Cold Frames - Mini Greenhouses for New Seedlings

Notes From the Gardener

Richard Reading The Seed Catalogue
Richard Reading The Seed Catalogue


In this climate of ours where winters linger and springs are short, many gardeners employ cold frames to get a jump on the growing season. Cold frames are mini-greenhouses used to start new seedlings, or protect them from the cold of early spring. In fact, they are sometimes called "poor man's greenhouse" because they are cheap and simply constructed.

A cold frame can be something as simple as a wooden box with a sheet of glass placed over it, but most are constructed of four boards nailed together into a rectangle. To maximize the exposure to the sun, cold frames should be located in a southern exposure, preferably on a slope. Covers can be made of glass or plastic, but must shut tightly to protect young plants from freezing temperatures. Depending on the severity of the cold additional covering might be necessary, such as blankets, tar paper or pine needles.

Cold Frames

If you really want to get a jump on the season you can add a heat source to the cold frame. Here are three suggestions:

1.You can build your cold frame next to your house, adjacent to a cellar window. On very cold nights all that will be necessary to do is open the cellar window to allow heat from the house into the covered cold frame.

2.You can also deliver heat to a cold frame by stringing incandescent light bulbs into the interior. The number of bulbs you use and their wattage depends on the size of the cold frame. I have used 40 watt bulbs and found them sufficient.

3.Another method I have had success with, but requires more labor, is using the natural heat given off by composting manure. First, dig a pit 18" deep where the cold frame is to be located. Then fill this with moistened, fresh stable manure if available. After a few days turn the manure, moisten it if necessary, and cover with a few inches of soil. Locate the cold frame over the compost and heat from below will keep the soil and plants warm.

Cold frames must be watched carefully for cold is not the only danger. On a sunny day the heat in a closed cold frame can shrivel up tender seedlings in a very short time. So you must be prepared to remove or prop open cold frame covers on a sunny day and even provide shade using netting or cheesecloth if necessary.


Pruning Form For Fun

Notes From the Gardener



Say the word "pruning" and most gardeners conjure up images of shaping arborvitae hedges with electric clippers. Or perhaps they envision trimming an apple tree.

I look at "pruning" as an art form that not only helps the environment of your garden, but creates a beautiful landscape at the same time. They don't call me "Richard Scissor-Hands" for nothin'!

Here at the farm I have been pruning the native trees and shrubbery for many years. I particularly enjoy working with hemlock and beech trees, as their fast growth habit makes for a quicker result visually.

Creating shapes from native trees takes time and patience but the rewards are many. For the organic gardener, the attraction these plantings have for songbirds is a primary benefit. Not only are you creating cover and nesting sites to attract these lovely birds, they in turn thank you by eating a lot of harmful insects and giving free concerts!

Another benefit of pruning is what I term the "winter garden" that is created. As the bleak landscape of the long winter season here unfolds, you start to see the defined shapes of the pruned trees. Instead of flowers and foliage to gaze at, you have a "garden of form" to attract the eye.

Pruning is not difficult, but it is time consuming. You must look at the long picture. It can take several years to define your native "topiary" into a form that is appealing.

Native hemlock trees are perhaps the easiest to form. They are very tolerant of pruning and branch and fill out rapidly. I have experimented with young trees and old here at the farm, with very different results. By topping a more mature tree, then gradually shaping the lower branches, you can end up with an "umbrella" tree. The one in our front yard is a lovely place to stand under and gaze at the summer garden - you don't get wet if it's raining and it's thick shade is a cool place to retreat to on a hot day.

Penny often chuckles at our "Dr. Seuss" tree in the far garden. I created it from a moderate sized hemlock by removing the top and several of the lower branches. I then trimmed all the foliage from the center, leaving "tufts" of foliage at the ends of the branches. Over time and with a bit of trimming, the "tufts" have filled out and created an oriental look that is very startling in winter. Young hemlocks are easily pruned into hedges or shaped gradually into more whimsical forms.

The native beech and oak trees are also easily pruned. Where a larger tree has been removed I simply allow the "suckers" to grow from the old roots. These in turn can be shaped into unique forms by gradually removing unwanted growth and some attentive topping and trimming. This young growth can also be attractively twisted or braided together (do this while the leaves are off) to create unusual trunks over time.

The beech trees hold their leaves into the winter and give a touch of relief to a drab landscape.

A good strong pair of pruning shears is a must for this project, as well as lopping shears (for heavier growth) and an over-head saw is very helpful to reach higher limbs as time progresses. Plan to spend time on this project. I like to wander in the fall garden, shears in hand and take a good look at the forms. Think about what you would like to do with this plant. Envision what it will look like five years from now. Then start to trim, just as you would a house-plant, cutting back to signs of new growth to create branching or removing branches that "cross" to promote the health of the shrub.

Have patience. Plan ahead. Take the time to stand back and view the tree. Work with what nature gives you, rather than forcing a form. The rewards are not immediate on this type of project, but I promise that you will enjoy your native shrubs for many years to come.

Happy Pruning!