I've always been intimidated by row covers.
They seem like a tool for the Professional Gardeners among us...you know, the ones who have a 3 acre garden which they cultivate entirely by hand? Plus, the prices of the row covers I have seen in gardening magazines would require me to sell a kidney to have enough funds to purchase one. Or if not quite kidney-worthy, maybe a lesser organ like an appendix. :)
Row covers can be invaluable though, even for the novice gardener. They let you get a jumpstart on the gardening season by creating a mini-greenhouse atmosphere, and they also let you extend the garden season by providing frost protection. Here's how to make your own for under 20 bucks:
How to Make a Homemade Row Cover:
1. Decide how large your row cover needs to be. I wanted mine to fit one of my veg garden beds, which is approximately 4x10. I spaced each piped support of my cover about 2 1/2 feet apart - so I had 4 pipes in my 10 foot row. You could space them a little farther apart if needed, but keep them relatively close so that your cover doesn't sag terribly.
2. Armed with this info, hit up your local hardware store. You will need to buy:
- 2 short pieces of rebar for each piped support
- a length of flexible PVC piping for each support
This sounds scary for the non-handy gardener, so here are my tips: Waltz in, and ask. :) Or...
Waltz in, find where the concrete is, and you will find the rebar. It's a metal bar/pipe, looks rusty, and will get your hands dirty. Take a wipe with you! The piping is a little trickier. I found it near the electrical supplies, but your mileage may vary. It comes in several lengths and a big coil, so your price may increase if your row cover is significantly larger than mine.
The waltzing is non-negotiable.
3. Pound the rebar into the ground using a rubber mallet. I found it was easier to slide the pipe on if I put the rebar in at an angle, but again, that may vary according to the size of cover you need.
4. Measure off the distance you need in between supports (see #1) and pound in the rest of the rebar you need for one side of the row cover. I used a very non-accurate wooden stake pictured above.
5. Slide one end of the pipe over the rebar. Making progress!
6. Use the pipe as a guide to determine where you need to pound in the other piece of rebar (on the other side of the cover). As an alternative, you could measure precisely first, pound in the rebar on both sides of the cover, and finally slide on the piping. My eyeball-as-you-go approach works too.
7. And there you have the row cover skeleton! The only thing left to do is cover it up. You can buy specific row cover material, or use a homemade substitute like sheer curtains. I've even heard of some magical stuff called shade cloth which helps you start cool-weather crops in the heat of summer.
I'm planning on testing out some different kinds of covers and ways to secure the covers in the fall, and I'll do another dirt cheap post on the results.
Looks a bit like Millennium Park, eh?
Can you imagine the sheer number of lettuces you could grow if they got a row cover on that? :)