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Turning up the Heat in the Garden

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Turning up the Heat in the Garden

Nancy talks season extenders


It’s that time of year again when one minute we look out the window and it looks like it’s breaking sun, then rain…then possibly some snow again! Well, if you’re looking to rush Mother Nature in your garden and get a head start, then one of a variety of season extenders may be just what you are looking for. 

Season extenders is a broad term that includes cold frames, mini greenhouses, hoop houses, tunnel covers, insulated growing racks, reemay (frost cloth)—even old windows can be put together to provide a protective cover for plants. of these protected growing environment protect plants and crops from excessive rain, killing frosts and damaging winds or hail. Season extenders is getting the soil to heat warm the soil and keep it warm, even when outdoor air temps are dipping into a range that can kill off your plants. They can easily give you two extra months of growing season in our climate.

The great thing about season extenders is they’re flexible and portable, even transferring to different areas of your lawn then into your garden plot when needed.  If you have a raised bed and it’s still under snow, you can pop a small hoop house, tunnel cover or stretch some inexpensive black plastic over the top and you’ll be cooking those snow peas in no time. Broccoli, beets, salad greens, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, leeks, kohlrabi, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, asparagus, spinach, celery and Swiss chard are all part of the bounty of vegetables you can plant when the soil temperature reaches is still in the 45-50 degree range. 

Here is a short list of some options to consider for your garden space:

Hoop Houses - Mini Greenhouses: These come as simple as pop up, spring-loaded, prefabricated greenhouses to elaborate wooden structures with doors and fans. An unheated PVC hoophouse can be a useful addition to your garden. A great step by step plan is found online at http://tinyurl.com/c6h7rv6.

Tunnels: Using rebar, greenhouse plastic and 3/4 inch PVC pipe you can crown your rows of plants with 2- to 3-foot-wide tunnels that will do wonders for early cold crops, plus you can move it later to the tomatoes, squash and curcubits, the hot/dry lovers that can truly be the most finicky to grow in the mountains. To determine the length of your pipe, measure the width of your bed and double it. If you are anchoring the plastic pipe for a tight foot around the base of a lumber raised bed, add another foot to the equation. For example: 2 ft width bed x 2 = 4ft + 1 ft for anchoring =5 ft. of pole. Once your hoop is secured, measure the height of the dome from the ground up and multiply that times your width of the hoops.  Again add at least 8 inches of plastic to this total for an extra “apron” to secure tight the sides and trap the heat.  

Reemay, Frost Cloth and Cold frames: When your plants are still little and you are looking to transition them to the cold so the freeze doesn’t get them you can choose from insulated growing racks, row covers, cold frames and frost cloth. These options typically have about 5 to 10 degrees of temperature protection from frost. You will need to anchor the frost cloth with stones or landscape staples.

In our excitement to “heat things up” for our plants and growing space, the most common mistake people make is not planning for when the sun gets TOO hot and warm inside the season extender. Do you have a way to vent it while you are at work so your plants don’t fry and wither up? We all know it’s cold in the morning, but it’s surprising how quickly things can change.  

For those of you large-scale gardeners ready to take a larger leap into the business of growing food locally, check out the money available this year for seasonal high tunnel greenhouses at http://tinyurl.com/blahuhw and scroll down to click on EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative. June 1, 2012 is the final application deadline for these grants. 

Here’s to Growth! 



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Nancy Hastings Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint, She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 15 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes atllseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

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gardening, In the Garden, season extenders, cold frames, frost cloth, hoop houses

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