Would You Like to Try a Garden Cover?

Spring is here!  The first naturalized daffodil to bloom!

The weather beckons to start the garden season on the Northern Plains. Likely ahead, at least a month, is unsettled weather with gusty winds, roller coaster temperatures, and grab-a-book-and read-outside days. Maybe you’d like to consider a garden cover for some root vegetables in early spring.

Garden covers allow adequate light and rain. They provide a little protection from spring wind and add a little soil heat from the greenhouse effect when you directly plant seeds in the soil that can germinate and begin to grow in cooler temperatures. Lettuce, various greens, and root vegetables are examples of plants that can grow undercover. Garden covers can also be season extenders in fall and have other versatile features.

At Plant Exchange, we live in the country with deer, rabbits, raccoons, and other animals that require an exclusion fence. Our raised bed has amended soil that grows root crops better than the clay soil in the fenced garden. The cover, made of a thin, manufactured cloth-like material, also acts as an out-of-sight barrier to animals. So with the garden cover, we can have additional garden space in another area. Some less desirable insects are excluded, but pollination is adequate under the cover for the root crops planted here.

Planted here now are two different radishes, two carrot varieties, beets, and turnips. The soil temperature measures 60 degrees F. today under the cover and is in the high 50’s in soil nearby. Organic fertilizer is applied to the area to be covered. Soil is lightly turned with a hand rake. Seeds are planted in areas rather than rows, and the space is lightly raked again. A sprinkler inside the cover supplies supplemental water. Check soil moisture every few days. Once harvested, other vegetable seeds may be planted or allowed to rest until August planting for fall harvest.

Materials are few and of reasonable cost. Lengths of ¼ inch-diameter PVC pipe form the frame for the cover. The garden cover shown allows one to kneel in the bed if needed. In this garden cover, the 12-foot pipe section is pushed into the soil about 12 inches or so for stability. Each pipe’s length and how many pipes are functions of the height and length of the commonly rectangular bed that you choose. The bed’s width should be accessible to manage and harvest in the center from the side with ease. Here is a view inside the garden cover.

Choosing a full-sun site for the garden cover is essential because it does limit light a bit, depending on thickness. “Row cover” is another name for the material ordered from sites such as Johnny’s Seed Company or Charlie’s Greenhouse Supply. Material needs to be thin enough to allow light but thick enough to withstand wind. Agribon row cover is the name of the material used here. Available dimensions of the material affect the dimensions of the garden. Some may re-use the cover. Spring clothespins hold the cover in place on the ribs of the cover. Allow an extra length of the cover so that bricks secure the ends and sides of the cover in place. Store materials after use. Some gardeners roll up and pin one or both sides of the cover to allow for vegetable flower pollination, but that doesn’t work when excluding animals.

The garden cover protects the plants that will grow in the soil and warms the soil in spring for early planting.

Add comments about your experience with garden covers if you wish. Happy gardening!

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