Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Benefits of Winter Protection

This is the first year I've used my low tunnel/hoop house hybrids.  I installed them on January 16.  Now I'm seeing substantial benefits just over a month later.

Two varieties of chard under winter protection.
The picture above shows the drastic change of condition in the health of my chard.  Every chard plant appeared wilted and dry when I first installed the low tunnel.  You can still see the original dead leaves on the ground.  I deliberately left them in place hoping that new growth would emerge from the crowns if they received enough protection from the cold.  Sure enough, here it is.  Large and lush new chard leaves are growing through the old leaves, just like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  That may be a dramatic comparison, but the difference in results between leaving plants to fend for themselves or offering them winter protection is also dramatic.  And best of all it means fresh produce in the middle of February.

Arugula thriving under a protective covering.
The arugula is most surprising.  Not only has it flourished in the low tunnel, but now it's gone to seed.  Clearly there is enough warmth for growth, and in this case almost too much warmth.  Check out the closeup pic of the emerging bloom.

Arugula blossom(s).
I also started lettuce from seed.  Lettuce seed can germinate at fairly low temperatures, but the winter protection moderates the effects of hot and cold weather and has definitely helped with germination.  The trick is making sure to expose the young seedlings to rain or provide enough supplemental water with a hose.

Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce seedlings.
These lettuce seedling are only a few days old.  I should be harvesting fresh heads of lettuce in March or early April if I can keep them well watered and growing at a steady rate.  After harvest I will amend the soil and transplant warm-weather crops (started earlier from seed) to keep the space in continuous production.


Kim said...

Wow that's awesome how nicely everything grew!! I'm already planning on putting money aside when I get my tax refund for my winter protection. How did the pvc hold up to the snow? That's my only concern with using pvc especially after the winter we're having this year.

.09 Acres said...

Kim, the materials held up well, even in the snow. You can always try metal electrical conduit as a sturdier option if you are concerned about the weight of snow.

Kim said...

I'm trying to keep the cost under control (I'm getting married this year) so I think I'm going to try the PVC. Even if it gets me only a couple of winters it will be worth it. Now I just have to figure out what size to get. How wide are your beds? I read in your previous post on this topic you used 10' pvc so I'm basing my size on the set up you have. Thank you for all your help! :)