Thursday, February 20, 2014

Much Ado About A Cold Frame

Oh Myyy! The Ladies of Sustainable Neighbors get their hardcore 'Rosie the Riveter' vibe on.

Welcome back to another episode of Lost In The Farmer’s Market, today‘s post is the last one of February and the first time this year I’ll say hey folks it’s not as bad as it looks. Please keep score, it’s supposed to be a record year for weather so let’s hope it’s the last time I say such a thing. The winter weather last week blanketed everything in roughly six inches of snow and ice and deposited perhaps two inches of precipitation, and then it started raining. Rain activity on Saturday, overnight on Tuesday and then the early morning thunderstorm on Wednesday sure set us right for water. A rough total of 3.3” were noted at the headquarters’ rain gauges and well we’re standing by it. But the weather isn’t today’s topic at all but rather the new three-tier cold frame recently installed at the headquarters so please read on to know more and at the end of this post as always is the plant list for Saturday. Be warned, the herbs with their house plant reinforcements have begun to invade the booth!

Speaking of garden endeavors I’ve got to talk about one of the new additions to our facilities over at LITFM head quarters. As some of you may have heard we recently as part of the 2014 winter budget put in an order for a three-tier wooden cold frame. Well the first picture of the genuine article in all it’s cedar wood and poly carbonate glazing glory can be had below.

Oh yes it is atop a raised set of construction blocks because putting our cold frames on a pedestal is how we roll!
So of course I have to talk about the lengthy process of building and placing this cold frame unit. First off it was ordered through Jung Seed due to the free shipping deal they were offering at the time. The unit cost about $180.00 and is made of a light weight red cedar wood. In fact the heavy aroma of cedar filled the headquarters dining room for a few days post construction. Overall the entire unit weighed in at about 27 pounds for the obvious reason that the large areas of poly carbonate glazing comprised most of the cold frames surface area.  I discovered that the unit needed some additional wood working skill because the instructions were not always helpful and in some cases the holes for mounting hardware and hinges were absent. More so the bottom-mounted cross braces seemed counter productive and the screws that went with them stripped so fast I have expected they came from some cheap hardware themed gentleman’s bar on Bragg Boulevard.  Once assembled though it became clear that the unit would need a little help to survive a few years of LITFM field service so the cold frame’s placement was incorporated into the drainage project’s Cistern. It took six ‘normal’ cinder blocks to make the footing for the cold frame which raised it at least two inches above ground level and this footing was placed over the cistern at the end of the drainage trench. This put the cold frame in a good east/north east facing under the roof overhang of the head quarters against a wall painted light which would maximize light hours in the cool sunshine of the morning.

Thompsons Water Seal? Oh hell no Cabot all up in here!
The next step was protecting the investment, with the cold frame mounted above ground level to avoid soil contact as per the unit’s instructions the next step was to apply outdoor polyurethane to all wooden structural components. It took about seven working days to complete the polyurethane application to the unit both inside and out. Special attention was paid to the points at which the wood held the polycarbonate glazing in and a double application was made to the top panels and front doors to ensure proper water resistance of all wooden parts where possible. Even the interior and the two removable shelves got a heavy coating of polyurethane just to be certain of the longevity of the wooden parts of the cold frame. Keep in mind during certain parts of this project I had to set up a special table covered in paper inside the headquarters to keep the project going during that last cold snap. The main body of the cold frame was completed in stages and during our latest warm spell I was often out painting the unit on the back bed of the truck. None the less the project was completed in good time. Now I know what your thinking here; “But you said it was cedar that stuff doesn’t rot.” Indeed cedar is rot-resistant however cut limber isn’t the same as natural logs, cedar lumber still resists rot but is also vulnerable anywhere it is constantly wet, or where there is an angle or end because of the exposed wood fibers. As you can figure a roughly rectangular cold frame made of wood with window panels is basically one big angle so special attention to sealing the wood  was critical.

Caulking, not just for innuendo anymore!
Sealing the wood is in reality half the battle in a way because there are areas that I cannot apply polyurethane to. Those areas also tend to allow drafts and water into the unit as well so of course they were the next point of attention. Anywhere there is glazing, be it glass, plexiglas or polycarbonate the point where the glazing meets the frame is a weak spot in the design from the perspective of keeping heat in or water out. So once the polyurethane coating was applied it became time to apply clear outdoor use caulk. Thus all external surfaces were caulked on one day while the internal ones were caulked the next. This caulking actually serves to settle the glazing in place and adds the final layer of waterproofing and some additional structural integrity to the unit.

The original corner braces and their screws left a lot to be desired.

Ain’t no stopping us now, we replaced the screws.
But wait there is one more step that went into completing this project. Remember those crappy screws I told you about? Those small screws went to a set of black cross braces that went below the front of the unit. Four screws per brace and the brace was anchored under the bottom of the side panel and under the front structural bar which sits under the two front doors. Being so unimpressed with the quality of the screws and finding that the braces lifted the unit up enough to allow drafts into the unit I discarded both and substituted four smaller zinc-steel L-braces inside the unit at the top support bar and bottom support bar. With the caulk cured properly and the braces in place the last step was to place the unit on its footing and see if any herbaceous tenants would move in.

Hmmm maybe if the for rent sign didn’t look like a serial killer did it…

Oop! Whats this?!

Hey now!
This brings to a close today’s episode of ‘As the Cold Frame Turns’ but tune in next week when there is conflict in the cold frame as Mr. Prickly pear confronts Mrs. Garlic Chives about her body odor. 

Alright so that last bit was a whole lot of silly on my part, All Winter No Spring makes the author of LITFM a crazy gardener!  You can see the crazy in person at this weekend’s Fayetteville City/Farmer’s Market. The market is a 365 day a year event that occurs on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I’m there on Saturdays between 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM and the market is located on 325 Franklin Street in the parking lot of the Fayetteville Transportation Museum. But enough of the plugging lets get to the plant and material list for this weekend.

Southward Skies: A northern guide to southern Gardening
This is the second edition of my book, which was published using data compiled from several years of test garden operations. It’s written to aid gardeners of all skill levels in successful garden methods that are targeted for the south east but had proven to be a valued resource for gardens across the eastern coast. It’s certainly a good gift for that gardener you know or for yourself if you’d like to have a reliable field guide. The book costs $25.00 and we do take checks for this item, you can even have it signed.

Black Magic Fertilizer
That’s right you’ve heard about it in trials all summer. This specially formulated liquid fertilizer was made and tested at the test gardens using natural ingredients and no chemicals. The result explosive growth, great harvests and of course no environmental side effects! We’re making batches of this stuff to order, at $6.00 per gallon of fertilizer. You can either order it at the market and pick it up the next week or have it delivered to your home in the Fayetteville area for a delivery charge of an additional $2.00.

Fresh Cut Herbs
Bundles of Fresh Rosemary, short stem ($1.00)

House Plants
5x Holiday Cactus ($3.00)
3x Desert Privet ($3.00)
4x Dancing Bones Cactus ($3.00)

Garden Plants
1x Stone Head Cabbage Plant 0.5 gal pot ($3.00)
1x Savoy Cabbage Plant 0.5 gal pot ($3.00)

2x Green Fennel, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
2x Black Fennel, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Bloody Sorrel, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Lamb’s Ear, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Green Lavender-Cotton, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Tansy, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Angelica, 3.5” pot ($3.00)
3x Rosemary, 3.5” pot ($3.00)

So this wraps up the month of February and boy what a month, what a winter it has been.  We went from cold and wet, to warm to freezing to cold to wet and back to freezing again. I believe they say March is in like a lion and out like a lamb. Apparently February did not get the note it’s not supposed to act like March.

Call me what you will but I was out at 4 AM on Wednesday checking the drainage system during the thunderstorms. There are three words for that: Gardener – Hard Core.

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