Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The (less than) $10, 5-minute Low Tunnel. Really!

Most of the time, I love living in South Carolina. Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places—it's a fairly apt slogan for our state. Of course, though, some of those smiling faces continue to fly the Confederate flag while circulating petitions to secede from the United States.

(News flash: that war is over, people.)

Still, while that kind of nonsense evokes my weekly rants and increased blood pressure, South Carolina's benefits outweigh the negatives. In less than an hour, we're in the mountains, hiking. In three hours, our toes squish in the sand of Isle of Palms. 

And of course, with our mild climate, I garden all winter...with a little effort.


Zone 7b, where we live, typically experiences the first frost around October 31. This year, we bought a little extra time, with our first frost making an appearance last week.

I was ready.

A little wire, a little plastic, some office supplies, and voila—instant low tunnels to protect the fall and winter crops.

Cost: less than $10. Time: 5 minutes.

Honestly, even the laziest of gardener (me) can't argue with the return on that investment. Eating heirloom lettuce, bok choy, kale, Swiss chard, cabbage and sweet peas from the garden all winter?

Yes, please.

Here's what you'll need to create your own mini tunnel:
  1. One heavy weight, clear, plastic drop cloth, found in the painting supply section of your hardware store. Our raised beds are 4' x 10', so I purchased the 9' x 12' drop cloth, 2 mil thickness. Cost: $2.98
  2. Two 10' masonry ladders. You'll find these in the concrete section of the big box stores. They may also be referred to as steel remesh, but the product you want actually looks like a small wire ladder. Ask the nice person at the store to cut the ladders in half so you'll have four, 5' ladders. Cost: $3.98
  3. One box of large binder clips, 12 count. Cost: $2.99

Beginning at the front of the raised bed or garden row, insert one end of the wire ladder into the soil several inches. Support the ladder as you bend it over the top of the bed so that it forms an arch, and insert the opposite end into the soil.

Repeat at equal intervals, with the last ladder placed at the end of the bed/row. You should have 4 small arches spaced equally in the bed.

Remove plastic cover from bag and unfold. Spread plastic over the supporting ladders, covering entire bed/row.

Use binder clips to attach plastic to ladder supports at the bottom of each ladder, near the soil line, to ensure that the bed or row is completely covered and plastic is secured.

Ta da! You're done!

And now, a...

Watch the temperature! It's not unusual for a frost to be followed by a 70 degree day in our garden. Make sure to remove the cover if you expect a warm day with temperatures in the 50s or above. You don't want to cook your veggies until you WANT to cook your veggies. Preferably not under plastic.

The best part of the system is that it's so easy to uncover—just unclip one side of the plastic, fold it over to the ground on the opposite side of the bed, and secure it with the clips to the ladder to prevent it from blowing in the wind. When frost threatens, cover the garden.

I love easy.

Now, if only I could find an easy way to ensure that South Carolina doesn't secede from the United States...

I'll keep you posted.

Until then, enjoy your extended harvests!

XO ~



  1. You feel the same way about SC as I do!! :) Maybe we should move, lol!

  2. What a great idea; it would certainly extend my gardening season. Zone 5b here.

  3. You make it look easy Julie. Hoping we don't secede, the silly season has to stop.

  4. Hi, Julie! Can you tell me more about your irrigation system that I see in these beautiful pictures? Do you have sprinkler heads or is this a drip system? I see it connected to water hoses. Did you use regulator or device to decrease pressure? I like your idea of using binder clips to hold the plastic in place!! Beautiful garden.