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Use crop Protection to protect your veggies properly from insect damage and the damaging effects of cold and wind. Increase your harvest. Protection in the winter is obvious but in the summer? Yes: heat those peppers, blight-proof those tomatoes, save your carrots from the evil carrot rust fly, and grow melons where no melons have grown before!
Floating Row Covers and Cloches: Which One to Use?
Crop protection can take the form of floating row covers and a cloche. Which option you choose depends on what your garden needs. Floating row covers are large pieces of lightweight, typically synthetic fabric that are draped over your rows of vegetables and secured from floating away with metal staples or plastic pegs that push into the soil. Even though the fabric appears gauzy and fine, it offers fantastic protection against damage by pest insects and animals, including birds and deer; and from frost and hail. Floating row cover allows air and water to pass through so they are as relatively self ventilated and watered as the rest of your garden. However, they only provide a modicum of heat build-up in the winter. As well, they can reduce the amount of light that your plants receive.
In contrast, cloches are miniature greenhouses of plastic or glass and varying shapes that are ideal for protecting your young and delicate plants from the weather and cold; and for building up heat to extend your growing season. Cloches usually require a bit more investment in setting them up but are well worth the effort if you plan ahead and use them for the entire season (see below for more details). The transparency of glass and plastic film means that your plants receive as much light as if they were uncovered. This is important on the West Coast, as an important factor in winter gardening in our region is how to keep your crops happy in the low light and short days. So use your cloches in the winter to keep vegetables warm and receiving as much daylight as possible.
Floating Row Covers
Floating row covers are laid directly over transplants or seeded areas – they are so light that the plants push them up as they grow. We offer two weights of spun-bonded polyester floating row covers, each with slightly different uses. Both Reemay and Agrifabric provide some of today’s best crop row protection.
Use the Summer light weight cover when you want protection but don’t want the heat build up. The spring/fall medium weight cover builds up heat, so it is useful for extending the season. Both will keep insects out if properly applied. These covers will last several years if you take care of them. We used both weights extensively in our Demonstration Garden. The summer light weight fabric kept the cabbage moths off the brassicas,and rust flies off the carrots. The spring/fall medium weight was used on late-sown lettuces, cilantro and arugula. We covered beds right after planting seeds to hold soil moisture and to keep birds from eating the seed.
To use floating row cover, lay the cover right over transplants or seeded area, leaving lots of slack for the plants to push up as they grow. To use as an insect barrier, cover the plants before the eggs are laid. These light-weight materials will keep the little white butterfly out, but only if you tuck the fabric into the soil around the plants! Hold the edges securely with no gaps for a fly or butterfly to crawl under. Pile soil on the edges of fabric; tuck it right into the earth; or secure it with Metal Fabric Staples (ZRC505) or plastic Removable Garden Pegs (ZC606). For insect pollinated plants (squash, cucumbers and melons) be sure to remove covers when flowers open.
At season’s end just wash the covers, hang them up in the shade to dry, then fold them up and store until next year.
The beauty of this system is that the whole system can be dismantled and moved to another part of the garden. Ideally you are using the system all year long. In the spring it is a cold frame to get extra light to your seedlings and prepare them for hardening off. No more dining room tables covered with spindly plants! Make this “cloche” just large enough to snugly cover the flats you are growing, no more. The addition of some 1 gallon milk jugs full of water around the edges of the cloche will act as a “heat sink” and absorb excess heat on sunny days and release it at night to help warm the clothe. However, you must check your cloche every day and give it extra ventilation by opening it more fully if the weather was hot and sunny.
In the summer, the cloche goes over your newly set-out transplants somewhere else in the garden. Try them over your heat-loving vegetables, such as melons and eggplants. They will love you and may reward your efforts with faster growth and more fruit! Finally, put the cloche high over tomatoes to extend their season and to ward off late blight. As soon as the tomatoes are finished, quickly move the whole unit over to the salad greens bed and your freshly planted spinach and mescllun mixes. This is where it finishes the year.