Do you want fresh, home-grown carrots, radishes, parsnips, rosemary, spearmint, spinach, arugula, mizuna, and bok choy all winter long?
Even in the chilly Northeast, it is possible with an outdoor cold-frame garden. Evan Foudray’s 8′ x 12′ cold garden in Marblehead, Massachusetts was easy and imposed little or no-cost to build, he said.
Foudray started planting in the fall, but harvests and replants regularly–yielding vegetables while the ground remains frozen and fields of snow blanket yards.
Arugula “is available in about two weeks,” he said.
This past summer Foudray had a plot at the Clarke Cooper Community Garden in nearby Mattapan (a 20′ x 20′ plot is about $40) and wanted to protect fennel root and strawberry plants that could remain dormant through winter. After reading about cold gardens in The Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman and a few how-to articles, he began in the fall to build a raised box garden out of materials at home.
“The point of the cold frame is to propagate cold hardy plants that are challenged by the wind,” said Foudray. But you can also store dormant plants and potatoes “better than a root cellar.”
Cold gardens must be low to the ground to capture and retain heat and moisture to protect otherwise hardy plants from damaging wind and snow. “They are really fit for our region,” he said.
On the south side of his family home, where the garden would have the longest daylight and the least shadow, Foudray first put down 2-4 inches of gravel and stone to create a foundation that provides good drainage. He created the 8′ x 12′, 8″-high box frame with 2″ x 4s” and nails. The second layer of the garden is a mix of 3/4 pure black humus and 1/4 organics from his backyard composter, then organic soil. The last step is to cap the garden with an “essential” glass layer.
Foudray picked up 2′ x 2′ double pane framed glass windows at the Marblehead Recycling Center. Cast aside windows can be found at most local recycling centers and some town waste stations.
Getting a jump on the usual growing season also makes cold frame gardens valuable. In March or April, Foudray will start his tomato seedlings outside.