Making Floating Row Covers

As I shared in a previous post, last year we battled the squash vine borer in our garden and lost some plants (squash and zucchini) to this insect.   I knew at the end of last year that I had to find a solution.  We garden organically so I spent some time reading about different controls that would stop this insect from attacking again. 

I kept reading about Floating Row Covers in books but for some reason I had a hard time figuring out how they would work and what they would look like.  I finally did a Google search and discovered they were just a special type of fabric made out of spun fiber which you cover your plants with.  The idea is to create a barrier between the insect and plant that sunlight and water can still pass through.  Overall this seemed to be the most effective method for organic gardening. 

So this year we were ready to try out the Floating Row Covers.  Our raised beds had already been designed with 1" pieces of PVC pipe screwed inside.  We just needed to add the 1/2" pieces of PVC pipe to form the semi-circles to hold up the fabric.  

1/2" pieces of PVC pipe being added to Raised Bed
As far as the fabric goes I ordered 2 different types from Gardener's Supply Company.  The Garden Quilt fabric and then the Summer weight fabric.  I decided that would allow us the most flexibility.  The Garden Quilt fabric would allow us to start planting earlier in the spring and later in the fall (for light frosts down to 24 degrees).  The Summer weight fabric was lighter weight and would be used the rest of the season when it was warm outside. 

Once we got the fabric my next challenge was figuring out how to secure it over the raised beds. I tried earth staples that were metal and then plastic.  The strong winds ripped those out of the ground and the fabric was flapping in the breeze.  Finally I did some more research and came up with a new design using green metal plant stakes and large metal binder clips. 

I decided to share this design because it has really helped us.  Its simple to use and saves me time when tending to the plants.  It will also extend the life of the fabric because its not tearing holes in it.  Instead you just slide out the plant stakes at the end of use and fold the fabric to store for the next year.  I have also already switched from the Garden Qulit fabric to the lighter Summer weight fabric.  I just slid out the plant stakes from one type and put them in the other type of fabric which saves resources.

MATERIALS NEEDED (per raised bed):
1/2" PVC pipe cut into (5) 5 foot sections
(2) 7 ft. coated green metal plant stakes 5/8" dia.
(2) 4 ft. coated green metal plant stakes 1/2" dia. 
(10) large binder clips 
12 ft. garden fabric*

*I ordered the 6' x 50' size in both fabrics and they covered all 4 raised beds with a little fabric left over 

Step 1: Cut Fabric to 12'-3" length
Step 2: Fold both long edges of fabric over 2 1/2 inches then pin fabric. Repeat with both short sides of fabric but pin fabric over 2 inches.  All four sides should be pinned ready to sew.  See images below for more detail.
Close-up of pinned fabric
Step 3: Sew all four edges of the fabric.  See images below for detail on finishing ends.
2 inch overlap on 2 shortest ends
2 1/2 inch overlap on 2 longest ends
Step 4: Finish off the ends where the 2 sewn edges meet.
Make sure to leave opening on ends for green metal plant stakes to go through.
Remove any pins left in the fabric.
Your fabric should now look like this with all four ends of fabric sewn.
Step 5: Lay out the green metal plant stakes.
Match the two longest stakes to the longest sides of he fabric and
the two shortest to the shortest sides of the fabric.
Step 6: Slide green metal plant stakes into each sewn pocket
Note: you will have extra fabric when you slide the plant stake into the pocket.  Just gather it onto the stake and then after you place it on the bed you can slide the extra fabric to the end.  Its better to have some extra for wiggle room!

Insert 1/2" PVC pipe (to form hoops) into 1" PVC already in raised bed
Add bricks (or other weight) to ends
Gather extra fabric at edge
Gathered fabric
Clip with large binder clip and push down toward green metal plant stake.
Make sure green metal plant stake is secured under binder clip. 
The floating row covers can be left in place all year if you are growing root crops (such as carrots, turnips, and onions) or leafy greens.  If the crops need to be pollinated to produce (beans, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and others) you will either need to remove the row covers when they start to flower or pollinate by hand.   

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