Gardening · Homesteading

Prepping For Early Frosts

Last night was chilly. All it takes is a clear sky at night in October and the temperature drops quickly. While the first frost usually isn’t harsh enough to kill off delicate plants like lettuce, it can, and does damage them, so it’s time to get them protected. And as a bonus, it will extend their growing life considerably.

All the rows planted for the fall and winter are covered in straw/hay.

Since I don’t have a lot of lettuce growing, and the lettuce is short still, I did a quick solution. The key is to make some hoops with whatever you have on hand. Save that cash.

Having refound a bunch of circular plant supports I had been given, I pushed one end into the ground on one side, and the other side on the far side of the bed. Each section I needed to protect I used 3 to 4 hoops.

Then I cut a piece of frost fabric to cover, and clamped it on, making sure I pinched the ends.

And done. Now I can sleep not worrying about early frosts in this area.

But….of course I needed to think about November and coming hard frosts/freezes/snow. It was time to put up my DIY Hoophouse. We made this years ago, when we did urban farming, but it still has a use in our rural homestead. It covers low growing crops quickly.

All set up and ready to be wrapped when needed down in the field.

It can be used in both Fall, and for early Spring.

I came across a copy of Gardening Under Cover: A Northwest Guide to Solar Greenhouses, Cold Frames, and Cloches, from 1989, through our library system and got sucked into it back when I built this in 2015 the first time – a guide for the PNW, written in an easy to read, but not necessarily deep, method. Pre-internet this was as good as one was going to find for low-tech methods.

The concept is easy, and so is the shopping list:

  • 3 to 4 ½” PVC pipes (10 feet long)
  • 1 1″ PVC pipe (10 feet long)
  • Cover of choice
  • Large Binder Clips

The PVC pipes can be found at hardware stores, are usually made int he USA. Look in plumbing. The first step is to measure and cut the 1″ inch PVC pipe into 10″ sections. For ease in cutting, my husband used a DeWalt Power Miter Saw with a 12-Inch Thin Kerf Crosscutting Miter Saw Blade. He cut a bevel at a 60 degree angle. This allows them to slip into the soil easily. Be careful when doing this type of cutting, as you are close to the blade. That I let Kirk do for me.

I store them in a large plant pot when not needed, out of the sun. Not one has cracked in the past 6 years. 

(This is from the original post I did back then, in the end of 2015.)

I did a trial run on a back bed, that didn’t have plants in it, to get an idea how it would work. First, depending on the length of your bed, you will need 6 to 8 of the cut 1″ pieces (Each 10 foot section produces 12 sections, so in theory you can produce 2 beds from each one). The beveled edge pierces through even hard packed soil, using a Dead Blow Hammer, pound them in until it is about ¾ in the ground. Do all of them, spacing evenly.

To put in the hoops, push one of the 10 foot long ½” pipes into a holder, then gently bend over and pop into the other side. Just like tent poles really!

You’ll find on the first one you might be pulling out poles and redoing it, as they won’t be lined up evenly, or one holder is not as deep as the other side. By the time I got to the 4th bed, I found it going much quicker. And they don’t need to be perfect…..

On to covering the hoops: It needs to be 10 feet wide to cover side to side. The frost fabric lets through light and water, but keeps it 4 to 10* degrees warmer. It also doesn’t cause your plants to overheat in fall temperatures, where as the plastic covered ones can quickly, if not vented. As you can see, I let it hang loosely, and didn’t clip it back unless high winds are predicted, or heavy rain.

A couple of friends clued me in how to clip the fabric to the poles easily: Large Binder Clips. The 36 pack on Amazon is a deal compared to in store 12 packs. You will need at least 12 per bed. They work better than any other method I have seen online!

Once you have your cover in place, start at the top and put in a clip on each pole on top, then one at the bottom, and for best results, one in the middle of each pole, preferably on each side. If it isn’t windy, you can use less. For here, with 4 poles, I am using 20 clips.

For real cold snaps I used 4 mil thick plastic sheeting. You can find it hardware stores in 25 foot and 50 foot rolls, often in the paint department. If you want thicker, you could go up to 6 mil. 4 mil is quite durable though. I decided to make a door, and simply split the plastic with scissors (or a knife). I can roll it up and use a clip to hold it open. In high winds, you will want to seal it up tightly, and cross over the plastic, using clips to secure it. But otherwise, until winter, this will stay open on one side to keep the temperature even. My mini greenhouses can easily soar to 100* on a 70* day, so keep that in mind. You don’t want to scorch and kill your tender plants! As well, plastic doesn’t let water in, so remember to water on a regular basis, more than you might expect, as it will be warmer and evaporate.

Enjoy, get building, and protect your fall crops.