cold weather, rain, and frost can damage plants that need extra time.  I have children who keep me busy and I often get distracted from my garden.  Hence often I plant veggies too late and I need my hoop house to add another month or so it's not a total loss.
  5. Protects plants from wind, snow and hail storms.
    The weather in the Northwest is fickle.  It will be scorching one day and then a storm will roll in and if you're not prepared will ruin your new starts.  Sometimes I leave my hoop house up during the winter and harvest lettuce/greens when it is really cold.  Traipsing through the snow to pick some fresh arugula or kale is pretty cool.  And we all know how fresh veggies from your garden are WAY better for you than anything bought from a grocery store.  
Now that you know some of the benefits of a hoop house here are a few not-so-great things to be ready for when having a hoop house. 
  1. They NOT winning any beauty contests.
    Now I love a lush looking garden as much as the next girl and hoop houses are a bit unsightly.  People might complain especially if your garden is in front of your house.  However, a hoop houses benefits far outweigh its lack of beauty.  Don't worry, once you start harvesting some great looking produce your hoop house will look a lot prettier.  It's a good idea to share a bit of that produce with a cranky complaining neighbor.  Free food makes everyone happier.
  2. Sometimes they get too hot.
    This is usually a problem in climates that are really hot and for people who use plastic sheeting.  I prefer frost blankets because they breathe and allow air to circulate.  They rarely get too hot here in the northwest.
  3. They can get too damp in the early Spring and late Fall
    This also doesn't tend to be a problem with frost blankets but if you overwater it can cause problems.
  4. You will need to set up a watering system inside.
    Once a hoop house is up you are not going to want to disturb it unless you are harvesting, weeding or planting something new.  A watering system for your garden is a good idea anyway.  I use soaker hoses that are laid down on the dirt and held in place with metal ground staples.  Then I attach a regular garden hose to the soaker hose and then connect the garden hose to a spigot with a timer.  These are really cheap and take the energy out of watering. 
  5. Once your plants sprout flowers you will need to open them up to allow bees to pollinate
    This never takes very long and be sure to close it up during the night.  The bees go to bed and the nasty bugs are on the prowl.  Remember prevention is the key to keeping chemicals out of your organic garden.
These are the soaker hoses I was talking about.  Always plant around the hoses.

Now, let's stop beating around the bush and get started.  Remember hoop houses are not hard but they require a bit of planning and preparation.  Just like with cooking get all your "ingredients" ready before you begin.  Here's what you will need to make a replica of my hoop house. 
  • A huge roll of black polyvinyl  tubing. 
    I got mine at Hardware Sales and it was only about $30.  That was more than enough tubing for two large raised beds.
  • 8 pieces of 12" rebar.
    They sell in in packs of 16 at Hardware Sales.  I can't remember how much it was, but it wasn't expensive.
  • A very large package of frost blankets (aka Crop Blanket). 
    My hoops measured about 9ft long for each one so I needed something that wasn't carried in our local stores.  I also needed a frost blanket to be hanging over the edges of my hoop house.  Always error on the side of having extra material.  Because I wanted to purchase my supplies as locally as possible, I found that I could order most of my supplies from Charley's Greenhouse and Garden.  They have a local store in Skagit Valley, WA ,but their online store is incredible and has a much larger selection.  The blanket I got was 12 X 25 and I cut it to fit the house the way I wanted. 
  • A couple of packages of metal ground staples.  You will need these to hold the blanket into the ground.
  • A hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • A hacksaw
  • About 16 snap clamps.
    These clamps are brilliant and snap on to connect the frost blanket to the hoops.  Always get more than you think you will need.  Snap clamps will disappear when you want to use them and are the missing socks of the garden world. They are also easily removed when you need to get back into your hoop house and they are very durable. 
Before I tell you how to make this hoop house let me tell you that I had a bit of help.  Rather I had some muscle working with me on this project.  My husband helped me finish some of the manual labor when I either got sore or tired.  What a nice guy huh? 
Measure and lay the rebar out first before you hammer them into the earth.
Once you have all your supplies pick up your hammer and rebar and place them where you want them to go into the ground.  I used four rebar on each side and kept them about 4" outside of my raised bed.  Do the same for the opposite side of the bed.  Once you are satisfied with their placement hammer those puppies halfway into the ground.  You want them sticking up about 6" off the ground.
You need to leave some space.  The tubing is going over these.
Try to line them up.  It doesn't have to be perfect.
Next you will need to figure out how tall you want your hoop house to be.  I wanted mine about 3 feet tall because most veggies get pretty huge.   Then take the tubing and cut off the size that you want with the hacksaw.  Use that tubing you just cut as a template to measure and cut 3 more hoops.  Then slide the polyvinyl tubing over the rebar.  You should have one tube for each end and two in the middle.

This is a good time to take a break. 
The next big aspect of making a hoop house is putting on your "roof."  My hillside gets very windy so I need to make sure it will withstand high winds.  Frost blankets are better for my needs than plastic sheeting because the air doesn't get too trapped and it is less likely to blow away. 

To connect your blanket to the hoops first drape the blanket over the hoops.  Use a few snap clamps to keep the blanket from blowing or sliding away.  Then cut the blanket to size.  Error on the side of leaving extra material.  Remember you want it to be hanging WAY over all the edges.

Snap more snap clamps over the blanket and connect to the tubing.  I use about three per tube.  One in the middle and two almost halfway down the sides. 

Finally gather the extra frost blanket in bunches, slip through the metal ground staples, and hammer into the ground.  Do your best to keep the frost blanket bound tightly around the base of the raised bed.  The more secure it is the better it will do it's job. 
This is the closed hoop house.  This is what they are supposed to look like. 
Please notice the difference between the two hoop houses that I created.  One is closed at both ends while the other is open.  I would like to tell you that one of them is open because I chose for it to be that way, but the reality is that I just ran out of material.  I will be ordering more in the next few weeks.  Mistakes happen.  Don't get too discouraged.  Just go with the flow and keep trying.

Well, that's pretty much it.  This type of a hoop house is very flexible and very inexpensive.  You don't need to buy an pricey kit and yours can be as small or as large as you want it.  You can put one around a raised bed or right into the ground around a small vegetable bed.  I have even seen people put them over a single plant!  Once you have more practice you can put one of them up in about 15 minutes.  Keep working at it and make it work for you and your garden.

Here are some more close-ups of materials that I ordered from Charley's Greenhouse and Garden. 
Anchoring pins.  They are also known as metal ground staples. 

Hint:  Get a big Ziploc bag to hold the snap clamps.  The frost blanket (aka crop cover blanket) starts out neatly folded but it can turn into a mess if your not careful. 

Anyone of you out there thinking you might try this soon?  What other ways do you protect your plants from upcoming frost? 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Salad Nicoise: Revamped

This is what we're having for dinner tonight. It's not a traditional salad nicoise but here's what it does have.

1. Cherry tomatoes
2. Green pole beans
3. Green pepper
4. Broccoli
5. Kalamata olives
6. Tuna packed in olive oil (Please don't use the packed in water kind.  It's not nearly as good.)
7. Red onion
8. Hard boiled eggs
9. Fresh basil from my garden.
*Ingredients from Joe's Gardens
**Ingredients from my CSA.
***Ingredients from a friend of my father-in-law.  Still local though. 

All these veggies are topped with a vinaigrette that I made myself.  It's not a secret recipe.  In fact it's from Jacques Pepin.  This entire idea is from an episode on salads from Julia & Jacques:  Cooking At Home.  It took me forever to find this video but here it is.  Their version of a salad nicoise is a tiny bit different.  Mine doesn't have anchovies (Sorry, Julia.  I didn't just have something else) and I added broccoli. 

Click on this link to watch Jacques Pepin and Julia Child make this salad.  We enjoyed ours with bread from the Co-Op and a lovely dry Rose wine. 

When hubby's cook.

It was Matt's turn to cook. He made crab cakes with leftover crab that we caught over the weekend and those beefsteak tomatoes are from our garden. You can't get more local than that. It was so good I barely go a photo of the yummy goodness before chowing down. It's a good problem to have. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How do you know when a recipe is really yours?

Recently, I've been making a lot of cold soups.  Our summer has been particularly hot and chilled soups really cool things off.  Finding a good recipe however can be a challenge and when I researched chilled soups via the internet and my vast array of cookbooks I was faced with disappointment.  Most of the recipes were either fruit based (blech) or had incredible quantities of dairy.  Some of you might remember that I've mentioned that I'm severely lactose intolerant so this creates a problem.  I find a cool recipe but now I have to adapt it.  I have a love hate relationship with this process.  I do love to create new recipes but sometimes it's nice just to recreate someone else's work.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have lazy days too where I just don't want to put mental energy into having to start from the ground up. 

This situation came up a few days ago when I made a Vichyssoise (aka cold potato soup).  This soup has heavy cream and I was excited to make it and adapt it.  It takes a lot of work and experimentation on my part.  On this particular day I was o.k. with that and the result was a brand new recipe that was all mine!  My recipe.  My baby.  Mine.  Mine.  Mine. 

When you love to cook these are the moments you saver.  This moment was really cool.  Not only did I create something of my own but it was a serious hit in our house.  My husband loved my Vichyssoise.  My boys gobbled it up and asked for seconds and I was quite pleased with myself.   I don't have formal culinary training so these moments are particularly poignant for me.  Then it happened.   Glum from the 70's popular cartoon version of  Gulliver's Travels opened his mouth in an attempt to question and possibly be helpful.

Enter the wet blanket. 

Don't get too distracted but here's a clip  of some Glum classics.  I don't know if any of you grew up with this but you will identify with people who are Glumish.  You know.  Those people who always have to insert the critical into a happy situation and bring you down.  My husband had a Glum moment but he's not normally like that.

Here's how the conversation went.

Me:      I'm so glad that everyone likes the soup.  I love that I created this myself.  This recipe is my   
Matt:   Hmmm.  Really?
Me:     What?
Matt:   Well, haven't people bee making Vichyssoise for years?  Hasn't someone else done it before?
Me:     Well, yes.  But this recipe is mine. 
Matt:   Why? 
Me:     Why what?  (getting agitated and cranky)
Matt:   Why is it yours?
Me:     We've been over this before.  What don't you understand?
Matt:   You've got to be careful saying what is yours and then writing about it.  You're accountable.
Me:     Well, thank you for the lecture.

It went on like this for about 10 minutes before I realized that he actually had a point.  I mean, I know why a recipe is MINE but no one else does.  I haven't really talked about it on my blog and I figured that this was just the time to do it. 

So here goes.  The big question. 

How do you know when a recipe is really yours?

I get inspired by many recipes out there as many people do, but I have two factors that influence what is really MINE. 
  1. Ingredients:
    I have many reasons for changing the ingredients of a recipe of which I am inspired.  Most of the ingredients I can find in said recipes either don't suit my personal/family tastes or they aren't in season.  As you know I buy as local as possible and this usually means buying food/veggies/fruit that are in season.  That is, this is what can be harvested now and is growing in my region.  Not only does this make food cheaper to purchase but it also makes the dish taste better.  Also, sometimes I just don't prefer the flavors or ingredients that other people use.  You can be sure that if I claim a recipe as MINE then I will have changed at least 3 ingredients.  However, usually it's much more.  I like that part the best.  The making it my way part. 
  2. Process:
    This is the really important part of making a recipe MINE.  You know I have a food intolerance and it's an inconvenient one.  So much so that some people question whether or not it's real. (Jerks)  Well I can tell you from personal experience that they symptoms of severe lactose intolerance are quite real.  Thankfully, I have found a way to still eat real dairy and I have another website and an accompanying cooking blog dedicated to it (  Sadly and happily, I cannot cook like other people do.  Dairy is a fickle food and often requires me to change HOW I make a dish.  Sometimes it's easy by just replacing regular milk with lactose-free milk.  However, often (like in my Vichyssoise recipe) I have to change the whole dang process.  Creamy soups are the toughest.  I can't just add whole milk in place of cream.  I want that soup to be really rich and creamy.  I have a few ways to doing this.  One is fast.  Another takes time (almost 48 stinkin' hours) and the last one takes patience.  I have a fussy intolerance and it requires me to be mindful about my cooking.  
In the end I think it is polite to remark who inspires you.  Every once in awhile I create something completely new that I've never seen before and it's usually the time I forget to write it down, take pictures etc.  Those times are truly magical but know this.  If I am inspired by something I found online or in a cookbook I will source it.  I will tell you who inspired me and I think that we are all better of knowing that.  If someone was inspired by something I created then I would want some credit too.  It's also what keeps the creative process moving and it why I cook in the first place.  It's my creative outlet and I believe that we as human beings require such an outlet. 

Now that you know this, here's how I made that really good Vichyssoise. 

Vichyssoise (inspired by Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen) 
Basically this is just cold potato soup with a fancy name.  I like the fancy name and I feel fancy when I make it and fancy when I eat.  Yep.  I really do.

Ingredients:  My local ingredients are highlighted and were obtained by my CSA or Joes Gardens.
  • 1 tbs. butter (Darigold)
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 3 cups leeks (chopped and rinsed) 
  • 5-6 medium potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 4 cups homemade vegetable/chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup lactose-free sour cream (I buy this at the Co-Op)
  • 1 1/2 cups lactose-free whole milk
  • salt/pepper (black) to taste
  • Optional:  fresh basil or other herb
  • First melt the butter and add the olive oil and heat until hot.  Add leeks and a pinch of salt and sauté them until they are soft. 
  • Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and simmers until the potatoes are starting to fall apart. 
  • Let the soup cool for about 10 minutes and blend.  I prefer using a hand blender but you could use a regular one or a food processor.
  • Chill the soup in the pot in the refrigerator for about an hour. 
  • Whisk the sour cream and milk until frothy.  Add salt/pepper to taste.  It's really important to completely mix these two together.  If you don't everything will get clumpy.  It will taste fine but it won't look right.
  • Stir in the milk/sour cream mixture until it fully combines into the soup. 
  • Chill for another hour or so.  You want this soup very cold!
  • Serve in chilled bowls and top with fresh basil.
*Please note:  You cannot use vegan sour creams for this process.  Not only does it not taste well but because of the chemical nature of these sour creams they won't combine properly with milk (regular or otherwise). 
**I am taking this opportunity to advocate for this specific sour cream product.  It is made by Green Valley Organics and is truly an amazing product.  I rave about it on web links section of my other website,  If you can't find it ask your local grocer if they can order it for you.  This isn't like regular sour cream.  It's much more like crème fraiche and sometimes I eat it with a spoon.  It contains real dairy but is naturally lactose-free AND it's organic.  It's perfect and I'm so grateful that this company makes this product.  They allow people with my condition to enjoy real food.  

For you visual people, here is a photo tutorial. 
Sauté those leeks in olive oil and butter.

Peel and chop those potatoes.

Cover with veggie stock and boil.

Let cool, then blend.

Whisk that sour cream and milk.  Work it!

Add the creamy goodness to your soup and chill.

Top with fresh basil and chow down.

If you want to see a different chilled soup that I recently made, click to my other blog and try it out.  Here's the link.
Enjoy and have fun on theses hot days.