Building an inexpensive low tunnel can significantly extend your garden season, provide year-round garden protection from pests, protect your crops from frost, and solve other weather-related challenges. Here’s how…
Low tunnels are a great way to extend your growing season, and while they can also be used for large-scale agriculture, they are particularly useful in backyard gardens due to their ease of installation and low cost. A low tunnel is a simple, DIY method of season extension that provides lots of advantages for the home gardener, including:
- Prolonged harvests: Season extension allows for a prolonged yield of certain crops so that you can enjoy fresh produce for longer throughout the year.
- Variety of crops: Season extension allows you to grow a wider variety of crops that might not be possible in a shorter growing season and allows for winter gardening.
- More efficient use of space: Furthermore, season extension helps you to rotate crops using succession planting and use the same space for multiple plantings, making better use of your garden area.
- Cost savings: By extending the growing season, you can save money by not having to purchase as much produce from the store.
- Nutritional benefits: Freshly picked produce is usually more nutritious than those that are transported long distances after being harvested.
- Sustainable living: Extending the growing season allows you to produce more of your own food, reducing your dependence on industrial agriculture and transportation.
- Mental and physical benefits: Gardening has been known to positively impact mental and physical health. Extending the season means more opportunities to enjoy the many benefits of gardening!
It’s worth noting that extending the growing season requires proper planning, knowledge of your climate and specific crops, and the use of the appropriate tools and methods, such as low tunnels, greenhouses, or row covers.
What Does It Mean To Extend Your Garden Season
Extending your garden season means prolonging the period during which your garden actively grows and produces crops.
This can be achieved through various methods, such as using row covers, cold frames, or low tunnels to protect plants from frost and cold temperatures, planting cold-tolerant varieties, and using succession planting techniques to stagger the maturity of different crops.
What Are Low Tunnels?
Low tunnels are a type of season extension technique used in gardening and farming, and they are especially popular with home gardeners since they are easy and inexpensive to construct. They are usually very simple structures, typically made of PVC pipes or metal hoops (although you can also use PVC electrical conduit, steel rebar, cattle panel, or simply pieces of sturdy fencing), that are covered with transparent or translucent plastic sheeting or floating row cover.
They can be placed directly over the plants in a garden bed, creating a mini-greenhouse effect that helps to protect the plants from frost, wind, and heavy rain. Low tunnels are typically lower in height than high tunnels or greenhouses, hence the name “low tunnel.”
Low tunnels are easy to construct, relatively inexpensive, and can be used for a variety of crops, including vegetables, fruits, and flowers.
The plastic sheeting can be left on during the day to trap heat and moisture and removed at night to allow for ventilation. During extra cold spells, you can add some old blankets on top for added protection.
They are beneficial for extending the growing season for cool-weather crops like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and other cold-hardy greens.
How To Build An Inexpensive Low Tunnel
Building a low tunnel is a relatively simple process that can be done with some basic materials and tools. Here are the general steps to create a low tunnel:
- Choose a location: Select a flat, well-draining area in your garden that gets full sun. Clear any debris or weeds from the site.
- Mark the area: Use stakes and string to mark out the place where you want to build the low tunnel. The size of the low tunnel will depend on the number of plants you want to protect and the width of your plastic sheeting.
- Install the hoops: Install the hoops for the low tunnel by driving metal pipes or PVC pipes into the ground at the corners of the marked area. The hoops should be spaced about 4-5 feet apart. You can use wire or twine to connect the hoops at the top.
- Cover the hoops: Cover the hoops with clear or translucent plastic sheeting, ensuring that the sheeting is tight and secure. The sheeting should be tucked into the ground around the edges to keep out wind and rain. Add weight to the edges of the plastic sheeting to keep it in place. You can use stones, bricks, or sandbags for this.
- Ventilation: Low tunnels can get very hot during the day – especially when the sun is shining – so it’s essential to provide ventilation to prevent overheating and damaging plants. You can add roll-up sides or vent flaps to the plastic sheeting, or simply remove it.
- Maintain: Check the low tunnel regularly for any damage or loose sheeting. Make sure to remove the sheeting when the temperature is forecasted to be above freezing to prevent damage to the plants.
What Are The Advantages Of Building A Low Tunnel?
Building a low tunnel can offer several advantages for home gardeners. These include:
- Protection from extreme weather: Low tunnels are of great importance during winter gardening as they protect plants from frost, wind, and heavy rain, allowing them to grow in a more controlled and consistent environment.
- Extended growing season: Low tunnels can trap heat and play a vital role in season extension, allowing for earlier planting or later harvest of certain crops and even year-round gardening.
- Pest and disease control: Low tunnels can provide physical barriers to pests and diseases, helping to reduce the need for chemical treatments.
- Increased crop yields: Low tunnels can increase crop yields by protecting plants from environmental stress and extending the growing season.
- Cost-effective: Low tunnels are relatively inexpensive to build and maintain, which makes them an affordable option for small-scale farmers and home gardeners.
- Versatility: Low tunnels can be used for a wide range of crops and can be adapted to different soil types, climates, and growing conditions.
- Organic Growing: Low tunnels help to maintain organic growing practices by providing a natural way of protecting crops from pests and diseases.
- Water conservation: Low tunnels can reduce evaporation and water loss in the soil, thus conserving water.
However, it is important to keep in mind that low tunnels are only ideal for some crops, so choosing suitable crops and varieties for your specific growing conditions and area is essential.
The Bottom Line
A low tunnel is one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to season extenders, providing the opportunity for year-round gardening, or simply a longer harvest in either the spring or fall or both. Growing in low tunnels is also a great way to learn more about gardening, as you’ll get hands-on experience with what grows well for you during the different seasons, which crops are most productive, and how climate and weather impact your garden harvest.