Building a Row Cover (aka Mini Greenhouse)
We consider ourselves avid gardeners but throughout the years we came to a realization that even though we enjoyed our dirt from April to August there were many more ways to utilize our little piece of the third rock. We started by expanding our options and squeezing raised beds into almost every nook and cranny we could find. A strawberry bed here and a whiskey barrel there and we had just about gone as far as we could go and still remain within our garden fenced boarders.
Next we started utilizing more of the growing season, instead of putting in tomatoes and peppers some time at the beginning of May we were planting carrot, lettuce, greens and pea seeds in mid March. These were all foods we loved so making a little extra effort was a no brainer. After we figured out the beginning of the growing season we began to realize there was still plenty of good sunshine left after the tomatoes had given up their last red balls of summer time joy. We started slow by adding a few additional collards or kale plants. This year we had a couple of beds go though 3 different plantings. One bed started the year with lettuce, then came the beans, now its home to some happy spinach. There are several varieties of greens and plants in the cabbage family that will continue to grow well after the frost starts to show up, but one of our favorite treats (home grown lettuce) will turn a lovely shade of “NO!” as soon as that first bit of frost starts to settle on the ground. Obviously someone needed to figure out a way to keep the crunchy goodness growing well into the holiday season. If only there was some tool that allowed people to access information they previously had limited knowledge of. Maybe a data base that was transmitted through the air directly to some kind of control device which is operated by entering queries into a system designed to locate said information that is only applicable to the specific needs of the searcher. Oh well, maybe sometime in the future when cars drive themselves and everyone has phones that can talk. For now all we have to work with is Google and Pinterest.
I am motivated in many ways. I enjoy things that taste good, I like creating with my hands, and I enjoy a challenge, but one of my most potent motivations is the desire to make the wifey happy. So it was very important to me to try and figure out a way to extend our growing season even further into the frosty months. We had successfully stretched out our growing opportunities but the next step would require a little help that Mother Nature could not provide. We needed a way to protect our fresh little greens from the elements but at the same time still provide them with all the tools they needed to continue to flourish well past the time other plants wilted and went to see the big lettuce head in the sky. We needed row covers. Similar to a mini greenhouse, row covers are meant to protect plants but still provide them with space, light and water that they need to flourish. Think ‘greenhouse that only goes waist high’. Because we had raised beds the process of installing a row cover would be much less difficult. The sides of the beds provide a distinct edge that acts not only as a measuring point but also an anchoring point that should give the cover more stability. After scouring the web (my favorite!!!) we decided that for our first attempt we should go with a PVC frame and a cover made of simple, white, plastic. There are many positive aspects about working with PVC as a frame material. PVC is very inexpensive and can be found at most home improvement and hardware stores, and even Walmart. PVC is also easy to manipulate, it cuts easily with a hand saw and is very flexible. We decided to try an arched design that uses larger PVC pipes driven into the ground as foundations, or anchors, and smaller diameter pipes that would slide into the foundation pieces then bend over and slide into the opposite side. The idea is to create an arch that the plastic can then simply lay on top of.
My first course of action was to measure the distance between the sides of each garden bed and then I needed to guesitmate the correct length of pipe to arch over the beds. Luckily I decided that the standard 5 foot length found in most stores would be perfect for our situation. We also determined that 4 mil thick plastic row cover would be perfect for our needs.
Next up was cutting the pieces that would be anchored into the ground as well as into the sides of the wooden bed frames. These pieces needed to be big enough so that the arched section would easily slide down into them. We used 1″ diamater pipes for the anchor points and 1/2″ for the arched section.
After securing the 8 anchor points by driving them into the ground and putting a screw through them into the bed frame I began making the arches.
Once the arches were set all that needed to be done was to measure, cut, and attach the plastic cover.
The design we came up with made it very easy for us to cover and uncover the bed. The long PVC “handle” allows us to simply grab one side and easily take the entire cover off the frame in one easy motion.
…and covering is just as easy…
Overall I would rate this project as very worthwhile and easy to complete. It may take us a few seasons to figure out all of the ways to use our new beds with their new fancy covers but I’m sure it will lengthen our gardening season.