Garden time – Row cover tutorial!

Spring is rolling along here in New England – I’ve calculated that we’re about 5 weeks from our last frost date, so the veggie gardening is getting busy. We built 3 raised beds this year and a cold frame to give the veg an extra head start. Everything is crammed in the sunniest corner of our backyard, but I like to think that the lack of space just makes us more efficient.

The peas and spinach are already up and rocking and the broccoli that I started from seed was begging to join them, but I had a bit of a problem. I’ve always learned to place a cloche (protective covering) over broccoli starts to protect them from cold nights, scorching sun, and wind. I grew up using milk jug tops… a really wonderful (and eco-friendly!) idea. However, we’ve been drinking milk from paper cartons so I did not have a ready supply of milk jugs. What was a gardener to do?

Gardening supply companies sell little plastic cloches and I called a few coffee shops to see if I could have some jugs, but then I did a little more research and shifted my game plan entirely.

I decided to build a mini-greenhouse… basically a cloche over the whole row of broccoli! It would shield the plants from sun, wind and frost AND I had all the materials on hand.

Step 1: Green branches of equal length were bent and inserted into the garden soil to form a row of hoops over the intended planting row. Flexible PCV pipes or wire hoops could be used instead – I just didn’t happen to have these.

Step 2: A length of heavy duty plastic was cut into a rectangular shape that would fit over the hoops with about 4 inches extra on each long side and enough plastic to reach the ground on the short sides. We had plastic left over from covering the wood for the winter, otherwise it is available at hardware stores. Water permeable row cover material would be great… again, I didn’t have that on hand.

Step 3: I cut 2 slits through the plastic on either side of each branch about 7 inches from the ground and used twine to tie the plastic to the branch. Zip ties or twist ties would also work here. I only did one side for now since I needed to plant!

Step 4: Plant and water!
Step 5: Tie the other side of the row cover to the branches and cut some holes along the top of the cover. This will allow excess heat to escape the row so that you don’t cook your baby plants.
Step 6: Cover the extra plastic on each side with a little soil. I set the ties fairly far up the branches so that I can roll up each side if we get a really hot day.
This cover should be useful for a few weeks while the broccoli gets well established and then I’ll be able to pick it straight up and likely reuse it on whatever needs it next. Peppers? Eggplant? Stay tuned!

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