Garden veggies in April?
How would you like to be eating fresh vegetables a full 4-6 weeks before the rest of your fellow gardeners? You can with cold frames.
What’s a cold frame? Basically, it’s a mini greenhouse that helps warm the soil and protect plants during the cold transitioning months of early spring and late fall. Plants best suited for growing in a cold frame are both low-growing and cold-hardy. That includes lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, leeks and pretty much all your brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, bok choi, kale, etc) With the brassicas, you’ll want to grow varieties that do not grow very tall so that they fit inside the cold frame.
I got my inspiration for grow boxes from this video. It’s a tour of a winter garden in the Utah mountains. He shows you all the great things he’s growing in the dead of winter, when everything is covered in snow.
Now I think that gardening all winter-long is a little hard (maybe impossible?) in our North Dakota winters. And besides, I like having a break from gardening. It gives me a fresh outlook on what I want to do next year. But there’s no doubt that we can extend our gardening season on both ends–harvesting crops weeks earlier and later than most of our gardening neighbors. And that’s what I decided to do this spring. (Actually, I was going to do it last fall, but I was having too many back problems, so I had to shelve the project for a few months.)
Now, here’s the cool part: these cold frames cost me less than $5 for each one. Last spring, when everyone was putting their junk out on the curb for Spring Clean Up Week, I gleaned several windows and three dresser drawers. The windows were the exact same width as the drawers–a little longer than the drawers, but that’s OK. What mattered is that they covered the width of the drawer.
All I needed now was to make a wedge for the drawer to sit at an angle. I cut a 1X6″ piece of wood the length of the drawer diagonally to create a triangle. Then I knocked out the bottom of the drawer, attached the triangle pieces and the piece of wood for the back side. Then I attached the windows with hinges. Voilá!
The wood cost me $5 for all three boxes and the hinges were $1.29 each. A few screws and something to secure the wood to the drawer is all else that is needed. I had some metal strapping on hand (leftovers from another project) but you could also use lath.
These pictures show all the steps to making the cold frames.
If you’re interested in learning more about making cold frames, here’s another video showing how to make a cold frame with salvaged glass doors. And I can’t recommend highly enough this book by Caleb Warnock (the guy in the video I linked above.) It is packed with great information on cold-weather and winter gardening as well as specific plants that will do well and how to ensure the best harvest. In addition to his book, Caleb also has a nice selection of seeds, many of them perfectly suited to growing in cold frames (like a low-growing pea and a cold hardy melon.)