Try a Wall O' Water
Planting tomatoes two months before the last frost date may seem like a dream. But a device sold variously as Wall O' Water and Wall-O-Water can help mountain gardeners get a head start on planting tomatoes, peppers, basil, and other warmth-loving summer crops. Essentially, the device is a collar composed of vinyl tubes that you fill with 3 gallons of water to form a self-standing, tepee-style cloche 18 inches tall. The tubes absorb solar heat by day then release it at night, keeping the temperature inside the cloche above freezing.
A week before planting, place the empty collar around a 5-gallon bucket on the soil. Then, using a hose, fill each tube three-quarters full with water. Remove the bucket, allowing the collar to close in upon itself. Let the soil inside warm for one week, then plant the seedling in the center of the cloche. Once plants begin to grow through the top, fill the tubes completely with water to expand the top of the cloche. After all danger of frost is past, remove the collar. Gently squeeze the water out of each tube, then dry and store for next year.
Wall O' Water is sold in many garden centers. Mail-order suppliers usually sell it in packages of three for about $9. Wall O' Water can be ordered through Irish Eyes Garden City Seeds in Thorp, Washington (877/733-3001), and Seeds Trust in Hailey, Idaho (208/788-4363). –Amy M. Hinman
Build shadecloth tents
In the desert, vegetables need seasonal protection from freezing temperatures, drying winds, and intense sun. To shelter their crops, Master Gardeners Christina and John Grubb of Scottsdale, Arizona, created shadecloth tents over raised beds in their backyard.
On nights when freezing weather is predicted, the heavy shadecloth provides frost protection for their cool-season garden ― a colorful mix of herbs, edible nasturtiums, salad greens, and root crops. Later in the season, the same shadecloth will screen warm-season vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, from excessive sun and desiccating winds.
The Grubbs form the hoops by bending 10-foot-long sections of ½-inch-diameter PVC pipe into 42-inch-high arcs. They insert the flexible pipe into a bracket on one side of the 4-foot-wide bed, then bend the pipe over the bed and insert the other end into another bracket on the opposite side.
Christina installed plastic grommets along the edges of the shadecloth. To hold the fabric to the hoops, she inserts a plastic locking tie through each grommet hole and secures it loosely around the pipe, allowing her to slide the shadecloth up and down as needed. –Cathy Cromell