Friday, 17 February 2012


With Spring being in the offing, I'm turning my attention once more to ways in which I can extend the growing season. Without protection of some kind, it would not be safe to plant things out until late May at the earliest, and since we usually expect to see the first of the Autumn frosts in late September or early October, that doesn't give a lot of room for manoeuvre. Today I'm going to show you the kit that I use for protecting my crops.

A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a fourth one of those Parasene "Longrow" cloches, so that I now have enough of them to cover one complete raised bed. The package has been sitting in the garage waiting for me to get round to assembling the thing. Last weekend I finally knuckled-down and made the cloche.

 The photo shows the new cloche sitting on the soil surface. You can see the legs which are normally pushed into the soil to keep the thing steady. When I took the photo the soil was frozen too hard to permit this.

 I have written about these things before: you may remember my surprise at finding how insubstantial they are. At about £35 each when bought singly, I had expected them to be a superior product, and I must confess to being a little disappointed. The end pieces in particular are very flimsy indeed, and are likely to be the weak point. Nevertheless, I think that the cloches are a necessary addition to my "box of tricks" if I want to extend the growing season by a few weeks at each end.

Just in case you are in any doubt about this, a cloche like this serves two purposes: it protects young/small plants from some of the worst aspects of the weather (snow, frost, wind etc), but it also protects them from animals - which in my case is probably the greatest attraction of them. In the past I have sometimes suffered a lot from the night-time excavations of cats and foxes, frequently wreaking havoc upon a batch of newly emerged seedlings. These cloches have already helped me a lot in this respect. I shall be using them to protect some rows of parsnips and beetroot just as soon as the weather warms up sufficiently for sowing...

Another point to note by the way, is that cloches like this do not raise the temperature unless there is sun shining on them. In fact that is definitely something you need to be aware of in the Spring. When there is bright sunshine the temperature inside one of those cloches can easily get too high for delicate little seedlings, so you need to be careful to provide adequate ventilation. Mine have little opening and closing vents in the end-panels for this purpose.

In the top photo you can also see some of my bell-cloches. The ones on the right of the picture are covering a couple of lettuces. I have been pleased with this type of cloche. They were good value at 3 for £10, and they are nice and tall, so you can keep them in place even when a plant begins to grow quite big. Another advantage of them is that they are stackable, so they take up much less space when not in use. The same cannot be said for the long ones, unfortunately. Last Summer I had to keep them arranged around the edge of the garden because I have nowhere else to put them - though they were at one stage pressed into use as windbreaks to protect the young climbing beans...

At this time of year, my plastic mini-greenhouses start to come into the limelight.

When I start sowing seeds they will be used as part of my hardening-off procedure. The little plants will reside in these greenhouses for a while (perhaps being brought indoors at night if the weather is still cold), until such time as I judge them to be strong enough to fend for themselves in the open air. I find these greenhouses incredibly useful - I couldn't manage without them now - and they are also very good value for money at about £10 to £12 each.
In similar vein is the coldframe. I use this for hardening-off tender plants, but I also use it as a place to over-winter my herbs. Mine is made of aluminium with glass panels, but with hindsight I think polycarbonate panels would be better - they are lighter and safer (especially if you have young children).

I know that lots of people make extensive use of horticultural fleece, but I'm not a great fan of it. I have found it to have the following disadvantages:
  • It is too fragile - the foxes often rip it when searching for food. Heavy snow can also have the same effect.
  • It is not sufficiently water-permeable. I have had to remove it to water the plants underneath, even when we have had heavy rain
  • It is fiddly to remove if you just want a quick look underneath to see how things are doing.

Damage caused by foxes -- Grrrrrr!

So those are the options open to me at present. Now here's my Wishlist
  1. (Proper; i.e. glass) greenhouse
  2. Poly-tunnel
  3. Space for 1 and 2!


  1. We don't really want to spend so much on kit for the allotment for fairly obvious reasons and aesthetics aren't as important so we use a makeshift type of cloches which is basically a piece of corrugated plastic sheet bent over to form a tunnel and held in place using short canes. We could put sheets of plastic etc at the ends but generally leave the ends open for ventilation as it is harder to keep opening and shutting the ends when they are on the plot rather than in our garden.

    I agree that fleece isn't very substantial so we use enviromesh instead as this lasts year after year. The fleece also used to end up with melted holes in it where the sparks from fellow plot holders bonfires had landed.

  2. I'm such a fan of row covers, unlike you. I have a tendency to forget to take off things like plastic. So the plants wither from the heat on sunny days. Row covers are safer all around for me. It is annoying that they only get about half the rain as plants outside the tunnels. And they do rip easily. Luckily I don't have foxes. Cats yes, but they don't try to rip my fabric. I have had squirrels jump on them and rip them. They just don't last.

  3. I use those green mesh concertina cloches for protection they help to shade the plants a little as well. I have two self-assembly greenhouses which fit exactly over my raised beds you can roll the sides up and there is mesh inside. And the other day I bought a grow cover reduced from £30 to £10, so I think I'll be alright this year.

  4. All this cheap plastic. Really there must be a better way! I am very envious of all your growing space. Have you ever tried it the Alice Fowler way?

  5. Foxes sure do wreak havoc. I agree about fleece, it doesn't tend to last longer than a season, if that.

  6. What a great post. I use the fleece, re purposed plastic, Lexan in the raised beds and whatever else works, even the large water cooler bottles with their bottoms off.

    We have foxes but strangely they haven't done damage. It is always great to read other gardeners approaches to extending the seasons. Thanks

  7. This all makes me feel very bad for complaining about a rubbish Sydney summer. Such dedication is involved in making a garden work in your climes. It looks lovely! Enjpoy spring and the fruit it brings. Louise gardenglut

  8. Great advice, now all I need is a few spare square metres!

  9. I am hoping for a nice poly tunnel myself. I am going to try to piece some type of poly tunnel or hoop house together this summer. We have fox's as well but its skunks and the feral cats that give my garden the most problems.

  10. Yes, It's getting to be about that time. I've done inexpensive hoop house with poly covering, but the plastic doesn't last. My B-I-L has some old windows I'm going to try and repurpose, and then there is the technique Sue mentioned above.

  11. Hi Mark, this was a very interesting post. I've been thinking about how to extend my growing season and trying to grow year round. I like the row covers but they are quite expensive. Hoop houses seem to be en-vogue here in the PNW. I have not tried them yet. I do like the idea of a cold frame, especially for wintering over herbs and maybe even starting a little lettuce early. I did purchase some propagators for my new indoor seed starts based off another blog post you did. I'm going to grow Tomatoes and Peppers from seed. Wish me luck! Cheers, Jenni

  12. I too dream of a polytunnel - and the space for it! I think those small green collapsing mesh cloches look good, lots of people use them up at our allotment site. We don;t have a fox problem so I actually find fleece really handy, together with home made structures made from hose or bamboo canes. Storage issues apart, your plastic cloches look good value.


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