How To: Gardening before the last frost

Well I promised some how-to posts so here we go! 

One of the questions I frequently get is “what are you growing already in your garden?” This year alone, I have been asked that question since mid-march. So lets take a look at some cool-weather crops that can be grown year round; using the right resources, of course.

Frost, snow, and the cold temperatures that come with them kill crops if we only plant them and leave it at that. Using about $20 of material, I was able to extend my gardening season by about two and a half months! The significance of this is about three extra harvests of my baby turnips, extra lettuce and spinach, an early crop of beets, and the list goes on! 

Season extenders can be as elaborate as a large, heated polycarbonate greenhouse (costing at least a few thousand dollars) or as simple as a piece of breathable fabric laid over garden rows. Maximizing your growing season will vary largely depending on what you choose to extend it with.

Using three 2×3 boards, some leftover vapour barrier from a flooring project, and two pieces of PVC pipe, I decided to build a low tunnel. It worked so well that last year, I built two more! 

The process is very simple. The tools you’ll need are a drill, measuring tape, and a saw! 

  1. The garden area I wanted to cover was 2 ft x 8 ft. So, I cut one of the boards to get two lengths that were 22 inches long. I then used my drill to build a rectangle out of the 22 inch pieces (as my width) and the remaining two 8 foot boards (as the length). 
  2. Next, I had to make the hoops. I used a hacksaw to cut my lengths of PVC pipe in order to give me approximately 2 feet of height on the tunnel. Honestly, I didn’t measure these. I cut one to a size that worked and then used it as reference for the other hoops. On an eight foot tunnel, I used five hoops spaced at two feet apart.
  3. Then, I attached the hoops to the frame. I chose to drill holes that they could rest in, but you could also just use screws to attach the pipe to the frame. 
  4. The final step was to add the plastic sheet on the frame. And I used staples to attach them but you could also screw extra boards to the frame with the plastic in between. 

At the end of the day, this is a project that doesn’t need to be super pretty to be effective – so, feel free to get creative. The important thing is that when the sun is up, it can heat up the inside of the tunnel. 

It is important to remember to remove the covers during warm days so that it doesn’t get too hot inside your tunnel. Also, fresh air is always welcomed by the plants!

So what do I have under my tunnels? Lots of delicious salad material! Sadly there are a lot of vegetables, such as tomatoes, that still don’t like the mild conditions I get in my tunnels but below are some excellent options (all of which are currently growing in my garden!):

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Kohlrabi
  • Collards
  • Swiss chard
  • Kale 
  • Cabbage
  • Nasturtiums
  • Carrots

This is everything that I currently have growing under the tunnels but it is far from an exhaustive list of your options! 

On top of these, there are also options that you can plant early and not cover up such as peas! I currently have eight snap pea plants growing up my trellis – they are already over 12 inches tall! I started the seedlings in my basement under a grow light but a window sill works just fine too. Then they spent some time in my potting shed to harden off before I put them in the garden. They have already survived a minor snow storm and some frost proving their cold hardiness. 

The main take away today is that there are many options to grow your own healthy foods regardless of the time of year. Some methods may cost more but there is no reason why you can’t have a garden salad from your own garden in November or even in February! 

Let me know if there is something you would like to read about!

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2 thoughts on “How To: Gardening before the last frost

  1. This is great — wondering if you have any improved yields now that you guys have the beehive.
    Also — have you heard of this murder wasp thing in the states? We need to come up with protection for all hives stat

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    1. We only did one year of gardening before we started the hive. And the garden did not do well that year since I was away through the summer. So I don’t have solid evidence to say either way. However, we have a large number of bumble bees in the area and I almost never saw the honeybees in my garden. We did have high yields though. So my verdict is a maybe?

      And yes, I saw the news about them today. Hopefully they don’t make it across the continent but I’m sure it is only a matter of time. Same as the other pests and diseases that afflict our bee population.

      Like

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