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Winter Gardening – Making it Easier – Air Circulation – Note about Slugs

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.)
This picture was taken October 28 through the garden fence. You can see the hoops in place for the plastic to go over them and also you can see how we've stabilized the hoops with strong string. This lettuce too has been already harvest many times. I started it in September.

This picture was taken  year before last on October 28 through the garden fence. You can see the hoops in place for the plastic to go over them and also you can see how we’ve stabilized the hoops with strong string.

  • 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.

Concrete reinforcing wire frame is in place.

  • 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.

Frames covered with row cover fabric.

Adjusting the Layers According to the Crop

For cold hardy crops like Russian Kale, I don’t use the fabric. I just use a layer or two of the plastic.

Mache doesn’t really need protection but grows more when it has some. Just the row cover fabric will do the job.

Lettuce in my Virginia garden appreciates the fabric and two layers of plastic.

  • 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.


Working Great

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.)


Cover in foreground is just fabric. Also the far left is just fabric.  Others are plastic over fabric.

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.

Slug Damage

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 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.

Don’t Fall for the Old Song and Dance —

If you’re new to gardening, don’t fall for the old song and dance about “—you can’t have mulch because it will draw slugs and they’ll eat all your greens and other stuff.”  That’s just talk, and not the least bit based in fact.

Think about this. I have a heavily mulched garden. It rained more this year than any I remember. Perfect slug conditions. Right? But the only damage I saw all year up until December (as mentioned above), was a few leaves of chard with holes and a few Russian Kale leaves with holes. Nothing significant.

Hardly any slug damage, but as in all gardens I had plenty of slugs. (Nature arranged for them to be there.) I didn’t use any Sluggo for almost the entire year.

In December my lettuce that had been heavily harvested and that had been subjected to below freezing temperatures started showing signs of damage.

The Sieria Batavia, which definitely does not like the cold, is the worst because it’s so severely stressed. But it sure doesn’t owe me anything since I’ve harvest lots and lots of lettuce since September. And I expected to lose the Sieria Batavia to the cold eventually.

The oldest Winter Density plants are showing signs of slug damage because of stress. The small newer seedlings right beside the older plants are looking great with no damage.

And by the way – I’ve just described another good reason to succession plant continually in the fall so you’ll have lettuce in all stages. That way, you’ll have a lot better chance for a plentiful amount in the spring.

Final Thoughts

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.


















Related Posts:

Slugs – You Can Control Them

Slug Damage Solution Review

Cold Frames – Aphids – Air Circulation

Cold Frame Problems with the OG newsletter version and the easy solution


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  • Hi Theresa.
    Just starting to think about planning out my garden this year (started an organic garden last year so a still pretty new to this). I remember you had talked out the wintersown method and was going to try that this year. As I was re-reading your articles my hubby reminded me that we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure our garden is organic and thought that chemicals that could leech out of a plastic container would be opposite to what we are trying to achieve. The plastic probably isn’t an issue until the temperature warms up outside at which point it would heat up and there would be leeching. I’m sure you’ve thought about this as well. What are your thoughts?

  • Yes, Michele I have thought a lot about this.
    It seems that mankind has made it so that we almost can’t do anything without thinking of the consequences from various poisons and chemicals.

    In spite of the fact that we can’t know everything and we can’t always do as much as we’d like to get away from all the chemicals, the fact that we are thinking, researching and trying to get away from them — will save us from a lot of it. And anything we can do to improve our situation and save us from one more chemical is definitely beneficial. (There are close to 100,000 chemicals available in the US)

    You are to be congratulated on continuing to think things out and trying to stay clear of as much harmful stuff as possible.

    Although I don’t have a 100% solution, I have few comments that you and your husband might find helpful.

    If you have the know how and/or the means you could make wooden flats. (Maybe 2×2 or 3×3 and 4 to 6 inches deep.) They have their own set of problems (heavier, space, etc.) but at least they would not be plastic.

    Seed starting flats that are sold everywhere are made from plastic. I’ve forgotten what the # of the plastic is and I could not find it on line (at lest in the few minutes I had to look for it). I have at least 2 dozen of those that I’ve had for over 20 years. (If we were not in the middle of a blizzard I’d go out right now and check to see if I could find the # on them.)

    Even when we end up using plastic, we can try to be more careful about what kind of plastic we use.
    The jugs I use are #2 which is HDPE. That’s suppose to be the safest plastic available.
    Many gardeners who forage for plastic use anything they can get and that might be hazardous to their health. Checking for the # of the plastic is imperative. For example: if it’s #3 you do NOT want to use it because chemicals are released throughout the life cycle of that plastic.

    Here are two links that you might find helpful and will tell you more about what to look for in plastic containers:
    I appreciate your bringing this subject up Michele. We all need to be reminded from time to time that we must constantly be on the look out so we can eliminate as much harmful stuff as possible.
    I’ll leave you with two thoughts that I use to help myself make decisons and that might help you as well.
    # 1 – Never let what you can’t do keep you from doing what you CAN do.
    #2 – I imagine a line dividing “ok for use in organic gardening” and “NOT ok for use in organic gardening”. Rather than see how close I can get to the line, I see how far away from the line I can stay.

  • Hi Theresa.
    Thank you for your thoughts. I read the links that you sent and they are very informative. I guess in the end a person can drive themselves nuts trying for perfection when there are so many elements out of our control, so we do what we can. I have no idea where I would get milk jugs and since we don’t do dairy it would be a waste to buy and pour out, but I do know where I can get distilled water jugs and am thinking that they should be fine. I’ll be sure to look for the #2 or #4 on the bottle. I would be purchasing them from a health food store so the stamps should be accurate. Was reading on one of the links that not all bottles with the #2 stamp are really safe due to some unsavoury labelling practices. I ordered 71 different seed varieties from and can’t wait until they come in. I’m going to try a few with the wintersown method and the rest indoors which could be fun as I don’t really have the space. Last year we used the dining room table. Thanks again. I appreciate all you do for us. 🙂

  • Michele, I don’t drink milk at all. My jugs are distilled water jugs.
    Be creative and be on the look out for containers and when you find them if they’re suitable (the right#)
    then save those for when you need them.
    I think you’ll do very well.
    And you are welcome. I’m pleased to help whenever I can.
    Keep me updated

    PS -an afterthought — the number is part of the plastic. It’s there when the plastic container is created. It is not “stamped” on at a later date but rather stamped into the plastic itself.
    My distilled water jugs have the #2.

  • Theresa your simplified hoop tunnel solution is GENIUS! I’m in zone 8, Dallas Tx. My winter garden is in less danger of freeze damage, but your idea made me think about squash vine borer. I was ready to buy expensive row covers. I’ll try your idea instead. I just stumbled upon your blog. I love your creative way of thinking and gardening!

    God bless you

    Dallas Tx

  • I’m so glad I saved you some money Christine! And welcome to TMG!
    Thanks for letting me know that I helped you.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

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