Oh, those little seedlings — how fast and tall some of them grow! Midway through the summer, they're big; by August, they're out of control. You compromise the health as well as the manageability of certain crops, not to mention their productivity, if you don't step in with some kind of support. And the time to do so is well before the plant becomes unwieldy. (Support is also important if your vegetable garden is out in the open and is occasionally subject to blustery winds.)
The time to get started on support is when a plant is a few inches high. The support is so much easier to position then, plus — and this idea's important — when you plunge a support into the ground near a seedling, you don't harm it or its root system. Procrastinate, and you may.
To secure the veggies to the support, don't use material that abrades or cuts into a plant, such as wire or twist ties; use something soft, like lengths of cloth (rip up old t-shirts or pillow cases) or plastic tape. Also, when you tie, loop one end around the support first, and then pull the tie over to the plant and make a loop there as well — like a figure-eight. Do this tying loosely. This way, the plant won't be harmed and can also move a bit, safely, in a breeze.
Vegetables that need or benefit from support include peas, pole beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, small squash and zucchini, mini pumpkins, and melons.
Row covers (Figure 13-11) are usually made of plastic or spun synthetic fabric. They serve as miniature greenhouses. They hold in heat, protect the plants against wind and in some cases shade the plants and reduce the plant's exposure to insects.
Garden dusters (Figure 13-12) are used to apply a very fine coat of powdered insecticide or fungicide to the surfaces of leaves. They're most effective when used early in the morning when there's no breeze and the leaves have dew on them so the dust can better adhere to the plants.
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