Last year the biggest trend in gardening & garden supplies was container gardening, specifically in specialty bags (see HGWMG post “Its In the Bag”) for everything from lettuce to potatoes. This year it is crop protection tools, everything involving row covers. From pop-up insect screens to season extending hoop houses & cold frames, it seems the crop cover business is exploding.
Crop protection tools are exploding because they help gardeners achieve many goals. One of the most important in Minnesota is season-extension. By using a cover to insulate your plants you can help to warm the soil & keep the plant protected from chillier temperatures, thereby allowing gardeners to plant earlier & get plants to their full potential without as much concern for the weather.
Too much sun & heat can also be an issue, causing delicate plants to wilt or bolt too early so a shade cover can be used to shield those plants from the elements. For organic gardeners who would like to prevent insects (like the dreaded squash vine borer or cucumber beetle) from attacking plants, covers can be used to help prevent them from landing on your crop, but remember, the covers also prevent beneficial insects from landing, especially bees, so this tactic must be used judiciously.
In some areas birds are the biggest pest, in others rabbits or squirrels, with a crop protecting barrier these pests cannot penetrate to your plants, allowing them to thrive.
Some of the easiest row covers to install are floating row covers, basically specially made fabric you can lay over yourcrops to prevent insect damage or insulate the plants to protect them from extreme temperatures (hot or cold).
There are a few methods for using row covers, you can just float on top of plants & tack into the soil with landscape pins or you can build a structure to lay the fabric upon. Hoops are the most common support structure, which can be made from several materials, everything from half hula-hoops to more sturdy conduit. I purchased a hoop bender from Johnny’s Seeds to make tunnel hoops. Garden’s Alive sells different types of protective fabric that can be draped over the hoops from lightweight insect covers to frost protecting fabric.
Also available are numerous ready-made products like pop-up covers & tents that can work like greenhouses or can be kept up all season to prevent damage from insects or animals. The pop ups work especially well on raised beds, especially smaller ones which can be very convenient for short season extension and seasonal insect prevention and allows for easy storage of the tents when not in use. These also come in different fabrics, the polyeurethane plastic for greenhouse effect and then the mesh fabrics for either insect or bird protection.
If you are really ambitious and have a large garden space you can construct a hoop house, which is basically a permanent structure like a greenhouse, but is made of polyethylene instead of glass. Crops like tomatoes, peppers and strawberries, which generally need hotter, extended growing seasons are grown in hoop houses or high tunnels.
Commercial growers have been using the season extending row covers for years and now they have found their way to the home gardener. With so many options for so many purposes you should be able to find one that suits your needs from container gardening to larger production gardens, so get out in your garden & Hoop it up!