Living in the northern Midwest, finding ways to extend the gardening season has become a passion of mine. Inspired by the work of Eliot Coleman whose farm produces vegetables year-round in Maine, we have found inexpensive ways to create mini-greenhouses in our raised bed garden. The benefits of this include being able to begin harvesting many of our favorite vegetables (tomatoes and peppers) a month or more early. It also allows us to pull fresh vegetables out of our garden in fall and early winter, months after “gardening season” in our area has ended.
I will admit that I have spent hours fantasizing about what I’d do with a Grow Camp (raised bed greenhouse) but we have achieved extended harvests with significantly less expensive tools.
Hands down, our favorite season extender are Tomato Teepees (also known as a Wall of Water) which has allowed us to plant tomato and pepper plants at least four weeks before the last average frost date in our area. (We also use tomato teepees all season for the “tropical” plants in our garden to help them navigate our unpredictable northern temperatures without extra stress).
I’ve been on the hunt for an inexpensive temporary greenhouse structure for years, but haven’t been able to find a decent one. As a result, we’ve relied upon All-Purpose Fabric supported by Fiberglass Hoops, which creates a mini greenhouse in our beds. We use these for lettuces, carrots, radishes, beets and herbs.
Another season-extending tool for gardens is the Shade Net, also supported by hoops, and used during the dog days of August. Shade nets prevent the burning of tender seedlings and protect lettuces from hot sun, (cutting the sunlight by 50%) and allowing air to circulate freely.