Us­ing a cold­frame is like mov­ing your gar­den south

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Lee Re­ich

In one week­end, you could ef­fec­tively move your gar­den — or at least part of it — a few hun­dred miles south. If you’re handy, you could do it in less than a day.

Do this by build­ing a cold­frame — a bot­tom­less box with a clear plas­tic or glass cover.

Heat trapped in a cold­frame keeps let­tuce, spinach, and other hardy salad greens fresh and grow­ing through­out win­ter. This warmed area can also pro­vide a win­ter home for rooted cut­tings and peren­ni­als that are not quite cold-hardy. In the cold­frame, plants might grow right in the ground or in con­tain­ers.

Next spring, use the cold­frame to start or harden off seedlings or for ear­lier veg­eta­bles or flow­ers. The sun’s warmth, trapped within a cold­frame, keeps the box warmer later into fall and in win­ter, then ad­vances the sea­son there in spring.

Build it

Select some sort of clear cov­er­ing for a cold­frame first, be­cause the rest of the struc­ture will be built to ac­com­mo­date its size. Typ­i­cal di­men­sions are some mul­ti­ple of about 2-by-5 feet.

An old win­dow sash is of­ten avail­able for free, is al­ready mounted in a wooden frame, and is con­ve­niently sized for sin­gle or mul­ti­ple use.

Var­i­ous kinds of plas­tic are an­other op­tion. Plas­tic has the ad­van­tage of be­ing less break­able than glass, and it can be cut with stan­dard wood­work­ing tools. Make rec­tan­gu­lar frames from 1-by-2 or 2-by-2 wood, glued, braced and screwed at the cor­ners. Ei­ther screw the plas­tic to the frame or cre­ate grooves into which the plas­tic can slide.

Poly­car­bon­ate plas­tic is an es­pe­cially good choice. It re­sists degra­da­tion in sun­light, so is of­ten used for green­houses, and comes in dou­ble wall to in­crease its abil­ity to hold in heat.

To cap­ture the most sun­light and let rain­fall run off, the top of the cold­frame should slope down from the back to the front. Cre­ate this slop­ing box in two sec­tions, us­ing 1-by-12 or 2-by-12 lum­ber.

For the lower sec­tion, merely join the lum­ber in a rec­tan­gle that cor­re­sponds to the di­men­sions of the cover(s). Rot-re­sis­tant lum­ber lasts long­est, but any lum­ber can be used if you screw a sac­ri­fi­cial 2-inch strip of wood onto all the edges that will make ground con­tact. Un­screw and re­place this strip when it rots away.

For the up­per part of the box, cut an­other 12-inch­wide board the same length as ei­ther of the sides. With a straight­edge, draw a di­ag­o­nal line from one cor­ner to an­other, then cut along this line. For the up­per back of the box, cut a board to the same length as the bot­tom back of the box. Screw the three pieces to­gether.

At­tach the up­per part of the box to the lower part with 2-by-2 lum­ber, two 22-inch lengths and two 11inch lengths, screwed into the cor­ners. Th­ese 2-by-2’s also strengthen the cold­frame.

Cover it

Usu­ally, cov­ers are hinged to the base at the rear, mak­ing them easy to prop up to vary­ing de­grees, de­pend­ing on sun­light and tem­per­a­ture.

An­other op­tion is to hinge ad­ja­cent cov­ers to­gether side by side, and then hinge one of the sides to the edge of the base. This cover opens and closes like a bi-fold door, with its free edge rest­ing on the base to prop it open.

If the area isn’t too windy, cov­ers could be free of hinges, merely slid­ing up and down on the base frame.

Use it

The cov­er­ing will have to be opened on bright sunny days, some­times even in win­ter and surely as the sun grows stronger in spring. One piece of scrap board, cut 12 inches long by 6 inches wide, per cov­ered sec­tion makes a con­ve­nient prop. Use the flat side — about an inch thick — to crack the one or more cov­ers open for slight vent­ing. Progress to the 6-inch di­men­sion and then the 12-inch one when more vent­ing is needed as spring ap­proaches.

A cold­frame adds a use­ful and in­ter­est­ing di­men­sion to your gar­den­ing. Mon­i­tor and ad­just tem­per­a­tures, wa­ter, and fer­til­ity closely, and watch how your plants re­spond. On­line: http://www.leere­


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