How to Make a Cold Frame


It’s almost planting time! We’re getting ready to plant in the garden in mid-May (here, we’re not past our last freeze date yet), other than early veggies already in or going in this weekend–peas, lettuce, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, endives, and swiss chard. Going into the cold frame are pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and eggplant. Remember our free seeds?

To build a cold frame, you need little more than a glass covering of some sort and a wooden frame. We’re using our boxed flower garden to start our seeds this year, with old salvaged windows on top.

These windows came from my cousin’s barn. Mark is a salvager extraordinaire. The windows originally came from the old Walton (our tiny little town) elementary school. They’re all shabby chic and everything. I love that.
Imagine all the schoolchildren who looked through these windows, wishing wishing wishing they could go outside to play.

Mark keeps all his junk on the “man side” of the road. My cousin’s farm is split by the road. Way back when, my great-aunt Ruby and my great-uncle Carl came to the truce that Ruby was in charge of the side of the road where the old farmhouse stands. Only pretty things were to be allowed on her side. Carl got the other side.

The “woman side” of the road is all about flower beds….
…..and apple blossoms.
It’s a good place to get a piece of pie.

The “man side” of the road is all about junk….
….and old cars.
It’s a good place to get your cousin to fill up your window washer fluid and check your oil. Or ask him to stick his giant meaty fist into the barn and pluck out a bunch of old windows for a cold frame.

Who wishes you had a man side and a woman side of the road at your house? Raise your hands!

We are the secondary salvagers, salvaging from Mark’s salvage. We brought these windows back to our farm to make our cold frame. We are experts at the free or nearly free here at Stringtown Rising Farm.

The process is simple–just stick the seeds in a box of soil (remember our recent haul of two tons of cheap-cheap-cheap compost from the City of Charleston?), cover ’em up, and place the windows on top. We used pieces of wood and concrete to prop the windows at the height we wanted them from inside the box.
Now, our seeds will have plenty of light and still be protected from the cold. The glass will trap the sun’s warmth on cold days. On unusually warm days, the windows can be moved aside to let more air in and keep the plants from overheating. With this cold frame, we can extend our growing season. After we transplant to the garden in mid-May, I’ll put in my flowers. Then I’ll pull out the dying flowers in the fall to plant more lettuce, and I’ll also be able to plant lettuce sooner next year as the cycle begins again. Fresh salad more months out of the year. I can’t wait!
Make a cold frame! And tell me what you think. Especially about that man side/woman side of the road thing. I love that idea. My great-aunt Ruby was so smart.


  1. Sheryl - Runningtrails says:

    This is my first year with a coldframe too! I made it from an old patio door I picked up at the side of the road. I managed to salvage 6 patio doors last summer. I thought I might put in six coldframes. (My need to collect things to extreme gets out of hand occasionally…) LOL! I did manage to find the time to finish this ONE. Anyway, you can see mine at:

    I am hardening off all my veggie and flower seeds that I started on the windowsill. I put shelves in mine and am sitting the pots on them, instead of planting directly into the soil. I’d love to be able to put all my early potted dahlias and cannas and EEs in there too, but there is just no more room! I’ll have to drag over another patio door and make a second one for those things. Now, if the garden would just dry up, I could plant some of these things in it.

  2. Heidi says:

    Cold frames are da bomb! :yes: When the Milk Man and I were first married, he made on for me to start my plants in – he hinged the old windows so that I could ‘prop them open’ and yet keep them warm and moist. THEY WORK GREAT!!! and the man/woman side is a perfect truce!!! I am lookin up ramp recipes now.. 🙂 :heart:

  3. Lynda Dunham-Watkins says:

    Great way to use old windows. My little garden has edging,so I could use that idea in early spring. Now, to find someone with a man-side of the road thingy! Yes, your great-aunt Ruby was so smart!!

  4. trish from "grow lettuce grow" says:

    i salvage some old drawers from the old building at work that they tore down a couple of fews ago. the plan to use them as portable herb/lettuce boxes during the warm months and then slap some glass on top of them in the winter. but so far they have just been sitting in the garage. got ta git to workin on the gardin today. sunny sunny sunny.

  5. BuckeyeGirl says:

    The man side/woman side of the road sounds great. Everyone’s areas would be fuzzy at the edges in different ways, but a road between as a division AND a path between gives a TON of freedom. Both sides know the other one rolls their eyes at each other, you know, “Silly flowers!” “God what a pile of JUNK!” But that part of it has to be kept ‘sub-rosa’ or at least good natured, so that either can be comfortable walking across the road to look for good things to cross back and forth with. Like the windows from the old school, or a fresh loaf of bread or a jar of pickles from the garden. Oh, by the way Suzanne, you know that wheel Mark has hanging in the shed? Think he’d mind if letting me have that? My wheelbarrow has a flat… I sure could use that if he’s ok with it!

  6. Diane says:

    Love the cold frame!! And free windows. You can not beat that. I also like the drawer idea that Trish posted. I am going to look for old drawers and do that. Because I been begging hubby for a raised bed for the garden and he just does not get it. lol. Actally I am thinking of useing some old tires for planters this year. For some reason there are lots of them around here.

    YES about the Pretty womans side and the mans side!!! What a wonderful, great inventive common sense thing to do. My hubby salvages stuff. And its not pretty. And its in my drive way. I do want him to move it all to the bottom of the yard where no one can see it. Possibably put a fense around it all. lol. The only thing I agree with salvage is that it does bring in a bit of money from time to time. And you do find stuff in there usefull. But its not nice looking at all.

    Good luck with your garden!!! We will be starting on ours this week or the weekend also. Cant wait.

  7. Annie says:

    One of my proudest achievements is my cold frame. I built the frame to match my old window exactly. I usually forget to add the thickness of the wood in to my calculations when I am building something, so when I managed to make it actually fit, well :dancingmonster: My flowers and my junk are comingled, usually.

  8. MissyinWV says:

    How neat. I have never seen one of these. What a great idea. Good luck with your garden!

  9. Leah says:

    Shabby Chic indeed,ha,ha~

  10. Claudia W. says:

    Those are great. Perfect idea and good use of resources. My kids hate that I never throw stuff away, it is piling up in the garage. Since there is no “man” side here, I get both sides of the road!
    Thanks for the idea with the drawers, that’s one of the things I have saved through the years and now I can put those to good use!

  11. gwen says:

    Here in holland we are also greately awaiting the planting, wel i am anyway.
    I love the picture of the apple blossoms, i am actually considering planting an apple tree this year, looking forward to that.
    And the men/women side is very recognisable, but fortunately for me our garden is not big enough for cars and such, although you shouldn’t look into our shed 😉

    gwen :sheep:

  12. Nancy in Atlanta says:

    What a fascinating post! It took me waaayyyy back to my childhood when we visited the cousins in PA – there was an old family store at the side of my great-aunt Jane’s house and I can still picture 2 of my cousins and I getting those wax lips and things! Had to have been almost 60 years ago!

    I thought I had viewed all your farmhouse posts, but this one with the man/woman side division was new to me. Thanks for sharing! :purpleflower:

  13. JoAnn says:

    I love the man-side of the road concept – such a clever lady she was.

    Here’s an idea for making row markers with the seed packets. Push a fork handle(maybe find some old ones on the man-side of your cousin’s farm) into the soil with the tines pointing up. Stick the seed packets on the fork – some tines in front of the packet – some behind seed packet and they will sit there very nicely – and not get soggy from touching the ground.

  14. Cheryl says:

    Unfortunately, our place looks like the men (boys) (and the goats!) have taken over! Junk, junk, junk! But whenever someone needs something or wants something fixed, guess where they come?!

    We try to clear an area, but before you know, somehow new *junk* makes its way and finds the new spot! Junk is cleaver, you know? It refuses to go away!

    On an up note….having junk (lots of junk) gives the boys aample fuel for their imaginations….think Our Gang, Little Rascal type…building their own * *(insert anything with wheels) or making their own catapult. So, the junk and I have made friends…junk is a great “kid sitter.”

    BTW – making donuts today! Yipppeeee…..come on over!

  15. Susan says:

    I’m still waiting for Spring to turn the trees green! :sun:

  16. Estella says:

    Great cold frame!
    My husband keeps all of his junk in his shop and a storage shed we had built when we moved to town.

  17. trish says:

    I wouldn’t be able to stand a man’s side of the road. To awful to look at! lol Love the woman’s side of course. Love the way you made use of all these free things to make sure you can get your garden in early.

  18. catslady says:

    ahhh memories – my grandfather was a farmer but even after he wasn’t doing a whole farm – he had these same type of hotbeds for quite a while. I remember one year he started a pumpkin plant for me – we had a lot of pumpkin pies that year and the biggest jack o’lantern in the neighorhood. Just today we planted radishes and onions but we do it in pots. we still have the lettuce that needs done but we ran out of the right kind of container. Then it’s tomatoes and cucumbers.

  19. Sarah Brewer says:

    I laughed when I read this. Love the idea of the man side of the road. This is my man :dancingmonster: And this is me :fairy:

  20. Ms E says:

    Luv your blog and all the sweet farm animals! It’s always nice to see someone giving a humorous, yet thoughtful, glimpse of Appalachian life. Curious to know if you’ve embraced planting and canning by the signs?

  21. ShadowWoods says:

    Cold frames are the way to go! Start earlier and grow longer. And, they’re a great way to recycle/reuse those old windows/glass doors! We’ve used cold frames for years. We even use them in the summer to grow tender herbs like basil and savory. We’ve noticed, particularly with basil, that those plants summer-grown in the cold frames are more viable and lush than those direct-seeded in the garden. Remember, a plastic soda bottle, with the bottom removed, is a mini-greenhouse to use over direct-seeded veggies. As Suzanne says, just remember to open your cold frames or remove your soda bottles on warm, sunny days.

  22. ShadowWoods says:

    BTW, Suzanne, I just tweeted a link to your post today with the following hashtags #gardening #garden #recycle. I think it’s something many folks would love to know about. Thanks again for writing about it!

  23. Wammy says:

    We just made some cold frames from old windows…Check them out at

  24. Cousin Sheryl says:

    Suzanne, everything is looking good on your blog and around the farm. (I just got my computer fixed after 2 weeks without – – serious back tracking to catch up with Suzanne’s activities! Whew!)

    Everyone must know Georgia’s other trick for helping tomato plants along in the garden. As you tomato farmers know, tomato plants are susceptible to “cut worms” and other pests that will just eat the plant off at the ground. Georgia has a collection of 3-pound, metal coffee cans that are open at both ends. She places one can over each tomato plant which keeps the pests away. Then she covers the top of the can with the top half of a plastic milk jug, thereby creating a “mini-cold frame” for each plant. She removes the milk jug tops on sunny days. She gets her tomatoes out at least 2 weeks earlier in the garden than anyone else with this method. She keeps the handle of the milk jugs intact so when she is finished with them, she strings them by the handles on a piece of baling twine and hangs the whole bunch of them from a nail on the outside/backside of her garden shed. She also runs a string through the coffee cans and saves them for re-use. That’s our Georgia – – THRIFTY is her middle name. :happyflower:
    Mark is talking about growing potatoes in old tires this year. Supposedly, you start the potato in one tire and then you add another tire and more dirt as the potato grows upward. Then when you are ready to harvest, you just remove the tire stack and all the potatoes fall down to be picked up. I’ll keep you posted on this one. :shimmy:
    As the beneficiary of Carl and Ruby’s man side/woman side thing, I can tell you that it works great! I am so glad that I don’t have to walk around Mark’s “collectibles” to get in my front door! :yes:

    Wait until I tell Mark that you described his hand as a “giant meaty fist.” I love that one. 😆 But, as you know, Mark’s hand is a gentle as a lamb, :sheep: , helpful and kind. :snuggle:

    I Luv my guy, Mark! :heart: (Especially since he keeps his JUNK on HIS SIDE of the road! :whip: )

    Best wishes to all! Happy gardening! :purpleflower:

  25. Lisa Zimmerman says:

    Love the cold frame, but I have two young boys and worried about them breaking the glass on the frames. Does anyone know if old clear plastic panels would work just as well? Lisa

  26. Arlene says:

    Great way to start plants early. My husband and I do this every year. Mine is made with bales of straw, a couple of saw horses(not real horses LOL) and heavy painters plastic. I am sitting right now in my dining room with about 7-8 plant containers filled with seeds all the way from hot peppers to tomatoes the cold frame is almost I sell them at the local flea market along with my other little things I do.

  27. Kerry says:

    Since the window frames are so old and water will be dripping from them into the soil occasionally, I would test the paint on the frames for lead as a precaution. Just a thought. Nice practical idea.

  28. Erszi says:

    My name is Erszi I came from Holland 23 yrs ago. Looking at your site I came upon this Cold frame subject and wanted to let you know my dad gardened like this all my life long. We made them more door like with hinges on the top past and then use a stick to lift up the window frames from the front past to have air come in etc. Then once the seeds had germanized,we would leave the windows of so sun and rain could have its ways. We then would replant those in larger gardens at least most plants can be but some don’t do well replanting. I have always loved the way we had enough most year around for foods grown from home. We actually grew such big Bib lettuces that weight up to 1.5 kilo’s and sold them to an all natural store. Mom would can all other ones as we ate that for our winter foods since buying it from the stores that would grow our foods in Green Houses would be way to expensive. There is something to be said for Provident Living and supplying for your own family no matter how small or big.

  29. Rosemary says:

    Last year I built a a cold frame using old bricks that I had lying around the place I also used old door windows to cover the bricks When my use for the cold frame was done I just dismantled the bricks and put them in an out of way area. I also use as a cold frame very long old hand built flower boxes I cover these with screens so the cats do not dig in them In the window boxes I plant my cold weather plants

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