<aside> 💡 People always ask me where they can buy the things I mention in this book and my videos, I now have a solution for you, I’ve listed these items in my Amazon Store. The store includes comments on most items, please read these! Sometimes I refer you to a cheaper place to buy than Amazon for example.
There are six key variables involved in gardening. Nutrition, pests, water, wind, heat and light. Growing under cover allows you to increase your control over all but nutrition. You will get better results the more control you can exert, but you get 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort.
My plot in autumn
This chapter walks through the main options and their relative pros and cons. Since this book documents the way I garden you will have to interpret this chapter carefully for your own climate.
<aside> 💡 This chapter should be read in conjunction with the guide to adapting to climate change and the chapter on learning to grow under cover for year-round self-sufficiency
If you grow year round, or even if you just grow lots of peppers, tomatoes etc then you will benefit from some under cover space, either a greenhouse, low tunnels, high tunnel or cold-frames. I'm not going to consider fleece in this space section, but I do talk about it in my guide to growing under cover. Also for more content on growing under cover, see the section in my self-sufficiency guide, on learning to grow under cover.
In our climate we grow 100% of our cordon tomatoes in a high polytunnel and our bush/trailing tomatoes outdoors, the split in terms of harvest volume is 80% under cover, 20% outdoors.
We have found though that our peppers do better in low tunnels, rather than the polytunnel, we grow 48 sweet peppers and about 8 chili peppers (which are in the mini greenhouse). These 48 plants need 4 low tunnels, which cover an area of about 8m2.
In summer that's almost everything that's grown under cover, although we make an exception for the golden purslane, which doesn't like continuous rain, which we often get in August. As a result that grows in a cold-frame.
My allotment represents about 40% of our total growing area, the kitchen garden and Debbie's plot represent the the other 60%. Only my plot has covers. Because of the covers and because my plot grows high intensity annual veg, my plot provides around 70% of the harvest.
On my plot about 40% of the plot can be covered in total, made up of the:
In total in winter, that's about 40m2 of my 120m2 of growing area, out of a total size of 250m2, the rest of the plot is perennials, paths, water storage, shed and composting.
In late spring, summer and early autumn all but one of the coldframe lids are removed and stored.
In total my growing area is about 250m2, so 16% is under cover, but that's 30% of the growing area. If you have less space then the area under cover would be be a little less, but not much less. This is because in winter we only really grow enough to feed immediate family, but in summer we also feed friends.
I now have a section in my database that lists all the types of cover that I use and what I recommend it for. I’ve embedded this data below, but you can view an expanded version of it here too.
I now have a deep dive into the topic of protecting against pests, which you can find here, but this overview is still useful!
Without access to pesticides organic gardeners depend almost completely on predator insects and various grades of mesh. It's easy to fall into the trap of preferring mesh over predators and that would be a mistake.
All too often while using a mesh to protect from one pest, you trap another inside the mesh and keep it's predators out. This is especially true of brassicas, where a fine mesh that keeps out birds and butterflies might also trap aphids and exclude wasps and hoverflies. Too fine a mesh can also obscure what's happening to your plants until it's too late.
I've learned this lesson myself by using a fine insect mesh over Brussels sprouts in May. The mesh kept everything out including aphids, but aphids where already under the mesh. By the time I noticed the leaves curling the damage had been done, a massive infestation of cabbage aphid that destroyed 20% of my crop. I now use butterfly netting instead, I can see my crops and predators can get access to the pests.
These are the mesh types that I normally use, sometimes mesh isn't enough and a pesticide is also needed.
Wind doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. Whilst a gentle breeze provides much needed ventilation and is to be universally encouraged, strong wind is another matter. Here’s how I rate the various covers I use for wind protection:
High winds can: