Local lifestyle columnists

What home gardeners can learn from the farmers

By From page C4 | May 11, 2014

Home gardeners can learn a lot from the farmers in the county by paying attention to what they do in their fields throughout the year.

Once you learn why they do certain things, you can consider whether or not it will be beneficial for you to adapt the practice in your home garden. But first you need to know why they do certain things.

So here are some answers to questions that may have popped into your mind as you’ve driven through the county and wondered about some of the things you’ve seen on farms.

Why are some fields covered with what look likes long white fabric?

The white fabric, known as row covers, is generally made of woven or spun bonded synthetic material that allows water and sunlight to penetrate. Research has shown that row covers can provide many benefits to vegetable growers. For example, row covers warm the soil a few extra degrees, allowing faster seed germination and earlier crops. They can increase crop yield. And if used properly, they can also keep insects away from new seedlings and young plants. Row covers can also help save water because the water retained in the cover condenses and drips back into the soil.

If you decide to use row covers in your home vegetable garden, remember that you need to remove the row cover during flowering time for vegetable plants requiring pollination, such as zucchini. You also need to be sure not to secure a row cover over your plants once harmful insects are present, because it can trap them and keep beneficial insects and predators at bay.

For more information on the benefits and proper use of row covers, check out the document “Row Covers for Vegetable Gardens” from Washington State University (http://tinyurl.com/ksfbqn7)  and “The Use of Rowcovers in the Home Garden” from Cornell University  (http://tinyurl.com/krowahx.)

Why do farmers never seem to plant the same vegetable crop in the same place each year?

They are practicing crop rotation, which provides many benefits. For example, when you plant a different crop that is not a host to a pest/insect or disease that plagued your previous crop planted there, the pest/insect or disease population decreases when it no longer has a host. Crop rotation also improves the soil because different crops use different nutrients in the soil, and the decomposed roots of different vegetables add different elements to the soil.

Crop rotation is a good idea for home vegetable gardeners. More information on crop rotation in your home garden can be found at
http://ucanr.edu/sites/sacmg/Crop_Rotation and  http://ucanr.edu/sites/ucmgnapa/files/153877.pdf.

Why do some strawberry fields look like they are covered with black fabric with the plants popping up through it?

The fabric is a weed block fabric. The fabric also helps protect the strawberries from earwigs, slugs and snails by keeping the berries away from contact with the soil. Each plant grows through an “X” cut through the fabric.

If you decide to employ this practice in your home garden, drip irrigation under the fabric is recommended because it keeps the berries from prolonged exposure to moisture that creates conditions for berry rot.

Why do some vineyards have roses planted at the end of each row?

Grapes and some varieties of roses require the same soil pH, moisture and nutrients, and are susceptible to the same fungal diseases. Insects and diseases are supposedly drawn to the roses before the grape vines, making the roses the equivalent of an early warning system, like the canaries once used in mines.

However, research data is lacking in terms of the actual use of roses for this specific purpose by today’s vineyard growers. Scientific advances have replaced many former practices, just as scientific advances have replaced the need for canaries in mines.

Roses are often also planted at the end of vineyard rows simply to add aesthetic beauty to the property and to help attract pollinators. If you decide to plant a rose near a grape plant in your yard, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of having a good story to tell your friends.

Kathy Low is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.

Kathy Low


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