Right now, I suspect that to the average American, the face and name that is associated with home gardening, growing your own, farmers markets and so on is NOT Aunt Toby (sad to say, but I just can’t get the coverage; what can I tell you).

It’s our First Lady, Michelle Obama. From planting the White House Garden with elementary school children, inviting them to harvest and cook in the kitchen, feeding visitors out of the garden, and challenging some of America’s most famous television chefs to come cook out of her garden, our FLOTUS has probably done more in the past year to bring healthy eating, local eating, local growing, veggies, and fresh cooking to more Americans since Fanny Farmer, Julia Child and James Beard. Iron Chef Meets the White House Garden

Partnering with the USDA, Mrs. Obama and Sam Kass (an assistant chef who came with the Obama’s from Chicago and the energy behind the White House garden), as you can see in the above video, have brought a technique which has been used by small commercial farmers only for the past couple of years: hoop houses. Actually, in my area, what they’ve put up are referred to as ‘tunnels’. A hoop house frame is shaped more like a garage, with a peaked roof. See the first photograph Hoop Houses

Hoop houses are very versatile and can be used for everything from taller crops to temporary housing for smaller livestock such as hogs, turkeys, sheep and goats. Actually, those high tunnels that the White House is using on the garden there have been used as outdoor raising areas for chickens; one grower I know locally uses that size to get their all of their spring crops into the ground and growing early and uses the hoop houses to protect their berry crops from rain, sleet, frost, and hail(which during the summer can completely ruin fruit crops).

The point Sam Kass and the USDA folks are making here is very important, especially for people who garden or farm in areas where the season length can get a little bit iffy, and especially people who are growing cooler season crops such as lettuces and other greens, cabbage family plants such as cauliflower, broccoli, collards, etc. Using these extenders not only allows gardeners and growers to get plants into the ground faster (and thereby onto people’s plates earlier in the season and thus obviate the need to bring in veggies from areas such as Texas, Florida and California) in the spring, but also to have longer harvests in the fall..even into the winter. All without extra heat or other artificial energy inputs. Given what has just happened over the past 10 days in Texas and Florida and other parts of the South in terms of ice and crop damage, people who depend on those commercial growers for plants and commercial crops will probably be finding much higher prices for what is available and perhaps a total lack of availability for some items for the near future.

I won’t blow smoke on the fact that even having tunnels or a hoop house at Chez Siberia would not have allowed your dear Aunty to go out this morning, crawl in one end and harvest tomatoes. We’ve had temperatures at night in the minus numbers for several days. But I do have kale and some other hardy things out in the garden under the snow. With a tunnel or hoop house, they’d be in better condition for sure and would start up growing again much earlier in the spring than one would expect to be able to get fresh greens…from anywhere. Encouraging gardeners and small growers to think ‘out of the box’ (and under the tunnel) like this is a great idea – a way to get growers and gardeners to have fresh local veggies on family plates, grow their businesses, and perhaps get farmers markets to open a lot earlier with local produce.

Another point – and perhaps it’s just me that is coming up with this – is that by continuing to bring the garden to the attention of the public, by continuing to develop new ways of using the garden and showing people what can be done at home, what Chef Kass and Mrs. Obama are also doing is letting us know (in a sneaky sort of way) that last year’s garden was not just some sort of ‘one-off’, a PR stunt. The Obamas have embraced gardening, which like baseball, is always about ‘next year’.

Because the motto of all gardeners, everywhere, is ‘Never Give Up’.