In Praise of Reemay

My friend Molly emailed this happy news a few days ago: “My beans all popped up under the Reemay, yours must have too.”  Yes, mine did too.  Whew!  We’d both planted bean seeds in less than ideal conditions, cool soil and forecasts for rain, but we’d covered the rows with Reemay, gambling as gardeners often do that this floating row cover would provide the warmth needed to make the seeds germinate instead of rot.  We won!  And now sturdy seedlings have shouldered up through the soil, ready to start adding leaves whenever the weather really warms up.  Germination was so good I’ll even have to do some thinning.

Reemay pulled aside

Reemay is the brand name of the original floating row cover, a lightweight spun polyester fabric gardeners can spread out over newly seeded beds or drape over transplants or growing plants and then secure with rocks or soil.  Agribon is another brand available today.  Reemay is typically about six feet wide and is sold on rolls of 20, 50 or 250 feet.  The six-foot width is perfect for my five-by-eighteen foot garden beds because the additional width gives plants room to grow up under the cover.  I buy a 250-foot roll and cut off eighteen-foot lengths for a whole bed and shorter lengths for sections of beds.  Each piece lasts at least three seasons before beginning to break down, so a 250-foot roll lasts me for years.  I’ve bought it at Stueber Distributing Company in Snohomish, Washington.  Territorial Seeds also sells it mail order as do many other seed and garden supply companies. Row covers also come in lighter and heavier weights though I haven’t tried either yet.

Reemay over bean bedReemay closeup

During this past rainy week, as we anxiously monitored our bean rows, Molly and I both periodically slipped our hands under the Reemay to see how much warmer the soil felt.  Even on a cloudy day, the soil under the row cover felt decidedly warmer than soil exposed to the air.  On the few sunny days, the covered soil was almost hot.  Row covers let rain through so the soil stayed moist but they also let light through and trap and hold heat, the key to our germination success.

While we use Reemay to warm the soil for seed germination and also use it to protect early spring and fall/winter crops from cold and frost, it has another valuable use in the garden: as a barrier to bugs, birds and cats.  I use it over carrots to prevent carrot rust fly, over beets and chard to prevent leaf miner, over turnips and cabbages to prevent root maggot.  I’ll often leave it on carrots, beets and spring turnips until harvest and on cabbage crops until the plants are well enough established to withstand bugs. If the days get really hot, I’ll loosen the row cover or even remove it temporarily but our cool marine climate rarely makes this necessary.  Row covers also prevent birds from pulling up newly sprouted seeds and cats from using the garden bed as a giant cat box. As any photo of my garden reveals, there’s always Reemay covering something somewhere.  It looks a bit ghostly, but I don’t think I could garden without it.

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5 thoughts on “In Praise of Reemay

  1. Hi Debbie, As always, I love your posts! I do have a question. We use remay much the same way you do, but this year (our fourth year in this garden) we had a lot of trouble with “something” eating and/or disturbing our seeds under the remay. Especially the beans and peas… It definitely wasn’t a mouse or vole or bird. Some kind of bug, I’m afraid. Any ideas? Thanks so much! Kip

    • I wonder if sowbugs might be the culprit. I’ve seen them in my garden and I’ve definitely seen them feasting on beans that are just starting to germinate. It’s quite a horrible sight, actually: a big “mother” sowbug surrounded by hordes of tiny sowbugs all sucking on the bean sprout. Ugh! I’m thinking of trying diatomaceous earth around the base of afflicted beans.

      Another culprit could be earwigs though I haven’t seen any yet this year.

  2. Hi Debbie.
    I also love Reemay and have used it for several years. This year I planted peas under it and secured it with rocks, pavers, etc. yet something got under it and dug up the peas. Only 5 seeds survived. I gave up and restarted peas and beans in my garden shed once again. I love growing veges but it takes real perserverance to battle with nature.

    • I’ve started peas indoors for the past few years for the very same reason. Some creature seemed to get to them even under the Reemay. I’ve had better luck with direct seeding beans but I often start a few in pots just for insurance. It’s a battle!

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