Saturday, March 26, 2011

Building our cold frames

When we first moved to our farm, our barn was filled with decades of, ahem, stuff. Much of it was beyond salvage, but we did find many well-seasoned tools that linked us to the hands that once worked our land and treasures from a time when this smallholding provided a livelihood and sustenance for its caretakers.

The farmhouse has been renovated and upgraded over the years, but there are still some relics from an earlier homestead that are tucked into a dark corner of the barn. While I'm grateful for our energy-efficient windows, I knew these old storm windows could once again help shelter our family from the cold.

I was fortunate to attend a conference where I heard Maine farmer Eliot Coleman speak about his ingenious and yet simple strategies for extending the growing season. Much of his knowledge is captured in his inspiring and sensible book, Four-Season Harvest -- a must-read for anyone interested in tending to, and reaping the delights of, a year-round, fresh-food garden.

Coleman got me turned on to the idea of growing, harvesting and eating fresh in every season. While we're still enjoying preserved goods, onions & garlic and root crops from last season, my body is craving greens from the garden. So today, we built our first cold frames.

We originally planned to build the boxes according to Coleman's suggestion for the simplest cold frame: a rectangular wooden box, 8' long and 4' wide with a 12" back wall and an 8" front wall.

But as we were collecting scrap wood from the barn and driveshed, we found these pieces that seemed just right.

We did measuring and some cutting...

... and constructed two small boxes measuring 4-1/2 feet wide and about 2-1/2 feet deep -- much less than Coleman's recommendation for two 4' x 8' cold frames per person.

We mounted the four windows on the top using eight hinges - the only materials we purchased for the project...

... and we set the two frames outside the perimeter of our existing kitchen garden.

Over the next few days, I'll begin to stock them with our first scallion, spinach, leek and lettuce seeds.

These frames are small but to me, they represent another step on our family's path towards self-sufficient living. And I can't wait to taste farm-fresh greens next February!


Tracey said...

I really like those. I wouldn't mind have a few to start kitchen herbs poor husband, another item on his to do list. Thanks for the idea.

Anke said...

Those turned out great, and the fact you only had to buy the hinges is awesome. Way to recycle and extend your growing season!

David said...

Fiona, I'm getting closer to trying to extend my gardening skills with the extension of the growing season. I'm not sure yet exactly which idea in my head I'm going with but it will be interesting. This will be the first year in a long time that I will be planting lettuce and radishes. I just didn't want to battle the rabbits but now is the time to begin. Just that alone will net produce out of the garden earlier than the usual July for tomatoes and green peppers.

Have a great cold frame spring.

Mama Pea said...

Yay! We'll take all the help we can use in the spring, right? And don't forget to plant cold-hardy crops in late summer under your cold frames (open, of course, until cold nights hit) then see how far into winter you can keep them going by keeping them closed. I've managed to have fresh greens available even after having to sweep snow off each morning. Very unsuccessful wintering over any greens though. Our temps just drop too, too low. Cold frames in a greenhouse would probably work though. Dream on . . .

Fiona said...

Tracey -- thanks! Once we figured out the first one, they second one was easy! Lucas used the saw, I used the drill. We made a great team!

Anke -- yes, only buying the hinges was nice. We're big on re-purposing and recycling around here!

David -- good for you for planting lettuce and radishes this spring! We don't have much bunny trouble,,, yet!

Mama Pea -- Since I can't seem to find that intern, yep, I'll take all the help I can get in the spring! And I'm absolutely planning on using these in the fall, too. Hopefully, we'll have a few more built by then. Thing is, we get so much snow in the deep winter and I can't see myself wanting to dig out the cold frames every time I want a salad come January! But, I think I've got Lucas on board to build that unheated hoophouse this fall, so we'll hopefully have greens year-round! I've read good things about growing edibles under plastic/glass in a hoophouse, so we'll see. Yay for dreaming!

Erin said...

Those are beautiful, and how fantastic that you had all those supplies already?!

There were some incredible things in the machine shed on the farm where I grew up, stuff from the early 1900's, hand tools for woodworking, walk behind plows, yokes, even a huge horse-drawn sleigh! The sleigh was up on 2nd deck near the rafters, can't believe they hoisted it up there!

Fiona said...

Thanks, Erin! Sounds like you had some treasures of your own growing up! The sleigh sounds wonderful. We found some lovely old horse drawn implements -- even a old, old rusted out 1930s Ford -- in our back forty... If things could talk, oh the stories they'd tell!

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