When I moved to Maine over 3 years ago, I was quickly put in my place when I tried to start my garden in April. In fact, my father-in-law laughed when I began sowing seeds indoors in early February. Little did I know that frost can show up as late as mid May. So I went down to the local feed store and chatted with some of the old timers there. I learned that most start their garden on June 1st. I was shocked by this! Coming from Connecticut, I was use to getting my hands in the soil by mid to late March. Although there was always a chance for snow, I could usually get away with planting hardy crops like kale, collards, spinach, and beets. Because the growing season is so short here in the northern regions of the states, its important to maximize the time you do have to grow food.
Luckily there are several ways to "cheat" mother nature and extend the growing season. Hoop houses, high tunnels, heated green houses and cold frames are a few systems that can be put into place in your backyard garden or large farm to assist your plants during the chilly times of the year. While greenhouses can be pricey and potentially require fossil fuels to heat them, cold frames are quick to assemble and can be done for little to no financial investment. Greenhouses also require the use of plastic, that once again require fossil fuels and once broken down, can no longer be used and end up getting thrown in the dump. It's hard to sustainably farm your land when you are using and later tossing away plastics. With that in mind, I have taken a particular liking to cold frames.
A cold frame is simply a box made out of any useable material like wood or hay bales. Once the frame is created it gets topped with either plexiglass or a window. The design can be as simple as you wish and only requires enough depth to allow your plants to grow without smooshing themselves up against the top of the frame.
While out and about, I always see old windows in front of people's homes with a big FREE sign on it. Snatch em up! Just be mindful of the paint on the window frame, because you do not want to go using an old window covered in lead paint to grow your food!
Below is a picture of a cold frame I constructed a few weeks ago. With the exception of the screws and hinges, the entire piece was made for free and utilized scrap wood and plexiglass left in the barn from the previous owners of the house. Thanks guys :)
Previous Cold Frames I have Used
A month or so later...
Other Cold Frame Designs I Found on the Web..
How to Use a Cold Frame
Cold frames are simple to build and easy to use, which is perfect for a somewhat novice gardener like myself. Once I select the perfect location, I lay out sheets of newspaper or cardboard to fill the dimensions of the frame. To maximize the most sunlight possible, I then place the frame facing south over the paper. Fill the frame about 1/2 way with some quality soil and compost. Seedlings or direct seeds can then be placed inside the box. With the top down, the cold frame acts like an incubator, storing heat built up throughout the day and minimizing damage from wind, rain, or snow. Be aware that with the top down on a sunny day, you can essentially cook your plants and leave them, well, baked..
Let it Snow
If you plant your hardy greens early enough so that the roots establish themselves, you can just about guarantee you will be picking fresh leafy greens well into the winter. Your plants will not continue to grow during the colder months, but they will essentially be "frozen in time" allowing you to continuously harvest from the plant until its fully harvested, or the spring growing season begins. At this point, your plant may continue to grow, but will likely go to seed sooner than fresh plants.
I'll skip on trying to give you exact measurements and such to build your own. Because honestly, when it comes to carpentry, I fake it until I make it. But, this pdf was super helpful in the design, tools, and construction. How to Build a Cold Frame
I hope this info is helpful and I look forward to hearing from you. Do you have a garden and what are you doing to get the most out of the seasons? have any cool garden tips, share them below.