It’s that time of year where gardeners are starting their plants off to get their vegetables off to the best start once spring arrives.
In England, January is when tomatoes are started under glass (in a cold frame, greenhouse or indoors) to enable the plants to be stronger and bigger by the time the short period of warmth arrives.
Since I didn’t get the chance to get a cold frame or greenhouse built last year, the window sill will become growing space for the seedlings and most probably the dining table since it is by the south facing windows.
Cold frames are something that I really miss having. I had one on my allotment which was just some glass that a neighboring gardener had given me propped up on some bricks. It allowed me to sow salad leaves such as miners lettuce, mizuna and other cold hardy leaves during winter. I would also harden off my tender plants so they were strong enough to survive the weather once transplanted into the beds.
In the next few weeks I will need to get a cold frame together so that my seeds will have somewhere to go to start hardening off in March, it will also get used later in the year to grow winter salads again.
The Victorians had some wonderful ideas when it comes to gardening; from trained fruit trees growing against a wall or step-over fruit trees such as apples to neatly box in a vegetable bed all the way to using the heat generated by decomposing material to warm up soil to plant seeds in for spring. I have even heard of gardeners following the old Victorian growing method of Hot Boxing to force plants to start earlier in their cold frames.
To hot box, you need to build up layers of fresh manure and/or decomposable material to about two foot deep. Some gardeners dig into the ground to do this, others build the cold frame up to be almost waist height(which offers some advantages to those who have difficulty bending). You need to start this early in the year because the heap takes three to four months to cool down which will have your crops ready to go by the time spring is well under way.
On top of the layered manure you need to place three to four inches of growing medium such as sowing compost, coir or other medium. The frame to the cold frame (or a glass door, window etc) will protect the medium from the external elements. Occasionally, this will need propping up to allow heat to escape to prevent your seeds from frazzling.
After about four or five days, the initial heat associated with decomposition and composting should have subsided a little and you should be able to sow your seeds directly into the bed.
The cold frame can then the moved off the decomposed material once the heat is spent or the soil dug out ready for the next hot box you want to make. If leaving in place, nutrient hungry crops such as squashes, melons, potatoes or pumpkins may be planted on top to maximize the use of the composted material. If you don’t wish to grow these types of plants there, the compost may be spread around fruit trees and bushes, on vegetable beds and containers as a mulch.
If you would like to get a start on gardening Shop Burpee.com for Organic Gardening Supplies.
Burpee Gardening offers gardening supplies and great quality non-GMO seeds for flowers, herbs and vegetables at reasonable prices. The company is also Landfill Free meaning that all waste generated by the company is either recycled, reused or processed to make energy. I will be ordering several varieties of seeds from them this year to get the gardens off to a flying start.