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This MyTinyPlot.co.uk blog post photo showing some enviably healthy looking autumn lettuces under protection got me down the garden centre today looking at protection options for my autumn/winter veg.

lettuces

You can see they're using some kind of super fine fleece.

But what is the difference between plain old clear polythene (AKA polyethylene) / mesh / fleece? For cold weather protection. When do you opt for one or the other?

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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Unless polythene is vented somehow, the plants enclosed can "cook" and additionally the closed internal environment can become a breeding ground for diseases...

Both Mesh and Fleece naturally allow air movement through the enclosed system (which is a very good thing).

Mesh provides "minimum" protection from cold weather, where as Fleece offers greater protection from the cold. I believe you can get Fleece in different "thicknesses", thus providing more protection from cold weather depending on your specific growing environment...

All 3 of them can do the job (to some extent), some of their effectiveness will be determined by the amount of work you put into setting them...

Given the choice, for cold weather protection I would go with Fleece.

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The tradeoff is: the heavier the fleece (and thus more protection), the less light you'll be allowing through. Depending on your latitude, day length can become an issue in late autumn -- you'll want those plants to get as much light as possible. Though, if you're mostly focused on harvesting during cold weather and your lettuces are already mature enough so that growth isn't as much an issue, you don't need to worry as much about this.

If you're willing to do extra work, heavy black plastic provides good protection in my experience, and can usually be acquired cheaper than specialty gardening fabrics. The catch is that you have to remove it every morning so the plants can (a) get light and (b) don't cook.

But I generally take the super-lazy route: switch from eating lettuce to eating hardier plants: spinach, chard, kale, and beet greens. These don't need protection.

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The best solution is perhaps to choose both row covers and plastic.

Kingbird Farm, a small herb grower in New York state, describes its efforts to winter some USDA zone 7 and zone 6 herbs (rosemary and sage) in zone 5. They found covering rows of crops with row covers inside a small plastic hoop house to be the most effective.

(They used Agribon AG-19 row covers made of spun bonded polypropylene fabric.)

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Eliot Coleman also describes this double-coverage strategy in his book "Four Season Harvest". He's in Maine and uses row cover in his hoop houses to provide extra protection for greens in midwinter. I believe that they take off the inner layer (similar to what I mentioned in my answer) during the day, but I'd have to reread that section of the book. –  bstpierre Sep 27 '11 at 15:39
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