How To Make a Cold Frame to Grow Food Year-Round


Today we have a great guest post from Chris about cold frames and how to make your garden productive even in cold weather.


I’m more of a meat and potatoes type of guy but once in a while I love to have a good manly salad.

By manly I mean a whole plate of lettuce, a few handfuls of shredded cheese, another hand full of grilled chicken or nice chunks of ham, a big spoon of sunflower seed kernels, the same amount of bacon bits (or chopped bacon if it’s around), some chopped hard boiled eggs, drenched in ranch dressing.

I usually only get to eat something like that if we go out to eat at a smorgasbord type restaurant, that’s too expensive for my family of four to do every time I crave a salad. I’m going to fix that problem today by making a cold frame winter garden to grow my own salads.

I happened to have all the materials I need to tackle this project on my small farm, you probably do too. If not you can pick up all of the materials you need for less than fifty dollars

I’m making my cold frame out of cinderblocks, and a few old windows, I’m going to fill it with dirt from my summer garden and a few shovelfuls from my compost pile. But you can use anything from straw bales, plastic sheeting, old pallet lumber, anything that will hold the dirt in the shape you want.


You’re probably going to end up making a square or rectangle frame as that’s the usual shape of glass, if you’re using straw bales or plastic sheeting you can make it any shape you like. For the top of your cold frame you’re going to use anything that will let sunlight in but be relatively good at keeping the heat in also. Shower doors, or full glass screen doors are nice because you can reuse the hinges to allow easy access to your crops.


If you’re using old windows and they are the type that slide open that’s also easy for access, plastic sheeting can be rolled back. You see where I’m going with this. Whatever you end up using you need to have easy access to the soil and watering or harvesting your crops.


I’ve also found some free plans you can use to make a cold frame from PVC piping and plastic sheeting. HERE

Depending on what you’re using to construct your cold frame you may want to build it in place. Make sure that the top of your cold frame is getting as much southern sunlight as possible. Since mine is constructed out of cinderblocks I’m setting it up near my garden shed to make transplanting and lawn maintenance easier on myself.
Now that you have your cold frame in the final location you can start filling it with dirt, I decide it would be better to layer mine starting with a thin layer of gravel from the driveway to allow proper drainage, followed by four inches of soil from my garden, I added a smaller three inch layer from my compost pile I covered the top of my compost pie with some of my dogs dry food to accurate the compost breaking down, then I filled it another eight inches using two shovelfuls of garden dirt and one shovel full of potting soil.


That left me with around two feet from the top of my soil to the bottom of the glass top. At this point I took a thermometer and stuck it into the dirt and put another one foot up from the dirt. Since this is my first cold frame I’m wondering how efficient it is at keeping the heat in.

now your cold frame is built and filled with soil. The next step is to decide what you want to plant. For this you need to know what hardiness zone you are in.


I used PlantMaps.com to check the my hardiness zone, which in turn helped me decide which plants had the best chance of producing well in my area.


I also put in a call to my local botanical garden and got some great advice for specific greens that would grow very well in my area. Their master gardener even wanted to come out to my homestead to check out my new cold frame and give me some pointers on ways I could improve my regular garden as well which I may take him up on soon.


Click HERE for a link to a directory of all the botanical gardens in the country. They should be able to help you with any specific questions you might have about plants that will do well in your area.


I hope you find this article to be helpful and I would love to hear
about your dealings with cold frames or any questions you might have about mine you can email me at chris.cox.1776@gmail.com or leave a comment below and I will respond to you there.

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Use the entry box below to be entere4d to win one of 3 Mora knives this month!
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  1. Elizabeth F

    I love cold frames! I have not tried growing in the year round, and didn’t set up my garden for that this time around. I am using greenhouse plastic instead of glass so we can bug out with our cold frames. You never know how long you will be gone.

    1. Elizabeth F

      Oh and if I win the knife I’ll put it in my 72 hour kit. You never know when you need a good knife!

  2. Leisel

    Thank you so much for the link to plantmaps.com All the maps I’ve seen preciously were whole country maps that were so small that all. I could tell was that I was close to the border between zone 4 and zone 5. Now I know I’m in zone 5b. This will make planning my garden so much easier!

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