CREATIVE COVERS!
Kitchen Garden|April 2021
In this month’s instalment of Gardening on a Budget, Stephanie Hafferty explores how you can keep your crops warm in spring, utilising a range of household materials
Stephanie Hafferty

To make the most of my gardening space, I try to grow at least two crops in each bed every year, and often manage to grow three or four! Starting seeds off undercover (greenhouse, windowsill, or cold frame) and putting them out as transplants means that they have a head start, and should start producing delicious dinners up to a month earlier than seeds sown outside in April. Healthy transplants are less susceptible to slugs and other nibbling pests, too.

To save time, I don’t harden the plants off: instead I use crop protection for the first three weeks or so to ease the transition from a cosy greenhouse to the colder world outside. I’m often gardening in a T-shirt in the April sunshine, but nights can be bitterly cold and there’s a risk of ground frosts until well into May (and occasionally even snow).

FLEECE ALTERNATIVES

Horticultural fleece, a light polypropylene fabric, is useful for this. It comes in different weights: 25 or 30gsm is ideal, can last for years (I have some which is 10 years old) but it can be pricey. Avoid buying cheap fleece from bargain stores. It is too thin and rarely lasts longer than a season, easily ripping and shredding, which is a waste of money, unsightly and not good for the environment. Instead, look around you for alternatives to help protect your seedlings from ice, snow, cold wind and driving rain.

Cosy row covers need to be wide enough to reach across the bed so that the cover reaches the ground with no draughty gaps, with enough fabric for a ‘skirt’ that can be weighed down by stones or plastic bottles filled with water to prevent it from blowing away. Use stakes or hoops to suspend the cover above the plants so that the fabric is not touching the leaves. If damp fabric freezes against the plant tissue, it can be more damaging for the plant than being exposed to frost. Plant pots or yoghurt pots on top of strong sticks work well. If you live in an area with spring snows, the structure needs to be strong enough to support the row cover without collapsing under the weight.

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