Kitchen Gardening

Protecting Your Investment

As green thumbs, we need to exercise every method available to protect our plants. Here are some options that really worked.

Photo/Illustration: All photos Greg Holdsworth

Have you ever had one of those “I’m SO glad I did that!” or “NOW I know why I did that!” moments? The late season snowstorm that hit the north Texas area this past weekend was a firm reminder of how we as green thumbs have to prepare for the unexpected. This means putting whatever measures we can afford into protecting our garden’s valuables, specifically seedlings and transplants.

If you grow most of your transplants yourself like I do, you know what a huge challenge it is, but also what a huge reward it is as well. I sometimes feel like a surrogate father to them, having seen the plants since before they were even born as seeds. To watch them sprout, get transplanted into larger pots, put out in the real world, and finally grow to the point of producing fruit is truly a humbling feeling. I also feel IMHO that this is one of the things that sets you apart from “average” gardeners—or as one of my gardening buddies said—makes you a gardener rather than just a “landscaper”.

It is this devotion that ultimately crushes you when some of what you’re growing gets ruined or destroyed. Overwatering, disease, bad soil, pests, drought, extreme temperatures, wind, animals, children, (even a Weed Eater in my case!) have all taken their toll on starter plants.

So it goes without saying that you have to expect the unexpected, watch the weather reports like a hawk, and once in a while like a gambler in Vegas, roll your dice and wish for the best.

Here are some of the protective measures I had in place in time for this weekend’s unusually late snow event, and what happened as a result. All of the stories had a happy ending.

Screen or Row Cover Fabric Covering
Soon after I finished building my raised beds last year, I began building a wood-framed “lid” for most of them. This had one purpose – to serve as a shield against pests and potentially damaging weather. I use both screen fabric and commercially-available floating row cover fabric for this. I was amazed as to how effective this was last Fall. It virtually eliminated pest damage on my greens and beans. My friends, this is beyond organic pest control, as you have eliminated having to apply anything to your plants. The concept is frighteningly simple—if the bugs can’t reach the surface of your plants, they can’t harm them!

This covering doubles as not only a wind-breaker, but in the case of this weekend, kept the 4-6 inches of snow off of my newly transplanted veggies that I put my heart and sweat into getting to this point.

Cloth Covering
Again, in the case of this weekend, it went over the screen fabric as a secondary layer of protection against the cold wind and snow. Later this Spring as well as in late Summer, it will simulate “shade” to shade-loving greens like lettuce.

Plastic Covering
In this case, I used painting contractor’s plastic film in the two garden plots I manage in my local community garden. They blocked the excessive wind that seems to be normal out there, and in this weekend’s case, blocked snow and simulated a small greenhouse, keeping the plants warmer than outside. Unfortunately, a couple of my community garden neighbors had planted tomatoes, peppers, and even squash transplants in their plots last week. Bad idea. Totally unprotected under 6-8 inches of snow, the plants became instant fatalities.

These are the ultimate in cold protection. I’ve had these set up in my community garden plots for a couple of weeks. As enough snow to hide your feet came down overnight, they easily protected the tomato plants inside of them. The included photos in this post prove this beyond doubt.

Cold Frame
I built this over two years ago, but it didn’t really serve duty as a cold protector until this season. It’s proven itself night after night as an amazing cold shield. As an added measure, I put an old comforter over it last night, not realizing that it would be almost completely covered in snow this morning. Again, the photos are the “pudding” in my proof.

If you have put your heart and sweat into your plants, it’s a no-brainer to protect them with whatever you have at your disposal. It isn’t rocket science or overly expensive. It’s simply great piece of mind.

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