Not everyone has a greenhouse!
Winter is coming! As cooler weather arrives, it’s time to show your plants some TLC. Given shelter, they’ll continue growing and, in some cases, cropping for months to come. Not everyone has a greenhouse, and these budget-friendly ideas make cold protection available to everyone. Here are 3 thrifty (and nifty!) ways to protect your plants from the cold this winter.
Let’s start with the cheapest solutions for protecting against the cold—and they all involve plundering your recycling!
- Raid your recycling bin. A 2-liter clear watering bottle cut in half can be popped over a seedling. Then just insert a stick or bamboo cane through the bottle to stake it and keep in place.
- Plastic must ideally be clear to allow the full spectrum of light through
- Leave caps off for ventilation, or drill holes in the bottom.
- Or, use a clear plastic strawberry or fruit trays that you can pop . Many come with holes drilled in the bottom. Otherwise, you can drill your own holes.
- Glass jars hold onto the heat even longer. To get the bottom off sit the jug in icy cold water for a few minutes up to the point you want it to break. Pour in boiling hot water carefully using a funnel to avoid it splashing. Pour to meet the level, the icy water on the outside. It will snap along the line, cleanly.
See the video to watch up this is all done. All of these solutions are great to use outdoors, or combined with a greenhouse or tunnel as a double-layer of protection on really cold nights.
DIY Mini-Hoop House
But what if you need to protect an entire bed for the chilly months, such as a bed of salads? How about a simple, super-cheap hoop house. Here’s how to make it.
- For this you’ll need some plastic water pipe–it’s cheaper to buy it by the roll, and a roll can make many, many hoops! Use foot-long lengths of rebar as supports for the hoops or any sturdy length of bamboo or similar that’s capable of sitting vertical in the ground and holding firm to support the hoops. And of course, we’ll need our cover such as a clear plastic sheet cover.
- Assemble the hoop house by pushing the rebar into the ground then cutting the water piping to size. Five the crops enough headroom by aiming for a height at the top of the hoop of around two feet.
- To ensure an even result, use your first hoop as a guide to cut the remaining hoop.
- Push the rebar into the ground so it’s rock-solid secure then slip on the hoops.
- Unfold and lay out the plastic sheet on top. Cut to size if necessary.
- Secure the sides by weighing down with stones or wrap the sheet around a bamboo cane, and pin that to the ground using tent pegs or similar.
- Pull down the ends and secure with heavy rocks or bricks. Secure the sheet at the hoops using bulldog clips or washing pegs (if they’ll stretch).
See video to watch us set up a short tunnel. You can add extra rigidity to longer tunnels by securing a ridge pole in place. Screw a wooden batten or lightweight pole into position with screws, or tie on with cable ties like this. For more on this, watch our video on making a mini hoop house.
Homemade Cold Frames
Cold frames are an excellent alternative to a full-size greenhouse. Most cold frames are simply a box that sits on the ground and has a glazed, sloping lid to it, that faces the sun. Some cold frames come as a ready-to-assemble kit – and we’ve also got a video on building a cold frame, step by step. But what if you want to make your own from scratch using only salvaged or very low-cost materials?
- Salvage a few old windows. Even better is some sort of tempered safety glass, such as a shower door. It will be a lot stronger and far less likely to shatter.
- Make the box it will sit on to match the dimensions of your windowpane.
- Perhaps the simplest option is to make a box frame using bricks or cinder or breeze blocks, and these can be laid without using any mortar. Another excellent, temporary option is straw bales, which offer unrivalled insulation as an added bonus.
- We prefer using wooden planks, which are easy to saw to size.
- When making the wooden box sides, measure the longest side of the window but cut so it will fit neatly onto the plank. Then tackle the shorter sides. Sit them on the ground so they’re standing up off the soil, then hold them up using cut lengths of bamboo. Push two in at each end – one piece each side of the plank. Make sure it’s all nice and secure then simply pop the window frame on top.
(See the video for more insight on how to make the wooden box sides.)
These sorts of cold frames are excellent for growing, say, winter salads. They’ll warm up the ground and germinate weed seeds which you can then hoe off.
Ready to grow? See how to grow salads all winter long with cold protection (or, indoors!).