Techniques for cold weather spring vegetable planting

Most gardeners do not have a greenhouse or cold-frame, but they can use some great plant protection kits and devices and small portable and affordable greenhouses to get a jump on the gardening season. Here are a few ideas for you to try.
Many traditional gardeners will place black plastic on their garden in the early spring, because black plastic attracts the heat of the sun and warms the soil below. By doing this, a gardener can warm the soil a few weeks ahead of what mother nature would do without the blanket of plastic.
Beware that once the plastic is removed, prolonged cold weather can lower the soil temperature and harm your plants if planted too early.
Traditional cloches were glass but plastic models are available today. Cloches are bell or box shaped devices used as mini-greenhouses.
They are placed over tender seedlings once they are transplanted into the garden. The cloche protects the seedling from frost and helps to hold heat during the day. Make sure your type of cloche has a vent hole at the top as even the spring sun can heat the interior of the cloche to a temperature that will burn a tender seedling. Check the Internet for many great ideas on homemade versions.
This brings me to the use of frost protectors. Known by one brand name, “Kozy Coats,” frost protectors are a series of joined plastic tubes that are filled with water to make a freestanding cylinder. The cylinder is placed on the garden soil and the seedling is planted within the confines of the protector. The wall of water insulates the plant against frost and cold temperatures while also warming the soil below. The protector is removed once normal temperatures occur. These protectors are great for tomato and pepper plants, as well as watermelon and cucumbers. By using these in early spring to warm the soil before planting, you can often plant up to four weeks ahead of normal planting time.
The protectors are available on the market in different colours and trade names, but all work in relatively the same manner. I have used these and they are definitely worth investing in, and with proper care and storage, last for many seasons.
Floating row covers are a very useful plant protector tool that many gardeners are unaware of. I use these regularly in my garden and really like them. I have often planted my garden in late April or the first week of May (when I resided in Fort Frances) by using floating row covers.
Floating row covers protect plants from frost, small hail and insect and wildlife damage. Once I started using floating row covers, I no longer had deer grazing in my garden.
Floating row covers are made from a white spun-bonded material that is semi-transparent.
Plant your seeds or seedlings in rows or raised beds that are a little narrower than the width of your row cover and place over top securing the edges with soil. You can also support the covers with plastic or bamboo hoops sold in your garden centre. Make sure you allow some slack in the cover to allow growing room for the plants.
The row cover stays on until the plant flowers, and insects are needed for pollination.
Shade cloth is another great tool for the gardener, especially if your garden is exposed to full sun, all day. While many vegetables flourish in the hot sun, some like the heat and sun in a more gradual exposure.
Shade cloth is a polypropylene (plastic) netting that is usually black or green and can be attached to stakes and adjusted as needed throughout the garden. Cucumbers, radishes and lettuce are some crops that really benefit from shade cloth, as the afternoon sun can be too intense for them.
You may have a small greenhouse or a large cold-frame on your gardener’s wish list for the future but while you wait to own a greenhouse, look at your nursery or garden supply store for many of the products mentioned in this column. I promise if you try some of these products you will be very pleased with the results.