Do you garden when it’s cold outside?

A chassis-type cold frame made of recycled windows set at a roughly 30° degree angle to let a maximum of light through.
Credit: Space for Life (Francis Cardinal)
Une couche froide de type châssis fait de fenêtres recyclées disposées en angle d’environ 30° pour laisser entrer un maximum de lumière.
  • Une couche froide de type châssis fait de fenêtres recyclées disposées en angle d’environ 30° pour laisser entrer un maximum de lumière.
  • Il est important que la structure puisse s’ouvrir. Ici, les charnières d’origine permettent l’ouverture par temps chaud.
  • Une couverture flottante sous un tunnel a permis de couvrir toute la planche du jardin.
  • La neige est présente, mais c’est l’heure de la récolte. Les arceaux métalliques peuvent rester en place pendant l’hiver pour une installation rapide au printemps.
  • Alors que les tunnels sont bien adaptés pour couvrir de grandes surfaces, ils sont faciles à démonter et à ranger.
Do you garden when it’s cold outside?

Extend the gardening season with a cold frame

In our latitudes, autumn means the end of the vegetable garden. However, certain techniques, easy to introduce, will allow you to grow things for a few more weeks in the fall ‒ and also in the spring! You’d be able to move up your harvests in the spring and push back the ones in the fall by adding about three months to the growing period. Read what follows to find out how.

An old wedding gown to make a double layer?

Are you do-it-yourself disposed? Why not make your own cold frame? It’s possible to do a home-made chassis-type version by recycling old windows or curtains, for example. The concept is relatively simple: create a physical barrier to block cold winds and retain warmth around your plants.

To prevent freezing, add a floating cover, a lightweight piece of fabric that allows light to pass through. Is your wedding gown out of fashion, or have your curtains turned yellow? Recycle them into floating covers! Transparent and lightweight, they’ll let water and light through while adding a layer of insulation. And there it is, the principle of the cold frame.

Cold frame, heated frame or greenhouse?

Whereas a greenhouse is permanent, sturdy and difficult to move, a cold frame can be easily dismantled or removed when summer comes around. And it generally allows you to cultivate your garden over three seasons.

There’s also the heated frame. It involves the same principle, but you add a heat-producing source. As you’ll have guessed, this also makes it possible to extend the growing period. Originally the heat came from the decomposing of manure (horse, mostly) buried in the soil. With the arrival of electricity, techniques grew more refined, and now we normally use sunken heating wires or else incandescent light bulbs.

When should we use or build a cold frame?

Cold frame use is best when temperatures hover around the freezing point at night and climb during the day. A number of vegetable varieties tolerate cool air very well, but will perish when it freezes. Insulation produced by the cold frame will enable them to withstand autumn and spring weather and continue growing when temperatures rise.

While your garden takes a break, use the winter to learn more about the subject or to equip yourself with this sort of system.

Imagine the possibilities

Besides extending the growing period with three more months, you benefit from an acclimatization site for your seedlings or indoor plants while recycling waste.

Three pieces of advice in closing

  1. Install your cold frame in a sunny spot.
  2. Opt for cold-tolerant plant varieties.
  3. Don’t forget to open (ventilate) your cold frame in warm and sunny weather to prevent overheating. The floating cover can be removed when temperatures warm up, but that calls for specific logistics.


Here are reading suggestions to take things a step further.

  • Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long, Eliot Coleman, Chelsea Green Publishing
  • The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live, Niki Jabbour, Storey Publishing LLC
  • Le Maraîchage nordique : découvrir la culture hivernale des légumes, Jean-Martin Fortier et C. Sylvestre, Éditions Cardinal

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