Dear Miss Floribunda,
I bought quite a few packages of seeds at the Hyattsville Horticultural Society garden fair this month and would like to get them planted. However, I don’t want to go through the mess of starting them indoors. I don’t even like potted plants indoors and am of the opinion that soil ought to remain outside where it belongs.
So, what do you think of the idea of starting the seeds outdoors using a cold frame? Do you know where to get one cheap or how I could make one myself? While I’m handy, I’ve never done this before and could use some information. I want to start ASAP.
Eager on Emerson Street
There are actually some seeds you can plant directly in the ground reasonably soon — peas, kale, chard, radishes. According to the USDA planting chart for our zone, which is 6B, they can be planted in the third week of March and lettuce in the first week of April. According to my consultant, Dr. Meriweather at NOAA, the organization which gives official weather forecasts for each season, there should be no unpleasant surprises this March and April. But, of course, the very nature of a surprise is to be unexpected so you may want to be stay on the safe side with a cold frame. It is certainly advisable to start seeds of such warm weather plants as tomatoes and peppers soon and that can only be done indoors or in a cold frame.
A word of caution is in order. There are dangers using a cold frame in this area because temperatures fluctuate wildly in late winter and early spring. Consequently, you will need a cold frame with panels that either lift up or slide off if the afternoon becomes unusually warm. Monitoring the temperature in your cold frame will require time and attention on your part. If you have nine-to-five work hours, you may have to delegate a stay-at-home friend or family member to keep watch. Probably the cheapest and easiest cold frame you could make would be from old windows obtained inexpensively at Community Forklift in nearby Edmonston. You can use the wall of your house, garage, fence or other structure to prop the windows against. Prepare a raised bed, or if planting directly into tilled earth during a good thaw be sure the drainage is good in that spot. Sufficient sunlight is a must. Cinder blocks are good to anchor the window and it isn’t difficult to attach the sash to the structure with hinges. If the weather suddenly gets too warm, the hinges permit you to open the window before the seedlings fry. If the temperature plummets you can cover the window with a blanket overnight. Capability Green advises using windows with sliding screens, if you can find used ones cheaply. On warm days you slide the glass back, and expose the screen portion. This also lets air in. Capability lines her raised bed with paving stones which take in heat during the day and release it at night when it’s needed.
To discuss this and other gardening concerns, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society on Saturday, Feb. 20 at the home of Susan Hines, 4901 40th Place.