Coldframe miracles

The snow is melted off most of the surface of the yard. The sun is shining and the coldframe is warming up enough that I’m having to vent it during the day. And! miraculously, some of the seeds I started in it have sprouted—apparently the lettuce from the February 28 and March 9 plantings are both busy sprouting, despite nights in the single digits since their plantings. Clearly I have much to learn about coldframe gardening. 

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Enthused by these apparitions, today I planted lettuce (benito), spinach (corvair), chard (prima rosa), maché (vit), and arugula. 

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First for-reals coldframe planting

Chez Howard coldframe, 3/9/2013
Chez Howard coldframe, 3/9/2013

Actually, I planted to the coldframe 10 days ago. But it was a really long shot, and yeah, the 10° nights that followed whacked the liddle bit of lettuce seeds that I stuck in the ground.

Today was quite another matter. There’s still a lot of chanciness involved—we’re zone 4B, and wintry weather isn’t done with us yet. But today I stuck my gunboats in my pink (hells yeah) barn boots, tucked seed packets in my shirt pocket, and put in a half-row each of maché (though using last year’s seed—is that a mistake?) and lettuce (Burpee’s Green Ice).

To the garden!

The good news: When the back porch thermometer said it was 52° outdoors, the thermometer in the closed coldframe said it was 72°. Scott, the coldframe builder, has been tinkering with it to get it truly windproof, and I think he just may have succeeded. We’re not having a sunny winter (we did last winter! I swear!), and that’s not helpful. The coldframe needs sun to get really warmed up. Still, when it’s holding heat that well, it just might make it through the nights in the the teens that await us here in Squirrelyville. This second planting has a much better chance than the first did.

but how do I USE my coldframe?

Last fall the guys doing work (building a garage, replacing dangerous sidewalks, clearing brush, putting up a deerproof fence) on the Chez Howard property also built four 3×6′ raised beds, one of them with a coldframe cover. 

Swell. About 15 years ago we had a very surprising spell of warm February weather during what was then our brutally cold upstate winters, and the Beloved Partner and I scampered out and, using old windows and random bricks, Mcgyvered a coldframe. We tossed some seeds in there and—to the amazement of all the gardeners in our little corner of Earlville—we had salads in March.

That experience has been on my mind ever since, so I seized the opportunity to have a for-reals coldframe made last fall. One of the raised beds is a coldframe; one will be for herbs; and the other two will be for salad greens and table vegetables. Our big gardens (approximately 5,000 square feet) are for squash, beans, corn, tomatoes, and the like.

Now, however, I have to figure out how to for-reals use the coldframe. I’ve done some scouting, and I’ve browsed Siegchrist’s Building and Using Cold Frames pamphlet. Most of the guidance has been about how to build the things (done already!) and how to maintain them (it’s clear that I should procure an automatic venting device). But what, exactly, should I plant, and when?

In addition, I have bought frost-protecting sheets and hoops for the three raised beds. What planting schedule should I use for them?

Finally I find a really good source from the Harvest to Table site, with a “season-by-season cold frame operations calendar.” Bless their hearts. Working from that, I’ve drafted a schedule for the coldframe and table-veggies raised beds. I figure the frost protection on the raised beds buys 2-3 weeks, and that the hood on the coldframe buys me 4-5. So here’s my schedule, and I’ll try to report on how well it works for our Zone 4 (now teetering toward 5) climate:

February 20: start lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, chard, and radishes in the coldframe

March 13: start them in the frost-protected raised bed

April 3: start them in an open raised bed

. . . and that completes my garden planning for 2013!