A cloche can protect young plants from cold, wind, heavy rain, and many small pests. Similar to the women’s hat of the same name, a cloche is generally bell-shaped, but it doesn’t have to be.
Early cloches were glass jars or boxes, placed over young plants to protect them from cold, frost, wind, and heavy rain. First used in France, cloches became popular throughout Europe in the mid-1600’s to provide restaurants and the wealthy with out-of-season produce. These jars were often ornate and delicate.
Cloches allow gardeners to get a head-start on the growing season. Greenhouses and cold frames work the same way. Modern cloches are mostly made out of plastic, and have largely been replaced with row covers. Small scale gardeners can still make use of more attractive, repurposed materials to protect young seedlings from the elements.
Cloches as pest protection
Solid-bodied cloches can provide protection for tender plants against caterpillars, snails, aphids, and many other pests. For a cloche to be effective against chickens, squirrels, and other larger pests, it has to be very sturdy and anchored in a way that can withstand repeated attacks.
While there are many sizes and shapes of cloche available for purchase, you can easily make your own. The most common DIY cloche suggestion is to use soda bottles or milk jugs by cutting off the bottom of the jug and using the lid to ventilate the cloche. The only problem with these ideas is that they add even more plastic to your garden soil.
How to use a cloche
Heat-loving plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, basil, and eggplant, get a much better start when protected with a cloche early in their development. Seeds or seedlings can be placed under a cloche after the soil has been watered. Most of the moisture will stay trapped in the cloche, but occasional waterings will still be needed as the plant grows. Because a glass cloche holds heat and air within, it can get too hot and too humid for your young plant. Occasional venting is necessary. To do this, simply slide a piece of wood or a rock under one edge of the cloche to increase air flow. In the evening, before temperatures start to drop, remove the prop and allow the cloche to sit flat on the ground again. If your cloche is made with fabric, venting is not needed. Once the plant outgrows the cloche, simply store it for another season or use it on another, smaller plant.
Cloches can also be used to help sensitive perennials make it through winter.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!