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Barbara Pleasant: Row Covers

 
Cucumber beetles are too big to get through tulle netting, so it makes an ideal floating row cover for cucumbers. 
  
Mache (lambs lettuce) sails through my Zone 6 winters beneath a row cover tunnel.
They may look trashy, but row covers can add a month to the growing season in spring.
One of the advantages of tulle netting over regular row cover is that you can see through it. The watermelon seedlings loved it.

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Tulle netting over broccoli seedlings set out in summer for fall harvest.
Tulle is great for protecting ripe berries from birds, because it doesn't tangle with the thorns like bird netting does. Tulle doesn't trap hummingbirds, either.

When I know that bad weather conditions or a certain pest  threaten my garden, I let various breathable fabrics serve as barriers between my plants and the outside world. these are called row cover.


In summer when insects and deer are my main worries, I use lightweight tulle netting (also called wedding net) as well as some row covers I made from thrift store sheer curtains (only $2 each!). 


In spring and fall when low temps or harsh wind mess with my plants, I use regular spunbound floating row cover, because it's tougher stuff and it comes in wider widths. I keep two types on hand -- midweight row cover for protection from cold and wind, and very lightweight stuff when the main benefit I need is pest protection.


  

Working like a floating row cover, light pink tulle protected these eggplant from flea beetles all summer long.
You can use row cover or sheet plastic to make tunnel type cloches.
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row covers in vegetable garden
May 4: The garden came through the last frost undamaged thanks to myriad ghostly row covers.




A paper backing helps when sewing row cover or sheet plastic.

Tips for Sewing Row Cover and Sheet Plastic


Sewing row cover or sheet plastic to make custom plant protectors is easy if you use the right techniques.

 

Use perpendicular pins. Before you sew plastic or row cover pieces together, pin the edges. Place pins at right angles to the future seam, about 8 inches apart. Take them out as you sew.

Use long stitches. Whether you’re stitching spunbound row cover, tulle or other featherweight fabrics or plastic sheeting, long basting stitches work best.

Use a paper backing. My sewing machine can’t grip plastic or other slippery fabrics to properly advance the stitches, and push-pulling it through by hand is a good way to break a needle. Placing strips of tissue paper under the layers of plastic solves this problem, and the paper tears off easily. In a pinch, I have even used toilet tissue with good results.

When sewing row covers by hand, work only with the finished edges of tulle, row cover or other very lightweight fabrics. The long “selvage” edges of fabrics are reinforced, so you can sew them together with a needle and thread. Three years ago I hand-stitched a large tulle row cover for my vegetable garden, and the seam is still holding.



I sewed two covers for the outdoor plant shelf where I harden off seedlings – one made from plastic sheeting, and another made from a featherweight chiffon type fabric I found as a remnant. Sewing row cover and other plastic plant protectors give you a way to tame the wind and add slight warmth in unique plant-growing set-ups.


By hand sewing two pieces of tulle netting together lengthwise with needle and thread, I made a row cover big enough to fit over a metal tunnel frame. Take note: When leaves start pushing against the row cover, grasshoppers will start eating their way through it.


Row cover tunnels
Row covers are essential to getting a spring crop of cabbage and broccoli, which would never survive our spring wind storms without protection. Weeds grow abundantly beneath row covers, too.