This year, the SIFT farm received a grant to help purchase two new “kit“ greenhouses to replace our older, rundown hoop houses. The work constructing the first Rimol Nor’easter greenhouse is complete. Though it took several months to chip away at this, we’ve learned many lessons. Building a greenhouse is not something that any of us on the project had personally done before. This meant we needed to take extra care with each step to make sure we were doing it correctly. Though the manual for the greenhouse has step-by-step instructions, we found that these directions were often vague and the included photos provided very little detail. Ultimately, we found several videos available online that provided much more detailed instructions. Some of the videos even offered tips that differed from the manufacturer’s plans, and we found these tips to be more practical. Also, having finally understood where all the pieces of this puzzle go, we found that some of the steps may be done in a different order. All of these new skills will help make the construction process of our second greenhouse much smoother.
by John Wallace, SIFT Farm Manager
Previous hoop houses that are being replaced. Photo: NCAT
Our reason for replacing our hoop houses came after years of experience and temperature data. The original hoop houses were only 12 feet wide with angled side walls. This meant the sides were not useful for any plants that require vertical room to grow. We also found that the temperatures did not hold throughout the night, resulting in minimal frost resistance. In Butte, frosts can happen at any time and to extend your season, it is imperative to be able to protect against temperatures in to the lower 20s Fahrenheit. This meant our warm-season crops would be limited to around 70 days, often leaving us with frozen green tomatoes in September. The newer greenhouse is much wider and taller, and is gabled. The gables allow snow to easily slide off without burdening the structure with extra weight during the winter. It also has vertical side walls for the first few feet allowing more space for taller plants along the edge. We will be taking real-time temperature data to compare with past hoop house data to show the improvements.
The greenhouse during construction. Photo: NCAT
Though the new greenhouses are significantly more expensive, the USDA’s NRCS offers funding opportunities through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Agricultural producers can apply for an EQIP grant, which provides both financial resources and one-on-one assistance to plan and implement conservation practices. Grant proposals can be submitted to your local NRCS. After analyzing our production goals and looking back at our past experiences, we chose the Rimol Nor’easter because it not only met all our requirements but also is one of the most sturdy greenhouses on the market. We expect that this greenhouse will be viable for many more years than our previous hoop houses.
Completed end frame of the greenhouse. Photo: NCAT
Since we opted for a steel frame, we quickly learned that some of our tools were not suitable for the job. The end frame is made up of beams that needed to be cut to the proper lengths. Our hacksaw was not very efficient for cutting all of the pieces. We borrowed a chop saw to make the work quicker and tidier; however, we quickly learned how important it is to measure twice and cut once. The other difficult step was attaching the wire lock to the curved end bows. The bows are cylindrical, making it difficult to get a pilot hole drilled in the right place. After snapping our way through a set of drill bits, we invested in some titanium bits that were better suited to the job. Being organized and having all of our tools in one place seemed to be the key to working efficiently.
Greenhouse with the polyethylene film mounted. Photo: NCAT
On the day we finally pulled the polyethylene film over the structure, we made sure to have everything ready and in place with multiple extra hands. This may be the most difficult step because the weather plays a major role. Even the slightest of winds makes locking down the plastic nearly impossible. For this, we waited until a perfect morning with no wind. Even the temperature matters because below 40 degrees, the plastic becomes brittle and not malleable. Instead of following the manufacturer’s notes for pulling over the top sheet, we opted to use another method we found online. This method pulls the plastic along the top purlin from end wall to end wall, instead of pulling it over from the side walls. This method is helpful if you are short-handed or have a slight breeze. By building a giant spool for the plastic roll, we were able to easily measure and cut the end wall sheets.
NCAT staff at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 27, 2018. Photo: NCAT
Our initial plan is to use this new space for increased plant starts during the spring. Once the weather warms up enough to transplant those starts outside, we will build up the beds and plant tomatoes, peppers, and pole beans. The added vertical space and support trusses will be great for trellising. In the past, we have struggled with leaf curl on our tomatoes, which is a sign of heat stress. Because the new greenhouse has more air space inside, the temperatures should not be as extreme. Also, the sides roll up further, which will help vent more efficiently on the hottest of summer days.
On November 27, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate all the hard work that has gone into the construction of the new greenhouse. It was great to see all the support from NCAT’s staff. This marks a new era for the SIFT farm and its ability to produce fresh, local food for those in our area, many of whom are in dire need of nutrient-dense food. We look forward to continuing donations to programs that help support the less fortunate in our community.