Each year our organic vegetable garden endures visits from uninvited winged guests. They can turn a beautiful, healthy plant into a limp sad specimen the moment your back is turned. If you want to grow food successfully without using any chemicals often the only truly effective approach is to place a barrier between your precious plants and the insects that seek to devour them.
When it comes to organic gardening: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Through plenty of trial and error we have discovered an insect barrier that is extremely effective in keeping winged pests away from precious plants. It also looks quite nice in the garden. This will be the second summer we have tested it and it has become go to product for pest control.
First lets talk about Traditional row cover, why we don’t like it and then we’ll share some great new alternatives.
Traditional Row Cover. Not the Best.
We’ve used the traditional floating row cover cloth for years as an insect barrier but I’ve never really liked this material. It does the job of guarding your plants quite well but it looks like a big ugly white sheet. It also completely obscures any view of the plants. This row cover is also tedious because you need to remove it and replace it when you need to insect or give the plants a good watering. Water will permeate through this cloth but it can get rather heavy.
The Awesome Solution
We have discovered a few options that work a LOT better! The following protective barriers are not only effective but they are far more aesthetically appealing than traditional row covers. These solutions can be watered through without weighing down your plants and because they don’t block out your view of the plants you can thoroughly inspect the garden bed frequently without the added time consuming task of removing and replacing the covers each time.
Tulle. An ‘ok’ option.
Better known for it’s use as wedding décor tulle s a fine lightweight netting usually made from nylon or rayon. It is available by the bolt in a wide range of widths and colours. It makes a wonderful floating row cover/insect barrier. You can water the plants right through it and because it does not obscure your view of the plants, you can visually inspect the garden without having to remove any covers. The only downside is that it does tear easily so it’s not ideal for stapling down.
Another nice thing about tulle is that you can buy it in bulk by the bolt in a wide rage of widths to suit your needs. We like to make sure that it is wide enough to hang down the sides of garden boxes even when we have hoops in place. It works great but only lasts a few seasons at most and tears easily.
White Bug Netting: The Best option.
More durable than tulle this lightweight bug netting has become an essential garden staple. It really WORKS! This is a durable nylon mesh product and does not easily tear. It works well over hoops, frames, as a floating row cover or stapled down to frames. I started with a few rolls of bug screen from the hardware store. It worked well but the rolls didn’t go far and it was a bit too expensive an option for our large garden.
I started seeking out bulk or wholesale options and found an option on Amazon that looked promising and was surprisingly inexpensive. It shipped direct from China so it took a few weeks to arrive. I was a bit wary, I am fully aware that usually “you get what you pay for” and if it seems “too good to be true” it probably is. My last order direct from china was a floating solar fountain for $7.99 and it really sucked! It might just be the worst thing I have ever bought.
The bug netting turned out to be a big win! It is exceptionally well made and exactly what we needed. It is durable and has stood up to some severe storms. We don’t usually share links to Amazon on our site but I feel like I have discovered the holy grail of insect barriers and it’s something that should be shared.
Where to Find it
You will find quite a few choices for lengths and widths to suite raised beds or garden rows. They even have a box shaped version that you could slip right over a frame. This style might be the magic trick to protecting against the horrible hail and massive storms that have swept over parts of North America this summer. You can find the page with all of the size options on Amazon (Canada) and (US) .
Tomato Cage Cloches
You can purchase or make bug netting bags that with a few adjustments to a tomato cage can be transformed into bug proof cloches. We bought ours and they work really well. This durable and inexpensive set of five mesh bags can be found on Amazon (Canada) and (US) Just remember they ship from China so it takes several weeks for them to arrive.
Side by Side Comparison
Funny note: To take these photos we laid a piece of each insect barrier over a beet that is not covered and has been chewed. I just didn’t think about it in the context of this post when I took the photos but it is sort of funny .
Fabric Barriers Protect Against:
Winged insects such as cabbage moth, cucumber beetles, potato beetles and other small flying insects. They also help keep out grasshoppers and they also deter birds from eating your about-to-ripen fruit. Mesh barriers don’t work well against slugs and snails and crawlers. We use basic beer traps for them.
I recently found a box of linens from our old house, and discovered some sheer curtains that look to be made of a nylon type material. They have been transformed into insect barriers in the garden and work well. If you have a light weight fabric that will dry easily, consider giving that a try in the garden.
Important Note on Pollination
If you have vegetables or fruits that require pollination you will need to remove the netting at certain times in the growing process or at intervals through the day. Often by the time our plants have flowered the pests are no longer a bother to many mature plants.