April 6, 2009

2009 Growing Season - Week 1 (Day 1)

After slogging through a very long, cold winter, which included snow just a few days ago, we have been gifted with several days of beautiful weather! Hurrah! Gardening can begin in earnest!
Last year, I worked my little garden much more intensively than I had in years and in spite of the late start to the growing season, my family was rewarded with weeks of fresh produce.  For nearly 3 months I purchased no salad greens, and in addition to lettuce and spinach, we also enjoyed modest quantities of raspberries, swiss chard, pod peas, carrots, beets and fresh herbs.  The sunny little garden behind my tea shop contributed a bountiful crop of pole beans (plenty to share and pickle) and a few lovely little winter squashes.

I know without a doubt that last year's home grown produce saved us money.  (My gosh, produce has gotten pricey!)  Even after taking into account the cost of seeds, extra compost, and a few other supplies we definitely came out money ahead.  And the freshness and nutritional value of home picked is just beyond compare.

This year I'm hoping to extend the growing season on either end by a few weeks, and produce even more goodies!  Inspired by my girlfriend Teemie's sun pit greenhouse, I've decided to try using a hoop house of sorts to protect and speed up the first planting.   (I'm dreaming of a little greenhouse, but that's a ways off!)

Below are my supplies used for yesterday's project.  4  10' lengths of PVC piping, a 6' x 50' roll of crop cover (kind of like poly interfacing), 6" metal U-shaped staples to hold the edges of the cover down, and seeds!  Yippee!
First thing I did was finish digging in some composted chicken poo, put the soaker hoses back in place pegging them down with a few staples, and then I planted 2 rows of mesclun, and one each of spinach and snap peas.  First things first!

We have raised beds in our home garden that are about 4' x 8' in size and I'll be using 4 pvc pipes to create the hoop houses.   The crop cover is only 6' wide and I didn't feel like piecing or sewing lengths together so using a hacksaw I shortened each pole by 30" to 7.5'. Each end of the pole will be pushed about a foot into the ground.  So, when the cover is placed over I should have a few inches extra on either side that can be stapled down.

So, here's the first hoop in.  The timbers for the beds will do a good job of holding the pipes in place.  The height in the middle is 24" which is more than enough.  I'll be able to remove the cover long before the peas need more room. 
Here's the completed project!  The hoops are about 30" apart.  I cut a 14 foot length of the cover cloth and draped it over.  (Thank goodness it wasn't very breezy or that would have been a trick!)  The sides are tacked down with staples every 18" or so, and the ends are gathered together, held with a heavy duty rubber band and tucked neatly inside where a brick will help hold things down. 
Looks pretty good, if I do say so myself!  Hopefully we won't get any big winds!  A few more inches on the sides would probably be good.  I'm considering shortening the hoop length by another 6 inches to give more extra fabric.

Now, the idea here is that the cover, as lightweight and breathable as it is, will keep the enclosed space a bit warmer and slow evaporation which will speed germination.  I think one of the biggest benefits will come from protected itty bitty seedlings from frost, because we're not out of the woods yet!  I'm already thinking of other ways to use the crop cover in the garden, too.  I'll use it to protect the strawberries from the birdies, and maybe a hoop house over lettuce will slow it from bolting by giving a little sun protection.  I'll be keeping notes!

This weeks challenge will be keeping myself from peeking inside every day!  :-) 

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