Gardening in cold frames

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(Host) While we’re all waiting for real spring weather to arrive, commentator Charlie Nardozzi says there’s one sure way to get a jump on the season.

(Nardozzi) Early spring is the most frustrating time of year for a gardener. I’ve been looking at catalogs for months, my last year’s garden has revealed itself through the snow, and I’ve been to flower shows, greenhouses, and garden centers dreaming of what to plant. But for Northern New England gardeners it’s just too early to plant outdoors. Unless, I get tricky!

One way to beat the early spring blahs is to garden in a cold frame. By growing plants in a cold frame I can extend the season by weeks in the spring and fall. This means while I have to wait until May to plant most of my vegetable or flower garden, I can be digging away now in my cold frame planting a variety of cool loving crops.

Cold frames are garden structures that protect plants from the cold while letting the sunshine in. Think of them as mini-greenhouses. They can be elaborate structures made of insulated wood with mechanical arms and thermometers that automatically open the glass or fiberglass window on warm days. Or they can be as simple as some bales of hay propped up against the south side of a building with an old window sash sitting on top. Whatever structure you use there are a few tips to keep in mind.

Orient the cold frame so it’s facing South or Southeast. I have mine on the Southeast side of my house protected from the cold North and West winds. Angle the glass or fiberglass sash 45 degrees so the plants get as much of the spring sun as possible. Place a few jugs filled with warm water and dark green food coloring in the cold frame. The jugs absorb the heat of the sun during the day and release it at night keeping the air a little warmer. On hot days open up the cold frame so the plants don’t cook. It can get really warm in there in spring.

There are a variety of plants to grow in your cold frame. One sunny, March afternoon I opened up my cold frame for the first time since fall and was amazed at how warm the soil was. Being an impulsive gardener I ran inside, dug through my seed stash, and found some arugula seeds. I sowed them, lightly watered the ground, and closed it all back up. A few weeks later I checked to find little arugula seedlings starting to grow while snowflakes still danced in the air around my house. I’ll be enjoying fresh arugula soon.

Cold frames not only help jump start early spring crops of arugula, lettuce, kale, spinach, pansies, violas, snapdragons, and parsley, they give heat loving crops a boost in summer. Try planting warm-loving vegetables, such as watermelons and cantaloupes in a cold frame. Just let the melons trail out of the cold frame in mid summer creating a sea of leaves and fruits in your yard.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Shelburne.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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