The Profitable Mini-Farm – Low-Cost Crop Protection with Low Tunnels (E12)

Listen to more episodes of Farm Small Farm Smart

Episode Summary

The Profitable Mini-Farm is a new series hosted by Diego Footer and Jodi Roebuck to take a deep dive into the technicalities of farming—from designing your farm’s layout to crop planning to treating your soil.

In this episode of The Profitable Mini Farm, Jodi and Diego take a deep dive into low tunnels, specifically Redpath Hoops, known as Kwik Hoops in North America. They also talk about both the advantages and disadvantages of using low tunnels, as well as cost efficiency and how to set up Kwik Hoops on your farm.

Today’s Guest: Jodi Roebuck

Jodi Roebuck is the main farmer behind Roebuck Farm and is a John Jeavons alumnus. He has been teaching sustainable bio-intensive growing techniques all over the world for over 20 years with the aim of creating sustainable food systems while bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

            Roebuck FarmWebsite | Instagram | Facebook

            Paperpot Co.’s Kwik Hoops Low Tunnels

            InsectaNet Insect Protection Netting by Paperpot Co.

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • Diego introduces the episode on using low tunnels (00:37)
  • Protect your investments with Paperpot Co.’s Kwik Hoops (01:15)
  • The advantages of growing under cover (02:21)
  • Covers: when should a new farm make the purchase? (03:19)
  • Jodi Roebuck’s experience using Redpath Hoops’ low tunnels (04:27)
    • What are poly-low tunnels? (06:08)
  • The disadvantages of a poly-low tunnel (07:03)
  • US context: how much it costs to grow under cover (10:47)
  • Applying plastic to the poly-low tunnels (12:19)
  • The many advantages of insect netting (15:07)
    • Insect netting softening heavy rains (16:53)
  • Different setting strategies for frost cover (17:16)
  • The main differences between insect netting and frost cover (18:47)
  • Redpath Hoops (aka Kwik Hoops): no need to lug around sandbags (19:35)
  • How to start setting up Kwik Hoops low tunnels (21:23)
  • How Kwik Hoops low tunnels anchor in different types of soils (28:25)
  • Kwik Hoops low tunnels longevity (30:37)
  • Venting hoops with different fabrics (31:20)
  • The most efficient way to remove fabrics from the low tunnels (34:02)
  • Why insect net shouldn’t be cut to a hundred-foot length when using Kwik Hoops low tunnels (37:10)
  • Kwik Hoops low tunnels are an insurance in crop security (42:07)

Subscribe to Farm Small Farm Smart in your favorite podcast player:

iTunes | Spotify | PlayerFM

Anything specific You want to hear? Reach Out!

Check Out Time-Saving Farm Tools Over at Paperpot Co.

Want to Buy Time-Saving Farm Tools But You’re All the Way In Australia or New Zealand? Check Out Active Vista!


[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome back to another episode of the Profitable Mini Farm. I'm your host, Diego�DIEGO. If you're new here on the show, each week, I talk with Farmer Jodi Roebuck about what makes his small market farm so successful. 2023 has been a tough year for a lot of farmers. The economy's slowed down, inflation's up, so hopefully you can glean some tips and tricks from Jodi to improve your farm operation, make it more profitable and sustainable for your lifestyle.

[00:00:37] In the previous episode, we talked about greenhouses. They're great, but they're big and costly, and they aren't for everyone at every stage of their farming career. Given that, how do you protect your crops If greenhouses aren't an option? Enter, low tunnels. Low tunnels are low-tech, but effective ways to protect your crop from insects, rain, snow, and temperature fluctuations.

[00:01:04] Today, Jodi's gonna talk about how low tunnels play a core role for his farm, protecting his crops from the rain and harsh New Zealand wind. Today's episode is brought to you by Paperpot Co. Farm Tools. That's my company. If you're looking for a top of the line low tunnel system, check out Kwik Hoops from Paperpot Co.

[00:01:27] In this episode, we're gonna talk about Redpath hoops. They're known as Kwik Hoops in the US, and they're ultra-heavy duty low tunnels designed for the most extreme conditions. There are other flimsy solutions out there, but they're not gonna hold up to heavy winds or snow loads. If you want something that works and has been tested in some of the windiest locations in New Zealand, being exposed to 70 mile per hour plus winds, check out Kwik Hoops.

[00:01:55] The hoops are totally portable, easy to move and install in only minutes. The best part is they're over 50% cheaper than cat tunnels. Protect your investment from the weather and insects so you can get paid. Learn more at Now let's get into it. Low tunnels for crop protection with Jodi Roebuck.

[00:02:21] When it comes to growing crops in the field, the trend that I get from talking to a lot of market gardeners is moving under cover. Ideally, that's a big greenhouse, but that's a big expense for a lot of people, so people look to other options. Cat tunnels, smaller, poly low tunnels, the Redpath hoops.

[00:02:43] When you think abou growing in the open field versus undercover of some sort, whatever that is, what are the advantages, the benefits of growing undercover?

[00:02:55] Jodi Roebuck: I think guaranteed control. We just�I summarize it in one word that it's insurance. We don't have crop insurance. Our covers are insurance. We can pretty much guarantee and bank on that cover, whether it's�that crop, whether it's heavy rain, heavy wind, doesn't matter what happens. Yep. It's a really nice buffer.

[00:03:19] Diego Footer: When you look at new farms starting out, there's a lot of stuff you could buy. How would you rank coverings in there of at the top of the list of stuff you buy when you're starting a farm. Is it in the middle of the list or that's kind of stuff you'd buy at the end? Maybe another way to think about it, is it a need to have a nice to have or a could have?

[00:03:43] Jodi Roebuck: I think it's a need to have. They�re not expensive, and you just start with whatever, a bundle of 25 and as the business needs more, that's good news. And you just keep investing then. Yep. We didn't have covers for our first growing season.

[00:03:59] We struggled to find different fabrics for them. And once we got them, it was just game on. We run events all the time, Diego, after, you know, treacherous weather, and I say to people, there would be nothing here to harvest, especially the salad, if it wasn't for our crop insurance. And that's our covers, our soil fabric. We're gonna, we'll talk about this, but it's Redpath Hoops and insect net. And that's, yeah.

[00:04:27] Diego Footer: And that's a huge benefit of where technology and the market gardening markets evolve to, because it doesn't have to be a leap from, Hey, I'm starting a farm to sophisticated high tunnel. The has filled in the gaps in between going from high tunnel to cat tunnel to poly low tunnel, you know, to one common thing a lot of people do is just lay fabric like frost blanket right over crops in the field.

[00:04:56] And for a lot of people, it's starting out, it�s poly low tunnels. Curtis talked about those a lot on the Urban Farmer. There's a lot of different ways to get a poly low tunnel in the field. You can use PVC and bend it over. You can use EMT conduit and bend it over.

[00:05:13] And there's the product, Redpath Hoops, which is something that's been around in New Zealand for like 20 years. We now import and sell those through Paperpot Co., you know, what's been your experience using the Redpath Hoops?

[00:05:29] Jodi Roebuck: So we first brought 'em, the classic scenario, we brought 'em for insect pressure, so we put started with insect net and then we quickly realized these are great. You can irrigate through them. They soften heavy rain. And they really take the impact of a really stiff, dry wind off your crops. And so we bought 'em for direct seeded brassica baby leaf, and we diversified with more crops once we realized how valuable they were to us.

[00:06:08] Diego Footer: Yeah. And for people who aren't familiar with the hoops or a poly-low tunnel, imagine covering a single bed or two beds at one time. The max height is somewhere around 26 inches, which is like 60 centimeters, somewhere around in that range. For advantages of poly low tunnels. I mean, the ones I can think of, they're cheap, they're easy to set up and take down.

[00:06:33] They're portable, so if you're leasing land, either you can just pick 'em up and move. You can put 'em up in a hurry, so like a storm's coming or a frost is coming, you can get him out on the field. Is there anything else like you can think of when you think, hey, poly low tunnel advantages?

[00:06:49] Jodi Roebuck: Any type of fabric can go, can be put over them. Yep. And then crop insurance. Save that month. Don't pay for crop insurance. Buy some more hoops.

[00:07:03] Diego Footer: You know, all else being equal, let's say money isn't an object. The disadvantages of a poly-low tunnel, like there's several, I think, when you compare it against a cat tunnel or a full-on greenhouse.

[00:07:18] Obviously, there's less potential climate control �cause you're not gonna be heating under those. You can't walk under them, which is a bit of an issue for some people. You're covering one or two beds at a time versus a cat tunnel, which might have four. And in a high tunnel, could have, well, depends on how wide it is, 10 beds under it.

[00:07:40] When you look at a large farming scenario where you have a high tunnel, you have poly low tunnels, what are the disadvantages of a poly low tunnel that you can think of?

[00:07:50] Jodi Roebuck: Well, probably you're not gonna use so many of them, but I mean, if you've got, if you can afford more high tunnels, that's a no-brainer.

[00:08:04] I'm biased. I haven't got, I can't see many disadvantages with them. You can put 'em inside a high tunnel as a single module to cover a crop that might be more frost, you know, sensitive and just, you know, if our beds are 50 feet, it's seven minutes to put one up and that's up and tight. Job done, move on from it.

[00:08:32] It's less than that to take it down. The sides just slide up and slide down. So you've got really easy access in there. Um, yeah. Disadvantages, winter, for us, it's the rain and the wind constant. Because we're so wet and windy, we don't have much frost.

[00:08:52] I think that for us in a, wet and windy climate, the one disadvantage is when you put a fabric on them that has a wind load, which is obviously plastic, so you need to space your hoops closer, and you really need to anchor that thing down once you get over a hundred, once you get close to a hundred, a hundred kilometers, 60 miles. But that's pressure on any kind of infrastructure you have.

[00:09:21] Diego Footer: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I guess that is one advantage of a bigger structure. If it's built right and built for that environment, there's more structural integrity in the framework for that structure to withstand wind load and these are extreme wind, probably also snow load, right?

[00:09:38] It'd be the same thing. You obviously don't have snow there, but if you had like a Redpath Hoop out in the field with plastic on it, you're not gonna want a 10 foot spacing between hoops. If there's snow on the plastic, you're gonna space 'em a lot closer together.

[00:09:54] Jodi Roebuck: And yeah, and I get it, you know, if you've got snow, and you've got a high tunnel, you can just put up some kind of framework hoops and have one cover that just runs over the whole greenhouse that's really efficient.

[00:10:06] So, you know, if you've got the hoops outdoors, you can use them inside as a second cover, like Elliot Coleman does pretty easy. And you could have plastic or frost cloth on that, too. So, yeah, they're just so versatile and movable. They allow us to treat each bed as a singular unit and with our crop rotation, we're just moving them all over the place.

[00:10:30] Like, take it down here, put it up there, and kind of, you know, in winter, we have a third of our growing area, maybe 40% under cloche.

[00:10:47] Diego Footer: Which is quite a bit, I mean, and to put that much under a cat tunnel or something, I mean, it's totally possible. To break down the numbers for people, in the States, to cover�if you're in a windy location, a hundred-foot bed, 30 inches wide, it's gonna cost you about 250 bucks to cover that bed. If it's less windy, and you can space the hoops over, it'll cost you about half that.

[00:11:10] So you get four beds, you're looking at around a thousand dollars, where a cat tunnel over those same four beds in today's market's probably closer to three. So, it is significant savings. It gives you that modularity, that portability to move things around. And if you did have cat tunnels, too, later on, you evolve to cat tunnels.

[00:11:31] These aren't gonna end up in the scrap heap because like you said, you can put them inside cat tunnels for additional protection. You could put them inside high tunnels for additional protection. If you have one area on the farm that's just smaller, and you need to throw something up, this is where you can use 'em and, that's the great thing about these load tunnels is I think for a lot of farms, it is a buy it once. You're not gonna have to replace it.

[00:11:56] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah. And I think the other thing too, with the single modular amd being so portable, it gives us freedom with our crop rotation. Rather than saying, right, this block is going into salad when we're done, it's going into root veg, we're able to say, this bed is going into salad. Single, single bed, whack a cover on it.

[00:12:19] Diego Footer: You know, different covers is optionality. So poly low tunnels, you can put different things on top of them. Insect net, plastic, frost blanket. One thing you don't see a lot of here is plastic on poly low tunnels. I see it a lot in Asia on the farms over there. You know, you mentioned, I think you've tried it.

[00:12:43] Obviously, the winds make it tough. If you didn't have strong winds, would you be putting plastic on poly low tunnels?

[00:12:53] Jodi Roebuck: A hundred percent. And we still do, but we've learned if it's gonna be over a 100km, 60 miles, we switch out the plastic for insect net. So, ideally, you know, if you put plastic on, well congratulations, you've got another greenhouse to manage.

[00:13:12] You gotta open and close that thing. And so if we're plastic, we drip underneath, and that's a game changer �cause we never used to have drip in the field. And we've got single modules for beds we can move around. So we put in the crop, it's got drip under it. We put plastic over, hoops are spaced closer.

[00:13:33] And when the sun comes out, not often around here, all you need to do is walk down the path and lift up the bottom, you know, four or eight inches for the warmest part of the day and pull it back down at the end of the day. It's pretty quick. Without drip underneath plastic on Redpath Hoops, you're in trouble �cause you need to open that whole thing right up to be able to irrigate and close it back down. And that's a ton of work.

[00:13:59] Let's say you got 35 beds on cloche with plastic. You basically got 35 greenhouses to manage. We've been there and done that and yep. So drip under plastic is how we go. And we're just keep an eye on the weather. So we're definitely using plastic on them.

[00:14:19] We're just not putting all our eggs in one basket. I think I talked about this on another podcast. We lost 35 beds of hand transplanted lettuce on succession in the dead of winter in 10 minutes. You know, it was 120k, I don't know, 70-mile wind. And yeah, it needs to be a pretty permanent structure to stand up to that kind of stuff.

[00:14:42] That's one off, you know, that's the only time that's happened. You can also get a jump on early crops out. You know, for us the greenhouse space is a premium. We've gotta focus on return-on-investment crops, but I can still say, right, I'll put out a early bed of zucchinis, Redpath hoops, plastic on there. Job done doesn't cost much to set it up.

[00:15:07] Diego Footer: Yeah, once you have the hoops, you know, then you can put whatever over the top of them and the one great thing about plastic, I mean even relative to other covers, is that part is pretty cheap or inexpensive, and it gives you that extra thermal advantage that insect net, frost blanket wouldn�t. You know, you mentioned the other big thing you have on yours is insect netting and obviously insect netting is gonna do a few things. It's gonna protect from insects.

[00:15:33] So you size the insect netting, you're getting to the pest you're trying to protect from. The tighter the mesh, the smaller the bug it keeps out. But just from talking to you, I've learned there's a lot of other advantages beyond that. It gonna hold some heat, it's gonna give some shade factor to the crop. It's diffusing the rain.

[00:15:55] How much of your use of insect nets is actually for insects, or is it more for the other advantages of the fabric?

[00:16:01] Jodi Roebuck: It used to be a�we used to put 'em up a hundred percent for insects. I would say it's 80/20 now. It's 80 insurance for weather and 20 for insects.

[00:16:12] Diego Footer: Is it primarily the rain diffusion, like you just like that it keeps the rain off the crops.

[00:16:18] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah. It mitigates heavy rain and the same, the heavy dry winds as well are the other. Yep. But on average, it's the rain. Yep. You know, baby leaf salad just doesn't like excessive heavy downpours, and it just really softens it. And same at that young germination time. Heavy rain on bare soil with just some, you know, little crops popping up. It really softens for the crop and the soil. You can pretty much bank on being able to harvest that crop.

[00:16:53] Diego Footer: What do you see when rain hits the insect net? Is it hydrophobic enough where if it's a big enough drop that some of the rain wants to sheet off? Or is it just, is it coming down, it breaks on the mesh and becomes a much smaller droplet that flows through?

[00:17:10] Jodi Roebuck: I think the latter, yeah. It goes through, but it's softened.

[00:17:16] Diego Footer: Do you use frost blanket over there or Agribon, Remay? Would it be like the brands over here?

[00:17:22] Jodi Roebuck: No, but we don't get much frost. One thing with frost cloth, because it's so�it has more stretch than any other fabric� You wanna set that out a bit differently.

[00:17:36] We can come back and cover that with you know the setup. But because it stretches, you need a different strategy with how you put that one over, possibly more hoops as well, but you wanna get your ends, end to end stretch really tight before you close on all the other hoops. I've found with frost cloth, you don't wanna have sag between your hoops �cause then it rains and at that point of sag, that's where all the rain collects, and then you get a wet spot.

[00:18:03] So yeah, you wanna stretch your frost off really tight. And that's in a climate that's getting windy. I'm really envious of the climates where they just run a big bit of fabric out over your field salad.

[00:18:15] Diego Footer: Yeah, it's crazy. People buy the really wide, I think you can buy 20 foot wide frost blanket and roll it out over however many beds, five beds that that covers, and just throw some sandbags on the ends and be okay with that.

[00:18:31] Jodi Roebuck: And if you don't understand why we can't do that, it's cause we've probably got half a meter of rain that'll just, you know, it'll squash your crops, or it'll be up in the neighbor's forestry.

[00:18:42] Diego Footer: Yeah. Out in the Pacific Ocean.

[00:18:47] Yeah, and because the big difference is between insect net and frost blanket, if you start to look at 'em, insect net is a woven fabric or knitted fabric. It's a fine thread that's been woven or knitted in a machine to make a mesh. Frost blanket's non-woven, they spin out like PET plastic and make like a felt out of it.

[00:19:11] There's different weights of it. So they're both light permeable. They're both air permeable, they're both water permeable, but the frost blanket is less water permeable than an insect net because there's just less the pores in them are smaller overall. So that's where you get that pooling effect that you're talking about.

[00:19:35] You know, for holding down covers, this is another point of pain for a lot of people. Why people graduate out of poly low tunnels is because I think they hate either one, putting dirt and sand on the edge of the covers, and they're sick of carrying around sandbags. I think a lot of farm workers hate lugging sandbags from place to place.

[00:19:59] If you have a hundred-foot bed, if you have 15 tunnels up, well, you got a lot of sandbags, a hundred sandbags to move around. That, I think, gets old for farm workers pretty quick, so that that's one of the cons of using it is just lugging those sandbags around.

[00:20:22] And you know, I mean, that's the great thing right about Redpath and their cloches, or hoops as we'll call 'em over here, is they have that, the wire retainer, the retaining wire built into them, so that removes sandbags from the equation. You don't have to use a rope to lasso back and forth on each hoop. Each hoop has its own retaining wire, which sandwiches the fabric between the frame and the wire, holding it securely in place, allowing you not only just to keep it in place from rain and wind, but you can vent it without taking the wire off.

[00:20:59] So you can just go up like a window shade, raise it up, get it under your crop if you gotta harvest, cultivate whatever you're doing, or just vent it for heat.

[00:21:10] Jodi Roebuck: Yeah, that's a pretty neat system. Do you wanna talk about installing them, Diego? So to set the hoops up tight, regardless of your cover, it's key that the two end hoops are set back on an angle like, they�re laid back, and I'm not sure of the degree.

[00:21:37] But that means when you stretch the fabric and anchor it down at each end, if you imagine the hoops were just up vertical and then you've got your fabric stretched over and anchored down to the ground, when you pull on it, the vertical hoop just caves in towards the bed, and you can't tighten it �cause you've just still got sag. So I set both my end hoops out, laid back�

[00:22:01] Diego Footer: �angling outward up out to the outside of the bed.

[00:22:05] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. Away from the garden. And that's key to get your fabrics tight. And then I walk�and I'll just rewind�the wire.

[00:22:15] We always leave them, and they're kind of spring-loaded, to clip into a hole at the bottom of the hoop. We always leave them on the hoop. If you take all those wires off together, and put 'em in a pile, they're just gonna knot together, and you're gonna start cussing, trying to separate them. So, you've got your hoops complete with the wire on.

[00:22:36] You set up your end hooks laid back away from the�angling back away from the garden, and then you just eyeball the center and subdivide. So it's easier to do odd numbers, or you can take steps down a bed if you're on a hundred foot bed, whatever. Every three steps, three and a half steps. And I just go and so, I go center, subdivide.

[00:22:59] And I put all my hoops in place, and as I push the hoop into the ground, I release the wire and the kind of spring loaded at the base, and I place that to the side. So now I'm at a point, I've got all of my hoops in and all of the wire covers, I pull them off, and then I go to one end. I place the fabric over top of the hoop, click the wire in.

[00:23:28] Then I fix that, I'll call it the tail or the tie down. I fix that tie down in the ground. And if you're not using plastic, say it's insect net, and you're not in a high wind zone, that doesn't have to be too serious. I really like the electric fence treading that you like use for a dairy cow. They're just super quick to poke in the ground, hold that tail, and then I just run over top of the hoops.

[00:23:54] Right to the other end, and I pull, I place the net over the hoop and from at the point where the outside edge of your fabric meets the ground, at ground level, I pull the seams tight and pull them back to me, and I kneel on that. And then I'd go up to the top of the arch. And I tighten the ceiling and pull that back, and then I firm that into the ground with an electric fence tread.

[00:24:25] And also if it's not looking tight, regardless of fabric, but this, especially with frost cloth at this time, I go back to the original end and from the opposite end, you might be a hundred foot away. You can re-tension that super tight and it actually, on the way to do that, so you've got both the ends set up.

[00:24:47] You're going back to the original end. As I'm walking down the path, I grab my wire, I chuck it over top, and I just only click it on one side. The last thing you wanna do is click in your internal top wires when you haven't got your final tension at the end. And so on my way back to the original end. I'm just placing the wire over the top, clicking it on one side.

[00:25:11] I go back to where we started, re-tension that. And then as I come back down the bed to finish off on a narrow bed, regardless of fabric, you can straddle the hoop, even when you're five foot four like me. And I click on the other side. And then before I go to the next hoop, I push from the top of the arch, the fabric right down to the ground.

[00:25:39] And if you're really doing this for insect pressure, you've gotta have the fabric at ground level either side, and it's that last little tip that so you're coming back, clicking in your wire over the hoop, stretch the fabric from the top of the arch down to the ground, and that makes all the difference.

[00:26:04] Diego Footer: Yeah, so just to recap for people, and we'll have a video of this if people wanna see it at, which I'll link to below, but it's, you set up all your frames first, angling the outer two outward, away from the garden. Let's say you have 20 or so hoops on a hundred-foot bed, the first hoop that you fasten to, is that one of the angled out ones or one of the vertical ones?

[00:26:32] Okay, so that's end one. So you fix end one, then you take the little tail at end one, you stick that in with a fence post, electric fence post or tread on. And then you go to the other end, you pull the fabric over all the hoops, and then you tension it using just your arms� weight on it. And now you're at say, hoop 20.

[00:26:57] You put the wire over that. And then you work your way back in and apply the clips on one side, neatening, going all the way down, re-tensioning if needed, apply the clips on the other side while stretching the fabric in the process. So pretty quick, seven minutes to do. How long of a bed are your beds?

[00:27:17] Jodi Roebuck: 50 foot. And that, on average, is seven hoops, so on a hundred foot bed for insect net, you'll be 13 hoops.

[00:27:28] Diego Footer: And you're in a pretty windy area, and that works for you.

[00:27:34] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. And that's, I think we're about two and a half, sorry, meters Diego. Two and a half meter spacing. Eyeballing it for insect net, down to one and a half meter for plastic.

[00:27:46] And I'd probably do the same for frost cloth �cause you wanna get the stretch in the frost cloth so it's uptight. Bird netting, we'd just use that for like strawberries, for just strawberries for the kids. That doesn't need many hoops in. You'll just get to know from your fabrics. But yeah, if there's wind load, more hoops, and then if there's wind load like plastic, instead of using an electric fence tread in, I'll use something a bit more substantial.

[00:28:14] It's like a�it's called a tether. It's like a big corkscrew that goes in the ground, and then you can tie the plastic off on that, that really adds some strength to it.

[00:28:25] Diego Footer: How have they worked in your soil? I mean, you're famous for having really deep, loose soils. I could see somebody saying, ah, you know, you put something into that soil. It's not gonna anchor because there's just, if the soil is loose, right, because the hoops are going in at the edge of the bed, how have you found they hold?

[00:28:46] Jodi Roebuck: So, initially, we talk about this in bed prep, because we made a rip or a division point at the edge of the bed between the path and the bed before we form the beds, our hoops just slide down at that point.

[00:29:03] So if you're on a�let's have really sandy light soil, you're gonna need to work out how to get them in the ground. In short, if your soil is too soft and you get wind load, they'll just bounce out the ground. And then on the flip side, if you haven't done any bed prep, you'll struggle to get them in the ground.

[00:29:24] And this is�I've heard you talking about this, Diego, you may, maybe at this point, you've just got your drill off your greens harvester and a drill bit on there, and you just make a hole to be able to push them in. But the firmer in the ground, the stronger they are.

[00:29:39] Diego Footer: Yeah. Like, like anything, right. The better the anchor, the better it's gonna hold up to the pressure. And this might not matter too much for people who aren't in�where the fabric�s not taking a load, be it high wind, snow, anything like that. If it's just sitting out there kind of in the relative calm, you're good to go for the most part.

[00:29:59] Jodi Roebuck: For sure. And one thing we haven't done but you know, imagine a Caterpillar tunnel. Caterpillar tunnel, sorry. With the ropes that zigzag over the top, you can totally do that on the Redpath hoops really easily because you've got a point at each fixing at the ground to tie off to. So you could do that with plastic.

[00:30:18] Diego Footer: Would that just be for extra support if you were in a really windy area, that's why you'd go to the trouble to do that?

[00:30:29] Jodi Roebuck: We haven't done it. We just switched from plastic to insect net. If we know that, you know, a mega storm�s coming.

[00:30:37] Diego Footer: How long have you been using 'em? If you look back at farm history?

[00:30:43] Jodi Roebuck: This will be, this is our seventh season.

[00:30:47] Diego Footer: Seven seasons. Same equipment?

[00:30:49] Jodi Roebuck: Yep. I've still got my original hoops. Some of them, you'd be able to tell me what they actually made out of. Some of them are just starting to rust at the bottom of their feet now, but they've been in the field in wet weather, year in, year out, seven years and you know, we're just constantly using them. So summer, we might be 15% of our area undercover. Winter we're 40%.

[00:31:14] Diego Footer: That's a high-tensile New Zealand galvanized steel.

[00:31:20] So are you venting? You're obviously venting with plastic in hot weather. The sun comes out, otherwise you run the risk of frying the crops. Do you feel, do you ever have to vent with insect net?

[00:31:32] Jodi Roebuck: No. No. �Cause the, you know, it breaks the wind and breeze, but it lets it through also. So no, you just stick 'em up and forget about it.

[00:31:42] And what I like about, I guess plastic's the same, but what I like about insect net is it's approximately 15% shade. And I'm just gonna guess that it mitigates heavy rain by 50%. I'm just guessing that, but you can also see your crop. It's difficult to see the crop with frost cloth. So I can do my farm tour in the morning going, oh, that bed's ready, that bed's�I'll save that for next harvest. You can see what's in underneath. You don't have to open it to have a look.

[00:32:13] Diego Footer: If you look at the lifestyle of the Redpath Hoops in the field, is it, crop is direct seeded or transplanted, hoops go on, and they stay on with insect net until it's time for harvest?

[00:32:30] Jodi Roebuck: Pretty much. Yep. And so these days, we just do one cut on direct on baby leaf and then terminate it.

[00:32:39] So I take the hoops off for that cut �cause it's easy but if you're doing two cuts, let's say Mizuna or Rocket, you can still get easy access in there, but it's a two-part process to get in to get access to your crop. So you walk down the bed, lifting the fabric up to the ridge, and then you can't push it right over to the opposite path in one move.

[00:33:06] And then you come back down the bed, and you pull the fabric right over. So it's now on your opposite part you started from now, your fabric is completely on one path side at the ground, and you can get in with your greens harvester really easily. So, I just come in front of a hoop, cut sideways into the bed, collect that crop, and then that gives you room to start cutting so you don't have to take your hoops down to be able to cut a baby salad. And then you can close it, wait for the regrowth and come back again.

[00:33:43] Diego Footer: Yeah. I know this may sound elementary, but I think where a lot of people screw up stuff is in the takedown or the end part of any process because it's like, let's just get it over with. And like you said, if you throw a bunch of crap in a pile, it's gonna turn into a nest, and you're never gonna get it untangled.

[00:34:02] What have you found to be the most efficient way to remove the fabric and the hoops from the bed after or when a crop is ready to harvest, one, to keep the hoops organized, two, to keep it efficient, and three, to keep the fabric from just getting destroyed because fabric's an investment, and if you just wad it up, it can be a big mess.

[00:34:28] Jodi Roebuck: So let's say I'm ready to cut a bit of Mizuna. I'm at one end, I just pull out my electric fence treading, and then let's say I'm gonna work down the right hand side of the bed, I pull the fabric from the left up to the ridge, and then on the right hand side, I release the spring loaded lock on the wire.

[00:34:55] I lift the wire up, I push the net through, I click that wire back on. And repeat. So I head right down the right hand side of the bed open the wire, lift the fabric through, close that wire again, and as I'm going, I just roll my fabric up. And then we've got two ways we store the fabrics. One is, I'm in New Zealand, we have like an eight wire fence for sheep.

[00:35:19] And so I've got a fence either side of the garden, if I roll my fabric up tight and then I can spread the wires and jam it between the wires and the fence, and then it's right there, ready to use on the next bed. Hoops, I pull all them out and I place all them against, same, against the fence, or I'm looking at putting some big brackets on top of the fence to get them up off the ground, just for mainly like mowing the lawns, not having to move them.

[00:35:50] And then the fabrics, too. A couple of things were set up. If you're not standardized, let's say you've got two bed sizes, 50 foot and a hundred foot, and we need to come back to length of fabric, but you've got a 50 foot and a hundred foot bed, that's 15 or 30 meters. We color code those fabrics.

[00:36:09] So, you know, just by looking at the end of it, yellow is short one. Red is long one, you don't have to roll, get out to your bed, unroll that fabric, get halfway and go, ah wrong fabric. Ha, roll it up. Go and try and find another one. And that's, you know, just setting up little systems like that makes a big change, and then�

[00:36:31] Diego Footer: Is that just like, like ribbon or something like that you put on the end of it, or�?

[00:36:37] Jodi Roebuck: You can use anything. Yeah, ribbon, we've got�we just use tags for sheep ears, you know �cause I've got lots of them. But yeah, anything that you can ID the difference in your standardization. And then we've also got a little�it's a shed or shelf in the field where we store excess tarps, shade nets and insect nets, so they're all in one place.

[00:37:10] Diego Footer: Yeah, length of fabric is key. I think this is one area where people could need to measure once, measure twice, cut once, because I think the idea would be, oh, I have a hundred foot bed. I need to cut my insect net to a hundred feet. Why shouldn't you do that?

[00:37:32] Jodi Roebuck: You've gotta allow for the angle to tie down to meet the ground, plus a little bit of extra to tie around your electric fence treading. And what we've worked out is, so you've got your end hoops on an angle facing away from the garden, you need about two and a half feet, maybe three or a meter of distance on that angle that comes down to the ground to be able to set them really tight.

[00:38:04] But also, once they�re set, to be able to open the end hoop, to be able to slide the fabric up to the ridge and close again easily. If you set your end piece too steep, it's tight, but you can't actually open the end hoop, and when you do, it'll just fall apart. And then you're probably too short on your net.

[00:38:30] And then, yeah, like you say, it's a builder's quote. I think measure twice, cut once. So we like to have a meter and a half extra each end. So three, two and a half to three meters of extra fabric for every standard unit. And then it'll be different for you in the US, but our insect net only comes in 30-meter lengths.

[00:38:55] So a 25, 27-meter bed, if you're an insect net freak, would really utilize insect nets. And I'm not saying that that standardization utilizes anything else, but it would for the insect net.

[00:39:07] Diego Footer: Well definitely account for that when looking at the number of beds you wanna cover. And the extra length because if you had five beds, you might think I need 500 feet.

[00:39:20] But you start adding three meters per side, that's uh, six meters. That's an extra basic little rounding. 20 feet over five beds. You need 600 feet, not 500 feet because the ends and better to be long and cut back than cut it too short �cause you're not sewing it back together.

[00:39:43] Jodi Roebuck: No, standardization.

[00:39:48] Diego Footer: With insect net, any issues? I mean, you talked about the rain, obviously, it goes through it. When you did do overhead watering issues with like the misters going through the insect netting?

[00:40:03] Jodi Roebuck: No, we use Sumi Soaker over top of them. That's pretty nice and gentle. It's fine. And I think also longevity. I know there's different types of bug net out there.

[00:40:17] Our one's quite stretchy. It's not, I'll say it's not rigid. Some of our nets are now seven years old. The only time we've got holes in them is when we had glass sheets blow out of our glass house and blow through the insect net. So, you know, they�re seven years old, I think it's the cheapest way to cover your crops and be able to bank on them that I know of.

[00:40:45] Diego Footer: Insect net.

[00:40:48] Jodi Roebuck: Hoops and insect net. And so I'm stoked. I'm stoked that you're available to get them in the US now. Every day, growers around the world reach out to us. �Cause they�re used to PVC pipe and sandbags, and they're pretty much done with that.

[00:41:04] And they wanna know how they work and where they get them from. And so we've been working with Redpath to get them, just to be able to distribute them in other parts of the world for other growers.

[00:41:14] Diego Footer: Yeah, and we've finally been able to do that. It's been a long process, almost a year long to get the Redpath cloches over into the US.

[00:41:22] We're calling them Kwik Hoops over here �cause the term cloches just isn't used as much. So Kwik Hoops. People can learn more about 'em at I'll link to that below. And we're the exclusive distributor of them for North America, so it's great to have 'em. I hope this episode, and I hope this tool really helps a lot of farmers.

[00:41:46] It's a relatively inexpensive way for farmers to get started with covering crops and yet give them versatility as their farm grows. So this is a grow with your farm system. It's not a buy it once, use it, and then throw it away type system.

[00:42:07] Jodi Roebuck: I think coming back to�you asked me, you know, limitations, there are different size hoops.

[00:42:14] If you look at the Redpath website in New Zealand, different widths, different heights. And sorry, it's in millimeters, but the standard hoop we're using 800 wide, and it's 600 high out the ground once it's placed in the ground. Obviously you're not gonna grow a really tall crop under there, but you can get it started.

[00:42:38] Like, we'll start zucchinis underneath there. Once they get massive, we�ll just take the cover off. It's a game game changer for crop security and times of crazy weather.

[00:42:51] Diego Footer: I think that's the key is crop security, and I love the term that you use, insurance because people could say, Hey, regardless of whether you're using Kwik Hoops or PVC or EMT, it's just a lot of time to set up.

[00:43:05] And say it takes�I know you're saying it doesn't take this, but say it takes 30 minutes to set up on a bed, you gotta think about how much is that crop worth at the end of the day if you sell it. And is it worth your hourly rate or an employee's hourly rate for that amount of time to protect that crop from either an insect or extreme weather?

[00:43:26] And run that math. So if you can make more off a bed than you can off that time, then it's worth doing. And I think the great thing about a lot of these lower tech systems is on a profitable crop, like salad greens, you can probably pay for a bed's worth of fabric and hoops in one crop. So a lot of versatility with poly low tunnels. Check 'em out,

[00:44:00] Thanks for listening to this episode. If you're looking for a top of the line, low tunnel system for your farm, check out Kwik Hoops from Paperpot Co. Unlike other cheap tunnels, Kwik Hoops are made from high tensile steel, and these hoops should last a decade or more. They're fully compatible with frost blanket, plastic, and insect net like Paperpot Co�s InsectaNet.

[00:44:22] The portable hoops are easy to move around the farm and install in only minutes. The best part is they scale with your farm, so use 'em before you have a greenhouse, and later on if you need extra protection, you can use them in your greenhouse. They're cheaper than cat tunnels, and they give you a way to start protecting your crop from weather and insects right away.

[00:44:44] Learn more at Also linked to below. That's all for this one. Thanks for listening. Until next time, be nice. Be thankful, and do the work.

One reply on “The Profitable Mini-Farm – Low-Cost Crop Protection with Low Tunnels (E12)

  • Gabriel

    Hi Diego,

    I’m curious about solution Jodi uses with the hoops and irrigation for his salad mixes. I think Jodi uses insect netting + sumi soaker for that.

    Does the net aperture impact on the sumi soaker being able to irrigate his salad crops?

    For instance, I can buy more easily nets with aperture of 60# in my area (0.25mm x 0.25mm) in my area (Australia).

    On your website I think you sell 0.32x 0.32mm, closer to 40#.

    As 60# is a finer mesh I’m thinking it might be too fine for allowing the sumi soaker irrigation effect.

    What is your take on that, or Jodi’s, if he can be consulted on that?

    Thank you


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *