Cold Frames & Hotbeds




One of my goals for gardening is to have cold frames and hotbeds. There are times we see a need (or probably more truthfully, a want) on the farm, but the checkbook just doesn’t agree with us. We can argue the viability, the usefulness, and the time saving tips all day long, but there is no argument that will make that checkbook cough up the money needed to go and buy it.


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Working with a Tiny Budget


As much as possible, I just work around that mean old checkbook and get it anyway. It means that I may have to spend a day or two scrapping for the supplies, but usually I can find everything I need for simpler projects. When the desire for cold frames and hot beds began, I did just that. And thanks to my son, James, I finally got one, and it fits perfectly beside my garden.


Cold Frame or Hot Bed?


Cold Frame

Hotbeds and cold frames are versatile. One structure can be used for either purpose. Although built roughly the same, there is a difference between a cold frame and a hotbed. The cold frame’s initial intention was to be used in addition to a greenhouse. Seeds are started in a greenhouse, and moved to the cold frame to harden off. Cold frames are placed directly on the ground.


Hot Bed

A hotbed is place over a hole in the ground, usually a few inches in diameter smaller than the box and approximately two feet deep. The hole is filled with fresh manure and covered in a thick layer of straw. Trays of seeds are placed on top of the straw.


The manure, along with the solar effect of the sun, generates heat on cold winter days and allows the seeds to germinate. The windows act as vents – if the interior temperature of the hotbed or cold frame heats up too much, the windows can be raised by inches, or completely open to allow excess heat to escape.


How I Use Mine


I currently use mine as a cold frame, with a slight twist. In it, I  have started greens and a few herbs in trays. The greens will be harvested for eating, and the herbs will be transplanted into my garden. This year is simply a trial year, so I can gauge temperatures and how things grow.


Next year I have the option of digging a hole and using it as a hotbed, or leaving it as is and having a cold frame ready to go to harden off seedlings. The fact that it cost nothing to have, makes it even a greater asset.


James repurposed some cypress boards that were originally used for raised beds in the garden. Several years ago, our friends Jim and Lorea were talking about pulling down an old house on a piece of their property. I asked Jim if I could have the windows, and he quickly agreed.


It took a little more time to scrounge through buckets, drawers, and boxes in the shop to find hinges, and there was a little bit of scratching though scraps of wood left over from other projects to complete the supply list. From there, it was just some measuring, scraping old paint off of the glass panes (and regluing a couple back in) and piecing the finished project together.



The Art of Homemaking Manual



The Frugal Life


The idea that we have to run to our checkbook every time we want something can be hazardous to our financial health. In my opinion, it is a good way to stifle our creativity. If we keep running to the store to buy what we can very possibly make ourselves, it steals some of the joy and excitement of having made it ourselves.


I also think it is a breeding ground for boredom. Think about it. You go to the store, and a check is written to purchase supplies. Once you bring them home, you start your project. Where is the adventure in that?  There really is a better way.


Think about strolling around the farm, searching through the junk piles, and storage sheds. Pull a piece out here, a board out there. Listen to the jingle of metal screws, nails, hinges, hooks and eyelets.


Don’t forget to take a walk around the neighborhood. Talk to your neighbors about your project, and see if they have anything they are willing to donate. A lot of people would be happy to get rid of a few pieces of what they consider ‘junk’.


Make a Plan


Did you get all your supplies? Grab you some paper and a pencil (and in my case, a good eraser), and start the design process. Once you have it designed the way you like it, it’s time to start building.


Grab your blueprint and all those supplies you collected, and start building. It may take a few days, but think of all you have to look forward to – the excitement of a completed project you built yourself.


Living Simply doesn’t mean living without. It means living within. Hard work is involved, but in most cases, it is balanced by the joy of exercising our minds and creativity. And you seldom get bored. To me, that is probably the greatest asset to a simple life.


Maybe it’s time to stick your tongue out at your checkbook.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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