Gardening can demand some tough choices when it comes to protecting your vegetables from insects.  Many people solve the problem the easy way by hosing down vegetables with a powerful insecticide like Sevin or whatever.  It definitely works, but I get goose bumps when I think about vegetables glistening with insecticides and more dripping into the soil.

My choice has traditionally been to not use any insecticide on a routine basis, and when I absolutely must, like when my potato plants turn up lots of little orange potato beetle larvae, then I dust the trouble spots with 1 percent Rotenone.  Rotenone is a white powder made from plant roots and stems, such as the Lancepod, a South American plant, and even the organic folks say to use it if you have no other choice.  It’s available at most garden shops and department stores.

But the method has its problems, too.  Sometimes an infestation is far along before you see it, and sometimes rains wash the powder off and it’s several days before you have a chance to dust again.  I well remember  a wonderful crop of egg plant that was decimated by flea beetles when I went off fishing for a week, and I rarely can get in a second crop of green beans because bean beetles filigree the leaves and nibble at the young green beans leaving unsightly bites on most.

Is there a solution?  Apparently so, and I found one in an issue of Mother Earth News.  The solution is fabric row covers.  They’re available in many garden catalogs, some department stores, and craft and fabric stores.  The white strips are sold in 60 to 90 inch widths and come in all sorts of sizes and thicknesses, from Agribon to Reemay and wedding net.

Traditionally, you’ll give your young plants a fair start, then hoe out any weeds along the rows and mulch each row well with grass clippings or straw over wet newspaper.  Next step is to cover the row with fabric and anchor down the sides with strips of 2×4, small stones, anything that will hold the fabric firmly attached to the ground.  For more delicate plants you might want to build a light framework of bamboo or sturdy wire bent into a half moon with ends jammed into the soil and the fabric placed on the wire.

Experts say that row covers often increase yields of peppers, strawberries, and cucumber family plants by more than a third.  They also stop rabbits and groundhogs, deer and other creatures from feasting on your bounty, and both let heat out and rain in.  Better yet, most can be re-used for several years, and will provide a little frost protection and damage from high winds.

If the covers have a problem, it’s that they prevent pollinating insects from reaching your plants as well as noxious ones, so certain kinds of vegetables should be allowed to pollinate before adding the covers.  Otherwise, fine mesh covers will keep flea beetles off your egg plants, and regular sixteenth inch mesh will effectively exclude the moths whose eggs hatch into army worms and cabbage worms.  Just drape them over cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc. and your problems are over.

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