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Hoop house organizers work to transform sand into soil

July 30, 2010
By JOHANNA BOYLE Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - A hoop house is basically a series of plastic or metal arches covered in plastic, designed to maintain a higher temperature around a garden plot to extend the growing season.

But before you can throw plants in the ground, you have to make sure the soil is ready to grow those plants.

"To have healthy plants, you have to have healthy soil," said Kelly Cantway, manager of the hoop house set up by the Marquette Food Co-op, Northern Michigan University and Northern Initiatives.

Article Photos

Planting is planned for August in the hoop house organized by the Marquette Food Co-op, Northern Initiatives and Northern Michigan University. But first, the sandy soil must be built up. Hoop house manager Kelly Cantway is working with two methods to build nutrients back into the soil. Above, Cantway waters the hoop house so the vegetable and composted manure can break down. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)

The hoop house is a pilot program that will help local growers learn how to extend their growing season into the colder months, meaning more locally grown food is available to area residents.

Built just outside the Jacobetti Center at NMU, the hoop house began with sand as soil. Cantway, along with intern Jeff Parks, has been working to build the soil up to the point where it can produce plants.

"We split it in half and worked with two different methods of soil building," Cantway said.

On the northern portion of the hoop house, the sand was mixed with soil amendments and composted manure, according to soil testing recommendations. The south side is being built up with a sheet composting method, which layers composted manure, fresh vegetable matter and decomposing straw.

Both sides must be regularly watered to produce the correct moisture levels and keep the matter breaking down to produce soil.

"We'll grow the same crop across (the house) so we can compare," Cantway said.

The information gathered about the soil build up process will be made available to local growers and the public so that others can choose which process to use.

After being allowed to sit for a month, the soil will then be planted in early August so that plants can be harvested later in the year with a second planting in February.

First up for planting will be cold-tolerant plants like Asian greens, beets, claytonia, green onions and lettuce.

Working on the planting will be students from the NMU Greenhouse and the Hospitality Management Program. Food produced in the hoop house will be used by the hospitality management students in food classes. In return the hoop house will receive vegetable waste as compost to put back into the soil.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is jboyle@miningjournal.net.

 
 

 

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