Cloche Gardening For Out Of Season Vegetables

For a modest outlay you can ensure a supply of tender out-of-season vegetables. The simplest way to achieve this is to invest in a few cloches.

These are designed to give protection and this feature can be made use of in several ways. During wet or cold weather the soil can be covered with cloches and kept dry and warm. This enables the gardener to sow or plant much earlier than usual. Protection from cold winds and low temperatures encourages earlier and quicker growth and many plants can be started several weeks earlier than normally. In the colder northern countries and elsewhere many valuable winter crops can be brought through severe conditions successfully. Cloches stood securely on edge or wrapped around tender, larger plants, afford protection from cold prevailing winds and will promote healthier growth.

Two or three cloches placed together with their ends sealed with glass, make ideal propagators or miniature frames. If the larger type of cloche is used a number of seedlings can be raised in a comparatively small area.

Cloches protect plants from bird damage. Many seedlings are attacked by birds, especially pigeons, in town gardens. Seed- lings raised under cloches are given complete protection. Strawberries are not only forced earlier but are also kept in good condition by the glass. Plants grown to maturity under cloches, particularly flowers, are protected from weather damage, and the keen exhibitor will quickly appreciate this fact.Cloche Gardening

The original cloche was a bell-glass or small handlight which was easily moved from one situation to another. The bell-glass protected small groups of seedlings or cuttings and was remarkably effective in forcing early vegetables such as lettuce. The design and use of the modern cloche has resulted in greater versatility and a new conception of protected cultivation.

There are a large number of designs or types available today and all use either glass or a plastic material in their construction. The basic design of a cloche is a simple framework of wire or metal which supports sheets of glass or plastic. Some designs are extremely simple; others com-plicated with opening panels. All metal parts are suitably weatherproofed.

Glass types

The simplest design is a tent shape and consists of two sheets of glass supported by a single wire bent to tent shape. The bottom ends of the wire are bent to hold the glass and a specially designed wire handle clips the glass into place at the top.

The barn cloche is next in design with four sheets of glass if a pitched roof is required, or three sheets if a flat roof design is preferred. In the former model the wire framework is, of necessity, a little more complicated especially in some types which have ventilator panels or removable sheets. The main supporting wire conforms to the shape of a barn with the bottom ends bent slightly to hold the bottom edge of the two side sheets of glass. Two eave wires are placed under the main wire and clip over the top edges of the roof glass to hold them in position against the main wire. The bottom edges of the roof sheets rest in the eave wires and are held in place at the top or apex of the glass roof by a special wire handle which, in some designs, has a special extension piece to allow one roof panel to open against it in several positions.

There is usually a standard length for the cloche glass of 2 feet; the width varies according to the size of cloche required. Generally there are two main sizes, 6 inches, and 12 inches. All glass is 21 oz which is the standard quality for general horticultural purposes.

Several designs employ a flat roof and are usually wider than those just described. All use three sheets of glass in their assembly, a roof sheet and two side ones. Support for the glass is either strong galvanised wire or angled strip metal. The method of supporting the glass is generally very similar to that used in the barn cloches. The glass is slightly larger than tent or barn glass and more headroom is available. The tallest type of flat roof cloche uses 24 inches, square glass for the sides and a 12 inches wide sheet for the roof. Glass cloches vary in assembled width from about 9 inches to 2 feet.

Plastic types

There are two types of plastic cloche, those made from thin polythene material and others manufactured in more rigid plastic or PVC materials. Both have the great advantages of lightness and strength. The life of these materials varies according to the type and thickness of material, and most deteriorate within a few years.

Cloches made from the thinner materials are framed by thin gauge galvanised wire which is preformed into a tent or semi-circular shape. This wire framework usually extends a few inches at the base of the cloche to provide anchorage feet which are inserted into the ground. Some of the thicker gauge plastics are shaped by being sandwiched in metal sections or framing.

The lengths of plastic cloches vary considerably from about 18 inches to as much as 3 feet. Widths vary also but generally a measurement of about 18 inches seems to be popular.

Home made cloches

Cloches can easily and cheaply be made at home if some strong wire and a sheet of polythene are purchased. There are usually three grades of polythene available – standard, medium and heavy. All are suitable, although the heavy type should weather better. Various cloche widths can be made up as the poly-thene is sold in widths from 2 feet, to as much as 12 feet.

The wire is used to form hoops of the required height and width. These are pushed into the ground along the row to be covered. A spacing of about 2 feet between each hoop is usually sufficient. The plastic sheet is then laid over the hoops and the edges and ends trapped under the soil by about 3 inches or so. For extra protection the plastic can be doubled before it is placed over the hoops. It is essential, of course, to purchase only the clearest grade of plastic for cloche construction.

There are special wire or metal reinforced plastic or PVC materials available and these can be cut easily to any desired size. They can then be bent to form cloches of various shapes. It will be necessary to make wire pegs so that these can be pushed through the bottom edges of the cloches and into the soil to secure them.

The selection of cloches

The selection of a cloche will depend on the type of work it has to do and the cost. Plastic cloches are cheap to buy, light to handle but do not provide good frost protection. Their average life span is not as long as that of glass cloches unless the more expensive, thicker gauge plastic is used. When not required, plastic cloches can be stacked in a very small area as they rest one within the other so well. Large numbers can be carried at one time and this means a great saving in time and labour.

The glass cloches give more protection and more use can be made of them in the winter. They are more substantial and are easier to use in the more exposed gardens. As there is more versatility in sizes and ventilation facilities, a wider range of crops can be grown to maturity.

Stacking and storing is more of a problem and as they are easily damaged, replacement costs or maintenance is higher than plastic types.

Some cloche manufacturers provide special adaptors so that certain models can be given extra height. The adaptors usually consist of special strong wires and extra sheets of glass, the same length as that of the cloche and about 1 foot wide. Four wires and two sheets of glass are required for each cloche. Two wires are inserted at each side of the cloche and a few inches in from each end. A sheet of glass is inserted under the wires on each side to form two walls and the cloche is placed on top of the four wires in special grooves. The cloches are, in fact, on stilts with the gaps at the sides filled in with the two extra sheets of glass.

Growing vegetables in cloches

A week before sowing or planting takes place a well-balanced or general fertiliser is given at 3 oz per square yard. This is raked in thoroughly and the raking action will also break the soil down ready for sowing or planting. If cloches are placed over the prepared strips a week before sowing or planting takes place, the ground will be warmed slightly and will be maintained in a suitable condition despite bad weather. Beetroot For early supplies, a late February sowing is made in the south. For general sowings March is a suitable month. Small or large cloches are used depending on the number of rows required. Sow a single row under small cloches, three rows under larger ones, spacing these 6 inches apart. All seed is sown as thinly as possible, about 1 inch deep. Early thinning is neces-sary when seedlings can be handled easily. A later thinning is advised when roots the size of’ a golf ball are lifted. These are excellent for salads. Plants left in the rows are allowed to mature. ‘Detroit Selected’ and ‘Crimson Ball’ are suitable.

Broad beans

Seed is sown in mid November in the north and late January in the south. Tall cloches or additional height provided by special adaptors are necessary in late spring for frost protection to tall plants. Sow a double row in a 3 inch deep, flat bottom drill which is 8 inches wide. Space the seeds 8 inches apart in staggered fashion. Two suitable varieties are ‘Aquadulce’ and ‘Early Long Pod’.

Dwarf beans

Three sowings can be made: mid March in the south, early April in the north and, for a late crop to be picked approximately in October, a July sowing can be made. For all sowings the variety ‘Lightning’ is ideal. Seed is sown under the larger cloches in a double row in a flat 6 inch wide trench, 2 inches deep. Stagger seeds 8 inches apart. If drying beans are required, haricots should be sown in mid April in all districts as above. A good variety to use is ‘Comtesse du Chambourd’.

Runner Beans

In the south seed is sown in mid March and in late April in the north. Large barn cloches are used making a double row sowing with the rows 9 inches apart. Seeds are placed 2 inches deep and 8-10 inches apart. As the plants are staked individually later on, the seeds are not staggered, but placed opposite each other. ‘Streamline’ and ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ are very reliable.

Brussel Sprouts

Cloches are used solely as seed raisers to give plants a long growing period after an early start.

Carrots

Five sowings are made according to district. In the south early January will provide the first pickings if the variety ‘Primo’ is used. The earliest pos-sible sowing date in the north is mid to late February with a variety such as ‘Early Nantes’. Gardeners in the south can make another sowing in February for a prolonged supply of the early ‘Primo’. For a late November supply of carrots in the north, an August sowing of `Primo’ is advised. The seedlings must be cloched in September before first frosts threaten. Late crops for southern gardeners are obtained if a September to October sowing is made using the varieties ‘Early Nantes’ or ‘Primo’. Large cloches should be used, and four or five rows can be accom-modated. Thin sowing is necessary in I inch deep drills spaced 4-5 inches apart.

Cauliflowers

Three sowings can be made, using a cloche or two as a seed raiser. Early September for the north and late September for the south are the first sowing dates for early crops. Large cloches should be used so that three drills can be made. Sow thinly and thin later to 2 inches apart. Plant out finally in March and April 2 feet apart each way. If very large cloches are available. Some plants can be covered to maturity. A suitable variety for these sowings is ‘All The Year Round’. In the south a further sowing can be made in January and late in February for northern districts. In both instances plants are raised under a few cloches and finally planted out in outdoor beds. The same variety can be used.

Cucumbers

Frame and ridge types can be used. The former is hardier and cloche protection is necessary during early stages of growth only. For each plant a special site should be prepared, taking out a hole 1 foot square and half filling it with old manure or composted vegetable waste. The remainder of the hole should be filled up with good soil, mixed with a little horticultural peat.

Plants are trained in a special way. When the fourth true leaf has formed, the growing point of the plant is removed. Several lateral growths should form and the two strongest are selected; the others removed. These two are trained to run along the direction of the cloche row, one on either side of the plant. When these growths have produced six leaves, they are stopped. Side growths should form on the laterals and it is on these that the fruit is carried. All side growths are stopped at the third leaf beyond a fruit. Growths not bearing fruit are stopped at the sixth leaf.

All male flowers must be removed regularly from plants, otherwise fruits will be bitter and malformed. This applies only to the frame type of cucumber. Plenty of water is necessary and as soon as the first fruits have formed, weak liquid feeds or dry fertiliser should be given. Some light shading of the glass may be advisable in very warm, bright weather. Suitable varieties to use are ‘Conqueror’, ‘Improved Telegraph’, and ‘Butcher’s Disease Resisting’ which are frame types, and ‘Best of All Ridge’, `Greenline’ and ‘Long Green’ which are ridge cucumbers.

Lettuce sweet peas and catach crop of lettuce in a cloche

Late September is the sowing time in all districts for lettuce which will be ready for cutting from approximately March to May. Large barn cloches are used to accommodate three rows of seeds. Sow thinly and thin in November to 10 inches apart. Cloches remain over until April or late May in colder districts. Suitable varieties are ‘Attraction’ and ‘May King’.

In late January a further sowing can be made in southern counties. These lettuce should be ready for cutting in June. Similar growing techniques are required except that the original sowing must be even thinner to minimise thinning or transplanting checks. ‘May King’ and ‘Perpetual’ are good varieties.

Northern gardeners should make a sowing in late March. When large enough to handle thin plants to 1 foot apart. Cloches can be removed in early June when frost danger has passed. `Trocadero Improved’, ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Buttercrunch’ are ideal varieties.

For a late November supply of lettuce in the north, a sowing can be made in late July. Thin plants to at least 1 foot apart to allow plenty of air to circulate round plants in the dull months. Put cloches over the plants in early September. ‘May King’, ‘Market Favourite’ and ‘Attraction’ can be recommended.

The most suitable time to sow cos lettuce in all districts is March. Cover immediately with cloches which are removed in early June. Two rows can be sown under a large barn cloche. Seedlings must be thinned to 1 foot apart. A good variety to sow is ‘Giant White’.

Marrow

Sow in late April in the north and late March in the south. Culture is similar to that required for cucumbers except that the compact bush types are the best to grow. These require no stopping or training. To ensure a good set of fruit, hand pollination is advisable. The cloches are kept over the plants until early June. Suitable varieties are ‘Tender and True’, ‘Green or White Bush’ and ‘Courgette’. Peas For first sowings in the north, early October is the best month and southern sowings are carried out in November. The next sowing in the south is January and both north and south can sow again in March.

Sow in 8 inches wide flat drills, 2 inches deep. The seed is scattered in staggered formation 2-3 inches apart each way in three rows. The cloches remain over the plants from early sowings until the foliage is practically touching the roof glass. The peas can be decloched in early April when seed is sown in March. Early training with small twigs or brushwood is essential for good growth. Plenty of water is required once the plants are well established from the spring onwards. Suitable varieties are ‘Meteor’ for the October or November sowings, ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ for January sowings and laxton’s Superb’ for the March sowings.

Radish

This crop (like the lettuce and early carrots), is an ideal catch crop or intercrop. Out of season sowings are more valuable for cloche work and in the south sowings are made in late September and frequently from then onwards until late March. For northern gardeners, September and October are suitable months for late work and the end of February until late April for the early spring. Seed is sown thinly in shallow drills when used as a catch crop or broadcast under one or two cloches. The smaller cloches are particularly suitable for the latter pur-pose. Suitable varieties are ‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Scarlet Globe’.

Sweet Corn

This is one crop in particular which is grown more easily in this country with the aid of cloches. In the north a sowing can be made in early May and in the south in the second or third week in April. Seed is sown in situ or where the plants are to grow to maturity. Sow seed 10 inches apart in double rows spaced 1 foot apart. Two seeds per station are sown, removing the weakest seedling later on.

This crop should not be transplanted. When the foliage reaches the roof the crop can be de-cloched. Plenty of water is essential during hot, dry weather. There is no need to remove side-growths.

Fruit

There are two outstanding cloche crops, strawberries and melons. Straw-berries can be harvested several weeks before outdoor fruits are ready; cloches provide sufficient protection for melons to produce delicious fruits as good as those grown in greenhouses.

Strawberries

The site should be dug over thoroughly to ensure good drainage and organic matter incorporated at the same time at approximately a barrow-load to 8 square yards. A few days before planting apply a balanced or general fertiliser at 3 oz per square yard.

A bed is started by the purchase of one year old plants of virus free stock, which are planted in two rows 1 foot apart with 1 foot between plants. Early August is a suitable planting time and cloches are placed over the plants in late October in the north and late November in the south. Cloches are kept over the plants until picking is over. This protection will keep fruits in perfect condition and will prevent bird damage. During warmer weather in March and April, a little ventilation will be necessary. In the second year, the second row of plants should be scrapped as two year old plants grow quite large under cloches. If new plants are required, they can be propagated by runners from a healthy parent plant. Varieties to use are ‘Cambridge Vigour’ and Cambridge Favourite’.

Melons

Although this crop can be attempted in the north, it is more suited to the warmer southern regions. Melons are gross feeders and should have plenty of well-rooted manure or composted vegetable waste worked in at a barrow-load to 6 square yards. Horticultural peat at lb per square yard should be forked into the top few inches of soil. To conserve manure or compost, individual positions 18 inches square can be prepared. These are spaced 3 feet apart in a single row.

Plants can be raised from seed if a greenhouse or propagator is available where a temperature of 60°F (16°C) can be maintained. Failing this, plants can be purchased from a reliable source. Planting is done in mid May in pre-warmed ground. Plants should be covered with large barn type cloches.

A special training system is necessary as follows: stop plants after they have developed five true leaves. Select two of the strongest laterals which will be produced and remove all others. Train these laterals on either side of the plant in the direction of the cloche run. When they are about 2 feet long, stop them. Sub-laterals will form and it is on these that the fruits will be carried. Hand pollination of female flowers is essential and a small paint brush is ideal for this work. As fertilised fruits swell, give plenty of water and weak liquid feeds. Allow two or three fruits per plant and place these on sheets of glass or blocks of wood to prevent damage. As the fruit ripens reduce water.

Glass should be shaded and a very light spray with Summer Cloud will be ideal.

Suitable varieties are ‘Large Rock Prescott’, ‘Tiger’, ‘Best of All’ and ‘Canta-loup Charantais’.

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