What’s a cloche? And why is it called a cloche? It’s a French word meaning “bell”, I assume due to the fact that way back when a cloche was typically made of glass and bell-shaped. The use of cloches for garden protection dates back to 19th Century France which I imagine is how they bagged the naming rights. You can still find glass bell cloches (the direct translation of which is therefore bell bells!) to buy, both new and second hand, although they are expensive.
These days it is much cheaper to manufacture in plastic, and even cheaper to bodge one yourself. Regardless of shape, size and material, the purpose of a cloche is to provide protection from cold weather and the elements, the cloche acting as a miniature greenhouse, covering one or more plants. This protection is useful to extend at both ends the season for vegetable growing – in early Spring before the risk of frost is over, and again in mid Autumn as Jack Frost returns.
In my quest to grow the maximum yield of crops from my little plot of three 8’x4′ raised beds, I want to get sowing and planting as early as possible. Without protection, for most crops I would have to wait until maybe the end of April before sowing or planting out. I want to get early crops of carrots, salad leaves and beetroot, to name a few, partly so we can scoff the resulting veg sooner, but also so that they are finished sooner so I have more time to get a second crop in. I need to get cloched up!
I always have scrap wood kicking around so I thought I could quite quickly make a square or rectangular frame of an appropriate size and cover with polythene sheet, much as I did for the lid of the cold frames I made recently. In the end I decided it would be quicker and easier to make a small hoop frame using 25mm plastic pipe. This pipe is quite cheap to buy in quantity, usually used for mains water supply, often blue in colour. Mine is black and green as it is intended to carry non-potable water, left over from some building work a few years back. This kind of pipe is good for this purpose because it is quite rigid and therefore strong, but is bendable to the desired shape, up to a point. The basic design is shown below. For a longer cloche, more than two hoops might be needed.
Mine is 1.2m long and 0.6m wide, big enough to cover 8 square feet, or one quarter of one of my raised beds. My planting plan is mostly organised by dividing the beds into eight equal squares, each 2’x2′ so a cloche this size coveres two such squares, either horizontally across the whole width of the bed, or covering half the length of one half of the bed. I settled on this size to give me a good balance between flexibility and hassle-factor.
This is how I made my cloche.
I first cut some battening to 0.6m, two pieces. These are to hold the pipe at the correct width apart to form the arch of the desired shape. Using a hack-saw, I cut the pipe long enough so that there was approxmately 6-8 inches of excess at each end. I screwed the pipe to one end of the battening then bent the pipe to roughly the right shape and screwed the other end of the pipe to the other end of the battening.
I just used one screw at each end, two might have been better. I cut the pipe longer than I needed for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t know exactly how much I would need to make the arch, secondly to have some spare at each end to anchor the cloche in the ground a bit, rather than just have it rest on the surface.
As the cloche will sit for some weeks on the plot I wanted to brace the ends a little for rigidity. For this I cut a length of battening, 1.2m long.
The remaining two tasks were easier to complete with the components in place on the plot. I stuck the arches into the ground at opposite sides of one of the raised beds, 1.2m apart. I then screwed the apex of each arch to each end of the 1.2m battening. This will hold the arches at the required distance apart as well as giving the whole thing a bit more rigidity.
Having cut the polythene sheeting roughly to size, the next step was to staple the sheet to the pipe. With a heavy duty staple gun this is a quick task, the sheet just needs pulling into shape and keeping taut-ish.
This is the first of three or four I plan to make. For my next one, I think I will cut the sheet a little longer and have enough to close the ends when needed. I’ll also take a bit more care to get the pipes a similar length – this one is a noticeable amount higher at one end than the other. It won’t make any difference to how it performs, but does upset my sense of proportion a little!
My plot is quite sheltered so I’m not too worried about the cloche blowing away in a strong wind, but the sheet could be pegged out and I also have the option of nailing or screwing the battening to the edges of the raised bed, although this would make it trickier to move about.
I am hoping it will be straightfoward to remove the polythene sheeting (staple remover!) and replace with enviromesh or netting for the main season so I can keep the bugs and birds off my crops using the same hoop frame.
If you decide to make one, let me know how you get on in the comments!
I’ll be back soon with more garden and propagation goings-on.