I have an allotment and as I won't deal with pests by killing or injuring them, I am always experimenting with different ways to protect my plants. I find barrier methods are the best - for example something such as all weather fleece to keep out insects, or copper bands that prevent the slugs reaching the leaves and stems in the first place. I have trialled many methods from companion planting to crushed egg shell barriers but the latest item to join my armoury is Apollo Defendamesh, a crop protection mesh. I tried this last because I already use a similar product at work and I had prioritised other experiments as a result. I bought mine from Amazon, where it cost me £14.86 for a 2.1m x 4.5m piece, although the price has fluctuated up and down by a few pounds I know as I have bought additional sheets since.
WHAT I USE IT FOR
The mesh is a bit like an incredibly tightly woven netting, and it is designed just to be laid over crops from planting to harvest. You are supposed to lie it flat, allowing room for growth - like a floating mulch if you have ever used one of those. You do have to secure the edges of course. Then in theory the cabbage root and carrot flies, caterpillars and other pests can't get past it to nibble your crops or lay their eggs. The mesh however does let light in and you can water through it.
I have chiefly used it to protect carrots, as well as brassicas such as kohl rabi and swede. The latter two can attract cabbage root fly but can't be given a protective collar around their base like their relatives cabbage or kale due to their shape. So the Defendamesh provides an easy to use method of protection. Leek fly has just started to cause a problem in our area, and as I grow a lot of these, I also used it to cover a portion of my crop as a precaution. In the end, even the unprotected leeks have survived unscathed so the flies have obviously scorned my crop. At the moment I am using it the mesh in an unconventional way to protect some taller growing brassicas (cavolo nero and raab) from the attentions of pigeons. In this case, the mesh does not lie flat as it is supposed to, but I have it supported in the middle on a rope spread between two posts. This gives the plants room to grow upwards. I intended this as a temporary measure while I waited to receive some conventional netting but it is working well so it will stay in place now.
EASE OF USE
In many ways this is very simple to use. You just unfold it - it comes in a flattish packet rather than a roll -and lay it over your young plants. The fold lines can be seen a year later but they don't make the mesh any more difficult to use. It feels very strong stuff - I pulled at it deliberately before using it and I certainly couldn't tear it. I have however cut a larger piece to size with very sharp scissors and it did not fray or disintegrate as a result. It also feels light enough for the size which gave me confidence that it wouldn't squash the growing tips of young plants. To secure the edges you are supposed to either bury them or use pegs. I prefer pegs because I find them quicker to replace when I have lifted up the mesh to weed under it or to harvest. The most important thing I have learned is not to neglect to follow the instructions and allow adequate room for the plants growth when you position the sheet. It is easy to forget how quickly some plants put on growth especially when the weather is kind so you have to make the covering loose enough for them to do that or they will be pinned down! The mesh doesn't have as much give as the fleece I usually use so I underestimated that at first. It also means you need a piece bigger than you may think as it will need to be let out over the course of the season and it never really lies flat for long.
Watering through the fleece is easy, and the plants underneath don't become pale and straggily so they certainly get enough light.
The main downside is the same as for most similar products - you have to lift up the edges in order to weed underneath or collect crops. This is inevitable really and not too awkward to do. You have to be sure you have not left any gaps around the edges, even small ones because a insect is sure to find their way through, so vigilance is required! The second thing is that I think it is best used the as soon as you have planted up the area, as if you put it over a crop that is already going strong, you will run the risk of trapping any insects already on your plants just where they want to be. I also like to make sure the area is clear of lurking snails as far as is humanly possible as you will also be shutting out the birds who may otherwise pick them off.
It is suggested that the mesh will also protect crops from harsh weather. I think it acts as a wind break to some extent, but in my experience it isn't a substitute for fleece if frost or cold protection is what you are after. In November 2013 I have winter lettuces happily growing under fleece, whereas their cousins dotted under Enviromesh and around other plants a metre or two away succumbed to the first frost of the year and look very sorry for themselves.
The mesh arrived too late to experience snow but they have been out in frost as well as heavy rain and summer sun and they do not look noticeably weathered. I have no doubt they will live up to their manufacturers claims of lasting for several years. They have not discoloured either, so purely for on the cosmetic front they look good as new. I have washed a piece that got muddy/trampled on without difficulty - and no I didn't iron it!! (It was to prevent the mud blocking light.)
DID IT WORK?
Yes, my carrots were happily completely carrot fly free and the amount of damage from other pests was noticeably reduced. The mesh can't stop soil dwelling slugs paying a visit but I don't suffer much from those. The same is also true of my brassicas - the cabbage white butterflies have to fly on by and the flea beetles have been unable to make their holes in the leaves. I have often seen a poor snail stuck to the outside of the mesh looking longingly in at my vegetables underneath but he can't get though it so that means fewer nibbled leaves and destroyed seedlings.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE MESH?
I would recommend this if you want a chemical free and reliable method of insect control which will also reduce slug attacks. (Some live in the soil so they will obviously still be able to get in from underneath the mesh.) It is best put in place at the beginning of the season and will need adjusting as the plants grow but otherwise it is trouble free providing you don't mind taking the time to check for gaps in the defences. Appearance wise, it won't appeal to everyone as it is not exactly natural looking or invisible but it suits the functional areas of my allotment. I also wouldn't recommend you use it solely for it's ability to offer limited weather protection as I think other products do that better. You can buy different sized pieces from Amazon, and from garden centres, but if you could need a lot it may be cheaper to look at trade suppliers where you can buy similar products by the metre. That's what the garden I work in did and they saved quite a bit.