Spring Gardening Secret: Row Cover

The spring garden - hay mulch and row cover.

The spring garden – hay mulch and row cover.

I first started using row cover, or remay, after working on a local CSA farm for a season as a worker share.  Row cover is a light, white fabric that can be placed on top of garden beds.  I discovered that row cover was one of their secrets to getting beautiful vegetables earlier than I ever could in my garden.  In the spring after planting most of their seedlings, they would immediately cover the row of plants with row cover.  Inevitably the row cover would be too short on some rows, so several plants wouldn’t get covered.  In the weeks following, the difference between the plants that were under the row cover vs. those left out in the elements was remarkable!  The plants under the row cover were always bigger and more healthy looking, and the plants stuck outside were usually smaller and had more damage from insects, weather and wind.  This was all the convincing I needed to start using it in my own garden.

What advantages does row cover offer, you ask?  It traps in heat, which will help plants grow bigger and faster, especially in spring when temperatures are cold.  It keeps out insects like flea beetles by putting a physical barrier between the insect and the plants.  It traps in moisture so it helps in germination and can reduce how much you need to water. I always cover any bed where I seed carrots (and most other seeds) in row cover.  It will also protect your plants from bigger garden pests like rabbits and groundhogs.  I don’t have a fence in my garden, so row cover is how I keep my little seedlings safe from hungry rabbits.

Later in the season, lettuce and brassicas growing under row cover.

Later in the season, lettuce and brassicas growing under row cover.

Sunlight and water can get through the row cover, so you can use your hose and water right through it.  In my garden after planting a seedling I will mulch it and then cover it with row cover.  I don’t like to leave bare soil underneath row cover (unless I am waiting for a seed to germinate) because the weeds love it under there as much as the vegetables.  How long do you leave it on?  If you are using it on a crop that needs to be pollinated you need to take it off when the plant is flowering.  On crops like kale and broccoli, I usually leave it on until I think the plants are big enough that the rabbits won’t bother them.  In the past, I have left it on carrots the entire season until harvest, because each time I took it off the rabbits would start to eat the tops.  I have even come out into my garden and seen a rabbit sticking its head in a piece of row cover that had a hole in it and eating what was underneath!

When I started teaching people about using row cover I realized that it’s difficult to find around town.  Therefore, I will be selling 5’x25’ and 5’x50’ lengths of row cover at our Garden Pop-Up Shop on the next two Saturdays.  I am also selling row cover pins, which is my favorite way to secure the row cover. I’ll have plenty with me, but feel free to pre-order from my online store for pick up at the pop-up shop.  Each purchase of row cover comes with a sheet that explains how to use it and answers some questions I didn’t have room to address in this post.

Do you have other questions about using row cover?  Leave your question in the comments below.

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    Thanks for this Megan!!! We’ve had many problems with pests (large & small) for the past few years. I was going to try row cover this year and your post is exactly the help I needed. I am going to order some cover & pins from you. I’ll be at Macha this Saturday. Looking forward to seeing you!!

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    Me again.
    I tried ordering 2 of the 5×25 row covers, but only the 5×50 show up in my cart. Not sure what to do about that. I’m also wondering how many pins I’ll need for one 3×13 row in my garden? Do you use one whole package per row or don’t I need quite that many? I was hoping to pick these things up from you this Saturday. Thanks!

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    Some vegetables need to be pollinated and I think I am supposed to take off row cover for that. Can you explain please.

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