Winter Gardening

Easier Winter Gardening – Things that Might Help You

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.

Make shift cold frames that I used when I first started to garden in winter many years ago.

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.)

This picture of the PVC pipes that form the tunnel (before adding the plastic) was taken through the fencing. Click on and enlarge to see the white filament line secured to the ground in the front. Follow it back to each pipe to see it secured by tying to each pipe.  It is also secured to the ground again at the other end of the tunnel.

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.)

Wire support for fabric and plastic placed over a fall lettuce bed. Makes for easier winter gardening.

Here’s another picture that shows a close up of the wire.

A closer view of the wire support I use for easier winter gardening.

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.

Both fabric and plastic is placed along one side until needed. In the picture  above the plastic still needs to be folded to a more manageable position and then secured.

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.

Covered with fabric and plastic.


Covered and secured. Tomato stakes are easily seen on the left side helping to secure the plastic. (Takes some doing to get the hang of it.)

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.)

Winter crops still need air circulation. So when temperature are above freezing in the day but will drop again at night I open the ends during the day.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Suggested related reading:


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  • I’ve used the exact system made from same materials for years after trying all the others. Our winters can get down to -30F and lots of snow but they have lasted all the years since starting. If I leave them in place all winter the soil warms earlier in the spring.

    One year I thought if I used black material or plastic on the ground, spring would come much earlier. When I first checked in the spring I thought I had a roaring success until I fully opened them up. The moles had found the unfrozen soil a great place to put tunnel dump all over my pampered beds. Nature won that one, LOL.

    Happy days

    Ray Kent.

  • Hi Theresa, Thank you for sharing all this information – the pictures show so much, I find them incredibly useful. I like how you put your frames in place and have everything ready to go when needed. Definitely something I’m trying to re-create in my garden too!

  • I wish I could garden in the winter here! I’ve tried a few things, but we can get two weeks at a time of 20 below with nasty 40 below wind chill temps. The transition from Autumn to Winter is usually abrupt. The best option I’ve found for myself is growing very “easy to grow” crops like lettuce and spinach indoors. I’ve grown amazing tomatoes, green beans, peppers and even eggplant indoors with great success. The problem with growing indoors is the electric bill. Even the LED grow lights will definitely keep the electric meter spinning! I sure appreciate your tips on portable cold frames! That fencing you use looks like what we call hog panel here. Have a great day!

  • Ray
    So many folks have made the mistake of using black plastic. It is heavily promoted. Not good for the soil either — but voles love it :-).

    I don’t use black plastic but voles sometimes get under my tunnels and I have to trap them. But if my temps were -30ºF that would be pretty hard to do!

    Glad you’ve had great success with ones like mine, Ray!

    Growing indoors is better than not having food. Definitely!
    I hope I never have to though.

    The main disadvantage to me would be not getting as much nutrition from food grown in containers or hydroponically. Food grown in great soil provides the best nutrition.

    I’ve only seen hog panels in pictures. In those it always looks heavier and thicker than what I use. I wish I knew for sure what to call it. Many readers go looking for it and can’t find it — maybe if I knew “other names” it might help.

    One of the main criteria for me is that it’s so light so I can handle it easily. And yet it is strong enough to withstand heavy snow and ice etc.

    Good input Rob. Thanks!

    I think all of us will envy your great crops in the dead of winter!


    Glad the pictures were useful. It was hard to decide what to leave out!

    Putting the frames and covers in place ahead of time is the only way to go. I can’t imagine going out every time the temperature is forecast to change and having to do everything each time that happens.

    Of course — your “new garden” is not yet as large as you’re working towards. So everything will fall into place as it grows.
    Right now it’s small enough that you can haul stuff around each time if needed.

    Thanks Ray, Giulia, and Rob for your input!

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