In the Garden:
Neither bunnies nor bad bugs penetrate floating row covers, but broccoli seedlings love the protection and warmth.
Fall is a dream season for cool-season vegetables - and the pests that love them. Instead of hand-picking little cabbageworms from broccoli and other cabbage-family crops, I cover the seedlings with a floating row cover. The lightweight fabrics admit light and moisture but keep out insects, rabbits, and deer.
Floating row covers are light enough to simply drape over plants, but sometimes wind causes the fabric to rub too much on tender new growth. So it's best to hold the cover aloft, tunnel style. You can make tunnel supports from 10-gauge wire bent into hoops, or make hoops from half-inch PVC pipe, which you can cut with a hand saw. My favorite support structures are 6-foot lengths of concrete reinforcing wire, bent into arches. When fall gives way to winter, I take off the row cover and replace it with clear plastic. Although floating row covers will warm the air around plants, plastic is better for protecting plants from cold winter winds.
A Bug Barrier Too
Right now, when the need for protection from insects is paramount, make sure the edges of your row covers are secure so white cabbageworm butterflies can't lay their eggs on cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and - my favorite for winter - super-hardy Brussels sprout leaves. To secure my row covers, I tuck the side edges under boards, and use bricks at the ends to make it easy to open up the tunnels to peek inside.
Watch for Aphids
Don't get complacent once the row covers are on the plants. Check plants beneath the row covers weekly for signs of aphids. These small, soft-bodied, sucking insects often lurk in the garden unseen and colonize plants under covers. Musty gray-green cabbage aphids usually congregate first on leaf undersides. Pinch off leaves that have lots of aphids, and then spray plants thoroughly with insecticidal soap. Natural aphid predators are kept away by row covers, so you can't count on their help. If the aphids persist, treat plants again every 7 to 10 days.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!