Making Inexpensive Row Covers with Low Tunnels

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by Adobestock/GarkushaArt

Making inexpensive row covers and low tunnels for season extension and natural pest control can be easy and affordable.

During any time of year, a visitor to my Zone 6 garden will find at least a couple of low tunnels at work. Supported by wire hoops or arches made from wire fencing, my garden tunnels are covered with row cover and/or plastic when it’s cold to create mini-greenhouses. During winter, they provide protection from wind, hail, and most critters while speeding soil warm-up for summer crops. In summer, I cover the greenhouse tunnels with lightweight row cover or tulle to exclude insect pests such as flea beetles and squash vine borers, and to provide shade for heat-sensitive crops such as lettuce. The cycle begins again when I plant fall-sown onions, such as ‘Olympic’ and ‘Top Keeper,’ or hardy greens inside my multipurpose, portable mini-greenhouses.

Anatomy of a Low Tunnel

Any garden tunnel has three parts — the support hoops or arches, the cover, and the pins, ropes or weights to keep the edges secure. For supports, many gardeners use hoops made from stiff, 9- or 10-gauge wire, or they make their own hoops from inexpensive half- to 1-inch diameter poly pipe (the type used for underground water lines). Pipe hoops are more likely to stay erect if they are slipped over sturdy rebar stakes, or into sleeves made from rigid metal or PVC pipe. They can also be attached to the outside of framed garden beds with metal brackets. Tunnels made using fence-wire arches will be more secure if staked down with U-shaped metal pins.

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