This cold frame was a birthday present from my husband, and it has changed everything. I don’t know why I didn’t have one sooner – perhaps I thought it was an inferior little brother to a proper greenhouse, or I thought it was too fussy, what with the venting and all, or maybe I didn’t really understand just what all it could do for me (and my plants). I know I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to secure sheets of 6 mil plastic to hoops, only to find the thing flapping loose and various clips and fasteners scattered around the garden the next morning after a windy night. I never really trusted these flimsy arrangements but I got out of them what I put in – not very much from not very much. I’ve been dreaming of a multi-purpose greenhouse for a few years now, and my greenhouse lust may have obscured a much more space efficient and admittedly more modest solution for season extension. No more.
This cold frame is pretty much exactly according to Eliot Coleman’s plans, available in his book, The Four Season Harvest, or online. I started brassicas, herbs, and onions indoors before the frame was completed, and transplanted them into potting soil directly on the ground as soon as I could. Next year, I’ll start most of those things directly in the frame. The weather has recently warmed, and I have my peppers and tomatoes in the cold frame, though they’re in pots in case frost threatens and they need to be evacuated. My indoor seed starting setup is in the basement, which is barely warm enough, so those tomatoes are really benefitting from the warmth available outside. Also, I was able to pot them in larger pots because I don’t have to worry about space under the lights anymore. With the full sun and breeze they receive everyday, they are turning into big and sturdy plants. I have a few flats of microgreens in there as well, but with green things starting to come out of the garden, I won’t sow anymore until late fall. My wintersown jugs have been moved in to the cold frame with their tops off, and now I have all my seedlings in one place – easier to water and keep track of.
I don’t dig my raised beds, I use a lot of straw mulch, and my compost is not very fine when I apply it . Transplanting veggie starts, especially of small seeded plants, is a bit more reliable than direct seeding in that kind of environment, but I hadn’t done a lot of it because I didn’t have a good set up for starting them. I mostly sowed a lot of seed directly in a wide row, hoped for the best, then thinned less than I ought to have. My prediction for this year is that I will have bigger and healthier plants, while using less seed. Also, I should have fewer weeds because I will be able to mulch between plants from the beginning, rather than hand weeding until my seeds have grown up enough to shade out the competition.
Later in the summer, after I beg my amazing husband to make me another one, I’ll start the hardy winter greens that I will harvest through the late fall and into winter from the cold frames. Eliot Coleman has stuff all over the internet and in his books about that, so I’ll leave it to you and google to get the details.
I wish I had taken the cold frame plunge years ago. I’m looking forward to the gardening year with it’s new possibilities and I will no doubt be evangelizing on the subject again.