A cloche can loosely be defined as a structure that is placed over a plant to protect it from the cold. The first mentioning of a cloche can be found around 1630 in a gardening treaty. John Evelyn (1620-1706) mentioned bell glasses as a mandatory garden tool in his Elysium Britannicum, or The Royal Gardens or Three Books.
While these first cloches were developed by the French and made from glass, the Dutch and English quickly built upon this basic design. These cultures created cloches that were in lantern and pyramid style. The basic material was the same but the glass panes were held into place with iron frames.
Those who could not afford the expense of glass cloches were not deprived of this important tool. Cloches made from straw could be found throughout many colonial fields.
Cloches throughout history have been very important in plant protection. A basic cloche works by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night. This allows the gardener to put their crops out sooner and harvest sooner. But the story does not end there. To prevent your plants from getting too hot during the day and cooking, one must vent it in some fashion. Glass bell cloches need to be removed from the plant before the sun hits it or place bricks around the plant and set the bell cloche on the bricks. These bricks will create a vent by which excess heat can be released.
Cloches that were made later added a design element by which the gardener did not have to remove the cloche everyday. Some of these had vents that could be opened, corks that could be removed, or windows that could be left ajar.
Today, there are several choices of cloches out there for the gardener to use. Outdora sells several sizes of cloches that can protect row crops, tender perennials, and seedlings. These cloches are made of heavy plastic and are secured to the ground with stakes. These cloches are vented through a zippered window that is easy to open and close. Once it warms up, these cloches are easy to take down and store away until the next season.
Another type of cloche that Outdora sells is The Row House. This type of cloche is perfect for hardening off seedlings or protecting that row crop you sat out early. The Row House has three zippered, screen windows that can be opened for ventilation and a shade cover that can be used for extra solar protection.
If the gardener only has one or two plants that need protection, a homemade cloche maybe the answer. To construct a homemade cloche requires a 2-liter pop bottle and scissors. To begin the process, first study the plant you need to protect. If the plant is tall, a taller cloche will be needed. On the other hand if it is small the opposite is true. As an example of how this works, lets create a cloche for a small plant.
Once the height requirement has been decided, the next step is to cut the plastic bottle. A good gauge to use for a small plant is the label of the bottle. The height from the top of the bottle to the label creates a cloche with enough height for a small plant. Cut along the top of the label with a pair of scissors. Wash out the cut off part with soap and water. Let the cloche air dry before using it in the garden.
After the homemade cloche has dried, simply place over your small plant and lightly push down into the soil. In the morning, remove the lid from the bottle to release excess heat and replace before the sun goes down.
So this year, be the first to harvest fresh tomatoes from the garden with the help from the historical cloche.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.