Posts Tagged ‘DIY Greenhouse’

Winter Gardening, Cold Frames and a Greenhouse

We’ve had a few days of warmer weather in Goshen, so I pulled back the plastic from our cold frame to give the babies some sunshine and rain.

cold frame greens

The above photo was taken after harvesting this whole messa greens:

messa greens

It’s so great to have fresh, homegrown greens (and a turnip) in December! I’ve found that homegrown greens don’t refrigerate the same as store bought ones, so I’ve experimented and found a method that preserves them really well. I tear up the greens and de-stem them, then fill bowls and top with plates. This method works far better than any produce bags, drawers, paper towels or other experiments I’ve tried. The greens will store unwilted for many days this way:

greens storage

The cold frame has definitely made a difference compared to the open air plants of the same variety. Most of my uncovered chard — both rhubarb red and Lucullus — has turned to mush outside the cold frame. Inside, the rhubarb red still struggles a bit, but the Lucullus looks great. The Lucullus growing under an old shower curtain in one of the InstaBeds continues to grow, but very, very slowly, alongside some soon to be harvested leeks:

shower curtain instabed

Unlike chard, kale loves the cold. You can see four different varieties growing here:

various kales

So far, Winterbor seems the hardiest, even compared to Siberian and Red Russian varieties:

winterbor

This winter gardening bug is really beginning to catch on in Elkhart County. This afternooon, four of us carpooled from Goshen to Elkhart to attend a cold frame workshop hosted by Elkhart Local Food Alliance (ELFA). I was the last stop for the pickup so that everyone could see what we have going on here first. Then we got to see our friends’ homemade greenhouse in progress, made from a repurposed garage frame, discarded windows and aluminum siding. The only thing they’ve had to purchase is the plastic for the roof:

greenhouse

Note all the wood mulch in the background. I never thought I’d say this, but someone actually has more wood mulch happening than we do here! It did my heart good since I am still slogging my way through Mount Mulchmore. As I told my gardening buddy Kimber: emphasis on the MORE! Sheesh, that’s a lot of wood and leaves. The ELFA folks visited some of the gardens/farms in Detroit this August, where they grow right on top of concrete. All it takes is massive amounts of organic material layered on top, hence all the leaves, compost and mulch everywhere.

We looked at a homemade lean-to style cold frame on the south side of the house, and then built a simple, untreated wooden cold frame topped by an old window:

cold frame workshop

This one rests on wooden blocks attached at the corners, so it’s a fairly low cold frame that would be supported on bricks to discourage quick rotting of the wood. Taller crops couldn’t grown here, but spinach would do well:

finished cold frame with vent

It was wonderful to see nearly two dozen people interested in growing their own winter greens and extending the growing seasons on either side of summer. On the way home, I realized that I could use my crates filled with soil as cold frame walls around my rosemary and then cover it with the small window I took home from the workshop. Moving those crates will be tomorrow’s project before our balmy weather turns bitterly cold:

rosemary

Row covers will also go inside the hoop cold frame to add further protection from temperatures below 20 degrees. David cut some of my 6 foot long bamboo pole into 2 foot sections, which will support the row covers so that they don’t weigh down the greens.

I also had a welcome epiphany on the way home! I have been wracking my brain for how to fit a lean-to cold frame on the side of our house between the summer’s morning glory trellises and the outside wall. It’s a pretty skinny space, and I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. On the way home I realized that our landlord’s garage/workshop behind our house also has an unbroken southern exposure, but with open access. He already gave me free reign to plant whatever I want there, and I had wanted to grow hops on huge sunflowers. Well! If I mulch it out now with leaves covered with the rest of the wood mulch, I can let that rot down all winter. In the spring, I can lean several windows against the garage and put a couple straw bales on either end to seal it off.

That will make a toasty little cold frame to give sunflowers and hops or scarlet runner beans an earlier start, and then in the fall, once those have died back, I can plant some additional winter greens. My black raised beds don’t lend themselves too well to cold frames, and this summer, everything was already growing and lush with no room to plant winter crops. This new space might just work.

Adventures in Mad Scientist Gardening … the experiments continue. I’ve been talking with the folks at The Garden Tower Project in Bloomington, too. Looks like I may buy one of those complete units so that I have a living sample to show people in Goshen who don’t believe they can garden on very little land. One way or another, I’m determined to reach anyone with the teeniest interest in fresh, local food — through an edible front yard, vertical gardening, raised beds, kooky cold frames, and yes, a complete vermicomposting, 50-plant growing tower that would fit on a small patio. Yep, exciting times in the Land of Goshen … at least for me …

Cheers!