GRAYSLAKE – Two new hoophouses are now serving as a living laboratories for students in the College of Lake County horticulture and sustainable agriculture programs.
By allowing sunlight to warm the inside air to a temperature conducive to planting, the hoophouse extends the growing season by several months.
Knowing how to use hoophouses is vital for sustainable agriculture students who want to start their own business or work for a small farm growing local food, said Rory Klick, chair of the horticulture department. By growing crops in the new structures, students also learn about rain collection methods to support drip irrigation systems, intercropping methods, seasonal crop rotations and sequential planting schedules to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs.
With hoophouses, crops can be planted in succession, with various sowings each week until October and possibly even through December. Then crops can be planted again in March, she said. This provides an economic advantage, since you can sell early hoophouse tomatoes before your farmers market competitors. It also can
extend the growing season into the winter with cold-hardy crops such as spinach, kale and mixed salad greens.
South of the horticulture building on the Grayslake, the structures, which measure 96 feet long, 35 feet wide and 16 feet high, consist of metal hoops or frames that support weather-resistant plastic over compost-enriched soil.
With hoops anchored into a concrete foundation, the house can withstand both thunderstorms and snow loads. One house currently is used for growing fruits and vegetables, the other similarly sized house is used for class experiments in growing cover crops like rye, clover and vetch. Eventually, fruits and vegetables will be raised in the second house as the program grows.
Students have appreciated the hands-on learning inside the hoophouses. Its incredible to learn and see the drip irrigation system, said Melissa Benson. The Vernon Hills resident said she hadn’t heard of hoophouses before the course, but now is interested in a career in growing local foods.