Sunday, June 24, 2012

Victory Garden

High Tunnel with sides raised

As I wrote in a previous blog gardening was do or die this year. When I first moved to my house in the high country some 17 years ago I immediately built two 8 x 4 raised beds and proceeded to provide for not must me but neighbors. What I could raise was a bit more limited than in other areas I have lived in because of the climate but we had a solid 90 to 100 day growing season. Last frost was generally around the 1st of June.

The great news was with temps seldom above 82 F in the summer lettuce and spinach did not bolt. I dreamed of an attached green house that would provide passive solar for winter months and allow me to get a start on plants to go outside in June. As I planned the green house grew and when construction began in 2007 the beds had to be moved. Long establish herbs like Tarragon had to be moved and did not survive their temporary containers. Despite efforts there was no gardening in 2007 or 2008. Two 4 x 4 beds just didn't seem to produce and last freezes seemed to have moved to the middle of June.

Low tunnel with sides up and beginning of high tunnel supports

This April I decided to give it one last go. I up and moved the beds so I could put a tunnel over them. The low tunnel worked fantastically. Plants were protected from late freezes (well, early freezes because I planted a full two weeks early). And with the night cover and day protection when the weather was foul the lettuce and assorted greens just grew faster. I decided to go ahead with the high tunnel.

As Youtube videos, articles, and my friend in Utah explained, the low tunnel could raise the temp four degrees and the high tunnel over the low another four for an eight degree gain. More importantly it seems combined with the raised beds the ground temps are raised. Tomatoes want 55 F ground temperature.

Side ribs up
Center pole and end ribs up. Almost time for plastic

S hooks at base of ribs for tie downs

Detail of roping over high tunnel

During the high desert cool nights the low tunnel plastic can be pulled over the beds and the high tunnel plastic put down. In the bow ends I have another raised small bed with tomatoes and a couple container gardens of squash. This year these are experiments. Between the two raised beds I have potatoes which are suppose to be a cold weather crop but their leaves were very easily damaged by our late frosts. My last couple years of gardening were just lettuce, greens, carrots, garlic and onions.

Bountiful crop

An extra bonus with the tunnels has been protection from spring winds and hail of our summer thunderstorms. More than one lush bed of lettuce has been shredded by hail. When I first tuned into the polytunnels being used on farms I figured it was a spring and fall thing. Supposedly you can extend your growing season two weeks either side. A hard fought for 90 days to 130 is well worth raising and lowering plastic morning and night.

But the tunnels cut down on watering and also seem to make plants grow bigger and faster. That is probably due to the warmer soil. I try to cover up before the temps of the day fall off, holding in the warmth.


  1. You are such an accomplished handywoman! It looks great. How deep are your beds and what did you fill them with? It looks very
    densely planted.

  2. I filled them with the dark peat soil from the bottom of my property mixed with mushroom compost, potting soil, and peat/sheep mixture,

    Beds are about a foot deep. I did 2 feet at one time and it is hard to get it all mixed and renewed yearly. Yes it is probably too densely planted but I sowed seed on the basis of what used to come up and survive before the tunnels. Have been trying to thin as I harvest baby greens but today I just went through and pulled some stuff up.

    Next year less of everything especially the lettuce. It has been an adjustment since things grow faster and more lushly with the tunnels. And I will be able to grow things that I could not grow before.

  3. That sounds like a great mix. My soil is so poor. I used floating row cover in the main garden, with removable hoops, and the greenhouse is the joy of my life.


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