Monthly Archives: April 2013

How I built our DIY cold frames

The south-facing side of the garage presented a great opportunity to take advantage of one of the warmest and most protected spots on the property. It was also a totally unused space that was just begging for attention :) It provided us with approximately 20' length x 4' depth of cold frame growing space.

The south-facing side of the garage presented a great opportunity to take advantage of one of the warmest and most protected spots on the property. It was also a totally unused space that was just begging for attention :) It provided us with approximately 20′ length x 4′ depth of cold frame growing space.

Growing edibles outdoors in the Pacific Northwest is easy in the summer, but is greatly enhanced throughout the rest of the year with the help of protective structures like greenhouses, poly tunnels, and cold frames. Last year, we had none of these when we started getting seedlings going which meant that we didn’t have harvestable food until late June/ early July. Since our desire is to grow more of our own food ourselves and to partially support our lifestyle with market sales, I knew that building some early growing spaces would be key this year and that DIY cold frames would be easy and affordable structures to start with.

I actually built these back in January, but have been holding off on featuring them in a blog post until they had some good-sized plants growing in them. That said, now is still a great time to build some of these for yourself. Our weather is still very iffy and there are lots of seedlings that will do better in these right now than out in the open.

Check out how awesome our bok choi and kale seedlings are looking in their cold frame!

I’d had the idea to put some cold frames in this location for over a year now. I’ve parked them against the south-facing wall of the garage. It gets a ton of sun and it seemed like a major lost-opportunity not to grow something against it. However, digging into the ground next to it wasn’t an option since it consists of years of driveway-spread gravel. Being thoughtful about the locations of things is important. I knew that this space had major sunlight and heat potential, that it would provide early seedlings with a great starting-out space, that it would provide heat-lovers like tomatoes and basil a mid-season living spot, and that it would serve as a close-to-the-home growing spot for winter greens. So, how to start? I choose the library.

I found a book at the library with lots of DIY garden projects in it, including the blueprints and instructions for these cold frames. These were the first construction project that I completed entirely by myself (from finding the design, picking up supplies at the hardware store, and building with power tools) and I’ve gotta say, I was feeling pretty darn capable and satisfied with myself while I worked on them in the garage in January, complete with a parka, gloves and a tuque.

So, here are the basic details (which are pretty flexible depending on if you’re using materials you just have lying around – some of which we had which is why the cold frames aren’t totally uniform in size). For one cold frame I used:

  • a 8′ x 4′ piece of untreated plywood (I chose untreated to avoid the chemicals in it, however, since these will be living outdoors, it may have been an unwise choice. I still painted the exteriors black for heat absorption – chemicals anyways, and lined the insides with poly plastic to protect the wood – which would have in turn protected the seedlings and soil from chemical treatments. So, not sure what would have been the best route to go with that).
  • approx. 50′ of 2x2s
  • poly plastic ( a 4.5′ x 5.5′ piece for the lid) and more if you want to line the inside with it.
  • 2 hinges
  • screws
  • corner brackets (optional)

The 8′ x 4′ piece of plywood provides everything you need for the walls of a 5′ wide x 4′ deep cold frame (see my very unprofessional drawing below :). The cold frame sits 2′ high at the high end and 1′ high at the front, low end. The 2x2s are used to build the frame of the lid and to fit inside each interior corner as well as along the interior base of the cold frame. I used 2×2 scraps for handles on the sides of the cold frames (easier to lift – with one person on each end), and for the handle on the lid. There are no bottoms to the cold frames – I just lined the gravel and weedy ground with cardboard and then layered natural mulching materials (I used straw and chicken coop shavings) inside the cold frames, followed by compost, and topped with soil.

These are the cuts I made on a 8' x 4' piece of plywood. The upper left piece formed the back of the cold frame, the lower right piece is the front of the cold frame, and the two pieces on the right formed the sides of the cold frames (1' ends being at the front and the 2' ends being at the back).

I realize my ‘instructions’ aren’t super instructional, but if you’re interested in building some of these for yourself and have more questions, feel free to leave your questions in the comment section of this blog post and I’ll respond with more details.

In conclusion though, these cold frames have been great so far! As you can see, our greens are growing great in them – much more robust than those that are planted in trays in our poly tunnel because their roots have so much room to spread out and absorb nutrients. I’m excited to make use of them all year long, and am now inspired to think up some other fun cold frame-y projects to create.

A shot with one of the lids in the closed position.

And another shot of them, all in a row.

One last thing…something I didn’t do, but which would have enhanced these (and which Chris suggested to me, but I was too impatient to start using them to take his advice) would have been to paint the interiors white to reflect the sun back at the plants. Next time… :)

Our first farmers market of the year this Saturday!

2013 Earth Day poster

















This Saturday marks the first Haney Farmers Market (Maple Ridge’s market) of the year and we’ll be there! It coincides with Maple Ridge’s Earth Day events, so although the market is our favorite part of the event, there will be lots of other things to see and do as well, including listening to our very own Chris Moerman play some live music!

It’s early in the year so we won’t have a huge number of edibles at our table, but we will have a few freshly-harvested things to munch on, some potted plants for you to add to your own garden, and some chemical-free cut flowers for your kitchen table. Here’s what you can expect to see at our booth this Saturday:

  • fresh herbs, including lovage, chives, mint, sage, and oregano
  • kale
  • nettle leaves (if Chris doesn’t eat them all first!)
  • pac choi
  • yu choi sum
  • potted kale starts
  • potted swiss chard starts
  • onion starts
  • potted comfrey
  • cut tulips

The market will run from 10am-2pm, alongside the Earth Day events, at Memorial Peace Park on 224th in Maple Ridge. We hope to see you there!

In the press! Country Life in BC article

press imageFor the second time in two years, writer Ronda Payne has written an article about our farming project. The first article was an interview with myself about the original ‘Farm for a Year’ project. Almost a year and a half later, Ronda returned to interview both Chris and I about our move into the market gardening business. The article isn’t online, so I’ve reprinted it here for readers. Thanks again Ronda for helping us share our story!

Small scale ag experiment morphs into Farm for Life
by Ronda Payne
Country Life in BC, April 2013 Issue

MAPLE RIDGE – Small scale farmers are proving they can make, and are making, a difference in the push for food sustainability and local agriculture. In 2011, an ambitious “Farm for a Year” project in Maple Ridge saw a handful of young adults, relatively inexperienced in agriculture, feed their families while learning and applying a variety of farming tactics.

Now, well past the one year end point, a number of things have changed but the drive to continue learning and farming locally has persisted. The farm continues to be an educational environment with a number of students from pre-school to adult eager to learn about farming methods and practices.

With an expanded land base under production, the team is growing produce to sell at the local Haney Farmers’ Market (special opening April 20, regular markets start the first Saturday in May) as well as to support the fledgling Golden Ears Food Co-op.

“Our priority will be to sell at the farmers’ market where we can interact directly with our customers and get top dollar for our produce,” says Jocelyn Durston, who was responsible for the original proposal to farm the two and a half acre hobby farm her friends live on. “But we will definitely be interested in supplying the co-op with fresh produce as our supplies allow.”

As Farm for Life evolved, group members changed. Durston, her childhood friend Julie Clarke and Clarke’s husband, Chris Moerman, stayed involved. The couple’s young son Kai is continually learning the ways of farming. A new member, Durston’s partner, Chris Kasza, also came on board.

“Our common interest in permaculture is what brought us together,” notes Durston of her relationship with Kasza and his ultimate arrival on the farm.

Kasza has been an instrumental addition due to his extensive permaculture and master gardener education. He and Durston take on the lion’s share of the work in keeping the farm operational and participation in production gardening is theirs alone.

“The market garden is just Chris and I,” Durston says. “Chris (Moerman) is primarily interested in the fruit trees and the perennials.”

The arrangement is ideal. Durston and Kasza have modified their lifestyle to allow for more time to manage farm activities. Moerman and Clarke balance off-farm jobs with contributing as much as they can to the growth and advancement of the farm which includes the orchard, production gardens, animals, herbs and a healthy dose of permaculture-based planning.

In fact, Durston and Moerman recently signed up for a 14 month Permaculture Design Course (PDC) certification to further their understanding of how plants work together to create a more positive environment for growing.

With the move to join the farmers’ market, more land was needed. One plot was obvious – a location Kasza had already been using. The second, another off-site plot of raised beds, is the sunniest region of the combined acre under production, but for off-site production, planting had to be carefully considered.

“What we plant there took big thought,” notes Kasza. “We can’t get there every day in the summer.”

Other changes on the farm have included the rabbits becoming pets rather than a meat source and the chickens and ducks being used for egg production as well as pest control.

“Muscovy and Indian runner ducks are the best at eating slugs,” Kasza says. “The Indian runners are less interested in the destruction of the plants.”

The small orchard has moved, and a polytunnel greenhouse was erected. The poly was not the first choice in material, but it was a necessity with its position on top of a new septic field.

“We had to be sensitive to the fact it was over the septic field,” says Durston about the choice of materials, methods of construction and weight.

When asked what visitors to the farmers’ market can expect, the response was a list of standard vegetables, but according to the pair, that’s what people are asking for.

“People were looking for specific classic items, like carrots,” comments Kasza.

That doesn’t stop them from doing a few unique things like including edible flowers in their mixed salad greens. There is also a healthy dose of exploration.

“We suffer from a broad interest in trying new varietals,” Kasza jokes.

“Farm for a Year became Farm for Life about a year and a half in,” explains Durston. “It became apparent that I wasn’t leaving. It is our second year selling at the market (and operation a small production garden). It’s interesting; I want to grow food for life, but I also want to grow food in a life giving way to improve food sustainability and availability.”