fiber row cover really work in OK (tomato)?

nated(7)October 8, 2012

Fiber row cover:

I'm looking at it for my tomatoes. If you have used it, what was your experience?? I'm reading Texas tomato lover's handbook and mention climate improvement. thinking of wrapping cages with it for my early plants. I'm initially skeptical it will add any benefit. any OK experience, i'm all ears. thanks,

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I use floating row cover and have for many years. It is wonderful for extending the growing season at least a month, and sometimes much more, in both spring and fall.

I had read about the use of row cover in Dr. Sam Cotner's wonderful book on growing vegetables in Texas (the book is now out of print) as far back as the 1980s, I believe, and laughed and said to myself that I'd never go to "that much" trouble to raise vegetables. Well, obviously, I'm older and wiser now and use lots of it every year. I now regret that I waited probably at least 10 years before I decided to give it a try. It is superb. However, it has its limitations.

Floating row cover comes in different weights. Each different weight or thickness gives you a specific amount of protection from frost and cold temperatures, and each one allows a certain percentage of sunlight to penetrate the fabric. So, when choosing the row cover you're going to buy and use, do your research and choose the one that best meets your needs.

I've never used it to wrap single tomato cages because I don't want to cut it up into small pieces. I might do it that way if I only grew a few tomato plants, but I plant a fairly high number of tomato plants every spring, so I just leave the floating row cover in one piece and wrap it down one side of the caged plants, then around the corner and wrap it up the other side of the whole row. I use clothespins to secure the ends of the fabric together at the cage where they meet up, then fold the piece from either side of the long rows over the tops of the cages and pin the tops down to the tops of the cages with clothespins. I secure the bottom of the row covers to the ground using U-shaped metal pins sold by the same suppliers who sell the row cover.

Before I started using floating row cover I used to wrap individual cages with 4 or 6 mm clear plastic for the first 4-6 weeks the plants were in the ground, but the plastic isn't as suited as the row is for this purpose. With plastic, air flow is impeded so you can have disease issues develop and you also get the greenhouse effect within the wrapped cage. In one way that is a good thing because the plants grow faster, but it can be a bad thing because they're growing in unnaturally warm conditions and can suffer greatly on a cold night. Plus, any part of the plant that touches the plastic freezes, which doesn't happen with floating row covers. That's why I stopped wrapping the cages in plastic.

The benefits of using a floating row cover? Frost and freeze protection varying from 2 degrees to 10 degrees depending on the weight of the row cover you use. Protection from the wind. Exclusion of many insects that like to attack young plants. Because the row cover holds in some heat at night, protected plants tend to flower and fruit earlier. Or, if using it in the fall, you prolong the harvest substantially.

Do I think the use of floating row cover is worthwhile? Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.

Wrapping tomato cages with it is only one of the many ways it is useful in our climate.

Because all the cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, etc.) are prone to damage from cabbage loopers and imported cabbage worms, gardeners have to spray them regularly with Bt 'kurstaki' to reduce or eliminate the caterpillar damage, or hand-pick and destroy the caterpillars daily OR just cover the plants with row cover and not uncover them until it is time to harvest.

Because squash vines are prone to damage from squash bugs and squash vine borers (which quickly kill the plants), as gardeners we are constantly looking for ways to defeat the SVBs and keep our plants alive and producing. The answer? Covering the plants with floating row covers. (You do have to uncover the squash for pollination.)

Some plants like eggplant, radishes, tomatoes and potatoes often suffer tremendous damage from flea beetles in early through mid-spring. The solution? Floating row covers.

And, I'd like to add that Dr. Adams' new book is just about my favorite tomato growing book of all time. I've been waiting forever for someone to write a book specifically about growing tomatoes in the kinds of soils and climate conditions and weather we have here in this part of the country, and at long last, it has happened! While the chapter on growing tomatoes in Dr. Cotner's book was helpful, I had longed hoped for more in-depth writing on the subject, and Dr. Adams' book is it. If Dr. Adams says something is so, you can take it to the bank. He trialed tomatoes in southeast Texas for 3 or 4 decades as a part of his work (and as a part of his gardening lifestyle too) and there's probably no one in this part of the country whose tomato-growing knowledge is superior to his. We are further north than most of Texas, but except for the fact that some of us have colder weather than what he is used to in his part of Texas, our conditions are very similar and his advice works as well for us as it does for the Texans for whom the book was written.


    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 2:47PM
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Row cover does help but only provides a few degrees of protection. If I were going to use it for early tomatoes, I would probably cage the tomatoes, wrap the cages in clear plastic so it is taller than the tops of the plant and leave the top open. Then just drop cover over the top, if it is going to be cold. Since it would only be over them for the short term, you could use the heaviest row cover made which is for frost protection, but doesn't allow enough light to be left on permanently. Even the heaviest will be light enough in weight not to hurt the plant.

In Spring I try to wait until it is a safe time to transplant tomatoes and when my plants are still small and frost threatens, I usually just cover with plastic flower pots. I use lightweight row cover over anything that the bugs are likely to bother, squash, broccoli, as soon as I plant. So in the Spring, I use the lighter weight row cover, actually not the lightest, but the 2nd to lightest as insect protection more than protection from the weather.

During this past summer when the weather was so hot, I used row cover above my peppers to keep them from getting sun scald. It was mounted above, so there was still air space, but it eliminated some of the harsh rays.

Last Fall I had a lot of pepper plants planted in one spot and some had not matured. I just made a big "pen" using tomato cages and wrapped row cover around it. It was not a good piece of row cover and was not in perfect condition. In fact, it was several years old. I used clothes pins to hold it on the cages, and tried to pin it so the holes were closed. LOL Then I threw a piece of old used greenhouse plastic over the top. It only covered the top, so nothing could overheat because air could escape through the sides of the row cover. The week after Thanksgiving, I took it down and ripped out the still green pepper plants. Everything else in my garden was gone, except those peppers.

When you use row cover in the Fall, the ground is warm and the row cover traps the ground heat and holds it around the plants, but it seems to me that in the Spring, you are benefiting most from slowing down the Spring winds. In the fall you are slowing down the escaping heat.

I guess that to answer your question, we would need to know in what part of the state you plant, in what time of year you are trying to protect the plants, and if you plant seed or transplants.

I have used row cover for years, and love it, but I have not used it for tomato plants. I prefer buying the rolls that are 10 feet wide rather than large pieces, but that's what works for my gardening style. I bought 500 feet this Spring, so I am good for several years. LOL

I had a large piece that I used in the Spring for insect protection then put it away for the summer. In the Fall, I got it out and put it over a long bed that I had planted to grow through the winter and it's purpose this time was to keep the grasshoppers from eating the young plants. The bed had hoops made of electrical conduit so the row cover was suspended on those. We had a hail storm with golf ball size hail a few weeks ago and of course it went right through the top of the row cover where it hit straight-on, and made small tears where it hit on the sides. It also went through the cover on my bar-b-que grill, so nothing was safe. That piece of row cover will never be good enough to use for insect protection, but when I put greenhouse plastic over my low tunnel, I put that piece over the tops of the plants to give them a second layer of protection from the cold. It is 60 today so I had to vent the plastic, but the row cover is still in place.

So should you buy row cover for tomatoes? I don't know. Should you buy row cover? I think you will benefit greatly from having it available.

By the way, I am in the NE corner of the State and only a few miles from Missouri.

I have been typing for so long, that others have probably answered you questions with a better answer. LOL

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 3:24PM
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HaHa, see! Dawn is as far south as you can go and still be in Oklahoma, and I am in the far NE, and have very different growing conditions, but we both use row cover. Hope you found your answer.

We are freezing peppers this morning. I'm washing and de-seeding and Al is cutting them in fajita type strips. I think we have a couple of gallons of sweet to mildly hot already stripped and ready to bag. That's not so bad, but now I have to face the mound of hot peppers (as soon as I decide how to fix them).....Carol (who will have hot hands in just a bit).

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 3:36PM
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pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)

Good advice from Dawn and Carol about different ways to use row cover. Once you have row cover, you'll find many more ways to use it. (Same with a tractor)

I use row cover to grow lettuce and tender greens for salads through fall, the coldest months of winter, and into spring. In late Sept-early Oct, I plant mesclun and lettuce seed in salad beds, and cover those beds with row cover. Because temps are warmer under the row cover, seed germinates faster. The lettuce and salad greens grow faster when they are protected from cold temps and wind.

When temps are below freezing and days get short, the salad greens stop growing but they don't die. The plants are big enough to provide fresh salads every day from November through late April- early May.

Fresh salads are big hits at holiday dinners, they feel luxurious. My expense is the cost of a couple of packs of seed. Contrast that with the cost of bags of salad greens at the store. We save hundreds of dollars on salads every year!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 4:04PM
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