Nardozzi: Garden cover ups

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(HOST)  Fall arrived this week, but Charlie Nardozzi has some easy ways to extend the harvest a bit longer.

(NARDOZZI) I’m a big proponent of gardening until the weather stops you. For me, that means planting cool season crops such as spinach, lettuce, radish, beet, and mesclun now so I can continue to harvest them later in the fall. These plants grow well with the cool fall temperatures and don’t require much protection until a deep freeze. But the summer has been tough on my warm season vegetables. The tomatoes that withstood the blights are slowly ripening, along with peppers, eggplants, and okra. My wife Wendy’s melon patch has all the promise and growth of melons in late July. Too bad it’s September instead.

So, along with my plan to plant cool season crops, I’m looking to protect my warm season veggies as well. I’m going to use some garden cover ups to do it. That way I hope to squeeze another few weeks out of my Shelburne, Vermont growing season.

Probably the easiest and most effective material to use to protect warm season crops is a floating row cover. This white, lightweight, cheesecloth-like material lets in air, light, and water, but traps heat at night from the soil so plants stay a little warmer. In fact, some row covers can protect plants down to 26 degrees. My warm season crops need to stay warmer than that, so as soon as the nights dip into the 40Fs, out come the row covers. The nice thing about this product is since it breathes, you don’t have to take it off during those occasional hot, sunny, fall days.

Another product I may try to protect smaller plants are wall o waters. They are most commonly used in spring to get tomatoes off to a fast start. The plastic cylinders have sleeves that you fill with water. The top collapses into a teepee form and protects the plant from the cold. As the water freezes in the sleeves, it gives off heat. So why not try a wall o water on small plants such as a favorite hot pepper or eggplant? As long as the cylinder can fit over the plant, it should work.

Of course, there’s always cold frames. Instead of building a permanent cold frame, you can use a temporary one on a bed of low growing plants such as greens. You can buy a commercial product or construct your own made from 2 by 4s, PVC piping, and clear plastic. Simply make the cold frame base the size of your bed, with the wood narrow-side up. Drill holes in the tops of the 2 by 4s and bend the PVC tubes to form hoops over the top inserted into the holes. Then stretch and secure the plastic over the hoops. Vent it during the day by propping open the bottom or leaving the ends unsecured.

So whatever device you come up with, protect some of those veggies and hope for a sunny warm fall. Maybe Wendy and I will be eating melons this year after all.

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