Country Lore: Creating Roll-Top Cold Frames

Readers’ tips on DIY cold frames, stuck canning jar lids, and more.

| August/September 2019

Photo 1: Martha and Richard's ingenious roll-top design allows them to easily cover or uncover their plants, depending on the weather.  

Come Rain or Shine

I’ve been farming my whole life. When I met my friend Richard about four years ago, we discovered that we’d both spent our entire lives on the same path to self-sufficiency, thanks to MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Together, we designed this roll-top solution for our cold frames. As a frost buffer for the plants inside, we built a wooden framework on top of the cold frame and then covered it with sheet plastic. The framework’s front is 12 inches tall, angling up to 18 inches tall in the back. The cover of the framework is simply a piece of greenhouse plastic tacked down along the framework’s back side. The front edge of the plastic is sandwiched between two 1x2s. These 1x2s extend the length of the cold frame to keep the weight of the wood from ripping the plastic off. The weight of the 1x2s keeps the plastic in place when closed (see Photo 1). To open the cold frame, I simply roll the 1x2 toward the back edge, wrapping the plastic around it. To keep the rolled plastic in place at the back of the framework, I screwed one end of a short board inside both back corners. When I want to unroll the plastic, I just flip the boards down (see Photo 2).

Photo 2

The great thing about the roll-top is that it’s usable year-round. When the cold frame is open, the roll-top is out of the way, which allows the rain to come in. The roll-top works best on individual beds that aren’t too long. The longer the bed, the harder it is to neatly roll up the plastic. That said, I do use this technique on one of my 16-foot-long beds, with two 8-foot-long boards on the weighted end to span the length of the bed.

The wooden framework that supports the roll-top doesn’t interfere with summer crops, and it also provides young seedlings with some protection from wind. There’s no need to worry about storing windows, frost blankets, and hoops, and then dragging them out again every fall. It’s especially great to have the whole setup in place when a late frost threatens my crops after I’ve already put my other covers in storage.

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