Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Cold Frame--Easy, Quick, Cheap

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day while consuming more sweets than they should.

A cold frame is, simply put, a place where you can put plants when it is too cold outside. In their nice cozy cold frame, they escape frosts and get nice and warm during the cool spring/autumn days. You can start seedlings in a cold frame or keep plants growing past what would normally be their season. Handy dandy devices, cold frames.

And yet, I'm willing to be most of us, even the gardeners among us, don't have one. Why not? Well, when you think 'cold frame' (should you ever think of such things) you probably think of something that contains lumber, nails, possibly even (the horror) glass; you think of something that must be constructed, preferrably by your husband or another handsome and able bodied male. By the way if you're married, you should not be thinking of asking another handsome and able bodied male. Even if your husband does not know a hammer from a pair of pliers, you'd better ask him at first and then find a nice ugly handyman next. Except that you don't need to find an ugly handyman because it turns out that a simple cold frame does not need to be constructed at all. There is no lumber that needs to be purchased, no hammering that must be endured, no glass that must be broken and replaced with some type of thick plastic, no plans to be looked up on the internet, no incessant trips to Home Depot in order to get the right whatevers because your handsome husband or ugly handyman got the wrong whatevers on the last four runs, and certainly no more passive verbs that need to be contained in this sentence. Aren't you relieved?

But how, you ask. How can such miraculousness be? And is miraculousness indeed a word? (No.)

I was thinking of asking my handsome and able bodied husband to build me a small cold frame when my friend Sally's husband, Ed, told me that this year he was using a clear plastic Tupperware box for a cold frame. I said something intelligent and polite like, "Huh." He explained it to me and I will explain it to you.

Buy yourself a large clear plastic storage box. (Mine was 18 gallon and about $6 from Walmart. You can go bigger if you wish.) Now turn your box upside down, so so the lid's on the bottom. Take off the clear plastic part and put your plants so they're sitting on the upside down lid and then put the plastic part over it all and click it shut. I put about 15 4-inch pots in mine with seeds (and could have easily fit several more).

And then I totally neglected them. Outside it rained; it froze. My seedlings didn't care. They were warm and cozy and moist. They grew.

I should have given you this tip a month ago, but I--well--I wasn't sure it would work for a novice like myself. I should have had more faith in Ed's great advice. Today I took my lettuce outside and I planted it in the actual garden. I'll take my kale to the big garden when we get around to getting the big garden tilled.

And, people, there's still time. Throw some seeds in some little pots, put them in your upside down plastic box. They will grow and in May you can plant them.

The other great thing about this idea is that even if you don't have a big garden or, for that matter, consider yourself a gardener at all, you can use larger pots and put a few seeds for your favorite vegetables or greens in your little cold frame. You can allow them to get an early start, then put them on the patio or wherever for the summer and then put them back in the cold frame in the fall and thereby lengthen the time that they produce for you. They never have to leave their original pot. You only have to do the very minimal gardeny act of putting some seeds in a pot containing dirt and--maybe--watering them occasionally, though it stays pretty moist in that cold frame, so you might even get away with neglecting that.

Try it. It's fun.

A few more tips:

1. Dirt. I bet you can use about any old dirt in your pots if you want to. I use a mixture of compost, top soil, and peat moss (about even amounts of the first two and a bit less peat moss) or you could probably use a potting soil or just top soil or whatever. The plants want to grow and will put forth a good effort, but if you dig up the clay in your driveway, well, they just might not.

2. If you use little starts that are quite light, you will want to weight down your cold frame box or it will blow away. Ed bungee strapped his to the picnic table and I bet some bricks on top would do the trick too. Mine were in pots with enough dirt that they were heavy enough not to blow away.

3. Labels. I used masking tape and permanent marker to mark my pots and, uh, the moisture pretty much erased those words. You might want to use popsicle sticks with permanent marker instead if you don't like the whole mystery garden thing. (What? It's whimsical, right?)

4. If the whole cold frame things sounds like too much, but you have a pot and some dirt and perhaps a hankering to see something grow, throw some sugar snap peas in your pot. Be liberal. As opposed to many plants, peas grow better when they're in stands (when there are a bunch of them in a group). Stick a simple stake in the center of your pot and as the peas grow tall, wind them around the stake so they get a wee bit tangled up in each other and stay put. Pea plants are pretty. And fresh peas and so so good. (Do not buy sweet peas--the kind with the pretty colorful flowers--and eat them; they are toxic; buy sugar snap peas or something intended for eating.) They grow great in the cool weather. You should have peas along about May.


  1. Such an awesome tip! Thanks! I am definitely going to try this. My husband build me a cold frame last year but this is a quick fix if I plant too many seedlings.

  2. I was going to use clear plastic stapled to my porch and bring it out at an angle over, vertical from porch to ground and horizontal from porch on the ground to from a long triangle kinda of thing; no idea what I was going to do with the ends. Cancel those plans and use yours. Brilliant!

    1. Yes, cancel them. Do this instead:).



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