It’s sowing and growing time again and if you’ve done a little spadework in the garden and added some compost, animal manure or fertilizer, and a sprinkle of lime where required, there’s no reason in the world why you shouldn’t have a successful harvest. Unless, of course, you forget to protect what you planted.
Plants don’t have a lot to call on when it comes to self defence so when it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry or too windy (and these nasty conditions often come in an unwelcome combo), plants tend to sulk or, at the very worst, turn up their toes and die. When cats, dogs, bugs, birds, the pet lamb (and small children) decide they want to enjoy the garden, too, your plants stand even less of a chance. That’s a pity when protecting what you grow isn’t difficult. Just think of your seedlings as helpless babies and you’ll soon get an idea of how to look after them.
Always begin with a basic netting cover over your garden. The best way to erect a frame for netting is to bend into hoops lengths of polythene, number 8 wire, flexible willow or bamboo, and push their ends into the ground at each end of the bed. Throw over strawberry netting and anchor it at the sides and ends with brick or stones (always gather up loose ends to ensure birds don’t get caught in the excess). This basic netting keeps out everything except the cold (and the possible goat or deer!). If you can’t lay hands on hoop-making material to create a frame, use sticks instead. Push them into the ground and cover their tops with cans or pottles. These will protect the netting when it goes over the frame.
Now you’re ready to roll with the next needed protection. If the cold sets it, cover the netting frame with sheets of recycled plastic (ask for it at furniture shops and join it together or mend rips with clear tape). Throw the plastic sheet over the netting and weigh it down with bricks or stones, or hold it in place with strong clothes pegs. Don’t forget to remove the plastic when the cold snap is over or you’ll cook your seedlings. Plastic will also keep lashings of rain off your garden if the weather is unseasonal, and help the ground to dry out.
If heat is the problem, or you want to shelter newly transplanted seedlings from the sun, cover your netting frame with shade cloth or sheets of newspaper held on with clothes pegs. As young plants harden up, remove the covering to let in more light.
Wind is tedious (plants find it so, too!). Windbreaks tend to create shade in the garden which is not always desirable. Instead of erecting a permanent shelter belt, cover individual seedlings with clear plastic soda bottles cut in half and pressed into the soil. Remove the caps from the bottles to release heat so your mini glasshouses don’t become over heated. Keep climbing plants such as peas and beans well staked from the outset so they have strong tendrils to hold them in place in windy conditions. If you live in a very windy spot, grow your climbers on tee-pees so, in the worst wind, you can wrap a sheet of plastic or shelter cloth around them (anchor it with clothes pegs) for protection.
Bugs and beasties can cause just as much problem for plants as the weather. From the moment you sow seed or transplant seedlings, protect with slug and snail bait. Keep a watch for aphids and squish at the first sign or, if an infestation has developed before you realised it, remove the worst affected plants from the garden (it hurts to do so but it can save your remaining crop). The very best way to protect plants from bugs is to feed and water them well. A healthy plant is less prone to attack, and if it does attract bugs, it has more chance of recovery.
It would be nice to think that all the work was done when the seeds or seedlings are in the ground but you’re just kidding yourself if you think your garden can look after itself. Mind you, once the protection is in place, it pretty much can!