Extending the Vegetable Gardening Season

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
2016 turned out to be a very long gardening season with most of Payne County not receiving our first significant freeze until November 18th. Had we managed to avoid that one night, we could have stretched our season out another week or two at least.

The same idea usually holds true for spring gardening. Our temperatures generally warm up enough to allow for earlier planting, or at least they would if we did not get those last few random freezing days. As long time gardeners can attest, those late freezes can sneak in with little notice, wiping out several weeks of garden progress.

If producing vegetables earlier and later into the season appeals to you, consider installing some low-cost protection in the form of a modified cold frame. These structures, also known as hoop houses, high tunnels, and row covers, can vary in design but all do essentially the same thing. They create a modified environment that stays warm enough to protect the plants from all but the most severe cold weather events.

These structures can be made from a variety of materials including pvc pipe, cattle panels, wood, and galvanized tubing. The outer covering is simply clear plastic sheeting. In other words, these structures can be put together relatively inexpensively. Keep in mind that spending a little extra money initially can save in the long run with maximizing the time the plastic can be used as the primary goal.

For Oklahoma winds, 6 mil polyethylene plastic film is recommended. For maximum life, make sure the film is coated for UV resistance. Also take care to store the plastic out of the sunlight when it is not on the structure.

Before incorporating one of these structures into your gardening operation, it is important to consider a major factor. There will be the need to “babysit” once the tender garden plants are up and growing. These structures heat up very quickly on sunny days, and if they are not opened and closed in a timely manner, you can lose crops from too much heat as easily as too much cold. If you cannot commit to being in the garden daily (sometimes multiple times a day), these season extenders are not for you.

OSU Fact Sheet #HLA-6720 High Tunnels is a good resource to study when considering this idea. The Noble Foundation in Ardmore has also done extensive work using high tunnels. Their hoop house information can be found at noble.org via this link.

For more information on this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at
keith.reed@okstate.edu, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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