For Jabbour, garden writer, broadcaster and web editor, this “undercover gardening” has been part of his life for at least 20 years and is now fully expressed, both professionally and personally. Her family gets up to three-quarters of the household products from the garden. And she can tell the world about it, especially in her new book, “Growing Under Cover”.
Covered gardening takes a number of forms that take the gardener through a maze of methods and terminology – cold frames, floating covers, mini-hoop tunnels, and polytunnels. Jabbour has a place in his heart for everyone, and with good reason.
Without this protected approach, she could expect a limited growing season from late May to early October. But with about 70 percent of her garden now under some sort of cover, she can harvest up to 30 winter crops.
Covered gardening techniques and timing differ in warmer regions and further south, but the concept remains the same. Row covers and the like allow gardeners to extend the growing season at both ends, shelter new seedlings and tender transplants, and exclude insects and larger pests – including deer – without chemicals .
There is also something in the air, as more and more market gardeners seem to embrace the idea of year-round farming, perhaps influenced by the models of local small-scale food farms that have changed the agricultural landscape in the past. over the past two decades. The pandemic stay-at-home paradigm has also shifted attention to the home garden and ways to alleviate food insecurity.
In my community garden of 150 plots, where we see more winter covers than before, the perspective is that of a hill of ghostly white shrouds protecting the greens. In my plot, I covered beds with kale and collard greens sown in the fall, as well as lettuce. Having a salad fresh from the garden in January is nothing short of royal.
Jabbour advises beginners to start with a cold frame, essentially a slanted frame capped with a transparent plastic or glass hinged cover; it is hinged because it needs to be ventilated when the winter days are too hot. Cold frames are great for starting seedlings a few weeks earlier and having transplants ready in April when you need them.
I find the row covers the simplest device. Poke hoops of wire or pipes into your grow bed every three to four feet and cover them with the long, narrow row blankets, a spun synthetic fiber that allows light and rainwater in. reach the growth bed. The fabric should be secured either by clips on the hoops or weights where the fabric meets the floor, or both.
Like Jabbour, I use either thick wire, cut to form the required arcs, or 1/4 inch PVC plumbing pipe. I put the pipe hoops into 12-inch sections of half-inch pipe that were driven into the ground. The covers are available in two or three thicknesses, the thinnest offering protection against light frost, the thicker against more icy weather.
Crib beds work in two other main ways. A row cover or shade cloth can be used to give spring plants the protection they need from sun, wind, and cold to prevent extreme wilting.
And during the actual growing season, a light blanket or insect repellent cloth can protect plants from pest insects. It can be the difference between having a successful harvest or not, without resorting to spraying. I am thinking of flea beetles on arugula and eggplant, potato beetles on potatoes, butterfly worms on cabbage, and harlequin bugs on cabbage and related varieties. But there are rules; you need to make sure the fabric is laid before the pest arrives and is sealed against incursions. For plants that need pollination, you should peel off the barrier when your cucumbers, squash, and beans, for example, are in bloom.
These various fabrics are available from seed supply and horticultural companies. You can spend anywhere from $ 20 to over $ 100 on them, especially when purchasing long cut lengths as needed. But they last for several seasons, and for an avid gardener, they offer the happiness of growing plants all year round. Sources for the covers include Johnny’s selected seeds; Fedco seeds; Territorial seeds; Supplies for the gardener; and Lee Valley.
It is improper to covet other people’s possessions, but I glance impatiently at Jabbour’s ultimate rank blanket, a greenhouse called a polytunnel, or high tunnel, whose frame is covered with greenhouse-grade polyethylene. Fourteen feet wide and 24 feet long, it is a place of utility rather than ornament. Economy is a virtue. She paid less than $ 3,000 for it; an ornate Victorian-style greenhouse of a similar size would have cost around $ 150,000, she laughs heartily.
Its polytunnel is not heated but traps the sun’s rays. Jabbour told me that last week, with outside temperatures around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, it was 66 degrees toast in the tunnel.
In the summer, she can sit in a jungle of upright tomato and cucumber vines, with the sides rolled up to provide ventilation and bee access to turn flowers into fruit. She squeezed a small patio with a bench in the corner, a place to relax with a cup of tea.
Such a greenhouse would be unbearably hot in the DC area from May to September, but as a retreat now, in the days that are lengthening into the middle of winter, it is a little slice of heaven.
Tip of the week
Garden tools can be cleaned, repaired, and sharpened now for the growing season. Wipe them down with an oiled cloth to prevent surface rust. Tighten the bolts on wheelbarrows and other equipment, and check the condition and inflation of the tires.