Today we are going to cover management of your cold frames and hoop houses during the winter months.
So let’s assume you have been on the ball and you got your winter crops in the ground in August and by the end of September you have a great stand of lettuce, and other greens and a frame or two bursting with carrots. What do you do now?
You need to be aware of when your first frost date is. All the crops you have planted can handle some frost, but why give the plants the added stress. Be sure you know when to expect frost and get your frames out and your hoops ready well in advance of that date. I also buy a small thermometer and put it in one of my frames. This helps me manage the temperature, especially during the day.
As the weather cools you will need to keep a close eye on the weather and pay attention to your local micro climates as well. I live in the Salt Lake City Metro Area, if the weather man tells me that it will be in the high 30’s at the airport, (the main weather station for our area) then I know I really have to worry about frost that night in my area. If there is even a chance of frost I put the lids on my cold frames and cover the hoops up. It only takes a few minutes and it’s worth it, if it prevents frost on my veggies.
The lids will stay off my cold frames all day and the hoop houses will be well ventilated during October. Heat is more of a danger to your cold frames this time of year than cold. I have seen my cold frame temperature jump to well over 100 on a 70 degree day. You don’t want your cold weather crops cooking. Even a 60 degree day can turn into the 90’s in a cold frame, which is way too hot for your crops.
You will still want to water your crops several times during the month. They will still do quite a bit of growing this month.
You will start to find days this month when you can leave the lids on all day. If temperatures are in the 50’s you are probably fine to leave the cold frames shut. Or just to be on the safe side you could prop open one of the lids to let the excess heat out. You will still water a few times this month; keep in mind that protection of the cold frame keeps the cold out, but it also keeps the rain out so you may need a few supplemental watering. I work from a home office so I can often run outside if it starts to rain and open things up, if you don’t have this option then you will need to haul a watering can out a few times. I’m usually done watering by November 15th
December & January
The temperatures here get really cold by December. When the lows at night start dropping below 25, I add a second layer of protection in the form of a heavy floating row cover. You can find these at most garden supply stores or online from many of the seed companies. Get the heaviest one you can find. These add an additional 6-8 degrees of protection. These are especially important in hoop houses where the total protection is a little less. Many people will build some little wire frames to give the row cover some support. Watering really won’t be necessary during these months.
By now most of your crops will be gone. We are usually just finishing up the carrots and still picking spinach, mache and maybe chard. The frames will start to get warmer again and may need a little heat management. Now is really the time to start thinking about early spring crops. The last of the 10 hour days will be done early in the month and things will start growing again. You can get new seeds planted, or even set out seedlings late in the month. Now is the time to think about spring peas, if you have a hoop house you can plant your peas in early February and get a jump on everyone in the neighborhood. Don’t forget to add compost as you replant, the soil will need the help.
Now is the time to really use your cold frame and hoops to get an early start on spring. There have been years when we have been eating fresh spring crops from the cold frames on April 1st from seedlings set out in March. Potatoes can go in a cold frame and get a super early start. Water and heat management are a must again. Treat your cold frames the same as you would have in October. Lids off most days and on at night.
Now you are just using your frames as protection from frost. By mid April you will be leaving the lids off and the hoops open most nights unless there is a frost warning. By mid May you will have everything put away in the shed until next fall. Keep in mind that you can use your hoop houses to get an early start on warm season crops like tomatoes and melons. It might be worth leaving the hoops up and letting them work as a hot house to get those tomatoes going early.
Next time we will wrap up our winter gardening series with harvesting tips and a few final thoughts.