Fall Gardening – Converted Cold Frame Pulls Double Duty for Seedlings


Fall gardening, for me this year, means keeping it easy.

Mostly because the squirrels and sun aren’t on our side come late September.  I’ve started cabbages and kale and lovingly transplanted them to well-prepared containers up and down our stairs in autumns past, only to have squirrels dig them up daily until the sun lost itself behind the neighbor’s house.

Never again.

This year I have my magical cold frame I converted to a squirrel-free grow box – I simply swapped out the glass lid for a hardware-cloth (wire mesh) lid.  Anything I plant outside of this box will be on a whim and left to its own devices on the squirrel front.

Inside the box, we took our freshly emptied summer pots, seeds leftover from spring, and planted mesclun mix, turnips, radishes and a few onion seeds.

With heavy rains forecast for the following few days, the kiddo and I dragged out an old shower curtain, tucked it under the lid’s edges, and weighed it down with scrap wood for good measure.  These rains would be remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and all summer has been either no rain or crazy-windy-big-storm rain, so might as well add the wood.

The kiddo, B, who had methodically pinched the tiny seeds from my palm and less methodically sewed them, was very into storm proofing the cold frame. She’s three now and loves a good project, especially a short one she can get her helping little hands on.

The next day we got nearly 4 inches of rain in two hours.

I didn’t touch anything for two more days.

Today, SEEDLINGS!!!  Tiny sprouts!!!  No washout from the rain!  Not wanting to further starve them for light, we set the scrap wood cover aside but kept the shower curtain.  The weatherman says we’re still at risk for all-or-nothing rain the next few days.

Let’s see if we can squeeze a few beet, spinach and kale seeds into the squirrel-free, rain-shuttered box in a few days.

What’s Growing – A Few Chilly Days til May


DC spring decided to switch gears to cold rain with May a week away.

One last hurrah from the Winter that Never Was.

Checking on the plants in the cold drizzle showed just how far the garden has come since setting the first seed pots in the cold frame two months ago.  April weather dipped cooler more often than March and the seedlings have gone through growth spurts between holding steady.  The cold frame is protective but only gets a few hours of good sun thanks to the rowhouse canyon of our backyard.  Each day their sun time increases thanks to the earth tilting in our favor as spring heads towards summer.  Things are growing, albeit a little slowly.

I’m wildly satisfied.

The Update

1.  Turnips!  The top: March 21st, four days after sowing.  Bottom: April 23rd.  I need to thin them out.

2.  Parsnips!  The right: Radishes alongside the parsnips last week.  Left: Radishes thinned to let the parsnips grow.  Originally sown March 17th.

3.  Beets!  The top: Sown March 17th.  Bottom left: The few that sprouted looking noble last week.  Bottom right: Either heavy rains or a bird flatted two, April 23rd.  Sadly, I need to thin the few that are growing.

4.  The Camilla!  Top: The last bloom hanging on five weeks after the first opened.  Bottom: Those that let go below it, April 23rd.

5.  Zinnias and Marigolds!  Top row: Transplanting them from their egg carton seed pots, around April 4th.  Bottom: They were the first to get kicked out of the cold frame a few weeks ago.  Short, but growing, April 23rd.

6.  Chives blooming!  This herb box welcomes its fifth season with the same chives, thyme (also blooming) and golden sage (not pictured).  I should replant the box but don’t want to touch it (other than my usual fertilizing and mulching), the inhabitants seem happy as is.  It survived Snowmageddon and Snoverkill in 2010.

7.  Mesclun!  Sown March 31st, pictured April 23rd.  Tiny salads at our first 2012 BBQ this Sunday!

8.  Bush Beans!  Top row: Planted by and for toddlers, April 5th.  Mid row: They sprouted(!) April 17th.  Bottom: Thriving, April 23rd.

9.  Wine-Box-O-Root-Veggies!  Top row: Prep, sow, grow (radishes a few days past April 5th sowing).  Mid row:  A few tiny beets on the left, carrots on the right and radishes all over, April 23rd.  Bottom: Carrots in front of radishes, April 23rd.

10.  Onions!  Top: Reclaiming pantry onions for their greens, April 11th.  Bottom: The stalks look great and spinach seeds sprouted alongside, April 23rd.  I’ll harvest the tops as scallions this weekend, they should regrow.

11.  Potatoes!  Left side: Planting a sprouted potato so the foliage will hang off our stair rail (just for looks), April 11th.  Right side: It’s growing, April 23rd.  I do this every year.  The pot is too small and it’s never as lush as the ornamental sweet potatoes, but it grows.  To really grow potatoes, you do it differently.

12.  Fresh seedlings!  Left: Balsam, 10 days after sowing.  Right: Borrage, 10 days after sowing.

13.  Freshly sown!  Trying to slip under the wire with this cold snap: onions, spinach and mesclun, sown April 22nd.

14.  Tomatoes!  I have yet to count how many tomato seedlings we have, same principle as counting chickens before they hatch.  I kicked a few out of the cold frame April 20th and two days later the 48-hr cold rain came.  I huddled them behind the covered bike to protect them from the 40 mph predicted wind gusts, picture April 23rd.

What’s not growing?  Basil.  After fighting off cutworms, they died after transplanting.  They were tiny and I think succumbed to damping off.  I’ll try again in a week or so.  I’ll also direct sow a few in the big tomato pots when the tomatoes are ready for final transplanting.

Not bad.

Not bad, at all.

Seeds – The Toddlers Say “Grow, Beans, Grow!”


Miss B (mine) and our buddy, Mr. O, got a good look at their beans pushing through the soil today.

They were thrilled. They both kept coming back to get another look.

In the two weeks since we planted them, we gather round the little basket they’re in and chant “Grow, beans, grow!” whenever we’re in the back yard.

They both stood over the beans this morning pointing, beaming, giggling, and gave a believing “GROW, BEANS, GROW!”

DIY – Seedling Transplant Pots from Cartons


When your seedlings have two or three sets of true leaves, it’s time to transplant into bigger pots. If you started seed in egg cartons, you may need to transplant as soon as the first set of true leaves get a little size to them.

Plastic nursery pots are great but you can also pull milk cartons and soup/soy milk/coco water Tetra Paks from your recycling bin. The seedlings will only be in these for a few weeks but they need good drainage. I punched holes in the bottom with my awl but would have also gone up the sides if I had seen this great how-to before I completed the transplanting.

Intermediate seed pots should be at least 3 inches wide. I made mine 4 – 6 inches deep to be about the size of my old nursery pots.  You want them deeper than what your seeds started in.  I also used a few paper coffee cups and ice cream pints (not pictured).

A follow-up on potting seedlings will come tomorrow.

Closer Look – The Univent on the Cold Frame

I installed a Univent automatic vent opener on the cold frame to take all the guesswork out of when to open and close it for temperature regulation.

It costs around $50 and it works.  I love it.

It takes no electricity to operate, it works by means of a gas-filled cylinder and piston.  The gas expands or contracts as the temperature rises or falls and it moves the piston to open or close a vent (or cold frame lid).

It is very simple to use, just make sure to lightly lubricate the piston rod and moving parts (including your lid hinges).

I’ve noticed a bunch of search engine hits the last few days searching for “installing univent on cold frame.”  This could be because the instructions that come with the Univent are terrible.  With a dozen languages and an incredibly bad illustration set, the Univent instructions deserve their own Trophy of Fail.

I hope these photos help.  You can pull them up on your mobile device while installing your Univent as motivation while you struggle with the worst instructions you’ll see all season.

Post Publishing Note:

I am not affiliated with Univent nor do I receive items from Univent.  I simply chose a Univent opener for my cold frame after searching online.

This is a bonus post to a 6-part series -

DIY – The Beginnings of a Cold Frame (Part 1 of __ )
DIY – The Ends of a Cold Frame (Part 2 of __ )
DIY – The Assembly of a Coldframe (Part 3 of __ )
DIY – Painting the Cold Frame (Part 4 of __ )
DIY – Window Hacker (5 of __ )
DIY – Cold Frame – Fixing the Flaws (Part 6 of 6!)

DIY – Wine Crate Mini Garden


Danvers Carrots!  Hollow Crown Parsnips!  Early Wonder Beets!  Cherry Belle Radishes!

I intended to drive all over town and collect a carload of wine crates from all the liquor stores and ring the back yard with awesome wooden wine crates lush with all manner of herbs and vegetables.

So far I have one.

And it’s the one wine crate our neighbors gave me when I told them I was going to collect a carload of wine crates for the garden.

Apartment Therapy discusses waterproofing the wine crate for longevity but I skipped it.

Reasons I Skipped Waterproofing:

1.  I didn’t want to spend any money this week.

2.  Waterproofing is a hassle.

3.  I’m growing root vegetables and am going to gamble with whatever chemicals are already in the wine crate wood and not add to the chemical mix by waterproofing it.

Whether you waterproof or not, you do need to drill holes for drainage.  I evenly spaced a bunch of holes and called it good.

I can’t find the magazine I read a few months ago that touted growing root vegetables in containers, but I did find this guy through Life on the Balcony having a blast growing carrots.  His advice is better than anything I can offer since this is my first year seriously planting root vegetables.  I remember the magazine recommending adding a little sand to the potting mix but, after further reading tonight (after having planted the carrots and other seeds), that was probably not helpful.  I think they’ll be fine.

Our wine box is almost a foot deep – I can’t wait to pull out happy radishes, beets, parsnips and carrots!

Seeds – Beans with Mr. O and Miss B


Neal brought home a surprise pack of seeds – figured he likes beans so he picked up these.

This turned out to be a perfect morning project for Bunny and our buddy, Mr. O.  They’ve helped me plant seeds before, but it’s always slightly impossible because the seeds are tiny.  The kids love it.

Beans are perfect.  They’re huge.  They have to be planted deep.  They’re sturdy enough to survive the new watering cans.

DIY – Quick and Dirty Plant Markers


My version pales in comparison to Mr. Brown Thumb’s, but I made them in about 60 seconds.

That’s a win when gardening with a toddler running around.

These plastic markers will outlast the paper milk carton seedling markers.  I used these for root vegetables we planted today.

What You Need

1.  Milk jug or other opaque plastic container rescued from the recycling bin

2. Scissors or utility knife (my box cutter know lives in my seed box)

3.  Permanent marker

4.  Plants in need of marking

What You Do

1.  See photo above.

Sowing – DIY Salad Crate Via Melissa and Doug

Free seeds.

I have 28 packs of seeds I ordered and scheduled on my sowing calendar, but for the free seeds, I lack a plan.

I attended the Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange a few months ago and found a fun selection of seed packets in the swag bag.  I was already splitting seeds with friends and gave a few packets away.  Where to plant the ones I kept?

Our apartment building has one trash can out back and I noticed our neighbor’s toy wooden crate from their Melissa & Doug Band-in-a-Box set on top.  This is such an annoying piece of packaging (we have similar toy wooden crates from M&D products).  It’s a fair-sized wooden crate made solely for the purpose of making you feel kitschy and earthy about the product within.  It’s not quite sturdy enough for a toddler to really be trusted with and it’s not flimsy enough to immediately toss when you open the package at home.

It’s a marketing ploy in small wooden crate format.

I saw it there on top and immediately thought of the free seeds:

- Botanical Interests Lettuce Mesclun Asian Salad Greens (21 – 45 days till maturity)

- Thompson & Morgan Organic Beet Bolivar (British site, I could not locate them on the US site) (70 days for full-grown beets)

- Peaceful Valley Cherry Belle Radish (20 – 30 days)

If I harvest the mesclun mix as young greens and the beets as babies, I only need a container that will last about two months.  After that, I’ll keep cutting mesclun mix greens until the summer heat stifles them or the crate falls apart.

The photo set tells how I turned a tossed toy crate into a petite salad garden, inspired by Life on the Balcony’s pallet garden.

DIY – Seed Starting – Step One [LOST POST]

I wrote this post two months ago (January 26).  I looked it up to add a link to tomorrow’s post and, what do you know, I never posted it.


This spring all out of whack, everything is blooming a few weeks early with the steady warm weather, but I’ve pegged mid-April as DC’s date of last frost.  That’s based on a few internet searches, not gardening experience.  I usually run out in late May and buy a slew of young plants at the garden center, this is my first year aggressively starting my own seeds in spring.

The post is still relevant so here you go.   Happy seed planning!

STEP 1:  Find a seed source: local hardware store, garden center, online seed swap, local seed exchange, neighbors, online retailer, etc.

I chose Southern Exposure Seed Exchange because they are in the same plant hardiness zone as I and have an amazing selection of Southern heirlooms at good prices.  They promote seed saving and traditional plant breeding to counter the loss of crop diversity.

STEP 2:  Loose your inhibitions and imagine yourself growing more than you could possibly ever know what to do with.

STEP 3:  Now actually read the seed package or catalog guide to see what veggies/flowers/herbs might suit your situation.  The Living Garden has a great how-to on choosing seeds.

STEP 4:  Choose your seeds.  (Buy, barter, order or swap.)

STEP 5:  Make a chart or mark a calendar plotting when to start the variety of seeds you’ve chosen.  All the information you need is in the catalog and/or on the seed packet.  And there’s always the internet.