Keeping Things Warm with Cold Frames

Cold Frames

Last year, I dug up the entire front yard for the garden.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to build raised beds for the front and the back yards, so we decided to test our luck planting beans, peas, spinach, zucchini and carrots directly in the ground.

It did not go well, to say the least.  The soil was just too rocky and full of huge tree roots for anything to grow successfully (save for some carrots).  We also realized that most of the front yard doesn’t get enough sun to grow many light-loving vegetables.

This year, I decided that the best solution would be to build some cold frames.  It meant that we wouldn’t have to plant directly in the ground and that we could channel the sunlight into the boxes, keeping the soil inside warm and making the most of the sun that does come into the front yard.

Plus, when the previous owners (or two owners ago?) replaced the windows on the house, they stashed all the old ones in the garage.  And when we found a stack of 2×6′ boards at Significant Elements for about $1/yard, it was a done deal.

We roughly followed the tutorial from This Old House, but simplified it greatly (we skipped the battens, aka Steps 5-11, entirely, and didn’t make our frames collapsible).

Painting Frames

While Dan cut the boards to length and cut the angles, I sanded the windows, taped off the frames and painted them with leftover paint from our porch steps (Behr Premium Plus Paint & Primer in One in Cherry Bark).

Cold Frames Assembly

Then we attached the sides and assembled the boxes.

Cold Frames Assembly 2Weed block

While Dan finished the assembly and stapled a layer of weed block to the bottom of each frame, I laid out the brick foundation, which provides a flat surface and helps collect heat.  I filled each “foundation” with a layer of rocks and dirt to support the weed block from below and keep pests from getting in.

Cold Frames 2

Then we lined them up in the front yard and got to filling them with a 50-50 mixture of peat moss and top soil, topped off with a thick layer of compost.  I’ve planted lettuce in one, and plan to plant the other two with more lettuce, spinach, arugula and herbs this weekend.

(Yes, I realize the rest of the front yard looks ugly at the moment.  We will be planting some shade-tolerating wildflowers and ground cover around the raised beds once we are past the risk of cold snaps and frosts.)

Our Total Cost:  $15 ($60-ish once you account for the top soil and compost…we already had peat moss left over from last year).  Granted, we were very lucky to a) find the boards at such a cheap price and b) already have windows in the garage and a large stash of bricks in the backyard (not 100% sure why they were there in the first place, but they came in handy!).


    • Julie says

      That’s awesome that you can get fresh produce in December and January– I think it typically gets too cold here for that, even with cold frames!

      • A Reluctant Foodie says

        Went to your “about” page to see where you are. Saw you’re in Wisconsin. we used to do a cold frame in Upstate NY, about an hour north of NYC. Pretty cold up there too and we still had some success. Sometimes had to knock the snow off to get at the greens! BTW, I saw your educational background – I’m a Chem Eng. Must be some sort of weird coincidence….

  1. says

    How come whenever I buy a house there aren’t a bunch of windows in the garage? I envy you! Plus, your husband has the carpentry skills to make some pretty nice looking cold frames.