Garden under cover and extend your season
Gardeners have used coverings to protect plants and to extend the growing season for centuries. The growing season can be extended from an early jump start in the spring to fall planning for winter harvests. It just takes a little ingenuity and to garden under cover in the shoulder seasons.
These coverings can be as elaborate as heated glass greenhouses, or as simple as a plastic bag supported over a single plant. Season extenders don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Many devices are made from recycled materials, but even a simple row cover or cloche can be used to extend the harvest for several weeks in spring or autumn.
Sheltering your plantings with cloches offers protection in four different ways:
1. Trapping heat with the greenhouse effect. The sun’s rays have radiant energy that becomes heat energy when it strikes the soil under cover. This warmth accelerates the growth of the plants.
2. Protection from damaging rain. Heavy spring rains can compact the soil surface and wash seeds out of their soil covering. Wet conditions also encourage rot and disease, and can even rot germinating seeds.
3. Protection from frost. By covering plantings in early spring and late fall, there is less transfer of the heat in the soil to the surrounding nighttime cool air, so plants do not freeze.
4. Protection from winds. Winds can damage plants by knocking them over or breaking stems. It also chills them. A covering will deflect damaging winds.
Any material that transmits light can be used to make a cloche. The original cloches (the French word for bell) resembled glass bells, and each one sheltered a single plant. Today, we have many possibilities to garden under cover, from 2 gallon plastic soda bottles with bottoms removed, recycled windows, supported plastic sheets or commercially made greenhouses.
Season Extenders You Can Build
One of the most efficient and useful ways to protect your garden is the hoop house or hoop tunnel. It can be easily made to cover an few plants or containers, or an entire raised planting bed, thus functioning as a mini greenhouse.
Cloches that you make yourself have three main advantages:
* They are low cost.
* They are easy to build and move.
* They can be made to a desired size.
Here is how to make a lightweight portable cloche that is both economical and reusable:
From sections of 2X2 lumber, make a rectangular frame 4 feet by 6 feet, screwed and braced on the 4 corners. Drill a 1 inch hole in each corner – these will hold the supporting pipes. Insert two ten foot lengths of three quarter inch flexible PVC pipe into the corner holes, and across diagonally, so they form an arched framework crossing in the center, much like a tent frame.
Now, lay a 6 mil poly sheet over the framework, and staple it snugly along the 6 foot sides first. Then snug it along the other two sides, and staple. You’ll need to fold over the excess at the corners, sort of like how you gift wrap a box. Staple it down, and cover the staples on all four sides with duct tape. Trim off any excess plastic from the bottom.
This lightweight cloche is moveable, and can be set over a raised bed, over a grouping of plants, or even over a freshly seeded area. You can easily lift it off for watering and weeding, or lift and support one side up for ventilation.
Build this simple cloche, and use your ingenuity to design and create others to fit your needs. With just a little expense and a bit of carpentry skill, you can add months to your gardening pleasure. It’s even possible, by choosing hardy plants, to continue growing vegetables throughout the winter in difficult climates.
With a mini greenhouse you can create the ideal environment for plants and flowers to grow healthy, regardless of the amount of sunlight or outdoor temperature. These small portable structures are suitable for balconies, patios or wherever garden space is limited. It’s easy to adjust or remove internal shelves to accommodate large pots or make room for taller plants.
These are a perfect solution for novice gardeners or anyone who wants to improve their green thumb or for experienced gardeners to extend their growing season. The many ways to garden under cover are as limitless as your imagination.
What Can I Grow Under Cover in Winter Months?
Wondering what food crops you can grow in winter? Many people think kale is the only one, but there are many cold tolerant vegetables. Many of these are salad greens – mache, mizuna, spinach, swiss chard, pak choi and arugula.
If you’re a kale lover, there are 4 main types of this incredibly cold tolerant plant. Common kale is green and deeply ruffled. It’s quite tough, so best served cooked. Lacinato or Tuscan kale has long, thin and often gracefully curved leaves, more tender than those of common kale, and without bitterness. Red Russian kale has flat leaves with deep red veins and stem. Redbor kale has deep red/purple ruffled leaves, and although edible, makes a beautiful addition to any garden.
When you make the decision to garden under cover, you can enjoy eating delicious frilly endive, spinach, Swiss chard, leeks, scallions, ‘Winter Density’ lettuce, arugula, mache, tatsoi, pak choi, mustards, mizuna, carrots, celeriac, beets, onions, and kale all winter long.