Make This Simple Window Tunnel

Want to get planting earlier, warm the soil, protect starts as they harden off? You need a cloche or a cold frame. I have just the thing: an easy tunnel cold frame that you can build without much cost or skill.

Salvaged windows

First, go window shopping. Not peeking in windows of downtown stores — shopping for windows at building salvage places. A great one in Seattle is Second Use, where I’ll be leading a workshop this Sunday on this very topic.

Second Use, the ReStore and similar shops in many cities are great places to find inexpensive materials for garden building projects. They reclaim old window sashes and doors when homeowners are doing remodeling. They also have random collections of building materials, like wood or stone for raised beds, pipe for cloches, mesh for trellises and even old bathroom fixtures you could plant in, if you want. For the sake of your neighbors, please try to resist.

So here are the basics of a simple, lean-to window tunnel.

Find two window sashes of the same size.

Aluminum-framed ones are great, because they’re lightweight, and won’t rust in wet weather and soil contact. But they’re hard to find. Wood window sashes are great, with a couple of caveats. Find ones with solid putty that holds the glass securely. Look for recent ones that don’t have peeling paint. Older windows, before 1973, will likely have lead paint, and that can flake off into your garden, and is a hazard for the environment, you, your kids and your pets.

I’ve found some glass-fronted cabinet doors that work great. It’s less likely that lead paint was used on interior projects, and these are varnished on one side. They’re not real large, but big enough to grow a three-foot row of something, or to easily cover one flat of seedlings.

Salvaged cabinet doors

Carefully drill two small holes into the edges of one side of the frame. Into those, screw round eye hooks. These should match on each window, so when you lean them together in an A-frame shape, the eye hooks almost touch.

Wiring the windows

Set up the windows on a garden bed, then run a heavy-gauge wire through the eye hooks and twist it up to hold the windows in place. This will prevent them from collapsing into the bed and crushing your plants.

Wiring windows closeup

On each end, pile straw to cover the triangular-shaped hole. This will provide enough protection from wind, and will help hold in the warmth that will have been gained during the day. You could also lean full bags of mulch against each end, or find some other way to block those openings.

Window Tunnel done

For a warmer solution, cut a piece of 6-mil plastic to fit each end, stretch it tight and staple it on. Or even cut triangular plywood ends and screw them into place. Adding something permanently to the end makes it more difficult to move the cold frame or take it apart for storage.

This simple building project will raise the soil temperature under the windows by 5 degrees or more, helping you plant earlier and provide a warmer environment for seedlings. Just don’t forget to water, and look at it daily to make sure it’s working properly.

Want to see more ideas and shop for salvaged products? Come to my talk at Second Use on Sunday, April 6 at noon. Better yet, come early and shop the plant sale that is accompanying the event. I’ll show slides of many ideas, give a couple of demos, and then we’ll walk the store to find the hidden treasures.

Shielding Plants From Frost

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your garden get frosted over last night? Here on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, I experienced a light frost: slight pockets of it on the grass, and my cold frame (and all the neighbors’ roofs) were covered this morning in white.

Frosty cold frame

The polycarbonate top on my cold frame was white instead of clear this morning.

It glittered brightly but quickly burned off in the morning sun.

How are your plants? A bit of precaution is needed to keep tender vegetables alive.

The best, of course, is to have them planted under season extension tools like a cold frame or a cloche. Here are some Little Gem lettuce starts that are thriving in my Triangle Tunnel:
Lettuce under my Triangle Tunnel

By the time I got out to look at it this morning, the sun had already turned the frost to water droplets on the corrugated polycarbonate on this cold frame.

If you don’t have your plants under a cold frame or a cloche, you can still protect them during this cold weather with floating row cover (FRC).

FRC closeup

Floating row cover is a very thin, spun-bonded (not woven) polyester cloth.

Called garden fleece in England and known here as crop cover or by brand names like Reemay or Frost Protek, it can be laid loosely over plants, even just draped there overnight. For very tender plants, fold it into two layers. Be sure to hold down the edges to keep it from blowing away, or cover the edges with soil as I did for this row crop:

FRC on peas

Floating row cover over a row of peas will protect from frost. It is laid loosely on the bed with the edges tucked under a bit of soil.

Air, water and light can get through the FRC, but it provides enough of a barrier on many crops to keep frost from laying directly on the plants and killing them. Even though it’s called fleece, it doesn’t keep the plants much warmer, so it wouldn’t be enough of a cover to keep lettuce alive if the nighttime temperatures are dropping below 32 degrees F, as they are in many places around Puget Sound right now.

If you don’t have any FRC on hand and you still want to shield your veggies from frost, just carefully cover them with an old sheet or blanket overnight, but be sure to remove that each morning.

Want to know more about our weather patterns, and why we are having this spate of cold, clear weather right now? Check out the excellent explanation of the “modified continental polar” air we’re experiencing now from UW Professor Cliff Mass’ blog.

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