Our homestead is located in upstate New York, where the winter can drag on. By the time mid-March rolls around, we are getting the urge to start gardening. Like most people, we start seeds under grow lights. Seeing the seedlings emerge is wonderful, but it still does not allow us to get our hands in the ground. A great way to get your hands dirty earlier, and extend your gardening season, is to build a low tunnel. A low tunnel can give you several more weeks of growing in spring and fall. We often construct a low tunnel when the snow is still on the ground and plant kale, lettuce, and carrots. We also experiment with different seeds to see which will grow best in the tunnel, we often use left over seeds from last season. This way if we lose the plants it is not too big of a big loss. We have come up with a very inexpensive and easy way to build one, so if you are like us and can’t wait for spring, keep reading.
The first step is to choose a location in your garden and clear the snow off. By the time March rolls around, the ground is often thawed under the snow. We then construct a frame of 2″ x 4″ s approximately 4′ x 8′. Then we secure the corners with screws. Because these inexpensive tunnels only have a life span of a few seasons, we do not bother using expensive pressure treated lumber.
The next step is to drill holes in the corners to hold the 5/8″ rebar pegs. We use a 5/8″ drill bit for this task being careful not to drill directly into the corner where our screws are located. We drill down 3″ and then drive the pegs in. The pegs are cut to 6″ in length. We also drill holes along the long side of the frame 30″ apart for additional supports.
We then use 3/4″ plastic electrical conduit to make the arches to hold the plastic. The length of these supports can vary depending on how high you want your tunnel to be. They are easy to bend and slide over the rebar pegs. At this point we can turn over the soil and plant our seeds. This is where we finally get our hands dirty. Putting your hands in the soil no matter how cold seems eases our winter blues.
The last step is to stretch the clear plastic over the structure and fasten it with staples along the edge. We use a minimum of 4mil poly, but 6mil will definitely hold up better.
Our low tunnel is now complete. To check on our seeds progress we simply flip it over backward, or pick it up and move it. It does take a lot longer for seeds to germinate in it, but checking on them makes us happy. One of the things we love about what we do is learning, and every failure is a learning experience. On the homestead we sometimes do things just for fun, or sometimes to experiment. So if the winter blues have you down, try a low tunnel, even if your seeds don’t grow, you still got to play in the dirt.
We made a short video covering construction, Don’t mind the rooster crowing !!!