I’m fairly certain Albert Einstein did not have the garden cloche in mind when he calculated his famous theories of relativity, but I think he would have enjoyed the simplicity of the idea. Time appears relatively slower every day your growing season becomes longer.

While other growers are busy preparing to tuck their gardens away for the winter, the turning of the leaves no longer has to mark the end of your growing season. You can continue to happily produce some of your hardier vegetable varieties well into the longer, crisp and frosty nights of autumn. Fresh vegetables from your garden are a treat at any time of the year, but especially when they are used in warming soups and stews when the colder times are upon us.

So what is a cloche, and what does it have to do with your garden? The word cloche is derived from the latin word for cloak, or clocca, that referred to the loose-fitting capes that were rounded at the shoulder and flared out at the bottom resembling the shape of a bell.

Some say that cloche actually means clock, from the Middle Dutch cloke, and indicates that the time was marked by the sound of a bell. Whichever side you take, the garden cloche is most agreeably recognized as a bell-shaped glass jar that gardeners put over immature plants in the spring and fall to protect them from the elements—an old and simple idea that is still relevant today.

The cloche serves the same function as cold frames, movable row covers and greenhouses, but only in a smaller, single-serving size. The concept is simple. The soil and air remains warmer inside the jar than the ambient temperatures on the outside, prolonging more favorable conditions for growing younger plants.

As the fall season is upon us, it is the perfect time to plan how we can best take advantage of the cloche in our own gardens, as well as plan for their continued use in the spring.

The traditional glass jar serves as a functional, yet whimsical, aesthetic covering, but may not be the most practical or economical material available to the 21st century gardener. Plastic cloches are readily available at many retail locations, but the environmentally minded, DIYer could just as easily convert everyday household items into coverings that are just as effective and available at no additional cost.

Plastic water bottles come in every size and shape and with a sharp knife you can create a bottomless jar with little effort. Just remove the cap for good air circulation and don’t forget to anchor your cloche to the ground. Heavier glass is much more resistant to winds and weather than the lighter-weight plastic, reducing your homemade cloche to little more than urban tumbleweed and your hardy plants to compost.

It is also good practice to pack soil, straw or some other mulching material at the base of your plastic jar as an additional barrier to the elements. When you are finished with your homemade cloche, you always have the option of saving them for reuse, or recycling.

If you have your heart set on the decidedly more classy glass cloche, there are many styles and prices available. For the more creative and industrious, you can even attempt to build a unique, personalized glass covering. It can be as simple as a cold-frame structure, as complicated as a miniature Victorian greenhouse, or you can even repurpose an interesting light fixture. The choice is yours and the options are limitless.

Creating a longer growing season is a viable project anyone can undertake and a real boon for the avid gardener. The garden cloche is perhaps the simplest of all methods to achieve this goal and by far the most economical. They can be spontaneously created and employed without detailed planning—unlike a larger greenhouse. Slow time down, extend your growing season and enjoy.