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Want a vegetable gardening tip that will give you a head start on the planting season AND save you money? Try using simple cloches to shelter your plants from inclement weather, encourage quick germination for just-planted seeds, or even extend the autumn harvest for weeks. Cloches act as miniature greenhouses and can be purchased or made from common household items like milk jugs or water bottles.
Vegetable gardening tip; How to use cloches in your garden:
- To shelter newly planted tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings from the ‘one step forward, two steps back’ weather of April and May. They offer protection from frost, but also spring snow and hail.
- I use water-filled cloches to ‘trick’ Imperial Star artichokes into growing and producing their harvest in my short northern season. The young plants are transplanted underneath the cloches in mid April and given about six weeks of growth before the water-filled structures are removed in late May. We then harvest delicious homegrown artichokes by August! The water cloches are also great for getting a jump start on heat-lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
- Cloches can also be effective temporary barriers for freshly sown crops, blocking birds, deer, squirrels, and even slugs from munching on pricey seeds. A bonus – popping a cloche over your just-planted pole bean, sunflower, cucumber, and zucchini seed can boost germination rates and hasten sprouting.
- As summer morphs into autumn, a cloche is an easy way to protect late-ripening crops, herbs, compact veggies or even edible flowers from frost, stretching the harvest by anywhere from two to eight weeks, depending on the crop.
The best bit? Cloches don’t have to cost anything! Sure, you can go to your local garden supply store and shell out big bucks for beautiful bell-shaped glass cloches, but why would you? I’ve used all types of cloches and although I appreciate the ornamental appeal of the French-inspired glass cloches, I find them more decorative than practical. In the rush of garden work, I’ve accidentally stepped on more than a few of these breakable beauties, shattering them and leaving bits of sharp glass in my garden beds. Not cool! Therefore plastic is my material of choice. You can buy inexpensive plastic cloches or just DIY and upcycle large jars, bottles, or jugs.
Like all season extenders, cloches need to be vented on mild days to prevent heat build up. To vent, I lift and remove, piling them neatly at the end of the garden bed. Towards the end of the day, they are placed back over their crops. With recycled materials like milk jugs or plastic bottles, you can also vent by removing the cap. To secure a cloche on a windy day, hill the soil up around the bottom lip.
Five ideas for FREE (or really, really cheap) cloches:
- Water jugs: Try to find the big ones used in water coolers. Cut off the bottom and voila, you have a wonderfully large cloche for medium to tall plants or clumps of salad greens.
- Juice and soda bottles: The bigger, the better. Cut out the bottom and place over your plants.
- Salad containers: Here’s the irony: re-use plastic salad containers – which once held pricey and often-imported greens – to grow more salad veggies!
- Punch bowls: Scour tag and yard sales for cheap glass or plastic bowls.
- Wine glasses or other large cocktail vessels: Got a chipped wine glass? Use it in the garden to shelter tiny seedlings or just-sown seeds.