Yesterday my guys spent some time helping me get the garden ready for winter. I cleaned up the raised bed that grew our tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and then sowed a winter cover crop of hairy vetch and winter rye in their place. The cover crop will overwinter and resume growing in the spring, when I will turn it into the soil. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, and it’s crucial to return nutrients to the soil at every opportunity. While I was working on fall clean up, the guys erected a winter tunnel so we can continue to eat from our garden into the winter months.
The tunnel was constructed of reclaimed/recycled materials. The cattle panels (used for the structure of the tunnel) were my buck pens from the days when I kept a small dairy goat herd. We did purchase a $70 roll of 6 ml plastic, but there’s enough on the roll for the next 4 or 5 years. The tunnel is crude and imperfect, as it was intended to be quick, temporary, and inexpensive. It will be taken down in the spring, and then erected over a different raised bed next fall. In the picture above you can see the cattle panels, anchored in place against the sides of the raised bed by wooden stakes driven into the ground. As you can see, the cattle panels form a slightly wonky shaped dome. Below, the bottom edge of the plastic is about to be rolled onto a piece of lumber and nailed against the side of the raised bed.
Our prevailing winds come from the northwest, so the south end of the tunnel will be used for entry and venting. I didn’t have it set up yet, but the plastic on this end will be anchored by a board and a couple of cinder blocks. During the winter I will remove the board and be able to lift the flap of plastic enough to vent the tunnel on warm days.
Here’s a peek inside the tunnel. At the front are a couple of different varieties of heirloom kale, Tuscan Lacinato and Winter Red Russian. Growing up the cattle panel on the right are Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas.
I’m growing two varieties of spinach, Monstrueux De Viroflay and Gigante Inverno. I’ve overwintered the first variety before, and it performed beautifully. The lettuce between the two spinach varieties is Tom Thumb, an heirloom loose head lettuce. Planted elsewhere in the tunnel are arugula, carrots, parsley, and some stray volunteer dill plants. My carrots are not as fully formed as I would have liked. It’s the first time I’ve tried to overwinter carrots, and I learned that I need to plant them about 3 weeks earlier than I did. I’m hoping the added warmth of the tunnel will help them grow a little more before the real cold weather arrives. This is the first year I’ve tried a tunnel like this, and if all goes well, I’m hoping we will be able to stretch our greens into January or February.