Hoopin' It Up in the Northwest!

As a continuation of my last blog, I wanted to talk a little bit more about my raised beds, specifically the "Hoop Houses" that help extend my growing season and take away some of the guess work in my garden.

My usage of the term "Hoop House" is slightly incorrect. A true Hoop House is more house-like than my three-foot high covers. However, the name "Hoop House" is significantly easier to type/say than "PVC Hoop Cover Thingy I Don't Know The Name For," so I'll just stick with calling them Hoop Houses.
A Real Hoop House: littlehouseontheurbanprairie_hoop house
My Version (Last Season):
gaden post 5
My primary raised beds were a gift to me from my parents for my birthday a year ago, so I can't speak to the ease of building them. My generalization and exaggeration skills extend to my measuring abilities, so chances are, were I to have constructed them, they would have been slightly less exacting than my Engineer-Dad's final product. (You will notice I didn't post any close up pictures of the wood joints in the raised beds I built myself last week.) That being said, if an old fart like my Dad can make them, you should be fine. (That was a test to see if my parents read my "Blob," as my mom refers to it. They just recently started gardening, and this post is actually a result of a prompt from my Dad. This'll teach him to never ask his rotten ingrate of a child for help!)
If I had been left to my own devices when constructing a raised bed, I would have followed Sunset Magazine's instructions (Found Here)
One of the neatest part about Sunset's plans (a feature which my Dad included on my beds) is the built-in PVC-pipe holders for the hoops. I can't tell you how awesome this small detail is. The hoops are a cinch to put on and take off, and they make life SO MUCH BETTER! I used 6 mil translucent painter's plastic to cover my beds (available in rolls from Lowe's). The biggest problem I had was trying to keep the plastic from blowing off. Last season, I stapled the ends of the plastic to long 1"x6"s, but the staples would always rip out and the cover would blow off. I did some research this last winter and got the best tip! I wish I could give credit where credit's due, but for the life of me, I can't remember the blog I saw this on: Binder Clips!
binder clip
I bought a couple bags of large Binder Clips from Staples, and was able to use them to clip the plastic around the PVC Pipe hoops. So far I haven't had any issues with the hoops blowing off. I will keep you updated, though.
Okay, so once you have your raised beds, and hoop-houses in place, what's next? The primary benefit of any row covers is that they protect plants from cooler weather by creating a miniature green-house, allowing for the gardener to plant earlier than without the covers. I have noticed that they also protect my plants from munchers like slugs, deer and rabbits (although that may be my cats and the  neighborhood dogs), as well as shielding the beds from any air-born seeds. Those last two may be my imagination, as I haven't noticed anyone else mentioning them. A few things to be aware of, however, are that you need to be aware of the weather and check on your plants fairly regularly. Although it isn't much of a problem where I live, there is the potential for cooking your plants on a particularly sunny or hot day. If I see the forecast reach into the high 60s or 70s, I will vent the covers (raise a side or two) in the morning and replace them before night falls. When checking the beds, if you ever notice steam come out when you raise the side (it often fogs up my sunglasses), that is also an indication that you will want to vent the beds. You don't want to keep the beds too steamy, or that excess moisture in the air could potentially cause your baby plants to mildew or be prone to diseases.
Vented (Last Season):
gaden post 7
The covers do create a terrarium-effect within the beds making them require less water. When I find myself needing to vent the beds regularly, that indicates that I can take them down. At this point, I will typically start my soaker hose timer (more on that later, but I have soaker hoses for each bed hooked up to a garden timer that will turn on for a period of time at set intervals). Last year, I pulled the hoops down in May and kept them off all summer. Had I been more on top of my game, I would have replaced them at the end of summer to extend my growing season. I didn't do that because I kind of forgot. Maybe I'll remember this year, maybe I won't. (See gardening rules from the last post: Take it easy on yourself.)
Well, that's all for now. Feel free to ask me whatever garden questions you have. Chances are, I won't know the answer, but I am pretty creative and can make up some weird stuff, so you never know!