Learn how to use row covers, cloches, cold frames and hoop houses for frost protection in your fall garden. You can maximize the harvest with these frugal ideas.
There are several ways that you can create a favorable climate around the garden you’ve planted this fall. It is possible to have year-round, fresh vegetable harvest using these techniques. Let’s take a look at some ideas to use frost protection in the fall or winter garden.
“The aim of crop protection in the winter garden is to lessen…climatic extremes and consequently lessen plant stress. The first step toward lessening plant stress is to cover the plants.” Eliot Coleman, Four Season Harvest
The simplest solution uses row covers, which work in much the same way as a hoop house except they traditionally do not have supports inside. Instead, fabric for row covers lay directly on the crop. The fabric is secured on the sides with rocks or dirt so it will not blow away. I think of row covers as more of a temporary solution for an unexpectedly cold night.
These light-weight floating row covers shown at Rodale Organic Life allow air, water, and up to 85 percent of ambient light to pass through. They provide only a few degrees of frost protection, but they are an excellent barrier against damage by a wide range of pests.
If you only have one to two pants to protect you may consider using a cloche. It’s a transparent glass or plastic bell-shaped jar (or repurposed plastic bottle) placed over individual plants to keep them warmer than the ambient air temperature and protect them from frost. You can purchase beautiful glass ones and find antique ones at estate sales. The simplest way to make one is with a gallon milk jug that has the bottom cut out.
See more in our post- 5 Ways to Recycle Milk Jugs in the Garden
The Cold Frame
Another option is the cold frame, which puts a low roof over low plants and provides a bit of protection too. I love these ones made of old windows over a makeshift shelter created my straw bales. This article from Mother Earth News suggests dozens of projects that range from elaborate and permanent to quick and simple, and many can be made from recycled materials.
The Hoop House
A semi-permanent solution is the hoop house. It’s a frame that can be used to support a variety of covers for plants. You can build them directly over your garden and leave them up year-round, using lightweight fabrics in summer to give plants protection from insects and animals. They can even be used with shade cloth and provide protection during extreme heat. In the late fall and winter, heavier blankets or clear plastic can be used at night and will protect your harvest from frosts and freezes.
How is a hoop house or tunnel different from a greenhouse? Traditionally you cannot walk inside of a hoop house; instead, it is pulled back for harvesting and watering purposes. A hoop house may have removable or permanent cross bars attached to a raised bed.
These instructions from the Oregon State University Extension office are one of my favorite. When I lived in the Pacific NW, I had one of these hoop house covers over a raised bed in my yard and it works beautifully.
A note about venting
When your garden is under cover you need to pay attention to the temperature, humidity and soil moisture of the planting area. “Venting will be needed during the day to control temperature and humidity and provide a change of air for the plants, all of which helps prevent outbreaks of mold and other diseases.” William Head, Gardening Under Cover.
On overcast days the lid or cover only has to be propped open a few inches. On sunny days, opening the lid or hoop house ends by a few feet may be necessary. Once the weather warms you may find that you only use the cover at night and eventually, when there is no longer a danger of frost, it is removed altogether.
Now that you know the benefits of protecting your fall harvest here are a few wonderful posts from around the web. These websites will have you growing and covering your fall garden in half a day. It can even be accomplished for a minimal investment of $50 – $60. This initial purchase will last year after year in your garden.
Heather at the Homesteading Hippy made a hoop house out of PVC pipe and 3mm plastic to help extend her growing season a bit. You’ll find detailed instructions to make a hoop house for under $60.
Mother of a Hubbard discusses 10 Reasons she uses low tunnels (hoop houses) over cold frames in her zone 6b garden in Kentucky. You have got the see the picture of her hoops under a few feet of snow – amazing!
Rick at Our Stoney Acres has a nice discussion about the types of cloth you might want to consider for a row cover or hoop house. See his post about protecting your garden from early frost.
Little House in the Suburbs added PVC pipes to her existing raised beds and then adds the hoops when she needs them. See how it’s done.
Supplies and books from Amazon:
To get really good at fall and winter gardening you may enjoy these books. They are ones I have in my preparedness library as reference material. These are affiliate links.