The Challenges

  • More Heat: A greenhouse to aid plants that require higher temperatures, such as peppers, tomatoes, and okra. Montana often experiences cooler summers, and a greenhouse can help keep the plants warm.
  • Climate Change: A buffer to protect against the variable temperatures caused by climate change, such as late frosts in the spring and early frosts in the fall.
  • Deer: An easy way to keep deer out of the plants
  • Longevity: A greenhouse that will still be an asset in several years.
  • Structure Challenges: Neighbors have put up the same cattle panel shed in two different configurations in the last year, both of which failed. Additionally, another greenhouse in the neighborhood collapsed due to snow load, and there are height concerns as well.
  • Height Challenges: The arch of the cattle panel defines the height and pitch of the sides for shedding snow. With a width of 10 feet, the height is only 5′ 5″, which is barely tall enough for an average person. It would be preferable if taller individuals could walk upright in the cattle panel hoop house.
  • Environmental Considerations: To the extent possible, recycled materials will be used, and the budget will be kept in mind.

After determining our requirements and identifying potential pitfalls, I began researching by reading, watching YouTube videos, and scouring the web. Through my research, I discovered the following information:

  • Elevating the entire structure by a foot will provide the necessary headroom and improve ventilation. A width of 10 feet will result in a height of 5.63 feet, which can be increased to 6.63 feet by adding a foot of height.
  • PVC tubing reacts with plastic sheeting due to PVC off-gassing, reducing the sheeting’s lifespan. Therefore, we cannot use PVC tubing to hold down the plastic on the north and south sides.
  • Various bracing techniques are available, and keeping the supports at the same height would allow us to add a shelf for starting more plants.
  • Adding rope or baling twine over the plastic sheeting can prevent wind damage, as suggested by Gardening with Leon
  • Removing the plastic sheeting in the summer can increase its lifespan from 4 to 7 years, as per Gardening with Leon
  • I was surprised to find that few websites or videos addressed wind concerns for cattle panel greenhouses. Living in Montana (zone 5), where wind is a significant factor, it was essential to consider this aspect. We live in an area with minimal obstructions, such as fences and houses, to slow down the wind.
Arch Graph for Cattle Panels
Arch Graph for Cattle Panels


To cover the existing rows in our garden, we opted for four 50″ x 16′ cattle panels, which are each 200 inches or 16′ 6″ long and 10 feet wide. This configuration matches our current 17-foot-long garden beds. To support the cattle panel greenhouse, we will raise it and utilize 18 cinder blocks and angle iron, with the structure running east-west. Each longer north/south wall will have four cinder block supports, and there will be an additional four cinder block supports in the center of the greenhouse to aid with snow load.

Thanks to our fantastic cement mixer, the concrete setup was a breeze. We owe a big thank you to Bill Bogart for the cement mixer! The entire process of setting up and pouring the concrete took us a few hours. We used an 80-pound bag of mortar and gravel we had on hand, which took two days to thoroughly dry.

Cinder Foundation Blocks Note: If I had to do it over again I would put the post in the middle instead of on one end of the cinder block. Then the angle of the angle iron could be changed easily. And bedframes can be very hard to drill into. We were lucky, we only had to drill a few holes.

To prevent the wind from pulling the angle iron out, we utilized old bed frames and used their angle iron. Each leg of the frame was inserted into a cinder block.

Karl leveling the cinder blocks.
Karl leveling cinder blocks.

We set the cinder blocks deep enough to allow us to plant above them, which enables us to display the garden soil that we have worked hard to develop.

Setting the posts took us three days due to a few distractions. During the process, I decided to add roughly 8 inches of compost from our compost pile, which was easier to incorporate using the backhoe at that moment than to wheel it in later.

To hold our cattle panels up, we utilized 8′ 2×6 along the north and south sides and then erected the east and west walls. Our anticipation is that the west wall will bear the most strain as it lacks any buffer, unlike the north, south, and east walls. To the center panel, we added Solexx, while we used easy-to-replace plastic for the rest of the structure. Fortunately, we had sufficient material remaining from our pit greenhouse to complete the west side and a portion of the door on the east side.

Finished Cattle Panel Greenhouse
Finished Cattle Panel Greenhouse

During the summer months, this is how the greenhouse will appear, with a shade cloth in place. The wiggle wire has been installed to facilitate effortless addition and removal of the plastic covering.

Cutting the pipe insulation every 8" to cover the cattle panel joints
Cutting the pipe insulation every 8″ to cover the cattle panel joints

On the last warm and windless day of November 2021, we added the plastic covering to the greenhouse. We made sure to install the plastic when the temperature was at least 60 degrees, which is considered the ideal condition. We ensured that the greenhouse was adequately sealed and ready for the upcoming storm, which was forecasted to bring high winds. Before covering, we added pipe insulation over the cattle panel seams to serve as a buffer between the plastic and the tie wire we used to connect the panels. The wires were spaced eight inches apart, and we cut the pipe insulation 50% through using a small saw to make it easy to remove in the summer.

To keep the plastic in place and prevent it from rippling in the wind, we added baling twine that was crisscrossed over the top of the greenhouse. This was in addition to the wiggle wire used to hold the plastic in place. This technique proved effective in holding the plastic in place and preventing any damage. The plastic remained intact despite the high winds.

Inside the Hoop House

Inside the Cattle Panel Greenhouse

Initially, I planned to have three rows inside the greenhouse. However, by creating the snow support, I inadvertently limited my options for where the rows could be. Therefore, to avoid wasting precious soil, I removed the topsoil that I had added in the aisle and relocated it to the sides. This resulted in about 10 inches of exquisite and fertile soil.

The greenhouse is now showing signs of life, and I certainly do not want to be pulling weeds during the winter. Consequently, my plan for tomorrow is to lay down some newspaper to suppress the growth of weeds.

Next steps:

  • Add sensors to monitor soil temps and air and humidity temps.
  • Create a webpage so I can monitor from anywhere
  • Create the center path