It's Wintertime!
Time to Garden!

The mercury is below zero on the thermometer. Snow covers the ground. Icicles hang from the edge of the roof. Time to curl up by the fire and read a good book? No! Time to get outside and harvest the veggies in the garden!

If you live in Florida or Southern California or some other tropical paradise you no doubt appreciate the joy of gardening year round. But if you are trapped in the frozen tundra of the Dakotas or the Canadian prairie lands you probably don’t think about digging in the dirt from December to March. In fact, trying to do so will more than likely break your spade. But there is a method of gardening that can give you the joy of gardening even in some extreme winter environments.

Cold Frame Gardening is a way to keep that green thumb going for 12 months out of the year. But not only that, you can enjoy the luscious taste and nutritious benefits of fresh vegetables and greens even while the snow covers the ground outside.

Cold frames are transparent-roofed enclosures, built low to the ground, used to protect plants from adverse weather, primarily excessive cold or wet. The transparent top admits sunlight and prevents heat escape via convection that would otherwise occur, particularly at night. The plants are still rooted in the soil but below the frost zones where their roots will not freeze. An effective cold frame is planted in the ground, in order to insulate the ground in which the plants grow. This helps create an isolated warm, humid, controlled environment for plants to grow in during the harsher times of the year. A translucent top is angled towards the south in order to capture as much solar radiation as possible throughout the day.

Cold frames can be adapted to work in an array of climate zones. The system is used primarily to grow salad greens; spinach, chard, máche, claytonia, arugula, and a variety of lettuces. However, they can also be used to produce other vegetables such as scallions, radishes, carrots, and leeks.

One of the great things about cold frames is the simplicity of their concept and their design. They can be built from an wide array of materials. Effective cold frames range anywhere from a hole in the ground covered with plastic, to a buried wooden structure made from re-used materials, to an insulated raised bed using recycled materials. Somewhere around 4’ x 8’ in size is good to maximize growing space and heat retention. No matter is used to construct a cold frame, there are a few essential aspects that make growing in your cold frame happen. The transparent top must face the south to capture the most winter sun, the frame must be mostly underground and it must be an insulated, sealed environment.

But seasoned cold frame gardeners know that cold is not the only danger to plants in these tiny greenhouses. At certain days, when the sun shines brightly and it warms up a bit, the boxes can get too warm and that can also destroy the winter crop if not monitored.

So if you are confined to the indoors this winter you might want to give it a try. Not only will it help your health by eating the fresh veggies, but it’s a great motivator to get outside and move around in the fresh air. Just make sure to dress warmly so that you don’t become a cold frame!

 -- Produce Buzz Staff

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