Farmer Roy's Tip of the Month - December 2014
USING FLOATING ROW COVERS
Hello fellow gardening enthusiasts! YAY- we’re getting some rain!!! Cross your fingers and hope it will make a dent in our current drought condition. After the precipitation passes, things should cool down even more than they have this last month. It’s time to prepare for potential frost conditions.
Here at Sunshine Care, A Community of Assisted Living Homes, our organic gardens have really started to pump out the cool season veggies. We are harvesting many pounds of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, kale and cabbage. The citrus, especially the tangerines, lemons, limes and grapefruit, are really tipping the scales as well.
Our fears of frost start from mid November and last to mid February. Luckily, temperatures rarely dip below 30 degrees F. This means that nothing has ever been drastically frozen except when I try to plant my February tomatoes too soon. Also, it is very fortunate that the crops we grow during this time periodcan all handle light frosts. The flavor of broccoli, cauliflower and especially kale are even enhanced when it is cold.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to use “floating row covers” to help your crops this time of year!
Imagine, thin white blankets keeping your veggies warm during the late fall and winter. Not only will these UV treated polypropylene pieces of white fabric help prevent damage from a light to moderate frost, but they will actually extend your growing season. Depending on the thickness of the material you use, temperatures can be raised from 2-8 degrees F, while allowing air, light and moisture to pass through.Treat them with some care and they can be used for many seasons.
They are extremely easy to install. We have worked out a system that is a standard practice in the gardens. Our rows of vegetables are anywhere from 30-100 ft in length and roughly 20” wide. After we plant broccoli or whatever down the bed, we set in wire hoops every 6 ft., lay out the floating row cover and secure the fabric in the ground with wire staples. What we now have is a small greenhouse environment to keep the transplants warm and as another benefit, we get some PEST CONTROL. Rule #1 in my book as far as organic pest control is DON’T LET THE INSECTS GET TO THE PLANTS!
Eventually the plants will want to bust through the fabric, so we open things up. By then we have anywhere from 30-45 days of aphid and worm control, as well as quicker growth.
You can also just lay the fabric directly on the plants and it will float up as the crop grows.
Twice a week, we open up the row and perform cultural practices such as replanting, weeding and fertilizing. Then we close her right back up. EASY!
You can find row covers in many thicknesses, widths and lengths to fit your needs. There are many manufacturers to choose from on-line or just go to your local home and garden centers such as Grangettos in San Diego County.
Here are a few types you can find there. DeWitt 1.5 oz N-Sulate Frost Cover 12’x10’. We will use this on a young mango tree that we want to protect.
Winter Fabric- 12’x500’, 6’x250’ and 7’x500’. With the size of our gardens, we use the latter in the thinnest material available. It’s cheaper that way and we are only looking for a couple degrees of protection.
I recommend using wire hoops if you’d rather not have the cloth directly on top of the plants. I purchase 6 ft -12 gauge hanger wires from Home Depot or you can purchase them on-line.
Grangettos has the staples. So speed up plant growth, protect against frost, extend your harvest and keep the bugs off the plants by using floating row covers. If you would like to visit the gardens or learn more- contact me.
Roy Wilburn, Horticulture Manager at Sunshine Care in Poway, CA