In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
A portable cold frame is just the solution for protecting garden plants in fall.
My Essential Cold Frame
Although we are enjoying some wonderful Indian summer days, the cold snap in early October made me realize that it won't be long before we're finished in the outdoor garden. I know tomato season is over, but I'm loath to give up my fresh, garden-grown vegetables. Happily, by using a cold frame, I can extend the growing season a few weeks or even months - allowing me to harvest endive, lettuce, and Chinese cabbage into late fall.
My Cold Frame
I have great plans to build permanent cold frames near the garden next spring, but for now I use a portable plastic one. It consists of a clear plastic frame with a ventable roof. It's lightweight and keeps light freezes from harming my vegetables. Although permanent frames would give me more protection, I can move this one around the garden to cover fall-seeded lettuce, spinach, and endive wherever I plant them.
I'm always on the lookout for ways to push both ends of the gardening season and another method is growing the right plants. Greens such as endive are sure winners in my garden. Even if an occasional plant is lost to frost, the prospect of succulent greens for salad at Thanksgiving is well worth the extra gardening effort.
I've been harvesting endive since early fall. Although it's extremely hardy, before the cold weather comes in November I still put a cold frame over it. In December, I'll remove the cold frame, cut what's left of the endive at crown level, and mulch it well with straw. If we have good snow cover, the crowns will stay alive through winter. In February, I'll pull back the snow and mulch and put the cold frame back over the crowns to heat up the soil and force really early greens. By the time they're ready to bolt in May, I'll have been eating endive for a month or so and the rest of the greens in the garden will be well on their way.
Extending the Spring Season
Cold frames also work well in spring to grow seedlings. I put out a cold frame with a heating cable under a layer of damp sand after the snow melts and the ground begins to thaw. I can even set out seedlings of warm-season crops such as tomatoes earlier than in an unheated frame, giving me a jump on the season. It's just another way to try to garden year-round in our cold climate.
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