Grow Vegetables Year-Round with Cold Frames

Reader Contribution by Melissa K. Norris and Pioneering Today Academy
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Melissa K. Norris shares her season-extension expertise as part of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR Cold Frames for Winter Gardening Course. Register to watch her videos and more from some of leading experts in year-round gardening.

Harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden year-round is something almost every gardener dreams of, but for those who garden in northern or cold climates, it seems impossible without a full heated greenhouse.

While a heated greenhouse does give you great options on vegetable choices, the simple use of cold frames and season extenders can help many a climate to extend their growing season without the expense of heat and a permanent structure.

Cold frames are a simple structure placed over plants with typically four sides and a clear top to allow light in. They especially help protect plants from overnight lows and frosts without an artificial heat source, but can also be used during the day in the fall and winter when day-time temps are beneath 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

If cold frames are left on during the day, especially sunny days, you’ll need a way of propping open the lid or allowing some air flow to avoid overheating the plants.

Choosing Vegetables for Cold Frames

Cold frames work best when growing cold-hardy or cool-weather vegetables. They don’t generally provide enough protection to grow warm-weather crops all winter, but provide enough warm and insulation to grow cool weather crops throughout the fall and winter months, even with snow fall.

Some cold frames provide more protection than others and pairing the right crop based on your overnight low temperatures is key to success. In my video, I share easy cold frame ideas and how much temperature protection each one provides.

How Much Growing Time Can I Add?

Season extenders are used in the spring and fall to extend the normal growing season in the garden. While they can be a structure, often these are row covers, frost fabric, or even Mason jars over top of small starts.

Season extenders allow gardeners to plant four to two weeks earlier in the spring and can help extend the crop growing time in the fall by two to four weeks. When used in both spring and fall, this gives you up to two months of extended growing time. They’re especially helpful to warm up the soil in spring for early direct sowing and to protect young seedlings from late frosts or low overnight temperatures.

Get Season-Extension Training

Watch my video for easy season extenders from existing items in your home as well as low budget options you can easily construct or purchase yourself.

Melissa K. Norris is a 5th-generation homesteader who helps hundreds of thousands of people each month to use simple modern homesteading for a healthier and self-sufficient life through her website,, popularPioneering Today podcast, thePioneering Today Academy, and her books. She lives with her husband and two kids in their own little house of the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. Connect with Melissa onInstagram, Facebook, andYouTube, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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