The White House Hoop House | Civil Eats

The White House Hoop House


First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass set a great example this spring when they planted their vegetable garden on the White House lawn. The garden has taught D.C. kids where their food comes from, fed heads of state from around the world, and hosted last month’s Healthy Kid’s fair. Most importantly, the garden has shown families across America that you can eat healthy, affordable, responsible food right out of your own backyard.

This winter, the First Lady can take it one step further. Eating from the garden doesn’t only have to be limited to March-October. Michelle Obama is in a perfect position to show us that local food is possible outside of the summer months, no matter where you live. She can bring the country’s attention to the creative ways that people like Eliot Coleman and Will Allen manage to grow food in all four seasons.

Washington D.C. is located in the USDA hardiness zone 7, which means that with the help of a few basic supplies, the White House garden could be producing food all year round. Putting up cold frames — a wooden frame covered with glass — brings the zone up 1.5. Putting up a hoop house — a simple plastic structure that uses passive solar energy (as opposed to a greenhouse, which is heated) — brings it up another 1.5, to a zone 10. To put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of southern California or Florida! These affordable and efficient structures mean the Obamas (and Bancroft Elementary students) could be eating salads, greens, radishes, carrots, turnips and more throughout winter. Think of what a great example they could set for the whole country. And they would be doing themselves a favor, too: vegetables such as kale and carrots actually get tastier and sweeter when left in the cold soil.

The White House could start by covering their raised beds with cold frames now, and planting various salad greens and kale, cabbage and other hardier greens. Also, by spacing the plantings, they’ll be sure to have a ready supply from November through to spring. It’s too late to plant root vegetables for a winter harvest this year, but according to Sam Kass, the White house already has a makeshift root cellar and can keep what they harvested a few weeks back fresh.

That’s why the White House should start planning for the next four seasons right now. An ambitious winter schedule would have them planting carrots, parsnips and beets in mid-August to be ready for a mid-November harvest. They could plant the same seeds again in October (when it’s still pretty warm in D.C.) for a January harvest of the same vegetables. Greens such as broccoli, cabbage, collards and Brussels sprouts could be planted a few weeks after the root vegetables as they require less time to mature and this would space out the harvest. Throw some spinach, mesclun, radishes and green onions under a cold frame inside the hoop house, and you’ve got great food all year round!

The White House garden plan displayed here shows my suggestion for an ideal placing of hoop houses and cold frames that could be planted in any number of ways.

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Michelle Obama wants Americans to eat healthy, fresh food in season, and she can show us that people in colder parts of the country don’t have to give up on responsible eating come December and February. She’s in a great position to do that with what is certainly the country’s most well-known vegetable garden. Mrs. Obama and Sam Kass should make winter gardening a priority of theirs, and begin planning for their 2010 winter garden.

Originally published at Slow Food USA

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Emily Stephenson is an intern at Slow Food USA's national office in Brooklyn, NY. Read more >

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  1. I just learned that I am in zone 4a (fargo, ND). Is there any lightweight, year round, environmentally friendly options for someone in my area. Any resources would be appreciated.
  2. Rob Nussbaumer
    You can put up a hoop house just like they are doing at the White House. There are a plenty of websites out there that will give you detailed instructions on how to build them. There is also a handbook called Hoop House construction. The farm that I apprentice at uses two layers of plastic with a layer of air in between the two layers. Inside the house we have metal poles that go over the beds. We have another plastic sheet that we cover the plants with once it gets down to the 20s and below. This protects the plants from frost and creates another layer of warmth. You can also put in cold frames inside the hoop house to increase the level of warmth. I hope this helps you out. You could also check out the west-side gardener which has a how to on building hoop houses.

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