Cold Frames II

Sunday morning I got up and made breakfast.

Sunday breakfast is best because it is then that I have enough time to devote to making a proper breakfast. Monday through Saturday I get up early for work and breakfast is usually a protein shake and a handful of vitamins.

Sunday I sleep relatively late, make coffee and set about to feeding my family properly. This past Sunday’s breakfast consisted of free range organic eggs, spicy pork sausage and sliced tomatoes.

Once properly fueled I set about the day’s project, the much anticipated cold frames.

Last weekend I made a start on the first frame. Using my sawzall (reciprocating saw) I broke down several oak pallets separating the ½ inch boards from their 2x runners. The pallets I had collected had boards with widths ranging from 3 inches to four inches across.

As an aside, pallets are, in my opinion, an excellent source of cheap (read free) lumber for any project for which cosmetics are not of prime importance. I have used pallet wood to build shelves in the garden shed, my compost bin, a jig for cutting firewood to length, the goat house and now my cold frames. Pallets are usually made of oak or poplar wood and can usually be found in the waste area of most industrial businesses. There are several such businesses just around the corner from the gym. I stop by on my way home from time to time and stock up.

I built the frames to match the dimensions of the shower doors creating a slope from a 16 inch back to a 12 inch front. A detailed description of their construction would just be confusing here, so I promise to post a video of how they’re made soon.

Piecing together a 12 and 16 inch wall out of 3 and 4 inch boards was time consuming, so on the second frame I took advantage of the ½ inch plywood I had scored from Independent Presbyterian Church (from the dumpster, remember, and I had permission, it’s not like I stole plywood out of a church. Sheesh). I made the back and sides from the plywood and the front of the pallet wood so that it might match its neighbor.

Thalia helped me clean the soap scum off the shower doors and we decided on an alternating pattern of swans and frosted geometry.

So far my total cost for the project is the gas to Mulga and a box of exterior screws.

Once the boxes were made and the glass laid I saw the need for some sort of hinge to make opening and venting the boxes easier. Samantha will tell you that I’ll take any excuse for a trip to Home Depot. She’ll also tell you how time consuming it can be.

I didn’t have any hinges and I wanted to go ahead and fill the boxes with compost just in case Stephanie was coming out this week. Once filled it would be difficult to access the hinges as I had placed the boxes up against the house to take advantage of southern exposure. What to do?

To my own credit and without prompting from my darling wife I saw the inefficiency of a trip to Home Depot and came up with an alternate plan. I attached a four inch board of pallet wood along the back of each box, allowing the board to rise a full inch over the back edge. This board now formed a backstop against which the glass door could stabilize and hinge.

Now to fill the boxes. The soil in my backyard is pretty bad. Actually, it’s downright awful. I’m amazed it will grow grass. It’s all rocks and clay, especially near the house where it has been graded for drainage.

Using a garden fork I broke up the soil. I then followed with one of my favorite tools in my arsenal, the grape hoe. This is one bad-assed hoe. It’s also called an eye hoe, as it has a round eye at its top that its especially stout handle slips through. This hoe has a wide face and its heavy. I call mine, Earthquake. So Earthquake and I made short work of the clods and reduced the ground to a fine bed of nutritionally questionable soil. I made a few passes with the rock rake and removed the most offensive rocks from the bed.

Now for the compost. I have a two bin composting system that I maintain in the back corner of the yard near the garden shed. All organic material goes into the compost and I make a habit of turning the pile once a week, transferring it from one bin to the other. When I need compost for the garden I use a stout screen I made from hardware cloth and 2x4s and sift the compost over a wheel barrow. Anything that’s not yet “done” gets tossed back onto the pile.

The sun was setting by now and so I turned and sifted by headlamp until I had acquired two full wheelbarrows of rich compost, one for each cold frame.

Compost has a great conditioning quality. With time, root action and the percolation that comes from watering the overall soil quality of my frames will be increased, even beyond the original soil level.

For me soil is the essence of gardening. The plants and produce that are yielded are an expression of the quality of the soil, just like our own outer health and vitality are expressions of our nutrition and inner health. So gardening for me is all about making great soil.

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