Summer is taking its swan dive into fall. The weather is cooling off and nights in the Upper Valley have been dipping down into the 30’s . There has been a bit of talk around the area about how to best protect crops when the weather begins to chill. There are several options available and it partially depends on your budget and ambitions.
Floating row cover is available for purchase and comes in a number of thicknesses. This cover is essentially a white, spun polyester fabric that allows light and water to penetrate (the thicker the fabric, the less light transmission) but protects plants from excessive cold or heat just like an insulating blanket. The covers can be lain directly over the plants and can ‘float’ on top of them. However, this is less than ideal since the leaves that are touching the fabric still tend to be harmed by the cold. A better solution would be to do one of the following things in addition to using the floating row cover.
For those who planted a movable garden (containers, pots etc…), the first thing to do is move those planters closer to the house at night. The warmth from you home will help to protect your plants. Also, move the planters to the down-wind side of the house if possible. Cold mixed with wind can desiccate your tender plants leaving them limp, lifeless and stressed.
If your plants are in raised beds, consider building a hoop structure to cover the entire bed. If the raised beds are made out of thicker material (boards of the box are at least 2” thick), you can drill small pilot holes spaced every 12-18” with a ¼” drill bit. Then, you can take a stiff wire that is the same diameter as the hole (such as ¼” bailing wire) and you can bend a half-circle that fits snugly into the corresponding holes on opposite sides of the bed. This will create a ‘hoop’ over the top of the bed that is strong enough to support a light-weight row cover or contractor’s clear plastic. A quick tip, the wire hoops can become floppy if they are either too tall, or the span across the bed is too far. This type of hoop works well for beds that are 4 feet across or smaller. Larger spans will require a different plan.
If your raised beds are larger than a 4 foot span or if you would like to create a structure that is a little beefier, galvanized electrical conduit can be bent into a sturdier hoop structure. To secure these hoops, it works best to sink a pipe ‘sleeve’ into the ground on the outside of your beds that the bent conduit hoop can slide into (just like the wire slides into the holes in the example above). To create the pipe sleeves, purchase galvanized pipe that is of a diameter slightly larger than the diameter of the conduit so that the conduit can easily slip into the pipe but there is not so much extra space that the conduit is loose or rattles inside of this sleeve. Cut the pipe into 18 inch lengths and use a sledge hammer to sink the pipe into the ground leaving 6-8 inches of pipe exposed out of the ground. This will set the pipe deep enough that it can withstand wind and weather and will leave an above ground section to support the hoop.
For most home gardens, these simple hoops combined with a cover will be enough to stave off the cold for a few additional weeks….enough time to harvest all those tomatoes! Good Luck and Happy Gardening!