Vegetable Crops for Cloches
Previously we described the main types of cloche available, and also provided weeding, watering and ventilation details. Here we outline the range of crops that benefit from the protection afforded by cloches, giving the sowing or planting season in each case.
The gardener who has a run of cloches at his disposal will get off to a good start in the spring, for a crop with cloche protection for most or all of its growth will mature up to three weeks earlier than an unprotected one. This means that in many cases the same sowing strip can be used again — later in the year — for a different crop. Dwarf peas, for example, if sown under cloches around mid spring (middle of March), will be ready for picking in mid summer (June); as soon as they have been cleared, plant cabbage or cauliflower, or sow carrots or beetroot for pulling young in the autumn.
Spring and summer sowings
If you have any cloches to spare in late winter (January), put these in place and leave them for about a month to dry out and warm up the soil — this pre-warming is an important facet of cloche cultivation. Then, in early spring (February), you can sow lettuce, carrots, peas or broad beans there.
Another crop that benefits from growing under cloches in the spring is new potatoes. Tubers planted in mid spring (March), if already sprouting, will be through the soil well before the last frosts, and cloches will prevent damage. Give potatoes plenty of air during the daytime but close up the cloches at night. If the haulms are drawn up too quickly they will flop over when the plants are de-cloched.
By about late spring (middle of April) you can cover runner beans, dwarf French beans, or sweet corn, all these being sown in situ. This will give you about a month’s start on the same crops sown without protection.
From early to mid summer (middle of May to early June) — according to district — tomatoes, sweet peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, marrows and outdoor melons will be ready for planting out under cloches. The cucumbers, cantaloupe melons, and some dwarf varieties of tomato can be covered throughout their growth if large barns are used, but smaller cloches are helpful for temporary protection. Even if you keep these tender
When the plants are pushing at the roofs of the cloches, it is time to de-cloche, but a respite can be obtained for another week or two if the cloches are raised up on bricks.
In the case of cordon tomatoes, you can give continued protection by carefully tipping the cloches on end and standing them around the plants. Ideally, two cloches should be allocated to each plant, but if your supply won’t run to this, use one cloche and leave the plant open on the south side. The cloches help to keep the plants upright; they also allow rainfall to reach the plants naturally, and enable you to pick the crop without first having to move the cloches. Do make sure, though, that each cloche is securely fastened to a cane pushed into the soil, or else a summer storm could bring disaster.
It is not always realized that cloches can extend the season at both ends. Late summer (July) sowings of beetroot, carrots, turnips and lettuce, if cloched in mid autumn (September), will continue to grow until early winter (November). The little lettuce Tom Thumb can be sown as late as early autumn (August) and still mature by early winter (November), provided you cloche it.
Cloches can be used for ripening tomatoes in the autumn. The weight of fruit growing on dwarf varieties pulls the laterals down. Flowering shoots continue to form, mostly at the top of the plants, but by mid autumn (early September) it will be too late for these to make anything and you can cut them out. You can then replace the cloches over the plants. Where the tomatoes have been grown as cordons, cut them from the supporting canes, lay them carefully on a bed of straw or black polythene, and cover them with cloches. Ripening will then continue well into late autumn (October).
Drying off bulbs
Cloches are also useful for drying off onion, shallot and garlic bulbs. Spread them out in a narrow band just less than the width of the cloches, and cover. This gives the bulbs the full benefit of the sun. while keeping the rain out. Leave the ends of the cloches open so that the wind can blow through.
Autumn and winter sowings
All your cloches should be occupied throughout the autumn and winter. Lettuce of the Suzan type can be sown in mid autumn (September) and clothed a month or so later. Thin them to about 5cm (2 in) when they are large enough to handle, and thin them again around early spring (February) to 13-15cm (5-6 in). These thinnings can be transplanted. In late spring (April) take out every other plant for use and leave the others to heart up properly. For an overwintering cos lettuce, try Winter Density. To keep botrytis at bay, give ventilation in all but the coldest weather.
Both endive and corn salad will give better and cleaner crops if they are given cloche protection, and this is also true of spinach beet. A sowing of round peas — Feltham First is a good choice — can be made in late autumn (October), and one of broad beans in early winter (November). All these overwinter successfully.
If you have had difficulty growing spring cabbage, it is worth trying it under cloches, for these give complete protection against marauding wood pigeons.
A year’s programme
There are many variations on the cloche theme that you can try out for yourself, but here is one suggestion for a run of large barn cloches throughout the year: Mid autumn (September) — sow Premier or Suzan lettuce. A barn cloche will take three rows 20cm (8 in) apart.
Late autumn (October) — cover.
Late spring (middle of April) — de-cloche.
Sow two rows of dwarf beans 30cm (12 in) apart, and cover at once.
Early summer to late autumn (end of May to October) — cover dwarf tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers or melons.