Building A Cold Frame The Hard Way

I finally did it!  It’s a little late, but I finally put together a cold frame!

I wish I had started it a month or two ago so that I could have started some seeds in it earlier, but at least it’s done.  It’s one less thing I’ll have to do in the fall, and I’ll be grateful for it then, I’m sure.

Now, I can skate by with a lot of things, but carpentry isn’t one of them.  Spacial relations and I are not close friends.  Power tools and I are not well acquainted.  I haven’t made anything with wood and screws and brackets, well, probably not since my 8th grade woodshop class, so I’m pretty darn pleased with the results:

I found some old windows in our basement and got the okay from our landlord to use them.  I gave the measurements to a nearby hardware store and asked them to cut pieces of wood (not pressure treated, please  – it’s for growing food!).

It’s pretty solid and I’m happy with it, but it was a little more challenging than I expected.

My first mistake was not brushing up on geometry.

When I gave the measurements to the guy at the hardware store (27″ for the side pieces, please) he told me “when I cut the diagonal, they will be longer.”

<silence while I try to wrap  my head around this>

“Longer than 27 inches?” I asked.

“Yes, miss.”

What??  But how?

There was a little bit of a language barrier going on and that coupled with the 25 years since my last geometry class, well…it made for  a pretty funny conversation…him repeatedly telling me it will become longer than 27 inches when cut on a diagonal and me repeatedly saying in response “how can it become longer than it actually is?”   (Not like it’s going to GROW, right?)  “If the rectangle is 27″ long and you cut it on a diagonal, how can it possibly become longer than 27″  The wood is only 27″ wide!”

I picked up the cut wood, took it home, and lo and behold – it was longer than 27 inches on the diagonal.  Holy cow.  He was right!  How could this be?

A friend later reminded me that the hypotenuse is the longest side of a right triangle.  (huh.  And I got an A in geometry in 8th grade…guess it hasn’t exactly stuck with me.)

Mistake number two was not taking into consideration the extra inch or so (width of the wood planks) that I’d get when I joined two pieces together.  Huh.   When I started putting the frame together and set the window on top…the frame was too big.

This led to me purchasing my very first saw and removing a couple of inches on each diagonal plank so that the window actually fit the box when it was assembled and there weren’t 3 extra inches of wood sticking out the bottom end.

My screws are slightly crooked and it took me a heck of a lot longer than it probably should have, but I now have a solid cold frame!   It was easy on paper, but putting it together was more challenging than I’d imagined.  (Okay – two pieces of wood that must be joined together with screws…how do I hold one board steady while attaching board #2?)  Sigh.

As you can see, I was really starting with the VERY basics.  Someone might as well have asked me to change their carburetor.

Somehow I managed to lodge that first piece against the porch using some bricks and a barrel and get the second one attached.  From there it was a little easier.

Here’s the progress, step by slow step:

Success!  The first two pieces joined together.

These screws actually went in straight. 😉

Board #3 gets attached:

I added these braces or brackets or whatever they are called hoping that they would make the frame sturdier overall and help to stop the wood from warping over time:

The 4th and final board attached!

Next came the hinges. It was a little tricky because the side of the window frame wasn’t totally solid on one half, where the chain / sash is. Of course I neglected to notice that or think of it before making the frame. Had I noticed, I could have turned the window so that the sides with the chain / sash would have actually been the sides of the cold frame, giving me a solid top and bottom to drill the hinges into.

Somehow I made it work. I’d consider buying an extra set of hinges and attaching them just because it can’t hurt, but it’s working for now:

Overall, not so bad!

I had considered adding some sort of handle (and still may) to make it easier to open the frame. In the meantime, the window chain actually makes it easy to grab and lift up the frame:

Not sure that it will continue to live here in this spot, but it fits well enough for the time being, and it’s certainly easy to move.

Woo hoo!

Half Wine Barrels on Wheels

Our landlord makes wine.

Underneath the garage there is a basement full of old barrels and wine-making equipment that hasn’t been used in a while.  Last he landlord asked if I’d like to have one of the barrels for planting.  Um…YES, please!  He also offered to cut it in half for me.  Perfect!

He finally dropped off two half-barrels a few weeks ago – great timing!

Thanks to the folks at Talking-Dog I found a great way to attach casters to the bottom of the barrels so that I can play around with where to put them and move them more easily if necessary.

One of the barrel bottoms was a bit warped, so the pieces of wood didn’t fit very well and it was king of hit or miss with the 3″ screws I was using, but eventually I managed to secure the wood pieces.

Not bad, huh?  I am hoping that we can score some more.  They would save me a ton of money on large planters, plus I really love the way they look – and since they were used for wine, they are food safe!

I’ve had some concerns about planting veggies in the ground for several reasons.  First of all there are so many trees and roots it is hard to dig a decent sized space.  Once all the trees fill in and the figs branch out, there isn’t quite enough sun for a vegetable patch.  Most importantly, I’ve never had the soil tested and have found an alarming number of batteries in the ground wherever I have dug in.

(The battery mystery has at last been solved, by they way! Charlie finally figured it out – the previous tenants must have had lots of battery-operated footlights…and apparently they never actually properly disposed of any of the batteries, preferring to, you know, just LEAVE them in the GROUND. ???)

So, I would much prefer planting veggies and herbs in containers where I can control what the growing medium is.

I still need to drill some drainage holes in the bottoms before I can fill them.  I’ m hoping I can pick up a drill bit piece that will make a holes larger than 1/4 inch – ha.

I may line the barrels with a bit of landscape cloth too, still not sure.  I am pretty sure I will fill the bottom 1/3 with styrofoam peanuts or something similar to help lighten the load and cut back on the amount of soil I need use and buy.

The hardest part is narrowing down what to put in there!

I think an herb barrel would be really nice…close to the kitchen, and plenty of room for everyone’s roots.

Sage, thyme, rosemary, chives, oregano, hopefully some basil…I think I should be able to fit them all in there…the barrels are actually pretty big.

I’d love to fill one with potatoes, or lettuces and peppers…and I would love to have some filled with flowers…maybe a small shrub for the front of the house.  (I splurged on a self-watering grow box for tomatoes…that will be another post soon!)

What I would really love is to grow a peony or a rose (shrub or tea or climbing)…if I could find one that can handle living in a large container, I’d be able to make sure it got a spot in the sun.

CLEARLY, I’m going to need more barrels.  Good thing my husband shoveled all that snow all winter long for the landlord!  🙂

Busting A Concrete Move (and the search for step-able groundcovers).

Last weekend my husband went to the hardware store and came home with a sledgehammer!  I knew what this meant:  the concrete curb in the middle of our yard was coming down.  Yippee!

Evidently it used to be a “cabana” tent area, and the curb had holes for tent poles.

As cool as a cabana tent sounds, we never saw ourselves having one (or putting it there if we did.)

We did, however, see ourselves tripping over the curb in a frenzy to grab the perfect fig from the fig trees some afternoon or after a margarita or two some evening.  In addition to being potentially dangerous, we also though it just looked odd and closed off the space:

(these photos were taken last July when we first came to look at the apartment – hence the long grass and unraked leaves…nice to see some GREEN, though!)

Here’s another shot of it:

Fortunately for us our landlord agreed and gave us the go-ahead to “get rid of it.”

It was pretty incredible to watch (no, I didn’t take a turn at the bat) and the whole thing was finished much faster than I would have imagined it possible.  Each piece of the curb cracked pretty easily into halves, which Charlie was able to break up or dig out of the ground.  The hardest part seemed to be moving the concrete chunks away afterwards.  Half of them are now lining the end of our driveway and the other half are temporarily at the back of the yard.  Even so, the space looks so much more open without that curb! (Although bare naked without any tree foliage and with those fig trees pruned back so much.)

Miraculously, that very day I saw an ad on FreeCycle – someone had done a huge garden renovation and was giving away fill dirt!  Once Charlie took the out the curb, we were left with an empty “moat” around the circle, so free fill dirt was music to my ears.  It’s times like these, though, that I do wish we had a car.  It just comes with the territory of living in NYC that sometimes you’re going to call a car service and ask for a mini van, and when they show up you’re going to have an old sheet and 6 contractor bags of soil.

If we knew someone with a truck or some movers with great rates, I would have stocked up on more in a heartbeat.  We simply didn’t have a way to inexpensively transport it.  That, plus each bag was at least 50 pounds…not an easy task to load and unload.

We got enough to fill in the area and still have a little to spare for my half-wine barrels, though!

Now we are looking for something to plant in that dirt, and in the other scrappy looking areas of  the “lawn.”  Last year grass didn’t grow so well in the front half of the yard because the fig trees cast so much shade.  We’re not really sure what to expect this year.  We’re looking into some low-growing ground covers, at least for around the circle.

Right now we’re considering some combination of:

Blue Star Creeper

Blue Star Creeper close up:

Creeping Jenny:

Creeping Thyme:

More Creeping Thyme:  

Silene acaulis Moss Campion:  

Veronica oltensis Miniature Speedwell:  

Veronica repens:  

or maybe even some MOSS.  This is sort of what we may be going for: claims to have several plants (including those I’ve listed above) that can handle a small degree of foot traffic, and sells “moss millkshakes.”  Hmmm.


I guess mulch is always an option too!

Anyone have any experience with any of those plants?

Mission Accomplished: Window Boxes & Compost Bins!

It poured rain this past weekend (and man, did we ever need it.) but that didn’t stop me from getting some work done, thanks to the large awning over our back porch.

I’ve never planted a window box OR made a compost bin before.  It was great fun, and I’m pretty pleased with the results.

I went to the Chelsea Garden Center West in Red Hook and from their selection I chose purple Heliotrope for the center, lime-green Sweet Potato Ivy on either side, and bright pink “Million Bells” for the ends.  Hopefully they will last me another 4 weeks or so before I have to replace them with kale or something else that can handle the colder temperatures when they come!

I think they’ve done a lot to spruce up the front of the house, and I’ve already had some complements from a neighbor.  It’s nice having color from inside and outside the house.

Here’s a very unexciting photo of the front windows before we moved in:

and here it is now, cleaned up and with flowers! (I took these with my phone – probably not the best quality, but we’re still unpacking and haven’t found the camera yet!)

Close up of a window box:

Too bad about the bars on the window, but they’re a nice feature to have on ground floor apartments – and they’ll keep anyone from stealing my flowers or boxes, which has been known to happen – ha.

My compost bin in the making:

I made two – this one was with 1/2″ hardware cloth and the other is with 2″ x 3″ mesh galvanized “garden wire.”  Both have been completed and one is currently containing a yard full of partially decomposed leaves that had been there who knows how long before we moved in.  Perfect!  I’ll take them.

I’m glad I went with this wire-bin for compost…we are still playing around with where in the yard to keep these bins, so if we change our minds they will be easy to move.  Right now I’ve got them along the side of the house, which I think is the best plan – close to the back porch for dumping kitchen scraps, and enough room on that patch of ground for two bins so that we can add leaves as needed.

Wish I could get my hands on some untreated sawdust!  I did recently get FREE MULCH from Greenwood Cemetery – all you have to do is show up with a shovel and a bag (or five, as we did!) and go to town.  It’s available year-round…just to to the main entrance on 25th St. & 5th Ave. and ask the security guards where to go.

So a little progress was made…hopefully more this coming weekend – including picking figs.  We have 4 fig trees in the yard and they are literally dropping.  SO delicious!