Extending your season is a common trick among gardeners in West Texas. A few simple tricks make it possible to plant earlier and keep vegetables producing much later in the season than most people think.
Not only do we have to think about extremes in temperature, but in West Texas, we must also consider wind when we are talking about extending our seasons. Wind can do as much damage to young plants as the extreme temperatures we can experience in early spring and late fall.
The Role of Wind
Being exposed to a certain amount of wind is not an altogether bad thing. The movement induced in the plants by the wind helps them develop strong base stems. The flexing encourages the development of the internal structures which can produce strong, healthy stems to support the plant later on. It is when the whipping motion of the wind becomes exaggerated that damage can occur. It is important to protect those plants to prevent the stems from twisting or breaking near the ground.
Extending your Season – A Few Ideas
Constructing low tunnels over your grow beds be they raised or soil level is easy. PVC pipe makes excellent bows, is easy to work with, and doesn’t require special tools. We use ½ inch schedule 40 PVC pipe to form the bows over our raised beds. We added a 2×4 ledger board to the top edge of our grow beds and drilled ¾ inch holes along the inside edge at a 45-degree angle The PVC pipe was cut to length to form a nice bow over the bed when the ends slipped into the holes. 6mil painters plastic was cut and laid over the bows.
No fancy attachments for us. We just laid landscape bricks along the ledger boards to hold the cover in place. On the ends, we gathered the plastic and folded it much like wrapping paper on a Christmas present and set a concrete building block on the folds, making it quick and easy to remove the covers. Just remember that you are constructing a greenhouse. If it is a sunny day, the temperature will rise rapidly, and plants can be damaged or killed by the high heat inside the tunnel.
Depending on the strength of the wind and how much other protection your garden is afforded, you might be able to get by with laying frost cloth over your seedlings during the windiest parts of the day. The lightweight cloth will deflect the majority of the wind and will not harm the plants. It doesn’t require any bows for support and can be held down with almost anything.
I have seen people use everything from 5-gallon plastic buckets to one-gallon milk jugs to make mini-greenhouses for their plants. Five-gallon buckets turn upside down over a plant offers a tremendous amount of protection. A brick or stone placed on the bucket is usually sufficient to keep it in place. Soil; may need to be scooped up around the rim of the bucker for additional support. One-gallon clear plastic milk jugs work as well for smaller plants. Just be aware that either one of these will turn into an oven on a sunny day, and it doesn’t take long to burn a tender seedling to a crisp.
Wrapping Tomato Cages
If you have tomato cages, adapt them for both frost and wind protection by placing them over your seedling or established plants for that matter. Once the cage is in place, wrap it in lightweight plastic or pull a plastic leaf bag over the cage and secure it at the bottom. Pulling soil up over the edge of the bag will help with frost protection. Remember to stake your tomato cages securely, especially in extreme winds, as the tall tomato cage can act as a sail and leave your garden at high rates of speed.
Converting Raised beds into cold frames can be as easy as adding another board around the perimeter of the bed and adding a removable frame with a piece of plastic attached as a cold cover.
Of course, you can get much more elaborate using old window panes or polycarbonate panels. No matter how elaborate you build your cold frames, they have the same needs as all the other options. If they are not opened at the appropriate time, you risk burning your plants. If you forget to close them at night, your plants can freeze or suffer frost damage.
Extending your season is a great way to make your garden more productive for a longer period. As you begin to plan next springs garden, try to think of your gardening year not as one long growing season, but two shorter seasons back to back.
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