Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Building a Cold Frame

The month of October was swallowed whole by family matters. First my father-in-law passed away and then seventeen days later my mother-in-law slipped quietly away in her sleep. They were always good to me... to us all and I find myself tearing up just typing these words.

For me, one of the ways grief expressed itself was a terrible tiredness that made me want to avoid anything routine; including the computer, the internet and blogging. It has been weeks since I posted anything. 

Slowly, slowly I am slipping back into the comfort of old familiar habits. Now I find myself looking forward to catching up with good friends.

Wow! I can't believe it is already mid-November and fall is almost over!

The big Maple at the back of the garden always seems to be fall's swan song. It is the last tree in the yard to turn color and finishes the season with a crescendo of most brilliant yellow. 

Then there is frost and the Maple leaves fall like rain.

Last week hubby took some time off and we busied ourselves with completing a number of ongoing projects including this cold frame.

I first became interested in cold frames a couple of years ago. 

I was amazed and inspired to see how gardeners like Brenda (Gardeningbren in Nova Scotia) managed to extend the gardening season with the use of a cold frame.

Niki Jabbour, The Year Round Veggie Gardener

Niki Jabbour's blog The Year Round Veggie Gardener was also a real eye opener. 

Who wouldn't be impressed by that picture of Niki kneeling beside a cold frame in the dead of a Canadian winter?

Needless to say, when her book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener was published, I bought a copy.

Last fall hubby and I came up with a design to transform one of my raised beds into a cold frame. 

If I had a bigger garden, I probably would have built a permanent cold frame, but space in our backyard is at a premium and so I wanted to design a structure that could be a cold frame in winter and revert back to an ordinary flowerbed in summer. 

Here you can sort-of see the four raised beds last spring. (Oh how I now wish I had taken better pictures of this part of the garden last spring!) 

Overall my garden is a bit of a jungle, so I like the little bit of order and formality that the raised beds provide. 

There are lilac standards in the centre of two of the flowerbeds diagonally opposite from one another and...

decorative plant supports in the centre of the opposite pair. 

Hopefully next spring clematis will be clamouring up the plant supports and covering them with flowers about the same time that the lilac standards are in bloom. Fingers crossed anyway!

One raised bed holds my collection of herbs (as seen above). In another, I grew tomatoes and strawberries last summer. In the final two beds, I planted a mix of flowers.

Here we are in November.

Last year we constructed the sides of the box which transforms the one of these raised beds into a cold frame. Being busy, we ran out of fall before we could make the top. To get us through the last winter we ended up borrowing a few old windows from a neighbour. 

Last week, we finally completed the project and made the top doors.

The smart part of this cold frame design is that it takes less than an hour to transform the raised bed into a cold frame. You simply fit the cold frame sides into position and attach the three doors. (We store the component pieces in a shed during the summer.)

For purposes of demonstration, here we have detached one of the cold frame sides to show you how it all fits into place. In the shot above you can hubby fitting one of the sides into position to complete walls of the frame.

Because the sides fit together like a puzzle no nails are required to hold them in position. Any one of the side walls can be removed in a matter of minutes.

The final stage of the fall transformation from raised bed to cold frame involves the installation of three plexiglass doors.

It remains to be asked: why go to all this bother? I can think of so many good reasons:

A cold frame is certainly more affordable than a buying a full greenhouse, yet offers many of the same advantages. 

It also takes up a lot less space than a greenhouse and is the great option to consider for a small backyard.

As I indicated earlier in the post, a cold frames allow you to extend the growing season in a number of ways. 

My herbs are still going strong despite the fact that it's mid-November and we have had several killing frosts. And last spring the herbs sprouting new growth over a month ahead of the rest of the garden.

You can also grow a winter crop of vegetables in a cold frame (visit Niki or Brenda's blog for inspiration). 

Like a greenhouse, I found a cold frame to be a great place to start seeds. 

I have limited space in the house for seedlings. Last spring I was able to start some seeds inside the cold frame as early as late March/early April.

Rose Mossy Saxifrage, saxifraga x arendsii rose selection

I also found that the cold frame is a great place to park tender plants for the winter.  Thanks to the shelter it provides, the top of this birdbath planter came through the ravages of a Canadian winter beautifully.

Sometimes I have trouble over wintering Mediterranean herbs like thyme, but last year I had no problem with the most of the plants inside of the cold frame. (The exception were a few thyme plants that were right in the corners. There are some very small gaps where the structure fits together and they were big enough to allow cold drafts to sneak inside and affect the plants right in each corner.)

With under an hour to make the transformation, I have to say that I am rather proud of how easy we have made it to use a cold frame each fall and winter.

For more project details please see the Cold Frame How-to.


  1. Well you must be so excited!! I know I am, and thrilled to see the transformation, cleverly built I might add. Niki's book is wonderful so with that as a guide, you are sure to have early salads for you and your husband and much more. Yes, a great place to overwinter less hardy plants, and to start seeds. Oh the possibilities!

    Sorry to read about your inlaws..very sad indeed. You were missed in blogland.

  2. Your cold frame is a great idea and your detailed plans for building one are great. We put up a greenhouse every March and take it down in June, which is a lot of work. I like your idea much better. I am sorry to hear of the loss in your family, my condolences to you and your husband. In times of grief, working in the garden can bring healing and relief. And I love your canine companions, they are so beautiful.

  3. As I look out onto snow I so enjoyed your beautiful fall pics. Sorry to hear of your loss and my condolences. I just found a Christmas gift for my dad. He has started experimenting with winter gardening and I know he would love that book! Thanks for sharing :)

  4. What a wonderful idea! I love it. And it is just in time too, as I am thinking about creating a new veg garden & was wondering where to squeeze in some permanent cold frames.

    So sorry for this time of grief for your family. Life is so good with our loved ones and so hard to let go of. Peace to you & yours,

  5. I'm so sorry for your lost of your beloved family members, Jennifer.

    Your garden looks wonderful! You must be thrilled for your new cold frames. Sounds fun and interesting. Your dogs are so adorable.

  6. First of all, I'm so sorry for your losses - I can't imagine how tough this has been for you to lose both your in-laws.

    As for Niki and her fabulous book - she certainly has inspired me to be a better vegetable gardener. Haven't done the cold frame yet - but it's certainly been move higher up the list after ready this. Great job.

  7. I am so sorry, Jennifer.
    I lost both my father-in-law and my mother-in-law in very much the same time frame, and they were wonderful to me too.

    I have never tried a cold frame, but you sure have inspired me to do so. Thank you!!!

  8. Jennifer, I am so sorry for your recent losses! Gardening certainly does help keep us busy when life weighs heavy. I love your ideas for a coldframe and am thinking I could do this with my veggie garden area.


  9. So sorry to hear of your in-laws passing away within such a short time of each other. That's a hard thing to come to terms with all at once. I was actually thinking of you today and all of your wonderful summertime garden posts. Now I understand your absence. Working outdoors, even at this time of year, has a healing power I find. My mother passed away in the spring time, and I found solace in the garden tending plants I brought home from her house. Your cold frames sound so amazing. I'm surprised that anything would survive under simple glass & wood in our cold winters. You'll have to post some photos of you harvesting the lettuce & carrots ;) Take care Jennifer. Wendy x

  10. I`m so sorry for your loss - how heartbreaking to have both go so quickly Big hugs xoxox

  11. I was so sorry to hear of both your in-laws passing at almost the same time. Coming to terms with such a huge change in your lives will take some time. Time and gardening are great healers, you are all in my thoughts and prayers.
    What an ingenious idea to turn a raised bed into a cold frame, even when it is surrounded by all the snow that you get, your plants will be nice and cosy.

  12. Genius! And the detailed tutorial was a real bonus in the next post. I like the idea of a convertible structure so it is useful in summer as a raised garden, and not just in the cold months as a greenhouse. And it looks good : )

    I am so sorry to hear about your in laws. Two losses at once is hard to bear.

  13. It was really nice of you to post about your cold frame construction. I wish I had one here, but the commercial nursery farm has them and they are very similar to yours only larger. I go and pick from there, but you can't beat the convenience of a home garden.

  14. Awww, I am sorry to hear of your loss, how sad to lose them both so quickly.
    I loved your cold frame/raised bed, total genius!
    Some lovely pics here, I do like the standard

  15. The cold frame construction is fabulous. An innovative idea too. Love the rose saxifrage (is it tender?)
    My condolences on losing two family members that are obviously quite dear to you. Keep well.

  16. I am so,sorry to hear about the death of your in laws, especially in such a short period of time. I hope that working in the garden is as peaceful and therapeutic for you as it is for me. And how fun for you and your husband and dogs, so cute, to work on something straightforward and productive at a time like this.

  17. I am so sorry for your loss, my sincere condolences, I hope your garden work gives you some peace and consolation.
    I love your cold frames, I wish I had space to put some in my garden, but there is hardly space to walk out there anymore! I ended up buying new nursery shelves last spring and that’s been a great help for all my cuttings and young plants. I had a count a few weeks ago and it turns out I have almost 300 pots, from the smallest to the largest – I had no idea they were that many! The pots are a bit sheltered on the shelves but a cold frame would have been even better. A bigger garden would have been great!

  18. First off Jennifer I want to tell you how very sorry I am for your loss. You have been in my thoughts and prayers friend. So glad to see you back and sharing your garden beauty with us. I think your design for cold frames is the best I have seen. To use it as a raised bed in the warmer months and then convert it in the cooler months is genius especially with limited space like most of our gardens. Thank you so much for sharing this! I will continue to keep you in my prayers...all the best this weekend..take care...Nicole

  19. Jennifer girl ! ... this is such an inspiring post for having at least one cold frame ! .. I would love to see where I can fit one in some how for herbs .. I have over wintered thyme, sage .. but I would love to have parsley and rosemary (I have two remaining pots on the deck that are still safe some how?LOL ..
    Your garden is such a wonderful oasis .. I admire it so much ( your cute dogs are so sweet too!)
    I have gone through so much with renos way too early before I could feel I put the garden to bed and had had enough of the season .. do you know what I mean? .. I feel I was cheated a bit.
    Now it isn't even December and I am THINKING of it constantly and what I would like to do.
    YOU ... have added to my list girlfriend ! haha
    Joy : )

  20. How sad about your in-laws. That must be so hard for everyone.
    What a brilliant idea your cold frame is, and how well you executed it. Your explanations was so easy to follow that even I understood it. On my garden to-do list!

  21. You've sold me! Now I want a cold frame, too. And your design is very clever! I'm sorry to hear about your mother and father in law. I can only imagine having two losses back to back like that must have been quite the shock.

  22. Sorry for your double loss. I hope the garden works its therapeutic magic on you over the next few months.
    Lovely cold frames , they will extend your growing season. I would love a couple to supplement the greenhouse for hardening off and just giving that little bit of extra protection to young vulnerable plants.

  23. What a terrible time you have been trough Jennifer. I hope your garden will bring you a lot of energy to go on.
    I wish I had the space in my garden to have a cold frame.
    Big hugs Marijke

  24. magnifique ce jardin

  25. Jennifer, I'm so sorry to hear of the losses of your in laws and in such a short period of time. I'm sure it has been a stressful time. Gardening is good therapy. The cold frames are a great idea. I once tried making a cold frame of sorts using straw bales left over from Halloween to overwinter my tender succulents.

  26. I am catching up with all my blog reading and am so sorry to hear about your in-laws passing. Know it is hard.
    Your cold-frame is wonderful! It looks to be the perfect size and to be able to winter over tender plants, especially herbs!, how nice.

  27. Jennifer I am so sorry for your is hard to lose family. And what better therapy than to work in the the cold frame conversion....I am still working on how and where to put one in the near future.

  28. Hi Jennifer
    You have my deepest condolences regarding your in-laws. It sounds as if all of you were very close.
    The cold frames are terrific! And what a great idea to use them as flower 'beds" in the summer.
    Also, I loved seeing the stars of the show - the famous three dogs, for whom this blog is named :)

  29. I'm so sorry for your losses, Jennifer.
    Your cold-frame is wonderful and your dogs just so adorable! :)
    Have a lovely week.

  30. The mossy saxifrage looks so sweet! Do you know the name of your pink anise hyssop?

    I'm very sorry to hear about your in-laws.

    1. Sweetbay, the anise-hyssop is Agastache 'Bolero'.

  31. Isn't it amazing how one partner often follows the other, when one of them dies. My in laws were wonderful to me too. They were self sufficient types and we are lucky to have many of the things they created in our home. I'm a big fan of cold frames. I will be passing the design on to my husband.

  32. Can you tell me how you mounted the Martin House in the back

    1. We put the birdhouse (which we designed and built ourselves) on the top of one of our backyard fence posts. We used 4 decorative wood shelf brackets (purchased at a big box store) to balance and support the large birdhouse structure.

  33. I saw your cold frame post on Pinterest and it led to your blog. No doubt this will be a tough winter as you adjust to your life with these losses. Can't think of a better way to understand loss than tending a garden, and yours is beautiful! You have a new follower - and again my condolences.


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