The spring sure is taking its sweet time this year in Vermont. The birds are back, the light is lifting, yet the cold still sinks its teeth into the soil. I'm not one to be kept out of my garden, however, and I want to serve salads that I've grown as soon as possible. I have no greenhouse, but I do have inexpensive, make-it-myself tunnels thanks to my husband's wonderful ingenuity. Using electrical conduit and heavy-weight row covers, we have constructed our own little system of season extenders. I have two up right now in the garden, one warming the soil for the earliest transplants, and one that has sheltered last year's artichokes all winter in hopes that I've fooled them into growing year round up here (we'll see--I believe in experimenting and I know that means some things just won't work out).
I'd love to hear about your season extension ideas!
Here’s my husband’s recipe for inexpensive garden tunnels, inspired by Eliot Coleman’s book, Four Season Harvest. (It first appeared in The Addison Independent, in the fall of 2010.)
Ingredients *10-foot-long, half-inch gray electrical conduit
*10-foot-long, 1-inch gray or white electrical conduit
*Rolls of Garden Fabric 12 feet wide minimum (choose the desired weight/transparency)
*Wide-mouth clamps, sledge hammer, saw
Directions (assuming your garden bed is 8 feet wide) For hoops that are 3 feet tall at the center (typically all you need for the spring):
Cut the 1-inch conduit into one-foot lengths with one end cut at a diagonal to make it easier to pound into the ground. These will be the sleeves into which you slip the half-inch conduit (my secret).
Pound one-foot long sleeves into the ground every 2 feet along both sides of your garden bed.
Cut off the female end of the half-inch conduit and then slip into sleeves so the hoops run perpendicular to your garden bed.
Pull the fabric paper over the hoops and clamp it to the conduit being careful not to tear.
It’s that easy.
For the fall, when you need more height to cover your mature plants, you’ll have to buy some additional 10-foot, half-inch conduit and cut into 5-foot lengths, leaving the female end on this time. Join the 5-foot length to your existing 10-foot length and when you insert this longer piece into the sleeves, you’ll achieve 5 feet of height (you may need to adjust full length of conduit to make sure the fabric paper can cover the new span). Consider changing to a heavier weight garden cover. The remaining 5-foot lengths of conduit will come in handy as posts for lightweight rabbit fencing!