While gardening may not seem like something you would do during the winter, it is indeed possible to grow food during these cold months. Of course, the only reason why vegetables can be grown during the winter is that certain structures protect the plants during the winter. Such structures include greenhouses, hotbeds, and hoop tunnels. One popular winter gardening method is using a cold frame to protect your small plants from the harsh elements. If you are considering using a cold frame, you have come to the right place. In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know about building a cold frame and tips for cold frame gardening. Let's begin.
What Is a Cold Frame?
Before we go any further, let's first take a quick look at what a cold frame is. In agriculture and gardening, a cold frame is a transparent-roofed enclosure used to protect plants from harsh weather. It is usually used during the winter or when it is extremely wet outside. The transparent top admits sunlight and prevents heat escape. It is similar to a greenhouse, except that it is much smaller and much easier to build.
Why Do I Need a Cold Frame?
Cold frames can be used for so much more than simply keeping plants warm during the winter months. They can be used during the spring, to start seedlings, and to help your plants adjust to the outdoor weather before moving into the garden. Here are just a few reasons why a cold frame is a great accessory for gardeners.
You Can Get an Early Start on Growing Plants
As soon as signs of spring begin to appear, almost every gardener is outside trying to get their garden ready. This year, get a head start by planting your plants early in the spring in your cold frame. The cold frame will protect your plants from any late frosts. By the time other gardeners are planting their seeds, yours will be closer to being harvested. Because yours will be harvested much sooner, you may be able to plant a second crop.
Prolong Your Growing Season
Usually, by late summer or early fall, the crops are all done growing. If your plants are still producing vegetables but you don't want the frost to hurt them, consider putting them in a cold frame. Depending on how your cold frame is designed, you should be able to move your cold frame right over to the plants. That way, you don't have to uproot the plants.
Great for Hardening off Young Seedlings
If you happened to plant your seeds indoors, at some point you will need to move them outdoors. Because this can be traumatic for your seedlings, you will want to slowly introduce them to the outdoor weather. This is called hardening off your seedlings. A great way to harden off your seedlings is to first put them into your cold frame. After a little while, you can move them into your garden.
Cold Frames Are great for Zones Where You Usually Can't Garden
If you live somewhere it is really cold or wet for most of the year, it may be difficult to grow plants. For places where growing gardens usually isn't an option, cold frames can come in handy. You can grow vegetables almost anywhere when you have a cold frame. Just make sure your plants get plenty of sunlight.
How to Build a Cold Frame
We are now onto how to build a cold frame. Before we begin, you should first know that there are many ways to build a cold frame. Some people use wood, others use plastic, and some people simply place windows over straw bales. There is no right or wrong method for building a cold frame. Just make sure you can easily lift the lid/door so that some air can come in when you want it to. Here are the steps to building a DIY cold frame for easy winter gardening.
For this cold frame, you are going to use wood as the main material. If you want, you can substitute wood for bricks or cinder blocks. If you will be using wood, cut the boards as big as you need them for your garden. Make sure you use boards that are in good shape and are not rotted. This is especially important if they will be touching the ground. Next, you are going to screw them together to form a box-shape. To do this, you will need an angle bracket. You will need an angle bracket for each corner (there are four corners).
To make the lid frame, cut two 8-foot 1x3s into four pieces: two 46 1/2 inches long; two 47 1/2 inches long. These four pieces can be arranged to form a frame that is 49 inches by 50 inches. Join these pieces using 4-inch steel angle brackets on the underside. Add some hinges to your lid, and then screw those hinges to the box.
Top the box either with glass or add some plastic onto your lid. Thicker materials, such as windows, will provide more insulation. For plastic, you will need to use staples to secure the plastic to the lid. For windows, either attach the window onto your lid or use the window as the lid itself. It is easier if the window is the lid. Make sure the window allows light to come in.
Tips for Gardening with a Cold Frame
Now that you know how to build your cold frame, you may be wondering if there are any tips. Fortunately, there are. These winter cold frame gardening tips will help keep your plants happy and healthy during the winter. Here are some tips for building your cold frame and how to garden with this enclosure.
Pick the Right Location
The first and most important tip is to pick the right location for your cold frame. If your cold frame is in the wrong location, your plants may not grow as well. Look for a location that offers full sunshine and shelter from the wind. The frame should face towards the south. If you place it against a house, deck, shed, garage, or greenhouse, it will be sturdier. However, you can allow it to stand free in the garden if you want.
Carefully Choose Your Materials
The box of a cold frame can be made from many materials, including wood, polycarbonate, straw bales, bricks, and more. While it may not seem like the materials make a difference, they sometimes can. Some gardeners have found that cold frames made with polycarbonate sides and tops are not insulating enough to shelter salad greens throughout winter. Wood and straw bales, however, can insulate the plants more. Feel free to experiment and see what works the best in your location.
Make Sure No Objects Block the Top of the Cold Frame
Be sure to keep objects and tall plants away from your cold frame. These objects can block your plants from receiving enough light. During the winter, you will have to brush snow off the top of the cold frame. Always make sure your plants can receive light. Also, this has a lot to do with the location of your cold frame. Don't put your cold frame near a tree or tall plant that will block the cold frame from the light.
Remember to Ventilate
Not ventilating your frames can result in several issues. It can get too hot in your cold frame, which can damage your plants. If the temperature is warm enough, lift the cold frame door a little or even all the way. Even if the weather isn't too warm, ventilation is still necessary. If you don't want to go outside and open it yourself, consider purchasing an automatic vent opener. An automatic vent opener will open the cold frame for you when it reaches a certain temperature.
Cold Frame vs Hotbed
The main difference between a cold frame and a hotbed is that a cold frame relies on solar heating, whereas a hotbed uses an additional heat source. Hotbeds usually have heating such as electric heating cables or fresh manure. Both cold frames and hotbeds should be located on well-drained soils that don't flood during heavy rains. A hotbed can be constructed in the same way as a cold frame, but you will need to add an additional heat source.
If you want to grow vegetables throughout the winter, a cold frame is something you should consider building. Cold frames are very easy to build, and they can be used many different times of the year. Some gardeners keep their plants growing under a cold frame even during the summer months. Just make sure you ventilate your cold frame by opening the lid every once in a while. Not only are cold frames great for growing vegetables during the winter, but they can also be used for prolonging your summer garden and getting a jump start on your spring garden. I hope this article has answered all your questions on how to build a cold frame. Happy gardening!