What I Found Interesting This Week 2/10/13

Cold frame snow

Before I get into today’s post, let me give you an update.

As expected, my home was hit by a nor’easter on Friday.  It did about what we expected it would and I spent a good part of Saturday digging out.

On Friday morning, there wasn’t any snow. Here’s what my porch looked like on Saturday morning (after a night of horizontal snowfall being driven by forty mile an hour gusts).



Of course, because we improved our home over the last couple of years, we didn’t have any problem with this storm.  We’ll continue to improve our home going forward opportunistically, as the potential for disruptions evolve and the frequency increases.

So, what did  I find interesting this week?

Cold frames.  One of the things I’m currently researching are cold frames.  What’s a cold frame?  It’s a small, unheated greenhouse that can extend the growing season.   Essentially, it consists of a frame around a patch of land and a re-purposed window (transparent surface) to let the light in and trap the sun’s heat.

Cold frame lettuce

The idea behind a cold frame is it provides protection from late night frost and freezes.   The kind that kill a garden and limit the growing season (in warmer climates, it might be all that’s necessary to grow all year round).   Here’s an example of it protecting vegetables from a freak snowstorm (via Doug):

Cold frame snow

There’s lots of ways to build a cold frame, but the best involve a couple of simple rules.

First, orient the frame so the transparent cover faces toward the sun’s daily path.  If possible, angle the cover from the horizontal using this simple rule:  take your latitude and add 15 degrees.  So, if you are 40 degrees latitude, the best angle would be 55 degrees.

Another trick is to insulate the sides and the northern section of the cold frame.  That helps it retain heat.  Here’s a good example (note how this UK cold frame incorporates screens):

Cold Frames UK

Third, to get the most out of a cold frame, add mass.  Jugs of water (painted black) along the rear of the cold frame as well as thick, solid walls, will help to moderate temperatures.

Seed starts.  If you haven’t already started your seeds for this growing season, it may be time to do so.  Here’s  a couple of ways to DIY your pots.

Toilet paper seed starters.

Toilet paper


Newspaper rolls.  Fortunately, most newspapers have shift to soy based ink (safer and better quality results).



Finally, here’s an egg-shell approach (be careful about bacteria with this one).

Egg shell

A couple of weeks ago, I went through a number of greenhouse designs.  Here’s another one built using soda bottles.   Pretty cool student project.  Looks like this structure is more about heat than cold.

soda bottles

As you can see, there’s lots to improve upon in gardening and foodscaping.  Let’s keep pressing forward.

If you have pictures and stories about your efforts to become productive, please send them to me at the address I use to send you this e-mail.

Resiliently Yours,





PS:  One of the big improvements we made was to add a whole house generator to guard against power failure.  We made the decision to add the generator because our power grid is both decrepit and poorly run (as we saw with the Superbowl power outage, that’s not unique to New England), which has resulted in several extended power outages over the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, a big generator like this is an expensive luxury.  If you can afford to install it, it’s something you should strongly consider.   If you already have a generator, make sure you have extra oil on hand and make the effort to keep the vents clear (from snow and other debris).


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  • kunkmiester

    Heard of these guys?


  • http://www.preparedneighborhoods.com Scott James

    Cold frames are great. See a photo of one of ours covered in snow (it had beautiful lettuce growing underneath!) along with the rest of our experiments with cold frames, hot beds, and hoop covers, and floating row covers here: http://optoutenmasse.com/?s=%22cold+frame%22.

    Two quick notes that may be helpful:

    1. Avoid the mistake I made those of using salvaged windows that were not safety glass. I realized this only after they had been built and when one of my kids went racing by chasing a soccer ball. One step through that glass would have been a bloody disaster.

    2. We’ve also tried hot beds, which is a cold frame with manure buried 18″ below it. It generated enough heat, but became a magnet for ants and other insects in the winter, who proceeded to eat all the crops. Write up is here: http://optoutenmasse.com/2010/07/31/no-go-on-hot-beds/.

    For seed starting, we’ve tried all the above except the egg shells, but keep coming back to soil blocks as they eliminate transplant shock and let you feel good about using less plastic.

  • http://supak.com Scott Supak

    My friend Mort Mather says unless you’re good at remembering to open your cold frame on sunny days, you should get an auto opener. He says he fried some plants by leaving it closed.