Agribon in the Garden

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Farmers and gardeners are discovering the benefits of using agribon in the garden. Also known as “row-cover”, this lightweight fabric is the key to extending your growing season and protecting crops from insects. I’ve used it in the past on brassicas to deter the cabbage loopers and had great success. This year I am using row cover on my cucurbit-family crops to protect them from cucumber and squash beetles always seem to devastate my tender young seedlings. I’m hoping the insect barrier will give my vining crops an advantage that results in an increased yield from a crop-family that I’ve had mixed results with in the past.

What is it?

agribon in the gardenAgribon is a non-woven fabric that is ultra light and resistant to exposure to the environment. Made of “spun-bonded” polypropylene fabric. Agribon allows the grower to keep crops inside a tunnel where the environment is warmer inside than the external temperatures. It comes in different grades which offer varying degrees of protection while still permitting light, water and air to pass through. This barrier protects valuable crops against insects, low temperatures and wind.

If you aren't using this amazing garden tool you should be!

Note: This stuff is changing the way farmers today grow food. Check out this excerpt from Eliot Coleman’s book “The Winter Harvest Handbook”. For pricing, sizes and such, check out the “Row Covers & Accessories” page over at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

AG-15 is recommended for insect control. Allowing 90% light transmission.

AG-19 is used for general frost protection. It allows 85% light transmission and is good down to 28°. Many growers use this to extend their growing season on either side, and as overwintering protection for crops like strawberries, spinach and other greens.

AG-30 works well as overwintering protection down to 26°.

How do you use it?

crops under agribon

Spring greens growing beautifully under Agribon row-cover at Rural Roots Farm in Litchfield, ME. Photo courtesy Benjamin Brown.

With a length of pvc, emt, or #9 gauge wire stuck into the ground on either side of the garden bed to effectively create hoops─the fabric can be laid over the hoops and anchored to keep it down. You can use whatever you prefer to anchor it: some growers lay a shovelful of soil along the edges, but that can be a time consuming endeavor whenever you need to check on crops. Many growers have found that a small bag of sand every four or five feet is ideal in keeping the agribon down, but you could also use rocks, bricks, or whatever you can get your hands on to weight down the sides. Just be careful not to tear the fabric as you work with it, the lighter AG-15 is a very gauzy material and tears easily if you’re not mindful.

Pest Control: If you’re using the AG-15 to protect crops from pests you need to be sure to get it on at the same time as planting in order to prevent pests from discovering the crops and getting trapped inside the agribon with them. Don’t wait a  day or a week to put it on the susceptible crops, chances are the pests will have already found it. And you must anchor it on all sides with no gaps in order for it to be effective.

Season Extension: Use the AG-19 to create low-tunnels where you can keep a variety of cold-tolerant crops late into the fall. In this article on the MOFGA website Elliot Coleman overwinters crops in low tunnels using twin beds under hoops, sowing cold-tolerant crops in early October and covering them with hoops and row-cover. Then around Thanksgiving he adds a second covering of greenhouse plastic which protects the crops, allowing them to be overwintered so that they can begin growing in March and are ready to eat in the spring. Elliot says that if you live in areas with heavy snow-load (like here in Maine), use twice as many hoops to support the row-cover and plastic through the winter.

crops under row-cover

Ben Brown at Rural Roots Farm in Litchfield, ME grows a lot of his crops under row-cover. He uses it both for season extension and for pest control. Photo courtesy of Ben Brown.

Agribon Tips

In this article about growing under row cover  in which Paul Gallione─a colleague of mine from Johnny’s Selected Seeds─reminds growers that Agribon…

is not a “set it and forget it tool. There is no substitute for human observation. Be aware─especially as the season heats up:

  • Is it hot out, or has it been dry for a period? Rain and sprinkler spray permeate the fabric, but so does up to 90% of sunlight. It’s warmer inside – plants might get thirstier.
  • What crop is it and what stage of development is it at?
  • Does it need your attention? does it need to be vented? does it need supplemental water?

If you’re conscientious with it, you can get a few years from your agribon. The AG-15 for insect control is really lightweight, gauzy material so you need to be especially careful with this one as it’s going to be more prone to tearing. If you avoid pinning them down (creating holes in the fabric to anchor it), and if you fold it carefully and roll it back onto the original roll the stuff came on─you can save it for next year and really get your money’s worth.

rowcover for pest control

Here is row-cover in use at the Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ research farm in Albion, ME.

row-cover in use at johnny's seeds

You can see the rows sprawling out across the field at Johnny’s, and the extent that growers are using row-cover to protect crops from pests. This allows the grower to grow organically, avoiding pesticides. Agribon is an incredibly valuable tool. Photo courtesy of Randy Cummings and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Note: Special thanks to Benjamin Brown at Rural Roots Farm in Litchfield, Maine (locals: check out his CSA! 10% off!!!) and to Randy Cummings at Johnny’s Selected Seeds for help with photos!

Worth the time & money

agribon in the runamuk garden

Newly plants beds of squash covered with AG-15 at Runamuk. I’m going to beat those cucumber and squash beetles this year!

Using agribon means it takes just a little bit more time and effort to put in your crops or to maintain them throughout their growing period, but the benefits are tremendous. With just a few hoops and a length of the AG-15 you can effectively keep pests off your crops, allowing the gardener to avoid pesticides.

At Runamuk, I’m hoping for an increased yield from these squash plants since they won’t have the pest pressure to set them back. Winter squash is a favorite food of mine, in addition to being a valuable crop because of it’s ability to be stored long into the winter. It was worth the time and expense to me to cover these beds and try for an improved yield from this crop.

Using the same set up and a heavier grade fabric such as the AG-19, you can grow well into the winter. With a little strategic planting you can be harvesting fresh greens for your family in January with 2 feet of snow on the ground─without a high tunnel or hoop-house! That’s pretty amazing if you ask me and sounds like a good way to help feed my family, reducing my food bill and increasing the amount of fresh vegetables we are able to eat in the depths of winter. It’s long overdue for me to try winter growing, so I’ve committed to the idea of setting up a low-tunnel later this year. Check back this fall/winter to read about that upcoming project here at Runamuk!

Have you used Agribon or floating row-covers? Did you love it or loathe it? Feel free to share your comments below so that others may learn from your experiences!

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