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.

A pantry potato planted just for a little foliage.

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!”

Seed Starting – Very Simple Last Frost Date

Thank you, Life on the Balcony!!!

This is too late for many folks, but Victory Seeds has a super simple Average Last Frost Date by State.  Just click it.

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.

Univent opening the cold frame further as the day gets warmer.

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!