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Extending The Growing Season Using Cold Frames | (an experiment)

The last few months have been very, VERY busy for Hayley and I. Mostly we’ve been working, but we’ve also found some time to play and take breaks too. We kicked off the summer with an amazing trip through Europe, which we’ll be posting about soon! Other than that, we’ve been working on our new book, Make it Paleo 2, since February. We just crossed the 175 recipe mark, so it will be a BIG BOOK just like Make it Paleo, which we released three years ago this month (happy birthday, kiddo!) It’s hard to believe it’s been that long!

Make It Paleo 1 and 2 covers

(Make it Paleo II is available for preorder on Amazon. By preordering, you’re guaranteed the lowest advertised price between now and release day in February)

Only last night, we submitted the 360-page section of recipes for the book to the publisher for initial edits, and its a good thing, because Juli Bauer (of PaleOMG) is here for another week of “Project Work” for her yet-to-be-announced project. You can keep up with all the hijinks on Instagram, where we post all the fun stuff these days. And you don’t even need to have Instagram installed to follow – just click the link and you can see everything.

In other news:
We’re also putting the finishing touches on A HUGE PROJECT that involves over two dozen of your favorite Paleo bloggers. There will be so much more to talk about with that next week. We can’t say much yet, but we can say this: the scale of this community project is unprecedented.

All of that was to say that we’ve been very busy here. But despite the seven-day work weeks and long hours at the computer, we’ve also been making every effort to get outside and revel in the change of seasons. We both love fall, with the changing colors, crisp nights, and plentiful harvest produce.

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(Blueberry foliage turns beautiful shades of red, pink, yellow, and orange in the fall. This native to PA plant is so easy to grow, produces amazing fruit, and has awesome ornamental characteristics. Everyone should have them in their yards!)

Last week, it dawned on me that all of our precious vegetables could and WOULD meet a timely death with the first frost if we didn’t do something to protect them. I sprung into action, texting and talking to several friends with serious gardening and farming experience. After a bit of research, I decided we would take an old-school approach and build some cold-frames for the gardens.

When I was a kid, the guy who lived behind us on the next street over had a huge lot, and had the most fantastic vegetable gardens. Corn 10 feet tall, huge tomatoes, pumpkins, pears, berries, potatoes…. you name it. Paul was, and still is, an expert gardener. Up until about 15 years ago, Paul would build beautifully primitive cold frames every fall using old windows, storm doors, and bales of hay for insulation. His resourcefulness was inspiring to me at a young age.

I love that I can still walk to his house from where we live now, walk into his garden, and grab a few tomatoes if we need ’em. In fact, he says I’m always welcome to do that. What a great guy. (Which reminds me, I should take him some fresh-picked carrots tomorrow!)

Okay, back to the cold frames. What are Cold Frames, anyway? They are essentially miniature greenhouses you can make with old windows, glass, or plastic. It’s really simple!

Reclaimed windows and hinges

(L: These old windows, which look like they were from a school, were only $3 each. R: The massive hinges were repurposed from an old barn door we got last fall. I don’t know what possessed me to keep the hinges, but I’m really glad I did!)

The concept is the same as a greenhouse – let light in and trap the heat to allow the plants to grow for a few additional months. According to our local friend Hayley Ryczek of Health Starts In The Kitchen, we can expect to grow things outside through December and possibly into January. Thats an extra three months! And we’ll also be able to start things outside 6-8 weeks earlier as well.

My dad did an incredible job building our raised beds this past spring, and he was super kind to offer his help building the cold frames this past week.

Raised garden bed for Permaculture Gardening

Side garden bed

So earlier this week, I visited a local construction material recycling store called Construction Junction to gather supplies. After a lot of pacing, measuring, thinking, and calculating, I walked away with five huge windows for less than $25. After talking to him briefly about the concept I had in mind, he crafted the frames for us (apparently with ease!)

How to build a cold frame garden

While he was working on the frames, I hung around and started prepping the beds for winter crops. The upper raised bed still had the summer crop of carrots, yet to be picked, so I got busy pulling them. Unfortunately I broke the first few, so I got wise and started using a pitch fork to loosen the soil around them.

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We planted these carrots in early May, so they had a full five months to grow to this size. I think it’s about 10 lbs of carrots, so thats a great haul!

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As things start to cool off outside, I’ve contemplated getting a greenhouse thermostat (about $50), which can kick on a set of string globe lights and gently heat the cold frames if necessary. When daytime temps go over 50 degrees, we will prop open the hinged side to keep the plants from baking. Oh yes, and crops.

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Our plan isn’t too ambitious with the plants. We will be growing woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, and also try to keep our sage and chives alive as long as possible. For vegetables, we will most certainly start a second fall crop of lettuce, and also get a leg up on next spring’s crop of garlic (thanks for the hot tip on that one, mom!) And finally, we’ll probably grow some broccoli, kale, and chard for good measure. They all seem to like the cold temperatures.

green bell peppers and carrots

So thats what’s going on here. We are really excited to see how this project goes. All told, we’ll only have about $100 total invested ($23 for the windows, $15 for the culled lumber frames, and a big splurge of $50 on a thermostat if needed.)

Cold Frame Garden

I’d love to hear about your own gardening or growing experiences below. Let me know if you’ve ever tried anything like this, or what you like to grow.

Cheers,
Bill

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