Plot plotting: mini hoop tunnels.

BCGG Plot Winter FP

Well, I swung by the ol’ plot at the community garden this morning, and hung over the fence for a moment. (The gate is frozen solid into the ground, or I would have let myself in).

Yep, it’s still there. Yep, everything is still encrusted with a layer of snow – which, admittedly, has greatly receded with all the sunshine we’ve been having lately and is nothing like what everyone on the east coast of North America is currently experiencing. (I feel for you all! I hope things don’t get too horrible – stay safe and warm indoors if you can).

Even though spring seems tantalizingly within reach, our community garden group won’t do its annual spring clean up until the second week of May…really, the weather here isn’t usually co-operative before then. Indeed, in years past, the first spring work bee has been postponed a couple of times due to heavy snowfall. Last year, however, one of my garden plot neighbours was harvesting baby spinach and some lettuce at the end of May and the first week of June (right around the time many of us were still SOWING our first seeds). While we all stood around drooling and shielding our eyes from the awe-inspiring green-ness of the mouth-watering leaves, she let us in on her not-so-secret secret: she had seeded some of her crops while there was still snow on the ground.  Of course, we started muttering with jealousy (“why didn’t I do that?”), but my neighbour has been growing this way in Calgary for years and she’s not the only one.  As Niki Jabbour has been showing readers in her book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener, cold weather doesn’t have to matter. And while I can’t accomplish many of the feats she writes about (living in an apartment means constructing a cold frame is decidedly out of the question, wanhhhh), I am serious about charging forward on a few ideas this year. We can garden on the seasonal periphery!

I  definitely want to direct-sow a bit earlier this year than I’ve done previously (not in March or April, though! There’s something about planting seeds while wearing a winter coat and a toque that disturbs me).  But I’m also not going to wait until just the right “planting weather” comes around (whenever/whatever THAT is).   I’m planning to build a small hoop tunnel in a similar style as my plot neighbour. You can see a bit of his design in the foreground of the photo. It’s a tried-and-true system and many of you have probably set up something of the sort in your own gardens. Some plastic sheeting will give the plants a leg up early in the season, and then I can switch over to a row cover, which should deter the inevitable flea beetle problem. My neighbour actually further employed his row cover as a hail guard last year, and it worked surprisingly well – I expected the hailstones to punch through the fabric but his set-up withstood all of our wicked storms last summer. While I was scooping up the shredded slaw-bits out of my plot, I’m sure he was (politely and sympathetically) tickled pink that he had built his tunnel.

I’m all for salad greens that are not pre-mulched!

Any tips or words of advice for me as I get ready to build my hoop tunnel? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages to this type of system that I’m not thinking of?

What do you do to extend the gardening season and/or keep the pests away?


  1. Sorry I know nothing about hoop tunnels, but I do wish you good luck. Whenever I feel sorry for myself for how long the winters are here, I read your blog to make myself buck up.

    • Thank you! 🙂 I think it’s becoming more and more apparent that I need to make the best of the cold and snow and take advantage of ideas such as winter sowing. Waiting around for spring takes far too long!

  2. Hi Sheryl,

    I got my hoops set up last year but never got around to putting any cover on them! I also never got around to cleaning up my vegetable garden last fall, either!! Ah well, the best of intentions…

    • It feels like fall kind of crept up on us last year…I didn’t get everything tackled before the snow came, either, and lots of people have mentioned the same thing! I guess it just means we’ll all have a lot more to do this spring! 🙂 I’m definitely going to give the hoop tunnel a go this year, see what comes of it. Can’t hurt, anyway – and they’re inexpensive to construct, which is a bonus.

  3. I’ve been pushing the envelope the last few years as well, and with great reward. I had peas, kale and broccoli in the blink of an eye. A lovely early spring surprise. I don’t like to waste seed, but honestly, I think the experiment is worth the cost if I can make that season longer.

    • I so agree! Wonderful to hear that you’ve had great success with extending the seasons! It would be fabulous to get peas, kale and broccoli that early in the season, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it. 🙂

  4. As I read your blog I could so empathize. There is something that just can’t be done when it comes to gardening and that is wearing a winter coat while planting seeds in the ground. However, I have pruned my shrubs and tress in late March while wearing boots and tramping through the snow. One can only have these gardening experiences while living in this area. The hoop tunnel certainly has possibilities and is well worth trying! ~Thea

    • Thanks, Thea – yes, we’re “lucky” here, aren’t we, in that we can have these sorts of…unique…gardening experiences! 🙂 There’s just no getting around the fact that some of the trees and shrubs have to be pruned while the weather is still far from ideal. And it’s true that some gardeners have very good results from planting seeds while there is still snow on the ground. I guess we just have to adapt! 🙂

  5. It must be frustrating having to wait so long – hope spring comes early, or at least “on time” this year! I have no vegetable plot as such, so have no experience of tunnels, but saw a great idea on Anna’s site:
    I will try and construct some protection for my pots and containers this summer, as cabbage whites adore all my salad crops and the caterpillars have a ball!

    • Wow, I loved the link you sent – that’s a fabulous set-up, and something that could be easily done for a plot like mine (especially as I can’t put up a permanent structure due to the rules of the rental agreement). Thanks so much for posting!

      You’ll have to blog about the kinds of protective measures you take to guard your containers against the pests – it’s something that so many gardeners have trouble with and I know any suggestions would be really appreciated by everyone! 🙂

  6. I use row covers made of fabric…they breath well and keep the veggies warmer even through cold, frost and snow from early April. I have some carrots and lettuces growing under cover in grow bags currently…so far they have survived below zero temps, winds and lots of snow…I should harvest them in April I hope.

    • So good to know that row covers and grow bags work in these cold conditions. When did you sow the carrots and lettuces you have currently in the grow bags? That’s wonderful if you will be able to harvest as early as April…it’s so encouraging! 🙂

  7. I have nothing to offer but with the price of vegetables skyrocketing I am paying attention. Your photo of the community garden looks very similar to the one I occasionally walk past in Bowness. Could it be? Re there a bunch of these in the city?

    • I’m part of the Brentwood Community Garden Group. I don’t know the exact count of public community gardens (there are some private ones as well) in the city, but it’s a significant number, and increasing every year (which is wonderful!). I’ve never seen the Bowness garden, but it may have a very similar layout to the Brentwood one – many of them look quite a lot alike. Thanks so much for your comment, Barry! Have a wonderful week – it looks like the weather is going to be great for getting outdoors!

  8. I have some hoops that I made from a flexible electrical conduit (plastic, thinner walled than pvc) and they work well for me, but I do not need something to stand up to the weight of snow, just an occasional cold night now and then. You definitely need something more substantial to hold up to the snow. I would say, follow your comm garden neighbors hoops. They look study and well-supported, and seem they have stood up to the elements. Don’t forget to stop by once you have set this up and keep that garden gate clear so you can get in and harvest. How frustrating it would be if you did all the work and couldn’t get it. ha.Good luck!

    • Thanks so much for letting me know how you’ve constructed your hoops! I agree that something stronger than electrical conduit would be in order in my case – my neighbour has a great plan, I think. And I’ll definitely keep the gate clear of snow! 🙂

      Have a wonderful weekend!

I'm delighted to hear from you - thanks so much for your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.