Bringing in, covering up the crops
The frost has zapped the tomatoes but the cool season crops are still going — as are a few pepper plants that I dug, potted and brought indoors to keep going until their fruits ripen.
How long can those outdoor spinach, lettuce, carrot, celery, kale and chard plants go? Some, if protected, should last through winter, not really growing but not dying either during the coldest parts of December to February. Come late February, though, they’ll pick up and start producing again — especially if they were planted back in August.
Last year I covered several rows of cool season crops with 4-foot-wide Quick Hoops made with Johnny’s Quick Hoops Bender and then covered the hoops with plastic. In late winter and early spring, I had some of the best spinach I’ve ever tasted.
Not that my setup was ideal. I pushed the hoops, made from half-inch metal conduit, about 8 inches into the ground before covering them with plastic, held down with rocks. I left enough slack on the ends to hold that plastic taught with rocks, too.
We didn’t get enough snow last year for the snowboarders and skiers, but we did get enough to sink my plastic a few times. So I brushed the snow off and secured the plastic with rocks again. And again.
What seemed to be missing was some sort of top support to hold the hoops rigidly in place and equidistant, and to give added strength to the structure so that snow did not collapse it.
At the Common Ground Country Fair in September, I saw a nice set-up that gardener Jack Kertesz created and dubbed a “Quick Hoop Half Pipe.” The 6-foot-by-10-foot structure has a wooden base, and the hoops are held to the base with conduit straps. The plastic is held to the end conduit pieces with snap clamps, available from Johnny’s for about 50 cents each, and the edges of the plastic are clamped to a straight piece of conduit. A strip of wood joining the hoops at their apex adds “extra rigidity,” said Kertesz, “that might be enough to fend off snow loads.” He cautions, “Don’t forget to anchor these as they make great kites.”
So, time permitting and husband willing, I hope to cover my cool season beds with something like the structure at Common Ground.
Growers who cover crops with low hoops talk of crawling under the plastic in winter with a basket on a rope, harvesting into the basket and pulling it along as they crawl. Kertesz says the design at Common Ground could be flipped on its back temporarily, or the plastic could be rolled up on the sides to allow access to crops.
If it hadn’t been for the (s)tool shed at Common Ground — a combination building with a composting toilet on one side, tool shed on the other — the Quick Hoop Half Pipe would have been my favorite “discovery” there.
Jean English lives in Lincolnville.