Most vegetable gardens get started in the spring around the time that the last frost occurs. Yes, we can plant broccoli and cabbage two or three weeks earlier because they can handle some frost. But the real challenge is to be able to plant many of your favorite vegetables 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost.
A number of devices have been developed over the years to help us achieve that goal of an early harvest. Cold frames are small structures covered with glass or plastic; sort of a mini greenhouse. Cold hardy plants are placed in the cold frame and are protected from the weather. Cloches have been used for centuries to protect plants from frost. These are individual devices made of either glass or plastic that fit over a plant to protect it. Some cloches have ventilation and others do not. Both of these season extending devices can be very effective but in our opinion are too labor intensive for most vegetable gardeners today.
The two devices we recommend are fleece and Walls O Water. Both of these devices are effective, relatively inexpensive, and take very little time to manage.
Walls O Water
A wall of water (WOW) is a flexible plastic cylinder with tubes embedded around its circumference. When the tubes are filled with water a little micro climate is created that protects a single plant inside the wall of water from cold temperatures and cold winds.
When you fill the tubes of these plant protectors with water, you can plant earlier and harvest later!
You can add 6 to 8 weeks to your early spring growing season! Fill the tubes of these self-standing plant protectors with water, and they absorb heat during the day and then at night provide additional heat, allowing you to plant earlier and harvest later. Protects plants down to 22 degrees-F!
Wall O Waters enable gardeners to start tomatoes, peppers, squash, or other plants 6-8 weeks earlier, without fear of freezing. Plants will be healthier and produce up to twice the fruit 30-40 days earlier. Protects down to 22º F. Each Wall O Water encircles an 18″ diameter area. Lasts 3-5 years.
Six steps for proper WOW use:
1.) Set Wallo’ Waters up where you will plant a full six to eight weeks before the last normal frost date for your area. These plant protectors give your plants more time to grow. If you don’t use the time it will be lost.
2.) Set up one week before transplanting to warm the soil. This is very important. We all understand that if you transplant into cold soil you may easily stunt the plant’s development.
3.) When you first set them up fill them only two thirds full and they will fold together at the top like a little teepee. Leave them in the teepee night and day as long as the plant is small.
4.) We recommend that you use small plants. Three to four inch plants usually have less trouble with transplant shock.
5.) After several weeks the plants will start to push through the opening at the top. You can now completely fill the Wallo’ Water and it will remain open. Leave it open, night and day, until it is time to take it off.
6.) Keep them on until 30 – 45 days after the last normal frost date. Don’t get in a hurry to take them off. They will never overheat the plant as long as you follow these steps. It is important to take advantage of the additional heat provided during this final month when you still have cool nights.
What is fleece used for? What are the benefits? Fleece is a very light, white polyspun fabric sometimes called a floating row cover which is placed over plants, without support, in the early spring. It is light enough to be supported by almost any young, tender plant. Fleece creates a semi-greenhouse environment, raising the air temperature approximately 10-15 degrees underneath it. This makes it ideal for starting plants early in the spring. Especially in areas that have a short summer, the effect of using the fabric can more than double the harvest of some vegetables. Tomatoes, for instance, will not grow at all until the temperature rises above 65 degrees. Fleece will get the plants to that temperature several weeks before the outside temperature gets that high. Fleece can also protect against light frosts. Fleece also is an effective screen for insects and can potentially keep the plants insect-free in the vulnerable early stages of development.
Early Spring Season Extending Strategy
We use fleece and wall of waters simultaneously through the early spring. It is not practical to use a wall of water for every plant you put in the garden. For example if you plan to grow six broccoli plants, you might only use a wall of water for two of them. Those two plants will go into the garden earlier because they will be protected from the weather. The other four broccoli plants would be put in the garden maybe three weeks after those planted with walls of water. This way you will get two broccoli plants ready to harvest two or three weeks earlier than your main crop of four plants spreading the harvest season out farther than normal.
Normally warm weather plants such as tomatoes, peppers, and squash are not placed in the garden much before two weeks after the last frost.. Here again we would not place all the plants in a wall of water. We might put one early tomato and one early pepper in a wall of water that was planted a week before expected last frost.
The fleece is used to cover a whole bed when overnight temperatures are expected to be significantly lower than normal. But the fleece is spread over all the plants and held down around the edges by bricks or rocks. The fleece can be left covering the garden plants for several weeks after the actual last frost. It needs to be removed before there are any blossoms on the plants that will need to be pollinated by the honeybees.
Our soil temperature is below 40 and the soil is soaking wet. In the next few weeks you should be seeing the honey bees emerging from their hive on warm sunny days. In addition the Queen bumblebee should begin appearing, perhaps in your flower bed. The dreaded woodchuck whether he saw his shadow or not is likely to call it a winter and begin eating everything in sight. Now is the time to look for that first Robin. Dandelion leaves should be emerging and while they are young they are quite edible.