August 17, 2017

Under Cover: Save Money, Time with Row Covers

Janine Pineo Photo | Row covers protect young seedlings from insect attacks.

Janine Pineo Photo | Row covers protect young seedlings from insect attacks.

• By Janine Pineo •

The insect damage was the final straw.

A number of years ago, I had a cucumber beetle infestation that decimated my cucumber and squash plants. If they didn’t kill the seedling outright, then they stunted the vines which later produced damaged fruit.

I tried hot pepper wax, but it was costly. The rain could wash it all away in a matter of minutes. Even with only sunshine, you had to reapply every few days. And you had to keep refilling your supply.

So one fine year, I tried floating row covers.

I have not looked back.

The purpose of the row cover is for protection. People often have different reasons, but mine are mainly these two: I use them in the spring to protect the sprouts from bug attacks and in the autumn when I want to extend the season and protect the plants from frost.

I am much more successful in the first. The latter totally depends on how cold it gets and for how long.

My go-to choice for row cover is a brand called Agribon. It comes in multiple weights for different uses. The lightest is marketed as insect barrier, Agribon+ AG-15. It is pretty much useless as frost protection, so it only does duty in spring.

The heavier weights protect down a few degrees below freezing, but not for an extended period of time. AG-19 protects down to 28 degrees while AG-70 protects to 24 degrees.

While you can drape the cloth over the plants, the best way to do it is by holding the cloth above the plants with some sort of support. This can be achieved any number of ways, although I use hoops of some sort, either wire or bamboo, to create a tunnel.

The cloth needs to be anchored so it 1) won’t blow away in the slightest breeze and 2) allow the insects underneath. Anchor pins are available, although I use a brick, rock or wooden stake to hold mine down. This keeps the cloth from tearing and possibly shortening the length of its useful lifetime.

As for watering, rain goes through the cloth. That means once you get your tunnel set up, it is good to stay until the plants are ready to be revealed.

For insect protection, I cover my cucumber, melons and squash. The covers stay on until we are past infestation season, which means with a mid-June planting, the covers come off three or four weeks later.

The end result is worth the initial investment. I have healthy plants that produce healthy fruit. And I have a reusable row cover to use again the next year. And likely the next. And the next.

Several sources exist for Agribon+ and other row cover varieties. I usually purchase from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Click here for the search for row covers at Johnny’s.