Garden Daybook 3/14/13


March 17 is the traditional day for planting peas, although the soil in my garden is usually too wet to plant. My list of “cool season” or early into the garden plants includes transplants of broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, celery, celeriac, leeks, onions, pak-choi, and direct seeding of peas, radishes and spinach. Peas and onions are usually the very first things planted in March or early April – as soon as the soil can be worked – meaning when it dries out enough to not clump up when squeezed. Everything else on the cool season list is planted in mid-to-late April.

The biggest challenge to early planting is heavy frost. I protect my early transplants with a polypropylene fabric called Reemay, row cover, floating row cover, or frost blanket. I order my row cover/frost blanket from Territorial Seed. I buy it in large rolls – 6 ft. x 50 ft., and cut it to length to suit my needs. Simply lay the fabric over your plants, allowing slack for plant growth, and anchor the edges with soil, bricks, or rocks. The fabric will keep your young plants protected from frost. Sunlight and rain go right through this fabric so you can leave it in place until the weather warms up and you are safely past the danger of frost. If a very heavy frost is expected I might lay old sheets over the Reemay for extra over night insulation.

If you decide to try row cover in your garden remember that it comes in different weights. The heavier, insulating row cover, is for frost protection. Insulating row cover keeps plants a few temperatures warmer than ambient air temperature and helps them through early spring or late fall cold spells. Don’t use the insulating row cover in the summer, or you will cook your plants.

These two pictures show how I use the summer weight row cover as an insect barrier. I swear that flea beetles hide around the edges of my garden, probably smoking cigars and playing poker, waiting for me to plant my carefully grown eggplant seedlings. I can hear them snicker and elbow each other and point at me as I plant my eggplant transplants. The minute I turn my back they find their way to the eggplant leaves and suck the life out of them. This frustrating scenario played out spring after spring. That is, until I figured out how to win the beetle battle. Exclusion turned out to be the magic word. No chemicals, no spraying, no dusting, no cursing. WooHoo!


I build tunnels with insect barrier row cover to keep my eggplant, broccoli and cabbages protected from invading insects. I use no. 9 wire to build hoops to support the row cover. Buy a roll of no.9 wire and cut it into lengths that will give you the proper height tunnel for your use. Be certain to make your wire long enough so that it can be pushed into the ground a good 5-6 inches and still be high enough for your plants height. Greg uses wire cutters to crimp the heavy wire and then simply snaps it apart.

A 64 inch length of wire makes a hoop tall enough to accommodate even a mature eggplant. I simply push the wire hoop into the ground to span the plants. I carefully stretch the row cover over the hoops and secure the ends with soil or a rock – look carefully at the first picture. The sides of the row cover should comfortably reach the ground. I push second hoops directly over the first hoops to complete the tunnel. Using two hoops, as shown below, keeps the cloth in place in the wind and rain. I can easily push the fabric up between the wires to open the tunnel for weeding or other maintenance and slide it back to the ground to keep insects out.

Plants that need insect pollination must have the row cover opened a few hours during the afternoon so the good guys can do their work. When the flowers are open simply push the row cover up between the two hoops and leave it there for a few hours. Then slide the row cover back to the ground until the next afternoon.

After a spring of protecting transplants fron frost or a summer of protecting vegetables from marauding insects, row cover fabric can look pretty beat up. Surprisingly, it is tougher than it looks. When my plants no longer need protection I carefully remove the row cover and wash it. Yes, I said wash it. I shake it off, run it through the washer on a gentle, cold cycle, and line dry it. I fold the pieces and stash them in a storage bin until next year. Treated carefully, row cover will last for several years.

Tulle can be used as an alternative to floating row cover. I often find bolts of tulle at rummage sales or GoodWill and find that it works well in place of row cover. Be aware that tulle can be abrasive to plant leaves. Always support tulle above your plants so the fabric does not come into contact with the plants.

Another problem with tulle is that it often is not wide enough to cover the hoops ground to ground. So, if you find a bolt of tulle, be certain it is wide enough to cover the size hoops you plan on using. If you sew you can simply stitch two lengths of tulle together to make a wider piece to cover your hoops.

The red-winged blackbirds are back and, even better, a good friend has told me that she has heard the first peepers! The air smells like spring and I cannot wait to get my fingers into the soil.

Hey from the farm,

Fran The Country Cousin

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Comments to: Garden Daybook 3/14/13

  • Tomma

    Someone has heard the peepers !?? Yippee. I think that makes it official. Well, after tonight anyway – yikes, 18 degrees. I’m finished with this cold weather, I’m ready for some 50’s.
    I like your idea of the 2 strands of the wire to ‘hold’ the Reemay. Great idea.

    I had to chuckle at the washing of the reemay. One year, I decided to wash mine, it looked great when I took it out of the washer – and then I threw it in the dryer !!! Lesson learned very quickly! When I pulled it out of the dryer, it had shrunk like shrink wrap and had to be thrown out. (darn, note to self, don’t do that again)


  • I wish I could say that I have heard the peepers but I have not. A friend insists that she has heard them though. The two strands of no.9 wird to hold the reemay works very well and makes it so easy to weed, etc.
    Sorry about the shrunken reemay. Oh well, lesson learned!

  • Karen breslin

    Hi Fran,

    I’m thinking this weekend might be it…time for peas !!

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