Row-cover-rama

Since organic farming eschews the use of pesticides, plants need to be protected from insect pests in other ways so as part of a multi-faceted approach to achieve that, the final step of transplanting, once seedlings are in the ground, is covering them up.
Covering the rows of plants to protect them from predatory bugs is a common technique used in Canada. Depending on the material, row cover can also provide insulation that protects against frost and increases soil temperatures; particularly beneficial for heat loving plants such as tomatoes, eggplant and chillies.

Setting up the row cover involves a few basic steps:

  1. Cutting wire or tubing that is rigid enough to drape the row cover over into regular pieces that will be long enough to span the plant beds.
  2. Pushing the wire or tubing into the ground on either side of the planted rows at regular intervals (5-7 feet or 2-3m) so they look like hoops sticking out of the ground.
  3. Cutting the row cover so it’s a little bit longer than the bed that needs to be covered.
  4. Pulling the row cover over the wire hoops ensuring it’s fairly taut.
  5. Securing the row cover at either end of the bed and on each side of the hoops. This can be achieved using rocks, soil or bags of either and is the most tedious part of it all.

This was our method for any transplants from the greenhouse but for plants that were directly seeded it was much quicker; there’s no need for hoops since the plants lift the cover as they grow.

What is row cover exactly?

Any material used as a protective cover for plants; there are different weights and grades available in a variety of widths and lengths. At Chelsea Gardens we used two types, both lightweight synthetics; the majority of it was referred to as row cover with the second type known as protectnet which is more robust, more expensive, doesn’t insulate as much and looks sexier since you can actually see the plants through it. In the pic to the right the row of transplanted pak choy on the left is under hoops with protectnet over the top while the direct seeded turnips, radishes, mustard greens and arugula or rocket are under row cover simply laid on top of the earth.

Unfortunately row cover is typically made from petroleum products and although the materials can be reused they are fairly flimsy and easily damaged but still seem to be the best solution given insect problems and the short growing season. The only other idea I had for something equivalent would be silk which would be stronger but could be equally light weight and prohibitively expensive.

Time to sow our seed

Spring has sprung and it’s time to start planting but of course you can’t just fling some seed around and expect it to grow. Besides preparing the soil there are plenty of other considerations once you’ve decided which variety you want to grow and of course where and when you want to plant it.

For most of the direct seeding (i.e. when seeds are planted straight into the earth) we use a seeder. Basically a two wheel cart with a seed hopper at the top, a plastic seed plate in the hopper that turns to pick up seeds and drop them down a chute to the ground, a tiny plough to form a furrow for the seed and a short chain at the back that covers the seed with soil. Direct seeding is a simple job but it does take some care since the rows need to be straight and evenly spaced across the width of the bed; before getting started check the following.

  • How many rows are being seeded – We seed 4 rows of carrots in the beds that are 5 feet wide.
  • What seed depth is needed – This is an adjustment that gets made at the base of the seeder; typically seed packets give an indication of seed depth.
  • Use the correct seed plate – Each plate is used for different seed sizes and spacing between seeds; typically the suitable seeds types are listed on the plate.
  • While seeding – It’s a good idea to check beneath the seeder to ensure seeds are dropping out evenly and getting covered adequately in soil; keep an eye on the seed level too.

Once the job is done has been done it’s a matter of waiting for germination, for rain and for the myriad of tasks that await; this is just the beginning.