Cold Frame Countdown

Summer is nearly here, and the cold frames are at maximum production:

Working Cold Frames, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

We’ve built three cold frames so far this year.  The first was built and sown in February with radishes, lettuce, onions, and carrots.  The second two were constructed in April, and were sown at the new moon with a) corn and sunflowers; b) spinach, arugula, cilantro, snap peas, and marjoram.

First Cold Frame: Radish Cornucopia, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

I’ve learned to incorporate radishes into more dishes than I ever imagined possible – nothing like a healthy radish surplus to help you get creative.  The spinach and arugula are now vigorous enough that I can pick leaves each day and they are replenished by the following evening.  The lettuce seems a little slow-moving, but that doesn’t worry me: there’s plenty more on the way!  Now that the cold frames are built, we will have a leg-up for winter and spring.  I’ll begin planting them around August to secure fresh vegetables long past the typical growing months.

Spinach and Arugula Cold Frame, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Another added benefit of cold frames: they are bunny and deer proof (unless, of course, you have some REALLY determined bunnies).  I’ve been keeping the corn-and-sunflowers cold frame closed most days and all nights to keep things really warm for vigorous growth; the other two cold frames have been spending all days open, and temperate nights too.  This is important because keeping them too warm would cause the spinach, radishes, arugula, cilantro, and others to “bolt” to flowers.

Corn and Sunflowers Cold Frame, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

As you can see in these images, our sunflowers are just about ready for transplanting, and the corn will definitely be “knee-high by the fourth of July”.  In fact, these pictures were taken a week ago, and today everything has doubled from what’s shown here.  While it’s true that corn is one of many vegetables which does best when direct-sown, I chose this approach to help the plants along until the ground warms enough for planting.  The plan for the corn is two-fold: some of them will relocate to a new west-facing garden area currently being prepped, and others will be tested with the three sisters method when I plant the pumpkins and melons.

Sunflowers and Corn Sprouts, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

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A Look Ahead at Spring Gardening

Sunflowers, August 2007, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

The above image shows the southern-most corner of our garden in August 2007.  As you can see our giant sunflowers were in their finest blossoms last August, attended daily by bees and birds from sunup to sundown. 

The equinox is still six weeks away, and those months will be cold for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere.  Don’t let the lingering cold months fool you: now is the time to begin planning your spring, summer, and autumn plantings, and to begin seedlings for tomatoes and peppers indoors.  (If the soil is soft enough, this can also be a great time to prep soil with compost or wood ash, and pull out stubborn root balls.)

Sleeping Garden, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater 

My garden in Chester County, Pennsylvania will soon see enough warmth to begin germinating seeds in the cold frame.  Once that happens, I’ll be sowing carrots, radishes, cilantro (coriander) lettuce, spinach, onions, and a few others.  I like to select vegetables that are easy to grow, and that suit our tastes and cooking habits.

Arugula, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater 

Fortunately we have a major arugula patch thanks to its wonderful proliferative qualities, so I won’t need to grow any in the cold frame.  The arugula and sorrel have been happy to overwinter in the main garden.  As you can see in these pictures, the cold freezes and snows wilt and kill the outer leaves, while the center of the plant remains vibrant and alive.  As soon as things warm up the plants will grow a fresh set of small leaves, and voilà – fresh salad!

Garden Sorrel, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

With any extra room in my cold frame, I may see how early I can get jalapeños to start from seed.  I’ve been told that the cold spring months are the perfect time to grow a “salsa garden.”  I promise delicious salsa images and ideas here at AppleJade this summer.

If you want to get started with a cold frame this season, but don’t have the time or means to build one, here are a few places to get you started:

Seeds of Change is a great place to find organic and heirloom seed varieties.  They also offer gardening supplies, including their Collapsible Coldframe and Deluxe Coldframe.

Planet Natural also offers a variety of heirloom seeds, and many natural gardening supplies and pest controls.  They offer Single Cold Frame and Double Cold Frame kits.   

To learn more about using (and building) cold frames I recommend you explore the book Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman.  Once I get started with planting my cold frame, I’ll be sharing step-by-step pictures at AppleJade with ideas for your own gardens.  Have a question, idea, or suggestion?  Leave me a comment, or contact me!