By Chris Gleason
Transform an ordinary backyard into a productive farm with Chris Gleason’s Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners (Fox Chapel, 2012). Gleason provides inspiration and instruction for 21 gardening and animal projects to complete the transformation. The excerpt that follows, from “Open Season: Growing Season Extenders,” is for a lightweight PVC cloche that can be made to any specifications.
This book can be purchased from the GRIT store: Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners.
This style of cloche is pretty common in our area, and for good reason: they’re simple, inexpensive, and versatile. You can adapt them to fit just about any size area you’d like, and with a little imagination, you can even scale it up and build a large walk-in hoop house. I do recommend doing this with a partner if you can, because the long lengths of PVC tubing can be frustrating to try and handle on your own.
I used 1/2" (13mm)-diameter PVC tubing and standard T connectors from the plumbing section of our local home center, and that aspect of the construction is pretty self-explanatory. The 10' (3050mm)-long tubes easily bend to create a cloche that is 8' (2440mm) wide and about 3' (915mm) high, but you could bend them to a tighter radius, which would produce an arch that is narrower and taller. You could also cut the tubes down—when in doubt, I suggest buying one or two extra lengths and experimenting to figure out the size that will work best for you.
|(A) Base||1/2" (13mm)-diameter PVC tubing||30" (760mm)||4|
|(B) Ribs||1/2" (13mm)-diameter PVC tubing||10' (3050mm)||3|
|(C) Connectors||1/2" (13mm)-diameter T fittings||6 (or you could use 4 right-angles for the ends)|
|(D) Nylon string||8' (2440mm)||3|
|(E) Plastic covering||Greenhouse film||11' x 11' (3355 x 3355mm)||1|
|(F) PVC clips||3/4" (19mm)-diameter tubing||3" (75mm) (Cut in half)||10 total, so 5 lengths of tubing that are then cut in half|
|(G) End clips||Office supply binder clips||Any size will work||4|
|1. Prepare the ribs and base. I cut up the base tubing (A) into 30" (760mm) lengths, so you can see this project will be 60" (1525mm) long (well, slightly longer, since each connector adds an inch [25mm] or so). Lay out the base pieces (A), rib pieces (B), and T connectors (C) as shown. The T connectors (C) make it easy to join the sections of tubing (A, B). I didn’t use any glue, since it is nice to be able to break down a cloche and store the parts when it isn’t needed, but you might want to use glue if you plan on building a more permanent structure. You could join as many sections together as you’d like.|
|2. Bend the cloche. To spring the flat assembly into shape, I tied some nylon twine (D) on one side and then pulled it taut and tied it off on the opposing side. I placed a length of string below each PVC rib (B), and this worked great. The finished skeleton is extremely lightweight and easy to move around. Having an assistant would’ve made this step a lot easier, though.|
|3. Create clips. To hold the plastic to the frame, I made a set of clips (F) using 3/4" (20mm) PVC. I used my table saw to make two parallel rip cuts, thus removing a portion of the center of the tubing. Viewed from the end, the tubing was shaped like a C instead of an O. I then cut the tubing into 3" (75mm) chunks on my chop saw. I suggest making a pile of the clips, since it is better to have too many than too few. You can also buy these clips from most garden supply centers for around 50 cents a piece. If you have a table saw, this method will save you a few bucks—the homemade version will cost about 10 cents each.|
|4. Attach plastic. The finished clips (F) just click onto the skeleton base (A) and hold the plastic (E) in place. Put two or three on each base piece (A). To attach the plastic (E) to the nylon twine (D) on the ends, simply fold the plastic under the twine and secure with a binder clip (G).|
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners: A Guide to 21 Handmade Structures for Homegrown Harvests by Chris Gleason and published by Fox Chapel, 2012. Purchase this book from our store: Building Projects for Backyard Farmers and Home Gardeners.