Bear Cave Mini-Greenhouse: Protecting Winter Greens in our Desert Garden


Dave L HeadshotWinter is coming on here at our Arizona desert homestead and, even though the temperatures are dropping, we still look forward to eating fresh kale, chard, escarole, lettuce, and other fresh hardy produce all winter long with the aid of a mini-hoop house. Don’t be misled by the fact that our homestead is in the southeastern Arizona desert. Last year, one storm dropped six inches of snow on our place. The following week, another cold front brought our temperatures here at the Bear Cave down to 2⁰ F here at our 5,000 ft elevation. Down in the valley, it was below zero. It certainly gets cold enough here to zap most tender growing garden plants without some protection.

Garden Bed w Row Cover


Last year, we simply protected as well as we could with row cover. We found that without supports, heavy frost and snow broke down some of the plants under the row cover. While it probably didn’t hurt the nutritional value when we used them immediately, we really felt sad about the squashed greens. They looked pretty pathetic.

Scrap PVC

So this year, we decided to give them another layer of protection. Our neighbor had done some plumbing in a new out-building and had left a small pile of scrap 3/4" PVC out behind his shop. Our Arizona sun had baked the pieces for a number of months and they were definitely too brittle to make a hoop. Enter the PVC angled joints. With a few PVC fittings, a pair of 45⁰ and one 90⁰, we had our own version of a hoop for our mini-greenhouse. By repeating this five times, we had the supports for our mini-greenhouse.

Dave Larson
12/12/2011 12:15:06 PM

Hi N Dave, Have to say that I don't miss those freezing rains turning to snow. Grew up in Minnesota, then Alaska, Colorado and Oregon and experienced a bunch of bad driving days. Hope your daughter stays safe. We do, however, get snow here as well as some pretty good rains. We have had one or two 6" snowfalls per year and quite a few in the one to two inch category. Nothing like Nebraska, however. Our 4,600 ft elevation makes our little snow shedding hoop house a snug shelter for the greens. We have fresh lettuce and escarole for salads every day and our kale and chard are doing very well. We'll keep you posted as the winter passes. Have a great day in Nebraska!

Dave Larson
12/12/2011 11:50:08 AM

Hi Roxane, thanks for visiting and commenting on the blog. Sorry it's taken a bit to get back to you. We have been visiting grandkids. On the ends of the frame, we change from open to closed on pretty much a daily basis and even, when it's really cold, put the row cover directly on the plants and then seal the system. We simply cut the plastic long enough to reach the ground or edge of the raised bed and then make a tuck on each side - just like wrapping a gift. Then we simply weight it down with a left-over chunk of 4" x 4" or a rock. Works pretty well even though it doesn't look "professional" - It is easy to access and easy to vent. Hope this helps. Love to see some pics of your place in Tennessee. Have a great day.

Roxane Whisnant
12/9/2011 9:28:53 PM

Thank you Dave!I need your help! Ihave had (in my pea brain) what you have so explained here in great detail. Seeing the steps makes it so workable for us here. We're in middle Tennessee and had our first snow-ball fight two days ago (our 2nd snow thus far). We're looking at 19 degree temps tomorrow night and I'm heading out to Lowe's for some rebar tomorrow and dry fitting this over my fall veggie garden. My fall veggies got planted later than ever, Sept./Oct. was a blurr with the birth of our 3rd grandchild. I got everything planted, but have been using straw/hay and old sheets to provide shelter during the nighttime dips. We have a salad mix, onions, spinich, beets, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, green cabbage(s), and brocolli rabe. There just isn't anything in that lineup I want to lose. One HUGE question though. How do you prepare the ends of your bed covers? Do you allow for the height in the length of the row coverage? Just want to get it done right. And, give a personal thank you to your mathematician! Thanks so much.

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