I spent last year in the field — planting, tending to and harvesting a bounty of vegetables, while learning about permaculture and organic agriculture techniques. When I decided to move to Toronto, the first thing I looked into was finding a space to grow.
I was pretty amazed by the possibilities for city growing — from a large network of community garden plots to urban farming businesses, urban regeneration projects to my personal favourite, a program called Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY). Luckily for me, I happened to move into a house with a pretty good front yard. So in May, just after the last frost, Ashleigh, Brendon and I went to town, ripping up the weeds and tall grass, turning in some compost, and transforming our front garden space into a growing heaven!
Despite our busy schedules, we’ve had a pretty good growing season. Our zucchinis took over at the front, we had a lush harvest of chard and arugula, the tomatoes have been producing well, and the potatoes… well, we’ll see how they’ve done in a few weeks! I’ve become so used to running out front to get ingredients for dinner that the idea of winter, and the bland selection of vegetables available has been plaguing my thoughts. Until now…
Last weekend, I took another course as part of 52 Projects. This time it was learning to build a cold frame — a tool used to protect plants from cold weather, and help you grow into the fall and winter. The course was run by the wonderful Kyla Dixon-Muir, a woman who runs the Riverdale Meadow Community Garden, and is a bit of a season extension hero in Toronto. And much to my pleasure, the course took place at the wonderful Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre!
Now, I should say that I expected this project to be complicated, and one that only die-hard DIYers and gardeners would be into. But to my surprise, Kyla’s design for the cold frames is totally doable! I’d read up about using old storm windows for the top, creating elaborate ventilation systems, and coating the frames with all kinds of natural wood protection agents. But as Kyla explained, a cold frame really has three main purposes: to protect your plants against the wind, to regulate the temperature, and to provide some loving insulation. And really, allowing for those three conditions isn’t all that hard.
Over the course of the afternoon, we each built three wooden frames that can be stacked on top of one another out of standard 2″ x 4″s. While we used purchased wood, Kyla talked about using old futon frames, scraps from disposal heaps, and everything in between. As long as your wood can be screwed tightly together to make a frame, you’re pretty much good to go.
For the construction, we alternated where the joins were so that the corners didn’t become weak spots for wind and snow. Because
of this, the top and bottom frame are identical (with longer end pieces) and the middle frame has longer side pieces. (Doesn’t make sense? Check out the picture for a better explanation).
The construction itself was pretty simple. For each corner, we used two 3″ roberts head screws, drilled a pilot hole, screwed the screw in and voila! Done! (This was actually probably the most time consuming part due to my lack of skills with an electric screw-driver, but let me tell you, but frame #3 those screws were going in like butter).
Once we had assembled the 3 frames, it was time to make the protective cover. Kyla said that she stays away from glass frames because the glass in windows sits lower in the frame, allowing snow to build up on top. Instead, we used a large piece of poly tarp, securing it with a staple gun. (Plexi Glass is another option, but it’s hard to cut, so unless you have the perfect sized piece, poly tarp is probably the best way to go).
The beauty of poly tarp is that you can cut it to be the size of your choice. We used large pieces that covered all the sides of our frames (when stacked), to allow the snow to easily be brushed off,
and to protect the wood. To secure the tarp at the ends of your frame, pretend you’re wrapping a present, and tuck the excess tarp inside, to create a
plants. Especially with the days getting shorter, having a spot with maximum light is important. Place your frame with the long end facing southward if possible for maximum sun absorption.