Every gardener loves to eke a bit more out of their growing season. With so many products on the market, it’s sometimes hard to know what equipment to choose. Here are some favorites from my experience as a homesteader and grower with Swainway Urban Farm in Columbus, Ohio.
1. Round Wire Hoops
Simple is often best, and in my experience, that’s the case with row cover supports. Nine- and 10-gauge wire is strong enough to support a double layer of row cover and snow but light enough to easily transport around the garden. Purchase pre-bent hoops to push into the soil quickly; the different lengths sold translate to different heights depending on your bed width. When the weather warms, simply pull the hoops out of the soil and stack them for compact storage.
What do I like to put on the hoops? The lightweight polyester fabric AG-19 is the industry standard for good reason: It allows light transmission, protects against frost to 28 degrees F and is reusable. We choose AG-19 for covering sensitive greens when late spring frosts are forecast and over perforated plastic on carrot rows to keep them growing well into the winter.
And what do I use to hold the row cover down? I love these red re-pins. The bright color ensures that I don’t accidentally leave any in the ground. They’re simpler to insert and remove than the wire staples, and they don’t rust either.
No season-extender list would be complete without mentioning a hoop house. A hoop house provides a comfortable place to work in cold temperatures or rain. The convection-heated space allows greens to grow late in the season and fruits to ripen early, not to mention it’s a fantastic area to harden off seedlings. I’ve even run chickens in mine when they needed a protected area to roam.
I have experience with the Grow-Span (Previously called EZ Build) system at three local farms, including my own. It is sturdy, easy to install and relatively affordable compared to other hoop kits. Even if you choose to build a frame from scratch, investment in 6 mil UV block film is a must. It’s rated to last four years, but we have one hoop in its seventh season still going strong with original film.
Cold frames and hoop houses are surprisingly efficient at raising the temperature—so much so that a sunny day can toast the produce you lovingly sowed. A wireless thermometer and humidity sensor is a handy way to monitor when to remove covers, open sides for ventilation and water. Some come with alarms and all sorts of electronic features, but I find the inexpensive, simple version sufficient.
Straw is my favorite season-extension tool because it’s easy to acquire inexpensively, it’s biodegradable and it has so many uses. Straw is a useful insulating layer to add to the top of garlic or strawberry beds in the fall, serving the dual purpose of weed suppression. You can pile straw around and over cabbages to create a root-cellar effect right in the garden. Stack bales around a beehive or coop wall for winter wind and temperature protection. The best part is that straw slowly decomposes and improves soil tilth.