This might be a good time to mention that if you live down South you might have noticed a certain level of anxiety in your gardening spouse. You might wonder why he or she is preoccupied, edgy and mutters to herself. Let me clear things up for you; The 1st possible Winter freeze date in Dallas, Texas is in 9 days 4 hrs and 22 minutes. Just kidding, who knows exactly when it will really be. Still, there is a lot of prep work that goes into harvesting the last of the garden produce and protecting tender young winter veggies. We know what we have out there and how many days until it turns to mush. We also know how much work goes into storing it for Winter. Gone are the days when school is out and everyone lends a hand for the harvest. Although I spent the whole morning with my 5 yr old in the garden this morning and got much less done that if I had been solo. The cute things he says make it so worth it though. Like; “Your garden sure is itchy, mom.” and “I can carry all that because I worked out with brother the other day.” This last phrase accompanied by a good flexing of muscles. Too cute!
When I am not trying to coerce my kids into helping me, I am harvesting veggies and cooking, freezing and drying them. I am harvesting zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, jalapeños, habeñeros, and green beans. At the same time I am putting those little plants I started in early fall into the newly emptied beds. So I am planting Swiss chard, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and collards. These little plants will be tender for a while so they will need Winter protection set up before the freeze. How do I protect them? Hoop houses. I am gardening in 5 – 4′ x 8′ beds this Winter. While I have a lot of pvc pipe poles from gardening at the community garden I will need to purchase a few more. You use them year after year so it is a one time expense and they are very cheap. I use 1/2″ x 8′ pvc, 4 poles per bed, bending them over to make a kind of covered wagon looking frame. Attaching D clamps on the inside of the raised bed sides keeps the poles in place. After screwing them in just insert one side, bending it over to slip into the clamp on the other side. If you are blessed with light nutrient rich loamy soil ,so have chosen not to go with raised beds, you can still protect your garden by driving 2′ pieces of concrete reinforcing bars into the ground and slipping your poles over those.
Now for the cover cloth. Cover frost cloths (polyester fibers bonded loosely together) come in all sorts of different lengths and thicknesses. You will base your thickness on how harsh your Winter is. Obviously the lower the temperatures/severe your weather is, the thicker your material will need to be. However, you want to get the most light in that you can possibly get. After much research I found that the right thickness for my area is 1.0 oz and the light it lets in is 78%. When purchasing cloth keep in mind that it has to be at least 10′ wide to go over the hoops and have enough left to anchor down on either side. I know this by experience ,as I sat at my sewing machine piecing mine together one year, because it was not the right width. FUN! This year I bought mine the right width here. Don’t forget when you cut it to leave several extra feet at the end to gather around the opening and anchor down with a brick. Can you use plastic? Cloth vs Plastic covers could be a whole different post. Briefly some things I like about cloth covers are: lets moisture in, lasts season after season and doesn’t blow off so easily because the air goes through it some what. The final and most compelling reason I like cloth better is because on those beautiful warmish days it REALLY heats up under that plastic. The Winter crops LIKE it a bit chilly, NOT Texas greenhouse hot!
What do you use to keep this cloth on? Good question. No easy answer, because in Dallas you want to be able to easily take it on and off for a bit of sun on those warm days. Also, to be frank, once you get to this point the price starts adding up. Although you know you will use it year after year, you are starting to see that you are going to produce the most expensive kale crop in the city. Let me just add also that your spouse is starting to notice that too! Let me tell you that a garden hose cut into pieces with slits in it does NOT work(pops off when it gets cold). I have used these clips before with success:Snap clamp 1/2″ I have used bricks and boards with less success. This year I am testing out my recycled(begged off a mechanic I know) 3/4 inch radiator hose, cut and slit. I will let you know how that goes. If you Winter garden; how do you keep your frost cover on?
The best Winter gardening site I have found is Mother of a Hubbard(hubbard squash that is) She does some very impressive Winter gardening in Kentucky under a lot harsher conditions that I have here. Although what it does here is coat everything with ICE, not snow, but ice, which can be pretty brutal on a garden even for a short time. She has moved recently to a bigger property so has not posted in a while but in the archives you will find that she really tests the elements with her full time Winter garden.
So remember if your gardening spouse is a bit on edge, give her/him their space and bring home dinner on the day of the first freeze because you can bet she/he will be VERY tired. I love to hear from you. Have you grown successfully through the Winter before? Please share any tips you have in the comments.
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