using three different tunnels.
With a goal of growing as much food as possible for my family, I am looking for ways to extend my growing season. This was easy in southern California where you can grow year-around. It is more challenging in Tennessee, but not impossible.
Gardening is a grand experiment with successes and failures. I find that I am always learning and every year I will set a new goal or try something new. With so much space at our new homestead, I am a little overwhelmed, but still plowing forward with gusto. If I had a goal, it would be to “do all the things.” Not sure if I will get to “all the things” but I will share what I do get done.
I mentioned in a previous post that I started my seeds earlier than recommended. I did this knowing I would be planting them under cover in the garden protecting them from frosts. I will most likely lose a few plants; I may lose all of them. It is in failing that we learn.
Mr. J has completed my hoop house enough for me to start working inside. There are some minor details left, but the inside is now mine. Poor guy. I kept pestering him because my broccoli seedings were busting at the seams and I was itching to get them in soil. The minute he gave me the go ahead I got started.
I leveled the soil, applied a layer of cardboard, and poured out bags of raised bed mix from my local hardware store. The cardboard attracts worms and suppresses weeds. Ideally, I would have used my own homemade compost to fill this space, but realistically that wasn’t happening. Going forward, I will endeavor to add a new layer of my compost on top of this soil each season. I am practicing a no-dig method that will feed and develop the soil. The soil will in turn feed my plants. I like following Charles Dowding in Great Britain for encouragement with this method. You can find his website HERE and his YouTube channel HERE.
I have another section of my garden where I am using a makeshift cover and two low tunnels to see what works.
My earliest attempt to extend the season is a very low budget experiment. Using wooden stakes, I propped up three U-shaped metal frames (they were the legs of a bleacher bench in a previous life). I covered this with a plastic mattress protector from our recent move. I then surrounded it with hay bales for insulation and to support for a large piece of glass for further protection. I planted kale and cilantro seed starts here at the end of December. They have not grown much, but they are still alive. I am counting this as a win! This little covered space has survived several snows and temperatures in the teens. I expect these plants to take off once spring really hits.
This set up is very budget friendly. I purchased one bag of composted cow manure for the soil ($5) and four bales of straw ($6 each) that will be used as mulch later on in the season. Everything else was repurposed. It is also very easy to just walk by and lift up the plastic or tuck it back down as the weather changes.
At the end of last year, when the weather prevented me for actually working in the garden, I was looking for more options for low tunnels. Researching online, my brain was about to explode with the options, and I had analysis paralysis. Then I came across this “Easy Tunnel” while looking through the Harris Seeds catalogue. It seemed like an affordable way to give this method a try. This tunnel has plastic sleeves sewn onto the hoops and opens and closes in an accordion style. The wires poke through my leaves and cardboard easily enough and the length is just right for growing a crop and managing the tunnel.
I like the length and affordability of this option. There is no assembly required. It has also withstood some serious winds without blowing away. However, this tunnel needs to be completely removed and set aside for watering and temperature regulation. This is not a deal breaker, but it is an additional step to consider. I planted these broccoli starts a few days after the ones in my hoop house. It will be interesting to see the difference in their growth as the days go by. I purchased this low tunnel from Harris Seeds HERE.
I have a new garden to establish and enough space to make my brain hurt. Tackling smaller spaces as I ease into spring is making this process easier. Planning and planting a 10ft by 20ft hoop house is much easier than contemplating my entire garden all at once. One project at a time, one day at a time, and we will see how much I can produce.
In the picture above you can see what the garden looks like after a week of rain. We have clay soil and a high water table. I hope that covering the soil instead of tilling will improve the soil and reduce this puddling. The picture on the right shows how much my broccoli starts have grown in the last week (compared to the earlier picture.) They are loving the hoop house.
What are you working on right now? Are you trying to extend your season? I encourage you to try something new and grow more.
To design the hoop house Mr. J referenced this video:
Blessed and Beautiful Homestead cattle panel hoop house HERE.