Well it’s our first week in Alaska and it’s already a flurry of unpacking, organizing and getting our actual homestead set up. Of course the first thing that I want to do is get my hands dirty! This spring has been most unusual with the lack of farm animals and gardening to refresh my soul. Moving from our small hay farm in Colorado to our forest homestead in Alaska meant no animals and no planting or gardening this spring. It was a springtime of packing, packing and wait for it… more packing. This has left me a very confused farm girl as I am accustomed to have my hands in the dirt and farm babies to enjoy long before May. Babies will have to wait this year, as we have too many other things that need our focus but getting a garden started was first priority.
And while I am missing my greenhouse in Colorado,
I am equally excited to try out my new cold frame boxes.
We built 2 cold frame style raised garden beds and one regular raised bed so that I can get a jumpstart on getting some produce on the table and some root crops stored up for winter.
The beauty of a cold frame system is that not only can you recreate a greenhouse effect for starting plants early and protecting them from a late spring frost (which in Alaska can happen at anytime,) you also can also harness that same greenhouse effect late into the fall, extending your growing season by, once again, closing those boxes up to protect from early frosts. It also provides some protection from deer (or perhaps in my case caribou or moose.)
As you know, one of the most important keys to living with a homestead state of mind is learning to use what you have on hand rather than running off to the store for the perfect materials or ingredients. Sometimes this results in not having the prettiest Pinterest perfect project, but you will save a ton of money and are using up valuable materials rather than creating waste.
If you google or do a Pinterest search for “cold frames” you will see that the options are endless. The concept is so simple that you really can tailor the boxes to your specific needs & plants and use materials that you already have on hand.
In our case, we bought tin siding from the home improvement store for the boxes, and were able to just use materials we already had on hand for the rest. We had two glass doors, although we don’t really remember where we acquired them, and some scrap pieces of polycarbonate siding from our greenhouse in Colorado that we brought with us just for this type of project. My mountain man, bless him, dug through the scrap wood pile left here by the previous owners and that provided us with the lumber we needed to make it all work. (Had we not had scrap wood lying around, we could have harvested a few small trees for the corner posts instead… we have quite a few.)
DIY Cold-frame Raised Garden Beds
- If you are using glass doors or windows, measure your tin and cut it according to the size of the glass you will be using. The glass doors that we wanted to use for the lids, were 7 foot long, so 7 foot beds is what he built.
- Cut four posts or boards for the corners of your boxes and cut the top of the board at an angle that will accommodate the height and slope of your cold frame lid. If you want to have taller boxes so that mature plants can be closed inside in the fall, you will also need to extend the height of your box above the raised bed depth. We used the polycarbonate siding for the sides to allow more light into the box.
- Nail or Screw your tin to your boards creating the base for your raised bed. Add polycarbonate sides around the top of the tin if desired.
- Place your lid on top. This was part of the beauty of using old glass doors for the lid of our boxes. With hinges already built into the door, we were able to screw them right into place with no further modifications. If you aren’t using a glass door, you can build a hinge on the back side or even build your cold frame lid to be lifted off of the raised bed rather than using the hinged lid design.
- If you are using tin or another flexible material for the sides of your box, reinforce the sides of your boxes so that the weight and pressure of the soil does not bulge out the sides. We used a rebar spike (concrete stakes from our last shop building project) on either side of the bed for reinforcement.
- Fill with your favorite soil mixture (6-12” depth is all you need for most plants, 12-18” for root vegetables.)
- Start planting!
There is no reason to wait to get started with a project like this because you don’t have a lot of time or money for fancy materials. Just look around at what you have and see what you can do with it! More often than not, you will have something that you can work with and that will keep supplies purchased to a minimum. Believe me, if you are going into the whole “homestead” or farm life expecting everything to be perfectly Pinterest perfect, you will go broke in no time. 🙂