Sunday, September 20, 2009

We Need All The Help We Can Get

Our growing season up here is very short. Spring comes late and is usually cold. Fall arrives early and is usually cold. So in order to try to extend our gardening season, we need help of some kind. (A 50' x 100' heated greenhouse would do the trick.)

We have twenty-six 4' x 8' raised beds that lend themselves to having a 4' x 8' cold frame set on top of the wooden bed frames. This enables us to add weeks to both the beginning and ending of our short "summer" season.

We don't put cold frames over all the raised beds but we do use them on about half the beds especially for starting crops in the spring.

A couple of months ago, Jordan of Blueberry Hills Homestead in New York asked me if I would do a post showing the construction of our cold frames. (Good thing the dear lady said there was "no hurry" as I'm just now getting around to this posting and pictures!)

This is a picture of one of the first cold frames we built. It's shown here sitting on top of one of the raised beds. We built them to slope slightly to the south. The back is 12" high, the front (south end) is 8" high. We used solid wood for the four sides, and it is heavy as heck. Hurtfully heavy. The handles on each end are for ease (ha!) in moving. Since I rotate crops in each bed each year, not the same bed will end up with a cold frame on top of it each season. The cold frame comes off many beds as soon as the weather settles. Also, we store all the cold frames stacked in one area out of the garden for the winter months.

You can also see the arm that holds the cold frame top in various degrees of open or closed. When the top is up more than halfway, it tends to act as a sail that gets hit by the frequent strong winds we have. Therefore, we found we had to secure the cold frame in some way to the raised bed. After trying a couple of methods, the simplest turned out to be good old baling twine tie-downs.

This is just a shot showing the basic construction of the tops of the cold frames. For our first tops, we used rigid, double layered, clear, fiberglass panels. They, too, added to the weight of the cold frames, so then we went to special UV treated flexible (heavy, strong) plastic. This was much lighter and so far has held up well. (Besides being heavier, the fiberglass panels tended to be brittle and crack in cold weather.)

To hold the tops open at various positions, we use a 1" x 2" length of wood bolted to the cold frame side (so it swivels), holes drilled in the 1" x 2", and holes drilled in the side of the cold frame cover. By inserting a good-sized nail through the hole in the 1" x 2" and into the hole in the cover frame (one 1" x 2" arm on either end of the 4' sides), the cover stays securely in position.

After a couple of years of grunting, groaning and straining lots of muscles moving the wooden-sided cold frames, we got a smidge wiser and decided that (duh) if the plastic on the lids made the cold frames lighter, why not use plastic on the four sides? (Double duh.) So we've started replacing all the old frames with new ones made of plastic instead of solid wood.

This gives an idea of possible framing for the plastic covered frames.

We've experimented with different heights for the newer plastic covered cold frames. This one (not being used at the moment) is 3' high and we had it over a bed of tomatoes last year. Big drawback found: By the time it's on top of a garden bed (about 12" high), it's too danged high to reach over and into to pick the tomatoes! We used it this year with a shade cloth lid on top to try to discourage cabbage moths from getting to our broccoli. (Didn't work.)

Besides the slanted cold frames made with the plastic sides, we've also made a few "risers." These are level (no slant to their framing) boxes we use to give more height for plants to grown in. The riser goes on top of the garden bed, then the cold frame goes on top of the riser. Our risers are 12" high. The cold frame in this picture is 18" at the back side and 12" at the front (south) side.

These are the four remaining beds protected by cold frames in the garden today. They're covering cherry tomatoes, sweet green peppers I want to turn red, lemon cucumbers and regular green slicing cucumbers. The lids are closed down tight in the late afternoon and raised the next morning before the sun becomes warm enough to "cook" the veggies inside the cold frame.

Hope this gives you some ideas for your construction, Jordan. And thanks for being patient!


Erin said...

Thanks Mama Pea for a great post! I am bookmarking this one as it is one of the projects I want to tackle in the next year. We tried a hoophouse that covered all 4 raised beds but ... our winds took it in January! But for the 3 months it stood it was awesome, LOL!

Mama Pea said...

Thanks, Erin. I'd LOVE to put a hoop greenhouse over a good portion of my field garden but we get such terrific winds, I'm afraid it would end up in Canada. But Roy assures me we could find a way to anchor it securely enough so maybe I'll get to experiment with that someday. In your climate, I would think cold frames would enable you to keep things going in your beds waaay into winter.

Erin said...

Let me know if you get one that withstands 65mph gusts, lol... my pvc frame on rebar stood just fine, it was the plastic that shredded and floated away!

Jordan said...

Thanks Mama Pea! I'm bookmarking this one too! I really like learning from your mistakes - LOL! I was thinking about wood, but it looks like straight to plastic here.

Mama Pea said...

Jordan - Yup, good ol' hindsight. Why in the world did it take us so long to think of making the cold frames out of framing and plastic? We grow too soon old and too late smart? Hope some of the info helps when you go into cold frame production!

Jody M said...

This is one of the projects we want to tackle, hopefully in the next week or so. I have 4 beds I'd like to cover for fall.

Chicken Mama said...

Wow, I'm exhausted just LOOKING at all the work you two have put into these! And that's coming from someone who's actually SEEN it all on a semi-regular basis!

So, for Christmas 2009 for me? One riser & one top, please!


Mama Pea said...

Now that's what I call a high maintenance gal. Christmas, 2008 - Wood Cutting Cradle. Christmas, 2009 - One riser and one cold frame.

Mama Pea said...

Jody - Like so many "little" projects on the homestead, I think you'll find it takes a lot more time than you think it will to build the cold frames. BUT you'll really be happy with the way it extends your season. And once constructed, you have them for years and years and years.