Sunday 11 November 2012

Crop-protection strategies

The advent of my new coldframe has got me thinking again about crop-protection methods...

The coldframe is initially going to be used as Winter accommodation for most of my potted herbs, though there are quite a few that will have to remain unprotected, simply because I have so many herbs.

Blotanico coldframe

Over on the raised beds I have four "Longrow" 1.2-metre cloches, which are now protecting lettuces and endives.

Longrow cloches

I have not had these cloches very long and I have mixed feelings about them. The principle is great, but there are one or two problems too, which you would do well to consider if you are contemplating buying some yourself. For a start, they are not cheap - about £35 each. For this price you might be justified in thinking that you would get a superior product. However, I have found these cloches to be quite flimsy. The metal bits are very lightweight and bend easily. The main cover is formed by two sheets of corrugated PVC which are held in place mainly by their own springiness, and they have an annoying habit of becoming "unsprung" whenever you move them! The end-pieces too, whilst theoretically good - with their revolving vents and all - are probably the least good part of the whole assembly.

These pieces are exceptionally flimsy and lack a proper system for keeping them in place. Again, they fall off at the slightest excuse. To be honest, I would not recommend that you buy any of theses cloches. On the other hand, if you could find some that are made in the same style but with proper, durable, quality materials, they would be highly desirable. They don't make stuff like they used to in the old days, you know! (Yes, I know I'm sounding like a crusty old curmudgeon now - but it's true!)

Oh, an afterthought: one unforseen advantage of the long cloches is that they do actually provide a significant amount of wind-protection for plants outside the cloches but downwind, such as these parsnips (though I think the parsnips are probably hardy enough not to need such mollycoddling...).

Elsewhere in the garden I have a number of plastic bell-cloches.

Large cloche with vent
I think these are quite good. Certainly good value for money. I bought 3 like the one above for only £10. This type is big enough to accomodate a fairly large plant. The one in my photo it is actually protecting three endive plants. It has a swivelling vent in the top to allow hot air to escape. This is a significant advantage in the Spring-time, since it is all too easy to scorch young plants when the sun is strong.

 I also have about 6 much smaller bell-cloches without vents, which are much less versatile. They are the survivors of an original 10 (they were sold in packs of five), and I have had them for about 5 years.

Small cloche - photo from Winter 2010 / 2011
Some points to note about the plastic bell-cloches: they are very light, and need to be firmly pegged-down to avoid being carried away by gales. Also they are not impervious to foxes. The cloches that have not survived appeared to have been sat-upon by something presumably heavier than a domestic cat!

You may be wondering if I was going to advocate the use of horticultural fleece. Well, the truth of the matter is that I have tried it on several occasions, and not been impressed. I found that it held an irresistible attraction for all the neighbouring wildlife. The foxes would trample upon and rip it in their nocturnal efforts to locate earthworms, whereas the cats would simply exploit the holes made by the foxes, as a means of entry to what they interpreted as tailor-made cosy night-time shelters (oblivious of course to the existence within them of all those delicate plants).

Fox-inflicted damage - photo from Winter 2010 / 2011
Another problem I encountered was that the fleece would become heavy when wet, and was wont to sag in a big way. Also of course it tends to collect snow. Most plants can survive a long slow flake-by-flake accumulation of snow, but not a sudden avalanche caused when the "protecting" fleece finally gives way and falls on them.

So, now you know my thoughts on crop-protection. What are your own views and strategies?

P.S. I have been a bit low-profile for the last few days, for various reasons: I have been doing a lot of work in London recently, which entails rail commuting (allowing me precious little Home time); I have also taken delivery of a long-promised new laptop computer from work, which has a different OS on it (with which I have had to get to grips); and then I have been away visiting my Mother-in-Law. Maybe things will settle down again by next weekend...? Actually, they probably won't because we are having some work done in our house and that requires shifting most of our furniture to make room for painters, decorators and carpet-layers, so I'm going to have less time than usual for blogging.


  1. I have tons of cats but they never get into my row covers. So at least that is good. Since I have a lot of cats and they use my yard as a bathroom. Well I don't own any cats, but the yard has lots of cats. The lightweight remay (Agribon) rips way too easily. I'm constantly repairing it. But at least I don't have foxes that rip it up. Sometimes the squirrels jump on it thinking it is solid. So far I do like the row cover I've gotten from Australia. It is a woven one. They say it will last for years. After the first year no holes anywhere. So it is looking good. If it last five years it will be well worth the price.

    1. Daphne, perhaps you could give me a link to a webiste that sells the row cover material from Australia?

  2. Another problem with fleece on the plot is sparks from people's bonfires melts holes in it. We prefer the sturdier enviromesh but this isn't as insulating as fleece. It will last for several years and is ideal for keeping off carrot fly etc.

  3. Mark, as ever - your attention to detail is stunning, least of all with this fabulous blog.

    There are so many products available and sadly some of them, are designed to catch us and not protect our plants. I like the traditional cold frame, yours is robust and will do its job well. Have you thought of adding a little insulation underneath too? maybe some simple builders yard white polystyrene, it comes in 25mm and 50mm thicknesses and will surely keep the roots protected if it gets really cold.

    Thanks for a great site :-)

  4. im atempting to build a coldfram this year, with pallet wood and glass cupboard doors i picked up. we'll see how it goes. we are getting into winter and i need to find the day light and desirable weather to do it! i also use 5 lt clear plastic oil containers for small cloches. they work well but need to be wieghted down a bit.

  5. Normally we don't need any winter protection here and anything that won't last out in the garden goes into the greenhouse (which actually has plants in it this year again-though it does have quail too, lol).
    I do, however, find these posts very interesting as these would be good ways for me to get a head start on spring. I really like your long cloches but, of course, I wonder if they couldn't be built at home. Hummm, I'll be thinking on that one. Clear corrugated plastic is easy to get but putting it all together would be a bit harder to figure out....

  6. Good post Mark - I've save your original post on the long cloches - trying to work out how to build them. I've used hoop houses with some positive results.

  7. I just use plastic sheeting from the hardware store. We don't need much protection here and I usually pull it off first thing in the morning. I also use tulle; not sure if it provides winter protection, but it protects my fall crops from cabbage worms.


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