Preparing our Planting Beds for Fall with Row Covers

The summer gardening season is over with cool weather setting in so it’s time to set some row covers. It’s a bit disappointing knowing vine ripened tomatoes and an almost daily pepper medley are coming to an end for many months to come. However, with the changing of the seasons comes a new excitement. It becomes greens, soups and stew season! Along with a change in diet and recipes comes a modification of growing techniques. As the cool weather sets in we’ve chosen to set up row covers to protect some crops. Follow along and see how we’ve done it.

Row Cover for Season Extension

A row cover is exactly what it sounds like. A way to cover a row of crops. Realistically you can use the same process to cover any amount of plants. Just build your supporting framework accordingly. The row cover material itself can vary from a light insect netting like Agribon-19 to a heavy plastic which is designed to let in light and retain heat. Regardless of the material chosen, it should not lay directly on the plants and needs to be supported in some manner. Leaves that lay up against the row cover from the inside will likely suffer damage when cold comes as there isn’t much insulation in the covering itself. The benefit is trapping warmth below the cover and that warmer air becomes the insulating factor.

Wire Row Cover Supports

A quick and easy support for row covers can be made from heavy duty #9 gauge wire. Simply bend your wire to bridge over your crop and push the ends into the ground. Place enough wire supports to hold the weight of your row cover. Binder clips can be used to secure the row cover to the wire to ensure it stays where you want it. If not adequately secured the wind can take your row cover and throw it in the bushes before you know it. At times taller and more sturdy support is desired. We make our hoops out of 1/2″ EMT electrical conduit which is very sturdy and will last a long time.

Easy DYI Row Cover Hoops

There are multiple ways to make hoops to support your row cover material. The quickest and easiest way is to use a piece of 12″ length of rebar and a 10′ stick 1/2 inch PVC. You can pick up both of these from your local home improvement store. You may have to cut the rebar to length if precut pieces cannot be found but that is the extent of the hard work. To form a hoop, simply push a piece of rebar into the ground at each edge of your bed.  Slide the PVC over the rebar on one side of the bed. Then bend it over and slide it onto the rebar on the opposing side of the bed to create a hoop. Voila you have created a row cover hoop and can place these hoops about 6′ apart down the length of the row to support your row cover material. Snap clamps can be used to secure the row cover to each hoop or you can use large binder clips.

We use 1/2″ EMT electrical galvanized conduit for our hoops. They are very sturdy and will last a long time. A hoop bending jig (available on eBay) is used to bend the arch to ensure consistency. We detail bending low tunnel row cover hoops in the following video.

Once bent simply push each end into the ground on each side of your row. We use a 12″ premade nipple of 1/2″ black iron pipe to make a pilot hole. You can pick these up at your local home improvement center. This makes inserting the pipe into the ground much easier. Place hoops approximately 6 feet apart down the row and cover with your desired row covering. We use snap clamps to secure the row cover in place.

The entire process is detailed from start to finish in the following video which shows me setting up a row cover in our back to eden style (BTE) garden bed.

 

Row covers can be used to extend your gardening season in both fall and spring. Transplants can be set out earlier to get a running start once the weather warms up. There’s nothing like picking tomatoes in June!

Row covers of very light weight (insect netting) can also be used to keep flea beetles off your radishes or cabbage worms off your brassicas…to name a couple. There are a multitude of pests they can protect but remember if your plants require pollination than you need to open (or vent) the row cover during the day to allow pollinators in. Some plants can be pollinated manually if you have an abundance of pests that you are trying to protect against and do not want to leave the row cover open for any extended period of time. Furthermore, if you are using a heavier plastic that does not breath you may have to consider venting those during the warmer part of the day. In Tennessee the sun can get really hot during the day raising the temperature up into the 90’s under 6 mil plastic while the temperatures drop below freezing at night in the colder months late November to February.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *