In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Lettuce is just starting to grow after being protected in my cold frame all winter.
Now that our snow is finally going away (not that there won't be more to come), I went out to the garden to see what damage was done to the portable cold frame I left out this winter. I had beautiful lettuce plants growing in the cold frame when the December snows came so fast and furiously I didn't have time to harvest them or bring in the cold frame.
It looks like the cold frame came through unscathed in spite of the heavy snow load. When I opened it, I was ecstatic to see lettuce plants sending up tiny new leaves. What an absolute delight to have fresh lettuce for spring salads at the beginning of March.
Why I Use Them
I would love to garden year round, but since that's not possible, cold frames let me extend the growing season at both ends. They trap the sun's warmth and keep away cold temperatures for as much as a few months, depending on the type of frame. Mine are made of plastic and are portable - I can move them around to where I want to grow different crops. Wherever I put them, I try to position them to face southeast, to get maximum sun with minimum wind.
Starting Spring Lettuce
I'm starting new lettuce plants in the basement and in a few weeks will begin to harden them off in the cold frame. At that time I'll also move the pots of onions and leeks from under their grow lights into the cold frame. A few weeks before the last frost date, I'll move all these cold frame plants out of the cold frame for a couple of hours each day to harden them off before planting them in the garden.
Rotating the Frame
As soon as the lettuce can survive without the cold frame, I will move the frame to another part of the garden to warm the soil for bean planting. I love having the flexibility that a portable cold frame gives. Even though I intend to build more permanent frames this year, I think I'll always keep a portable one handy.
Cold Frame Crops
I use my cold frame to grow all types of salad greens such as kale, mustard, endive, and escarole. I start pansies and chives very early in the season, directly seed broccoli and cauliflower for stocky transplants and even use a frame to force very early rhubarb.
Later in the spring I harden off tomato and pepper transplants before they're moved into the garden at the end of May. I also start cucumbers and melons in pots, so that I have sturdy plants to set out when the soil has warmed enough. This gives me a 2- or 3-week jump on the season by letting me set out plants instead of seeds. And I love to have a jump on the season.
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