Every year I learn a bit more about gardening and I get a bit better at it.  I just keep adding to what my mentors in the Army always referred to as my “Tool-Kit”.   Most of the time that’s my knowledge and skill tool-kit, but sometimes it’s my physical tool-kit.

This fall thanks to my wonderful hubby, I’ve added to my physical gardening toolkit!  That’s right, Yankee Bill built me two awesome coldframes and a mini hoop house!

Aren’t they fantastic?  Admit it–you are jealous, right?

These kind of things are always a work in progress.  The first time I try a new skill/idea it frequently goes awry.  I have found over the years that it often takes me 2 or 3 years to really get my skill, theory and timing down for new gardening ideas.  So I already know that this year will be a BIG learning year with using the coldframes and mini hoop house.

What do I mean by that?  Well in my head I have the perfect theory on how these things are going to be used.  I’d plant up them up early enough so that I’d have nice mature plants when the winter really hits.  Then they’d go dormant inside their little frames, still perky, green and edible but not growing where I could harvest them through-out the winter.  Of course I’d always remember to vent them on hot days and to cover them on really cold days, I’ll make time to paint milk jugs black and place them inside to help retain heat.  In the spring I’ll start my seedlings inside in plenty of time and then I’d get them moved out into the cold frames to harden off, again always remembering to vent them when it’s hot, and I’ll wind up with gorgeous, early plants. Some peppers and tomatoes would stay under the hoop giving me an early crop of those heat loving vegetables.

In reality?  I’m already late in planting.  My vegetables probably won’t get to full size and will go dormant while still small, although I’ll get some fall/early winter harvest out of them.  I’ll inevitably either forget to vent them on an unusually warm day or forget to drop the tops on a night that gets a frost and wind up killing some of them.  A few will hopefully put out new growth and get going early in the spring but they will wind up only being utilized to about 50% of their potential the first year while I try to make time to do the tasks required as well as figure out what I really want done.

That’s reality.  I’ll have some minor (and exciting mind you) successes and then next year, well next year I should really rock it out!

But on to what we’ve actually got!

This mini hoop house was supposed to be a moveable low tunnel that I could place over the rows of winter vegetables that I’ve already got planted in the big garden, and that could be brought out and used as cover for some early crops.  The intent was something light weight enough for the kids and I to be able to move easily with some struts coming out from the sides that I could place sandbags over to keep the light frame in place.  Well, as so often happens when you are using reclaimed materials (the plastic sheeting was left over from a construction project, the wood reclaimed from a torn down building and the plastic piping bought at a going out of business sale 6mo ago) the end result wound up different than planned.

This mini hoop house is far taller, far wider, heavier and not as long as the original concept.  But that’s ok!  Instead it will be a semi-permenant fixture (due to weight) that I can plant taller heat loving plants under way earlier than normal.  Considering we didn’t get a ripe tomato until the last week of August, having somewhere to get some earlier slicing tomatoes growing is going to be fantastic!  Plus if I wanted to get really fancy I could build a low hoop under it-that would give me two layers of protection making the interior of the second low hoop act as if it were 2 zones to the south!

The cold frames were also built from recycled materials.  The wood was again from a building that was torn down.  One of the glass doors I’ve been saving for 5 years (it was a sliding glass door that got replaced) the other was salvaged from the same building that was torn down. The glass is so dang heavy that I couldn’t lift it–so Yankee Bill created a cool block and tackle system to raise and lower them.  It’s got a double pulley and some cleats for me to tie them off on. . . so when I need to vent them I can just pull them up however high I need to and then tie them off.

I got the first frame planted about a week and a half ago.  Inside I placed a combination of seedlings and seeds.  I was able to dig up a couple of small chard plants from the main garden that hadn’t gotten very big, and some of the kale and spinach that I had fall sown in the back garden about 3 weeks ago.

Right in front of the cold frame I actually found a whole slew of Red Russian Kale plants that had self seeded from the Kale plant I had let flower and go to seed this summer.  I had collected seeds from that plant for both replanting and for sprouting over the winter, but I didn’t realize that some seedlings were going to pop up on their own!

They seemed about the right size to transplant so those went in as well.  In the center I sowed a variety of lettuces.  I think I may have also planted some chinese cabbage. . . but honestly I can’t remember. We’ll see what it looks like when it comes up!

The lettuce seeds have finally come up, so here is a shot of that cold frame as of this morning:

See all those little green sprouts?  That’s the lettuce and such.  I actually need to go in and thin them out in a bit.  (ignore the shadow of me taking the picture with my iPhone)  The chard has also perked up.  It wasn’t so happy to be transplanted for the first couple of days.  The transplanted kale is also looking very very happy:

They’ve even put out additional leaves!

In the other frame I plan on planting some asian greens, some beets and some turnips–all of which do fine in the very cool weather.  In the big hoop house I’ll plant more lettuce and some other leafy greens–we are a bit concerned about snow on the top of the plastic, so if we get heavy snow fall we might have to remove the plastic cover for the  rest of the winter at that point . . .so I’m planning mostly on using that one from crops I don’t mind loosing.

Has anyone use cold frames and hoops before? I’d love to learn from you.  Please, tell me what you planted and how it worked-and give me any tips or advice you can think of.  I need to learn more!

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