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WHAT'S BLOOMIN'

Gardening column: Cold frames keep winter gardens growing

Friday, November 23, 2012 - 12:01 am

Urban gardeners are already planning next year's vegetable gardens. They are forming groups and scouting around the city looking for available empty lots to begin putting their plans into action. Winter weather, or not, they are making preparations to have locally grown vegetables available year round — beginning in 2013.

So, in our cold winters, how do they plan to do this without large, expensive greenhouses? There is an old tried-and-true method to extend the growing season that has been used by gardeners long before our country began.

These handy windowed gardens are called cold frames. How you decide to go about building one is up to you because there are many ways to get the job done and still achieve satisfactory results. Following are some very simplified instructions, and if you have the Internet, I've added a link to the Organic Gardening website (www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/make-your-own-coldframe) that shows you, with illustrations, the how-to's of this cold weather gardening method:

•A cold frame is simply an enclosed area with a clear glass or other material covering that will allow the sunshine to warm the soil and keep the plants inside growing no matter how cold it is outside. (When there is snowfall, be sure to keep the glass cleared off.)

•The base can be built of cement blocks, treated lumber or almost anything where the sides are at least 12 to 24 inches deep. This is to accommodate root vegetables and other deep-rooted plants.

•For gardeners who have back problems, are confined to a wheelchair or have difficulty getting up and down, this box can be table-top high.

•Once the structure has been built, it should be filled with a good growing medium, leaving 5 to 6 inches from the top to allow for plant growth. Then it is time to add the clear covering to keep out the cold and let the sunshine in.

•A simple solution would be to find two windows sashes that fit over the top and then are laid side by side. (If you use old windows, be sure they do not have lead paint on them.)

•Since the weather can cause problems with shifting of floating lids, it may be advisable to build a framework that you can hinge the lids to. This will offset for wind and heavy-weather problems.

•This isn't essential though; you can lay the window/lids as tightly as possible on top and weight them down around the edges so they will not move.

•When ventilation is needed, prop them up a few inches with a brick or other support. (The interior of a cold frame on a sunny day can quickly become 80 degrees or more.)

•At night when the sun goes down and temperatures threaten to slide below 50 degrees, you can keep things warm with an outdoor power cord that includes an auto light with a low-wattage bulb inserted. Hang this inside the cold frame and add a timer to the cord plus a thermometer to help keep track of the internal temperature.

•Once you have one set up, you can start seeds in late fall or early winter and enjoy lettuce and other greens and cool-weather vegetables all winter long.

Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@frontier.com. You also can read her What's Bloomin' blog at news-sentinel.com. This column is the writer's opinion.