Winter Vegetables Sprout in a Cold Frame
During the doldrums of February, the avid gardener takes a turn
through the greenhouse at the local nursery. Ever wonder how
they cultivate all those varieties in the dead of winter? It's
no secret! You can create a mini-greenhouse in your backyard
with a cold frame, says Victoria Elder in The Journal Newspapers.
The idea behind a greenhouse is to create warm and moist
conditions that will promote germination and growth. The cold
frame has the same effect of concentrating warmth and moisture,
albeit on a smaller scale. It's not difficult to build. Now is
the time to build one as the days get longer in February. A
minimum of eight hours of sunlight typically provides enough to
get your favorite vegetables started.
Start charting your design on paper. Remember, don't get greedy
and try to make it too big. The frame must be light enough to
remove and store away after harvesting your mini-crop to make
room for the regular springtime planting. Go to a lumber yard
and choose durable wood that's both rot and pest-resistant.
Generally, you'll want to stay away from most pressure-treated
woods with chemicals that can leach into the soil and your
plants. You don't want to serve mustard greens laced with
arsenic. Go with a safer material such as untreated cedar and
add a coat of latex primer and paint. Construct the panels from
glass, Plexiglass or clear plastic.
The easiest and cheapest design involves converting an old screen
door. Build a rectangular frame, take a glass door (with the
glass still intact) and attach it to the frame using hinges.
That allows for easy opening, an important feature whenever
outdoor temperatures get above freezing--you don't want things to
get too steamy and suffocating inside. That's when you'll need
to ventilate your cold frame briefly to let oxygen reach your
plants. Or simply let the door rest on the frame and provide
some way of propping it open. Buy a small thermometer so you can
monitor the temperature inside.
It may sound like a no-brainer but remember that you need to
prepare the soil prior to installing your cold frame. It should
rest at an angle in an area that gets the most sunlight. Choose
plant varieties that mature quickly, preferably within 30-45
days. These might include mustard greens, lettuce, spinach,
radishes, chives, spring onions or parsley. Mixing in marigolds
is a way of discouraging pests and providing a dash of color at
the same time. Soon you'll be the first on your block to enjoy a
fresh, homegrown salad.