Floating row cover

Yesterday, a friend of mine was asking what floating row covers are since I mention them frequently in my columns. I decided it wouldn't hurt to do a post about this topic because it's one of my favorite tools for growing a productive vegetable garden.

Floating row cover is a lightweight, woven fabric that looks very much like the interfacing seamstresses use to make shirt collars stiffer. You use it to cover plants to protect them from chilly weather early in the season, from damaging insects, and it can even be used to hide a crop from hungry critters.

Row covers let in air, light and moisture. It comes in varying weights, with the heavier row covers providing even more frost protection; those are called "frost blankets." Because the most common weight of row covers is so lightweight, plants can easily push them up as they grow.

Organic farmers frequently use floating row covers on crops that are susceptible to insect damage, rather than using nasty chemicals to control them. So it's very helpful in growing a garden organically.

It comes in various widths, but I buy 7-foot-wide covers from an online source because they fit over my raised beds nicely. I know that Northwest Seed & Pet carries large rolls of floating row cover. I think it's 5 feet wide and you just buy it by the linear foot.

The types of veggie crops that are particularly susceptible to insects include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower (aphids and those green cabbage loopers can be a problem for them), and beets and Swiss chard, which can attract leaf miners.

Since none of these crops requires pollination, I keep a floating row cover on those beds for the entire growing season.

I also like to cover some of my heat-loving crops -- tomatoes, winter squash, peppers, melons and pumpkins -- so they get off to a good start. However, these plants do need to be pollinated so I only keep them covered for the first couple of weeks, then it comes off so pollinators can do their work.

When covering one of my raised beds, I put black plastic hoops over my beds and lay the floating row cover on top of them. Then I weight down either end of the cover so the wind won't blow it away. Click on the above photo to more easily see it on a couple of my raised beds. If you are gentle with your row covers, they will last a few seasons.