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Floating Row Cover are Multipurpose Summer Sheets for the Garden

April 21, 2009
March Planted Brassicas in April

March Planted Brassicas in April

What tools do you use to improve your vegetable garden?

There are many reasons to cover our vegetable garden beds – protecting crops, adding heat & more. We add hoop houses with plastic to increase heat, extend the growing season, ramp up edible production rates, and provide other protections as illustrated here.  But, for some crops and during the warmer times of year, when flying pests are looking for delicious spots to lay their eggs, something more lightweight and breathable makes sense. Floating row cover is the answer to these needs.

Floating row cover is a lightweight, partially opaque fabric that is used for a variety of reasons in the garden, including:

  • Retaining heat in young beds — but not as much as plastic.
  • Protecting plants like carrot and brassicas from flying insects. (The row cover keeps the insects from getting to the plants where they like to lay eggs and then lay waste to garden crops.)
  • Allowing some light and lots of sunshine into crops
  • Increasing airflow to the plants to reduce fungal disease problems
  • Keeping some pests, like the neighborhood cats & pecking birds, out of freshly tilled and seeded beds.
Lettuces Under Floating Row Cover Hoop House

Lettuces Under Floating Row Cover Hoop House

The cool season crops I planted into the garden beds back in March were given a boost of heat by way of hoop houses covered in plastic.  But, as the days have warmed and the crops have started to acclimate to the warmer weather and longer days, I decided it was time for some of them to switch out their winter plastic coverings for the  lighter fabric provided by floating row cover.

My lettuce bed would grow just fine without floating row cover and likely wouldn’t be decimated by pests — except for my neighbor’s cat. I do not want to find that he or his buddies are using my beds as his toilet. So, strapping the row cover onto the hoops means that sunlight reaches the plants, rains do too. Air also begins to circulate better across the plants, which will help keep down warm-heat related problems. And, the darned cat can’t get into the bed!

Brassica and Spinach Bed covered with floating row cover

Brassica and Spinach Bed covered with floating row cover

Some of my other beds don’t have hoops, but they’re filled with crops that I know have pest problems in the Seattle area:

I could simply drape the fabric over the plants and let it float in place. This technique works well as long as you don’t have a big wind come through. Plants simply push the fabric up as they grow; it is that lightweight. However, I opted to hammer some stakes into the ground and affix the cover crop to it. This insures a few key things:

  • The fabric won’t blow away
  • The cat can’t poop on my cauliflower
  • Birds can’t eat my radish seed or seedlings
  • I can see through the fabric to watch the plants grow.
Recycled Aluminum posts with plastic clips holding row cover in place

Recycled Aluminum posts with plastic clips holding row cover in place

In one of these non-hooped beds, I used recycled coated aluminum poles from my old, broken down zipper greenhouse. I draped the fabric over them and affixed them with extra hoop house clips.  In another bed, I hammered wooden stakes into the edge of the bed and stapled the material to the posts and to the nearby fence. Both seem to be working quite well.

It is also important to realize that the floating row cover as well as plastic hoop covers will also keep the pollenators out of the plants. So, as you’re planning your cropping rotations, it is important to remember this. Right now, my beds are filled with items that don’t require pollenation. Essentially, I’ve got greens and root veggies going. However, later, as I start adding in squash, cucumber, tomatoes and other flowering/fruiting vegetables, I’ll need to be sure to place them in zones where the covers can be opened to allow bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial insects to join the party and help make my garden productive. If that means picking a few green worms off my cabbage later in the season, so be it. But for now, those white butterflies can fly, fly away!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t help with slugs, but that’s a post for another day.

Want to learn more about cabbage loopers, carrot fly, and other edible garden pests? Visit the gardenhelp store and pick up a copy of Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. It is a fantastic resource for all veggie gardeners!

 

5 Comments

  1. […] that tonight we may have a mild freeze. This news means we will be switching out all remaining floating row cover in the garden for the more protective and heat building and heat retaining plastic hoop house […]

  2. Tija says:

    Hi, thank you for the information. I agree wholeheartedly and have been using the covers for a couple of years now. I mainly started using them because of the pest issues you mentioned but also noted how much quicker my produce matured. My question is whether or not there comes a point in the summer that I can safely remove the covers – once it is nice and warm they are not needed as much for the green house affect but do the pests mentioned hang around all summer? I will confess I enjoy being able to see the feathery greens of the carrots and the nice cabbage heads maturing and with the covers, of course one can’t view the produce.
    Thank you.

  3. Tija, Yours is a great question. And, I’m with you. I like to see the beautiful plants growing more than the ugly row cover all over the place. Certainly you can risk removing the row cover, but if the adult pests are still out & about, you may run into trouble. Some pests, like leaf miners for instance, have a couple of laying cycles in the growing season. Other pests, like cabbage butterfly, are out and about from early spring until late fall. Given the chance to lay an egg on your crop, they’ll go for it. Know your pest & its life cycles to know your control requirements. Best of luck & enjoy all that delicious produce you’re growing!

  4. […] the cover – was a significant factor in their production problems. Next year I’ll try using light-weight fabric row covers instead. These row covers are typically made of polyester. They allow rain and some sunlight […]

  5. […] that tonight we may have a mild freeze. This news means we will be switching out all remaining floating row cover in the garden for the more protective and heat building and heat retaining plastic hoop house […]

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