Saturday, December 3, 2011

Frost Protection

We had our first frosts of the year in late November. Two or three of them. Fortunately all the fall/winter veggies survived, but I'm making preparations to protect the crops once the temps remain consistently cold.

Last year I constructed two experimental mini hoop houses in mid January after the frost had already taken a nasty toll on the greens. This year I expanded the idea by building one long, continuous hoop house.

PVC hoop house frame built over raised beds of lettuce, spinach, chard, and other tender greens. Plastic will be attached soon.
Currently only the PVC has been added to the raised beds. I used 10-foot sections of 1/2" PVC pipe and pushed it directly into the soil within the raised beds. I bent each pipe by hand over the bed, forming the "ribs". I then attached the "ribs" to a long "spine" with plastic zip-ties. The structure is fairly strong and will withstand wind and snow. We are expecting warmer weather for the next 5 days so I likely won't secure the plastic covering until sometime next week.

Note how the PVC is pushed into the soil against the interior sides of the raised beds. No screws, brackets, or fasteners are required. It's an easy, effective, and inexpensive setup.
I only opted to cover my more tender vegetables like lettuce, arugula, spinach, and chard.  I did not cover the kale and root crops like carrots and beets. They are, however, heavily mulched with a thick layer of wheat straw for protection. They withstood just about everything last year and I'm hoping they do the same this year.

From left to right: Buttercrunch, Winter Density, Parris Island Cos, and Rouge d'Hiver lettuce. Spinach is barely visible farther down the bed. This hoop house will function like a mini refrigerator once it is covered with plastic, protecting the vegetables and keeping them cold but not frozen.
Colorful head of Rouge d'Hiver lettuce.
Ruby Red Swiss chard. I planted these seeds on September 15, but they took a long time to germinate because of very hot temperatures in late September and early October.
Not everything in the garden looks great right now. I had a heck of a time battling  caterpillars on my broccoli and kale. Fortunately they only seemed interested in those two plantings and not the other veggies, but it didn't take long for them to completely defoliate this poor plant.

Kale that was completely devoured by caterpillars. Lots of carnage and not a lot of leftovers.
There are a handful of chemicals and products (organic ones too) to battle these beasts. I did buy a bag of powdered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), an organic bacteria that is effective on caterpillars, but I got lazy and never applied the stuff.

Now I just need somebody to play Taps on the trumpet while I add these remains to the compost pile and pay my respects.


Sybil Mays said...

The beds look fabulous! Those hoops will not only keep the frost at bay, but they'll give you a nice jump on spring with some Remay or plastic on them come March! Happy harvesting!

Veggie PAK said...

Your hoops look great! I was thinking about trying some this year. Have you looked into the type of plastic that is recommended for those? I had heard "greenhouse plastic sheeting", but I can't find that in any of the stores around here. It's supposed to last longer than regular plastic from a big box store. It supposedly has something to do with plastic chemical makeup interacting and causing failure in the sheeting. If I can't find "it", I'm going to use regular plastic sheeting.

.09 Acres said...

Hi Sybil. I'm hoping to do just that! Love winter gardening (almost) more than summer gardening.

Veggie PAK, I'm just using 4-mil plastic sheeting from Lowe's, nothing special. But it does the trick. I'm re-using the same plastic I had in place last winter. I'll let you know how it holds up through a second year.