Low tunnels for winter gardening

Here at Etc. Farms, we flip the seasons and grow most of our market produce during the cooler months.  L’Homme realized long ago that fall-winter-spring gardening is so much easier than fighting the bugs and drought of the summer months.  Plus, the markets are flooded with produce in the summer months, but it’s hard to find locally grown produce when it’s cold outside.

Winter veggies (beets) snug inside their warm low tunnel

Though a lot of vegetables grow easily in Georgia in the cold, the plants still need some protection–frost on leaves is more dangerous than the cold air, so we have to keep it from settling on the plants.  Thus we use low tunnels.  And here’s how we make them:

The basic design involves little arches covered with row cover.  We use concrete reinforcing wire to make the arches:

Arches made from concrete reinforcing wire

We space out the arches over a garden bed, then cover them with row cover.  Row cover is a translucent, water-permeable fabric that acts like a blanket over the beds.  Our preferred brand is Agri-Bon, but there are various brands carried by any serious garden supply catalog. (We get Agri-Bon from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.)

We also use short lengths of old garden hose to cover the edges of the wire arches, because we found that the rough metal snagged and ripped the row cover.  We just split the hose lengthwise and snug it onto the cut edges.

Once the beds are covered with the arches and “blankets,” we tuck the sides and ends of the long, low tunnel into the ground to provide a warm, snug little hut for the plants.  The finished tunnel looks like a gigantic white caterpillar resting in your garden; this is why the French call them “chenilles” the French word for caterpillar.  If you’re architecturally minded, the tunnels might remind you of Quonset huts.

Low tunnels or en francais, chenilles

You must do something to hold the sides and ends of the row cover down on the ground–many gardeners just pile up soil to weigh down the fabric at ground level.  We like to use some handy little pins that L’Homme cut from concrete reinforcing wire:

Pin for the row cover

They are bent at one end so they look like a 7 with a steep angle.  These little beauties hook over the edge of the row cover and easily push into the soil to keep the fabric tightly pinned to the ground.

Pins hold the sides of the row cover fabric nice and snug

We prefer using the pins, because it’s much easier to pull out a few and peek in at the vegetables inside the tunnel.  Peeking in on your little babies is very important — you don’t need to remove the covers to water and, of course, sunlight gets through, but just as the plants love the warm and cozy environment you created, so do bugs and weeds.  You need to check in periodically to be sure nobody is running rampant on your vegetables.  It might also be necessary to vent the ends of the tunnel on warm days.

Open the ends to peek at the little darlings and let them breathe on warm days.


Happy winter gardening!



So cultivated

L’Homme sings the praises of cultivation for the garden.

L’Homme in action

Being anal-retentive, I always appreciate how neat and tidy it makes the garden look, but he reminds me that it does ever so much more than remove weeds: it also brings more oxygen to the roots and loosens the soil to make it easier for those roots to respond to their little jolt of energy.  It certainly does show in the plants’ response — after cultivation, we notice that they seem to spring into action, growing significantly taller.

I sometimes think it’s mostly a matter of attention paid.  Back when I used to have houseplants, I tried to regularly dust the leaves of my ficus tree because it gave the plant such a boost.  Maybe removing that layer of dust allowed more light and thus more photosynthesis, but I prefer to believe the plant just appreciated the massage.  I think the garden babies feel the same way.

See how happy they look?

A side note: L’Homme recommends the Long-Handled Wire Weeder from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for this work.  You can see him using it in the photo above.  I like watching him use it, because it’s almost a flowy movement, sort of like using a crochet hook.  I said that I like watching him use it, because I’m not too good at it.

In the beginning . . . .

Oh, the pressure of the first blog post.  I’ve been writing entries for months in my head, but now I’ve finally gone and done it and actually started this little sucker up.

We are myself (Lisa), my husband (L’Homme) and our daughter (L’Oiseau).  There’s also a maniacal cat (Biscuit) and a dog that’s almost too mellow (Popcorn).  Yes, I do realize that I’ve named my pets after food.  If you keep reading this blog, you’ll soon see that was no accident.  Food occupies a central role around here.

The supporting roles are filled by organic market gardening, child-rearing, knitting, crafting, etc., etc.

More later about what is going into the garden right now.  That’s right, I said what’s going in, even though most gardeners around here (southeastern United States) are taking more out at this time of year.  We reverse the seasons here at Etc. Farms — we grow only for ourselves in the summer months and do most of our growing and selling during the Fall-Winter-Spring.  So, more later about what we are planting.

Thanks for reading!