The last average frost date has passed here, which means I've been busy planting. I've planted tomato, winter squash, summer squash and melon seedlings along with massive amounts of bean seeds: black and pinto beans for dried beans, soy beans and pole green beans.
However, it you take a look at my garden you may begin to notice I have trust issues, or perhaps an obsession with row covers.
It all started innocently with row covers for my brassicas. The cabbage moths made me start. I tried picking them off and spraying Bt, but it seemed to always rain the day after spraying. I put up my first row cover using rebar and pipe for the frame and Agribon AG-15 for the covers. The cabbage moths no longer destroyed my broccoli and cabbage.
My spring potatoes get attacked by potato beetles. After trying concoctions of hot peppers, garlic and neem oil, I resorted to handpicking them. Then the light bulb moment, potatoes don't need pollination and up went another row cover.
Last spring my turnip leaves were mangled by harlequin beetles and they had no energy left to produce turnips, so this spring, up went a row cover. The beets and carrots and radishes just happened to be next to the turnips, so why not cover them as well?
Before I knew it row covers popped up everywhere.
They may not be the most attractive garden additions, but what they lack in aesthetics, they make up for in easy pest control- no spraying, no handpicking. Simple, effective and low maintenance- row covers won me over.
Of course there are crops that need pollinators or are simply too large to fit under a row cover. Last spring something kept destroying my tomato seedlings. I broke out the row cover material and my sewing machine and made mini row covers for seedlings.
They are about 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall. I anchor them down with rocks and the drip hose. Of course the tomatoes can not grow in these mini covers forever, but it gives them time to get established before being exposed to whatever bugs want to munch on them. I do the same for my eggplants. Flea beetles will decimate young seedlings here, so they get a little cover too.
I have an ongoing war with squash vine borers. I have not resorted to keeping my squash completely under row covers because that would require hand pollination. I do put the mini covers over the squash seedlings and try to keep the covers on until they begin to flower in hopes that perhaps the vine borers will miss my squash or at least have a bit later start.
There are some downfalls to row covers: wind, rips and excess moisture. It seems that we have had a spring filled with gusts of wind. I use bricks to anchor my large row covers and sometime the wind blows them free. Imagine a 50 foot kite and that's what it is like wrestling a loose row cover in the wind. This can lead to the second problem, which are rips. This material is flimsy, so it tears easily. I usually either sew up the rips or break out the duct tape, which does not improve my garden aesthetics. The third problem can be too much moisture and humidity causing fungal problems. I haven't experienced this, probably because of those excessive winds, but it is a potential problem.
For me, the negatives of row covers are outweighed by the positives. I will take a garden that looks decorated for Halloween than to have to wage the spraying and picking battle with the bugs!