Reports from the field

It’s your turn. We’re cresting another hill on the roller coaster that is this spring’s weather, and I know that many of you are out in the garden checking on emerging perennial shoots, or building new raised beds for your vegetables. Pulling out quackgrass and dividing rhubarb. Buying seeds, and thinking about how many zucchinis to plant this year.

I want to share your stories and photos on the blog. If you’ve pioneered a truly clever way to keep deer out of the garden, or coaxed a high-maintenance exotic into abundant growth send me a few lines, and some pictures if you’ve got them, and I’ll post them once a week. Regular garden updates are also welcome – don’t be shy!  The address is beberman at verizon dot net.

To prime the pump, here are few photos of my latest experiment with season extension – “caterpillar” tunnels. These low-tech, low-cost structures can be built over any length of bed, dampening temperature swings and providing wind protection for as long as needed. When protection is no longer needed, they are easily disassembled, leaving the plants to grow in an open field. Some caterpillar tunnels are large enough to walk in; mine, which I hope to use to overwinter crops, are only 4′ x 4′.

I made the tunnel ribs from 1/2″ electrical conduit using a hoop bender manufactured by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The bender is very simple to use; the conduit is fairly cheap and widely available. Johnny’s also sells a bender that makes 6′ hoops; to see the instruction manual, click here.

Bending the low hoop

Bending 1/2" electrical conduit into a low hoop.

The hoops were then placed about 4′ apart along the row, each end pushed a foot down into holes made with a piece of rebar. To add another layer of protection, I draped floating row cover over wires and fastened it with clothespins.

Row cover over rectangular wires

Row cover over rectangular wires

Finally, the hoops are covered with used greenhouse plastic held in place by sandbags. A more sturdy construction would include pulling the plastic taut and staking the ends, and using twine to hold the plastic onto the hoops. For overwintering these are necessities, but for now having easy access is more important.

Caterpillar tunnel

Caterpillar tunnel covered with plastic

The tunnels have already proven their worth, buffering minimum temperatures up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit compared to open ground.  With snow predicted for next week, I’m hoping they will keep my little plants safe through the crazy ups and downs still to come!

Lettuce seedlings

Lettuce seedlings in the tunnel

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