Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sewing for the Garden

Living in the Pacific Northwest, my primary hobby is sewing but from March to September you will find me spending most of my spare time in the garden. This year I turned to my sewing machine for my season extenders. For almost ten years I have been thumbing through garden supply catalogs coveting Wall-o-Waters, cold frames, old time cloches, and row covers. These fancy commercial products are just not in my budget so I turned to my sewing machine for some cheap alternatives. I tested out three homemade season extenders this year.

Project 1: Revamp the Coldframe

I made do for years with a box frame and an old window tossed on top. However, now that I have little ones running around outside, a glass window pane just the right size for sitting on seemed a bad idea. I revamped the old box with some 3/4 inch PVC pipe and put my sewing machine to work! I used double fold bias tape on all the seams to keep my sewing machine happy. (The feed dogs could not grip the 6 mil plastic.) Then I added plenty of loops for the zip ties that would attach it to the frame. I debated between a zipper, hook & loop tape, and snaps for the opening, but opted for the snaps because they were around.

What I love: It's taller and I was able to keep the tomatoes in here until they were 30" tall before moving them to the garden bed. Roll up ties were long enough that I could open it a little or a lot as the finicky weather ranged from 30-70 F. Tie down loops every 8-12" meant that even in the gustiest winds it was secure.

What I would change: The snaps have held up better than expected, but two zippers that met in the middle would be more convenient. I predict the cotton blend bias tape will mildew. In the future I will change to a synthetic fabric designed for outdoor use.

Project 2: 15 Minute Season Extender for Pots

Wanting to expand my available season extending space, I scavanged around and found some old bamboo hoops and made these quick extenders for pots. While it was super cold I left these rolled up tight except a few minutes each day for fresh air. As it began to warm I opened the top during the day and closed it at night. When day temperatures were safe I removed the covers during the day, but replaced them in case of night frost.

What I love: Super fast project! It was surprisingly versatile. Because these plants did not move from cold frame to garden they are the most robust of my veggies.

What I would change: I predict the cotton blend bias tape will mildew. In the future I will change to a synthetic fabric designed for outdoor use.

Project 3: The Hoop House

A disclaimer: this was not my project. I asked my husband to build a second cold frame because I liked my first so much. Next thing I know I have a HUGE PVC frame over a quarter of my garden. He didn't think through the project very well. It needs more structural support and a system for securing it to the ground, but I decided to make do with what I had been given.

I priced some options and decided he had bit off more than our checking account could afford to complete. In an effort to reduce costs I made some poor decisions.

It would need twenty feet of bias tape - too much to buy and too much to make by hand. I searched through some options and decided that it would be a good way to use up the hundreds of yards of leftover polyester ribbon from our wedding ten years ago. I also decided to skip the loops for securing it to the frame.

It was going to need a long, somewhat weather proof zipper. Originally I scoured the thrift stores for an old sleeping bag I could salvage a zipper from, but discovered that the fabric store carried seven foot zippers in the home decor department for a reasonable price.

What I love: Plenty of height for my 6'2" husband to help out.  It allowed for a large space of ground to dry out enough to plant earlier than the rest of our garden. A more permanent structure means we can try out heat happy vegetables that usually don't like our cool climate, and the zipper is easy to use compared to the snaps on the cold frame.

What I would change: It needs a box frame to attach side walls securely to the ground and a venting system to reduce heat build up on hot sunny days. It needs more supports not just to keep the frame from flexing, but so there are more places the plastic can be secured to the frame. I will never, ever use slippery satin ribbon as a substitute for bias tape. It's held up for a few months just fine, but the traction it provided the feed dogs was questionable at best and it made it hard to grip and sew with any control.

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