Posted on 12 June 2012 by

Start the Tomato Season Early with Cloches


By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

Tomatoes are one of my favorite vegetables and in doing so I am biting at the shovel handle come January.

I just cannot wait for the gardening season.

I have tried growing them inside but the taste never matches the sweet juiciness of a summer-time tomato.

Since I cannot grow my little red balls of joy year round, I always like to get them in the ground as soon as possible. Actually, I like to get them in before my local frost-free date, which for an inexperienced gardener can be difficult. But……..

A technique I have used for years has allowed me to get my warm season crops in sooner, and when I say sooner I mean up to four weeks sooner. One may wonder what this technique is and the answer is simple, that is a cloche.

A cloche is an old European type of bell-shaped jar that is place over a plant to keep the dew off the plants and keep them warm at night. These glass cloches are hard to find and when you find them they can be very expensive. You can use a plain glass jar as a cloche but an easier version can be made from material out of the recycling bin.

To begin this process, one must first find clean 1 or 2-liter bottles with lids or milk jugs. The next step in this process is cutting the material to the needed height. You want the cloche to be tall enough so that the plant is not touching but you also want to leave some growing room. In other words, you want it to be large enough to get you through to your local frost-free date.

The next thing you will need to do is to decide how you are going to use it. A cloche will need to be removed every morning to prevent heat building up inside the cloche and killing the plant. If you do not want to remove it every morning, this is where the lid comes into play. You can cut the bottle so that the end with the lid will be used as the cloche. When this happens, simply unscrew the lid in the morning verses removing the cloche. This will allow heat to vent out during the day and will prevent the plant from cooking. If you use this approach always remember to replace the lid in the evening.

Now that the bottle or jug has been prepared, the next step is to place it over the plant. You may wonder the science behind this concept and it goes beyond creating a mini greenhouse.

What happens is during the day the soil is warmed up by the sun. Then, at night, the heat is released into the environment. To capture this heat, one must create a structure like a cup that will capture the heat and keep the air around the plant warm.

Cloches are a great item to have on hand, even if you do not want to get your garden in early. It gives you a tool to use when it comes to those freaky weather fronts that bring in unseasonably cool temperatures.

So until we blog again, cloches may come a go but having the first tomato in the neighborhood is priceless.

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