The produce available in my local supermarket during the winter months is bland, overpriced, and trucked in from all over the country (and beyond). The last couple of years, we've been experimenting with year-round gardening (using a lot of the advice garnered from Eliot Coleman's “Four Season Harvest” and “The Winter Harvest Handbook”) We constructed a simple hoop house tunnel outside our back door, and we've been able to grow several cool weather crops straight through the winter. It was especially gratifying to harvest fresh spinach and beets from the garden, even when we had to shovel through snow to get to it.
Constructing a Hoop House for Winter Gardening
The term “hoop house” is a bit of a misnomer. It's not a house at all. What it is is a tunnel, approximately two feet tall, that we built over one of our raised garden beds. We built ours out of one-inch diameter PVC pipe (you could construct yours out of wood, if you'd rather not use PVC) by simply sticking one end of a six-foot length of pipe into the soil at one side of the bed and bending it over, sticking it into the soil at the opposite side. We put a pipe approximately every foot across the length of the garden bed. This will hold up your plastic. We used nothing more than a plastic drop cloth that we bought at the home improvement store. There are a few different thicknesses of drop cloths you can buy—don't get the cheapest, thinnest one for this, because it will simply fall apart. Get a nice, heavy gauge plastic drop cloth.
After you have your pipe framework in place, drape your plastic drop cloth over it. The best way to secure the plastic is to weigh it down with heavy stones or bricks on each side.
On the very coldest days, when the temperature dips below freezing, it's a good idea to have an extra comforter or blanket on hand to drape over the plastic. Or, if you have some floating row covers around, lay these directly on top of your crops. This gives your veggies a little extra protection.
Build a simple tunnel, and plant seeds for your cool weather crops a couple of weeks before your last frost date. Keep everything watered, and you can harvest fresh veggies from your own yard all the way through the winter.