Live and Learn, Part 2: Too-Tall Tunnels

Although for the most part this fall had been mild and calm, that all changed last weekend with (surprise!) a gusty wind storm that tore up one of our greenhouse tunnels:

This one houses our leeks (to the left), plus some root veg, bok choy, arugula, and cabbages. Well, it used to. Now it's the home of bok choy popscicles:

The picture doesn't quite get across that during the rapid temperature drop into the teens, the bok choy was frozen absolutely solid. I could have broken pieces off with a snap, like that experiment where a scientist dips a rubber ball in liquid nitrogen and then smashes it on the ground. So much for the stir fry we were planning on.

The leek leaves are similarly frozen, but since that's not the part we eat, it's not a problem. Underground, the fat white bulbs are still happy. Kirk was able to fix this just to cover the leek half up before the big rain storms hit last night. The leeks would likely survive the winter uncovered, but under ice and snow it will be hard to get them when we need them, so the tunnel just makes our garden grocery runs easier. 

Oh, the devastation. Plastic tore and blew all over, pipes were pulled out of the ground, and stuff died. anything leafy is gone--in some cases even in tunnels that didn't get shredded. It was just too cold for lettuces and arugula (although the ever-reliable kale, mache, and spinach are just fine). The chard might grow back, but lots of stalks are ruined.

Root veggies are also fine, but I had to dig up the ones that were in the exposed half of that ruined tunnel. Again, they won't be accessible once the ground freezes, and it has already started. The dirt on that beet is frozen to it in this picture, and I had to wait until they thawed to clean them.

So, on to the lessons learned here.

1. Shorter tunnels work better. The broken one was made with 10-foot PVC pipes, and that didn't leave enough extra plastic on either side to really clamp down tightly. By contrast, our short tunnel has held up really well throughout all of our weather woes:

As you can see, all the extra plastic along the sides is rolled up around a 2x2 post (from our trellises), which keeps the plastic tight and also held down (for insurance, there are bricks weighing down the posts as well). This has been effective, and I think next year this is going to be our system across the board.

2. Pay closer attention to the weather reports. If the lows are less than 20, bring in the leafy stuff. The tunnels can only do so much (especially if they are breached — then any heat stored up is whipped away in an instant.

3. In the spring, plant the celery in the same bed that will eventually hold fall veggies, so it can be protected along with them. It's hardy, but not invincible:

This is what celery popsicles look like once they thaw. Completely mushy and inedible. 

That last one was the most maddening failure of all, because it led to us buying (in clear violation of the No Buying Veggies Challenge rules) a bunch of celery for Thanksgiving, as the thought of making stuffing without it was just too horrible to bear. 

In general, I've been disappointed in our tunnels this year. Lots of human error, but the weather has given us two major problems as well. The first was this sudden deep-freeze, but the other was the lack of rain back in August, which led to germination problems as I was planting all of our fall crops. We just don't seem to have as much as we did last year, and lots of it is smaller because of a late start. And so the final, somewhat tangential lesson:

4. Plant fall crops in July, just to be sure they get a good start and are big enough before the cold weather comes.

We were pretty lucky the past two years with very warm weather to help extend our season, but that clearly won't always be the case.


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