The $7 Cold Frame & Other Gardening Adventures

It really pays to have a brother who's an engineering grad student! Dave constructed this functional, exceptionally affordable cold frame in our backyard garden plot this weekend. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, and it was literally impossible for me to avoid the temptation to get outside, dig in the dirt and plant some seeds. Hopefully I didn't jump the gun too much - it may feel like spring, but it's only March - it could still get really cold....

I turned the soil on Saturday afternoon. A few years back, our landlord put down a cloth weed barrier covered by about 8 inches of compost. The cloth has started to disintegrate, and digging it out was no small task. I managed to get most of it.

There are few good sized silver maples in our back yard which are really good for summer shade, but not so nice for growing veggies under - it's way too shady. I'm attempting lettuce and a few other greens - hopefully things that will be OK with some shade. It's nice and sunny now since the leaves haven't come out yet.

On Sunday Dave and I both went out and got to work.

This organic chicken manure based fertilizer was recommended by the guy at Paradigm Gardens, a local garden supply store. With a name like "Chickety Doo Doo" it's hard to see how you could go wrong! Plus it's local, manufactured in Racine, WI. We mixed a little into the soil before Dave got going on the cold frame.

These posts also came from Paradigm Gardens - they were the only thing we had to pay for. Total cost? $7.00. They were straight when we got them - 6ft long, made out of hollow steel. Dave successfully bent them all to about the same shape. A few kinked and almost broke, but were easily repaired with a little bit of duck tape.

He moved a little dirt off to the side (to bury the plastic later), and stuck the poles into the ground. They went far enough in that they weren't wobbly at all.

We had this plastic in our basement, I think the landlord left it here.....He cut it to size and attached it to the ends with zip ties. The genius of this is that they slide really easily, so one whole side of the cold frame can come up for ventilation....you'll see how that works in a minute....

The plastic on one side got buried using the dirt that had been scraped to the side. We weighted the other side and the ends down with some rocks.

Then it was planting time! You can see here how the whole side comes up. This will be very handy on warm sunny days when the plants inside get too hot. If less drastic ventilation is needed, just the ends can come up. On cold days, the whole thing can be sealed, snug and tight.

I direct seeded spinach, arugula, chard, and red Russian kale in the cold frame. This may have been stupid. I'm not at all sure that the ground will be warm enough for germination, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I didn't even use half of any of the seeds, so I'll have more to do another planting if necessary. These are all from one of my favorite seed companies, Seed Savers Exchange.

While Dave worked on the cold frame construction I started some other seeds. These will live indoors for a month or so, and we'll move them out to the cold frame in mid to late April. Most of them will go in our community garden plot, which is about a half mile away. It gets lot of sun, and I plan to take full advantage of it!

I used these 16 compartment flats with non-compartmented flats underneath to minimize the mess inside.

I had quite a hodge podge of things I wanted to plant: Winter Luxury pumpkin seeds I saved from what Jacque and Amy Nuekom grew last year, Black Futsu squash seeds I'd saved, Marina di Chioggia squash, Charentais melons, a few free basil seeds I got at Jung's garden supply in Madison, snap pea seeds leftover from last year, plus dill, parsley, and a lettuce mix from Seed Savers. The basil will go in our front window box, the parsley and lettuce should be OK in the back garden, and the dill, squashes, and melons are for the community garden plot. I kinda feel like I'm getting overly ambitious, but it's really hard not to on such a beautifully springy March day! I have lots of seeds leftover, so if I need to replant, I can.

I set the finished flats inside in front of a south facing window in our living room. I'm always amazed at the many uses for apple boxes! I can't wait to watch the seeds come up!
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