The Tunnel

Gardening is painting the canvas of the earth.
Jean-Luc Danneyrolles

There’s plenty going on in the garden these days. Bulbs blooming, perennials breaking dormancy, rhubarb pushing up through its compost blanket. This is the third or fourth spring that I’ve had the lettuce tunnel. The idea was to extend harvest in the fall, and start plants earlier in the spring. I’ve also had some success wintering over cold-weather crops, such as the kale in the photo. Lettuce can be started in the fall and left to come back with renewed vigor when warmth hits the plastic.

I’m reading Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. He and his wife are market gardeners in Maine, and they have refined year-round gardening to an art. Part of the book is taken up by stories about their travels to France to learn about winter gardening there, as well as raising ducks and root cellaring. There is solid information on organic soilbuilding and composting, in addition to selecting varieties to grow in cold weather. What excites me are the ample illustrations for cold frames, high tunnels and planting schemes. If I had more space and time, what experiments I could conduct! And food I could grow!

I have learned from my 4′ X 8′ raised bed. 6 mil plastic is better than 4 or 5. Plastic hoop supports are not strong enough for the snow load here. They collapse and can only be repaired a couple times. I’ve seen plans in Mother Earth News for making hoops from electrical conduit, and that seems the way to go. There are various techniques for keeping the plastic taut through snow and wind. It’s possible for the tunnel to get too hot when the sun hits it all day, so remembering to pull up the plastic on warm days is essential. Radishes do very well in there. So does lettuce. Last year I had the best spinach I ever grew. I am fond of mesclun, a mix of baby lettuces and greens–the possibilities are endless. A couple times a year I add more compost, and keep small crops rotating as much as I can. When summer weather finally settles, the plastic comes off till the fall rains.

The only downside to the tunnel is that it’s a highly preferred nap spot for a certain heat-seeking cat who has no regard for my little plants. Keeping the soil damp seems to discourage him, but he waits for me to let my guard down. Brat.

He had to leave when I showed up with the watering can.

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