Expert Tips for Strip Cropping and Garden Cloches
Garden Cloches for Successful Vegetable Growing
Garden cloches can represent a substantial capital outlay and the gardener will want to recover the initial cost of the garden cloches over a short period and to obtain full value from the crops grown. This can only be achieved if the cloches are usefully employed during most of the year. Time and labour are the principal factors in the cost of production and it is important that as little time as possible should be spent in moving the cloches from one crop to another. This is most likely to be managed if the rows from which they are to be removed are close to the rows of the next crop.
To meet this requirement strip cropping should be practised. The ground is divided into strips approximately 1.20m wide, each strip being separated from the next by a 60cm wide pathway.
In ‘two-strip cropping’, the strips are grouped in pairs and the cloches are moved from one strip to the next and then back again. In three strip cropping, the strips are grouped in threes and the cloches either shuttled backwards and forwards, as in the two strip system, or moved on and on until they reach the end of the plot.
The latter method involves the transfer of a whole row of garden cloches from one end of the plot to the other. Two strip cropping is probably the best for the gardener who has only a moderate amount of ground under cloches and, for the space occupied, normally gives a better return. This system requires rather more precise conditions, for seasonal weather may upset prearranged sowing and cropping dates. The three strip system is more complex to plan in theory, but more elastic in practice, since it is never necessary to clear one crop in great haste to start another on the same strip.
With short rows, the strip system is unsuitable and should be replaced by the block system in which the cloches are moved from blocks on the left hand side of a central path, to blocks on the right hand side.
Although it is possible to plan and scheme timetables for strip rotations, it is not always convenient to follow those which have been worked out, under different conditions. It is in the gardeners interest to grow crops which are wanted in the kitchen and will be ready when shop prices are at their highest, that is, two or three weeks before the outdoor supplies come along. Barn and tent type cloches are easily transported and moved from one place to another without dismantling.
Lettuce from the crop cloched in the late autumn should be ready for cutting in April. These can be followed by a late spring or early summer crop, such as sweet corn,, or turnips.
The growing of plants under cloches needs careful planning and management, and the need for correct timing of sowings and plantings is greater than for sowing on open land. This makes for greater efficiency and full cropping. Since glass promotes rapid growth, and enables more crops to be grown on a given piece of land in one season, the demands onfertility are higher, therefore manuring and especially organic manuring, to structure and general fertility has to be generous.
It is unwise to try to make a success of intensive production using cloches, unless the gardener is prepared in the first place to apply adequate amounts of animal manure or good substitutes. Main crops can be supplemented by catch crops and intercrops, provided that these do not unduly complicate the rotation.
Some gardeners favour the practice of using elevated garden cloches so that they can finish off late growing crops. Although this may only advance maturity by a few days, it does definitely improve quality.
Various types of individual cloches have been in use for many years but with the introduction of continuous cloches it became possible to practice strip-cropping. This saves the somewhat laborious job of constantly moving cloches from one site to another: it also keeps them in regular use, and does away with the necessity of stacking at various times.
Strip-cropping consists in dividing up the ground to be cultivated into strips of equal width. In two-strip cropping there are two adjacent strips and in three-strip cropping, three different sites for the crops. The width of the sites will depend on the type of cloches used. On, say a strip 2m wide, there would be room for two rows and a pathway.
A number of crops can be sown directly under cloches, others will be raised in warmth and then planted in strips, whilst in some instances the cloches will be moved from one crop to another during the growing season, or be used to give protection prior to harvesting.
Although the crops to be grown will naturally depend on personal requirements, and the garden cloches can be used according to these needs, the following are examples of easily manageable rotational coverings.