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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cold frame fun

At long last... a standard cold frame! I've always wanted to build one. 

My first traditional cold frame started off with some very thick, gorgeous (but on their way to rotting) boards from behind our shop. My dimensions were based on the size of a window my Dad gave me.

After building the base frame, I set about making the sloped sides. I'd never used triangular pieces for creating slope before, and it took a few tries with the chalk line to get it right. A chalk line is a great way to experiment visually without making any permanent errors. I found that I wanted a flat top on the triangle, to align with the rest of the frame, so I made allowance for that and just made sure the bottom of each triangle matched the length of the frame. This is a spruce plank that my husband milled.

Here is the sloped frame resting on the base frame... ready to tackle fitting the window.

Perhaps the most important concept I've found when building a sloped cold frame is that a solid roof on the North portion will not block sunlight. This may seem contrary to what you'd imagine. However, I've tested it out with the underground cold frame and it's definitely true, particularly during the months when the sun is lower in the sky (which is when you most need the cold frame). Most of your sunlight will be at the north end. This means you should really consider expanding your well-lit real estate inside the cold frame by making the frame longer than the window.

If you look closely here you'll see that the solid portion of the top is not blocking any light. Only the front and sides are.

I am super lucky that my Dad fitted this window with hinges before giving it to me. What a lovely surprise! Thanks, Dad!

Here is the cold frame in its new garden home, on top of the Horizontal Spruce Central bed. Hopefully this structure can capture some of the heat that is probably rising from the decomposing hugelkultur below. 

I added a pivoting arm to hold the lid open as needed. It consists of an edge from slab wood held to the base frame with a nail that is pounded only partway in. 

I'm really happy with how this cold frame turned out. Although there are still some clods of frozen soil, this bed was covered and had thawed out enough to plant! February 28th and I planted carrots, onions, and radishes. I had forgotten the radish seeds earlier, so I walked down to the garden after dinner and planted them in the moonlight, with Venus and Mars above me to the west. We'll see what happens next inside this frame... The weather has been unseasonably mild, so I might as well take advantage of it. This cold frame helps me do just that. Plus, it will keep marmots out, once they wake up!

I'm feeling ready for spring.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Despite Snow and Ice

On this long-awaited sunny Sunday morning, I headed straight for the garden. I was expecting muck, wet snow, and ice -- but what the garden had to offer exceeded all expectations.

Look who doesn't mind a little snow and ice!

I am pretty sure the shoot emerging straight from the ice is French sorrel, which will undoubtedly be one of the first salad greens from the garden this year. It is growing in the center of the Aspen Hotbed, the warmest seat in the house. I can't think of what factors other than warm toes would cause sorrel to rise out of the ice like this. Yeah, hugelkultur -- I think it's working! 

One of the more hotly debated potential benefits of hugelkultur seems to be the idea of a longer growing season due to heat generated by decomposing wood. This Aspen Hotbed has lots of large diameter aspen in it, but also contains a massive load of horse manure to keep things warm. Apparently manure was used successfully to heat veggie beds in France hundreds of years ago, when the streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages generating more manure than people knew what to do with. The combination of large wood and manure in my Aspen Hotbed seems to be an effective strategy for our climate.

More sorrel as well as Johnny jump-ups.  

I discovered some mystery shoots in the first Aspen Bed, which has plenty of aspen buried beneath the ground, but only a modest amount of manure.

I'm hoping this might be celery, which I planted at the end of last summer. It didn't germinate then, but perhaps it is germinating now!

More potential celery... (?)

The strawberries don't mind a little snow at all!

The grape hyacinths are greening up under their bed of willow leaves.

These raspberries are growing in the Alderwood Bed, and again it seems that having warm feet must be making a difference. If your raspberries are sending out green leaves despite having snow on the ground, please let me know in the comments below! I'm curious about how common or unusual this might be.

Either beets or rainbow Swiss chard has overwintered! I think these are beets but I'm not 100% sure. Time will tell. Either way, I see sautéed greens in my future.

Of course the catnip is always one of the first plants to green up...

...but how about marjoram? This one is growing in the Blueberry Spruce Bed.

This Swiss chard sits near the top of my Sunday morning miracles list. It overwintered in a bed that is caged around the perimeter with hardware cloth fencing, lined with a combination of fabric, grass mats, and clear plastic. However, there is no roof on the cage, so I did not expect anything to overwinter. We had some very cold snaps in early winter, too! Maybe it doesn't take as much protection as I had thought...

My garden fabric hoophouse collapsed under the snow, but lo and behold, there seems to be green showing through the reemay! I couldn't check underneath to see if it really is alive, because the garden fabric is thoroughly frozen to the ground on all sides, under snow and ice. I'll just have to wait for things to thaw. If I'm lucky, it will be rainbow Swiss chard from last summer!

What a feast for the eyes... lush green against white snow. I realize that we would have a better summer if we'd had a better winter, and that we need our snowpack to feed our streams more gradually, and that spring in February in North Central WA could spell bad news in a variety of ways. That being said, I am going to make the most of it, and soak up the magic of plants alive and growing in the garden! It's reason to celebrate; I can't feel any other way.