Floating row covers

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Floating row covers are among the best things ever to happen to veggie gardeners. The material, which is like cheesecloth, is lightweight and lets air, light, and water through it, but it blocks insects that can attack vegetables. Also, when row covers are used on newly sown plants in the spring, they keep the air and soil a little warmer, thereby helping seeds germinate faster and young plants grow more quickly.

I use floating row covers on my peppers in spring to ensure an early harvest of fruits, because pepper flowers need warm air temperatures. The row covers help at the other end of the season, too, by holding in heat and moderating the cool autumn-night temperatures.

For vegetables that require pollination by insects, such as pumpkins and squash, remove row covers as soon as you see the first flowers. For crops that don't need pollination by bees, such as lettuce and broccoli, you can leave the row cover on throughout the growing season — as long as it doesn't hold in too much heat. The row cover prevents cabbage moths, aphids, and other pests from getting to your vegetables. You can support a row cover with wire hoops or just lay it right on the top of vegetables. It's so lightweight that the veggies will lift it as they grow.

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