CORVALLIS, Ore. – Eating fresh-from-the-garden vegetables for dinner often isn’t as glamorous as it may sound, especially this time of the year.
Corvallis gardener Teresa Welch often needs a flashlight to harvest her lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard and other salad greens in the winter. But at least she has them to enjoy. Welch uses tent-like cloches to protect her greens and many other vegetables throughout the cold season.
"Eating fresh out of the garden all year round is what motivates me to use cloches," Welch said.
But the benefits reach beyond stretching Oregon's normal growing season. Cloches also keep off winter's "endless deluge" in western Oregon, she said, and lessen nitrogen loss from the soil. Deer can't get inside the hoops, and only digging pests, such as moles and gophers, can tunnel underneath.
"Cloche" is French for a bell jar or dish set over plants to protect them from cold weather. They include both portable and permanent structures, and like mini green houses, they shelter plants from wind and cold.
Cloches can extend the growing season in just about any climate; both west and east of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. When Welch moved to Corvallis 16 years ago and was hired as an editor for the Oregon State University Extension Service, she was delighted to learn that in western Oregon cloches can extend gardening to every month of the year.
Only once has cold weather – down to12 degrees – frozen her cloche-grown vegetables. Now she covers plants with a thick layer of leaves when temperatures threaten to drop to about 20 degrees.
In the summer, cloches can't accommodate tall corn or rambling squash, but melons, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and sweet potatoes love the extreme hot temperatures inside. "Conditions under the plastic make them think they're living in Georgia," Welch said.
When outside temperatures reach the 90s however, it's time to open the cloches for heat to escape.
"It can get astonishingly hot," Welsh said. "You will also need to roll up the sides for flowering melons, cucumbers, squash and eggplants to pollinate, until fruit is set. (Tomatoes and peppers are self-pollinating.)
She advises keeping watch on young cloche-grown plants in the summer to make sure they get a good start with enough water and not too much heat.
To make the frame for each cloche, she bends five sections of PVC pipe to fit over raised beds that are about four feet by 10 feet. She pushes the ends of each bent hoop securely into the soil and covers the hoops with heavy, clear plastic. For stability, she places two garden stakes over the top of each hoop and secures them with wire. Purchased PVC clips hold the plastic to the hoops.
The cloche tops are easy to move and can be rotated from year to year to grow alternate types of plants and to replenish the soil. Size of the hoops can vary, depending on what is grown inside. Tomatoes grow quickly in a cloche with tall hoops, and Welch harvests them from around the first of August to Thanksgiving.
Details on how to build a cloche are in "Build Your Own Raised Bed Cloche," 1627 E, online.