Tuesday, May 26, 2020

May Progress

After a really nice start to an early spring, the month of May turned on us.  The first week of May the high temperatures were in the low 50s (that's like 10 degrees Celsius for you all in Canada/UK) with frost or freeze every night.  May 13th I woke up to 24 degrees in the garden (-4 C)!  My cold frame is usually good for about 10 degrees, which, if the nighttime temps are in the 40s, is more than adequate. But the first two weeks of May it was nowhere near suitable for tender vegetables.  My Tomato plants had already been potted up into gallon pots in the mild temperatures of April and were not prepared for the Polar Vortex.  They all survived with some minor frostbite on their older leaves but of course they did not grow at all.

The garden Peas, Carrots and Lettuce were snowed on many times and endured a lot of frost with no losses.  However, they too refused to grow until things were looking up.  This past weekend with rain and sun and heat they have doubled in size and you can almost sit and watch them grow.

My Cauliflowers, Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts were also out in this horrible weather, protected by floating row covers.  To me they did not look like they were making any progress either.  I did lose a couple to either frost or high winds, despite their being somewhat sheltered.  The winds still get in under and can twist off a weakened plant and we had a lot of all day high winds to contend with.  This past weekend I switched to a mesh cover, and I can see that most of the plants are comparable to this time last year

Most of the row covers available in the US are "garden fleece" and not an insect mesh.  It seems they were created for frost protection and now double as insect protection.  But I think we can do a little better for just insect protection if we try.  In the UK, they have a product called Enviromesh which is similar to polyester tulle fabric, but made of UV-stabilized polyethelene.  I have found only one retailer in the US that carries it and they are always out of stock.  So I found what looks like a very similar product to try instead.  The main downside is that it is heavier when wet, but on the plus side you can see your plants.  And your weeds :).  

Brussels Sprouts
I bought a pack of Castle Dome Broccoli to fill in the empty spots in the Cauliflower beds, and then I could not resist the Cabbages.  I'm in the mood for homemade cole slaw.  So I bought a pack of Red Acre and Golden Acre cabbages to share the same bed as the Fordhook Lima Beans.

Cabbages with a few Calendula seedlings left at the very edge.
I am using my frost frame and a scrap of summer weight floating row cover to protect them from the Cabbage Moths.  I have this set up so I can pick the whole cover off easily and set aside to check on my plants.  That's not something I can do with the large hoop system.

Cabbage and Lima Beans
Elsewhere in the garden, I have lettuce transplanted.  I have seeded cucumbers in the cold frame to go in this bed as well.

I have Carminat and Monte Gusto pole beans seeded and I'm looking forward to trying them.  Tucked in between the bean poles are a few Pickling Cucumbers since I need to make Dill pickles again this year.  Lettuce is planted in the shade of the cucumber frame.  These are seedlings I picked out of direct seeded Lettuce in one of the Pea beds.

Bean poles and cucumber trellis
After my frustrating experience with direct seeding cukes last year, all of my Cucumbers and Summer Squash are being seeded in the cold frame.  Here is a trick I learned on Facebook.  Sometimes I like to use plastic wrap to cover a seed tray and hold the moisture in.  But wet plastic wrap is miserable stuff.  So instead, I'm using sheets of bubble wrap.  It is easier to handle, and clips easily to the sides of pots with clothes pins.

Cucumber and Summer Squash seed trays
To warm the soil enough for the Sweet Corn to germinate, I put polycarbonate greenhouse panels on the bed for a few days.  This bed has been seeded now and the panels moved to the next bed. 

A couple of times in the past I have tried Sweet Potatoes with moderate success.  I am in the mood again so I've put some Sweet Potato slips into grow bags.  Since the seed companies always send me more slips than I could ever want, I have also put them into the three whiskey barrels that I usually plant with annuals.  Why waste that large volume of good soil?  They sure don't look like much at first, but is a few weeks ought to be off and running.

a Grow Bag of Sweet Potatoes
Due to last year's success with tomatoes in large containers, my best tomato plants are in containers again this year.  I do not can tomatoes, and only use them for sandwiches so I don't need a lot of plants.  I used to plant dozens of plants every year (hence the name of this blog) but I have learnt my lesson!  I may have a few extra transplants that are worth saving (despite the abuse they've taken) and those will get tucked in with the Dill along the Strawberries.  The three best plants, two Barlow Japs and one Black Brandywine, look very good and are beginning to grow again already.

This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend.  It is as early as it can possibly be this year so gardeners who use it as their benchmark for planting must keep that in mind.  We really have one more week to go to get everything in on time.  But this week is going to be gorgeous growing weather.  

This past weekend was a mixed bag.  Friday started out cloudy and I made my sight-seeing visit of the big Amish greenhouse in the morning.  That was a disappointment.  I did get the hard to find items on my list, and they were good quality plants, but overall the place was picked over and everything looked like July leftovers.  Usually when I go in early to mid-May, everything is just at its peak and it is a pleasure just to be surrounded by it all.  This year everything is over grown and anemic looking.  This is probably because we got great weather with sunshine in late April and then endured two weeks of cold and clouds. 

Friday afternoon I dodged rain showers and got a few things done, but the weather was supposed to break late Saturday morning.  We went out to work, and the cloudy drizz turned to pretty steady rain showers.  We kept on going because once you're wet, you're wet.  One plus was that there was no breeze at all so I got my row covers changed out to the garden mesh without having to fight the wind.  It did take all day for them to dry though. The rain gave out around 2pm, and we were able to get cleaned up and enjoy a sunny late afternoon, knowing that we had accomplished a lot in spite of the weather.

Sunday all day was beautiful weather.  Mid-80s and sunny with high clouds and a light breeze. Again I got a lot done, mulching in the strawberry bed and moving some big planters around.   The lawn got mowed. I was able to get down in the soil and plant seeds without dealing with soggy soil.  By Monday afternoon we were in the middle of a heat wave.  Afternoon temperatures were 88 in the shade, and 93 in the garden.

The strawberries are blooming
As I knelt on the scorching walkway, hovering over damp, steaming mulch, I reached the end of my gardening rope.  It was time to go in and take a cool shower and put Memorial Day 2020 in the books.  Next weekend is again supposed to be sunny and clear, but 20 degrees cooler which will be welcomed.
Dinner Plate Dahlias mulched in
This is the last of the spring mulching!

I have made a final assessment of the Chilly Pear Tree.  Its going to live.  You can see a few leaf tips got burned by frost but not bad for several days of snow, high winds, and freezing temperatures.  When it arrived it did have a few tiny pears set but not surprisingly it dropped those mid-blizzard.  Maybe we'll have good luck with it next year.  It is grafted with Bartlett, Bosc, Seckel and Summercrisp pears.

The cold frame only moderates about 10 degrees of cold temperatures, but it magnifies hot temperatures.  On an 80 degree day, wide open, it will get to about 110 on the gravel.  As long as its open, that isn't the actual air temperature, but if you misjudge, you can cook things pretty quick.  So for this coming hot week the rest of my transplants have been moved to the east side of the garden shed where they get half a day of sun.  I have my eggplant babies transplanted into patio pots.  There are a dozen spare tomato plants, only one or two of them look tempting to save.  The rest are just average and won't be difficult to toss.  The other plants are herbs to be planted into the end of the large area where the pear tree is which I will get done some evening this week.  My husband keeps asking me if I'm done yet.  Once I get the herbs planted I can say "Yes.  For Now" and start round one of weeding and fertilizing.

Bed #1: Sweet Corn seeded 05/24
Bed #2: Pole Beans seeded 05/24, Lettuce transplanted
Bed #3: Prepared for Cucumbers and Lettuce
Bed #4: Prepared for Cucumbers, Lettuce growing
Bed #5: Peas growing (seeded 03/15 & 04/05) - Bush Beans later
Bed #6: Peas growing  (seeded 03/15 & 04/05)- Bush Beans later
Bed #7: Cauliflowers and Broccoli growing
Bed #8: Cauliflowers Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts growing
Bed #9: Peas growing (seeded 04/12) - Buckwheat to follow
Bed #10: Prepared for Sweet Corn
Bed #11:Peas (seeded 04/19) and Lettuce growing
Bed #12:Cabbages transplanted, Lima Beans seeded 05/24
Bed #13: Strawberries blooming
Bed #14: Waiting for Summer Squash
Containers: Carrots, Tomatoes and Sweet Potatoes planted

Cold Frame: Cucumbers and Summer Squash seeded
Basement: Herbs and Okra under grow lights
Potatoes chitting for Grow Bags

Monday, May 18, 2020

C'mon Let's Grow

I got to the end of my To Do List this weekend for the first time in weeks.  Because the weather was quite nice.  That must mean I'm caught up right?  Is any gardener ever caught up in May?

Six eggplants to the right and 4 borage to the left
My eggplant plants went out to the cold frame.  I'm pretty proud of these little guys.  They've put on quite a growth spurt of recent, and as soon as they are adjusted they can go out in their "big boy pots".  I'm trying them in containers this year for two reasons  #1 I am trying to avoid the flea beetles, and #2 all of my patio pots will hold edibles instead of merely ornamentals.  That actually gives me quite a range of ideas because a lot of vegetable plants are very attractive and have nice flowers.  My list includes eggplants, okra, herbs (Thai Basil is my choice) and Nasturtiums.

The cold frame is full of dwarf dahlias, repotted herbs and tomato and eggplants.  Our current weather pattern of warm and cloudy is perfect for the cold frame.  The weather forecast has increasing warmth all week and the zone 5 milestone of Memorial Day is approaching.

My strawberries are growing again and there are even a few flowers.
They need to be mulched now.

Yup, that looks exciting.  Lots of dirt.
This area will now be mulched with shredded bark mulch.
I brought my Dinnerplate Dahlias out of storage and got them planted.  
The tubers looked great and were already putting out tiny sprouts.

The first row of lettuce was transplanted. 
I always stagger my lettuce plantings using the largest plants first.

I spread my pea plantings over 4 weeks, but the awful weather has put the first ones behind and the later plantings are catching up.

All of our landscape beds are freshly edged and mulched.
The spring flowers, daffodils and primrose are beginning to fade, and the summer plants are growing by leaps and bounds.

Other happenings in the garden:
All garden beds have been aerated and amended in preparation for planting.
The first bed is being prepared for sweet corn with polycarbonate panels to warm the soil.
Potatoes are chitting in the chicken coop windows
Cauliflowers, compared to last spring, are behind in growth, but perhaps the fact that they survived that nasty polar vortex at all is a good sign.
The apple trees are blossoming.  Thankfully they didn't do that last weekend!

Chores for this week:
Filling containers for tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes
A trip to the nursery for some fun extras
Fertilizing perennials

Still to come as the weather improves:
Setting out herbs
Starting cucumbers and summer squash seeds in the cold frame
Planting lima beans

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

They Call It a Nursery for a Reason

"They Call It a Nursery for a Reason".  That is a quote from a recent Joe Gardener Podcast.  And it so true!  Greenhouses (Nurseries) raise baby plants and they require constant nursing and nurturing.  Especially because you are probably forcing them into an un-natural growing environment early in the season.  This is certainly well intentioned, but it is nonetheless true.  If you want to grow something not native to your growing zone, you are going to have to get an early start.  Otherwise you may be living solely on cabbages and root crops.

This May has been very challenging from a gardening standpoint.  March was mild and most of April wasn't bad, which lulled everyone into optimism for an early spring and the onset of summer weather.  The end of April into the beginning of May has been... exhausting.  Our area temperatures are averaging 9 degrees below normal.  There has been steady wind and/or rain more days than not.  I've had to keep a watchful eye on the row covers and regulating the cold frame is a constant worry.

My Coldframe in its youth
My cold frame is made from heavy wood, and used polycarbonate greenhouse panels which are pretty near the end of their useful life.  They are discolored to the point that they are not letting as much sun in anymore, which actually makes it a very good place to harden off seedlings. It is set on a deep bed of gravel which acts as a heat sink, but with limited sun it doesn't always have a chance to build up much heat during the day.  Especially if you get a few hours of strong sun which  necessitates venting the lid to keep from scorching the plants.

A simple alternative is to bring everything in from the cold frame at night into a building that will hopefully stay warmer during the night but you may be better off adding frost covers inside the cold frame and trying to insulate it further with a removable cover on the outside. I've used a quilted moving pad which is just the right size.  Adding a cover means you have to secure it against the winds and of course it must be removed in the morning to allow the sun back in.  Another possibility is adding an incandescent light bulb to raise the enclosed space a few degrees if that is all that's needed.  Jugs of water will also hold heat and release it slowly.

This past Friday and Saturday were really unpleasant weather (again).  It snowed on and off (big chunks).  It was windy and rainy by turns.  The days were cold and the nights colder.  My tomato plants spent two nights and one whole day inside the garden shed with limited light and no heat or insulation.  I thought it would stay warmer than the cold frame, but I could have been wrong.  They survived anyway but a couple of them are Not. Happy.

Sunday was finally warm and sunny enough to put them back in the cold frame, which reached a whopping 70 degrees mid-afternoon. Tomatoes need temperatures consistently above 55 degrees.  They've spent too much time in 40-50 degree weather and many more cold nights could finish them off.

Last night we had another freeze warning.  Not Frost - Freeze.  Mid-20s.  Despite a partly sunny day with temps topping out at 53, the cold frame was just a little above 40 degrees when I came home yesterday evening, so back inside they went. There just hasn't been enough sun to warm it.  This time I moved them to the insulated chicken coop with a heat lamp on them which kept them at 50 degrees all night.

This morning I awoke to half an inch of crusty, icy snow, and 32 degrees out.  The floating row covers over the cauliflower were no longer floating.  They were weighed down by a layer of ice which is nearly impossible to remove.  Inside the cold frame was about 38 degrees.  Not freezing, but still not good for tomato plants.  Especially plants that have been dangerously near freezing for days.  I couldn't even get all of the ice off the panels without risking damage to them so the heat wouldn't be coming in anytime soon..

So I left them inside.  Its fairly bright in there with large windows, and anything is better than subjecting them to another 40 degree day at this point.  The sun is shining pretty well today.  We have another hard freeze warning for tonight but then our luck begins to turn.  Tomorrow night I will put them back in the cold frame with a frost cover, but I'll probably save out a few of the better plants and take them into the house just in case.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Starting Seedlings Indoors

When I was little I remember well my father seeding flats in the seed room of our greenhouse.  It was a humid little room with plastic curtains around the benches to hold the moisture, and a misting system that passed over the benches a couple of times an hour.  He started with a full tray of seed starting mix which he scored in rows by pressing a piece of plywood with rows datoed into it every two or three inches.  He would place the seeds very close in their rows.  What you would end up with is one tray of a couple thousand seedlings shoulder to shoulder. When they were ready to be transplanted you could reach in with your fingers and scoop a chunk of seedlings out and set them out where their roots could easily be teased apart for individual placement in their big boy pots. It conserved space and enabled you to repot them however you wanted without risk of damage.

My Dad and little sister transplanting Coleus
 into individual pots 1975
When I started seeding my own vegetables at home (in the dining room) I went through the learning curve every one else does.  I did invest in a nice set of grow lights which weren't particularly cheap but have lasted ten years and still going strong.  I started with the Jiffy peat pellets which were a PITA.  You can't get the seedlings out of the pellet if you have to replant them deeper.  They're locked in there as if they had concrete shoes.  And the mesh that holds the mix together never fully disintegrates, and you will find them in the garden months later still wrapped around the roots.

Next I tried seeding directly into pots.  That system was somewhat flawed as well.  If you place one seed in each pot, and the one seed refuses to grow, you have to reseed.  Then that one pot is behind all of the rest of the seedlings so it still needs a dome and constant moisture while the others are moving on.  So I tried placing more than one seed in each pot.  Then you have to thin them because both (or even all three) come up.

The best way to thin them is to snip off the weaker one with scissors so you don't damage the roots of the one you're keeping.  But what if they're both really nice?  And you have that empty pot from the one that won't germinate.  So... you go get a pencil and uproot both of them so you can replant the one deeper, and fill your empty pot.  So.... again, why are we seeding directly into pots?  If we have to play musical pots?

Then I went back to my roots so to speak. I bought bottom watering cell packs.  Don't let the cells fool you.  I don't use those or at least not at first.  You start with the solid trays and the domes.  Fill those with seed starting mix and seed little clumps of seedlings.  Put the humidity dome on, and put them under a grow light on a heat mat.

A lot of people struggle with the logistics of the whole light and heat mat thing.  Yes, you are right to think that they don't need the light while they're germinating.  And no, they don't need the mat after they start growing.  But that doesn't mean you have to juggle things around.  If you start with both a light and a heat mat, then the first ones to pop up get the light and avoid getting too leggy while they're waiting on the stragglers.  They won't mind having warm feet and a humidity dome.  Although they'll soon out grow the dome.  When that happens, take the dome off and turn off the mat.  No need to rearrange anything.

Besides having heat mats, and grow lights, another requirement is a small fan and a timer to run it.  Giving your seedlings a shot of wind several times a day will stress them just enough to toughen the fibers in their stems.  It also encourages them to stay shorter and stockier.  I'm not sure how they know but they do.  And you want a timer for consistency.  Yes, you could turn the fan on once a day for half an hour but would you remember to turn it off?  I set mine for three half hour increments throughout the day.  I also have the light on a separate timer which turns it on at 6 am and off around 10 pm.

My setup includes a dual power strip.  One side is on continuous
for the heat mat, and the other side times the lights.
The fan is plugged into a wall timer that turns it on for several
half hour intervals throughout the day.
In addition to strengthening the stems, a fan improves the air flow so you get less mold.  But if mold is really a problem, just sprinkle your starting mix with cinnamon after you plant your seedlings and you won't have any mold.

Another consideration is that you have to plant like items together.  I found out years ago that if you put tomatoes and eggplants under the same humidity dome you are quickly going to run into a conflict of interests.  The tomatoes will be on their way out before the eggplants have even germinated.  And if you have them somehow connected in packs then you have a problem.  Take good notes of what happens this year.  Now I plant eggplants and peppers together or eggplants and cauliflower, because they are like-minded plants keeping a similar schedule and they need a least two weeks longer than tomatoes.

The six eggplants on the right were seeded with the Cauliflowers,
weeks before the tomatoes.  The Cauliflowers are already set out
and the Tomatoes are in gallon pots in the cold frame.
The Eggplant babies are now keeping company with the Borage starts on the left

As for what is going on in the garden today:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May

And its snowing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Let's Talk Row Covers

Tis row cover season.  Frost cover season.  Take it off and put back it on season.

I have my tomato plants in the cold frame.  The old and battered polycarbonate panels combined with a 50% sun shade allow me to harden off the seedlings.  I have to regulate how far open the lid is which regulates both the maximum temperature, and the amount of wind.  I always hope that the sunny days will be on my days off so I can adjust to conditions every couple of hours.  Satisfaction is defying the weatherman's prediction and knowing you got your cold frame set up right when you left for the office at 7am.

I am still baby-sitting the Chilly Pear tree.  It has now had its cover off more than on, but we are expecting cold nights this week, so it will be an on and off week.  The tree has done remarkably well under near blizzard conditions.  This past Friday we stopped by Tractor Supply, and they had a batch of fully leafed out ornamental trees in their parking lot that were frost burned all to heck.  That made me feel better.

I have lettuce babies and some herb seeds in pots in the garden.  I've been regulating their protection also with a plastic storage tub.

This not only keeps the soil warmer, it also is a humidity dome
preventing the seeds from drying out as they germinate
And then there are the Cauliflowers, Broccoli and Brussels Sprouts.  Last year I planted them in the Strawberry Bed which has a framework over it making it easy to apply a row cover with clothes pins.  This year there are Strawberries back in there so the cole crops had to go into the main garden.  If I don't want to be fighting little green worms every day for the next four or five months (and I certainly don't), it is imperative that the cole crops be covered from day one to keep the cabbage moths off.  Additionally, we have been having pretty stiff winds for at least a portion of every day and the young seedlings, which despite being raised with a fan on them daily, would still be dehydrated, battered and even twisted off.  The row cover buffers the wind.

There are a lot of products of different materials and dimensions out there that are marketed for supporting the row covers and building tunnels.  Additionally, I've seen a lot of examples on the internet of people supporting tunnels with bent PVC pipes.  This hasn't actually been a time where you can just wander into Home Depot and start bending PVC pipes to see which will work for this application.  So, with the challenge presented to my clever husband, I found that we had a substantial roll of leftover black water pipe hanging around.  I knew I wanted the hoops to be about six feet from end to end, which matches my existing bent pipe structures and row cover material.  Not only the strawberry covers, but this section shown below can be moved anywhere in the garden and is useful for either protecting lettuce in the fall or new plants in the spring.

This hoop house can be moved over the nursery plants at night to protect from late frost.
I have collected a lot of frost covers and remnants of frost covers over the years.  They typically come in widths of six feet, ten feet or twelve feet.  The lengths vary from ten feet to fifty feet (and they are not easy to cut neatly).  The frost protection varies from "summer weight" which rates about 28 degrees and will protect from a light frost to "garden quilts" which protect down to 24 degrees.  The thickness also affects the light transmission.  Summer wight allows 85% of light transmission, and the heaviest of the quilts allow 60%.  There are also shade cloths that block at least 50% of the sun.

Summer weight is what I want to use for most of the season, but it is easily torn and doesn't hold up well to battering winds and heavy rains (or hail or snow load).  After a few years of exposure to UV rays and other weather conditions it becomes even more fragile.  With potentially violent weather in March and April I do best with the heavier garden quilts for starters.

I attempt to keep all of this stuff sorted out by writing the dimensions and frost protection in a corner of the cloth with black marker.  And this stuff is AWFUL to fold neatly.  You think folding a fitted bedsheet is tough, just try wrestling with a 10' x 20' piece of eiderdown on a windy day.  So once you get it folded and put away, you are not going to want to unfold it just to see what size it is!

I had been planning to drive re-rod into the soil inside the sides of the beds, but my husband convinced me to drill into the wood itself to set the base.  The hole is not particularly tight on the rod.  I will be able to pull it out with the aid of locking pliers.  The hole is four inches deep.

The half inch re-rod slips inside half inch pipe firmly but easily.  The taller your rod, the more upright the sides of your hoops will be.

Now lets talk fasteners.  The catalogs which sell row covers don't present any clues as to how you are supposed to hold down the row covers which I think is a missed marketing opportunity.  Why not sell all of the hardware people will need for the cover/support combination they are selling?  Heck, even write one of those helpful articles for the information portion of the website to take the guess-work out of it.  Yes, you can weigh them down with rocks or poles or even bury the sides in the soil.  You could use earth staples.  But you are going to ruin your row cover pretty quick, and it will not be easily moved for watering or weeding.

I spent the winter months surfing the net for examples and products, and using what experience I have to imagine how all this would work easily and hold up, stay secure yet be easy to remove for watering or weeding, not to mention harvesting.  These half inch Bootstrap Farmer clamps are pricey, but brilliant.  The one down-side is that they require a bit of force to remove, and you may end up tearing a lightweight cloth if you have to repeatedly remove them.
 There are less expensive versions of PVC clamps. 
You could use scraps of garden hose.

Tekton makes a variety of sizes of strong spring clamps.  We have a bunch of them accumulated around the garden shed.  The 3/4 inch size work perfectly on the 1/2 inch water pipe.  And they are much less costly than the Bootstrap clamps above.
The Earth Staples, which I have used in the past for pinning down covers, actually work brilliantly for gathering and containing the ends of the fabric as long as you are placing them in firm soil. 
The earth staple has a hole to pass the end of the row cover through and pin it down
With a six foot length of pipe, spanning three feet of bed, I knew from my existing frames that the ends would be almost two feet tall.  I needed enough material to drop two feet and then insert into whatever I'm pinning it with.  My beds are 12 feet long (outer dimension) so I needed a length of fabric at least 18 feet long. 
12+2+2+slack=18 feet

This worked out perfectly.  Thankfully, I had an existing row cover that length so I could try it before I ordered fresh material for this season.  It isn't particularly expensive to replace.

So this is my finished row cover.  I can loosen the ends, slide the covers up one side of the ribs, and clamp them up giving me easy access to the plants.  I used the blue Bootstrap Farmer clamps (which I already had) on the ridge to stabilize the tunnel.  One downside of the black Tekton clamps is that the jaws are a little rough and can snag the fabric.  The blue clamps do not have the problem.  I am going to try placing some neoprene squares under those clamps to cushion the fabric.

The pipes are placed every 40 inches.  I had originally planned five supports instead of four, but we ended up drilling into the beds and there is already a re-rod drilled into the center of each side.  I would have had to shift everything off center and the four ribs seem sufficient for summer.  If you were extending the season into the fall with a chance of snow weighing down the cover, closer together would be better.

These covers also look neat and tidy.  I expect they will hold up well.  The covers will need to be replaced every few years, and if the pipe needs to be replaced, that will be simple to do.