Building a DIY Cold Frame w/ Root Riot's Seamus Ford

I am growing lettuce, radishes and spinach outside in a DIY cold frame

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Show/Hide Gallery

By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Over the last two weekends of March is when as a volunteer I tend to sit at tables fielding  questions during two long-standing and annual flower and gardening events in Chicago.

Most recently, I was at the Art in Bloom flower show at Macy's, which is free, and runs through April 4.

Two of the most frequently asked questions I received were "can I start growing a few vegetables now if I live in a condo," and "can I start anything outside in spite of the flip flopping temperatures?"

The answer to both of those questions is yes. 

First, the veggies, herbs and flowers that can grow in your urban or suburban garden can also be grown in a suitable container, either on a sunny windowsill, or outdoors on a patio when the temps stay consistently warm. 

However, right now cool and warm weather seeds can be started indoors under grow lights, and later transplanted outdoors in late Spring or early Summer.  The key to success is creating the right conditions -- the correct soil, plus always making sure the seedlings have enough water, nutrients and light, according to each particular plant's requirements.

For example, in the last two seasons, I have successfully started my heirloom tomatoes under lights in my basement, then vertically grown those indeterminate varieties in space-saving and self-watering Earth Boxes.

For two seasons now I have cultivated a late-spring-to-early-fall snip-and-eat herb and lettuce garden in a re-purposed wash basin situated on the porch and out my back door.

Currently, I am growing lettuce, radishes and spinach outside in a DIY cold frame I cobbled together using re-purposed materials that were cluttering up our garage and crawl space.

I first learned how to build a cold frame -- without using power tools -- last April when we dropped by Seamus Ford's backyard.  He is the co-founder of Root-Riot Urban Garden Network who says a cold frame is "a heat sink. What you're doing is capturing solar gain. What happens is just by putting a window over the frame, the sunlight that hits the soil warms it up during the day.  It warms it up more because the heat doesn't escape into the atmosphere because it actually is concentrated down in the soil.  When you till the soil and aerate it, it actually comes back to life.  So where the ground might be frozen outside of the cold frame, it's (in the frame) literally teeming with life."

For anyone who does not know him yet, Seamus is the local go-to-guy and ongoing resource for figuring out sustainable ways to grow an edible garden at home, in a raised bed at a nearby community garden, such as the one in Austin, or with kids at nonprofit and school settings -- as he has done at Alex Anderson Memorial Garden at Hepzhibah Home.

Or, you can watch this extended version of the "Building a Cold Frame" video we originally did with Seamus in 2014.


Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad