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How to protect your crops from winter cold the sustainable way

Vegetable plants protected from pests with fleece
Vegetables can be protected from pests and frost with fleece Credit: gapphotos.com

 Gardening expert and no-dig allotmenteer Jack Wallington provides weekly advice on how to grow food yourself

 When I first took on my allotment I found the thought of cloches and covers a bit confusing. With experience, I learnt how easy they are to use as extra protection for winter crops like salad leaves and as a barrier to pests all year.

Horticultural fleece is a veg plot wonder. A simple layer of this fabric over the top of plants keeps them snug, protecting hardy veg from the harshest frosts and keeping pests like pigeons away. When I visited no-dig guru Charles Dowding’s market garden during the summer, I liked the way he used bricks and large stones along the edges of fleece to hold it down – making it quick and easy to roll back for access without tearing holes, as pegs do.

Reportedly, polypropylene fleece – most commonly sold – can be recycled, but is unlikely to be, especially when caked in a few years of allotment mud. Instead, I’m looking to materials I know to be environmentally friendly such as sheep’s wool and cotton gauze fleece (manufactum.co.uk). These are more expensive, but do the job without clogging our planet further, and last for years, before eventually contributing to the compost heap.

As we all try to cut back on plastic, we should no longer be buying plastic cloches. There is no need, when longer-lasting, better solutions are available. The obvious alternative is good old-fashioned glass, which lasts for decades, if not centuries, when looked after carefully. Plus, of course, glass can be recycled. Look to “tent” cloches from hibbitt.co.uk – metal clips attach two panes of horticultural toughened glass together like a tepee along rows of veg.

Cover overwintering salad crops this weekend before the worst of winter 
 kicks in.