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© Kelly Averill Savino

Make your own greenhouse for $50

By Kelly Averill Savino

Am I proud of myself or what? I wanted an early start on my lettuce, peas and spinach, a frost-proof place to get my tomatoes in early and a way to extend my harvest into the late fall and even winter. I had always managed to put together a cold frame out of trash-picked storm windows and scrap lumber, but I fantasized about a simple hoop house.

So here it is. It took me just a couple of afternoons; 10 cinder blocks I scrounged somewhere; 10 pieces of 10-foot PVC (1-inch); a scrap of 1-1/4” PVC; and assorted “x” and “t” connectors (my only real expense!).

The basic instructions
I buried the blocks and hammered a two-foot length of 1-¼” PVC into each one, right into the dirt to ground level. To make the 20-foot arched sections, I just bent the PVC and poked one end into each 1-1/4” sleeve in the ground. They stood there like an enormous rib cage.

I happened to have come by a roll of heavy duty plastic from an art installation at the local college, and it was 12 feet wide, so I made my greenhouse 12 feet long. I stapled and then sandwiched one end of the plastic between two long strips of 1”x2”s, then rolled it up like a window shade. I rolled it over the top and anchored the other end to boards as well.

When it came time to cover the ends and find some way to attach the plastic to the PVC, I tried cutting a bit of leftover one-inch pipe into two-inch lengths and then cut up the side of each one with a hacksaw so it could open like a C-shaped clamp. I stretched these open (hard on the fingers) and clipped them around the plastic I had wrapped around the arches. Too long and they are too hard to open … too short and they pop off in a wind storm.

© Kelly Averill Savino

Finishing it out
It's not gorgeous, but I have spinach already, and last weekend we had hail and snow -- yes, in April (welcome to Ohio!). Anyway, I built a simple “H” shape out of scrap lumber and buried the legs under the front end arch of my hoop house. Then I cobbed the old wooden screen door right off the back of my house, cut it down by 16 inches with a circular saw and reattached the screen. My kids were really amused. They told on me when their daddy got home from work. "Mommy took the screen door right off the house!" He just sighed and went to Home Depot to buy another one. He's a good sport.

So we're all pretty happy. My kids are impressed. After I took these pictures I did one more thing: I drove wooden stakes along the side walls, screwed eyes (like from hook and eyes) into the top of each one and then ran a thin white nylon cord across the top of the hoop house in the gap between each "rib.” Then I used two small bungee cords to attach the rope to the stakes, one on either side. When the wind really blows, the hoop house puffs out like it's going to sail to the neighbor's. The tie-downs seem to keep it a bit more secure and not so flappy when it's windy.

It was really amazing how quickly a patch of wintered-over garden became a dwelling of sorts. It must be the same thrill Neanderthal women got from arching those big mammoth tusks, pulling skins over them and having a nice warm house. I built a few cold frames inside my hoop house with bricks I pulled out of the dumpster at the Unitarian Universalist church (where they're remodeling) and topped the bricks with old storm windows. I made a similar "H" out of boards for the back of the hoop house and made kind of a window by cutting a flap of plastic out that I can open and close to ventilate.

This is my kind of project. It cost almost nothing, I could do it by myself in a weekend, and I am going to have the earliest tomatoes in this part of Ohio!

Reprinted with permission from Earthworks Studio.

Kelly Averill Savino is a potter and an attachment parenting, unschooling mother of three in Ohio. Her web site features a recipe for making your own tofu and soy milk, a gallery of pots including specialty pots for women, original poetry and plans for constructing an inexpensive hoop "greenhouse." Visit Kelly at Earthworks Studio.


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