Types of Cloche
At about 7.30 this morning, as most mornings, I poked my nose out of the front door and ambled down the road with Lefty to stretch her legs, and mine if it comes to it. But today something was different. For the first time this year the wind had a chill in it. It had that smell of winter that sears deep in the nostrils and the hands hurt with the cold for the first time. So, I thought its about time we had a look at what we’re going to do for the winter. Over the next few weeks I expect I shall dish out a good few pieces on how to protect your plants in one way or another. Also this winter I’m going to have a new shed and treat myself to a greenhouse, so no doubt there’ll be a lot about that too. But to kick us off I thought I’d take a look at the different types of portable protection we can have for our vegetables over the winter.
The various contraptions used by us gardeners to afford protection in this way come under the broad heading of cloche. Now cloche is French for bell and indeed, the very first cloches known to man were basically glass bell jars or lantern cloches made from panes of glass and a frame which were placed over individual plants to stimulate growth or offer protection from harsh frosts. You can still get your hands on these ornamental gems, in fact, I’m led to believe that the French are still very keen on making design statements with their vegetable gardens and decorative cloches.
Cloches, today however include a whole variety of different structures used to warm up the soil in order to protect seeds and plants, extend the growing season or allow plants to be over-wintered, and they really do come in all shapes and sizes.
I must admit that I can actually spend a very pleasant evening online or browsing through a catalogue looking at all the different designs and imagining them adorning the tops of my new raised bed… but I’m willing to accept that I’m a bit of a gardening nut. For the rest of you, it probably comes down to just knowing a bit about the different styles of cloche that are out there and beyond that, the choice, as they say, is yours. So, here’s my guide to the world of cloches for over-wintering.
Barn cloches provide a little extra height than most of their cousins, giving that little bit more usable space because they are slightly higher around the edges. Because of this, they are one of the most useful designs and are also very flexible for use on a variety of different crops. Although they can be more expensive, you’ll probably welcome the versatility and if you get one with a removable top, watering will be that much easier.
Made from an inverted V shape like the tent that gives this cloche its name, the tent cloche is generally inexpensive. The V shaped design means there is a fair bit of unused space so this type is probably best chosen for germinating seeds or bringing on early plants that don’t need much headroom.
Continuous tunnel cloches are the best choice for crops that have reached an advanced stage and need plenty of headroom, such as carrots or over-wintered broad beans. As they spread out to cover more ground they can also be used for generally warming up the ground in preparation for sowing or for covering early strawberries.
Individual or Dome Cloche
Only really useful for individual plants that you need to protect in isolation, purchasing individual cloches is an expensive way of over-wintering in a standard garden. However for container vegetable gardening they are essential. The unique proposition of growing few plants well nurtured in a small container means these individual covers are needed to pop on the top of a container to protect the contents where no other design will work.
So, there you have it, my whistle stop tour of the brightest and best when it comes to the good old cloche. Personally, I find a mixture of the above is best. Different crops need different things and when it comes to taking on the Great British weather, well armed is definitely the best approach. Just remember to lift your cloches now and again for weeding and watering. Out of sight should not mean out of mind in this instance!
Later this week I shall get around to looking at my needs for the winter and when I do so I’ll have a good explore of the best online bargains and put together a “best buys” for you guys to take a look at. Until then watch out for those first frosts and remember, especially early in the winter, if your caught out without a fancy cloche a good old sheet of newspaper will work wonders in a crisis!