Ground covers and row covers provide protection for crops on the farm in a number of ways. Ground covers allow for chemical-free suppression of weeds, cutting down on maintenance on farms, in gardens, and for use as greenhouse flooring. They can be used between growing rows of vegetables to protect paths. Ground covers can also be placed under potted plants to prevent weeds from growing up through drainage holes.
Row covers provide protection from erosion, frost, snow, hail, pest pressure; insects, deer and rabbits, as well as high winds that can all be detrimental to crops. They also help warm the soil in preparation for planting, giving the grower a head start to the season. Some farmers use row covers on low caterpillar tunnels to protect prepared beds through the winter for easy Spring planting.
Ground covers are a protective barrier, often made out of woven polypropylene plastic, that are placed directly onto the ground as a layer of defense for weeds. The two most common types of ground covers used in intensive farming systems are silage tarpsand landscape fabric.
Both types of covers can be held in place using weights like sandbags or by using fabric staples. Fabric staples or pins are best for greenhouse ground cover fabric as they hold the edges firmly throughout the season. While they can be used for silage tarp it is best to avoid poking holes in your silage tarp if possible.
Preventing Weeds in a Hoop House or Greenhouse
Preventing weeds in a hoop houseis usually a multi step process depending on whether you are preparing to build or attempting to remediate weeds in an existing structure. It is highly suggested that you use some type of weed barrierin any permanent pathways as a form of greenhouse flooring to save yourself labor in the long run. Check out this great tutorial that takes you through the process of laying landscape fabric before a hoop house build.
Within an existing structure you can use landscape ground cover fabric between rows and raised beds to prevent weed growth. Once the fabric has been secured you can easily sweep it out to keep your greenhouse floor tidy. It can also be used as a weed barrier under-layer when adding additional greenhouse flooring like gravel.
Before you build a structure you will want to remove any existing weeds using traditional tillage or through the solarization method described below. We also recommend laying plastic ground cover around the perimeter of any high tunnel or greenhouse to prevent weeds from encroaching. This has the added benefit of keeping you from having to use anything like a weed whacker that could cause tears near the greenhouse floor plastic.
Silage tarps are made of UV-treated poly plastic. The tarps are often used as a form of weed management. The plastic creates a moist and warm environment, perfect for seed germination. The tarp deprives the new growth of light. The newly emerged seedlings become "leggy" and weak. This method works to exhaust the seedbed of these weeds. After removing the tarp, you can easily cultivate any surviving weeds with a hoe or torch them with a weed burner. Alternatively, the tarp can be left in place as a weed barrier until you are ready to plant an area.
This method of tarping is an old French farming practice referred to as solarization. It has seen a revival with the help of farmers like Elliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier. Solarization creates a 'stale seedbed' where weeds' seed bank has already been severely depleted before a crop enters the soil. This process controls weed growth in rows by ensuring there are far fewer weeds to begin with. Check out this article for more information on the process.
Uses For Plastic Ground Cover Fabric
The ground cover fabric that Bootstrap Farmer carries is made from woven polypropylene plastic, UV resistant, porous, and durable. The tightly woven plastic of the Heavy Duty Landscape Fabricworks very well for walkways, in high tunnels, as a greenhouse ground cover fabric, and in-between rows.
Top 5 Ways to Use Plastic Ground Cover on the Farm
Template for plant spacing (We recommend burning holes instead of cutting to prevent fraying.)
*A handheld propane torch works very well for creating holes in greenhouse ground cover fabric. By burning the fabric instead of cutting it, you get a nicely sized round hole with edges that will not fray. Make sure you are wearing thick flame resistant gloves for this step and that you have a hose with a sprayer attachment handy to put out stray flames.
Floating Row Covers for Garden Crop Protection
Frost blanketsare commonly used for protecting plants from cold weather and for pest protection. They are made from spun-bonded polypropylene. The porous design allows air, water, and nutrients to pass through and allows for varying degrees of light transmission.
Frost blankets of 4 oz. weight provide up to 10+ degrees of protection from frost. The thick material only allows for around 40% light transmission. This type of blanket is used to protect cold-hardy crops like brassicas from winter damage. Check out Frost Blanket: How to Use It and Whento learn more about this application.
ROW COVERS FOR SEEDLING GERMINATION
Row covers are a lighter, spun-bonded polypropylene cover used to protect plants as they establish. They offer less frost protection but are perfect for germination and light coverage. The material is the same as our heavyweight row cover fabric used as a frost blanket but comes in 1.5 oz and 2.5 oz options.
Row covers significantly increase germination rates compared with the use of other mulching techniques like hay or straw. They help maintain even soil moisture throughout the early growing stages. Cover the bed with the fabric after direct seeding and water them in. The fabric helps to retain the moisture level while the new seedlings grow. The cover allows water and air to flow through while helping to retain moisture levels in the seedbed. The fabric also protects from damaging, direct sun exposure.
INSECT NETTING FOR PEST PROTECTION
Insect netting is designed to be a protective barrier for plants against pests. High-quality insect netting is often the first line of defense against pest pressure and can also be a tool for containing beneficial insects and pollinators. Read The Importance of Beneficial Insects for Your Greenhousefor more information on what beneficial insects to consider. Mesh netting comes in different sizes to exclude or contain certain insects. Mesh sizes are measured by the number of holes per linear inch of fabric.
The insect nettingthat Bootstrap Farmer offers contains patented technology developed by a manufacturing process that adds various additives to the net to block and reflect UV radiation. The additives in this netting reflect and blind the insects before they can reach the netting. In addition, the mesh provides a barrier for any pests that make it past the UV barrier. This is especially useful in high tunnels with sidewall roll up kitsthat are installed with sidewall insect netting.
Netting should be installed immediately after transplanting or seeding. Install using row cover support hoops or drape directly onto the plants. Be sure to completely seal the edges of the netting using rocks and soil to prevent gaps. Read Insect Netting for Pest Protectionfor more information on this application.
Cost-Saving Tips for Protecting Your Crops
Thoughtful use of good quality; floating row covers, plastic ground covers; weed barrier, or path coverings, and insect netting can greatly increase your farm’s production. Both by protecting from natural elements, be they weather or animal, and by decreasing your overall labor hours.
Proper care and storage of frost blankets, shade cloth, floating row covers, and insect netting will allow for multiple seasons of use. We recommend drying out and folding all coverings before storing them at the end of the season out of direct sunlight.
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