Saturday, February 24, 2018

Extend the season with protection for plants

Cloche with adjustable vent on top

Saturday, February 24, 2018

There are garden "accessories" that allow you to plant earlier than your seed packet advises.  Cloches, tunnels, "wall of water", solar umbrellas, covers, mini greenhouse and clear plastic are all tools gardeners use to start their garden earlier and extend the garden longer.  These tools can extend the garden season by weeks. 
Your neighborhood big box stores will be getting in vegetable plants soon; sooner than you can plant in your garden with no risk of them getting froze to death.  Providing cover will let you plant sooner.

What can you do to protect them?  You can throw a sheet , row cover or plastic over them when the cold snap comes in that your plant isn't hardy enough for.   You can buy “cloches” which are little plastic or glass bell shaped covers and place over each plant.  Or you can put a portable greenhouse over them.
I have used all in the garden.  There are pros and cons to each.  The covers can blow away if not weighted down.  The cloches and mini greenhouses can get too hot on a sunny day if not opened.  If you work, it is hard to time opening just after the sun rises depending on when you need to be at work.

I am using the portable greenhouses this year.  They have vents that you can unzip to help moderate the temperature so they don't get too hot.  I planted seeds in the first greenhouse 2 weeks ago and there are lots of little green shoots coming up.  I planted spinach, lettuce peas and chard.  I'll plant the other greenhouse this week end.  More chard, spinach and lettuce.  I'll add chervil, parsley, and arugula.  

Surprisingly, I had some peppers under cloches and others that were not a few seasons ago, and the uncovered peppers did just fine, even when the temperature dropped to 28 degrees.

How long can a cover extend the season?
Tunnels (row cover with hoops) and cloches- 6 to 7 weeks earlier for broccoli, cabbage and greens.  4 weeks earlier for melons and squash
Wall of water-Up to 8 weeks earlier for tomatoes and peppers.  Just be sure that the ground and wall of water is nice and warm before planting these warm weather lovers.
Mini greenhouse-Up to 8 weeks before the last frost for any crop.  I put jugs of water inside my mini greenhouse to moderate the temperature inside.
Mini greenhouse.  2 different sets of zippers on front and back to open when warm
You can lay sheets or other cover material over your plants to protect from frost overnight.
Another trick is to lay clear plastic out over your garden bed to warm up the soil.  Then sow your spring seeds.  The extra boost in soil temperature will help the seeds germinate quicker.

You can also start your seedlings indoors under a flourescent daylight bulb or bright south window.  This is a bulb that gives off similar light as the sun.  Just be sure to ease the plant into the outdoors, called hardening off, when you move them from inside to out.  The sun is way more potent than a light bulb and the temperatures more extreme.  I start mine off on a porch or deck or under a table on the patio during the day when it is sunny for a few days before planting them.  

Another trick is to add warm mulch right before planting.  Since mulch is still disintegrating, it will give off heat for a few days, warming the soil and the plant.

Happy planting!

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