Plato once said, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. I don’t know how you garden, but for me, truer words were never spoken! If you’re anything like me you race out to your mail box this time of year with great haste, wondering what plethora of gardening catalogs are waiting to greet to you. Lustingly you scan every page and item, marking the ones you want. Slowly you scroll down to see the price and your draw drops to the floor. $500 for a decent sized cold frame? That’s insane!
Well at least that’s my reaction! Most of us gardeners don’t have the buku bucks to spend endlessly on what we drool over or even need. So why isn’t it cheaper? It is, you just have to be creative!
For example, the catalogs sell all kinds of various contraptions to help us protect from frost and extend our growing season/get an early start. I have used everything from flannel sheets, fleece blankets(by far the best for frost protection); even bulk material from the local fabric store that was on clearance. Another fantastic and easily affordable option is your local second hand store. They almost always have sheets and blankets in stock. Plus, if they get dirty you can simply throw them in the washing machine! Need it to have a frame? Build your own! Lumber (especially construction grade) is cheap, and I would highly suggest something like velcro to attach the material. That way you can interchange the frame material from frost protection to shade cloth!
Speaking of shade cloth, you can get that at your local fabric store too(or second hand store if you’re lucky). Early last summer I was trying to keep my potatoes alive, but since I had planted such a large lot, buying that much shade cloth was out of the question. However, at the fabric store, I found some semi-transparent white, breezy material. I live in zone 9, and by utilizing this process my potatoes lasted into July, and only died back when the potatoes were ripe and ready to be harvested. The white, breezy/semi-transparent material is important if you are going to find and use your own shade cloth. You have to have a certain amount of light transmission for them to grow (or you’ll end up with spindly plants that fall over), and the white (unlike black shade cloth) does not attract, nor trap in extra heat.
Don’t be afraid to try something new and experiment; you never know what you will find! Following these few, simple, easy and low cost ideas will largely extend the grow/harvest time of all your crops( both cool season as well as summer vegetables).