The month of October was swallowed whole by family matters. First my father-in-law passed away and then seventeen days later my mother-in-law slipped quietly away in her sleep. They were always good to me... to us all and I find myself tearing up just typing these words.
For me, one of the ways grief expressed itself was a terrible tiredness that made me want to avoid anything routine; including the computer, the internet and blogging. It has been weeks since I posted anything.
Slowly, slowly I am slipping back into the comfort of old familiar habits. Now I find myself looking forward to catching up with good friends.
Wow! I can't believe it is already mid-November and fall is almost over!
The big Maple at the back of the garden always seems to be fall's swan song. It is the last tree in the yard to turn color and finishes the season with a crescendo of most brilliant yellow.
Then there is frost and the Maple leaves fall like rain.
Last week hubby took some time off and we busied ourselves with completing a number of ongoing projects including this cold frame.
I first became interested in cold frames a couple of years ago.
I was amazed and inspired to see how gardeners like Brenda (Gardeningbren in Nova Scotia) managed to extend the gardening season with the use of a cold frame.
Niki Jabbour, The Year Round Veggie Gardener
Niki Jabbour's blog The Year Round Veggie Gardener was also a real eye opener.
Who wouldn't be impressed by that picture of Niki kneeling beside a cold frame in the dead of a Canadian winter?
Needless to say, when her book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener was published, I bought a copy.
Last fall hubby and I came up with a design to transform one of my raised beds into a cold frame.
If I had a bigger garden, I probably would have built a permanent cold frame, but space in our backyard is at a premium and so I wanted to design a structure that could be a cold frame in winter and revert back to an ordinary flowerbed in summer.
Here you can sort-of see the four raised beds last spring. (Oh how I now wish I had taken better pictures of this part of the garden last spring!)
Overall my garden is a bit of a jungle, so I like the little bit of order and formality that the raised beds provide.
There are lilac standards in the centre of two of the flowerbeds diagonally opposite from one another and...
decorative plant supports in the centre of the opposite pair.
Hopefully next spring clematis will be clamouring up the plant supports and covering them with flowers about the same time that the lilac standards are in bloom. Fingers crossed anyway!
One raised bed holds my collection of herbs (as seen above). In another, I grew tomatoes and strawberries last summer. In the final two beds, I planted a mix of flowers.
Here we are in November.
Last year we constructed the sides of the box which transforms the one of these raised beds into a cold frame. Being busy, we ran out of fall before we could make the top. To get us through the last winter we ended up borrowing a few old windows from a neighbour.
Last week, we finally completed the project and made the top doors.
The smart part of this cold frame design is that it takes less than an hour to transform the raised bed into a cold frame. You simply fit the cold frame sides into position and attach the three doors. (We store the component pieces in a shed during the summer.)
For purposes of demonstration, here we have detached one of the cold frame sides to show you how it all fits into place. In the shot above you can hubby fitting one of the sides into position to complete walls of the frame.
Because the sides fit together like a puzzle no nails are required to hold them in position. Any one of the side walls can be removed in a matter of minutes.
The final stage of the fall transformation from raised bed to cold frame involves the installation of three plexiglass doors.
It remains to be asked: why go to all this bother? I can think of so many good reasons:
A cold frame is certainly more affordable than a buying a full greenhouse, yet offers many of the same advantages.
It also takes up a lot less space than a greenhouse and is the great option to consider for a small backyard.
As I indicated earlier in the post, a cold frames allow you to extend the growing season in a number of ways.
My herbs are still going strong despite the fact that it's mid-November and we have had several killing frosts. And last spring the herbs sprouting new growth over a month ahead of the rest of the garden.
You can also grow a winter crop of vegetables in a cold frame (visit Niki or Brenda's blog for inspiration).
Like a greenhouse, I found a cold frame to be a great place to start seeds.
I have limited space in the house for seedlings. Last spring I was able to start some seeds inside the cold frame as early as late March/early April.
Rose Mossy Saxifrage, saxifraga x arendsii rose selection
I also found that the cold frame is a great place to park tender plants for the winter. Thanks to the shelter it provides, the top of this birdbath planter came through the ravages of a Canadian winter beautifully.
Sometimes I have trouble over wintering Mediterranean herbs like thyme, but last year I had no problem with the most of the plants inside of the cold frame. (The exception were a few thyme plants that were right in the corners. There are some very small gaps where the structure fits together and they were big enough to allow cold drafts to sneak inside and affect the plants right in each corner.)
With under an hour to make the transformation, I have to say that I am rather proud of how easy we have made it to use a cold frame each fall and winter.
For more project details please see the Cold Frame How-to.