Cold Frame, Warm Plants

Cold Frame, Warm Plants

By Kathryn Pankowski

One of the (many) things that has perplexed me about gardening over the years is why a cold frame is called a cold frame, when in fact it’s used mainly to keep plants warm. (If this is the sort of thing that keeps you awake at night, rest easy – it turns out that it’s called ‘cold’ because it’s unheated except by the sun and is therefore cooler than, say, a greenhouse with an electric heater.)

And a cold frame is a very useful thing to have in James Bay, with its long, but cool and breezy, growing season: you can use a cold frame to start seeds, or to gently introduce seedlings started inside to the great outdoors. It can prolong the growing season, letting you start earlier and keep harvesting later. And it can protect tender plants through winter.

The internet abounds with plans for cold frames, from the extremely classy sort that look like the offspring of Victorian glasshouses, to the DIY special of an old window set on straw bales. But most of these assume you have a large vacant spot in which to keep your new toy, which is certainly not the case for most James Bay gardeners.

  The easiest and cheapest cold frame of all - perfect for balcony gardeners. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski.

The easiest and cheapest cold frame of all - perfect for balcony gardeners. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski.

That’s why I got very excited when I first read about making cold frames from clear storage boxes – you know, those things that gather dust under the bed while holding Christmas ornaments. All you need to do is make some drainage holes in the bottom and a row of air holes along the longer sides near the top, so there’s a little ventilation, and, like magic, you’ve got yourself a mini cold frame, perfect for balcony and other small-space gardens.

So what makes them so great? Well, you can buy them at any houseware store and bring them home by bus or bike. You can choose from a wide range of sizes and depths. And, if you get several of the same size, they are stackable – very handy if you need to bring your plants indoors for a few days during a serious cold snap. In the summer, when you’re less likely to have plants in them but more likely to want them to sit out, you can hide gardening paraphernalia in them.

The only real drawback is that they are plastic. But nothing in this world is completely perfect, is it?

Neighbourhood Gardening News

Have you been wondering what happened to the smaller herbs in the Fisherman’s Wharf Herb Garden? Don’t worry – they haven’t been snatched away by a hardened gang of herb-nappers. The City is merely refreshing and rebalancing the planting, since over the years some herbs have spread a little too enthusiastically (that would be you, oregano), while others have dwindled or died out. The herbs will be back this spring in time for summer picking, and there are rumours of new improved signs too.

The James Bay Neighbourhood Plant Swap and Sale is coming up on May 6, so it’s time to put it on your calendar and get those plants divided and potted. As always, you are welcome to come sell or swap your excess plants (there is no cost to participate). Or you can donate plants to the JBNA Gardening Committee table whose sales go to fund neighbourhood gardening projects.

We need pots! I thought we had an endless supply, but after three plant sales the end is in sight, and I’m already getting asked if I have any spares – especially larger ones – to hand out to people dividing perennials for the sale. So if you have excess pots kicking around or are buying new plants this spring, drop me a line at the email below and we’ll be happy to collect and reuse them.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at jamesbaygardens@gmail.com. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

Remember how much fun it was to ride a bike?

Hooray! Hooray! It’s nearly May!

Hooray! Hooray! It’s nearly May!