Straw Bale Cold Frame

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post this past week Eliza and I constructed a cold frame out of straw bales.  The reason we chose to do this were several.

First off, for those who don’t know what a cold frames is, you can get the basic picture here (yay Wikipedia, thank you for explaining the world!).  The basic purpose is to provide a bit of shelter and microclimate to extend a growing season and to protect sensitive plants and seedlings from the harsher elements.  Cold frames can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, basically the only necessary element is some kind of window (to let sunlight in during daytime) over an enclosed surface.

We had a pretty big need for a cold frame to start our spring seedlings this year.  Last year we had more room in or kitchen to get seedlings started.  Since then we have added a elliptical and three cats that had been living down at Eliza’s mom’s house.  The elliptical takes up a lot more space, and the cats try to eat green things.  With these two factors it was not going to be very practical to get seedlings started indoors.  Having a cold frame would alleviate much of this problem.

I am not construction savvy.  I was lucky to have our friend John provide most of the technical know-how and building skill in the creation of our chicken coop.  I would love to learn more about building things from wood (perhaps not master carpentry, but basic skills) however I have not had much learning time yet.  As such, building a cold frame, which is not all that complicated a device, still intimidated me.

We had been lucky to get some nice old windows from our friend Kirsten (John’s wife as it just so happens) and so half the battle of the cold frame construction was already won.  All we needed was the frame itself.  But I kept feeling held back by my lack of confidence in my construction skills.  Then Kirsten made a suggestion, “Use straw bales.”  With a little research we figured out that this was a pretty common practice to erect simple and quick cold frames.  Straw is relatively cheap (if you do a bit of searching you can find bales for around $4) and it is also a fantastic insulator which is ideal for a cold frame.  Using straw bales you do not have to do any wood working construction.  It can be set up anywhere you have empty space and easily be dismantled again.  The one down side is that the straw is not terribly permanent, and eventually you will need to replace it (however, you can use the spent straw for cool things like mulching garden beds or growing oyster mushrooms).

The longest part of building our cold frame was clearing a space to locate it.  We have an empty bed space that used to be a compost pile but for the past year was basically just a weed bed.  After about an hour of extensive weeding and digging out small trees, we were able to throw down the bales in about ten minutes time.  With the windows on top the cold frames work like a charm.

Eliza has written a much more detailed post and included pictures.  So check it out.  We’re totally thrilled to have the thing up and working.  Saves space in the house, keeps our seedlings alive, and all around is just a fun bit of gardening project.

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~ by Nathaniel on March 6, 2012.

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