–Emily Barrineau, High Rocks, Hillsboro, WV Winter is coming! This is my least favorite time of the year because of the bitter weather and the less time I will get to spend outside. The days are getting shorter which means there is less sunlight that the plants can turn into energy. Winter also means less fresh produce from the garden unless you have a way to keep the plants warmer and product them from the elements. Not everyone has space or resources for a high tunnel but there are some other ways that you can still have some fresh veggies throughout the winter.
If you already have some winter hardy plants you want to protect from the cold weather you can extend their season by making a low tunnel out of wire and a row cover. You may use PVC pipe for an alternative to wire to construct the hoops of the tunnel. For the cover, you can use plastic or a floating row cover. Plastic can protect against lower temperatures and snow, but you will have to let some ventilation in on sunny days so it doesn’t get too hot. The floating row cover does a good job at letting sunlight in but does not protect against the elements as well as the plastic when there are below freezing temperatures.
To build the low tunnel you want to place a wire hoop every 4 feet. To make the hoops, you want to cut the wire 6 ½ feet long and make a 1 inch diameter loop about a foot from the end on each side. When you cut your row cover you want to make sure that you leave a few feet or more at the end so that you can secure the cover by tying a rope at the end and tying that to a stake or stick to put in the ground. To secure the sides of the cover you can bury the edges or use rocks or sandbags.
At our season extension workshops we taught the participants how to use wire and floating row cover to protect their crops and we also taught them about overwintering crops. Overwintering is great if you want to get a head start on the next season. To do this, you want to sow your seeds into the garden and protect them with the low tunnel. When you overwinter crops they begin to grow but stop because the days get too short, but when the days get longer they begin growing again. By overwintering you are able to harvest some veggies a month earlier than normal. Just make sure that when you are harvesting your crops that you do this when the temperatures are above freezing.
Another way to extend your season and/or overwinter is to use a cold frame. A cold frame is a bottomless box that sits on the soil. There is a cover that goes over the box that can be made out of glass or plastic and the sides are usually made from wood. You can buy a cold frame or you can get creative and make it yourself. On the internet I have seen creative ideas by using recycled windows as the cover and having the sides be made out of straw bales.
Even when the days are getting shorter, I hope you can make your winter a little brighter with some fresh veggies!