Where do you house your plants for the winter? Indoors? Outside in the garden? Or do you just forget about gardening and wait for the fair sun to shine again?
Plants love controlled conditions where moisture and temperature are consistent and they are afforded some protection from insects, birds and dramatic weather shifts, such as strong winds and downpours. Early agriculture records found in France reveal that humans have been regulating growing conditions with various forms of crop cover, since at least 1670.
These days, hoop houses, also referred to as polytunnels and cloches, are commonly used by gardeners and farmers. With relatively few resources, a microclimate with optimal growing conditions can be created to protect young plants or give overwintering plants the extra few degrees it takes to be productive or simply to survive. What differentiates these from pricier greenhouses is that these are passive solar systems, where heat is not artificially introduced. Check out this video for a simple way to put together a cloche.
The main reason we use our simple hoop house in the Ken Spencer Science Park is to give our seedlings an early start or late extension when frost is an issue. In general, hoop houses are used to “harden off” plants and give them a greater chance of survival.
We have also found the cloche to be useful for housing plants that we’ve had no space for and to house plants, such as tomatoes, that like heat and prefer their leaves dry. We housed tomatoes with basil during a vacancy crunch. Because of the companion relationship between tomatoes and basil, the basil ended up growing on either side of our copiously producing tomato plant. One thing has led to another and now we are at round two of our under-cover planting. It is likely that this round will be there until the spring.
Other ways in which we built weather-proofed homes for our darlings, included using empty pop bottles, cut and placed on top of our plants and by using a Home Harvest Farms Terraced Planter—a locally designed and manufactured stainless steel planter that comes with a high-quality plastic cover.