It snowed again today. No accumulation, but big, wet, yucky flakes came down. Again. Mother Nature and I are having a time out. A pause. I am trying to be the bigger person and not throw a full on hissy fit – it is pretty tough, but so far I am in for the win. This past weekend was glorious! A large amount of snow had melted and by Sunday evening I had 4 raised beds thawed and moist and the main veggie bed almost visible. There was hope! I even started hardening off the early veggie babies and the perennial seedlings on the porch. Apparently Mother Nature put her big old arctic mukluk wearing foot down. But I am no schmuck – I got prepared. That does’t mean I am happy about it.
I am now a full 3 weeks behind where I was 2 years ago, not a single pea has gone in the ground. Not cool, Mother Nature. This guy won’t be deterred and neither will I!
What do maritimers who really like to garden in the early spring do when they get fed up? We pull out the construction supplies, our rubber boots, the frost blankets and the pitch forks and get the hoops up! Mini hoop tunnels provide additional protection from frost, sleet, snow, deer, rabbits and wind. They can allow early cold hardy varieties to be started as soon as the snow has melted enough to find the dirt (usually end of March or early April). They also allow for tender annuals to go out a bit earlier without worrying about the random late frosts wiping them out ( 2 weeks or so). Different types of covers can be used depending on the season or level of protection needed. This time of year, I cover my tunnels with 6mm vapour barrier to create a greenhouse effect and warm the soil up quicker with as much light transmission as possible. In the summer, I will cover with thin shade cloth to keep cooler veggies happy in the heat and in the late fall or winter I will use heavy frost blankets as insulation to eek out a few extra weeks of growing.
Here is how we set up our hoop tunnels:
Using the circular saw, I cut 6 foot lengths of 3/4 inch PVC pipe (50 feet of the black stuff was $17.99 at Canadian Tire. The white stuff was more expensive – I was excited to find it cheaper!) My beds are 4 feet wide, 6 feet hoops give me roughly 2 feet of clearance once they are placed in the raised beds.
I then hammered 18 inch and 24 inch rebar stakes into the freshly turned soil so that they are deep enough to be sturdy (look in the top right corner). I picked the green coated ones up at Home Depot. I also picked up some cheap 2 foot uncoated pieces at Kent for $1.69 each.
I always use at least 4 hoops for my tunnels to keep them from collapsing, whether they are 8 feet long or 14 feet long. I slide the ends of the PVC over the rebar (at least 4 inches).
For the Poly tunnel covering, I picked up a roll of 6mm vapour barrier (I don’t remember where I got it, I have been using the same roll for 3 years…). I cut left over decking boards to 7 feet (my raised beds are 8 feet). I am not worried about the treatment on the wood because it will be wrapped in the vapour barrier anyways.
I centre the boards lengthwise (the poly is folded in half here to fit in the picture – it is actually 8 feet wide, which works perfectly to cover the 6 foot hoops…) I then recruit cute little helpers to staple the plastic to the first board. To make sure it is secure, I staple, then roll the board once in the plastic and staple it again. The second board is secured to the other side of the plastic in the same manner making sure the rolled edges are the same side up.
Little hands help me carry the boards and poly cover to the garden where we unroll it over the hoops. You can just roll or unroll the boards to tighten up the cover. We tuck the boards down in between the hoops and the edge of the bed. The ends are tucked in like a birthday present and held down with a rock. On warm days, we can simply open the ends and tuck the plastic back to ventilate or unroll one side to open the tunnels completely.
Finally, we use clips we found at the dollar store to give a little extra support, et voila! Mini greenhouse is complete!
For less finicky greens, and because I was completely out of patience, I hauled out a frost blanket and planted Tyee spinach, Spicy mesclun, Cos Romaine and arugula between rows of Munchkin and Packman broccoli. I will not be defeated!!
I have since shovelled in some compost, the soil is warming up wonderfully! I hope to plant some of these little beauties this weekend – in my rubber boots or in my snow pants. Either way – I win!!!
“Even if you are on the right track, you will still get run over if you just sit there!” ~Will Rogers