You have probably seen pictures on the front of gardening catalogs, long stretches of soil covered by plastic tents. “High tunnels,” also called hoophouses, are a way to get extra food grown in spring and fall as well as increase summer production.

You have probably seen pictures on the front of gardening catalogs, long stretches of soil covered by plastic tents. “High tunnels,” also called hoophouses, are a way to get extra food grown in spring and fall as well as increase summer production.
This time of year, when some of us hear seed packets calling to us in garden centers, gardeners with hoophouses are already picking lettuce, spinach and collard greens.
 I am told it’s not uncommon for some of the crops grown under plastic to be ready for harvest as much as two months earlier.
Hoophouses are pretty basic. Imagine metal, wood or plastic pipes in the shape of an arbor covered in greenhouse plastic. To make sure the plastic stays on, it is attached to baseboards with strips of metal, wood, wire – even concrete blocks will work.
If you have been in a traditional greenhouse, hoophouses don’t usually have ventilation fans. Manual vents are opened in the afternoon to regulate solar heat and wind.
One Illinois friend who made a hoophouse out of old tires said having the tires provides extra insulation. I would not recommend using them unless you prepare your spouse for the sight. At last report, he was trying to ply his wife with her favorite fresh vegetables and not getting very far.
Now I have had my mind set on putting up a hoophouse, nothing big or fancy. I found some green plastic hoops on sale a couple of years ago. They are still sitting in my garage corner. Spring snuck up on me and then I broke my wrist last fall.
So last December, when a bag of turnips I adopted from my old office sprouted, I decided to experiment with my little deck garden and make a “hooppot.” After planting the turnips in two of my large deck pots, I draped them with a piece of heavy shipping plastic.
I used a trowel at one end to hold down the plastic and tried to tuck the other side between a third, soil-filled flower pot. Periodically I would look out a window to see the plastic flapping in the wind and have to tuck it back in, but for the most part the plastic stayed in place.
Last week, I picked my first young turnip greens and added them to a salad. They have a spicy flavor and are even more delicious because yes, I grew them myself.
I now have sprouted carrot tops and onion starts from a refrigerator cleaning growing in several smaller pots tucked under the plastic. If I can find the right pieces of wood, I may make some little arbors to hold the plastic off the plants once they start growing.
A beekeeping friend has taken this idea to a larger scale. Using cattle panels, he shaped one of those into a little hut and attached plastic to the cattle panels with black office clips.
His wife said she is not sure they are going to hold the plastic in place but that is something I would have tried given half the chance. I still subscribe to the theory gardening can be easy.
Which reminds me, I need to add a celery stalk that also has started to sprout.

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a beekeeper and certified gardener. Copyright 2016, all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.