Friday, November 21, 2014

Extending the Harvest with Covered Hoops

Queen Composter hopes for cold season gardening success.

Last year I began experimenting with extending the growing season and harvesting fresh food through autumn. In fact, I was able to harvest backyard veggies for the last time on December 1st! After that we had an unseasonal cold snap and early snow (I live in the moderate pacific northwest where we are increasingly finishing winter with little to no snow). Luckily some of my cold resistant veggies bounced back enough by late winter that I could start harvesting them again in February and March.

But one of my faults as a backyard gardener is that I often forget to harvest the veggies before they bolt (go to seed) in the summer or freeze in the winter. I'm always disappointed that I didn't pick something when I thought of it instead of waiting just that one more day or week. Hardy plants like kale did well with limited frosts and bounced back quickly, but my turnips, carrots, and cabbage were turned to mush in the freezing temps and never rebounded.

Through the summer, after doing more reading about fall and winter gardening, and weighing the pros and cons of cold frames versus covered hoops (an excellent discussion here), I decided to try covered hoops this year. Sometimes plastic covered hoops made with flexible tubing are called low tunnels, and the taller variety are called poly tunnels. I guess mine are a hybrid (not low but not tall enough to walk in).

My wonderful neighbour (really, he's amazing) built my covered hoops once I'd cleaned up the fall garden and mulched everything for warmth and moisture retention. Unfortunately we'd already had a frost, so there has been some damage to the lettuce and Asian greens, which I'd hoped to avoid.

With the sides down for full protection.

With the sides up for moisture in warmer temperatures.

So how well do the covered hoops work to protect my plants?

We've had about a week of below freezing temperatures (which came rather suddenly after unseasonably warm temperatures) and today I went outside to raise the sides to allow some rain in now that the forecast says warmer temps for the next while. I was pleased to see that the kale is rebounding nicely (however, the uncovered kale is in the same condition).

The three varieties of kale can be harvested again (one hidden in photo).

As mentioned, the lettuce is pretty much done in, so time to start growing inside with my growing light for some fresh greens. The Asian greens (bok choy and sui choy) looks to be in rough shape but I'm crossing my fingers that they may rebound as it appears to be mostly the outer layers that are damaged.

The lettuce has turned brown.

The swiss chard looks inedible, but there is some new growth in the inner centre of the plant. The broccoli and cabbage looks good (I'm growing for an early spring harvest so I'm pleased they haven't been damaged yet).

I was most happy when I pulled back the layers of mulch to see big, beautiful purple turnips still happily growing.

The real test of the covered tunnels will be when (or if) we get some snow in January and February. My hope is that the tunnels are strong enough to withstand the weight of the wet, slushy snow we get here and protect the kale so that I can harvest fresh greens through the winter.

I'm also hoping to use the covered hoops as protection for an early spring garden. I usually try to have my seeds started indoors by February or March and perhaps next year I can transplant the seedlings outdoors earlier than usual.

More information about cold weather growing with covers:

Are Mini Hoop Tunnels Worth The Effort?

Cheating Winter

Quick Hoops: Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in the Winter

Have you tried covered hoops or cold frames to extend the harvest? Please share your tips.


Green Bean said...

You know I totally just died when I saw this. I want one. I mean really really want one. And not one. Let's be honest. I want three. That seems like a nice number.

Congratulations. I look forward to hearing how things go with your hoops - and hopefully catching up.

Anna (Green Talk) said...

I want this as well. Can you post pictures of how to make one yourself. I couldn't figure out how you lift the sides.

Lori Popkewitz Alper said...

I'm so impressed by those covered hoops. I really need to work on my garden next season. We didn't get much by way of produce this year. We did a great job feeding the deer and bunnies!

Lindsay said...

This is so cool, I know a lot of farmers who use Hoop Houses in MN to help extend the growing season!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin