Learning from mistakes
Last spring I told you about cold frames I made using dresser drawers. I’m sorry to report, the results were not as successful as I’d hoped. The bok choi got too warm and bolted before it got any where near mature enough to eat. (Note to self: open up the cold frame on warm or sunny days.)
But there were some successes. Sort of. We were making good progress with the cabbage, broccoli and lettuce all spring. But then my sons’ work schedules and the sporadic good weather made it almost impossible to get the garden rototilled, so some very kind young men from church came out and helped me rototill the garden. Unfortunately, it seemsthat my instructions were not clear enough and they rototilled up the area where the cold frames were. Aaaacck! I lost everything except for a few heads of lettuce.
So out of that cold frame experiment I got a few nice salads and some very good lessons in what NOT to do. As I’ve often said, my gardening experience is more lessons on what not to do than it is any real success. I hope I’ve eliminated enough of the stupid mistakes that I should start getting it right. (I better not be too confident. I’m sure I haven’t exhausted all the mistakes.)
Cold Frames 2.0
My first year experimenting with cold frames, a couple of the drawers didn’t hold up too well and the frames are kind of small. I wanted something bigger and sturdier. But knowing my track record of mistakes, I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in these.
Then Spring Clean Up Week came to town and I hit the jack pot. I found several windows and scrap wood on the boulevard waiting for pick up. All I needed to buy was the hinges and screws to put the whole things together. The end result was three very nice cold frames for about $8.
Each frame had to be built to fit the window, but they are each roughly 26-28″ X 46-47″. The back of
the frame is about 11-12″ high and the front is 5″. (There is some slight variation depending on what wood was available and the size of the windows.) I reinforced the corners by screwing in pieces of 2X2 from both sides of the frame. (Actually, they were 2X4 scraps from the boulevard that I cut in half to make 2X2s.) This helps prevent the frames from twisting as we’re moving them around.
Then I thought (trying to learn from the mistakes of this spring) “I don’t want the frames sinking into the mud.” That was one of the things that made one of last spring’s frames fall apart–it got too much moisture on the bottom and came apart when I lifted it from the ground. So I made a foundation frame of bricks. I hope these will also serve as a bit of thermal mass to help increase warmth in the cold frame.
But with the bricks on the ground I had to be very careful about everything being level. I didn’t want any big gaps between the frame and the bricks. That would mean a lot of heat loss. I think we (my 15 year old son and I) did a pretty good job of getting everything level. The frames sit quite nicely on their brick foundation.
This year’s success
So now the frames are all in. In one frame I planted seeds–collards, lettuce and daikon radish–and they are up and growing. The second frame I had a few cabbage and broccoli seedlings that I started in
August. Unfortunately, because of the late summer heat, they really didn’t take off too much. But they are nice-looking seedlings. In the last box I transplanted three almost full-grown cabbage plants. These were plants that were in the far side of the yard and never grew very much. In everything I’ve read about cold frames, no one is ever very clear about when the plants for winter gardening should be started or how mature they need to be before freezing temps settle in. So, by having plants at three different stages of development, I’m hoping to see which ones work best.
Could chicken poop be the key to success?
Last week we cleaned out the chicken coop and put in a batch of brand-new straw in the coop in preparation for winter. I took the old (manure-filled) straw and put it around the base of the cold frames. My idea is that this will insulate the frames even better and will (hopefully) generate some heat as the manure breaks the straw down in the composting process.
So now we wait and see what this will produce. I hope you’ll follow along as I post progress reports throughout the winter (or as long as the plants last in our cold climate) and into early spring.