Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Laugh at Winter, Build a Cheap Mini Greenhouse and More

Winter's death rattle. Snowfall: 0 inches. HA!
The greenhouse looking great! All the flowers and herbs have sprouted and are growing like crazy. Once we started planting, however, we realized pretty quickly that, as cute as it is, our little 8' by 16' greenhouse is just not going to be big enough to hold all our new seedlings, especially once things really get going in April and May. So, today Mom and I built three 4' by 4' cold frames. Cold frames are like little greenhouses, built low to the ground, that can be used in a variety of ways. They can grown in directly (while protecting the little seedlings from the cold), they can be used as an overflow space to store trays we can't fit into the greenhouse, and they can also be used as a place to "harden off" young plants outside before putting them into the garden - exposing young plants to the cold before putting them through the shock of transplanting. Our cold frames are each roughly 4' x 4', and can fit 8 standard size planting trays.

My dad cut all the plywood for us. As you can see here, a cold frame base can all be cut from one piece of plywood:

The two top pieces become the sides, and the bottom pieces become the front and back. Here's some pictures of our assembled bases outside the greenhouse.  As you can see, the boxes are slightly angled forward, towards the sun. Both the greenhouse and the cold frames face South. 

My dad cut all the plywood for us and also built the frames for the tops. To finish the tops we simply stretched heavy duty plastic across the frames and stapled it to the wood.

That thin piece of wood across the bottom is designed to be stapled on top of the plastic and hold the whole thing together as tightly as possible. Unfortunately, we didn't have long enough staples, so I'm planning on finishing up the plastic and putting hinges on tomorrow morning. I'll post more pictures of the completed cold frames then. 

In other news, the snow has finally melted enough that we can see what our future vegetable field will look like. I mentioned before that I was worried because I had been hearing more and more about how wet the field we were planning on using could get in the Spring. A visit to the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) field office in Westford at the beginning of March confirmed this fact (they have pretty detailed information on soil types and wetland areas throughout Massachusetts). Well everyone was right, the field is really wet. Right now we're dealing with about this much visible water:

Obviously, this puts a little snag in our plans to build a perfect 100' x 200' vegetable field (you may remember this picture from an earlier post:)

While it's a little disappointing that there's a seasonal stream right through the middle of our perfectly rectangular 1/2 acre, this doesn't mean we can't grow at all. Our new plan is to put in two vegetable beds, one on each side of the wet area. We measured it out this last week, and we should be able to squeeze a 80' x 90' rectangle on the side closest to the house, and a 100' x 50' rectangle on the far side. We're also planning on putting in a bridge across the stream at some point so that we can get machinery across (most importantly for tilling). This has been my first lesson in being flexible. I'm sure it won't be my last. 

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