After five years of gardening, I finally took the plunge to garden in the winter. Now, I've grown stuff in the winter before, like lettuce, which last year made it through 30-inches of snow and produced full heads in March. Or radishes, kale, and other winter hardy crops.
But this experiment with a cold frame, or small hoop house, was built out of frustration with my inability to grow spinach. For those who live in the mid-Atlantic, or maybe just Washington D.C, you know growing spinach can be tough. Plant it in the early spring and it bolts quickly. Sow seed in late summer for a fall crop and it fails to germinate because it's too hot.
So I put up this mini-green house. It's very easy, based on a clip system from Territorial Seeds and a greenhouse plastic they also sell. You can get this stuff elsewhere but I had the catalog in front of me so just ordered it from them and both seemed to work well. The kit came with instructions which told me what else I would need.
So, for the size I wanted, I went to the hardware store and bought:
- Ten 2-foot lengths of half-inch rebar, which luckily I did not have to cut myself.
- 1/2-inch drip irrigation tubing.
To build it, I pounded the rebar into the ground until only a six-inch section was protruding. I then cut the irrigation tubing into 6-1/2 foot lengths, inserting the tubing over the rebar. It naturally bent into the hoop shape. Now the instructions say you don't really need rebar, but I think it adds strength especially when it's windy.
Then I laid the plastic on top and secured it with the clips.
It took all of 30 minutes, not including the time at the hardware store.
Since the plastic just reached the ground, I got a bale of hay and spread it around the base to add some insulation.
So what am I growing? I seeded bok choi, turnips, beets, and two varieties of spinach to see which one does better. I'm also growing red boston lettuce, spring onions and a few broccoli plants. The broccoli can grow outside but I put them under plastic because it's starting to get cold and the plants are still small. My theory is the heat will give the broccoli a jump to mature in December or January. Then, I'll start sowing my spring crops early.
So much for taking a winter break from gardening. But at least the spinach is coming up nicely!
- Samuel Fromartz