Put Some Cloche On

Most areas of the world do not boast climates conducive to growing everything we’d like to eat year-round.  Most backyards do not boast enough space to justify or accommodate a full-sized greenhouse.  Thus, one staple of an Urban Homesteader’s garden space is some type of cloche.

Cloche means ‘little bell’ in French (originally, cloches were little bell-shaped domes that fit over individual plants) and its main objective in the garden is to make the area inside warmer than the area outside, thus warming the soil.  It also must offer access to light for the plants inside.  It can be just about any size; from a 2 liter soda bottle with the bottom cut off, to a plastic frame over a seed flat, to a 3′ deep and wide box, to a 50X15′ section of Re-may stretched over bent PVC pipes.  As long as it is some sort of structure, has light-porous material (windows, clear plastic, Re-may cloth) and can be opened and closed (or lifted off) with relative ease, you’ve got yourself a cloche.

A cold frame is an adaptation of the cloche, and offers a bit more protection as its box-like structure keeps out drafts and its placement is a bit more permanent.  Here’s the box-style cold frame I built for my backyard entirely out of reclaimed materials.  It’s made of plywood that angles down on the sides so that the back is about a foot high and the front about 8 inches.  I attached an old window with 2 hinges to the back side of the box (the angling is to aid water run-off on top and allow for a little more captured sun in the back of the box.)  Super simple, quick-build.  I’ve even mounded the sides with sod clumps from the garden area I’ve dug up.  This will help insulate the box and hold in more warm air.

The only problem with a cold frame like this (especially under the perpetual cloud cover of the Pacific Northwest) is the sun exposure is drastically limited due to the solid sides.  That’s where a box cold frame like this comes in handy:

Another cloche option looks like this one in this food bank-supplying community garden.  Just a wooden frame with 4-mil plastic stretched and stapled over top.  It’s about 3 feet high and easily moved around.  If you try this, just be sure to get at least the 4-mil plastic, 6-mil is even better, but anything less than that will tear too easily.

And just about the cheapest of all larger cloches: the bed-long bent PVC and row cover design.  Coils of black PVC pipe were cut into about 2 1/2 foot long sections, bent over and stuck in the ground on each end and heavy-duty plastic (or Re-may cloth) was stretched over and weighted on both sides by bricks (you could also use stakes or make some large wire staples) or some other heavy objects.  The plastic is good for really heating up the soil and letting the sun through, but the Re-may is a better option for letting in rain water.  I made this cloche for about $5 in all; pipe, plastic and bricks.

Cloches are something you can really get creative with: upturned flower pots make great overnight cloches if a frost is threatening, simply remove them from the plant once the temperature warms up the next day so the plant can get some light; cutting off the bottom of a milk or soda bottle (keep or remove the cap depending on the temperature) makes for a great individual plant cloche too; or even an upside down dish drainer with a small length of plastic stretched over top can make for a windowsill or small lettuce or herb bed cloche.

It’s also a good idea to have an efficient watering system in place with cloches; either drip line running underneath a long covered bed, or regular hand watering, because the warmer temperatures inside the cloche cause a bit more transpiration (water evaporating off of the plants and soil) and can heat up and dry out your plants faster than when uncovered.


Baharat: A Bit of Turkish Terroir

Who needs a spice grinder when you have a hammer?

It’s a lot more fun. Just try waiting until your housemate is gone before trying this recipe.

Working in a locally-owned cafe has many benefits.  Especially if the cafe is experimental with cuisines, flavors and combinations.  And if the cafe has some sort of totally obscure, random ethnic influence like, say, Turkish.

Olives. Paprika. Lentils. Coarse bulghar. Feta. Dill. Cilantro. Kofta and kebobs. Salted yogurt. Cacik.

Sounds quite Greek in spots, but is slightly, yet definitively Turkish. (And try not to get the two mixed up, or risk nationality offense; the Greeks and the Turks don’t have the most friendly relations, historically.)

And Turkey doesn’t get too much spotlight here in America, (except perhaps, for Turkish coffee) with only pockets of clustering Turks in places like Los Angeles, Miami and New York.  This makes it hard to find Turkish cook books, spices, imported foods and dish sets or cookery.

So I’ve had to really scrounge around, searching multiple places for recipes from Turkey, complete with its own cultural cooking style. (Though having Lavent (from Turkey) in the cafe is a leg-up on discovering these things.)

One of the great things about Turkish cuisine (as with a lot of other cuisines) is its heavy use of spices and herbs. Baharat (literally meaning ‘spices’) is sort of a Turkish counterpart to garam masala; heavy on the black pepper, with a mix of savory, pungent and bright flavors traditionally used to round out a perfect dish of lamb, beef or a soup.  And with this season’s farmers market starting up TOMORROW (!) I thought it the perfect time to make a batch of the stuff for experiments on dishes with fresh, local produce.


2p. black pepper
2p. cumin
1p. coriander seed
1p. dried mint
1p. cloves
1p. nutmeg
1p. green cardamom*
pinch of cinnamon

Mix all spices in a bowl and store in airtight container, away from light and heat for best flavor retention.

*Note on green cardamom: this is where the hammer comes into play.  When you buy cardamom in the pod, it keeps the flavorful seeds way fresher, but you have to crack open the green covering to get to them.  Simply press down on the pod with the back of a wooden spoon to split it open, scrape the seeds out and remove any chaff.  Gather all the seeds into a folded sheet of waxed paper (folded on all four sides is a good idea) and proceed to whack with a hammer until the seeds are pommeled into a coarse powder.
Store any unopened pods in the freezer for maximum shelf life.