Archive for May, 2015

Low Hoop Tunnels for Easier Vegetable Starts

Monday, May 25th, 2015
Low Hoop Tunnels

Low Hoop Tunnels

Inexpensive and easy to erect low hoop tunnels can save the home gardener a lot of work in getting seed starts into the garden. For the past several years I’ve nearly eliminated the tedious chores of carting flats of vegetables outdoors and back inside daily to harden them off. Additionally, I don’t have to pot off seedlings to larger containers. Instead, I merely transfer sprouted seedlings directly to the soil in the bed under the hoop tunnel.

Low Hoop Tunnel Frames

Low Hoop Tunnel Frames

There are numerous instructions online and elsewhere for setting up low tunnels. The tunnels I use are made of PVC tubing, concrete reinforcing rod (rebar) and polyethylene. Here’s how I first set mine up.

Seed Starts and Flats

Seed Starts and Flats

I start my early seeds such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and celery using a heat mat. The onions, started even earlier, have already been sprouted on heat mats. The paper cups are holding the veggie seeds which I’ll put in flats and move to the heat mat to sprout.

Tomato Seedlings

Tomato Seedlings

I put these cups of sprouted seedlings directly in the ground in the hoop tunnel bed.  I just peeled off the paper, made a hole, and planted the sprouted seedlings.  In previous years I was separating and spacing out the seedlings, but now I just place the whole cup (minus the paper) in one hole.  The seedlings still have plenty of room to spread out and while they might get a little bigger if they were separated, in the long run, I don’t think it makes much difference.

Cabbages

Cabbages

I put the brassicas in first, about April 18th.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Peppers

Peppers

Here are the tomatoes and peppers set in on April 23rd.  All are vigorous with good stems and roots and totally hardened off.

Using hoop tunnels for seedling transplants requires daily monitoring. Nighttime temperatures should not be in a hard freeze.  The hoop tunnel is not heated and thus consistent hard freezes could kill the plants.  To protect the tender plants I used a double cover to provide good insulation.  Just over the baby plants, I set a cover of agricultural fabric supported by plant markers to keep from flattening out the plants.  The fabric and the poly cover of the tunnel over the frame has insulated my crops safely with night temps falling into the mid-20’s.

Even more dangerous than the possibility of freezing is letting the daytime sun cook the plants.  I shaded the new seedlings for a few days to prevent the tender leaves from becoming sunburned. If not vented, temperatures in a hoop tunnel can easily reach 140 degrees F.  So the ends of the tunnel need to be opened  or the entire cover lifted off to prevent burning  the plants.  Thus using these tunnels are not an option for a gardener who can’t be there on a daily basis to keep control of the heating and cooling.  However, if  your schedule permits, they can make seed starting a lot easier.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potatoes Planted With Black Plastic Mulch

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
Sweet Potato Slip

Sweet Potato Slip

It’s May 23rd here near Madison, Wisconsin. This morning, I planted 17 sweet potato slips into a raised bed covered with a sheet of black polyethylene. Memorial Day weekend has always been my target planting date for sweet potatoes, and this year I’m right on time.

Sweet Potatoes Planted In Black Plastic

Sweet Potatoes Planted In Black Plastic

I used this black poly sheet last year. I’ve gotten three years from a single sheet, but usually after two seasons they get torn and brittle and have to be trashed. The white rings are cut from PVC plumbing pipe.  They help protect the transplanted slips from wind and abrasion and make it easy to water the small plants.

Sweet Potato Starts in Flat

I started my slips from sprouts  on a stored two year old root.  Here’s the flat with the first slip removed. Using a soft potting soil makes getting the roots out easy.  Growing your own starts is economical and the plants are usually more vigorous than purchased slips.

Dibble

Dibble

Sweet Potato Start with Protector Ring

Sweet Potato Start with Protector Ring

Using a dibble to make a big conical hole, I plant the slip, pack the soil, and then put the ring in place.

Protector Ring Helps Watering

Protector Ring Helps Watering

After the plants are all in I give them a good soak. The ring makes it easy to direct water exactly where it’s needed.

We have numerous posts about starting and cultivating sweet potatoes as well as numerous recipes using this delicious and nutritious vegetable.  Here are a couple on starting your own plants:

Using Sweet Potato Sprouts for Starts

Extra Early Sweet Potato Starts