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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Cold Hardy Greens Thrive In Hoop House

In spite of frigid winter temperatures, kale, collard greens, bok choy and salad greens are growing inside the hoop house at the Butler Park Community Garden.

Stephanie Solomon in the hoop house

Photo: Annie Corrigan

Stephanie Solomon, the Garden and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator for Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, has been working in the hoop house all season to help greens grow.

Let My Garden Grow

Back in the fall, Garden and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator for Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard Stephanie Solomon was preparing the soil inside the organization’s hoop house in order to plant cold hardy greens.

Fast-forward a couple months to a chilly and overcast late-December day. The garden is bursting at the seams with kale, bok choy, salad greens and collard greens.

“Gardens are exciting that way, watching them change,” says Solomon. “It’s a good life lesson.”

It’s Getting Hot In Here

A hoop house is a a structure made of a bendable frame and a plastic covering, much like a greenhouse. “We don’t have, nor do we really want electricity in here,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to figure out methods of growing without needing to be on the grid.”

Solomon says one of the first steps was figuring out how to generate heat inside the hoop house. She placed a couple 55-gallon barrels filled with water next to the entrances. The water absorbs heat during the day and then re-emits it at night.

Come spring, they will also do some hot composting. As organic matter breaks down, it emits heat. There are ways to manipulate a pile of compost to generate even more heat.

low tunnel in the hoop house

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Greens are growing under a low tunnel in the hoop house. Row cover protects the plants from frost while still letting light in. On especially cold days, a layer of plastic will be placed over top to give the veggies even more protection.

Hoop House Within A Hoop House

To give the plants even more protection from the Indiana winters, she built a low tunnel, which is essentially a mini-hoop house within the hoop house. When temperatures get below 35 degrees, she pulls row cover over top of the low tunnel. It’s a cloth blanket that protects the plants from frost while still letting light in. If it’s below 28 degrees, she adds a layer of plastic.

With the weather being as unpredictable as it has been lately, she’s been making these adjustments multiple times a day.

In spite of some hard frosts, Solomon is happy to report that everything has survived — the kale in particular is positively thriving. That might change if the temperatures continue to get colder and the plants go dormant. But for now, she’s excited to harvest a couple grocery bags of greens every week.

“That feels like such an exciting thing when all of our other gardens are put to bed for the season!”

Read More about how Stephanie Solomon turned the plot of land into a fertile garden.

kale in the hoop house garden

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

The kale growing in the hoop house at Butler Park is looking great. Stephanie Solomon says she can harvest a couple grocery bags full of greens every week.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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  • Drew Ramsey, MD

    Kale in the winter! Kale for Valentine’s Day?! Yes Annie Corrigan – Today you are my Kale Hero.

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