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Cloche encounters in your garden: start your plants early with these tips from Jeff Ashton.

A CLOCHE IS LIKE A TINY GREENHOUSE that sits on a garden bed. Cloches are perfect for growing transplant stock from seed and starting warm-weather plants early. The first bell-shaped glass cloches were invented in 1623 in Italy and were generally about 17 inches (43.2 cm) in diameter and 15 inches (38.1 cm) tall. Modern cloches are simple to make and even simpler to use, and understanding their potential should be in every high-performance gardener's bag of tricks for extending the season.

The original cloche design and function have changed very. little over the last 350 years. Variations that have come into fashion over time include carrying knobs on top, venting holes, and tinted colors to reduce heat. But the basic shape has remained the same. Today there's a wide range of cloche designs: homemade newspaper hats, three-foot-tall (.9 m) plastic cones, commercially available waxed paper caps, panes of glass that form a diminutive barn-like structure, water-filled conical tubes, and many more.

Cloche Designs

The first cloche I used for starting transplant stock was a commercially-produced contraption made from clear rigid plastic fastened into a cone with an open top to let hot air out and moisture in. These cones were made to perform in Zone 4, but they worked perfectly throughout the winter in Zone 5 (southern New England). However, when I moved to the mountains of North Carolina, where it's generally Zone 6, I found that the cones got too hot, and they baked my seedlings several times. Typical winters in the mountains where I live can see temperatures drop down far below freezing at night and rise up to 60 F (16 C) during the day. This wide temperature fluctuation forced me to rig a cloche design that allowed for both extremes, while still producing quality transplant stock.


Old or discarded lampshades are easy to find at places like yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, or even along streets where less imaginative people have left them for the trash collector. Little do they know what great cloches they make!
Materials and Tools

Lampshade with metal frame
Rust inhibitor
Quick-drying latex primer
Floater row cover fabric
Waxed dental floss or heavy string
Large sewing needle

Look for shades that are about 15 inches (38.1 cm) across and have metal frames. Some shades have no internal frame and gain their structural integrity with pleated sides. When you find this type, you can use it as it is, but don't expect it to last more than half a season before it self-destructs in the elements. Some shades are deceiving. They seem to have metal frames, but when their outer coverings are removed, the metal pars are in pieces and of no use. On the average, one out of every five lampshades I've found is perfect for cloches.

If the covering is lightly colored, you can use it as is until the covering succumbs to the elements. When that happens, remove the existing cover from the lampshade with the scissors. When the covering's removed from a usable metal lampshade frame, you'll notice the junction points of the frame are soldered, and they clearly look like they'll stand hard use, so protect the frame with a high-quality rust inhibitor that bonds with the rust and produces a hard surface that will take a coat of primer. A couple of coats of quick-drying latex primer give the extra protection needed to take the elements.

Cut rough pieces of the floating fabric to fit around and on top to the frame. Attach them temporarily with clothespins. Use a big needle and waxed dental floss (which stands up well to inclement weather) to sew the fabric onto each structural piece of the frame. Because this fabric allows rain to penetrate, you can cover the top of the shade as well. When the shade's covered, it definitely looks like a nifty old-time cloche. And the fabric deals with the two big challenges of cloche gardening by allowing hot air to get out and water to get in. You can also place a rock or brick on the bottom rim of the lampshade frame to secure it to the ground.

If you don't have floater fabric, a less-perfect solution is to surround the frame with a double layer strip of 4-mil clear plastic. Attach the plastic to the frame with clear packing tape, and make sure you leave at least part of the top open to keep it from overheating.

If you aren't driven to scrounge for lampshade frames that work for you as cloches, you can make a similar cloche using something you may already have on hand.

Jeff Ashton tends his garden in the Reems Creek Valley, in the mountains north of Asheville, NC. This excerpt used with permission of Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. from The 12-month Gardener by Jeff Ashton, a Lark Book.
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Article Details
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Author:Ashton, Jeff
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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