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Build a low tunnel with floating row cover to protect plants from frost

Feb 21, 2013 -

We’re always talking about extending your growing season with floating row covers, low tunnels, and hoop houses. These all protect your plants from frost.

Today we’ll give you easy instructions on how to build a low tunnel with PVC pipe and floating row cover.

First, watch Tricia build a low tunnel (also called a low hoop house) over one of her raised beds.

Quick review of floating row cover for frost protection

Row covers are made of lightweight fabrics (that “float” on the top of your crops) and they allow sunlight, air, and water to pass through to your plants.

Use our guidelines to choose the row cover weight you need in your climate.

Low tunnels of floating row cover give easy access to your crops, while protecting your plants from frost

Make gardening simpler for yourself when you stretch row cover over semicircular hoops to make low tunnels.

The support of the hoops keeps snowy row cover weight off your plants, and allows you to quickly lift the row cover for harvesting.

How to build the frame of a low hoop tunnel for a bed 3-5 feet wide

SUPPLIES

Per each five feet of tunnel:

2 18” pieces of 1/2” rebar

1 7 ft. length of 3/4” PVC

Pound the rebar into the ground with an angle of 35-45° toward the center of the bed. Leave about 6” of rebar sticking out of the ground. If you plan to leave the rebar in the ground after you remove the low tunnel in the summer you might want to paint the tops a bright color or flag them so they aren’t a tripping hazard.

Slide a 7-foot length of PVC over the rebar to create a hoop, repeating down the bed every 5 feet.

How to fit floating row cover over a low tunnel frame

SUPPLIES

1 piece 83” width x 50’ long AG-30 Agribon (4’ extra for each end)

1 piece of 3/4” PVC pipe the same length as your bed

Per each five feet of tunnel:

2 3/4” rowcover clamps

SLEEVE

Cut a piece of Agribon off of the roll about 8 feet longer then the length of the bed. That allows the fabric to drape over and close at each end of the tunnel.

To make it easy to vent the tunnel and harvest the crops, sew a simple “sleeve” down one long side of the Agribon: take 6 inches of the fabric along the long edge, fold it over, and stitch it in place.

Drape the Agribon over the hoops.

Slide your long piece of PVC down the sleeve. If you did not sew a sleeve, use more 3/4” clamps to secure the long piece of PVC to the edge of the Agribon.

Gather and secure the fabric at the each end of the tunnel with a rock, or a sand bag.

Now you can easily lift one side to vent the tunnel or to harvest delicious winter veggies.

When to plant in your low tunnel

Use the low tunnel to extend your seasons (See? We told you we’d say that.) at both ends of the year.

Plant cool-season crops in late summer and see how long you can harvest through the winter. Use the low tunnels to warm the soil in late winter or early spring and get a jump on growing the cool-season vegetables that prefer spring and fall.

Check out our article on cool-season vegetables to get ideas on what to plant—starting with the 10 seed packs in our Frost Kissed Gift Seed Tin Collection.

For making larger hoop houses, get all the details from renowned Maine farmer Eliot Coleman in Four-Season Harvest.

Protect your plants from frost with low tunnels, and enjoy your home harvest for extra months every year!


Categories: Frost Protection, Garden Fabric, Row Covers, Snap Fittings, Vegetables & Mushrooms, Organic Gardening 101, Urban Gardening & farming


Edith Lueke Says:
Feb 23rd, 2013 at 8:22 pm

I don’t see a button for a print version of this article.  I’d want to take it to the store to select the items needed to create the hoop house.

Sabine Williams Says:
Feb 24th, 2013 at 7:02 am

I’m using the same idea, but I’m using galvanized steel support hoops I ordered a few years ago from Gardener’s Supply…there’s no assembly involved, you just take 2 super hoop sections, connect them w. the included couplers, and stick them in your soil, and add your cover.  Pretty easy, can’t complain.  (Also, they don’t splinter like PVC does after several seasons out in the elements.  I do want to thank you for these terrific and informative videos, they’re my “go-to” resource for anything garden-related.  Plus, everything I’ve seen here is environmentally sound, so far, that’s probably why I love visiting Peaceful Valleyddle….!

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Feb 24th, 2013 at 8:53 am

Edith, We don’t have a print button for the articles because they contain so many photos. Here’s a list of supplies you can copy and paste and print. Also, the store staff know all about this and can assist you, without a list. Have fun with your low tunnel!

Per each five feet of tunnel:
2 18” pieces of 1/2” rebar
1 7 ft. length of 3/4” PVC
2 3/4” rowcover clamps
1 piece 83” width x 50’ long AG-30 Agribon (4’ extra for each end)
1 piece of 3/4” PVC pipe the same length as your bed

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Feb 24th, 2013 at 9:02 am

Sabine, Glad to hear you find our video series useful! Sounds like your hoops are working well for you. Just to let you know, if you want to add more low tunnels, we do carry galvanized steel support hoops in 2 styles, with no assembly required:  http://www.groworganic.com/loop-hoops-each.html and http://www.groworganic.com/maas-wire-for-hoops-10-pk.html

George Says:
Feb 27th, 2013 at 2:34 am

If you splice in “T” connectors about 8” - 12” below the hoop apex,  you can rest the “vent” piece in the sleeve on them allowing better access and leaving your hands free to work.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Feb 27th, 2013 at 9:33 am

George, Thanks for the great tip!

Mardi Naythons Says:
Feb 27th, 2013 at 12:35 pm

The 3/4 pvc seems really hard to bend.  Did anyone else have difficulty?

Charlotte, Peaceful Valley Says:
Feb 28th, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Mardi,

Assuming that you are working with new PVC: Don’t be afraid of it. Put it in the sun on a warm day and as it heats up it will be easier to bend. Don’t worry that it will snap when you bend it.

If you are dealing with older PVC that has been outdoors for a few seasons, then do exercise caution, as that might snap.

We hope these tips are helpful!

Diane Murray Says:
Mar 2nd, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I built similar hoop structures over my carrots a couple of years ago using surplus flexible black water pipe that I found in a shed. The black pipe comes in a roll so it already curves and is sturdy enough. I added a ridgepole using 1/2-inch 10-ft length of PVC pipe, connecting it to the hoops with zip ties. It worked great and I kept the floating row cover on the carrots all season, yielding a bumper crop with no pest problems. The sleeve idea sounds great—I will try that. I had to “pad” the ends of ridgepole so they didn’t poke holes in the FRC.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 4th, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Diane, What a great idea to use the water pipe! Thanks for sharing that here!

Regina ludus Says:
Mar 27th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

But isn’t PVC toxic?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Mar 28th, 2013 at 10:56 am

Regina, The staff here use PVC as hoop supports in our organic gardens. We also offer metal Loop Hoops and Wire For Hoops, if you prefer to avoid PVC http://www.groworganic.com/growing-supplies/shade-fabric.html

Gary Gapinski Says:
Apr 15th, 2013 at 1:56 am

PVC in bulk comes in 10’ and 20’ lengths.

Any reason I couldn’t get away with using 20’ lengths cut into thirds (at 80” just a bit shorter than the 7’ lengths suggested for the hoops)? This seems like it would be a slightly better match for the 83” Agribon, particularly if the Agribon is seamed on the edges.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Apr 15th, 2013 at 11:51 am

Gary, That sounds just fine!

Jamie Says:
Jul 25th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Can this fabric be left over plants during the day if the temperature is not too low?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Jul 30th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Jamie, Certainly you can leave row cover on all day, especially if the temperature IS low. Some farmers and gardeners use the lightest weight row cover all spring and summer as a barrier to pests. Once you have your frame built you can change weights of row cover depending on the season and your needs. Here is our guide that explains the different weights of row covers, and their uses http://groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/find-the-right-floating-row-cover-for-plant-protection

Joe Says:
Oct 21st, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I use 5 foot pvc pipes for uprights and pex pipe

Shelly Says:
Mar 7th, 2014 at 5:09 pm

I have been searching online for how to care for my garden in a hoop garden, but there isn’t anything that tells me. I want to know if I can leave it on all year round (California) and how often do I water. Can anyone help me please?

Stephanie Brown Says:
Mar 10th, 2014 at 10:08 am

Hello Shelly,
If you’re using a floating row cover like Agribon than it can be left on all year on greens and root vegetables as an insect barrier. If you do that than switch it to a lighter cover like AG-19 in the summer when you don’t need the frost protection so you are losing less light. If it’s a vegetable like squash that needs to be pollinated then the covers need to come off when it blooms so the pollinating insects can get in. Water it like you would any other garden, drip is the easiest to use under the cover. Let me know if you have more questions and I’ll try to get answers for you.

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