Last year I took my first stab at vegetable gardening. I built a 4x8 raised bed on the sunniest side of our prior home and had reasonable success growing peppers, sweet potatoes, and a variety of herbs in a crowded mess. With our new home came more land and space for more gardens. I’d been planning, designing, and re-designing a bigger, better garden since January. I even managed to start a few things from seed. As soon at the weather allowed, I got to work.
Total – $59
- 75 ft. 1/2″ PEX Pipe – $24
- 15 7/16″ x 48″ Round Wood Dowel – $22
- 2 Pack 10 ft. x 25 ft. 3.5 mil Plastic Sheeting – $13
Two beautiful, hot weekends in early May brought my ambitions into full swing. By May 15th, I’d planted a wide range of edibles including 16 tomato plants, 18 pepper plants, and an assortment of heat-loving herbs. I’d also filled one bed with frost-hardy crops like broccoli, rutabaga, lettuce, and kale. When the colder side of Minnesota spring unsurprisingly returned with prospects of hail, I found myself looking for an easy way to protect my garden.
My requirements for this project were pretty simple. I needed something easy to set up so I could complete the project before the upcoming storms. It needed to withstand moderate wind and small hail while letting light through and keeping warmth in. Ideally, it would be reusable for fall season extension and next year’s garden without getting in the way during the prime growing season. And lastly, I didn’t want to spend more than $100.
After researching a variety of designs for cold frames, cloches, hoop houses, and floating row covers, I came up with a hybrid solution for our in-ground garden beds that fit all my requirements. The entire thing took about an hour to assemble for three 3x15 foot beds.
What You’ll Need
Gather the following items to build these row covers:
- PEX pipe – PEX is flexible plastic pipe available in the plumbing section of most home improvement stores. I used 5 feet of 1/2″ diameter PEX for every hoop segment on our 3-foot wide bed. We installed one segment for every 3 feet of length for a total of 5 hoops per bed.
- 7/16″ x 48″ round wood dowel – Use one dowel (cut in half) for each hoop segment.
- 3.5 mil plastic sheeting – Buy enough to cover the length of each bed with excess to fold over the ends. Plastic sheeting is available in the dropcloth section of most home improvement stores.
- Tape Measure
- Lopping shears
- Logs, stones, or bricks to secure the plastic
How to Build the Hoops
1. Cut the Dowels
To secure the PEX hoops, you’ll be positioning half a dowel as a support stake on either side of each hoop. Start by using a lopping shears or other cutting device to cut the dowels in half creating roughly 2-foot segments. The exact size is not critical; just approximate the halfway point.
2. Cut the PEX
For 3-foot beds, measure and cut a 5-foot segment of PEX using a lopping shears or other cutting device. If your beds are wider than 3 feet, adjust this size accordingly. Because PEX will bend, it’s helpful to have two people so one can hold the PEX to the tape measure, while the other marks and cuts. Once you have one segment cut, you can use that as a template for the remaining cuts. I found this worked well because the cut piece had a similar curvature to the roll of PEX and was easier to line up. Cut all the hoops for your bed. You’ll need one hoop every 3-4 feet.
3. Pound in the Stakes
Working in 3-4 foot segments, pound in each stake half way leaving about a foot in the ground and a foot sticking out. I started by placing stakes on each corner, then placed one set in the middle, and another in the middle of each half.
4. Install the Hoops
To install the hoops push the PEX piping over the dowels as shown in the pictures. Slide the pipe down several inches. It does not need to be pushed to ground level. Repeat for all hoops.
5. Cover the Hoops
Cover the hoop structure with the plastic sheeting. I found it easiest to unroll the sheeting alongside the garden bed and cut it once unrolled. After cutting the plastic to the desired length, unfold it and drape it over the hoops. Having two people makes the unfolding and arranging process easier, but it can be done solo.
6. Secure the Plastic
Using logs, bricks, rocks, or other objects as weights, secure the plastic around the hoops.
7. Watch it Grow
Watch your plants grow in their warm, cozy hoop house. The middle bed is cold tolerant, so I only cover it when hail is in the forecast.
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