Fresh harvests outside of the main growing season are very precious, so it’s worth doing all you can to keep your crops in top condition during winter weather. Read on or watch our video to discover some very thrifty (and pretty nifty!) ways to protect your plants from the cold this winter.
Simple Solutions for Protecting Plants in Winter
Let’s start by plundering your recycling! Reusing clear plastic bottles or cartons is a completely free way to protect your plants. Two litre drinks bottles are the classic option, but you can also use old plastic fruit trays. Leave caps off for ventilation, or drill holes in the bottom.
You can use your recycled plastic containers as a cloche for plants outdoors, or inside a greenhouse or polytunnel as a double layer of protection on really cold nights. Pop them over young plants and seedlings to keep them cosy in autumn, to protect newly planted crops in spring, or to get an earlier start on the season.
Make a Mini Polytunnel
If you need to protect a larger area – for instance, an entire bed - then a simple, super-cheap mini polytunnel fits the bill.
For this you’ll need some plastic water pipe – it’s cheaper to buy it by the roll, and a roll can make many, many hoops! I use 1 foot (30cm) long lengths of rebar as supports for the hoops, but you could use sturdy lengths of bamboo or similar. And of course, you’ll need a cover. Clear plastic sheeting works well, but you can also use horticultural fleece, doubled up to provide better protection from the elements.
Push the lengths of rebar into the ground where you want your hoops to be, then cut the water pipe hoops to size. They hoops will need to be tall enough to give your crops enough room to grow to their final size. To ensure an even result, use your first hoop as a guide to cut the remaining hoops. Slip the hoops over your rebar.
Unfold and lay out the plastic sheet or horticultural fleece on top of the hoops. Cut it to size if necessary. Secure the sides by weighing them down with, or wrapping them around, a plank of wood. Pull down the ends and secure with heavy rocks or bricks. Secure the sheet at the hoops using bulldog clips or washing pegs (if they’ll stretch).
You can add extra rigidity to longer tunnels by securing a ridge pole in place. Screw a wooden batten or lightweight pole into position, or tie it on with zip ties. For more on this, watch our video on making a mini polytunnel .
Easy Homemade Cold Frame
Cold frames make an excellent space-saving alternative to a full-size greenhouse. At its simplest, a cold frame is simply a box that sits on the ground with a glazed lid to let the sun in. It’s easy to make your own from scratch using only salvaged or very low-cost materials.
Start with your glazing panel(s). Old salvaged windows make excellent cold frame lids, but even better if you can find some sort of tempered safety glass, such as a shower door. It will be a lot stronger and far less likely to shatter, so it’s safer if you have kids or pets.
Next you need to make the box the lid will sit on. Perhaps the simplest option is to make a box frame using bricks or cinder or breeze blocks, and these can be laid without using any mortar. Another excellent, temporary option is straw bales, which offer unrivalled insulation as an added bonus.
I prefer using wooden planks, which are easy to saw to the size you need. To avoid having to screw the planks together, just position them where you want them to be then use cut lengths of bamboo to support them. Push two in at each end – one piece of cane on each side of the plank. Make sure the planks are securely supported, then simply pop the window frame on top.
These sorts of cold frames are excellent for growing things like winter salads. They can also be used to warm up the ground and germinate weed seeds, which you can then hoe off, leaving a clean, weed-free soil behind for planting into.
These budget-friendly ideas make cold protection available to everyone. Have you used any of these techniques before and how do you rate them? Join in the conversation below.