Make Bamboo Cloche Hoops

Renewable, natural and compostable. Often available for free. Those are the main reasons why I’ve been making hoop house cloches with bamboo, and now’s the time to get some bamboo and try it, so they will be

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ready for covering spring crops.

Bamboo hoops in raised bed

Bamboo hoops sunk into the edges of a raised bed.

If you’ve heard my presentation on building a cloche, you know that I don’t think very highly of PVC. The white plastic pipe that is the standard product for building a hoop house cloche in our region is actually kind of a nasty choice. It’s the opposite of all those adjectives I used for bamboo.

I want to focus on how to make a cloche with bamboo, but first, a couple of quick comments about PVC.

Polyvinyl chloride pipe is a traditional plumbing product, quite necessary in some applications, and is readily available for only a couple of bucks a piece. But its cheapness hides its cost to the environment. In the manufacturing process, production of it gives off dioxins, a known carcinogen, which sickens workers and affects the environment. It’s not readily recyclable and would live in a landfill forever. (Learn more than you want to know at Wikipedia’s PVC page, which includes plentiful links to sources and studies.)

I used PVC for years, but as I learned more, I started to move away from it, and looked for other products for my cloche. Fortunately, I found a few options:

  • Galvanized wire, 9 gauge
  • Galvanized or powder-coated welded wire mesh, 2- to 4-inch squares
  • Fiberglass, the sort used for tent poles
  • Polyethylene pipe
  • Bamboo

    Alex Corcoran's bamboo trellis

    Here’s an easy way to make a hoop trellis. Alex Corcoran, publisher of Edible Seattle, trellised up his incredible cherry tomatoes by stretching bamboo from the tomato pots to the edge of an awning.

Each of these products has their benefits and drawbacks. Wire lasts a long time, but it is not very sturdy, so the hoops are a bit wobbly and have to be placed pretty close together. Wire mesh is more difficult to remove when you want to work in the bed. Fiberglass poles can get brittle and snap if made into a tight hoop, and I haven’t found ones that are very long, so a cloche made with them is shorter. Poly pipe, the black stuff used in garden irrigation systems, gets soft in warm weather and gets floppy (however, it doesn’t have the nasty manufacturing problems of PVC).

I have hoops made of all these products, but the one that I have the most hope for is bamboo.

It’s very flexible when it is young and after it’s just been cut. When it dries, it becomes stiff and holds its shape. Which means… it’s not just for teepee trellises any more!

Here’s how to make bamboo hoops:

1. Find a friend with a stand of bamboo , and cut a half-dozen culms that are 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter and 12 to 15 feet long. Look for pieces that are lighter-colored than the more mature, larger pieces. These will be more flexible. I’ve found bamboo to be more flexible in the spring, and have learned that it can’t be bent into extreme arcs. If you bend it too far or it’s too woody, it will break with a loud crack along the top of the hoop.

2. Strip off all the leaves. A sharp pair of pruners helps with this job. It’s OK to leave the stubs to be smoothed off after the bamboo has dried.

3. Cut off the very flexible top 2-3 feet. This part would bend or break quickly when used.

4. Cut off the stiff bottom end to make a stick about 8 feet long.

5. Stick one end into the ground 6-12 inches, along the inside edge of a raised bed that is 3-4 feet across. This works best with a raised bed made of wood or some other rigid structure, because the bamboo will exert force against it.

6. Grasp the other end with both hands and pull it slowly down into a hoop shape to the opposite edge of the raised bed, then also plunge it into the ground 6-12 inches. Make sure it is securely in place before you let go, because if it’s not, it could spring back out and whack you. Please try to avoid this; trust me, it’s painful.

If you don’t have a raised bed, an alternative method is to bend the bamboo between two other hard surfaces, such as a wall and a set of steps. Pick an out-of-the-way location, because it will have to remain there until it dries.

Bending bamboo into hoops

If you don’t have a raised bed, bend the hoops between two hard places, like a set of steps and a wall.

7. Repeat this process until you have as many hoops as you’ll need to cover your bed, spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. If you need extra help to hold the hoops into their shape, bind them tightly with plastic zip ties, which can be cut away when the bamboo is dry.

Zip tie on bamboo

Zip-tie a group of bamboo poles together to help them keep the same shape and arc.

8. After a few weeks it will start to dry and you can use it, but it will take 2-3 months for it to completely dry and turn from green to brown. Once it’s dry, it will retain its hoop shape.

9. Trim off the rough edges of the leaf stubs at each node so there are no sharp edges that would rip the plastic. After it’s dry, you can smooth them with a file or sandpaper if necessary.

10. Drape a piece of 6 mil plastic sheeting over the hoops, hold it down around the edges with garden staples or bricks, and begin using your cloche.

An 8 foot piece of bamboo placed into a raised bed that’s 4 feet across will yield a hoop that’s about 20 inches high. That’s plenty high for growing salad greens or root crops, or for getting your peppers and tomatoes off to a good start.

The hoops will last 1-2 years if the ends are in contact with the ground, longer if they are above the ground and tied to stakes.

This project will definitely continue to be an experiment, and I’ll update this post with any refinements to my technique. If you have tips, please drop me a note or a photo to share!

Bamboo hoops in use

I used vented plastic on this bamboo cloche to cover warm-season veggies in early summer.

 

The veggies have a snow day

Snow hit my garden this morning, so I took a few pictures before the rain melts it all away.

Brussels Sprouts

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The stiff, frilly edges of the cupping Brussels sprouts leaves hold the snow in a beautiful pattern.

Triangle Tunnel in Snow

The ribbed plastic of the Triangle Tunnel catches a layer of snow too.

Bell cloche

My new bell cloche is keeping this lettuce alive.

Lacinato Kale

Lacinato Kale

January King Cabbage

This January King cabbage has gotten sweetened up by the cold and is ready to eat.

 

Russian Red Kale

Russian Red Kale

Frost protection

Frosty nights are here, followed by gloriously brilliant mornings. Here’s the frost

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melting off my new bell cloche, which is in turn covering a fine-looking Marshall lettuce.

Frosty cloche

By the way, I found this cloche at the Pacific Antique Galleries in Sodo last weekend, and noticed at least three more of different types. This one grabbed me because of the unusual shape.

Here’s a two-layered protection against frost

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damage: floating row cover laid in two layers right over the young Little Gem lettuce starts, and the whole thing covered by my Triangle Tunnel.

Two layer protection

I hope you’re protecting your plants during these chilly nights.

 

Shielding Plants From Frost

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your garden get frosted over last night? Here on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, I experienced a light frost: slight pockets of it on the grass, and my cold frame (and all the neighbors’ roofs) were covered this morning in white.

Frosty cold frame

The polycarbonate top on my cold frame was white instead of clear this morning.

It glittered brightly but quickly burned off in the morning sun.

How are your plants? A bit of precaution is needed to keep tender vegetables alive.

The best, of course, is to have them planted under season extension tools like a cold frame or a cloche. Here are some Little Gem lettuce starts that are thriving in my Triangle Tunnel:
Lettuce under my Triangle Tunnel

By the time I got out to look at it this morning, the sun had already turned the frost to water droplets on the corrugated polycarbonate on this cold frame.

If you don’t have your plants under a cold frame or a cloche, you can still protect them during this cold weather with floating row cover (FRC).

FRC closeup

Floating row cover is a very thin, spun-bonded (not woven) polyester cloth.

Called garden fleece in England and known here as crop cover or by brand names like Reemay or Frost Protek, it can be laid loosely over plants, even just draped there overnight. For very tender plants, fold it into two layers. Be sure to hold down the edges to keep it from blowing away, or cover the edges with soil as I did for this row crop:

FRC on peas

Floating row cover over a row of peas will protect from frost. It is laid loosely on the bed with the edges tucked under a bit of soil.

Air, water and light can get through the FRC, but it provides enough of a barrier on many crops to keep frost from laying directly on the plants and killing them. Even though it’s called fleece, it doesn’t keep the plants much warmer, so it wouldn’t be enough of a cover to keep lettuce alive if the nighttime temperatures are dropping below 32 degrees F, as they are in many places around Puget Sound right now.

If you don’t have any FRC on hand and you still want to shield your veggies from frost, just carefully cover them with an old sheet or blanket overnight, but be sure to remove that each morning.

Want to know more about our weather patterns, and why we are having this spate of cold, clear weather right now? Check out the excellent explanation of the “modified continental polar” air we’re experiencing now from UW Professor Cliff Mass’ blog.

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