Today, my awesome friend Isis is sharing her experience with mini hoop tunnels in her garden! Enjoy!
How do Mini Hoop Tunnels Work? Are Mini Hoop Tunnels Worth the Effort?
Springtime is in the air! Some lucky people hardly get any snow (if any at all!) but for many gardeners this time of the year is spent wandering the garden waiting patiently for the dirt to show itself again. If you live in a climate that has a shorter growing season, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help spring planting come a little earlier. Yes! There is! But how much effort is too much effort for what you gain?
I began using mini hoop tunnels 3 years ago. I picked some up at my local gardening store for a little over $20, and they’ve gone through many frosts and even a few dumps of snow. At first I started using them in the fall to keep plants warm and to gain just a week or two more of gardening for the year. They usually keep plants just warm enough to withstand a light freeze (for heavy freezes we use heavy weight row cover fabric). The following spring I thought we’d try and extend our gardening season further by protecting transplants from those spring winds and temperature fluctuations.
Then we got a dump of snow end of March that just kept on coming. I was out there shoveling snow on the hour some days just so the tunnels didn’t break. I was determined to keep those peas alive! Then we had a 17.6F/-8C day in April and there I was running outside to protect them with frost protection fabric. Wow, that’s A LOT of work just for some early planting.
Is that extra work worth it?
I think my mini hoop tunnel gardening can be called borderline insanity. The time spent out there in crazy weather conditions to attempt to grow food weeks before the ‘regular’ gardeners do so is definitely extreme. Did I get an earlier harvest? Oh yes. I enjoyed having peas and fava beans 2-3 weeks earlier than others. Was it worth it when determining the ‘dollar value’ of the produce to the effort put in? No, definitely not, but in my humble opinion there are things more important than money. Would I do it again? Oh yes, I’m doing so right now for this spring.
Using mini hoop tunnels (or any season extenders) means your gardening before it’s time to garden with the natural rhythm. You’re helping tender young plants with some modern conveniences. Those conveniences require your own energy input and only you’ll know what your willing to do for an earlier harvest.
Things to consider when using mini hoop tunnels:
How crazy do you look to the neighbors?!
Kidding! Who cares about that?
Some vegetables do much better than others for withstanding extreme temperature changes in the springtime. I’ve found that the peas and favas did fantastic with season extending. I started them inside and transplanted them after they were a few inches tall. Apparently they’re not supposed to transplant well but I had no problems. The mustard greens I tried did not do well at all, they didn’t handle the below zero temperatures and didn’t grow tall at all. They did make great micro greens but who wants to shovel snow off beds for micro greens? (I have to draw the line somewhere!).
Do you often get dumps of snow in March or April.. or even May (I feel for ya!)? Heavy snow will break the mini hoop tunnels and you have to be willing to be outside non-stop during snowfalls to clean them off. How cold does it get in your area? Temperatures below 26.6F/-3C will require heavy weight row covers to protect against the frosts. If temperatures get warm quickly in the spring the hoop tunnels will need to be vented as well, because otherwise it gets too hot. I was taking the hoop tunnels off completely on many days and then putting them back on at night because the temperatures dropped significantly.
If your weather is extreme in the spring you may want to wait a little bit, but I’ve found that even using them a week or two before ‘suggested’ outdoor planting time really helps.
In the end, only you will know what your willing to do to extend the gardening season.
Have you used season extenders before? Was the input worth the output?
Isis is a homesteading mama to 2 beautiful girls and lives in the Canadian mountains.
The little family of four is experimenting with winter gardening and permaculture and they’re aiming to grow mostly heirlooms to help preserve seed genetic diversity. They spend their spare time preserving the harvest, homeschooling and enjoying outdoor adventures. They keep chickens, forage for wild free food and aim for a natural family lifestyle. Follow their journey towards self-reliance on the blog Little Mountain Haven