Update on row covers and stink bugs

Six weeks ago I planted tomato and pepper plants in the Grow It Eat It demonstration garden at the Home and Garden Information Center in Ellicott City- http://www.growit.umd.edu/ImproveGarden/FloatingRowCover/index.cfm

The plants were covered by three different styles of frames that support floating row covers (FRC). The idea is to see if FRC can be left on all season to prevent brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) feeding. Here’s what I have observed-

1. Tomato plants grew rapidly and flowered heavily. Although I did not observe flower drop, fruit set is reduced due to the elevated temperature under the covers (5-15 degrees F. above ambient) and possibly reduced air movement which is needed for pollination. The twelve tomato plants – eight determinate plants under a pvc low tunnel and four indeterminate plants under a tall frame- have only 2-6 fruits per plant.

2. Pepper plants have grown poorly. This may be due to a combination of factors, such as higher temperature and humidity under the covers, and bacterial leaf spot that was observed shortly after transplanting.

3. As expected, weeds grow more rapidly under the covers. Hand-pulling and hoeing have been used to manage weeds.

4. Many spiders of different species have been attracted to the habitat under the row covers.

5. Green peach aphids managed to get under one of the row covers and are feeding on two tomato plants. The population can grow rapidly with no predators or parasitoids to control them.

6. No fruit feeding injury from BMSB adults or nymphs feeding on three tomato plants growing in unprotected 5-gallon plastic buckets.

I plan to remove the covers over the peppers and compost the plants because they are growing so poorly. I’m not sure what I will do with the tomato plants. If I keep them covered I will attempt to control the aphids with organic pesticides.

I would like to hear from others about their experiences so far. I’ll share the information in the blog and on the GIEI website. If your tomato and pepper plants are completely covered with FRC, I recommend that you closely monitor the temperature underneath with a thermometer. When temperature exceeds 95 degrees F. remove the cover completely or pull it up from the sides of your plants so it just covers the tops. This may still afford some protection from stink bug feeding.

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