When first I started winter gardening with hoop tunnels we went the traditional route. It involved
- driving sections of rebar into the ground every 4 or 5 feet along the edge of the beds;
- then bending and fitting the pvc pipe over the rebar remaining above ground to hold the curved pipe in place.
- The hoops were then stabilized with strong string or twine. (You absolutely have to do this or the wind will wreak havoc with the tunnels.)
- Then the plastic was drawn over the frame.
- It was secured with clamps that fit over the plastic and pvc at least at the top and at the ends close to the ground. If winds are strong in your area, more clamps can be added. (If you use this method, the clamps are a must or the wind will take the plastic off in short order.)
- The plastic at the end is drawn taut and secured with something strong enough to hold it. I used bricks or parts of cinder blocks.
The first year we did that I found that one layer was not enough when it turned severely cold. So I started using two layers of plastic and/or fabric cloth under the plastic layers.
Thinking of a Way to Make it Easier
A year or so ago I had some thoughts on how to make this process a lot easier.
(Of course, I had all these great ideas after we had spent the money on rebar, pvc pipe, and clamps.)
Nonetheless, I’m glad I was planning this anyway, because putting up the hoop tunnels in the garden as described above would take me near ’bout forever to accomplish alone, since I’m so slow in moving about.
Little by Little Gets the Job Done
I approach my winter gardening set up like I approach most tasks. Little by little over a period of time.
Bill had already gotten me concrete reinforcing wire and cut it into 4 ‘ x 5’ panels. They’re light weight, easy to bend and easy to carry to the garden. I like the large squares too because when I take the covers off I can reach through the squares to harvest.
- When temperatures started to fall this past October and I expected frost, I started carrying the panels to the garden and laid them in place and then anchored them with the earth hooks at each end.
- Next – over a period of days, I got the row cover fabric into the garden and placed it (still folded) by the frame, with a brick on top to keep it from blowing away.
- When the forecast showed temperatures dipping below freezing, I unfolded the fabric and placed it (usually doubled) over the frame. I anchored it with clothes pins to keep it from blowing off. Where I thought it necessary I placed a brick on top at each end.
- About a month later when temperatures dropped a lot more, I moved the plastic into the garden.
- Next I stretched it along one side of the frame and put some bricks on top.
- When I saw the temperatures going into the 20’s I pulled the plastic over the frame.
- The excess foot or so on each side is where I placed bricks every few feet to hold the plastic in place.
- Plastic extends from each end about 2 or 3 feet. I pulled that taut and anchored with bricks. Sometimes I place a brick on top of the frame at either end for even more stability.
So far the highest winds have been 22 miles per hour and all did well. Gusts yesterday were 34 miles per hour and all stayed in place.
If I did see a problem with higher winds, my next step would be to weight the plastic on the sides with layers of straw. (Obviously, very dry straw that will blow away won’t do. But my straw is usually heavy and moist and does the job just fine.)
I ran out of concrete reinforcing wire panels and used some light wire that we had used for various things in the past. I secured the light wire with earth hooks and covered the cold hardy plants with fabric only. The wire is very light, but is just enough to hold the fabric above the plants. (Picture below:)
Keep in the Mind the Principle of Air Circulation
All things need good air circulation. After a spell of severe temperatures and/or ice and snow over the frames, I’ll open the ends (more if the weather warrants) to let in some air. It’ll stay open until temperatures dictate closing things again. Otherwise, I’d be inviting problems – like aphids, etc.
If your lettuces are stressed (and after severe cold and heavy harvesting they probably will be) they’ll be more prone to slug damage; especially in frames that are closed up tight. When you open for air, you might want to apply Sluggo or Escargo if you see any damage. Or, if you’re a coffee drinker, dilute what’s left in your coffee pot and use it as a soil drench around your lettuces.
Hope I’ve given you some good ideas on how to make your winter garden even better.
In case you want to see the earth hooks I use, here’s a picture. They’re almost a foot long – 11 3/4 inches to be exact. The rust is where they’ve been in the ground.
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