Cold Frame Gardening

comments (24) August 13th, 2009

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With a cold frame like this, you can grow greens and other cool-season vegetables right through the winter.
Download plans, a materials list, and instructions for building this cold frame.
Sown the first of August, these carrots are eating size by the time the snow flies. Protected by a layer of straw, theyll stay crisp and sweet all winter.
With a cold frame like this, you can grow greens and other cool-season vegetables right through the winter.Click To Enlarge

With a cold frame like this, you can grow greens and other cool-season vegetables right through the winter.

Photo: Ruth Lively

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Managing the cold frame
On a sunny day, a cold frame can quickly become a hot frame. You don’t want to be saving your crops from winter, only to have them cook before you can harvest them. A cold frame can overheat, even on a cloudy day. Keep the temperature below 60°F during the day by opening the frames a little. I can vent mine manually, because I work from my home. I recommend installing temperature-activated ventilating arms to look after this task for you. I like the Univent control from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden because it’s the only one I know of with a quick-release feature that allows you to open the light all the way. It’s always better to err on the side of overventing. If you’re going to be gone all day, or if you’re unsure about the weather, vent.

  Manuallly venting the cold frame
Vent the frame to prevent overheating. Heavy glass lights must be vented manually. If you use a lilghtweight glass substitute, you can install an automatic device to do this job for you.
 
  Cold frame min/max thermometer
  Set up a min/max thermometer inside the cold frame and shield it from direct sun with a board.
A minimum/maximum thermometer inside the frame helps me keep track of temperatures. In times of extreme cold, an insulated, reflective cover over the frames at night is helpful as long as it’s opened during the day to let in the sun. My frames have dropped to 10°F inside with no problem.

I’ll leave a new snowfall on the frames for a few days as insulation if it’s bitter cold. Heavy wet snow, though (6 in. or more), could break glass panes. I’ve found I’m less liable to break them myself if I remove the snow with a broom instead of a shovel. Once, when I was away, my frames spent three weeks under snow, and the plants didn’t suffer.

Occasionally people tell me that by fall they want a break from gardening. But that’s the best part: You can have your break and eat it too. After early fall, very little gardening takes place. Just some watering until November and then no more until spring. Venting can be handled automatically. I’ve found no weeds or pests in my cold frames. Harvesting is the main task, which is the aim of all this activity anyway.

And how good is the harvest? I can best describe it as a season of continuous delight for the table as well as for the soul. Even after all the years I’ve been growing in cold frames, I still marvel at the contrast of the weather outside and the bounty within. I still find myself coming into the kitchen with a basket of fresh greens for the evening salad and exclaiming, “You wouldn’t believe what’s available out there!”

“Yes, we would. We’ve heard it before,” say the eager eaters. “Please stop enthusing and make the vinaigrette.”

Read more about cold frames...

by Eliot Coleman
August 1996
from issue #4

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posted in: Projects, greens, fall garden, cold frame

Comments (24)

Alvinbass21 writes: Its good working process.
Posted: 4:47 am on October 8th
TjBakewell writes: I wouldn't recommend making your own cold frame, its very hard work and they arnt all that expensive to buy! Also, lets face it most of us are getting on now and we dont want to be messing around building cold frames. I bought my own cold frame kit and it works very well and is easy to assemble.
Posted: 9:38 am on January 5th
DanielBlake writes: Incredible...
Posted: 5:11 am on November 17th
Maxbannett writes: incredibly Awesome
Posted: 5:06 am on October 30th
Oscarwilson writes: Work of Perfection... Just Beautiful
Posted: 3:57 am on October 30th
Masongreen writes: incredibly Beautiful
Posted: 3:27 am on October 30th
Archiefox writes: Great Concept...
Posted: 2:45 am on October 30th
Thomaswain writes: Awesome...
Posted: 8:11 am on October 29th
Mikespencer writes: Incredible...
Posted: 7:36 am on October 29th
Dominichemmer writes: Just Great...
Posted: 7:18 am on October 29th
Sandraclif writes: Nice...
Posted: 6:46 am on October 29th
Adwardstim writes: Beautiful....
Posted: 6:04 am on October 29th
Jonathanray writes: Awesome
Posted: 5:19 am on October 29th
silaswren writes: Beautifully done
Posted: 12:25 am on October 10th
QcCity writes: What I found useful if you have the time is to cover the glass on clear nights with a cardboard onto which aluminium foil is fixed, the aluminium foil facing down.
This will reflect back the heat from the ground instead of having it radiate into space on clear nights. It was seven degrees F less cold under the foil than under ordinary glass or plastic.
Posted: 10:27 am on June 16th
Sweet_Potatoes writes: Remember to use water storage for heat release at night.
Plastic jugs with black-dyed water.
Posted: 2:02 am on July 21st
Piterson writes:
nice work . I like it,Very interesting article, Anothony. You've got me hooked up - keep up the nice work!
http://www.dafplumbingandheatingservices.co.uk/

Posted: 1:25 am on July 5th
Sweet_Potatoes writes: The R factor of one pane of glass is 1.
Put two panes together and get R of 1 1/2.
Separate the two panes by 1 1/2 inches -
which is optimum - and get R of 3. So the
air space is important.
The R of plastic sheet is zero, but I've
used plastic with glass and it gave an
increase.

Posted: 2:32 pm on June 8th
vladsbtch writes: I am going to try to make one for this winter. Here in Nashville,TN I should have a good crop!!! Thank you for sharing!!
Posted: 8:00 pm on July 16th
bilili_3 writes: I am going to build a cold frame within the next few weeks. Got to start planning what I want to plant so I can order the seeds now while they are in stock. I love this idea and I bought Elliot's book on the subject which I strongly recommend.

Posted: 7:22 am on April 22nd
LeslieinPayson writes: I have some supports for my tomatoes which are about 4 ft. above a raised bed. I was thinking about covering them with heavy plastic for a sort-of cold frame. The plastic would be straight across the top. Will plastic likely be enough insulation? We are in an area tha gets down to 20s and even teens in mid-winter, but the days are often 50s and the ground never freezes. I'm figuring I will need to open the sides of the frame many days.
Posted: 1:33 pm on August 14th
RuthHenriquezLyon writes: Thank you for this article; it's the best I've read so far, especially as concerns types of plants to grow in winter, plus when to plant them, and how to manage them in the frame. I'm looking forward to trying it out.
Posted: 9:03 pm on May 29th
badlandskid writes: I use discarded glass bathroom shower doors for my cold frame. They are quite sturdy. And I add a light bulb for extra heat.
Posted: 12:30 pm on March 20th
badlandskid writes: Perhaps you could increase the insulation effect of the plastic by applying it double with an airspace between just like double glazed windows for house.
Posted: 12:24 pm on March 20th
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