Building a cold frame can be very simple or quite complicated. Last fall I decided to use straw bales to make a temporary cold frame to protect my arugula for the winter. When I took the cover off this spring the arugula was green and healthy, looking mostly like it did last fall. It wasn’t covered the whole winter–only the really freezing days and nights. Towards the last part of the winter it ended up being covered almost the whole time.
It looked so wonderful to see all that green and healthy arugula at the end of the winter. Plus we ate fresh arugula during the winter!
My straw bale cold frame was very successful. We had an extremely cold winter with many nights in the teens and low twenties. Many nights, not just a few, which is unusual for us. But the arugula thrived and survived.
I had created another straw bale cold frame for beets and chard but I left gaps in the walls. The gaps just let in too much cold air. This was not good and the beets and chard appeared to have died. But now they are growing again so we will be able to eat some soon. Hurray!
The one drawback was the lack of a strong cover. Someone mentioned this in the comments. The row cover really doesn’t work if it snows. I wanted to use corrugated clear plastic but I couldn’t find any. I will continue to look for next year. Maybe at Lowe’s or another Home Depot. I looked at plexiglass but it was very expensive!
I improvised with a storm door screen which nicely covered the arugula patch. I used the screen under the row cover with a 2×4 over the middle of the patch for additional support. We had one significant snow–almost a foot. And it was very heavy, wet snow. The screen held up fine and it all actually turned out to be very successful. A further bonus to this system is now that it is spring I can use the straw bales for mulch. They are soaked and already rotting so they are a perfect addition to my garden!
It is time for planting Sugar Snap Peas. They are a cool weather crop so they need to be planted in the early spring. Sugar Snap Peas grow best in the cool weather. They can be planted again at the end of the summer for a fall crop.
There is nothing like going out and just picking them off the vine. They are so crunchy, sweet and delicious. They need to be staked because they can grow to 6 feet tall. They can be eaten raw or sauteed in a stir-fry. They are fun to pick and you can eat the whole thing pod and all.
Remember to put a fence around them because they are a very tasty morsel to the local rabbits. One year I planted Sugar Snaps and they all germinated and were growing up so nicely. I went out the next day and they were all gone. Eaten right to the ground. What a shock and disappointment! So now I always put a portable plastic fence around to protect them. I got mine at Home Depot. One of the reviewers says it is much cheaper at WalMart. You also need garden stakes to support the fence. You can get these at Home Depot or your local garden store. I get plastic covered metal and I save them from year to year.
The Sugar Snaps grow up the tomato cage in the middle of the fencing. I have extensions for the tomato cage. This is the first of several plantings. I wanted to experiment with how early I could plant and have them still work out.
The last frost date is an average of dates so you can still have a frost after the specified date. The chart at the above link has detailed data for the different states with different temperature thresholds and probabilities. But Mother Nature can be fickle, so if you are putting out delicate plants around the last frost date, watch the weather forecast carefully. If you see that there is going to be a frost cover your plants with upside down milk gallon containers, clear plastic storage boxes or row covers. Just be sure to take off the covers if the next day is really warm. Today is the first day of spring and lots of us are anxious to start gardening. The crocus has bloomed and some of the daffodil buds are starting to open. The tomatoes that I planted on February 2nd, are doing beautifully inside the house and are about 6 inches tall. Last week we had an unseasonably warm day in the 70’s so I set them out to soak up the sun. Just be careful-you really have to watch the weather forecast! See this thread about frost dates for different ideas about when to put out plants. Happy Spring!