They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that saying proves to be true when it comes to my garden. These portable garden frames have turned out to be the best all-purpose DIY garden bed covers ever- but I kind of designed them by accident!
They are essentially a drop-over portable greenhouse or shadehouse. I can use them to prevent bug damage, provide shade, help retain soil moisture, & stop damage from hailstones and large pests.
I live in subtropical south-east Queensland, so it’s a hot & humid climate- the equivalent of USDA zone 10b or 11. Winter is the main growing season here, as it is wonderfully mild. (Seldom cold enough for garlic or brassicas, but we try anyway, lol). In contrast, summer is long, humid and hot with heavy tropical rainstorms & intense pest activity. As you can imagine, my main use for these covers is to keep heat & pests out and moisture in. But this design is versatile, so I think even if you have a cold climate you could adapt it to your needs.
But lets start at the beginning of the story. 2021 was my first full year growing veggies in QLD. Desperate for local information, I scoured the relevant facebook gardening groups. Time and time again I read that we need to net all crops in QLD summer or everything would be destroyed by pests. One day in March 2021, while searching for something entirely different, I saw a drop-over shade cover on fb marketplace. It was in the next suburb and only $A20- I jumped on it quick smart! Clearly a purpose-built one-off, this was a well-made piece of ‘grandad ingenuity’. I didn’t know how to use it at first, but as soon as summer hit in September I worked it out!
I first used it to cover newly-planted carrot seed. We all know how tricky carrot seed can be to start in hot weather, and the extra shade worked beautifully to keep the soil moist during the germination period. Now in my second season growing carrots in subtropical QLD, I’m using one of the newer ones to do the same job.
In July 2021, I had 8 of these high-raised ‘drum beds’ built. Come September, it got hot. I mean HOT. Burning afternoon sun and rafts of pests arrived all at once. Soil was drying out quickly & my plants were getting attacked. I dithered. I knew I had to protect the crops in the drum beds, and fast. But how? Should I net the beds individually? Should I build a huge shadehouse to cover all the whole lot?
But then I remembered that little shade cover- perhaps I could use it to cover my tiny summer seedlings so they don’t get burnt to a crisp before they can start?
Unfortunately that first shadecover was a bit too long, so it didn’t stop the pests getting in from underneath. It wasn’t tall enough to comfortably cover most summer veggies. And it was lightweight- a typical summer thunderstorm could send it flying across the yard. And maybe the shadecloth on it was too dark? There must be a better solution!
I knew it needed to be heavier yet still portable, but also quick and easy to use.
I’m not a handy sort of person, so I asked my local Men’s shed to step in. I provided measurements & a design idea plus some shadecloth. They supplied the timber, plastic piping and cable ties, & quickly knocked up a prototype for me to try out.
As you can see above, the design is simple & effective. The base frame is a thick hardwood- heavy to lift, but it won’t fly away in the wind and I can lift it. The shadecloth protects from wind, sun and pests, but I can still water & observe plants through it.
I had the first four made with dark shadecloth, but then decided a white shadecloth version would be useful too. So I have 4 garden bed covers in white and 4 in dark colours. This has turned out to be more practical than expected, as I have more scope to vary sunlight according to the plants’ requirements.
These shade frames are not necessarily perfect. I know they could be neater, or a different shape, or a different size…but they suit me. They fit perfectly over the drum beds which they were designed for, plus I can use them elsewhere in the garden. In fact I have two sitting over a table full of tiny seedlings right now!
Essentially, this garden bed cover is an adaptable design that anyone can take and use for their own needs. You could cover it with a sheet of plastic for cold weather frost prevention, for example, or make it taller for larger plants. The dimensions could be changed for different garden beds…you’re only limited by your imagination!