Cold Frames

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Welcome to Good Dirt Radio, reporting on positive solutions….taking root.

Its no secret that grocery store food prices are on the rise, the quality of industrial produce is often low and that home grown food can save energy, money and promote natural health.  Like our ancestors, citizens across America are relearning how to garden in city and country backyards, creating local harvests for themselves and their families.  And one way they’re doing it is with small, covered, raised garden beds, rich, clean dirt and removable glass tops… called cold frames.  Proponents claim they’re a simple and inexpensive way to grow food at home, with extended growing seasons.

Paula Lutz is a residential gardener who says her cold frames give huge payback for the money and help connect curious kids and neighbors who stop by to see how to build their own.  She reports building her covered gardens with mostly salvaged materials and little money.

Lutz:    Cost wise, I would guess there’s maybe $30 per cold frame and we have 2 cold frames.  So, short of being a greenhouse or a dome, this is the next way to go.  You know my investments were seeds and that’s very cheap and I still have some that I can reuse next year.  So, it was just huge and I’m not going down to the grocery store two or three times a week either and that’s real beneficial and coming up here and spending time in the garden. And I still have onions for the fall.  I still have quite a bit to take in.  So, its been really rewarding in that sense for us. And it felt good.

But cold frames can also be a bigger, walk-in structure as Bill Millener, a contractor in SW Colorado has created, also using mostly used materials.

Millener:   I basically designed the cold frame around the materials that I had.  I had to order some plastic panels that are for a greenhouse for the roof.  I had to buy some glue lams, as you can see and the block was all left over from job sites.  The windows all came off one big job here. But other than that, I have probably have, oh, three or four hundred dollars into something that’s almost 200 square feet.  The whole area grows things so well that in that 200 feet I’m probably producing as much as I am in the rest of my whole garden which is a couple thousand feet.

Millener prefers his produce to store bought veggies and distributes his extra goods in an old fashioned way, based on trust.

Millener:  Once you’ve grown a little bit of food at your house, you realize right away, gee, this tastes a little bit different than what it is I’m buying in the store. We ended up growing so much food that we put a little card table up at the street and we seem to be supplying food for all of our neighbors now and everybody comments on the difference in the flavor and taste.  And its all on the honor system and, honestly, I think that people put more money in there than they should.

But cold frame designs, like farming techniques, are adapted to local conditions. Asha Stout, from Prescott, AZ, is an entrepreneur in the field of economic sustainability who says simplicity makes it easier than you might think, to grow food. Instead of a raised bed system, Stout dug his cold frame into the ground and made it very low-tech… but productive.

Stout:   They’re beautiful because they’re so inexpensive.  In northern Arizona, we just dug a pit in the ground about the size of a refrigerator and had sloped up the sides and just set a sliding glass door window over the top of it.  Bam!  That’s it. That’s our cold frame.  Under $10, we’re done.  Added months to our growing season and way boosted our production. What happens is the sun comes in and then it hits and it stores that heat in the earth right there, helping prolong your growing season and really creating a high density little garden that you can water efficiently.  If you’ve got too much heat or steam goin’ on in there, just lift the window up a little, set a board or something under it and just spray it real quick with the hose.  You can get all your plants in that one little cubic yard.  What’s exciting is the return on investment is huge!  And the food that we pick from our own back yards that we’ve cared for with our own energy and our own love is just so much more nourishing and rewarding. It just feels so good to eat fresh and eat local.

Cold frames and covered growing beds of all types can help create a dollar saving, sustainable alternative to industrial produce that is often grown with pesticides and trucked long distance to your local store. Cold framers say they’re well worth the small investment in time and money and can be built with widely available reused, recycled materials, including wood, glass and stone.  Please visit our website at for links and related information on how you can get involved with creating a local fresh food currency right in your own back yard.

Change Happens….from the bottom up… when millions of people change their minds. We encourage you to find issues you care about and get involved in the shift toward sustainability.

I’m Tami Graham and I’m Tom Bartels.  Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio….digging up good news….for a change.

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