Friday, November 4, 2011

Garden Season Over? Not with a Cold Frame!

Niki Jabbour, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener

Enjoying fresh homegrown vegetables and herbs even in the coldest winter months; now wouldn't that be wonderful!

I know what is probably running through your mind: it would nice, but it's wishful thinking.

That is certainly what I always thought anyway.


Then, I popped into visit Niki Jabbour's blog The Year Round Veggie Gardener. There, gracing the cover of her about-to-be-realeased book, was a picture of Niki in her snow covered garden kneeling beside a row of cold frames filled with fresh vegetables.



I knew that cold frames could extend the gardening season, but I no idea they could extend it this far.


I mean, are you kidding? I would love fresh vegetables even in the coldest winter months!

And not only does a cold frame make a winter harvest possible, it also makes it possible to enjoy homegrown vegetables earlier in the spring.


I wanted to know more about cold frames. I thought that you might feel the same way and so I have asked Niki to do a guest post on the subject.


So, without further adieu, I am going to hand the reigns of this post over to Niki:




Thank you so much Jennifer for inviting me to do a guest post on Three Dogs in a Garden! I'm thrilled to be able to share some of my tips on enjoying your own successful winter harvest.



The late January cold frame is a patchwork of various shades of green as the cold season crops 'hold' in their spots until I'm ready to harvest them. From the vibrant lime foliage of 'Bianca Riccia' endive to the forest green, spoon-shaped leaves of tatsoi, each crop is carefully chosen for its cold tolerance and flavour.

Our favourites for a winter frame include arugula ('Rustic' or 'Sylvetta'), spinach ('Tyee'), mache, claytonia and cold-tolerant lettuces like 'Winter Density' and 'Red Salad Bowl'. These crops were seeded or transplanted into the frame in early to mid-September to ensure that they have enough time to mature before the day length dips below 10 hours in early November and the plant growth slows.


The pretty deeply lobed leaves of 'Sylvetta' arugula are smaller and slower growing than the species type, but they still pack a flavourful punch! When harvesting winter greens for salads, I like to take 'a little of this and a little of that', picking the outer leaves of each plant, so that the center can continue to develop.

Tucked in beside 'Sylvetta', claytonia is another top choice for a cold frame. It's incredibly cold hardy and has a pleasing 'wild' flavour. As the small, heart-shaped leaves mature, each pair will wrap around the stem and a tiny,white edible flower will appear in the center.



Our main cold frames are sturdy in-ground structures that are crafted from 2-inch thick local, untreated hemlock. We have topped them with 8 mil thick double polycarbonate lexan for maximum heat retention and light transmission.

That said, a cold frame can also be very simple like this straw bale frame. I always include at least one straw bale cold frame in our winter garden as they are great for protecting crops like kale, collards and leeks.

Top them with a recycled shower door, old window or a homemade sash like ours. Just make sure it's something sturdy that won't blow away during winter storms-been there, done that! Once spring arrives I spread the leftover straw bales on my pathways to keep them clean and suppress weeds, as a mulch for crops like tomatoes and as a carbon source in my composter.


One of the most important tasks in cold frame culture is to vent your structures on mild days. 

Generally from late November to late February, the frames remain closed except for harvesting. 

But, as soon as the temperature rises above 4 degrees Celsius, I crack open the tops to ensure adequate air circulation and prevent heat build-up. As you can see, I don't rely on fancy props to vent my frames. Logs, sticks, rocks, and sometimes even my broken (but loved) pitchfork are up to the challenge.


We love winter carrots! They are incredibly sweet (thanks to the cold weather turning the starches into sugars), easy to grow and take up little space, allowing me to stuff hundreds in my cold frames.

One of the biggest benefits of the winter harvest is that there is very little work to do!

Because the frames are enclosed and the temperatures below freezing, there are no deers or slugs to battle, no disease problems and no watering/fertilizing/weeding from late November to late February.


Timing the plantings of your winter crops so that they have enough time to mature before the day length shortens to less than 10 hours of daylight is important. In Nova Scotia, I plant our carrot frames during the first week of August. Salad crops are quicker to grow and therefore are not seeded until early to mid-September.

Sometimes when September is warm, it can be tricky to get the seeds of cool and cold season greens like lettuce, spinach and other leafy veggies to germinate. To get around this, I often turn to my indoor grow lights to start my fall and winter vegetables. Once the seedlings are a few weeks old, they're hardened off and transplanted into the cold frames.


We love kale and because it is both cold hardy and heat tolerant, we are able to enjoy it 12 months of the year!

The narrow, blistered foliage of dinosaur Kale is a family favourite and once it's touched with frost, the leaves begin to sweeten. Kale is a tall crop, however, and not easy to fit into our in-ground cold frames. Therefore, I tuck them under straw bale cold frames or mini hoop tunnels where they can bide their time until I am ready to harvest.


A super easy way to extend your season by a few weeks in spring or fall is simply protect your crops from the cold temperatures and frost with a simple cloche.

These baby 'Tom Thumb' lettuces lasted until Christmas when covered with these inexpensive plastic cloches. You can also make your own recycled cloches from milk jugs, pop bottles or upside down clear salad containers.

Just use your imagination!


Photo credits on this post go to: Niki Jabbour and Joseph De Sciose. Thanks also to Storey Publishing.

About Niki Jabbour:


Niki is a garden writer and radio host from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (Storey Publishing) will be available in December 2011. Niki's radio show, the Weekend Gardener airs March through October across the Maritime provinces in Canada on news957.com. Niki's work can also be found in Gardens East, Garden Making and Canadian Gardening magazines. Follow Niki's adventures on facebook or at http://yearroundveggiegardener.blogspot.com

Canadians can pre-order a copy of Niki's book, The Year Round Veggie Gardener by clicking here.


Pre-order on Amazon.com by clicking here.

Jennifer: Many thanks to Niki for doing this guest post. Niki and I would love to know your thoughts on the subject of cold frames. I have invited Niki to respond to any questions that you may have.

36 comments:

  1. I think the photos are fantastic and love the ideas shared here. If I ever move to a country with seasons, I shall seriously consider this option.

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  2. Superb photos and amazing to me that anyone would dare venture outdoors to garden, even with the benefit of a cold frame, in the heart of those snowy, icy winters! Brrr!!!

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  3. Brrrr! That's a dedicated gardener! But she obviously is reaping the rewards of her efforts. She has some great ideas.

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  4. What a great blog guest and the photos were amazing. As a fellow nova scotian gardener, can't wait until her book is out just in time for Christmas gift giving. I can testify that those greens grown in raised beds under cold frames, harvested from your own garden, taste nothing like store bought.

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  5. This will inspired many people to extend their harvest season. Root vegetables like parsnip and carrots will be so sweet harvest in winter.

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  6. What an interesting post. Wonderful to have one's own fresh veggies in the winter

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  7. I have often considered installing a cold frame to garden during the colder months and this is a great nudge! I love all the tips and photos of the various options....who knew! Very informative post!

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  8. I like what you do with the straw bales and will have to try this with some of our taller winter greens...excellent post.

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  9. Wow, great post!! I had no idea either that vegetables could be grown in such cold conditions.

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  10. My second late crop of lettuce is beginning to grow again after I cut it last week. I would need to devise a bowl type covering for it when it gets colder. I could probably do a lot of winter gardening on my patio. Hmm, I'll be thinking about this!

    Eileen

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  11. Jennifer, I was amazed when I saw Niki's blog as well. Our garden season is so short here this is almost a miracle. I still haven't built a cold frame for our garden but I'm looking forward to the new book and dreaming about the potential for summer salad in February.

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  12. First of all - FABULOUS PHOTOS JOE!

    This book caught my eye recently at the GWA in Indianapolis. Joe swore that the cover shot was not staged with freshly purchased goodies from the grocery store! Your ideas have really piqued my interest in adding a cold frame to our vegetable garden. Thanks for the post and I'm looking forward to the book.

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  13. What a great post. Given that this is said to be one of the coldest winters on record, I better set up a cold frame.

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  14. Being in a tropical country where gardening is normally done all year, it is amazing to know that people in temperate climes go to these extremes to have fresh vegies, I thought you folks will just go to the supermarket and buy the imported ones. A lot of information here coupled with very beautiful photos.

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  15. Such a delightful garden! I miss having one so much! I have been back to Italy for a few weeks, and all my parents' veggies had such a special taste - so much better than the veggies you buy.
    Have a happy day!

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  16. Great ideas - but I know I couldn´t go through with them, I don´t have that kind of dedication. :-)

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  17. Wonderful idea!!! I wish I had the space. Maybe my neighbors will let me use their yard. :o)

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  18. Thanks for introducing us to Niki and her cold frames. This was a great post and her book looks interesting. I am off to see her blog now.

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  19. Wow! I am seriously going to consider this.

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  20. A great post! Very informative and inspiring. It's getting quite cold here now and I am wishing I would have made time to get a cold frame going...I love the straw bale idea it looks quite simple!!

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  21. Hi Everyone, thanks for such kind comments!! We do have a lot of fun in our garden and it really doesn't take much work - I am a rather lazy gardener! :)

    Eileen, punch bowls work great for extending the season of a clump of greens! Or, you can make a mini kozy, which we use to protect large kale plants. Just bend two 1/2-inch lengths of PVC over your clump of greens, so that the top of the pipes forms an X over the plants. Tie at the center for extra support and top with a piece of clear plastic. Just weigh it down at the bottom with rocks. That will extend your crop by at least 4 weeks.. So easy! :)

    Karen - Nope, the photos were not staged.. neither Storey, Joe or I would ever do that! When Joe and my editor Carleen arrived for our winter book shoot (and the cover shoot), the frames and garden were covered in 1 foot of snow.. when I cracked the covers of the frames, they gasped at the beautiful tapestry of green beneath the covers! After the shoots were over, we feasted! :)

    Thanks again everyone!!
    Niki

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  22. That is probably the neatest thing I have ever seen. That is so smart! I see above you (Niki) say you are a lazy gardener- hardly! Great post!!!!

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  23. Oh, I want this! I'm pre-ordering. Wouldn't that be fantastic ~ to be harvesting veggies in the depth of our long winters. Great post!!

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  24. Jennifer, Niki, thanks much for this post; it's inspiring. Love the straw bales. I've a feeling my pitiful luck with growing food is about to change.

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  25. Thanks so much for bringing this subject to our attention. It's fascinating! I especially loved the information on using the hay bales and old windows...something easy to try and affordable. Very cool post!

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  26. Thanks again everyone! Stretching the seasons really is quite simple.. You can extend the harvest a few weeks in spring and fall with row covers and cloches, or you can get a bit serious and use cold frames or mini hoop tunnels. Once you're hooked, then you'll start dreaming of polytunnels! :)

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  27. Great post. We have a small cold frame with chard growing now but have need of more info since we just started using it to grow veggies last fall. Thanks!

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  28. Your boy Scrap looks so much like our sheltie Sadie who passed away after 15 great years this spring. We miss her, but I don't miss the 6:00 AM walks in the rain. Thanks for the piece on cold frames. I just did an update on my frames this morning. George

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  29. I think I have the perfect set up for this...but my beds are raised. Would I need to insulate them?

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  30. Hi Sissy! Great question.. not necessarily.. It's true that in-ground frames are better insulated against cold, but depending on your zone, you can still enjoy a wide variety of winter veggies. In my upcoming book, we have photos of a gorgeous raised bed cold frame.. Salad greens like spinach, arugula, mache, mizuna, tatsoi, mustard, claytonia, etc would do very well in a raised bed cold frame.

    Also, with raised beds, you can top them with mini hoop tunnels.. If they're raised beds with wood edging simply attach 1 1/2 inch or 2 inch diameter PVC pipes cut into about 8 inch lengths along the side of your bed every 3 feet. These will hold the ends of the 1/2 inch PVC conduit that will form the hoops. Just slide the ends of the hoops in their 'holders' and top with a clear plastic cover - voila!

    Hope that helps!! :)
    Niki

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  31. Gorgeous photos! I've wanted a cold frame forever & built an upright one for myself this fall. It's been awesome!!!

    Thanks for visiting me xox

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  32. Wow ~ I had no idea this was possible. It's good to have gardeners who push the limits and show us what's possible. Fantastic post. My head is spinning wondering how to incorporate something workable in my little garden...

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  33. This is amazing! I remember when I was a girl, my mother had a cold frame, but I don't remember what she planted in it. How nice it would be to be able to pick some fresh greens in January!

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  34. Jennifer, its maybe not quite so cold here as it is in your part of the world, but how very interesting to extend the growing season for having fresh veg in this manner. Niki I always wondered the reason for Scottish tomatoes and vegetables being tastier than the English, now I know that our colder weather turns the starches into sugar. alistair

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  35. Jennifer Jennifer...Thank you Thank you for this post! This is amazing...my little guy has some food allergies so I try to do as much from the ground as possile...Thank you again for this great information! Time to get busy!

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  36. Thanks everyone for your comments and thanks again Niki for doing this guest post on cold frames. I look forward to reading your book Niki and hope to set up a few cold frames in my garden for next year.

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