Growing Vegetables in Garden Cloches and Tunnels
Different Ways of Growing Vegetables
This site can show you all the different growing systems that you as a gardener are likely to come across and use.
Cloches and Tunnels
These are very cheap and simple aids for protecting vegetables which are either already established and growing or which have just been put in. They can even be used where no crop yet exists.
In the past, most cloches were made of glass with thick wires holding them together. They were rather like Chinese puzzles to put together and it was quite a hazardous job, even for the experienced gardener. Now, plastic has more or less replaced glass; and a good thing too! It’s lighter and far stronger and, even if it costs more than glass to buy, it hardly ever needs replacing. It’s much safer too.
The type of tunnels to use are the ones where polythene sheeting is stretched over wire hoops. The original ICI polythene tunnels are no longer sold but many modern variations are available and any large garden centre will be able to help you. I still have some of the original hoops and use new polythene over them. Cloches and tunnels can be useful all the year round, but the spring is the most logical time to start.
The main problem is getting theinto a warm and workable condition so that seeds may be sown and plants put in when they should be. Most gardeners would normally regard March as being the start of the gardening season for the year. In February, therefore, which is often a dryish month, keep your eyes open and, when you see that the soil is drying out, cover the width of a few rows with cloches or tunnels so that the ground is kept dry and warms up in readiness for Sowing in mid-March. This will enable you to make the best use of the ground so that the vegetables can go in when they’re due to, rather than when the ground is ready for them, which could be in late April.
Once the seeds and/or plants are in, you can choose for yourself whether or not you want to replace the covering, but personally I like to keep them protected until either the seeds are up or the plants are well established and growing away. This is normally a fortnight or so after Sowing or planting. It isn’t a good idea to keep plants covered beyond that point or they could become weak and drawn. All we’re doing is protecting them from the worst of the weather so that they grow well and mature on time. Besides that, if we take the cloches off them, we can use them to protect another crop.
There is, of course, the other use to which cloches can be put in the spring and that is for advancing maturity. We have to be careful over the crops we do this with but it’s a very useful system for quick-growing salads like lettuces and. These can remain covered for most of their life but, here again, it’s best to uncover them as they approach maturity or they’ll all come quickly and at once.
Don’t allow it to get too hot inside the cloches or tunnels or the plants will undoubtedly suffer. Give them plenty of fresh air on sunny days but always close them up well before nightfall so that they stay warm overnight.
Larger cloches can be used to raise , runner or dwarf and until the plants are too big. During the summer, there will probably be very little use for the covering so it can be cleaned and stored away until the autumn. However, larger cloches, if they are 2ft (60cm) or so wide and high, can be used for raising and maturing half-hardy crops like , melons and in the same way that you would use a cold greenhouse.
You could even extend to semi-exotics like peppers and aubergines but, whatever you decide on, do make sure that air is given whenever it’s sunny or many of the plants could get scorched up and will certainly run short of water all too often.
The one thing you should never do is try to grow hardy kinds and varieties of vegetable under cover. This isn’t meant to be and they will certainly be a flop. You often see people trying to grow outdoor tomatoes under cloches and then wondering why they’re all leaf and no fruit.
Managing a crop under cloches or tunnels requires more attention than does one in the open because nature isn’t in charge – you are. Watering, therefore, has to be attended to regularly and, in the case of crops staying under cover, so does liquid feeding. Pest and disease control is also more exacting because they’ll spread like wild-fire if allowed to develop unchecked.
Vegetables such as marrows and peppers which require to be pollinated before they’ll produce any crop should be given as much air as possible once they’re in flower. Not only will this keep them cool but it will also allow bees and other pollinating insects to work amongst the flowers.
Moving on in the year; we come to the autumn. This is another time when cloches and polythene tunnels can be very useful. Now, though, they are used to ensure that crops mature properly rather than for speeding up their development. Melons and such like will keep going much longer if they’re covered, at least during the night when the cool September evenings arrive.
Salads can be kept going much longer under cover and outdoor tomatoes are a natural candidate for the added protection. The system to adopt with these is to wait until you see that they are taking longer to ripen. Then, spread straw on the ground under them, cut them away from their stakes and lay them down on the straw before covering them up. Once again, try initially to keep them covered only at night and when it’s wet but, as it gets more into autumn, extend this as you think fit. Give them air whenever you can, though, or they’ll go rotten.
During the winter, you may like to try growing lettuces under cold cover. These should be chosen carefully so that you get the right varieties, such as ‘Winter Gem’. There isn’t much else that can be grown under cloches during the winter so, if you’re not using the cloches, clean them and put them away until the early spring.