You don’t have to let the chillier temperatures put a damper on your gardening.
Instead, you can harvest fresh spinach, lettuces, garlic and other vegetables from your own garden this fall and winter. Yes, even in the winter, read on to see how.
In fact, it’s not too far-fetched for you to enjoy fresh home garden salad for Thanksgiving or even Christmas.
In order to do that, you’ll want to grow your vegetables in a cold frame.
Before you “throw in the trowel” (bad pun, I know) hear me out.
Cold frames are pretty easy to build (easier to buy) and take very little care. And they can provide you with fresh vegetables from your own garden all 12 months of the year.
Although you could purchase a cold frame, they are very easy to build. You don’t need to be a master carpenter to build your own cold frame out of very inexpensive material.
All you will need is an old window or aluminum and glass door frame and then build the box underneath to those dimension’s. If the window sash is 36 inches wide and 6 feet long, that’s the size you want to make the frame. If the sash does not have any glass in it, you can replace the glass with fiberglass, polyethylene or a something similar.
It’s best to use sturdy 2 by 6’s, 2 by 8’s, or 2 by 10’s to construct the sides of the cold frame. It’s up to you, you can use new wood or keep costs down by using what you have on hand or second grade materials.
Where to put your cold frame
If possible the cold frame should face south for the maximum sunlight exposure and it should have at least a 10 percent angle for added sunlight exposure.
If a southern exposure is not available the second choice would be a western exposure. Third choice would be an eastern exposure and the least desirable would be a northern exposure. When possible select a site with a slight forward facing slope, for better drainage.
Building Your cold frame
You can either set the cold frame on top of the ground or bury it in the ground. You will find you will get better insulation if it is at least partly below ground level.
You may also consider insulating your cold frame, using insulative materials such as foam board, reflective bubble wrap, or a natural material like straw or hay bales. The cold frame should be faced in a southern orientation. Build the cold frame so that the back is higher on the north side, and the front is lower on the south side. Ideal dimension would be 18 inches high at the back, and 12 inches high at the front.
This provides a good angle for sun exposure and a slope for excessive rain to drain off.
Put the sash on top of this frame, holding it in place with hinges on the high end, the north side.
Soil preparation for planting
To achieve results and a pleasurable experience, the old saying goes, “Spend a nickel on the plant, and a dollar on the hole.” Yet, don’t just dig a hole — prepare the soil! Soil prep is the first step to your success. Healthy soil is the foundation that will help you yield (extremely) healthy plants.
Prepare the soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches. Mix high quality compost, composted manure or other forms of organic humus with your existing soil to create a good fertile soil. My favorite tool for this is a 4 tine potato fork (aka garden fork or spading fork). If you have ledge, rocky soil or a space with no soil, consider insulating a raised bed garden above ground level and building your cold frame on top of it, using insulative materials such as suggested in the building section above. If your soil is poor you may want to start fresh with 12 to 18 inches of pre-mixed premium soil inside it.
Cold weather protection
If winter weather gets exceptionally cold, say down into the low twenties or teens, you should cover the cold frame with old burlap bags, old blankets, or any type of insulative material to provide added protection. Cover your insulative material with a tarp to give added protection from the elements. Once the weather has subsided, the covering material should be removed.
Warm weather care
On a warm sunny day, during the fall, winter or early spring it will be necessary to open the window sash for ventilation (plants do respirate, just like you and I). You can use a stick or wedge, or any similar material to prop it open. Also, during the warmer early fall and early spring months it may get too hot, making it necessary to cover the window sash with a shade cloth, or by treating the glass with a lime wash, to provide additional shade and cooler temperatures for your plants.
Watering plants in a cold frame
You will have to experiment a little to determine how frequently to water your cold frame because the watering requirements will vary from day to day and season to season. Generally, during the winter season the cold frame will only need to be watered once a week. Or you can let Mother Nature do the job by opening the top of your cold frame on a rainy day.
If your soil is prepared properly, you and your plants will be off to a great start with a good foundation. Yet, also to insure your garden be as bountiful as you desire, you should apply a light feeding of Organic Plant Magic once a week when watering will be extremely beneficial. This will increase and maintain optimal levels of soil life, strength, nutrition and plant health.
The warmth of the cold frame may attract slugs, so be on the lookout for them and take appropriate steps to keep them under control should they become a problem.
Best vegetables to grow in your cold frame
Leaf lettuce is undoubtedly the best crop to grow. It grows rapidly and abundantly in a cold frame. And, there’s nothing like fresh, nutritious greens, picked from your own garden during cold winter weather. Spinach is also an excellent green to grow. Other crops that grow exceptionally well in cold frames are green onions, radishes, and chard, round or little finger carrots, endive and other greens. As you become more familiar with using your cold frame, you will undoubtedly want to experiment with other vegetables as well.
Just Add Water and Watch Your Plants Bloom And Grow Like Crazy
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