Protecting Transplants

comments (13) March 4th, 2013

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Click To Enlarge Photo: Marc Vassallo

My broccoli plants were driving me crazy. One by one, the sturdy seedlings would keel over and die. Out of every dozen, only five or six made it to harvest. The culprit, I decided, was root maggot, the larva of a fly that lays its eggs on broccoli leaves. A gardener friend suggested covering my broccoli bed with a fabric called Reemay. I was skeptical, but I

Bending the hoops is fast and simple. Made from 60-inch lengths of 12-gauge wire, these hoops are sturdy and easy to set up. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo

gave it a try the following spring, stretching the fabric over wire hoops to form a tunnel. I kept a garden diary in those days, and the entry for June 20 reads, "Reemay prevented root maggot from attacking broccoli. 100 percent crop!" It was no fluke. Every broccoli I've planted under a row-cover tunnel since that spring has survived to succulent adulthood, often maturing faster than normal. And I have become not only a convert of the Reemay tunnel but also a missionary.

Use wire to hold the tunnel up and rocks to hold it down

A brand name that has become generic, Reemay is just one of a number of row covers on the market. Some, like Reemay, are made from spun-bonded polyester; others are made from spun-bonded polypropylene. Their fibers are not woven but pressed together. Nevertheless, they are strong and so light that a square yard weighs a mere ½ ounce. These fabrics are ideal for covering seeds or plants because they are porous to air and water and 85 percent transparent. Sunlight penetrates a row cover to warm the air and soil, creating a benign microclimate for germination and growth. All floating row covers will take the edge off a frost, but to play it safe, especially with heat-loving transplants, I watch the forecast and add extra cover when the prediction is ominous.

I originally used Reemay itself, but now I buy whichever brand is available at my local garden center. Row covers can also be purchased from many mail-order companies. The fabrics typically come in lengths of
20 feet, 50 feet, or 100 feet, and in widths of 5½ feet or 12 feet. If you're a kitchen gardener, you'll find the narrow width more suitable than the broad. Row covers are not cheap, but with care, they are reusable for three or more seasons.

If your garden is sheltered from the wind, you can apply a row cover without supports. You'll need rocks to hold down the edges, but the plants themselves will support the fabric, hence the term "floating row cover." But an unsupported row cover can seriously abrade the plants under it if the wind shifts it around too much. My garden is interminably windy, so I devised a way to make a simple row-cover tunnel.

Put the rocks in place first. A bit of wind will wreak havoc on a row cover, so be sure you have something to weigh it down while assembling the tunnel. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo

Stretch the fabric snugly over the hoops. Gather the surplus of Reemay on the far side, and hold it down with rocks. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo

Pull the ends taut to create a cozy home. Push in the end hoops to maintain tension, and secure the fabric with more rocks. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo















I use 5½-foot-wide fabric, which I cut to the length of the bed plus an extra 4 feet so that I have some slack to gather at each end. To hold down the fabric, I use fist-size rocks. A tunnel takes a lot of them-at least 50 per 15-foot-long bed. Rocks, by the way, make more sense than pins, which cost money and puncture the fabric.
I could buy hoops to hold the row cover up, but I find it less expensive to make them from 12-gauge galvanized wire. This single-strand wire comes in coils at hardware stores or fence suppliers. One pound of 12-gauge wire makes six 60-inch-long hoops. I cut the wire into 60-inch lengths, then bend each length around a 5-gallon plastic bucket to make a U shape. I poke the hoops 6 inches into the soil at 20- to 24-inch intervals. The hoops hold up a row cover 28 inches wide, with 16 inches of headroom for the plants.

I put all the fabric on one side of the hoops, and pin down one edge with rocks set 6 to 8 inches apart. Then I pull the fabric snugly over the hoops, gather the surplus on the other side, and hold it down with more rocks. When I gather up the surplus fabric at each end, I push the end hoops inward slightly to create tension.

Within the completed tunnel, the transplants have plenty of extra space in which to stretch and grow. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo


 Keep the tunnel intact until the weather warms

Despite the tunnel, I still have to cope with weeds, which grow with tropical exuberance under the cover, and with underground pests, but I no longer worry about flying and leaping insects because they can't penetrate a row cover.

The perfect barrier is quick to build. Itwill take less than 15 minutes to stretch the row cover over the hoops. Photo/Illustration: Marc Vassallo

Rabbits and woodchucks could chew through, but they are too dim to recognize the opportunity. In a row-cover tunnel, my cold-crop transplants get a significant boost, and my warm-weather transplants can be set out two weeks earlier than usual.

Except when I pull back the fabric to weed or water, my transplants remain under cover as they grow. There is no fixed time when I remove the fabric and take down the hoops. When the broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower begin to push against the sides and tops of the tunnel, they are ready to make it on their own. With spinach, I cast off one side, weed and thin, then cover again until the remaining plants mature. I lift the cover from tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and other warm-weather crops in late spring; frost no longer threatens, and now the plants are strapping adolescents.

When the fabric is no longer needed, I check it over, mend holes and tears with duct tape, clean off any mud, roll it up, stuff it in a bag, and store it out of the way of mice. I'm sure I could construct row-cover tunnels again in fall to extend the other end of the season, but my plants are well played out by then-and, frankly, so am I.

From Kitchen Gardener 6 , pp. 56


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Comments (13)

Thomascook342 writes: Mind Blowing thanks for share it
Posted: 2:16 am on November 22nd
pattimay54 writes: Looking Awesome
Posted: 2:40 am on November 9th
sethlewis45 writes: Mind Blowing
Posted: 4:12 am on November 3rd
stephengreen44 writes: Endclass
Posted: 5:19 am on September 5th
BessieMurphy writes: This is good process to save our plants.
Posted: 2:02 am on May 19th
Markrough writes: Great.. very effective way of gardening.
Posted: 5:15 am on January 18th
SamuelPointer writes: thanks for sharing this
Posted: 6:05 am on November 24th
Amymoreno writes: This is green house effect
Posted: 5:06 am on May 11th
Jennislav writes: I am using the lightweight
Posted: 1:48 am on April 22nd
HDL52 writes: Row covers will work for preventing root maggots but there is an easier approach. Cut a 5x5 inch square from a plastic bag. Black plastic garbage bags work well. Cut a slit to the centre of the square. Now place the plastic around the seedling stem. Overlap the two sides of the slit. Hold it in place with three nails pushed through the plastic and into the soil.

The plastic will prevent flies from laying eggs near the stem, hence there will be no root maggots.

I use row covers to prevent carrot maggots but, unless you have a lot of brassicas, this is much easier and very effective.
Posted: 5:36 pm on July 24th
DanielleGardenGirl writes: @Brandonsheirlooms: Hi there--I would recommend removing the row cover mid-season because the temp.'s might get too hot under the cover and literally cook your crops. Proper air circulation is key in the summer months, too--especially when fungal diseases can result from the humid conditions.

Posted: 9:02 am on March 18th
grimey writes:
Excellent Article!
Growing vegetables over the past 15 yrs.on Vancouver Island I found so many Onion, Garlic, Carrot, Brassica critters a problem I now cover almost everything with cloth.
Most of the flies that lay the eggs are gone by July so the cloth does not have to stay on all season.
The slight inconvenience of opening up the cloth to weed, thin, etc. is off-set by the greatly improved healthy harvest.
It also adds a touch of warmth, keeps the evening dew off, as well as hiding the goods from varmints as reported in the article.
Great Stuff!

Posted: 8:00 pm on March 14th
Brandonsheirlooms writes: Hi. I also plan to use the lightweight row cover on my brassicas this year. I bought lots if it, and I am going to make hoops three feet tall so the plants can stay under until harvest. Do you recommend removing them before harvest though? Thanks!
Posted: 5:42 pm on March 14th
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