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A cold frame is kind of like a mini greenhouse, protecting tender plants from frost so you can harvest salad through the winter or get a head start on summer crops. Plants grown in a cold frame will be stronger than those started indoors; a day with the glass removed is enough to harden them off before transplanting. We’ve discovered that cold frames can also give protection from hungry deer and chickens!

Lee started building these easy cold frames when we were living in Austin, and he’s been banging them out ever since. It basically consists of finding a window, building a box to fit it, and sloping the whole thing toward the south.

Things you’ll need:

– An old window, a scrap pane of glass, or a piece of corrugated roof plastic. Anything that is at least 2′ x 3′ or so and will let light through

– 4 pieces of lumber, about 2×10″, 2 pieces cut to same length as the glass, 2 pieces cut to the width minus 4″

– 4 pieces of 1×1″ lumber, cut to the same width as the larger lumber or a little smaller

– Some nails or screws

1. Arrange your 2x10s to form a box, the shorter pieces set inside the longer. It’s okay if its smaller than the glass, which will just rest on top and can have an overhang. If the height of all the pieces is a little off, just make sure their tops edges line up on one side. Then the glass can rest flat and the plants will have more protection from the cold. Put a few screws in the corners to brace it.

2. Place the 1x1s vertically in the corners to further reinforce the box and keep it square. Make sure they don’t stick out past the top and put some more screws in there.

3. Decide where you’re cold frame will live. It can fit over a garden bed which you plant directly into, like one above, or sit on an unused part of the yard and protect potted things, as below. Either way, the location should receive a good amount of sunlight each day, and be sloped toward the south (or the north if you’re below the equator). This doesn’t mean the ground already needs to be graded that way, although that would be cool. We just dig a little dirt from the south side and mound it in the back to give us a slope.

4. Put your plants inside the box, and the piece of glass on top.

Viola! Didn’t we say it was easy? The hardest part is remembering that those little plants in there still need air. Try to open the cold frame up at least a little every day. We crack the glass by propping it up with a rock, or more so with a stick prop. Most days, though, we just take the whole thing off during the warm hours.

This can get a lot fancier. Try adding hinges to the glass, angled sides, mitered corners… or just get bigger. Show us some of your cold frames!

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