How to beat Mother Nature
Last year I decided to beat Mother Nature by covering my plants until the middle/end of June. It was the first year I put in strawberries and I knew I needed to protect them. It ended up being a horrid year for tomatoes, with cold, windy weather until the end of June that killed many tomato plants, but mine were all snug and warm in their covered raised bed.
Results of Online Research
I did a lot of research into materials and ways to cover your plants, and found for me the least expensive, most durable materials for the job. I started out by buying garden clips from Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon (see link to left of posting). Nichols is on of those dream suppliers - even though they are not far away, I order by mail because going there is too much temptation!. They sell garden clips in two sizes; I purchased the one for using 1/2" plastic poly pipe. Instructions are in the package. I initially bought two packages of 30 clips - not cheap, but I expected to use them for years and years to come. I also bought two different weights of row cover material. But after doing additional research this year, the best buy for row cover I could find is from Gardener's Supply Co ( see links). This spring I ordered from them a pkg of medium weight row cover, 6' by 50', for $18.95. this is the best deal from any online store I could find. I found less expensive at a wholesale place for greenhouse supplies, but the shipping was too expensive, making Gardeners the best deal.
Strawberries in Raised Beds ready for row cover
The cost of installing row cover
For covering raised beds, I started with some 36" rebar from the lumber yard - about $1.80 each. That turned out to be 8 for each 6' bed. I bought a 50' roll of black plastic poly pipe - 1/2". I don't remember exactly how much it was, but it wasn't that much - probably around $9 -$11. This is the same pipe that you use for drip irrigation, so it stands up to the UV rays better than PVC pipe ( and less expensive). I pounded in the rebar, cut the poly pipe to the size I wanted to make a nice arch, and pushed the ends down over the rebar. You can't see it in the pic above, but in the front where I get so much wind, I also used plumbing clips to anchor the pipe to the box. a pkg that did most of my boxes in front cost me a few dollars.
Last fall I cut off a lot of the runners from the plants above and planted them in a new box, and then covered them with a foot of loose straw for the winter. when I took the straw off in February, I put the row cover back on. You can see the advantage - after almost 9 straight weeks of cold, rainy, windy weather, the berries are covered with blossoms and are really healthy!
Strawberry babies from fall 2010 - blooming in early April 2011
A Promise Kept - Early Peas
I promised myself this year that I would plant peas in February. But I was smart and covered them up! Two days after I planted peas, chard and spinach, the forecast was for 18 degrees! Ack! And then it started to rain - we broke records this year with rain - out of 31 days in March, it rained for 29 or 30, lost count. And it rained in February and April, so we have had almost two months straight of rain. Fellow gardeners at work have watched the peas they planted at the same time flood, and never germinate. Here are my peas:
Tall Telephone Peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II
Sewing Room turned Plant Nursery
First Year for Asparagus
I am happiest about my new asparagus bed. We love asparagus! Even my granddaughter loves the tender shoots. I prepared a bed for them in late winter, but made sure after I planted them that they were covered:
Advantages of Row Cover
The great thing about row cover is that it lets through 70 - 85% of the light, and some of the water, so I don't have to worry about watering, and the tender plants are protected during the torrential spring downpours - I don't have to worry about hailstorms, thunder showers, etc smashing new tender plants, or the cold wet soil rotting my seeds. When there is a little sun, it warms the soil in the raised bed quickly. Temps under the row cover are 10-15 degrees above outside air temps. That means that on a really warm day (60 degrees?), I open the ends in the morning so the plants don't get overheated and close them at night. If you have problems with bugs, or birds, you can use the summer weight row cover to protect your crops. (Check out the links for both summer weight and regular weight row cover)
Tomatoes from late spring 2010 - ready for row cover
Tomatoes in August 2010 - huge, prolific, thanks to the row cover
Final thoughts - Protect your investment
I know that having a garden is partly about saving money on food. And that there is a cost involved in purchasing garden supplies like this. But this is all about the infrastructure of your garden. why invest in seedlings if you can't protect them? I used all the row cover I bought last year, and the row clips, and bought more this year to cover the rest of my boxes. It withstood 60 mph gusts, without tearing. I plan on using this row cover and clips and poly pipe for years before having to replace them - they will extend my growing season and protect my investment in seeds and plants. And, you don't have to have raised beds to cover your plants - instructions with the clips show you how to cover your beds with just the rebar and poly pipe.
Good luck beating Mother Nature!