Monday, November 5, 2012

Cold Frame Gardening

Building a cold frame to lengthen our growing season has been on our to-do list for a while.  We live in upstate NY, and despite a mild winter last year, we have trouble keeping fresh greens from the garden on our table for much of the year.  With the new shed, and an old window from my mother's house, we were re-inspired and put this little box together a few weeks ago.  The plan is to keep the window on in the fall, winter, and spring, and fill it with some edibles and vines in the summer. 

The frame cost a bit more than I planned and was built with cedar boards and a few 2x4's.  The frame sits right across the front of the chick coop and goat shed, and will hopefully add a bit of warmth to the shed in the winter time.  With our new frame built, set up, filled with dirt, and planted with a few transplanted lettuce seedlings, I've set out to learn all I can about cold frame gardening.

Here's what I discovered...

In general, a cold frame can help change the climate inside your cold frame to a zone and a half further south.  This means our cold frame zone is about a 7 - not too bad.  Still, this means that I can only plant some crops that will make it through the entire winter.  Since the box is small, I'm going to focus primarily on salad greens.  The key is to plant these greens early enough to get a head start before shorter days and cold temp slow their growth.  I think I'm a bit late this year (I should have started in August), but since I can still sow lettuce and spinach throughout the winter, I'm going to keep on sowing.

It's also important to remember that getting too cold is only part of the problem in a cold frame, and on warm days you need to vent or open the window to keep it from overheating and cooking your plants.  While snow is a good insulator, heavy snow can break the glass and should be brushed off.  Just like your regular garden, irrigating inside the cold frame is important since rain will not pass to the plants through the glass. 

In addition to fall plantings, cold frames can be used in the spring to give seeds a head start.  By starting your crops several week early in a cold frame, you can either transplant them to the real garden when the time is right, or simply remove the window.  This can help your garden get going a whopping 4-6 weeks earlier.

Despite the price tag on buying the cedar boards, I am thrilled with the new addition to the garden.  I'm all for trying new things in the garden, and have ideas for so many future projects, including row covers, a straw bale cold frame, and sigh, someday a greenhouse!

Hopefully I'll be updated you again soon with photos of all the lush lettuce and spinach growing in these.

Now I'm just a bit more ready for winter.  Bring on the 20 degree temps tomorrow night!

I shared at:Wicked Good Wednesday The Barn Hop,the Chicken Chick


  1. Very interesting! All my husband talks about lately is cold-framing but I feel like I'm still getting the hang of our summer garden!

    This looks really cute though. I'm pinning the tips for the future :)

    A Young Family's Pursuit to a Life of Simplicity & Contentment

  2. Good for you! I have made cold frames from bales of straw and an old window before and kept lettuce until after Christmas in them. This year I never got my act together early enough to grow anything in a cold frame :(

  3. I have a cold frame and started lettuce and spinach in it in late August early September. The seeds sprouted and formed one set of leaves but with the shortening of days they have quit growing. They are just sitting there. I am going to have to try a grow lite I guess. I am disappointed. I really need a small green house.

  4. Interesting! I've heard about cold frame gardening before but never really knew the benefits. I'll have to try it!

  5. Nice cold frame! I added one outside my greenhouse for hardier plants with a leftover window from a remodel at our house. The real benefit was that it still had the screen. So in the summer I can open the window and use it to harden off plants b/c the screen keeps the free range hens from eating the plants. Which is what they did the first time I put beautiful new transplants outside the greenhouse to harden off!! Stevie

  6. I'd like to invite you to join me at the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week!

    I hope to see you there!
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick