Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Frost on the Furrow

Do you know what a cloche (pronounced "klosh") is? To me, this sounds like footwear: a marriage between clogs and galoshes. But, no, this is something far more useful: a lightweight covering for a plant or plants that can easily be moved. Unlike cold frames, cloches allow light to reach a plant from every direction. Cloches are especially well suited for use in the maritime Northwest, where plants need protection from excessive rain and cold winds more than from very low temperatures.

Carla Emery suggests getting creative with easy-to-obtain materials like coat hangers, plastic jugs, and discarded wire fencing, but in fact, a cloche can be made of anything that transmits light, so the possibilities for design are nearly limitless. They can be made of cheap materials - cheaper than those needed to make a cold frame or greenhouse.

The word "cloche" is French for bell. In Europe, gardeners have covered plots for centuries, and in the 1600s, French market gardeners used a glass jar in the shape of a bell to cover a plant. Now cloches for individual plants may be made of waxed paper, plastic, fiberglass, or glass. Or your cloche may be a big, plastic-covered tunnel or tent that covers entire rows of plants. A wide variety of cloches are available commercially, with an equally wide range in prices.

It is best to use a cloche with plants that do not do well in dramatic temperature changes, such as tomatoes. As long as night temperatures go below 50 degrees, make sure to cover these plants. When open-air gardening begins in the summer, wash your cover material, dry, and store in a shady place until needed in the fall.

And if you're not quite ambitious enough to attempt using cloches and cold frames to extend your growing season into the chilly months, remember these insightful words and start thinking spring!

"Gardens begin in the winter when you're cold and housebound. Then you read, dream, and plan." - Carla Emery

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