Around my house, I’m always looking for ways to keep things out of the trash. Whether that means recycling, reducing or reusing objects in new ways, if it can stay out of the bin, I’m thrilled. Just as Kate’s new Treasure Hunting column shows ways of re-imagining items, I’m always trying to give new life to, or “upcycle,” what might otherwise be seen as waste. This intention is evident in my turning an unused metal gate from a dog crate into a rack for my earrings. It’s also manifest in my using cast-off marble headstones as benches around our outdoor fire pit (my home’s former owner worked part-time at a nearby cemetery, a cheeky bit of lore we always delight in sharing!).
In the spirit of keeping things in use (and out of the landfill), today’s Small Measures suggests repurposing old window frames in the form of a cold frame. As it’s name indicates, a cold frame is differentiated from a greenhouse, which is kept warm at all times. Consisting of a transparent cover, cold frames capture emitted sunlight and, as enclosed units, prevent the escape of heat. These devices permit a bit of a jump start on the growing season, and can be situated directly on the ground or, as is the case in my cold frame shown above, on a solid surface. — Ashley
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Cold frames are typically placed against an existing heated structure. The residual heat from the home helps in capturing and maintaining heat inside the frame while simultaneously providing a wind break. As such, the air and soil temperatures within the structure will be several degrees higher than those in the exposed environment. While most cold frames are used to house seedlings that will later be transplanted into garden beds, some models are placed directly over soil and used to grow crops within them.
This past October, my husband and I finally got around to replacing some highly inefficient windows in our 1930s bungalow. We hung on to the old windows, intending to build a cold frame, which we finally did just the other day (the gorgeous warm weather we’ve been having here in western NC served as the prompt!). After screwing the windows into one another atop a plywood-sheet base, we topped the frame off with a piece of plexiglass found at a nearby building supply store. A bit of wood was added to create a pitch (for rainwater runoff), hinges were attached for opening the “doors” (we opted for cabinet-style front-entry doors, as opposed to a top entry), and knobs were affixed for ease of access. The entire frame was placed against our house on its south-facing side to optimize sunlight exposure and provide a buffer.
While the parameters of the frame I made were dictated by the measurements of the windows on hand, a similar model could easily be created using a window of any size. Architectural salvage stores and used building materials resale shops (such as Habitat for Humanity) are great sources for scoring old windows. Craigslist, Freecycle and local classified ads are other places to search. My frame was made with windows on all four sides to capture as much light as possible. It’s also customary to use wood panels on the sides (raised 1 to 2 feet off the ground) and to top off the frame with a window. You can see a version of one such model on this Instructables page.
If you’d like to grow crops in-ground using a cold frame, lettuces, spinach, carrots, radishes, parsley, chives and scallions all do remarkably well. If, like me, you intend to use the frame for starting seeds this spring, you can get a real leg up on growing warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. Should temperatures take a serious dip, though, you’ll need to insulate your frame overnight using a heavy blanket or some burlap (see if local coffee roasters in your area would be willing to unload some of their burlap bags on you). Also, it’s important to vent the frame during particularly sunny days, otherwise your plants could be burned by the sun’s penetrating rays. This can easily be achieved either by using a wooden stake to prop open the top or by shimmying a wedge of wood under the cover. Just remember to close the frame back up in the evening.
What about you? Got any cold-frame wisdom to share? Repurposed-window tales to tell? I’d love to hear about it!