A cloche is the simplest way to extend the growing season in a low maintenance organic garden. One of the easiest ways to make a cloche is to procure several large plastic hula hoops at a market stall at a bulk-buy price. Yes, hula hoops! (You can still find them.)
Failing that, building sites or beauty spots often abound in discards of luridly coloured flexible plastic pipes. They can be had free for the asking.
Cut them in half. Stick short bamboo canes – or ideally metal rods – along the sides of your garden bed and leave some eight inches protruding. Push the ends of the hula hoops over the canes to form a half-hoop. Then drape clear plastic over the hoops, draw them together at the ends and tether them to the ground with big metal staples.
You can get clear plastic sleeves free from dry cleaning outlets. Staples can be cut from wire clothes hangers.
The HulaHoop Cloche is pretty and can be taken up to be re-used year after year. Or you can leave it in place to shelter over-wintering brassica or provide a seedbed or cold frame in spring.
If you live in the country, and have no hula hoops, you can bend willow or elder saplings into a half-circle and cover them with plastic. Sapling cloches have the advantage that they will probably take root and yield you a leafy tunnel – a summer den for young children or ducks. Or a hermitage for yourself.
A dynamic use for old garden canes
If you live in town you may not have access to free saplings or plastic pipes so you will have to make your cloche from bamboo canes. These don’t bend very well, even soaked in boiling water, and a trellis of straight canes has sharp dangerous ends. Of course, these can be topped with upturned beer cans or cola bottles to avoid shredding the plastic. But the result is ugly. Solution? The Dynamic Instant Plant Protector, Yeoman-style (DIPPY).
Obtain some large plastic milk or cooking oil bottles, the two or three pint size. Cut a central hole in the base of each, just large enough for a bamboo cane. Cut similar holes in the side of the bottles, halfway up and around three inches apart.
Push two canes in the soil some three feet apart, with their tips crossing at the very top. Insert the tips into the holes in the sides of the bottle, so they cross inside the bottle and are firmly held.
When each bottle has been secured in this way insert a long cane into the base hole of each bottle so it rests on the apex of the two canes inside and protrudes through the front pouring hole. Do this with each remaining bottle so the horizontal canes overlap inside each bottle and are held by the bottles.
Like love, more easily done than described
Drape plastic over the structure in the usual way. Like love, the idea is more easily done than described, costs little and is aesthetically pleasing. You’ll find this cloche to be surprisingly resilient to wind (hence ‘dynamic’), provided the upright canes are deeply bedded in the soil. It will bend and flap but return to its original position. The plastic doesn’t tear but slides over the smooth bottle surfaces. It is massively robust, without wire or string.
I have also used the concept, of holding canes together with plastic bottles, to make a bean trellis. Not having enough string or wire to hand I cut holes in the base of small bottles, inserted the tips of the canes so they crossed inside and protruded through holes in the bottle’s side. The bottle exerted enough tension to keep the tips together, even in a gale that was strong enough to topple seven-foot wooden bean trellises, strengthened with metal hinges.
The ultimately durable cloche…
To make an unbreakable cloche that lasts nearly forever, you could bend a 16 foot length of metal rod – called a rebar and available from building supply stores – diagonally across a four foot bed to give two hoops some five foot high at the apex and a cloche area around eight foot long. The bottoms of the rod should be inserted two foot in the soil. Wire them together at that point.
This gives a permanent sturdy frame that can serve many purposes.
Cover this frame with plastic in spring as a cloche or polytunnel. Or criss-cross strong string around the frame to form a box for broad beans. Wire horizontal canes to the uprights in summer or drape string from them to support tomatoes, cucumbers or climbing beans.
If you make several such structures, you could use conventional crop rotation in them. That way, you’ll avoid the hazards of growing the same vegetables every year on a permanent frame in the same plot.
This giant cloche makes a multi-purpose play space, a temporary garage or a summer retreat for the gardener. Best of all, it will grow almost anything. As the poet Browning aptly wrote: ‘A man’s gourd should exceed his grasp, or what’s a trellis for?’