Protect Your Plants from Bugs

Protect Your Plants from Bugs with Row Cover

by Janet Parker, CAC

We've got some bugs in Madison community gardens. Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, cabbage loopers, asparagus beetles, and flea beetles are out there. And many beneficial insects are there too, even though sometimes we notice them less than The Bad Guys! CAC Community Gardens is offering advice and floating row cover to help you protect your vegetables. Read on....

Ask an organic vegetable farmer what is the single most important way that they control insects. Many will agree: floating row cover. This is a fabric that keeps bugs off your plants.

"95% of bugs you see in the garden are beneficial insects. That's why spraying broad-spectrum insecticides is such a mistake... you are killing many more friends than enemies." -- Dan Guenthner, Organic Farmer & Farming Instructor, Osceola, WI

CAC is offering this great organic insect control device at low cost to the community gardens in Madison. CAC will supply mid-weight row cover, which can be used throughout the season. It also can be rolled up and put away in the fall, then used again in years to come. With some vegetables -- especially in the squash family -- you need to take the cover off when the plants start to flower so that bees can get in to pollinate them.

Place row cover over your plants with enough slack for the plants to grow. Anchor all the edges with something heavy (dirt, boards or rebar all work well), so that the wind won't blow the row cover away and the bugs can't get in through cracks. Use large pieces if you can to cover several plants at a time or a whole row of seedlings.

Put your row cover on at the same time that you plant. Whether you use seeds or seedlings, take the time that day to cover your plants. Otherwise, bugs will get on your plants and then if you put on row cover later you'll be trapping the bugs in instead of out.

Row cover works very well to keep bugs off plants in the cabbage family (mustard greens, bokchoi, broccoli, arugula, etc). It also works like a mini-greenhouse for heat-loving plants like peppers, sweet potatoes and melons, giving them a real advantage if you put it over them when you plant them in early June. Remember that for melons, peppers, and other plants that need pollination, you need to remove the row cover when they begin to flower, or it will keep out the good guys (pollinator insects) as well as the bad guys.