Coming Around to Cold Frames

As I was scrolling Instagram a few weekends ago, I came across a post from Niki Jabbour showing beautiful greens she was pulling out of a cold frame in her Nova Scotia garden. In January. I showed it to my husband and started scrolling through her feed- full of envy and wonder. Then I saw she wrote a new book, Growing Under Cover, about all the different ways to grow your Veg under everything from glass to poly tunnels to horticultural fleece to shade cloth.

Niki Jabbour’s Instagram

The shade cloth bit got me the most excited because y’all know we have maybe too much sun here. It is why we struggle mightily to grow lettuce but can grow peppers and eggplants with ease. And there is no respite from the sun here. The greenhouse is permanently swaddled in shade cloth (save the stretch in late March and April when the young seedlings head outside to harden off). Somehow, I hadn’t considered actually growing crops under shade cloth. So, I bought the book and immediately dove in.

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Image via Amazon

Readers, it is a great book! There are so many practical and affordable ideas on everything from pest control to extending the season, including modifying growing conditions. It is really well laid out, thorough, and the back half of the book is dedicated to how to implement all of these techniques for each specific crop.

I also appreciated how instructional her book is about cold frames and the variety of ways to build and use one. I’ve long been intrigued by them, but have also wondered if they were worth the effort this far North. As our weather becomes more and more unpredictable it seems wise for us to consider other methods of extending our growing season along with techniques to improve our standard growing season.

As I write this, parts of Texas have more snow than we do here in Wisconsin. Seriously!

This means that our winters don’t ALWAYS consist of bitter temperatures in December and January anymore. Increasingly, it feels like those days are reserved for February and even into March. This also means that November, December, and even early January- while cold and with their fair share of snow- are ripe for utilizing cold frames to try out a few crops.

This is the year we are going to do it! We will build a few portable cold frames (from glass salvaged from old patio doors) that will fit over two sections of our raised beds (but not the whole raised bed). We will plan out the regular season crops in these areas to be ones that finish early (peas and beets) so that the beds are open for sowing a late crop of dwarf kale, turnips, and carrots.

We are also going to re-work the Potager (yet again) and install some shade cloth (we have extra that we use to protect the yew hedges from winterburn) over the whole thing. We’ll move the teuter elsewhere into the garden and grow all the things we’ve historically had trouble growing: lettuce, radicchio, carrots, radish, and herbs like cilantro and parsley, spinach- all of which bolt faster than you can say “bolt” or get bitter while baking in the sun.

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Tiny image of what we’d like to do, via Sustainable Gardening Australia

I’ll admit to being quite excited about these projects! Previously all of this felt a little over-the-top and more work than I wanted to do. Now I realize that it isn’t actually more work and it will hopefully help get better yields out of the hard work we were doing anyway!

I’d love to hear if you all use cold frames, tunnels, or shade cloth in your garden and how they perform for you. There is SO much to learn about these techniques and I’m keen to hear what works for y’all!

7 thoughts on “Coming Around to Cold Frames”

  1. I’ve used all those in some form or other over the years. This year I built boxes to cover my berries (raccoon protection) but covered them with plastic to use as coldframes. So far, the crops under them are doing great. Hard to believe you have trouble growing cole crops in Wisconsin. I think of it as being so much colder, since when we camped there, our cans of Campbell soup froze solid!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our particular problem is that our spot is full sun from sunrise to sunset during the growing season and it just gets SO HOT. Everything bolts and it’s hard to keep the soil moisture high. I’m hoping the shade cloth will help mitigate all that enough to have more success. I definitely think it isn’t as cold here as it was when I was growing up. It’s been in the mid 30s all January when traditionally were hovering much closer to 0 this time of year!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey- that was us in central Texas with more snow than you recently! And 2 years ago we had more than Winnipeg! The times they are a changing… it’s good to have tips to adjust to the times.

    I may pick up the book for the tips on growing under shade cloth- down here I write off July through September as the useless season… would be nice to carve some of that back.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I too was most excited about the growing under shade cloth and we don’t get nearly as hot as you! I def. recommend the book, it’s very clear and helpful and isn’t all about spending tons of money to do it. Good luck with it and the snow!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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