An update on the winter sowing and the hair on my knee.

Cold Frame
Before we get into the success (or not) of my winter sowing could we all just sit down for a moment and think about the hair on our knees. My knee. But I suspect probably your knee as well.

Do you, or do you not have one single hair poking out of your knee that you manage to miss every, SINGLE time you shave your legs?  I think you do.  I’d say at the moment mine is over half an inch long. Which, based on the growth rate of leg hair means it’s been growing for approximately a month.  Shaving every other day means 15 shaves.  So I have passed over this one single, solitary follicle 15 times.

And yet when I mow the lawn I hit the exact same, single rock every time.

The lawn is a mess at the moment right now by the way. It’s been so bizarrely cold nothing is growing still.  The lawn is a mess, the front yard is a mess, the porch is a mess.

But the cold frame?  The cold frame is lookin’ good.


Lee Valley Greenhouse Hinge
It was a disaster last fall/winter by the way. I didn’t water it, didn’t pay much attention to it and low and behold the plants inside it kind of croaked. Or so I thought.

Come this spring things started sprouting up. Because I wanted to keep these surprise plants alive I invested in a heat activated hinge from Lee Valley. It opens my cold frame when it hits a predetermined temperature inside (I set it to around 10 C) so the plants don’t cook. I never have to worry about running out to open the cold frame or running out to close it up. It’s all automatic.

Cold Frame Lettuce


A couple of weeks ago I took a look at the winter sowing I had done in plastic containers outside. They looked great. Everything sprouted, but I could see I was heading for disaster again. If I left the lids on by accident on a warm day the plants would all fry. That’s all it would take. One day of hot weather combined with my ineptitude. A totally likely combination.

Cold Frame Lettuce 2


So I transplanted all of my winter sowing into the cold frame with the heat activated hinge.  Lettuces like this great looking saw toothed mizuna.

Cold Frame Mizuna

Some Romaine, red and green leaf lettuces and more. MUCH more.

Cold Frame Lettuces

The entire lefthand side of the cold frame is filled with close to 100 beets that I transplanted from the winter sowing containers.
Cold Frame Beets

There’s Bull’s Blood, Cylindrical and Early Wonder.

Cold Frame Beets 2

The swiss chard are lookin’ cute …

Cold Frame Swiss Chard

… but the tomato plant is pretty sad. I brought it out as a seedling to see how it would do if I transplanted it into the cold frame and … it didn’t do well. It didn’t die but it certainly hasn’t thrived. The ones I left under the flourescent lights then hardened off like normal are about 6 times as large.
Cold Frame Tomato

The one and only thing that actually grew for me under neglected conditions in the frame this winter was Mache. A cold hearty lettuce. In fact it loves cold so much that it’s already gone to seed.

Cold Frame Mache

Some of these radishes came up from seeds I put down last fall and some of them are new. They’re pink, purple and white radishes which is almost as exciting as one day becoming skilled enough with a razor to get rid of that knee hair.

Cold Frame Radishes

And finally it’s the broccoli I said I’d never grow again. I’m nothing if not an exceptional liar.

These little plants were in need of water so they’re a bit wilty but they’re fine. I’ll be using row covers on them to make sure those little white moths don’t lay their dirty, dirty eggs on them. Because those eggs quickly hatch into cabbage worms that are so small you can’t even see them. Or taste them. Then they get a lot bigger and you still can’t see them.

Cold Frame Broccoli
So the winter sowing was a success because it did a great job of letting my seeds sprout exactly when the conditions were right.  From there they were moved into another success the cold frame.

All in all so far this growing season has been a success.  Just ask the hair on my knee.


  1. Vicky says:

    Pluck the buggar! The hair on my legs stopped growing about 5 years ago. Don’t know why and don’t care.

  2. Barbie says:

    First thing I did was pull up my pant leg to check my knee hair! LOLOL!

  3. Susan Whelan says:

    If I ever won the lottery the first place I would spend money is Lee Valley. Come to think of it, any time I have money the first place I spend it is Lee Valley. And not only do I not work at Lee Valley or have anything to do with them, other than a repository for my excess cash, they are half a country away from me which is sad.
    Knee hairs are much more palatable and far less likely to be noticed than the one inch chin hair that everybody can see but you. Happy menopause to all you reasonably hairless women! You can stop worrying about your leg hair because your legs get so veined you can’t see them but you’ll be checking your chin in the mirror three times a day. If Karen’s veggies grew as fast as facial hair on women she could feed the world.

  4. Stacy.P says:

    “I’m nothing if not an exceptional liar.” HA!
    Never say never! Broccoli is worth a second (thrird and maybe even a fourth) try!

  5. Safetydog says:

    That heat-activiated hinge is a great idea. I’ve thought about building a cold frame, but couldn’t imagine how temps would be controlled, especially if I’m not home all day.

    I also have a renegade hair, above my heel, so I never see it. Although it’s not as bad as the hair on my chin which I never see until it’s long and flowing.

  6. Erin says:

    Excellent cold frame success. I’m so glad you’re giving broccoli another shot. Like everything else fresh from the garden, it tastes so amazing – so much better than store bought.

    My cold frame was in a similar state of disaster last fall. I had planted it with spinach, then left it open at the wrong time and the puppy dug it all up. This spring I replanted … more spinach. Now all of the seeds past and present are coming up and I’ll soon transplant half of them to other parts of the garden. And have a salad.

    Speaking of sprouting when conditions are right – have you tried purple orach? It’s a green (that’s burgundy coloured) you can use like spinach or chard. I’ve had good success getting it to reseed the past few winters. It’s coming up all over. I just gave some little seedlings to the chickens and they went bonkers.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Karen says:

      No, I haven’t tried that Erin. But I have to say I have never had great success with spinach for some reason so maybe I’ll give this purple orach a shot! Thx. ~ karen

  7. Cred says:

    I’m envious of your fledgling veggies, not so much the knee hair. I have my own crop- I usually miss a few every time.
    It’s the first spring/summer in this house with many surrounding trees, I have no idea where the light will fall yet. I hate waiting- can’t wait to grow some greens.

  8. marilyn says:

    it could be worse..the hair could be on your face! and i love mache

  9. nicole d says:

    HOLD THE PHONE… you shave every other day!? ha! HOW do you have time for that!?! haha…
    i shaved my legs earlier this week… for the first time in … 2 months. I know… pathetic, but this ever growing preggo belly of mine makes it slightly more inconvenient… or at least thats the excuse I’m using, and sticking to. :)

    • Karen says:

      LOL. I just can’t stand the feel of hair on my legs. Especially when it’s growing in and gets itchy. ~ karen!

  10. Feral Turtle says:

    I need some of those hinges….I don’t know why but I need them!

  11. karol says:

    I have a wild hair that shows up on the front of my ankle occasionally. I spotted it while at work one day, and used scissors to cut it off. Good plan except the scissors slipped and I cut a big V into my skin. Bled like a mofo.

  12. Patti says:

    Karen, I’m asking cuz I don’t know … when a plant ‘goes to seed’ what does that mean? and is it still edible?

    • Cred says:

      Lettuce and other cool temp plants, will go to seed when weather gets too hot. Still edible but greens turn bitter at that stage.

    • Mary Werner says:

      When a plant feels it has done its job and nearing its end, it makes seeds to keep its family going. Seeds are the way to live forever for plants. SO – towards its end, it produces seeds, usually tastes not as good, and sometimes if you cut off the seed head before they “go to seed” it will send up more new shoots. Tricking it to grow longer is great and why you may find a batch of small heads of broccoli in the store all wrapped up like they are one head – the grower picked the big head then once they had enough smaller ones, picked it again. Some flowers need to be “dead headed” to keep them from going to seed which would cause them to die off. (Similar to “long in the tooth” used to describe old worn out horses that have teeth so long, it makes it too hard to even eat much. Hence they get their teeth “floated” or filed down. OUCH.) I’m old and have sown my seeds and won’t consider the teeth filing thing so I have time to learn these totally useless facts.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Patti – When a plant goes to seed it literally starts forming the flowers it needs that produce the plant’s seeds. It usually does this when it’s either stressed or basically just done for the season. Heat often causes plants to go to seed. Onions for instance. Or in this case .. lettuce. Things that prefer to grow in cool weather will go to seed if there’s a sudden burst of warm weather. The plant’s are still technically edible, but for whatever reason, when a lettuce goes to seed it’s leaves become bitter. Although I haven’t noticed that problem with the mache. Still tastes O.K. ~ karen!

  13. Sally A says:

    I love that people invent things so brilliant as a heat activated hinge! Speaking of growing things, I am not much of a gardener, but decided I needed some privacy bushes/trees. So I ordered some online that said they would get around 30 ft tall and 5 feet around. I said to myself that 30ft is awfully tall, but manageable, and 5 ft around will be perfect for the space I have, but no bigger! Then I got a follow up email about their care, and it said that they get 60 ft tall and 12 ft around!!! Yikes!! They arrive today. They are called Thuja Green Giants…I suppose the word Giant should have been a clue? Does anyone else have these trees? Are they scary big? They are supposed to grow 3 ft per year, so maybe I’ll have moved by the time they are too big and they’ll be someone elses problem. Ha! Sorry to talk about my “problems” but I’m stressed! :o)

    • Toni says:

      Thuja Can Can might have been better? I planted Wax Myrtle which I’ve since found out will likely not survive an Iowa winter.

      • Sally A says:

        Thank you for replying Toni! They came today and are only 2 ft high, so I guess I have several years before I have to worry. Maybe I can trim them when the time comes? I love Wax Myrtles! I hope it surprises you and makes it! I live in Wisconsin, so I know about the harsh winters. Good luck!!

  14. Beckie says:

    the heat-activated hinge is brilliance…I have the same min/max thermometer in my portable greenhouse

    and my renegade hair is on the back of my left knee

    will real Spring ever arrive? We had low 30’s (*F) overnight last week

  15. Suzanne @ Le Farm says:

    Ever try sunflower shoots, Karen? They only take 10 days indoors under a light or near a window. They are sweet and thick and delicious for you. Plant organic sunflower seeds for shoots in a 1″ tray with soil and when ready, just cut them off at the soil line. I sell them at the farmer’s market and everyone raves about them. I use them as a lettuce and am hooked! I buy mine online for about $8/lb. Try it, you’ll be crazy about them, too!

  16. Ruth says:

    I had no idea that there was such a thing as a heat-activated hinge… but then I also did not know there was such a thing as knee hair, so what do I know?

    Maybe leg hairs just exist on straight-haired individuals?? Now I feel an urgent need to solve this mystery…

    Are there any curly girls out there with hair on their limbs? (informal survey)

    • Tigersmom says:

      I have both curly hair and hair on my legs that I shave. I always figured that my curls are from my French blood and the leg hair from the Sicilian part of me.

      • Ruth says:

        Okay… so it’s not a curly girl thing then.

        There goes my potential explanation… out the window. Oh well.

    • Karen says:

      No hair on your limbs. I’ve never heard of such a thing, lol! So you’re telling me you don’t have to shave your legs? AND you live in a tropical paradise?! ~ karen

      • Ruth says:

        That is exactly what I’m saying, Karen….. but I do have a whole lot of hair atop my head, so maybe that’s where it all went?? LOL!

  17. Louise says:

    I have to boast that I am an absolute whiz at growing . . . knee hair! In fact, I gave up shaving my legs about 3 yrs. ago (long story as to why) and I have a fine crop of thick hair all the way down to my ankles. (TMI?) It reminds me of my Dad when I look down, only mine might be hairier. I’m sure that my legs could be used as evidence that we are, indeed, descended from apes. Oh, and it keeps my legs warm in cold weather!

  18. Grammy says:

    I’ve never heard of a heat-activated hinge like that. I need one. Not because I’m going to put up a cold frame, but because no one I know has one. Then I would be special. I’m pathetic.

    Karen is like a dope dealer — finding cool things and showing them to us weaklings knowing that we’ll fall hard while she cackles from her fancy-smanchy kitchen.

    • Tigersmom says:

      Ha! Finally someone has guts to say this.

      Thanks to Karen, I had to have the 2ft tall acrylic reindeer, the potato ricer, a rasp, hardware from Lee Valley, a pink suede tool belt, and a Halloween wreath for my door just to name several. And, of course, the piggy salt and pepper shakers, but I can’t complain there, those were a gift.

      So, thanks, Grammy, for getting this out in the open.

      And, thanks, Karen, for pushing legal crack in the form of cool stuff I can’t seem to live without.

    • Pam'a says:

      Karen’s mentioned Lee Valley before, and it’s a GREAT company. They carry everything from garden goodies to household/kitchen stuff to hardware and woodworking tools… Plus gifts for kids and practically everything else in the universe. They’re a dream to deal with, their products are of excellent quality, and they stand behind everything. Check them out.

      Oh, and Karen– They have really good tweezers. ;)

  19. Kat says:

    Sorry about the hair on your knee but that heat activated hinge is just brilliant. Never heard of such a thing! Now I am trying to think of other weird things you could do with it? Like opening your window when the bathroom gets too hot while bathing or who knows what!!!

  20. victoria says:

    Hihi! Early developed tomatoes is the prize for living in a hot smoggy polluted mess!

  21. Barbara says:

    Knee hair? You’re fussing about a little knee hair? Wait till you’re my age, past menopause, and ALL the hair on your legs stop growing. Yes, no more shaving your legs. Great! At least that’s one benefit of growing older. But wait, just wait. Suddenly one day you look down and there, just above your ankle is a two inch long hair that has decided to grow despite the advancing years. And to make things worse, your failing eyesight makes it invisible to you until, just by chance, you happen to have your calf up to within a few inches of your nose. (Don’t ask!) You grab the tweezers and pluck it out. Then you have hairless legs until, yes, a few weeks later, there it is again, the two inch long hair! Happens again and again. Be glad when the last of the hormones that manage leg hair give up the ghost and permanently retire. Love your blog, Karen. It’s what keeps me looking for those outlaw leg hairs.

    • Grammy says:

      Same here, but I have 3 hairs on each leg. I consider it the small token we are given in exchange for the falling face. It does not compensate for that. Nothing does.

    • Ruth says:

      I belong to a ‘hairless clan’…. lots of hair on heads, sprinkling under armpits, and not even fuzz on the limbs…. I hope that doesn’t change with menopause.

      • Grammy says:

        Ruth, I never had a lot of body hair, but did have some in all the ordinary places (armpits, forearms, lower legs, pubis). After menopause I have zero in the armpits, barely discernible peachfuzz on forearms, none except those three long hairs that come on my lower legs, and drastically reduced in the pubic area. I still have as much hair on my head as I ever did. I do have to wax my upper lip now, and tweeze an occasional whisker.

        How the hell did Karen write a post about the successes and failures in her coldframe and manage to start a “True Confessions About My Body Hair” conversation? She’s a witch, I tell ya.

      • Robin says:

        I am so jealous! I am past menopause and I am still growing hair same as always. I wish I hadn’t read these comments today.

  22. victoria says:

    I always stop shaving below the knee. I figure the hairs get worn down by my being on my knees all the time, scrubbing, gardening whatever……..anyway. Kudos to you for doing the cold frame. It was 98 degrees in LA today. .. my tomatoes are almost ready for picking! :)

  23. Sheri says:

    Will these plants be harvested directly from the cold frame, or transplanted into your garden?

    • Karen says:

      Both! I had my very first salad from the cold frame garden this evening. All the lettuces plus some tiny beet greens. This weekend I’ll remove the frame and transplant the broccoli, cauliflower and swiss chard to their permanent home. The beets, lettuce and radishes will stay where they are. ~ karen!

  24. Valerie says:

    Some seeds germinate more efficiently with heat applied underneath. One can put seeded peat trays on a heating pad on low. There should be a few layers of towels between the tray and the heating pad as even on low the area can get quite warm. The heating pad should be put on a safe heat resistant surface.

    • Karen says:

      All the seeds germinated in the outdoor winter sowing trays. They did great. They just needed to get the hell out of there before they cooked. Same with the cold frame, lol. Germinating I have down (except of course for carrots which are evil, terrible little seeds) … it’s the whole being smart enough to water them thing I have a problem with. ~ karen!

      • Linda says:

        Hello Karen!
        Regarding starting carrot seeds. Old farming habit is to scatter the seeds soak them and cover them with a piece of plywood. Works like a charm and not a single loss to birds. Might be worth a try to you. Good luck with any method you use and thank you so damn much for the great humour we all stay around for.

      • Karen says:

        Oh yes, that’s an old post you’re reading? I’ve long ago converted to covering them all with plywood. Very effective! ~ karen

  25. Jamieson says:

    I love mache! It is my favourite lettuce (if I was maintaining such a list, which is hardly unlikely).

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