The Winter Cold Frame.
An update!

Cold Frame In Winter



One day, a girl named Karen, a girl very much like you, and you, and you, put on her boots and went outside to start her garden.

It wasn’t a regular garden like dad used to plant in the summer. It was a special garden.  Karen was creating the most magical of all gardens, the winter garden.

First she built a house for her plants so they would be protected from the blowing snow and the winter’s chill that bites at your nose.

Then she planted her seeds row by row.

Mustard Greens and beets and lettuce galore!  For the rest of the winter they’d grow more and more!

After the seeds were settled snug in their soil, Karen went back into her warm house.

Some time after that, everything went to shit.



Cold Frame In Winter 1

This is my cold frame as it looks today.  I figured it would be a good day to check on what was inside because the snow had melted and the Polar Votex was long gone. Oops. The Polar Vortex is now back. That didn’t take long.
Cold Frame In Winter 2


While this little bed of Mache might look impressive or at the very least encouraging, it isn’t.  This mache stopped growing around November and has stayed the same size since then.  There’s exactly enough for a for a very small family of gerbils to use as garnish on their meals with for about a day and a half.


Mustard Greens

This would be my mustard greens.  They didn’t die from the cold.  They died (or withered up like a post-menopausal vagina) from lack of water.

Because I didn’t water the cold frame.



Cold Frame Left

I was kind of under the impression that it would somehow water itself.  That the humidity in there was build up and drip down and there would be sort of a watering system.  I also though that that  when it rained or snow melted that the ground underneath would absorb water from all around and stay moist.

I was so wrong.  You can see in the picture above that a few areas did get water, just not enough.

Cold Frame Right

The swiss chard I transplanted into there in the fall is still alive with nice greens.  It isn’t enough to eat, but with any luck the plants will continue to live and I’ll be way ahead of schedule with they shoot up into full grown plants in the spring.


Swiss Chard


The beets.  The beets!  The beets were a disaster.

Cold Frame Beet



The beets in the cold frame are withered and all of the greens are dead.  I’m pretty sure even the gerbils would turn their whiskers up at it.

Cold Frame Beet 2


On the OTHER hand, the beets I left outside of the cold frame, to be protected (and watered) only by a thick layer of snow were perfect.  I brushed the snow away and started picking.

They still had nice fresh greens on them and were pretty firm.  Definitely edible.

Beets Under Snow


The snow beets did great just left to their own devices outside in the garden.  The cold frame beet, which you can see at the bottom of the below photo was gross.  My interference with it by forcing it to live in a cold frame upset it a great deal and it revolted by dying back and shrivelling up.


Snow Beets

The other mistake I made was putting a new window on the cold frames. I was SO excited to get the beautiful Mennonite built window from my neighbour that I couldn’t resist putting it on the frames I made last summer. The problem is, this window didn’t fit making my cold frames almost completely inefficient.

I’ll make a new large, single cold frame next year, plant my cold frame crops  a bit earlier and try it all again.


Karen was sad to discover her plant’s house didn’t protect them through the winter. Cold, teary and with her socks bunched up in the toes of her boots, she came inside and started a new plan for next year.

Because there’s no such thing as an unsuccessful plan. There are just plans that haven’t become a success yet.

The end.


  1. Sera says:

    Well, I was inspired by your cold frame but never did anything about it, which is good because I have no doubt it would be as successful as yours. I have come to accept that I am a fair weather gardener. My dead tomato plants are still tied to their bamboo stakes because I never “closed” the garden in the fall.
    But I love that this failure doesn’t get you down. You are an inspiration!

  2. kathy says:

    O.K., you might roll your eyes that a girl in coastal California would be envious of your garden, but this year, with 5% of normal rain, we’re having to water our gardens or watch them perish from unusually freezing temps (yeah, laugh, but for us, 22 degrees F was a shock to the plants)….and now because of the lack of rain, we have to conserve another 20% on water, so come April/May, I’m not likely to be allowed to plant my veggies! This is enough to make me come sneak into your cold frame to live…..and enjoy water. And, my first serious attempt at winter cole growing seems to be supporting…….quail? slugs? defoliation of a serious nature. Oh, well, at least it’s my 20% conservation in the winter veg garden – stop watering one bed!

    Send us water, please!!!!

  3. Feral Turtle says:

    I am impressed you could even find your cold frame!! I am still contending with the four foot drifts in the yard. Luckily my Bogs seem to float on top so I don’t sink!! And my feet stay toasty warm even though my socks are all bunched up.

  4. Jenniferm says:

    I think I would have made the same mistake. When I start seedlings they don’t need water if I have the greenhouse effect.

    BTW, your Bottom ad is very pervasive, and I just couldn’t get to your post until several attempts because I kept touching the ad. It’s impossible to read your post in Feedly because of it.

  5. JebberJay says:

    Oh Karen. Thanks for sharing. I feel sorry for the gerbils.

  6. jainegayer says:

    Karen, I love that quote about unsuccessful plans and the cold frame fairytale.
    I hate the sock sloooowy slipping off my heel and making it’s creepy way to the toe of my boot.

    Thank you again, as you do everyday, for making my morning cup of coffee even better.
    Now, I’ve got to find some socks that won’t slip because the new polar vortex is due here in a couple of hours with 10 inches of snow.

  7. Kelly says:

    ‘withered up like a post menopausal vagina.”
    as someone with hot flashes, that one stopped me in my tracks.

  8. Melissa in North Carolina says:

    Love your positive attitude!

  9. Ann says:

    Don’t beet yourself up(yuk yuk on the pun, it has been a hideous winter. And everything is a learning experience. Next year you might consider a straw bale cold frame. The size of a bale of straw totally insulates better than anything else ever. And then in the spring you can use the weathered hay to mulch out in the garden. You can just put your beautiful window on top of the straw bales that you place in a rectangle. Another advantage is that you can change where you want it each winter and not even have it in the way during good weather.

    My seeds arrived yesterday and I can not wait to start some indoors and even plant my peas out doors. The peas will have to wait til the Polar Express II passes and even then I will wrap the bed to protect from extreme cold. And Chickens. My awesome free range chickens and guineas are eating anything green right now. And they don’t discriminate. At all.

    • Karen says:

      I’d love to try the straw bale cold frame. I bet it works GREAT! But I really don’t think I have the room anywhere. None of my beds are big enough to accommodate bales I don’t think. :( Although I could try … I like the idea of not having to store the actual wood frame all year. ~ karen!

      • kate-v says:

        the straw bale frame are very nice to have and the straw is usually free. The Halloween decorators who use straw bales put them on Craig’s List – free for the taking away. They work out perfectly and as Ann writes the straw is good to incorporate into the garden soil come spring. Even if you don’t want to wait until after Halloween to make your straw bale cold frames, they are pretty cheap – at least so far around here anyway.

      • Karen says:

        Oh, I buy straw all the time. :) $4 a bale. I use it every day with the chickens. ~ karen!

  10. Kristin says:

    Hmmmm……I like the way you thought the humidity would be enough water for the winter garden. It reminded me of the time I had asked my daughter (the most responsible child) to water my garden while I took a short vacation one summer. She didn’t water anything :(. When I asked her why she didn’t water, she said it was so “dewy” in the morning that she thought it was good enough.
    I know it’s not the same but it’s sort of ….lol

  11. Su says:

    so beets did well in the snow…. explains a lot as to why Russians like Borscht… beets being a veggie that grows in frozen tundra

  12. Linda says:

    Well you know Karen, it was a tough winter to try this for the first time. My hoophouses are chugging along with greens, but the super cold has slowed them down more than any year I can remember. And the smaller area you have, the less heat your frame will retain. I still think you did well, and you’ll be ahead of the game by March with your chard. So bravo!

    • Karen says:

      Oh Linda. You’re just being kind, lol. But I will keep trying, that’s for sure. I’m very curious about the milk jug winter sowing as well. ~ karen!

  13. Susan Preston says:

    Aw! Darn…I was hoping to raid it when you weren’t looking.

  14. Barb says:

    Almost the same thing happened to me the first year I tried the cold frame, except that I did water mine and they didn’t die, but they didn’t grow either. Until about March. Then I had some major growth and all the early greens we could eat. Success!! So the best I can figure is that you need a whole LOT of cold frames if you expect to eat greens all year, because whatever you have by October or so is all you will get until early spring. Nothing does grow when it is really cold but it stays nice and green so you can pick it, and what is left will shoot up like crazy way before everything else in spring. This past year I was lazy and didn’t water much either, so we shall see what happens come spring… check out Niki Jabbour’s website and book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener. Awesome info, and Canadian too :)

    Oh, and… sorry for your loss on the beets. ;)

    • Karen says:

      A have a couple of top of the line (or shelf) Winter gardening books and I knew the stuff wasn’t going to grow once it got cold, I just thought it might … you know … be edible, lol. I’ll keep trying until I figure it out. ~ karen!

  15. Jody says:

    OMG that post is so funny–“withered up like a post-menopausal vagina”. You paint such a pretty picture.

  16. MaggieB says:

    Well greetings from Germany, where currently we have absolutely no winter, no snow, no bursting water pipes (although 3 years in a row would seriously upset me) and the lilac is starting to bud and the roses putting out new leaves as well – siberian winter vortex on its way guaranteed!

    It has taken me about 5 minutes of enforced slow breathing to try and get my coughing under control mainly through nasty throat infection and laryngitis – thank you my children i love you so much – from the first exhaled breath of laughter from “Some time after that ……”! I am crying from laughter – and pain. As ever, heartfelt thanks Karen, your writing is truly a gift that keeps on giving…..

    On top of that, manage to get myself to the end of the post without herniating my larynx to find the ‘fill in your own advert’ box had posted a Wintergarten – which here in Germany is a conservatory – now my ear canals are burning and my throat is on fire. Love ya!

  17. Louise says:

    “Because there’s no such thing as an unsuccessful plan. There are just plans that haven’t become a success yet.” Now THAT is inspiring! A good lesson for all! Thank you.

  18. Sandee says:

    Your photos of the snow beets are absolutely gorgeous!

  19. ~gloria says:

    But all is not lost for this year. You can still be way ahead of spring by winter-sowing in milk jugs. I did this last winter and it was hugely successful. I had more hardy transplants, with none of the indoor, under grow lights hassle, than I knew what to do with. You can see how here:

    • Karen says:

      Woooo! That looks like a fun experiment for me this spring! Thanks Gloria. I’ll probably do some tomatoes under the grow lights as well for insurance, (just for this year until I know for sure I’m capable of this method, lol.) ~ karen!

      • ~gloria says:

        You’re welcome. If you read through some of his posts on the subject, you can find out what he winter sows and when he starts them. I’m in pretty much the same zone as he is, though on the other side of the state, so I go by when he starts. You’ll probably need to be a bit later, but not too much. Have fun.

  20. Claudia says:

    Ha. Second year in a row that I tried on Mache. Which stopped growing in late October. I’m sure hat’s what they do (although a co-worker claims that hers are growing steadily). They’ll look big enough to be eaten by March or April, but, honestly, who wants salad that took more than half a year to grow?
    My Swiss chard is alive and kicking like yours. Outside any cold frame – but then again, we didn’t have a polar vortex here in Germany.
    (I tried to germinate the carrots like you showed us, Karen, and the only carrot that made it is still outside. I didn’t have the heart yet to pull it out…)

  21. Christie Thomas says:

    Oh darn! That just stinks! I’m trying to come up with a small version of your box, because you know we have had that one cold week her in Cali so far! Everything froze, and now all the plants think it’s spring and are beginning to bloom!! Argh! They will then more than likely freeze again if the Vortex ever makes its way here! Anyway, good luck with your box next year!!!

  22. Melanie says:

    I would absolutely have a cold frame in my backyard…if I didn’t have to go out in the cold to check on it. I may not leave the house until spring. On the other hand, I am thinking about forcing some bulbs inside. And by forcing, I mean throwing the crocuses that I never got around to planting (before we had three feet of snow) into a wide vase full of wet rocks. I may even give the freesia a go — if I can find them in the basement. (I’m pretty sure I bought them about ten years ago, but they must be here somewhere.) Worst case scenario is I end up throwing them outside, and the squirrels have a party. (Okay, worst case is really that they rot and start to stink before I throw them outside.)

    I did venture out today to stock up for the return of the polar vortex. And by the time I got home, my socks were also bunched up in my boots. I hate that.

    • Karen says:

      I hate that SO MUCH! ~ karen!

      • Amie Mason says:

        I think I could go for the some cold right about now. My whole country is on fire and it hasn’t dropped below 38 degrees Celsius in days! My beets look like yours Karen, sad and crispy.

      • Karen says:

        Yes, Australia has been having a record breaking summer hasn’t it? Hooooooootttttt. ~ karen!

      • Deb J says:

        My grandfather used to wear sock garters – sorta like a woman’s garter belt but one for each leg and sitting around the knee. I always thought they looked goofy but seem to have been quite common in men of his age. Wonder if they would keep your socks up in your boots?

  23. NikiDee says:

    Just the other day as I stared at the frozen tundra outside of my large picture window, I thought about your cold frame ( no kidding…creepy huh). Partly from guilt, I guess, since I had planned on building my own cold frame, about the time you were sharing yours. Whenever I pass the south side area I had designated for my “amazing” cold frame, I felt a tinge of upset for not completing that task (been busy moving in). THANK YOU for removing the guilt with your post! I am so glad I didn’t have time to make my own torture chamber. Lord knows this spring I’ll be learning on poor unsuspecting herbs, peas, onions and the like.

  24. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    “Because there’s no such thing as an unsuccessful plan. There are just plans that haven’t become a success yet.” Good Girl..You are proof of this..There year will be better..

  25. Marti says:

    Beets are my favorite vegetable. If I thought I could get them year ’round, might be enough to get me to plant. ANYTHING.

    Where’s the rhubarb? No cold frames for it?

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