Raised Bed Hoop Tunnels

Why and how to make a raised bed hoop tunnel in 5-10 minutes…

Why?

These are our hoop tunnels. In the warmer months, we use them to hang bird netting over our crops, to keep birds, squirrels, and other animals out of our raised beds, while still easily allowing bees and other pollinators in.

In the colder months, we hang 6 mil greenhouse plastic over them, protecting them from the cold. This warmth and frost protection allows us to start growing early, and to keep harvesting much later in the season.

Combine these perks with the fact that they are incredibly cheap and easy to make, and that gives you the ‘why’ we do this.

How?

Simply buy ten foot lengths of 1/2” PVC pipe. The number you need will depend on how long your garden bed is. I like to place them every few feet (roughly). You will also need one for the top of each bed, creating a spine, if you will. If your raised bed is longer than 10 feet, you will either need a longer spine, or perhaps you can put a couple pieces together.

Hammer a 3-4 foot piece of rebar into each corner, and every few feet along the inside walls. Be sure that each piece of rebar has another corresponding piece directly across from it, on the other side of the bed. If your raised bed has a bottom, you may have to use shorter pieces of rebar that go down to the bottom, but only stick out of the top of the soil 2-3 inches.

Once your rebar is hammered in place, place your PVC pipe over the end of a piece of rebar, and then bend it as needed to place the other end over the corresponding piece of rebar on the opposite side of the bed. Once each PVC pipe is in place, you can push the ends of the pipe down into the soil, until you reach your desired hoop tunnel height. If your PVC pipe is more than 1/2” wide, it will be much more difficult to bend, so we strongly recommend the 1/2” pipe.

Then, you want to attach your PVC spine to each hoop, using U-Bolts.

Once your entire tunnel is in place, simply drape your desires material over it (i.e. bird/insect netting, shade cloth, greenhouse plastic, etc). Clip this material onto the PVC with clips/clamps of your choice, available at most hardware stores.

Happy planting!

-Mayetta Farms

Direct Seeding Crops with the Newspaper Method

If you are direct seeding crops into raised beds, consider using the newspaper method to increase your germination rates.

This method is simple. Plant your seeds as instructed on the packet, gently water, and then cover those seeds with a single layer of newspaper. Use something small, but heavy to hold down the edges of the newspaper (we use river rock). Once the newspaper is held in place, gently soak the newspaper.

After these initial steps are done, we recommend re-moistening the newspaper twice a day. Begin peeking under the newspaper each day starting at day 3 (maybe later, if you are planting a crop that has a long germination period). You are peeking under to see if your seeds have started germinating. This is where it gets tricky. There are no hard and fast rules, just personal judgement. You want to leave the paper on long enough for a substantial portion of your seedlings to sprout, but not so long that those seedlings get smothered and killed by the paper. Once you feel that you have reached this point, remove the newspaper, and continue to moisten the soil as needed, to encourage the remaining seeds to germinate, and to water the new seedlings.

Here are some carrots that were germinated using the newspaper method. As you may know, carrots have notoriously poor germination rates.

Pros:

  • Newspaper helps to hold seeds in place, and protect them from birds and other animals.
  • Newspaper also helps to retain warmth and moisture, keeping the seeds in an ideal environment for germination.
  • Increased germination rate

Cons:

  • A bit extra work
  • If you don’t monitor the seeds, the newspaper can smother the seedlings.

Happy planting!

-Mayetta Farms

Using Soil Block Makers

About Soil Blocks

Soil blocks are simply blocks of soil formed by tools called soil block makers, that are used to plant seeds indoors or in a greenhouse.

Commercially available soil block makers come in a series of sizes. At Mayetta Farms, we have three different soil block makers. Our smallest one is 3/4″, our next size up is 2″, and our largest is 4″. Each block maker creates a divot in the soil block it makes. The divot on the 3/4″ block maker, is just big enough to plant a seed. However, the divot in the 2″ block maker is a 3/4″ cube shaped divot – just the right size and shape for transplanting your 3/4″ blocks into, once the seedlings start to outgrow them. As you might have guessed, the divot in the 4″ block is a 2″ cube shaped divot – just the right size and shape for transplanting your 2″ blocks into. This process is called “potting up.”

That said, not all seeds are treated the same. If you are starting lettuce seedlings indoors, you may only use the 3/4″ block and plant that directly into your garden bed. Some larger crops grow so fast that I skip the 3/4″ block altogether and start them in 2″ blocks. Many crops are transplanted into our garden beds in 2″ blocks, and never make it to 4″ blocks. However, crops like tomatoes make the 4″ blocks necessary, because we like to get them started as early as possible inside, to get a head start on the season.

How to Use

  • Add water to your soil block mix. After a bit of practice, you will get a feel for how much water to use. You want the soil to be moist enough to hold together without crumbling, but not so moist that it becomes a mush.
  • Fill the soil block maker with the moistened soil, making sure that it is packed in tightly. If you don’t pack enough soil into the block maker, your blocks won’t be properly formed.
  • Release the soil blocks onto your germination tray.
  • Sow and cover your seeds with however much soil the seed packet recommends.
  • Carefully water the tops of the blocks. We recommend using a gentle mist setting on a spray bottle, to avoid displacing seeds.
  • Put plastic over the top to keep in the humidity.
  • Once you see roots emerging from the soil block, it is time to either place your smaller soil block into the next largest size block, or transplant it into your garden bed.

Pros and Cons of Soil Blocks

Pros:

  • Soil blocks do not require any plastic. You set the blocks on germination trays. Some gardeners opt to make their own germination trays from wood for better durability, and to avoid plastic altogether. However, even if you use plastic germination trays, as I do, those kinds of trays last many years, unlike the flimsy plastic trays with cells, which are spent after a season or two.
  • Air pruning. When the roots grow to the edge of the soil block and hit air, they simply stop growing and wait for more soil. That way, when you put them in the ground they are ready to start growing in their new home. Conversely, when you grow in pots, you may have noticed that the roots wrap around the pot. This is called being “root bound” and it increases the risk of transplant failure.

Cons:

  • Making soil blocks is very time consuming, and time is money on a farm!
  • Soil blocks are also quite messy. Ideally, you would have a greenhouse for this task, but they can be made inside, if you work on an easily cleaned surface.

Whatever method you choose, happy planting!

-Mayetta Farms