Anyone can make a cloche, and most gardeners should at least consider using them. They protect plants from rain, wind, and light frost. They also can be used to provide added warmth for heat loving crops, especially in cool-summer regions like the Maritime Pacific Northwest. All this, and you'll only be out about ten bucks!
You don't need a lot of material to make a cloche. For each 2-3 feet of length, you'll want a 10' length of 1/2" PVC pipe or black poly pipe. This will provide support for the cloche's skin. When purchasing the plastic to skin the cloche, add about 8 feet to the length of the cloche to allow coverage for the ends. So if you're protecting a 9-foot-long garden bed, you'll want 9 + 8 = 17 feet of length. Whatever the length is, you want 10' of width. I buy the 3-mil clear plastic available in the paint section of most hardware stores.
My garden beds are between 4 and 5 feet across. One 10' length of PVC pipe can be bent into a large "croquet wicket" hoop roughly 5 feet wide and a bit over 3 feet tall. The ends of this hoop are simply pushed into the ground as far as they can go. This is a lot easier if you first cut the ends off at an angle (above photo), using either a hacksaw or large pruning shears.
(One side note to any serious croquet patrons: I realize your wickets are square, not round; you don't need to take me to task over that.)
The spacing of the hoops depends on a few things. First, if you live in a windy spot you'll want the hoops spaced more tightly. Also if the rain really comes down hard you'll want that extra support as well. If the cloche is being used to mainly provide extra heat during the calmer late spring and summer months, the ribs can be spaced at a fairly wide interval. My garden beds are between 9 and 10 feet long, and I go by this rule of thumb: In winter I have five hoops for support (assuming the cloche covers just one bed), while in summer I'll use three or four.
Cloches are usually informal structures. I simply lay the plastic over the hoops, and weigh it down with water-filled jugs. One end is kept open for ventilation almost all the time. The only exception is when I'm using the cloche to protect frost-sensitive plants - then I close it up at night, and open it again in the morning. On sunny days you can open up both ends, or remove the plastic altogether.
Some nurseries and seed companies also sell plastic "cloche clips", which hold the plastic snugly onto the hoops. They run a bit less than a dollar each. Two companies that carry them are Territorial Seed Company and Raintree Nursery.
All contents © Travis Saling
This page was last updated July 9, 2011