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How to Make an ‘Instant Cloche’ to Protect Seedlings

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This simple design costs next to nothing to build and can be reused for years…

By Greg Seaman, Posted Jun 6, 2012

Instant Cloche Wouldn’t you know it. Just as we transplanted our young pepper seedlings into their permanent bed the sun disappeared and the clouds thickened. Rain, unexpectedly, was imminent.

Pepper plants are of tropical origin, and they need warmth. A cool spring rain can set them back just when they are supposed to begin their growth spurt, and a prolonged rain or cool spell can stunt the plants and lead to poor production. Needing to construct a temporary shelter for the seedlings, and short on time and materials, we turned to one of our time-tested construction techniques – using natural materials, a few bits of string and a scrap of poly plastic.

This simple ‘cloche’, or cold frame, serves as a mini-greenhouse which protects seedlings from cool spring weather, and is removed as soon as the weather warms. It can be adjusted at each end for ventilation as needed. It’s sturdy enough to withstand a strong wind or heavy rain, yet can be easily lifted when the seedlings are well-established, and moved to another garden bed where new seedlings are being set out.

And best of all, it only took 45 minutes to build and cost nothing in materials. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Cut six small curved branches from a conifer tree.

If you have cedar trees in your area, these are ideal for this project since cedar has natural rot-resisting qualities. We used cedar for this project, but you can also use the small ‘bendy’ branches from most conifers. Look for branches that are curved, and cut them each to about 5’ – 6’ in length. (If you want a taller cloche, then use longer branches.)
connifer tree


2. Trim the branches and sharpen the thick ends.

Use nippers to prune off any branch spurs and use a hatchet to sharpen the bottom end of each branch so it can be speared into the soil easily.
Sharpening branch ends


3. Stick the ends into the soil and push them down at least 12”.

This design uses three hoops. Push the branch ends into the soil about 3’ apart and about 3’ across from each other. If this is too hard, then your soil may be too compact. If your soil is adequately prepared for gardening you should be able to push the ends into the bed without difficulty. Cloche 3


4. Pull the opposing branches into a hoop and tie them together.

When pulling the branches together, you can twist them around each other which helps to form the curved shape. Then tie both ends tightly with several wraps of string to secure the hoops. We used sisal for the string since this is what we had on hand. A braided nylon string would be better since it would last for years, but that’s your choice.

At this point you may notice that your hoops don’t line up at the top. It’s OK, the next step will fix that. Don’t waste time trying to make it look perfect at this stage. Cloche 4


5. Set a straight stick along the top and lash it to the center of each hoop.

Use a straight branch, a broom handle, or a length of 1” x 2” lumber (we used a split piece of cedar) to make the ridge for your cloche. Simply lay it along the top and tie it securely to the hoops, taking care to pull each hoop into position so that the ridge is tied to the approximate center. This pulls the whole construction together so it looks uniform. cloche 5


6. Attach the clear plastic sheeting to form the cover.

Cut a piece of clear poly wide enough to cover the hoops and long enough so that is extends about 18” beyond each end of the cloche. Set the sheeting over the frame and fasten it to the hoops at each end with a few staples. Put a few staples into the ridge as well. Now you can roll up the surplus plastic at each end to the desired opening size. Voila, you are finished!

To use the cloche, simply roll up the ends to allow adequate ventilation as needed for the plants. If the weather gets cold or the nights are chilly, then roll down the ends for added warmth. Just remember to open them up again when the sun comes out or you may risk overheating the enclosure.

When your seedlings no longer need protection, the cloche is easy to remove. Simply tie a string at the base of each hoop at ground level, and stretch it across to the opposite side of the hoop and tie it off at its base. Do this to each hoop. This is to prevent the bottom (in-ground) ends of the hoops from springing outward when you lift them out of the soil. Once the hoops are tied off at ground level, simply lift the whole cloche up and carry it to the next bed where it is needed. At the end of the season, remove the plastic and untie the top ridge from the hoops, and then the hoops can be laid flat against each other for storage in the shed without taking up much space.
Cloche 6


Although this little cloche is intended to be a temporary shelter for seedlings, you may be surprised how long it lasts. If you use good string to lash it together, like nylon twine, it will hold up for many years of use. In our garden, we still use the first “temporary” cloche we made over 30 years ago!

I love getting something for nothing, especially when it can give such long-lasting value!

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  • Aunt Dot

    Such a simple yet useful structure. This is what I am looking for, since I don’t like putting plastic hoop row covers in  my organic garden. This fits perfectly with an organic garden. Thanks for this article!

  • Gina

    The problem with cold frames is they are often not tall enough for transplants. I like this plan because of the height you can make. I will try this, it suits the style of my garden and looks practical.

  • Makeupgirrl

    That’s awesome! Wish I had those ready a few weeks ago…
    Will nOw make several!

  • Mark Willis

    Good use of a simple technique – with very clear instructions. To buy a cloche like that would cost a fair bit of money.
    In our current weather conditions I could do with a fair few of them!

  • Brendan, this concept can be enlarged.  I made one of these 40′ long and about 12′ tall for a boat shed. Lng, thin fir poles were used instead of branches and the cover was a tarp. It was lashed together. It lasted quite a few years, but eventually a heavy snow collapsed it.

  • Brendan, this concept can be enlarged.  I made one of these 40′ long and about 12′ tall for a boat shed. Long, thin fir poles were used instead of branches and the cover was a tarp. It was lashed together. It lasted quite a few years, but eventually a heavy snow collapsed it.

    Edit Reply

  • betherehi

    I just cut all the lower branches off a cedar tree and realized they have such a natural curve to them, i wondered if they might be used for a cloche. A google search brought me to this article. Wish I had done this at planting time as it’s so cool in western Oregon this year, I may not get any tomatoes.

  • Luka

    Wonderfull! I regret i didnt find your site before. Now im to late to build my seedling “shelter”. Next year for sure 🙂

  • There was a similar structure (minus the plastic) made out of willow in my garden when I moved here. Unfortunately I managed to break it (it did look very old), but it always struck me as a really great idea – as Gina said in a comment below, cold frames are often too low for transplants. Thanks for reminding me – I’ll put making a new one on my to-do list!

  • Pearl

    I really like your choice of materials as all are organic, except the plastic cover. I also like the design. I’m going out into the woods today to search for little branches to use. Will probably look for young buckthorn as it is unwanted in the park. I’m wondering if little clamps are needed to connect the plastic to the little hoops in case of high winds.

    • The plastic sheeting is secured along the top ridge piece, along the bottom edges, and at the ends. This has been sufficient in windy conditions. However, in high winds you may need to drive a stake at each end and secure (with string or with a couple screws) the base of the cloche to the stake. Otherwise the wind may blow the cloche across the bed and possibly damage other plantings.

  • Alice Mango

    This is great. I bet bamboo would do a good job for us in the tropics

    • Bamboo would do well for the horizontal pieces. For the hoops maybe split bamboo would bend to a fair curve. Not sure…

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