Winter in New Jersey is a real challenge. Months without fresh organically grown veggies outside my door is hard to endure. The solution? Grow them in the winter in a cold frame. They look good don’t they? Want to know how to grow your own winter veggies? Keep reading for instruction on how we did it.
First, you need to plant the veggies like lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard greens that like the cool weather. Plant them in September, October and move them into the cold frame before the first frost. For complete details about growing winter veggies I recommend you read “The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses” by Eliot Coleman. The Four Seasons Farm is in Main and it gets pretty cold in Main in the heart of winter. They are commercial growers so they know what they are doing. Read the book before you try this. If you grow in the ground..you won’t need a cold frame like mine. You can use plastic hoop houses for about 500.00 investment you can grow veggies all year round! If you can’t grow in the ground and you want to grow in containers…this little cold frame is for you. Below are instructions on how we did it in a Condo in central NJ!
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We purchased a manufactured cold frame by Juwel model #20201.
We did this because we live in a condo and aesthetics are very important to us and our neighbors. We also wanted to make things easy so the project did not get to big to finish in time. We wanted to use three of the containers we had planted in September- October just to see if we could really do this. They fit in the frame perfectly!
We were using the frame on a deck, so cold winter air was going to get under the frame. We needed some insulation for the underside of the frame. We went to Lowes in search of some insulated board for the bottom and found 4 perfect pieces which we duct taped together. We found this great silver (bubble wrap like) insulating material that had just the amount of right amount of additional insulation and was reflective. It came in a roll so we cut it to the size we needed and it was easy to use the tape to stick it to the insulated board. It was perfect ( Ice and snow of which we had plenty this winter) was easy to clean off the surface and we had somewhere dry to kneel as we cut our greens! We constructed a wooden frame and placed that on top of the reflective insulated surface so that the frame would be high enough to accommodate the height of our containers and allow the veggies room to grow.
We created a top that fit and could be removed during the day to allow sunlight and would provide additional insulation during the cold winter nights. We needed to weight the top down as it gets really windy here so a friend suggested using marble bathroom door saddles and they worked perfectly! We were able to find three just the right length. ( I photographed only two so you could see them).
We wanted to provide extra light in the months of Dec – Jan which are our darkest months. We put the silver insulation at the back of the frame Now the right side was open to the wind so we piled up our stored containers next to the frame and it provided just enough of a wind break to do the trick ( yes that is snow in the photo)! We added a temp gauge (the white thing you see in the photo) that had a second gauge we could keep inside to monitor the soil and air temp inside the frame. We did not want it to get to cold or too hot. Kind of like a baby monitor.
Next we added a heat tape. We just snaked it around the containers and put it so we could see the indicator light. We could tell that it was working and knew when the tape was on. Later in the winter we added a second tape as temps dropped to just below zero. The big silver thing you see at the back of the photo is the top that we place behind the frame each day to help reflect even more light and heat onto our babies. When the snow got intense we did not want to waste energy melting the snow off the top of the frame so we placed a moving blanket, (held in place by plastic clamps and the marble saddles) on top of the silver cover for additional insulation. We removed it each morning as soon as the sun came out. I don’t have a photo for you of the blanket. Trust me it worked!