High tunnel makes more sense for this gardener

A few years ago I was approached with an offer to receive a no-cost greenhouse via the NRCS. I thought at the time, “why not?” and applied for a 30’ X 90’ one and started making plans accordingly. A few weeks later I got a letter stating that I wasn’t high on their priority list for receiving a greenhouse.

Well go figure.

So then I got to thinking I wasn’t really sure I wanted a huge greenhouse structure in my backyard nor, quite frankly, the work and maintenance that would come with it. I was also thinking that if the darn thing caved in under the snow load, like many have in this area, I wouldn’t be out as much. So I started thinking about a simpler solution to extend our short season.

Lo and behold I came across an article in Mother Earth News about a “Moveable Modular Cathedral Tunnel.” The MMCT, is the brainchild of Eliot Coleman, a man who lives up in Maine and has never let a short season, or even a brutal winter, stop him from gardening. So in order to see what all the hubbub was about hoophouse and high tunnel gardening I started building the MMCT from the plans I downloaded from the Internet.

The MMCT is  fashioned out of 10’ long EMT conduit (approx. cost, $10 ea.), bent into curved pipes using Johnny’s Selected Seed’s pole bender (approx. cost $50). It took 15 of these pipes and some top rail pipe for the framing. I bought enough greenhouse film to cover three of these modular units at an approximate cost of $200. Assorted bolts, screws and nuts added another $20 or so to the cost. I also needed to purchase plastic clamps to attach the plastic to the pipes at a cost of about $75. Total cost for one 12’ by 10’ hoophouse was less than $400. I ended up building two of these units joined at the end for a 12’ by 20’ hoophouse, or high tunnel, if you prefer. Incidentally, you can make it as long as you want by simply adding more sections.

With the exception of bending the poles, this project can be done by one person. Make sure you have a good drill to drill through the conduit metal and a “chop” saw for cutting pipe.  

The thing I like about the MMCT is the size and the fact it is moveable. In time insects and disease will become a problem in the soil. When that time comes it’s simply  “adios flea beadles!” With the help of another person I can move the dang thing. Or maybe you’re just tired of seeing it in the same spot. Just move it like you would rearrange the furniture in your living room.


I didn’t get it all set up and ready to go until the last week of May. And I still have to add “doors” to each end, which will consist of greenhouse covering material attached to kind of a swing arm fashioned out of the EMT tubing.

So this season I’m growing a few tomatoes, cucumbers and a watermelon inside it. You might say I’m taking it for a test drive. Eventually, I’d like to grow some lettuces into the fall and maybe even through the winter. And I can’t wait to get an early start in the spring!

Hoophouse and greenhouse growing isn’t rocket science, but it’s a little different than growing straight into the ground. Stay tuned and I’ll share my trials and tribulations, and hopefully a few success stories!


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