Cold Frame Veggies and planting dates?

frog_gidgetJanuary 3, 2011

Hi there,

Anyone else planting veggies? In DC we just had a wonderful weekend and we just finished constructing a nice cold frame with glass windows over one raised bed and a hoop house over the other. These are southwest facing and get tons of sun. Of course, it's January in DC and the coldest days of the winter are ahead of us. We've used cold frames before to keep spinach all winter, but these are more insulated and I don't have any spinach in them now :). I'm thinking I will start some kale, chard and arugula inside and transplant into the cold frame in 2 weeks or so.

What do you think? Ever plant in a cold frame in the winter? I know it can extend the growing season, and that it's too cold out there for the seeds to germinate, but how about take root and grow? Should we get soil warming cables to ensure success?


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Dan Staley

I have stuff germinating now in Z5. Go for it.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 7:57PM
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Back in NJ, we used to plant inside and then move the plants out to the cold frame, once they had a few leaves

You should put a thermometer in the cold frame to check that it's not to early to put them out

It's also a problem if they spend too long in the cold frame and outgrow it, so sometimes it can take a few years to get the timing right

And you'll want to watch for pests (like slugs, arghh!) taking up residence in the cold frame

(Was Zone 6, now Zone 8ish)

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:37AM
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you do not need the cold frame

spinach will survive in zone 5 outdoors in the open with a little snow protection at the worst point. but will survive easy in zone 6. you are zone 7. You do not get cold in zone 7. I would try most cold items outdoors in zone 7 before wasting valuable cold frame space.

Eliot Coleman wrote books on FOUR SEASON GROWING. GW has a 4 season section for these discussions. But really Spinach for sure will survive all winter in fact all winter is the correct way to grow spinach. do a google search of how to grow spinach. it is outdoors all winter in zone 7. I feel Kale and cabbage should do the same for you. There are lots of things you can grow all winter in zone 7 without a cold frame.

Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long
Eliot Coleman Barbara Damrosch

Fedco sells seeds of greens that will survive outdoors all winter in your area.

Here is a link that might be useful: GW on 4 Seasons

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 12:12PM
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Dan Staley

I have one coldframe with walls insulated to ~R-7 and one hoop that doesn't need to be covered until it dips below ~15F or so, both vents opened two days ago although temps didn't get into double digits F. My germination is happening with direct sowing. I'm not sure how you'd harden off in winter without some loss, but give 'er a whirl I guess but as long as ground is insulated below coldframe and hoops, soil should be warm enuf for germination.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 1:11PM
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Ummm, gardendawgie, are you speaking from personal experience there?

I ask because we're 7b on the hardiness index and while collards & kale can survive the winter here without cover, I don't think that spinach does as well

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 6:31PM
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Oops, just read your message again

Perhaps it's the snow cover that makes the difference
We almost never see snow cover here, so our plants are usually unprotected when the weather's its coldest

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 6:38PM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

I live in zone 7B and the following veggies survive all winter under a light row cover spread over tomato cage hoops: collards, kale, mustards, spinach, lettuces, alliums, carrots, and beets. The collards were started from seed in mid summer, then set out in the fall. The others were direct seeded in September. Last winter, our lowest temp was eleven degrees. Everything survived and grew, though slowly, throughout the winter. I put the row covers over the plants sometime in October, at first, more for deer protection than cold protection. It's very high tech. I attach the row cover to the tomato cages with clothes pins. :)

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 7:37PM
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"It's very high tech. I attach the row cover to the tomato cages with clothes pins. :)"

Oooo! We do that too

But periodically we take the row covers off when we're likely to get a lot of rain
and forget to put it back in time

That's how I know that some of the stuff doesn't do well without any protection

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:42PM
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Thanks all for your thoughts & stories.
I know that most greens should survive, but I'm glad to hear others have tried seeding in winter as well. The fold frame is 36 right now, so i think I'm going to create a heat-sink with some bricks and add some weather stripping under the windows to increase the temp. In a few weeks I'll direct seed some beats and let you know how it goes. For now, I'll start some seeds inside and transplant them in the cold frame and hoop.
I'll be sure to take photos soon!

I'm a former zone 5 resident, and I know I couldn't germinate anything this time of year up there, but the snow would mean lots of stuff survived that otherwise wouldn't.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Dan Staley

Water is a far, far better heat sink. Clear containers with colored water or the cheap 2.5 gal water jugs at the grocery painted flat black. Let us know how transplanting works for you.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 10:16AM
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diggity_ma(5 MA)

I think the questions is not so much whether they will survive, but whether they will flourish. It would hardly be worth it to have them germinate and then sit there doing nothing for 2 months until it starts to warm up. Many veggies can survive the winter in a cold frame, but they won't do any growing during that time.

That said, I'd say go for it. Seed is cheap, so you don't have much to lose. If you've got a decent cold frame and the weather isn't too ridiculously cold, you might be pleasantly surprised.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 9:12AM
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Thanks for posting this thread!

I have a cold frame here
and now I'll be using it again soon

ExNJer :-)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 11:37AM
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Dan Staley

Diggity, they just grow slowly, they don't sit there doing nothing. Esp if you have your ground insulated.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 12:41PM
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If memory serves, there are actually 3 options
that depend on the temperature and wetness of the soil:
1. They can grow slowly
2. They can stop growing
3. They can get sick and die

(Trans: Neener, neener, neener--I'm sticking out my tongue at you)

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 3:44PM
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Dan Staley

Right, but presuming you do it properly, they do 1.


    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 7:05PM
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Ah well... I've been admiring the covered structures in your picture above
It's not surprising that you've had better luck--those look very well designed

Have you been at this for a while?

    Bookmark   January 6, 2011 at 9:47PM
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I live in zone 5. I planted all types of vegetable seeds (all types of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, peas, beans, pumpkins, squash, zuchinni, brocolli, cabbage, chard, lettuce, brussel sprouts & herbs on March 18. Thus far only cabbage, brussel sprouts, & brocolli is sprouting. I brought all the seedlings into the house last night in hopes to salvage the seeds.

I have planted in mid March in prior years and everything grew. This season the weather is extremely cooler. I will bring the seedlings out to the greenhouse once they begin to sprout & have a few leaves.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 9:44AM
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