How to Build a Simple & Inexpensive Cold Frame to Extend the Growing Season
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How to Build a Simple & Inexpensive Cold Frame to Extend the Growing Season

September 24, 2019

If you’re new to season extension, the cheapest and easiest way to get started is with a cold frame. Today I’ll show you how to build a simple cold frame using an old storm window and some leftover wood. Before getting started, let’s take a look at a few of the cold frames I’ve built over the years and the materials I used. This first one, right here, is probably one of the first ones I ever built, and right now it has broken glass top, but I’ll fix that with some greenhouse tape. This was made entirely from re-purposed materials. And this one, also made from re-purposed materials, has a storm windows as the top. And this one has the shelf from an old refrigerator as the top. And we actually have some more of these refrigerator shelves to make more cold frames this size. Now let’s take a look at the materials I’ll be using to build today’s cold frame. Okay, today I’m using lumber left over from a raised bed build. I’ve got a 2 by 8 for the front panel, and a 2 by 12 for the back panel. This will give the top of the cold frame a slope toward the sun. I also have some lumber here for the side panels. And I’m using an old storm window we got from the neighbor when they put in new windows. The storm window is 24 and a half by 26 and a half inches. The longer dimension will correspond to the back panel. Now, it just so happens this piece of wood for the back panel is 27 and a quarter inches, which is a little bit bigger than the window, but that’s just about right. Because I don’t want the window to go all the way to the edge of the frame. So, the first thing I want to do is now cut the 2 by 8 to the same length as the back panel. To do that, I’ll simply lay the back panel on top of the front panel, and mark with a pencil where I’ll need to cut, so they’ll both be the same length. And now cut. I’m very limited on space here, so I set some 2 by 4 spacers underneath the board, and I’ve set the depth of the blade so that won’t cut into the table. Okay, now we have front and back panels cut to the same length. Next I’ll cut the side panels, which will taper down from the height of the 2 by 12 back panel to the 2 by 8 front panel. Ordinarily, I’d use a 2 by 12 for this purpose, but I didn’t have any scrap 2 by 12 left over. So, Instead, I joined together two pieces of wood for the side panels, and I’ll cut those to size. The window dimension that I need to match with our side panels is 24 and a half inches. But because I don’t want the window to reach all the way to the edge of the frame, I’m going to add another an inch to that, so the dimension comes to 25 and a half inches. And here’s where it gets a little tricky. The side panel will sit between the front and back panels, so I have to account for the fact that I have three inches of wood there – one and half inch in the back 1 1/2 inches in the back and 1 1/2 inches in front, and I need to subtract that out to get my final cut for the side panels. So, 25 and a half minus three is twenty two and a half inches for the side panels. If that seems confusing to you right now, don’t worry. I’ll show you once the cold frame is built how a 22 and a half inch cut here will give us a side panel of twenty-five and a half inches. And I’ll cut the second side panel to the same length. Okay, the side panels are cut to length now. Now we need to cut them so that they taper down from the height of the two by twelve to the height of the two by eight. To do that, I’ll simply place the two by twelve on and mark the height of the two by twelve on the side panel. I’ll put the two by eight on the other side and mark that height. Then I’ll draw a line connecting the two and that will be where I make my tapered cut. Okay, I drew the same cut line on the second side panel, and now I’m ready to cut both panels. With the side panels cut, you can start to see how this is coming together. I’ve got the 2 by 12 back panel, side panels that taper down from the 2 by 12 to the 2 by 8 front panel, And I’ve got the cut side of the side panel down. My next step is to drill pilot holes in the back panel and front panel. I’ll be using a countersink bit to make sure I don’t split the wood. Okay now let’s start connecting the panels, which may be a little tricky on this small table. I’ve got the board upside down, because this will allow me to push down and make sure that I have a flush connection at the top of the coal frame, which is actually down here. By the way, these are three inch deck screws that I’m using. Make sure it’s flush. Looks good. All right. Now I’ll attach the second side panel using the same method, and I’ll be back to you when I’m finished. All right, the panels are all connected. There’s just one last thing to finish this cold frame. To make sure that the glass doesn’t slide off, I’m gonna put two little roofing nails right here in the front just to make sure it stays in place. Now let’s see how the storm window fits Perfect! Just as planned. Now let’s move this to a garden bed to finish today’s video. Once again, the cut side of the cold frame is the bottom, and the uncut side is the top. Okay, now less re-visit the issue I talked about earlier regarding the side panel length. Hey, Oscar! You may recall the window is 24 and a half inches. I cut this to 22 and a half inches, which is shorter, of course. But as you can see, the extra 3 inches added by the front and back panels give us plenty of space. In fact, we have an extra inch, or a half inch on both sides. I hope that clarifies that Now let’s talk about how I’m going to use this. I use cold frames to extend the growing season for cool weather crops into the fall and winter, and to get an early start in the spring for both cool weather crops and frost sensitive crops. In the fall, a cold frame this size is perfect for lettuce, spinach, carrots, and compact kale varieties. I’ll start these same crops early in the spring in cold frames, but I’ll also start tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash in cold frames early. This fall I won’t cover the cold frames at all until temperatures start dipping below freezing. At that point, I’ll be very careful to vent the cold frames to avoid overheating. I’ll remove the lids or vent them on all days that are above freezing. And I’ll vent on sunny days, even when it’s below freezing. The biggest threat to cool weather crops in cold frames in the fall and early winter is overheating. So, I’ll err on the side of being too cold rather than too hot. I’ll release a video on my approach to venting soon and when it’s available put a link here. If you found this video helpful, please give it a thumbs up. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe more videos on how to grow a lot of food on a little land without spending much or working harder than you have to Let’s go inside, Bud. That was fun. You all right? Another attack. Another attack coming. Oh! Good boy! Oh, my goodness! Oh yeah, somebody’s gonna come take care of business.

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  1. Step by Step Instructions:
    0:45 Materials: storm window, 2 by 12 for back and side panels, 2 by 8 for front panel, sixteen 3" deck screws, two roofing nails
    1:14 Cut front & back panels to 3/4" to 1" wider than storm window
    2:15 Cut 2 by 12 side panels to length
    2:34 Length of side panel = window length + 1" – 3"
    3:46 Cut 2 by 12 side panels from width of 2 by 12 back panel to width of 2 by 8 front panel (the cut side will be the bottom of the cold frame)
    4:46 Drill pilot holes with countersink bit (5 on each side of back panel and 3 on each side of front panel)
    5:31 Connect panels with sixteen 3" deck screws (5 on each side of back panel and 3 on each side of front panel)
    6:28 Drive 2 roofing nails near front edge of front panel to hold storm window in place
    6:57 Place storm window on frame

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  2. Oscar says "Who cares about cold frames Human! It is I, Oscar the mighty hunter!… Dog goes Woof!, and the mighty hunter goes What was that? Run for your lives! Lol
    Impeccable timing as always Patrick! New garden plans have been running thru my mind all day! This was the piece of resistance…in a manner of speaking….thanks again for your hard work!

  3. I have always been intimidated about building cold frames, due to the slanting of the sides. After watching your video, which was very informative and easy to comprehend, I do believe I could build one now. Thank you so much, Patrick, for ALL you help. Love little Oscar.

  4. You always seem to have the best timing with your videos. We just came into some old windows and are looking to build some cold frames out of them. Thanks again!

  5. Seeing the wood placed directly on the ground seems like it would lead to it rotting quickly. I think in one of your earlier videos you stated that you get about 3 seasons out of them like this? I guess the game is to keep a supply of re-purposed lumber and replace a few each season? Also — that leftover piece after the tapered cut — do you ever use those pieces to attach to a non-tapered plank as a quick way to make a tapered plank? You could actually just make one tapered side and then use that left over piece to make the other tapered side — or are the dimensions wrong?

  6. Nice! The only thing I'D have done differently would be to leave the full 'pressure treated' 2X4 lumber uncut and sloped the other side. Also, I tend use to use a LOT of 'salvaged' oak from selected pallets. Lasts WAY longer than Doug Fir. But still, well done Patrick, WELL done.

  7. simple and effective. Very nice sir!

    I need to make a cold frame for some raised beds and your design looks about perfect for what I'd like to do. I'll need to upsize it to cover my 4×8 beds… hmm, need to think about that one for a bit.

    Btw, I especially like the fact that there are no hinges. Simple solutions for the win!

  8. hey man, i gotta say you might be my favourite youtube gardener. i've learned so much from your evidence based gardening methods and am doing my best with my tiny inner suburban front yard here in australia. thanks for all the great information delivered in a matter of fact but warm manner.

  9. Excellent video as usual! I've been using cold frames for years (on my 4 ft sq beds). My covers are a little more complex, simply because I always make things more complicated than they need to be. Sigh. While you alluded to it in your video, one must pay particular attention to venting the frames anytime the sun is shining – I've had several instances of "roasted seedlings" to relay this experience. Cheers.

  10. Excellent job. I have saved some old windows just for this purpose. Ocar is so adorable. Thank you for sharing. I have never grown in a cold frame. With your sage advice I plan to achieve this objective.;)

  11. I have one cold frame my husband built for me.It has hinges on it and I prop it open with a stick.I like the way
    you made yours as well.Hope everyone gets inspired with your video, they really are nice to have.

  12. Enjoy your informative videos, thank you. QUESTION: would you have a link to a reasoiece ro calculate the angle of the glass for different zones?

  13. Your channel must be the only one where I habitually laugh out loud when watching – Oscar attacking the leg, so cool. Great easy to follow instructions on how to build a cold frame, thanks for sharing.

  14. Great video. They look very attractive, and easy to make too, thanks! 🙂 I'm not the most confident builder, but this I think I could manage. Not even hinges! Easy solutions that work are the best. Haha, Oscar is such a viscious killer 😀 Thanks for the continued inspiration Patrick.

  15. Great video. Question: Will you start seeds in cold frames outside as well versus inside under a grow light and heated area?

  16. Hello from Mc Henry! Thank you for posting this vid, cold frames are exactly what I need! 😍 my SIL is on the 4700 n. Kilpatrick block, she has 6 hens, so if you need chicken poop for composting, lmk,, 😝 Thanks for all your vids, I've really learned a lot, I'm going on my 5th year of organic gardening and I LOVE IT! Xoxo

  17. Thank's for all the inspiring videos you do, Patrick. They are filled with lots of helpful info and instructions. I just love watching them and where I live on the westcoast in Sweden is very much comparable to Chicago, so this winter I will certainly try to grow vegetables in a hoop house and cold frames ….. 🌱🐛🐝🦋🐞🌿

  18. I am hopefully going to be building my own cold frames for the first time soon and this was very helpful. Thanks for posting it!

  19. Watching you use the two by eight reminds me of when I build raised beds at my mom's house. I think the wood is still there but it's severely warped.

  20. If i may ask: any benefit directly related to the plants — of a cold frame vs low tunnel, or is it all about mobility of the frame and ease of cost and fabrication? Cheers man, love the channel.

  21. Thank you for the informative videos! I will be trying to watch my yard this year to find out where I can put a winter garden. I'm in Michigan, and my summer veggie patch is in our backyard, which is the north side of our home right up against the house. We have huge maple trees, too, that I tap for syrup, but otherwise shade out much of my yard, so I have a definite challenge on my hands for finding a spot that gets good sunlight!

  22. Excellent video Patrick. You may want to check a wood preservation method called Shou sugi ban. It's done either with a gas torch or a simple fire pit. It could help extend the life of the frames.

  23. Oh you make it look so simple. You are so inspiring. Sending you some flowers I grew earlier 🌸🌸🌸🌷🌸🌸🌸

  24. A frame built on one day, keeps the cold frost of many winter days away. ☝👍 Yes? ☺ (rhyming ditty mine, lol) Love your videos, P. Oscar is quite a feisty outdoors buddy, hahaha, but you're still gentle with him, I like that.

  25. Nice little build. I would ask how well it works but I have seen others just like it doing wonders in your garden 🙂 Thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. I am a only a 2nd year gardener and I want to make a cold frame. I have 2 windows which I was going to make a cold frame with. My question is if the cold frame actually needs to slope. If I can make it so it's flat.

  27. I love how you teach this! It's perfect for any amateur, or even for females who've never done this before! Very simple, i love it!

  28. You are the best gardening YouTuber out there. Don't ever stop! I appreciate your knowledge and expertise that you share for free. Hi from Green Bay, Wisc

  29. Another great video Patrick! Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise. I've been gathering some materials to re-purpose for my own cold frames! Did you ever release a video on venting your cold frames? I didn't see a link pop up at the end. Thanks again.

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