Frost, insects, wind, and that ever-changing temperature. How do I give my seedlings and plants the best support to ensure an abundant harvest? Protecting crops is a large component of your organic growing toolbox when keeping pests at bay and the weather from damaging your lovely plants. Crop protection is also a useful way of extending your growing season, both in the early spring and into the late fall. I will discuss a few methods to create an ideal environment for growing happy and healthy plants whilst encouraging and supporting nature. Taking the initiative and protecting your plants using positive action is far more sustainable than ‘curing’ problems caused by pests, weather, or poor soil.
When the time of year comes to start thinking about my garden, I always start by sketching it out. In most cases, I like to keep my beds in 4-foot rows and keep companion planting in mind as well. Having rows that are 4 feet wide allows me to have easy access to observe and harvest my crops. One common crop protection method is a small-scale hoop house also known as a Cloche Pipe. These are sold in 4-foot widths and can easily be installed at any point during your growing season.
Utilizing a physical barrier such as a small-scale hoop house or Cloche Pipe will protect your seedlings or plants from climate issues such as frost and wind, provide added warmth — up to 5°C or more — and is also an excellent barrier against harmful insects. I will mention different types of coverings that will fit on the standard hoop house or Cloche Pipe frame that are easily changed in and out as the growing season progresses.
The first method of row cover I recommend is the greenhouse film that lays over the skeleton of the cloche pipes. The greenhouse film is a type of transparent covering to put over your plants. This method shares many of the same benefits as a conventional greenhouse only it conveniently fits in your garden! Now you can easily heat your hot peppers and blight-proof your tomatoes as well as can be structured to lengthen your season to grow salad greens year-round. Seedlings are very fragile and this film cover also provides wind protection, which will allow the seedlings to grow big, happy, and strong.
A second cover that can be used on your hoop house is a lightweight row covering used for insect protection. This row covering implements a physical barrier between seedlings and harmful insects without creating any additive heat. It is a personal preference to choose whether you utilize hoops to support the covering or you can lay it directly over your plants. All those threatening pests such as aphids, thrips, cabbage moth caterpillars, and carrot rust flies can all be kept out as long as it is properly installed. I have also found this method extremely helpful when planting lawns and cover crops to help keep the birds from eating your freshly sowed seeds. Laying this row covering aids in retaining moisture in newly seeded beds, which will up your germination rate and in the end means a more abundant harvest for you!
At the first onset of the signs of spring, I am guilty of wanting to get my hands in the dirt as soon as the first full day of sun rolls around. However, frost is still in the air and it is nowhere near warm enough to have seedlings trying to grow without any protection. This is where the heavyweight row cover comes into play. This method is like a big blanket for your plants and traps the heat to keep them cozy even if the temperature dips to as low as -5°C. This covering can be a game changer for people who live in cooler areas, as it can add an additional 2–3 months to their growing season. Insider tip: you can double up the fabric to provide an extra jacket for the plants — keep in mind that more heat will mean less light. When using a heavier-weight row covering, I recommend using hoops to support the fabric over the top of your plants as it can be heavy on delicate seedlings.
At the end of the day, the most important method for protecting your crops is you! Whether you are a large-scale farmer or a hobbyist, checking your crops on a daily basis will allow you to notice any harmful insects, if you need more or less watering, or spot any early signs of disease. It is important to remember that even if you have the latest crop protection equipment, crop failure can still happen. Growing is all about solving the next problem, but with added crop protection hopefully, some of the problems will be circumvented. I always tell myself that mother nature is allowed to have a few plants, just not the whole crop. At the end of the day, it all comes full circle; that is the reason why I love being a grower! Proper crop protection is the key component that keeps your soil full of nutrients and protected for the many years of gardening to come.
Selena Lang, Farming Assistant, West Coast Seeds.