How to Build a DIY Row Cover to Extend Your Growing Season
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A row cover is like a mini, mobile greenhouse for your outdoor garden. Extend your growing season with this easy DIY row cover tutorial!
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Aside from our greenhouse, row covers are my favourite ways to protect our plants from the cold and extend our growing season here in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of a greenhouse that is typically quite large and stationary, large, row covers like these ones we’ve constructed are generally lighter and more portable, and making them yourself means you can customize them to fit over top of your existing outdoor garden rows or raised beds.
Instead of small cold frames that fit over individual plants or small clusters, these DIY row covers are large enough to fit over your entire garden bed (or at least large sections of it), sheltering all of your plants from the cold.
I’ve called these garden cloches and even mini hoop houses in the past, since all of them basically function the same way and row covers can also mean sheets of light cloth that protect plants from bugs in the summer.
(Plus, these are customizable, so you could build them small like a garden cloche, long like row covers or extra large like hop houses. That’s the beauty of doing it yourself;)
But no matter what you call them or how big or small you build them, their purpose is to help you extend your growing window and get more out of your garden at the beginning and the end of the season.
I originally wrote this post (and took the photos) three years ago. Since then we’ve rebuilt our row covers to fit our in-ground rows at our new house and redesigned them just slightly.
We recorded a simple how-to video to show you how we did it, which (if you’re a visual learner like me), may be easier to follow than reading the directions.
Here’s the full video tutorial if you’d rather watch how we built ours:)
How we constructed our DIY row covers
When we first constructed our row covers/garden cloches/mini hoop houses, we were living at our old house where we had raised garden beds, so we constructed them to fit our raised beds and actually attached them to the raised beds with old door hinges so we could easily lift them open and closed. Now we’re in our new place and have in-ground garden beds, so we now use the skinnier of the two covers to protect our row of fall crops and it’s just wide enough to fit over one of our standard-width rows.
We also have an unheated greenhouse that helps to extend our growing season here as temperatures begin to plummet (we’ve been getting hard frosts overnight and snow is in the forecast for next week).
When we first built these row covers we were scrambling to get them put together after an unexpected snowfall hit us just two days after Halloween one year (even though we’d been out Trick-Or-Treating in short sleeves).
So my first piece of advice would be, don’t wait until your first hard frost or until the snow starts falling to get your row covers built. But, speaking from experience, as long as you’ve got cold-tolerant crops, you can still help protect them from the weight of a heavy snowfall or extended periods of hard frost by getting them covered ASAP, even if you’re a bit late (as we were when we first built ours).
Always be prepared (but better late than never)
If there’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over on this homesteading journey, it’s that you should always be prepared for anything at any time.
There really is no such thing as being over-prepared or being prepared too far in advance when you’re striving to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. You’ve gotta have your own back and protect your own livelihood, and that most certainly includes your food source!
When the first snowfall unexpectedly hit, I thought about trying to dig up our plants and re-planting them in the greenhouse. But the ground was already frozen solid. Plus, they wouldn’t all have enough space to grow to full size in our little greenhouse. There was really only one thing I could do: Send my husband out to the garage in a snowstorm and make him build us a couple garden cloches!
We spent a few minutes kicking ourselves and moaning about not having built these row covers sooner. But at the end of the day we knew that late is better than never! Besides, even if our plants didn’t make it through the winter, having these row covers ready to go in the spring can help you get a jumpstart on the growing season since the soil beneath them will warm up and be workable earlier in the season.
How to build a DIY row cover for garden rows or raised beds
Before you start building, you’ll need to gather up a few supplies. Here’s what you’ll need (sizes and lengths will depend on your individual measurements, so be sure to read through all the instructions before purchasing materials or making any cuts):
- Lumber (we used pre-treated 2x4s. You can use any lumber that is long enough and wide enough to support the size of your frame).
- ½-inch PVC piping
- 6 mil plastic sheeting (or other plastic sheeting made for greenhouses and hoop houses)
- Hardware (construction screws, staples, hinges*, adhesive*, Gorilla Tape*)
- Tools (saw, drill, 1-inch spade bit or hole saw, staple gun)
*Starred items are optional or supplementary.
Next, you need to decide how long, wide and tall you want your row covers to be depending on the area you want to cover. Make sure to measure twice before you cut and start building. Read through the following directions first before you start building.
DIY row cover step-by-step instructions
- Measure the space that needs to be covered (including width and length) and write these measurements down
- Build your frame. You’ll need some 2x4s and ½-inch PVC piping.
- Cut your lumber to the size of your garden bed and screw together with construction screws. Add corner braces if you like to make the frame more rigid and sturdy.
- Use a 1-inch spade bit (or hole saw) to drill 1-inch diameter holes along the long sides of your frame directly across from one another, beginning at one end of your frame and again roughly every two feet until you reach the end of your frame. Drill each hole about 1 inch deep. These holes will serve as the mounting points for the PVC pipes that will make up the “spine” of the row cover.
- Decide how tall you want your row cover(s) to be.
- Cut your PVC pipe into equal lengths. Add the width of your row cover frame to 1.5 times the height you’d like your row cover to be to determine how long each piece of PVC pipe should be (Width + 1.5xHeight). You’ll need one piece of PVC pipe for approximately every 2 feet of length of your row cover.
- Fit one end of the first piece of PVC pipe into the first hole on one side of the frame and carefully bend the pipe in an arch to make up the “spine” of the frame, and fit the other end of the pipe into the hole directly opposite on the other side of the frame. Repeat this process until you reach the end of your frame.
- Secure PVC pipe by drilling a pilot hole through the lumber and the pipe in the side of the frame at each hole and driving in a 1-inch screw to secure the pipe in place. *Alternatively, fill the holes with adhesive before putting each pipe in place and allow time to cure before continuing.
- Cover your frame with 6 mil plastic sheeting (vapour barrier) or greenhouse plastic.You’ll need a sheet of plastic that’s slightly wider than your cut PVC pipes are long, and the length of your row cover plus the height of the row cover on each end. To cover, lay your frame on its side. Centre your plastic sheet along the length of the frame and staple it along the bottom edge. Then flip the frame over and stretch the plastic over the second side. Smooth out any wrinkles and staple this side.
- Cut off excess plastic along the bottom edge. Secure the ends by pulling the sheet from the centre point at the top of the frame and stretching it down to the centre on the base of the frame on each end and securing with a couple staples.
- Smooth out the plastic over the end and fold the corners like a present. Staple the bottom to the frame making sure to smooth out the plastic as you go.
- Cut off the excess plastic on the bottom edge and repeat on the other side. Once all of your ends are pulled tight, folded in, stapled together and the excess plastic has been cut off, your row cover is finished and ready to go in the garden!
You might want to tape down the folded ends to prevent any snow or rain from getting in and to help prevent warm air from escaping. I would recommend using Gorilla Tape to do this as it holds better than any other kind of industrial tape (yes, better than Duct Tape!)
From here you can either lift and carry your row cover to your garden and place it overtop of your garden row or bed (you’ll want an extra pair of hands to help with this). Or if you’re planning to add hinges for a raised bed, do so now and then screw into the wooden frame of your raised bed.
This is how our finished garden cloches looked once we screwed the hinges into the raised beds at our old place.
And there you have it! You can keep your row covers closed and your garden beds covered during the winter to help shelter plants from snow and extreme cold, and in the spring to help warm up the soil earlier.
Of course if you can, get your row covers built before the first snow!
But if you’re already too late, spring is just around the corner;)
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂
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