Extending your Growing Season Without a Greenhouse

ChiloquinNews article 5/2/2011

This year I’m trying something new. I’ve invested in ½” PVC pipe, green paint and a number of 3-way corner connectors, and I’m making frames to fit over my vegetable beds.  I cut some 1” PVC pipe into short lengths that I’ve sunk into the ground, to accept the legs of the ½” pipe frame.

 Next I found some clips that will attach fabric to PVC pipe, and ordered a new fabric called ‘Growtherm’ that is a clear plastic with lots of small holes for ventilation. I could only find it in 2 online stores and went with the Oregon company, Territorial Seeds. It’s supposed to raise the temperature by 100, let in all the sun and have enough ventilation that the veges don’t cook underneath it. It will not keep the plants from freezing at night. I also have bird netting, and the standard floating row cover that I’ve used for many years now, that does protect the plants from freezes down to about 260.

Usually I just lay the floating row cover over the vegetable bed. It helps keep the seedlings little warmer and it helps to keep bugs off the plants. However, it also cuts down on some of the light reaching the plants, and my 3 cats have discovered that it is a great game to crawl under the cover and then pounce on each other from between the folds of the cover. A great game but it doesn’t do much for the seedlings that are getting trampled in the process. The robins have also found a way under the cover and can feast on strawberries to their heart’s content – or until they are joined by a cat! And, it’s hard to see the weeds. I usually take off the cover to find an exceptionally healthy crop of weeds.

 So this year, the floating row cover will only be on while I am still expecting freezes, and until I turn on my drip watering system, since it allows rain water through and the Growtherm doesn’t. The floating row cover is already on the asparagus and strawberries, hopefully keeping those asparagus spears and strawberry flowers from freezing. After the freezes the strawberries will move to bird netting and the asparagus will be open.

 Then, on plants like tomatoes, corn, beans, blackberries – the warm season plants, I’ll clip on the Growtherm, and give them their own personal greenhouse.  With a bit of luck, the warmer temperatures under the cover will mean a slightly earlier harvest – perhaps early enough that I will actually get a harvest and not frozen green tomatoes and berries. Even these plants will have to have floating row cover for a while early on, and also late in the season, because the Growtherm won’t have any insulating properties. It’s just a way to keep more warmth in during the summer.

For plants like blueberries and raspberries, I’ll clip on the bird netting, and maybe get a harvest for myself instead of for the robins.

 How does all of this PVC and plastic look around the yard?  The aesthetics policeman at my house says he gave up long ago. He also pointed out that my structure might get blown away in the first good wind.  He could be right…. but then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained.




the old system









The new system

My frames over the blackberries waiting for warmer weather and a Growtherm cover

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