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.

Transplanting, transplanting, transplanting

Once seedlings have been hardened off adequately and deemed ready to go into the ground it’s time to head to the field. In spring there was lots of transplanting for the farm team; when a single week saw us undertake a massive effort with cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, squash, melons and eggplant go in and there was head lettuce, napa cabbage, pak choi, kale or cabbage to plant almost every other week.

Bed preparation typically includes a light hoe or even a flame weed (although this tends to be used before direct seeding) to help reduce weed pressure although this might be skipped it has been rototilled recently. Once it’s time to plant we hope for a cool, slightly overcast day with rain in the afternoon but the main thing is to get them in the ground; they may only be small plants but they will eventually use up the nutrients in the planter trays and become root bound. It’s lovely when the soil is a bit ‘fluffy’ and it’s easy to dig your hands in to make a space for the new plants but of course it’s not always ideal conditions and when we did leeks on a wet day into clay soil it felt like an uphill battle.

Watering them in is an essential step, generally achieved the low tech way with watering cans, although we did skip it if it was raining hard enough.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The transplants can look pretty sad (like the lettuces in the pic on the left) when they first go in but somehow they miraculously manage to survive, perking up (see middle pic) and eventually turn into fully grown plants ready to harvest (more like those same lettuces in the pic on the right).