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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Homemade Garden Cloche Winter Experiment

The climate in my area is moderate for winters. Most years we do get a little snow that sticks around for 3 to 7 days. Our overnight low temps can dip into the teens for about a week in December or early January. This past year we had about 1 foot of snow on the ground for the better part of a week with temps not going above freezing for that entire period (lows in the low teens some nights). I'd say this was a bit colder than typical. I'm giving you this info as background for my recent experiment.

I had been curious about whether or not garden cloches would help my overwintering of greens for early spring harvests. So I decided to use homemade cloches over part of the Swiss chard but not all. I made my cloches out of plastic 1-gallon milk jugs, cutting off the bottom inch of each jug. In fall around the time of the first frost, I put these cloches on 11 Swiss chard plants. I left them on the plants all winter, removing them yesterday. Occasionally wind would blow them off, and I'd go out and put them back on. When it snowed in December and January, the snow piled up on top of each cloche. I didn't do anything to clear the snow. I left about a dozen Swiss chard plants bare for all of winter.

As I mentioned above, Tuesday I removed the cloches. 5 of the 11 plants survived the winter and are now thriving. (In the photo above, I'd just shoveled new compost around the plants and pulled out the surrounding weeds.) 

In the section with uncovered Swiss chard, about 6 feet away, only 1 of 12 plants looks like it has spring growth on it. Others of these plants may put out some growth in a couple of weeks, or they may not. I'm not sure yet. However, one thing is for certain, the cloches brought about new healthy growth much earlier in the overwintered Swiss chard. I'd say this experiment was fruitful for me in coming winters. Our kale and turnips overwinter without covering, but the Swiss chard has always been hit or miss.

Why do I like to do these experiments? I think I'm always looking for ways to improve in my work. With gardening, that means harvesting even more or for more weeks of the year. If we ever truly need to rely heavily on our garden, it's nice to know that we can get more Swiss chard when not a whole lot  else is producing. The bonus is the milk jugs didn't cost me anything and have now been set aside to reuse next winter. I may try this next year to see if I can get the kale or turnip greens to start spring growth even earlier in the season. Anyways, my little free experiment.


  1. Looks like a successful experiment. Do you do anything to anchor the jugs down? It is windy where I live and they wouldn't stay on for long without some good anchoring.

    1. I was thinking the same thing! Especially since our recycling bin blew over twice within about an hour earlier this week. We are usually shocked when there isn't wind here!

      That sounds like a fun experiment, Lili, especially during the long winter months. My husband made a cold frame for the garden during the beginning stages of the pandemic and it has really extended our growing season. It's sorta fun to think that you can use cloches and cold frames, both of which are inexpensive, to do that.

    2. Hi Live and Learn,
      I sunk the milk jugs into the soil about 1 inch and that mostly kept them in place. They were also side by side with each other, touching in spots, so that helped hold them in place. If you just set them on top of the soil, they blow over in the lightest breeze. In October we had a pretty severe wind storm and several of them did blow off and across the yard. This was the day we had a tornado warning in the region.

    3. Hi Kris,
      that cold frame must be such a nice addition for early greens harvesting. We've had a few really windy days. Most of the time, I go outside and make sure everything heavy is anchored in place or moved into the garage. I have a portable greenhouse on the deck outside the kitchen door. The first day I set it up, many years ago, it grew right over in what didn't even seem like a big wind. Afterward, I anchored it to the wall with bungie cords and hooks. With these milk jug cloches, we had wind enough to lift a chair up and knock it against the house the other night, yet the cloches stayed put. I think sinking them into the ground an inch helps in that regard.


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