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Cold Frames To Protect Your Garden

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Cold Frame Photo Chicago Botanic Garden Cedar Cold Frame

Every spring and fall I try to make it out to the Chicago Botanic Garden to see what inspiration they might toss at me in those transitional gardening seasons. In both the fall and spring I am completely and totally captivated by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s lovely row of cold frames in the vegetable garden. Cold frames are used as a tool to protect your plants from frost either in spring or fall and can be an invaluable tool for lengthening the gardening season, particularly in northern states. It can also be used as a protective spot in southern states for container plants and vegetables when there is a cold or frost warning out.

Chicago Botanic Garden utilizes their cold frames quite effectively. Having a cold frame up against a building like the above photo can insure more warmth is absorbed by the building wall and reflected into the frame itself. When considering a location for you cold frame, search for a south-facing, sunny location with low wind issues.

Cold frames need attention and perform best when kept cooler, rather than hot. For example, keep the temperature inside below 60°F to 65°F for cold weather plants that grow best in spring or fall, and under 75°F for other warm weather plants. Be sure to prop the lid open when needed to help regulate the temperature. Place the lid back on tightly to keep the interior warm. When below freezing temperatures hit, pile extra insulation such as blankets, newspapers, or straw on top of the glass. Snow is quite heavy and can sometimes break glass, so no matter when you are working with, it will need regular attention to optimize plant growth.

Consider purchasing or making a cold frame to extend your garden growing season. Gardening can be nearly a year round experience, even in the northern states with a little creative assistance from a cold frame. They are easy to install or make yourself from recycled products so that you can protect your plants in the garden sustainably throughout the colder seasons.

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  1. Thanks for the cold frame idea (and the video link). With the UK starting to feel very autumnal this is exactly what I need at the moment.

  2. You know, I have all these books on gardening in the north (I live in Minnesota) and extending the season and on and on and over the years I kept reading about coldframes and never gave it a third thought honestly. We even got a ton of old windows to make our own greenhouse here, but after last winter’s propane shortage and how much it would cost to keep a greenhouse warm enough to work in we decided to not go there yet in our lives. But with all those windows, we finally decided to make coldframes. I have coldframes along an empty south facing side of my home now- made them two weekends ago and yesterday I finally got to filling them with compost. This weekend I’m going to see how long lettuces and spinach lasts (or even grows) in them. I have some new tarps in bags to cover with, but I might need some older thick blankets for more insulation here in a bit- time to hit the thriftstore!

    Anyway, great article. Up north here, our season is so short that anything we can do to effectively extend the season is welcome. It’ll be neat to see if you get yours made! Update if you do.


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