An Inexpensive Cold Frame

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Here is an inexpensive cold frame that you can use to start seeds that is quick, easy and doesn’t take up a lot of space; which is perfect for someone just starting out growing a garden.

We were perusing the aisles one day at Walmart when I noticed they had put some seeds out and I was surprised to see them out so soon. I said to my wife, “We should grab some seeds and get some hardy things started in a cold frame.”

Her response, “You don’t have a cold frame.”

Point taken.

I started wandering around the store to see what I could use, and a couple aisles over; I found the perfect item. Walmart was having a closeout sale on Christmas tree storage totes.

So I grabbed one, a couple of different types of hardy seeds, some Jiffy starter pellets and a cheap 99 cent thermometer.

When I got home; I set the tote on my front patio upside down; an instant cold-frame! Sometimes I amaze myself, but my wife still questions the level of my ingeniousness.

I put the thermometer inside the tote to monitor the temperatures and let it set for several hours in the sun. When I checked on it later in the day; the outside temperature was 30 degrees and the interior of the tote was registering 70 degrees. This might just work!

After monitoring the temperatures inside your cold frame for several days; making sure they are acceptable; you can start your seedlings. I have been able to maintain almost 90 degrees in February with a 25 degree outside temperature and twenty mph wind.

We have utilized the tote over the last several years, and here are a couple things we have learned.

Since my patio is cement; I usually lay a heavy blanket down to act as thermal barrier between my cold frame and the slab.

Organize your peat discs; or whatever other starting medium you are using; and pour some warm water into the lid.

Replace the thermometer and lid on the tote and monitor the discs over the next few days.

Once they have expanded to one and a half inches tall, drain the water and plant some hardy early variety of seeds.

It’s always good to have a couple extra blankets on hand; just in case you have an extreme drop in temperature over night; they will help retain some heat.

You never know when this is going to happen; especially here in Maine.

For those that want an even cheaper method; you can utilize tires and window panes to act as cold frames. We utilize these to get our soil ready to plant potatoes in early spring, and to get a jump on the growing season. Stop by your local window installer; they should have a pile of old windows out back that is just waiting to be picked up by the trash company.


Good luck with your gardening goals!