Preparing for summer at the butterfly house

Spring is in full swing here in Reno, as evidenced by the rainy weather we’ve had these last couple days. Despite that, we’re preparing for the hot summer days we know are coming. For our butterfly house in Lemmon Valley, this means two things- moving the house to its alternate ‘footprint,’ and putting the shade cloth on.

One of the neatest features of our hoophouse is that it is meant to be two hoophouses in one, which it does by being mobile, on wheels and a track that is double the length of the house. This way, the hoophouse can be on one of two sites, depending on the season. This design allows us to grow cool-weather crops (kale, chard, lettuce, etc.) on one side, then move it to the other side to grow warm-weather crops (tomatoes, peppers, melons, etc.) during the summer and the butterfly house open season. This hoophouse is based on the ‘moveable caterpillar tunnel’ designed by Eliot Coleman and the folks at Johnny’s Seeds.

Rails being laid down before the hoophouse is placed on it. One of our great volunteers Josh Jahner in the foreground.

Rails being laid down before the hoophouse is placed on it. One of our great volunteers Josh Jahner in the foreground.

Newly constructed hoophouse, taking up half of the rails

Newly constructed hoophouse, taking up half of the rails. The pergola is not yet built in this picture.

We move the hoophouse on the first weekend of May this year. Moving the hoophouse consists of detaching it from all its anchor points (not shown above), cleaning the tracks of debris, moving all the delicate plants out of the way, taking the plastic off the sides of the house, and slowly moving the house to the other side, being careful not to rip any of the fabric or plastic in the process. It is slightly delicate work, but it went off without a hitch. After it’s in the new location, new anchors (t-posts) are hammered in and the plastic is covered at the base to seal the house in. The next step is planting pollinator plant seedlings for the butterflies in June and warm weather crops to grow through the summertime.

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Plastic removed from the sides of the house

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New anchors being staged in place

 

Hoophouse, this year, in its new location

Hoophouse, this year, in its new location

 

The following weekend after moving the house, we put the shade cloth on over the plastic. Those of you who visited the butterfly house last year may remember the whole structure being shade cloth, but we put a heavy UV-resistant plastic over the whole thing for the winter to grow those cool-season crops as soon as possible. Now that summer is approaching, it can get in excess of 90 degrees in there, so it’s time to cool things down a bit. For this, we simply unrolled the shadecloth over the plastic and tied the whole thing down with parachute cord. Soon, we’ll take the plastic off the sides entirely and replace them with shadecloth to increase ventilation and further moderate the temperature for the butterflies during the summer.

Cynthia tying the shade cloth down with parachute cord

Cynthia tying the shade cloth down with parachute cord

These are two of the biggest spring transition activities for the hoophouse- after we plant seedlings in the house, all we have to do is wait till early June to start stocking the house with butterflies. One more sign that summer is quickly approaching!

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