Extending the Season With Recycled Cold Frames

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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We’ve reached the point of no return; never mind the blizzard today, the new season is starting. The gardens, the farm, the Hostel, the everything. There’s no end until December and actually; I’m ready and I’m excited.

Next, after starting the onions come the Brassicas. They don’t fit inside; I grow well over a 100 heads of cabbage, start 50 or so broccoli plants and almost as many Brussels Sprouts. This past week we built new and bigger cold frames to start those seedlings in. Cold frames are basically a box without bottom sitting on the ground with a glass lid. The glass create a warm environment either to start plants early in spring or late in the fall and let them over winter in that sun-heated space. Our cold frame glass panes have a long legacy of famous homesteaders and gardeners; they once belonged to Eliot Coleman, organic grower and author of  the book “Four Season Harvest”, then to the Good Life Center where pioneer homesteaders Scott and Helen Nearing lived the last part of their lives, a story captured in one of their many books; “The Good Life”.

We have a lot of reasons not to use plastic as a way to extend our season. For one, we live in a place put together by wood, metal and glass, and plastic doesn’t appeal to us aesthetically. Glass good enough to grow plants under is easy to find; our small town dump always has stacks of used windows free for the taking. Coming across greenhouse quality plastic is harder, especially if you’re looking for a greenhouse sized piece. It’s hard for me to call it sustainable gardening, something that depends on fossil fuel the way plastic, and even more so if you buy it new, does.

I know how popular and much hyped season-extending materials are in the world of organic gardening, plastic and poly-tech-something, the argument being that it’s less fossil fuels in the material required for those than it is in the transport of lettuce from a warmer climate to the colder Maine, but is it a necessity to eat fresh lettuce year round? I’d like to see a shift in that mindset, that it’s taken for granted that everything should be available at all time, no matter the [fossil fuel] input. If it can’t be produced locally and naturally with minimal modern, oil dependent material I think we should ask ourselves if we can’t do without it.

With the simple cold frames we have, made from reused glass panes and spruce boards from our own yard we can harvest cold hardy greens I planted in November any day now. We still have fresh cabbage in our root cellar that I shred and mix with carrots or beets and different fermented vegetables. We’ve closed the circle; fresh salad from our own garden, twice a day, year round. If we didn’t have free, recycled material to build the frames out of, I could probably start a tray of spinach and claytonia on our kitchen table, in front of our south facing window. Or, I could harvest early wild greens, such as dandilion leaves and spruce buds or, as a last resort, live without fresh greens for a couple of months and eat the vegetables we still have in the cellar and really, truly, enjoy the first lettuce leaves as you only enjoy something you’ve long missed.

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