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Archive for the ‘Cold Frames’ Category

Cold Frame Snow Protection

04.15.11

We get snow at this time of year. It’s a sad fact. I remember big dumps of wet snow in May when leaves were out, seriously bending, breaking, and otherwise damaging trees. My garden notes from last year read:

May 30th: Well, it snowed a lot. Again. I’d say the rain barrels were refilled 3-4 times over, so maybe equivalent to 20mm+ of rain. Lots. And snow, well, it doesn’t so much like eggplant, tomatoes, and grapes. F@#&er. It’s been a rough spring on plants, not from a frost perspective, but from a snow perspective, and stretches of cold.”

I recall reading [Coleman, I think] that cold-hardy plants don’t tend to be destroyed by low temperature, but instead by ice, snow, wind, etc. I also know from experience that cold hardy seedlings like spinach and lettuces can handle some snow just fine. But I’m pretty sure the half-foot+ of heavy wet stuff we just got would squash a seedling.

So into the cold frames I went to see how they’ve changed my fate. I didn’t want to remove the snow, as -9C is in the forecast, and I’ll take the free temporary insulation. The lights [lids] had frozen on a bit, and needed a kick to break the ice. They were very heavy with wet snow. But inside…well, it looked like it did the day before the snow, not surprisingly. The transplants [seen below] were fine. The direct seeded seedlings [bottom] were hanging out as if nothing had happened. Brilliant.

Ever a fan of simple passive life-improving devices – ie, non energy consumptive such as my wine and root cellars – these cold frames have thoroughly impressed so far. I’ll likely be building more. Soon.

Direct Sown Seedlings

04.11.11

Germination. Although the snow has taken a serious beating as of late, my north garage bed that in the past has provided for copious greens is still under about 2′ of snow. But in the cold frames, life has begun. Arugula [seen left], radish [bottom], spinach, and the mesclun and ‘greens’ mixes are showing their faces. Not a great accomplishment in most climates, I reckon, but it is here. My dad was by today and figures his rural garden will have snow on it until well into May.

Now normally, I’m a spreadsheet geek, and pre-children would have had daily data on my cold frame temps, etc. Yeah, not going to happen right now [for those that don't know, I have a baby boy as of last Thursday!]. But what I can offer is that the evidence below shows the cold frame at 16.4C under cloud when the ambient outdoor temp is 8C. An 8C difference is pretty important when the inevitable nasty cold and snow returns for a late spring reminder of winter nastiness. My little plants will be protected, both from the cold, and more importantly [I've read], from the wind and snow and ice that really does the damage. I took a quick look at it under direct sun 11C outdoor temp, and had to look twice: 42C. Clearly, I have to mind my manners in sunny weather, or cook my plants.

I’ve been asked if I’ll insulate or heat these things. At this time, the answer’s no. The varieties I’ve committed to them are all very cold hardy. I’m not trying to or interested in pushing my luck with stuff marginal to our growing zone – I just want to eat the cold hardy stuff [of which there are many] way earlier and later in the shoulder seasons than I’ve grown up thinking was possible.

Last note: my seedlings sown in March have been transplanted into the cold frames, and are faring easily through the overnight outdoor freezes. More on those little guys soon.

Let the Seeding Begin…Early

04.03.11

What a weird growing year, and it hasn’t even really started. In 2004 we left for Europe mid-March, and I’d already fully worked and seeded my then-south-facing-bed. We are experiencing its antithesis – below average temps and scads of the record-breaking snow still everywhere. Were it not for my cold frames, I’m not sure how far out direct seeding would be yet.

Rural gardens and farms are still under feet of snow. They will be for weeks. One of the many advantages of urban agriculture: ease of season stretching w/out energy consumptive greenhouse operations. One thing I’m still left confused about is why we don’t do this more…extend our gardening seasons at home. Why is this not part of our northerly habit and food culture? Seems extensive efforts to grow HUGE vegetables are made, and some folks try HARD to grow fruits and veg that simply aren’t meant for our growing zone. Perhaps I’m just that geek who doesn’t value size, or scarcity, but instead values fresh, tasty, in-season, local food – for as much of the year as possible?

I feel fortunate that I can rely on the brilliance of others [thanks, Elliot Coleman...and the Dutch], to avoid my having to discover how to extend the season. It’s been done. So I’m gonna too.

Top left: cultivars Coleman recommends for shoulder season Below: seedlings started March 10th, looking healthy, happy, and to be transplanted into cold frame soil in the coming week or two. Bottom: seeded soil – really, really early.

Cold Frames: Good Soil Defrosters

04.01.11

I’ve never been so happy to see an earth worm. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been wondering whether or not my cold frames were actually achieving anything. I had considered whether or not I was simply containing the latent cold in the frozen soil, and that they’d be better uncovered. Not so.

The photo below shows where the cold frame sat before I removed it to work the soil. Where it had sat, the soil was workable with a fork. There were earthworms all over, which highly entertained my two-year old daughter. Where it had not been, the ground is frozen solid, and can’t get a fork in at all. I could finally conclude that the cold frames had achieved a first measure of success. While my garden generally has 2-4′ of snow atop it still, I can already work with wriggly earth worms and seeds and actual soil.

This should get me off to an earlier start than normal. My indoor seedlings of greens and other cold-hardy veg should soon be getting a test-ride in the protection of the cold frames. I’m also going to seed some items [mache, spinach, claytonia, wild rocket, etc] in the coming days to see how they do. If we’re eating baby greens in mid-April as I suspect we may be, it will be a full month ahead of the May-long-weekend we’re accustomed to. And with root veg in the cellar still [and especially considering this has been a very late spring], this makes me a very, very happy guy.