Tuesday, March 9, 2010
A Water Cloche!
Years ago, when I first started out in the gardening industry, I worked at a garden centre that sold packages of these water cloches (usually sold under the names of 'Wall-of-Water' or 'Kozy Koats'). The premise is simple - just unfold the cloche, fill the 'ribs' with water and place over a tomato, pepper or other tender plant. The package said that you will be enjoying ripe tomatoes 4 to 6 weeks before your neighbours!
Here's the theory on why these cloches should work - the water in the 'ribs' absorbs heat during the day, and then slowly releases it at the night, protecting the plant from frost and cold weather. I've read that a water cloche will actually protect a plant down to 12 degrees F! That's -11 C for my fellow Canucks! Pretty impressive, eh?
So of course, I had to try it! But, I should first admit that I was a bit skeptical. Well, after several seasons of testing these temporary structures, I have to say that although they don't necessarily live up to the hype of tomatoes 6 weeks earlier than those without protection, they are still a very useful contraption.
I put them in the garden around April 1st and fill them with water (a technique that takes a bit of practice - although the kids have a lot of fun getting wet!). I leave them in place about 10 to 14 days to allow the soil under the cloche to warm up. Then, I lift it up (it helps to have a partner here!), put it to the side and plant my veggie - artichoke, tomato, pepper, eggplant - you get the picture. Then, I water and move the cloche back on top of the plant. Planting any of these tender veggies around April 15th in Nova Scotia is a full 6+ weeks earlier than the typical planting date of June 1st - not bad!
A tip - don't fill the cloche all the way to the top - leave about 5 or 6 inches unfilled.. this will allow the top to close over a bit, creating a mini-greenhouse.
According to the manufacturers of these various products, you can leave them in place all season long, but I take them off once the risk of frost has passed in the first week of June. By this time, my tomato plants are close to the top of the cloche, if not poking through the opening. Get a helper to give you a hand lifting off the cloche - you don't want to damage the plant after all your hard work!
Last year, I grew several Cherokee Purple Tomatoes under these types of cloches and I enjoyed sun-ripened tomatoes about 2 weeks sooner than the same variety that didn't have the early season protection.
The cost? You'll typically find these water cloches in packs of 3 for about $14 and they'll last about 3 years if you don't poke any holes in them accidentally!