The current popular way to winter garden may not be the easiest or best way for you. This post may give you some ideas for easier winter gardening.
What I Used When First Starting to Winter Garden
When I first started growing crops in winter I used make shift cold frames that Bill made from old window frames covered with a good quality greenhouse plastic that was stapled onto the frame. I used them successfully for years until they fell apart.
The only two inconveniences to those were
#1 – Hauling them to the garden in the fall and taking them out of the garden in late spring. They’re not that heavy but awkward. (And they take two hands – so I’d have a hard time now because one arm/hand is occupied using a crutch.)
#2 – Having a place to store them. (They don’t/didn’t stack.)
Here’s a picture of them many years ago in my winter garden.
Falling for the Hype
By the time these make shift cold frames fell apart the popular way to winter garden at that time was (and still seems to be) with tunnels made with PVC pipes covered with plastic.
Everything I saw online made it look so easy after you get them installed. They don’t say much about what happens when winds and ice and snow come.
Bottom line is that we fell for all the promotion. There’s much money to made with this type of set up. (As always – that doesn’t make it the best option.)
Installing Tunnels Made with the PVC pipe and What You Need
Bill always “installed” them in the garden for me each fall.
You need rebar, the PVC pipes, strong filament line (like fishing line) to support the pipes, and then plastic to cover them, and a way to secure the sides of the fabric and/or plastic to the ground.
I used bricks. But the more height the PVC tunnel has, the bricks don’t work well unless there is little wind and no snow or ice.
How It’s Done
Pieces of rebar are pounded into the ground. The PVC pipe fits over the rebar which holds it in place. Then the PVC pipes have to be stabilized with strong filament line before placing the plastic over the pipes.
As you can see in the picture below the line is secured to each pipe by tying well. It is secured to the ground at both ends of the tunnel. Bill used long J hooks for that purpose.
(The hooks are stainless steel and look just like a J. The long end goes into the ground the filament is secured by tying to the curved part of the J.)
Our Main Problem with PVC Tunnels
If the filament line is done correctly it works well to some extent if weather conditions are not too severe. But with severe winds, snow or rain, or ice it was always a given that most likely the tunnels would collapse.
Bill and I knew the first year we used them that we had fallen for the hype. But we had them, so continued to use them.
Below is a picture of what they looked like covered.
The End of PVC Tunnels for Me
We bought enough supplies for five large beds. All those pieces we bought to make the supports for the fabric and plastic have been hanging from the ceiling in the shed taking up space for the 8 years since Bill died.
(Bill made/placed rope supports that hung from the roof supports of the shed. Then when he removed the pipes from the garden each spring he could slide them into the supports.)
From start to finish they were way too work intensive for me. And I knew when Bill died I had to find an easier way.
Easier Winter Gardening – What I Do
Fortunately for me there was something on hand to use as support under row cover fabric and/or the greenhouse plastic.
It’s a light weight but firm wire that is called “concrete reinforcing wire” at the place where Bill bought it many years ago. It can be cut into panels of a length that suits you.
I don’t remember why we bought it but at the time Bill cut it into 5 foot panels. If a winter bed is longer I use two sections.
Here’s What it Looks Like
Here’s a picture of the wire support placed over a fall lettuce bed. The row cover fabric and the plastic have not yet been put in place. (The pot with a brick on top is a trap set for voles that were in that bed destroying lettuce.)
Here’s another picture that shows a close up of the wire.
Even walking with my crutch I can carry each lightweight 5 foot piece to or from the garden easily.
You’ll bend each piece to form a semicircle that makes the tunnel. Underneath is approximately 12 or so inches for plants to grow.
They’re high enough to accommodate fall planted lettuces, cabbages, kale, spinach, etc. By the time the time any of these crops start growing taller – it’s late spring or early summer and the wire support is removed by then.
Securing the Wire is Easy
Each panel is secured to the ground at each of the four corners with an earth hook. They look like a U and come in various lengths. I use the 6 inches or 12 inches.
The curved part goes over the wire of the frame at a corner to hold it in place when winds are severe. Then just push the straight part into the ground. They work great.
(You can also use J hooks as previously described.)
Positioning the Row Cover Fabric and Plastic
I use two different coverings for the tunnels. Each meets the demand of different temperatures and weather conditions.
First positioned is the row cover fabric. (Since fabric breaths it’s a better choice than plastic unless temperatures get below 28ºF.) It comes in different thicknesses. The ones designated as being the winter thickness, or the medium weight, or all purpose are preferred. Either is good.
Since I won’t lay both the fabric and plastic over the wire support until temperatures are forecast below 28ºF the fabric is the first one placed along side the tunnel. (It is the first pulled over the support and is followed by the plastic layer when temperatures require it. )
And yes, I use both at the same time during severe weather.
Then for ease of placing the plastic I pull the row cover fabric over the tunnel before I place the plastic along the side. The plastic will cover the edge of the fabric already in place.
Secure with bricks (or whatever you have that will work) on top of the plastic when you fold it to make it more easily managed. Then fold the fabric back to the plastic until temperatures prompt you to cover the tunnels.
When the tunnels are covered make sure the fabric and/or plastic is secured on both sides of the tunnel.
When severe wind is forecast I use my tomato stakes along with the bricks to hold the fabric/ or plastic in place. (photos below)
Sometimes J hooks will work to help secure plastic – if you’re careful not to punch a hole in the plastic. You might find other things that will work even better.
Easy – but Takes Doing it to Get the Hang of It
It’s not complicated but it just takes doing it through various weather scenarios to get the hang of it.
In the 2 pictures below – the tunnels are covered with both fabric and plastic and are ready for severe weather.
Even in Winter Plants Need Air Circulation
Winter crops still need air circulation. So when temperatures are above freezing in the day but will drop again at night I open the ends of the tunnels during the day. (Shown in the picture below.)
When temperatures will remain above freezing at night and during the day I lay both covers to the side again.
If freezing temperatures at night will only be around 32ºF I leave the fabric on but leave the plastic at the side of the wire support.
For more detail on this you may want to review this post. I’ve linked to two more that will give you more detail at the end of the post.
As always – let me know if you have questions.
Hopefully this post will give you ideas that will make your winter gardening easier and more rewarding.
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