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n., Any hill dweller who knows that the best path to the future is through the arts of the past mixed with the smallest possible dose of newfangled ingenuity.

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How to Build an Inexpensive Cold Frame in Under 30 Minutes With No Tools

For over ten years I have grown my own garden transplants by carrying the seed trays out into the sun on warm days and bringing them in every evening. In the last 3 years, I was juggling over 20 trays in and out of the house. This method uses natural light to produce strong, non-leggy transplants — but if you’re growing lots of seedlings it is excessively laborious!

It had to stop! However, my husband and I do not have impressive construction skills. When a friend from Pecandale Farmstead gave us some old windows, she also gave us an idea. Straw bales + old windows = instant cold frame.

Photo Caption: Our straw bales varied in length, but most were about 37" long.

The only materials you need are straw bales and some sort of windows. Craiglist or Freecycle are great options for recycled windows. If you happen to get plexiglass or acrylic ones, they are much less likely to shatter.

The only tools needed are hands (but gloves are recommended).

Photo Caption: Although the cold frame itself was constructed in minutes, it took us a bit longer to clean out a site for it.

Choose a site that isn’t very shaded, although it is okay for it to get part sun in the south. The more sun your site gets, the more vigilant you will need to be about ventilating your cold frame on warm, sunny days. On sunny days ranging 35°F to 40°F, open it a crack. Once daytime temps reach 50°F you may need to open it entirely. Cloudy days don’t require as much ventilation.

Unheated cold frames allow you to overwinter plants that are from a zone (or two) warmer than yours. So, someone in zone 6 could overwinter plants that usually live in zone 7 or 8. In zone 8, you’d be growing plants from zones 9 & 10. It’s also a great way to get your seedlings started and ready to plant out by your frost-free date.

Photo Caption: Much better! It's a good idea to put down wet newspapers and mulch or some other weed barrier under your cold frame.

If you’re placing your cold frame on bare soil, weeds will be just as happy about the cozy environment as your transplants and pots. The easiest way to keep from weeding in the wintertime is to put down a barrier to block the germination of weed seeds and wandering roots. A layer of mulch will insulate plants from the cold ground but beware of pests like slugs hiding there.

Photo Caption: It took a little bit of maneuvering to get the straw bale placed to support the windows. We "eyeballed" it -- no measuring required!

You can stack your bales in several ways to make your frame tall or short. Ideally, the plants underneath shouldn’t be so deeply set they can’t reach the sun. If you only plan to do seed trays, make the frames lower or put the trays on top of something to elevate them closer to the light. If you are overwintering taller container plants, make the frames higher.

If there are gaps between the bales, stick extra hay in the cracks to reduce drafts.

Photo Caption: The finished product will hold more trays than I can utilize in my garden. We'll also use it to harden off some of our taller potted plants.

Minutes later and you’re done! Nothing else is necessary to make your cold frame ready for transplants and pots.

If you have very cold weather consider adding extra heating elements such as black water containers (they absorb sun during the day and release it slowly at night) or bubble wrap on the glass for additional insulation.

Photo Caption: Here's how it looks with plants inside. The windows can be slid to the side for ventilation on warm days.

Ventilation is simple: just place a brick under one end of a window to prop it up, slide it partially to the side, or remove it entirely. Be sure the window is secure to avoid crushed transplants or broken glass.

All done!

I can’t tell you how excited I am not to do the seed tray parade every morning and evening for 3 months.

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