Thank Goodness For Cold Frames!

Written by Dan Graves
    Tuesday, 09 April 2013
Thank Goodness For Cold Frames!

At this time of year when it seems like spring is never going to come, take heart in knowing that beneath the layers of straw, leaves and compost, little plants are beginning to pop out of the ground.

The first ones to return from a long winters’ rejuvenation are typically the alliums (chives and garlic in my yard) and rhubarb (check out the photos of the awakening of rhubarb and garlic below!). Eating little bits of these early emergents only goes so far. This is when I pause and give thanks for the most wonderful of all backyard growing aides: The Cold Frame!    


Cold frames are the easiest and most versatile way to extend your gardening season in both spring and fall. The basic concept is a frame with a window of some sort on top of it to let the sun light in. In my yard, I made frames out of scrap reclaimed 2x4’s, found windows, and pieces of Plexiglas. This allows me to plant things that I would normally plant in late April about a month earlier. Currently I have spinach, kale and onions planted and emerging in my cold frame:

Elliot Coleman, asserts in his book Four Season Harvest that for each layer of protection you add over your plants, you move up a growing season. That would mean that instead of having a growing season like the one in Milwaukee, you would have one that would mirror the season of middle Illinois (zone 6 versus zone 5). I like that. I like that a lot. So gather up some scrap wood or straw bales and build yourself a cold frame!  

Linked below are some helpful articles on cold frames, cold frame construction and garden planning assistance:

Lastly, Milwaukee Urban Gardens is having a seed swap on April 20th to help you get started with spring and summer planting!  Follow this link for more information.

To learn more about how to grow your own food, visit our website for more helpful resouces.

April is such a fantastically bipolar gardening month in Wisconsin. Take advantage of it as best you can!

Dan Graves

Dan Graves

Dan Graves is an Environmental Educator at the Menomonee Valley branch, and has worked at the Urban Ecology Center since 2007. He is a proud native Wisconsinite and has a particular love for Milwaukee. Dan loves learning new things, especially about plants, animals, ecosystems, his wife, his children, bikes, gardens, theology, along with much more!


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