It’s not too early to begin preparing for early spring planting (it works for fall planting also)! By covering your containers, which we call Grow-Boxes, or Soil-Beds with “Mini-Greenhouses” using PVC arches and greenhouse plastic, you can be in your vegetable garden with cool-weather plants by the end of February or the first of March, and continue growing into November. They will warm the soil and protect your plants from light frosts. And with a little supplemental heat (small space heater) even hard frosts will not kill your plants. This is often enough to extend your growing season by several weeks in both spring and fall.
This process works great with organic gardens, container gardens, raised-bed gardens, or in plain old soil-beds.
Pictures can be seen in the Photos section of the free MittleiderMethodGardening Group on Yahoo Groups, or the Mittleider Gardening Group on Facebook. Invitations to join are on every page of the Food For Everyone Foundation website at http://www.foodforeveryone.org. The pictures show arches over Grow-Boxes, or containers. Following are instructions for building a jig and then making PVC arches for 18″-wide boxes or soil-beds.
11 – 5′ lengths of 1/2″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe – to be placed 3′ apart in each bed or box to be covered.
6-mil greenhouse plastic – 5′ wide and 33′ long – one for each bed or box to be covered.
For Grow-Boxes only – 3 10′ lengths of 3/4″ Schedule 200 PVC pipe, cut into 24 15″ pieces for each box to be covered. Plus 22 2″ nails and a small 2″ X 4″ block.
One 30″ X 30″ sheet of plywood, plus 6 – 2 1/2″ nails.
One heat gun (to heat and bend pipe).
With a pen, make 3 marks at the top of the plywood sheet – one in the center, and one each, 9″ to the left and right of the center. Go down 9″ on the plywood and make 3 marks exactly corresponding to the first 3. Draw lines from the outside lower marks to the top center mark. Place marks on both lines 10″ up from the bottom. Go down 27″ from the top of the plywood and make 3 marks corresponding to the others. Draw lines between the 9″ and 27″ marks. Make marks 2″ up from the bottom of both 18″ lines. Drive nails into the 4 upper marks, leaving 2″ of nail exposed. Drive nails into the marks 2″ up from the bottom of the 18″ lines, then drive nails 1″ to the outside of these nails. This is the jig for bending the PVC pipe.
Cut 5′ lengths of 1/2″ schedule 40 PVC pipe. Mark them at 18″ and 28″ from each end. Place one end of PVC pipe between nails on one side, with the end at the 18″ mark (2″ below the first 2 nails). With heat gun, heat PVC pipe at each spot where PVC pipe encounters a nail, and carefully bend the pipe to fit the jig. Allow to cool before removing pipe from jig.
For Grow-Boxes, place 15″ pieces of 3/4″ PVC adjacent to the Grow-Box at each end and at 3′ intervals on both sides. With a hammer, and using the small 2″ X 4″ block of wood, hammer the PVC into the ground until the top is level with the Grow-Box. Drill a hole through the PVC pipe 2″ up from the dirt, and hammer the 2″ nail through both pipe and Grow-Box. Slip the 1/2″ PVC arches into the 3/4″ PVC holding pipes until they encounter the nails – about 6″ deep.
For Soil-Beds, just push the 1/2″ PVC arches into the ground at the peak of the ridge on each side of the Soil-Bed – again about 6″ deep.
Lay the 6-mil plastic over the entire box or bed, centered, with 18″ overhang on each end. Fold excess plastic to avoid a messy appearance. Place dirt on both sides and the ends of the plastic to hold it in place.
Whenever the weather is above 50 degrees, open the ends, and when it is above 65 degrees, lift the plastic from one side and lay it in the aisle.
You must watch carefully to ensure that it doesn’t get too hot in your mini-greenhouses. A thermometer in at least one bed is a good idea, in order to measure the temperature and make necessary adjustments. Note also that brassica’s (cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) can grow in cooler weather than the warm-weather plants. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, etc. must be near 70 degrees or above to do well.