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"Looking Ahead" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, September 2011

During the growing season, seeding salad greens is a weekly task. A mix of greens is a staple of our meal so long as the ground is free of snow: it is presumed that boxes of salad will crowd our fridge, that seed packets will accompany us about the work day, and that the simple act of seeding new blocks of Merlot, Tango, Lollo di Vino, Dark Lollo Rossa, & Revolution lettuces will be an automatic task consuming a portion of our time each week. For such a simple process, the rewards are tasty, healthful, and colorful.

Last week, however, saw a significant change in events.

Last week, you see, we began to seed into coldframes. Coldframes are a simple piece of garden technology. A wooden box with a pane of glass or sheet of plastic covering its top, angled into the sun, a coldframe works like a mini-greenhouse. It creates a microclimate that offers protection to fragile plants like, in this case, lettuce.

Now, sure, the nights are cooling off, but the summer heat is still hanging on to its banker's hours. We're not approaching frost weather quite yet. So for now, our coldframes are sitting wide open, the seeds not requiring additional heat beyond what the August sun continues to offer. But in planting these tiny lettuce seeds now, we're looking ahead to when these greens will reach our plates. I can write with fair certainty that the leaves will have changed, "cool" will be replaced by "cold" in our daily descriptors, and frost will be upon us. Lettuce is no Herculean food – none of the above appeals to such plants in the least.

So with the use of coldframes, we can protect such plants and thereby extend our growing season. It's a wonderful treat to have the flavors of summer linger into the autumnal months and, equally exciting, coldframes offer a simple, easy, do-it-yourself opportunity for you to do the same.

Salvage an old glass door at the dump, or make use of that old plastic sheeting in your garage. Building a coldframe doesn't require fancy materials; nothing beyond the above, some wood, and screws to put it all together.

Keep it basic. And light. Because coldframes are useful for more than just fall lettuce, and once you build one (or two, or more), you'll find you'll want to move it around season to season, for a host of different garden purposes. For example, come this time of year, you'll also want to think of fall broccoli plants…or perhaps you've got some top-notch swiss chard you'll want to protect come the first frost. (Not to mention how essential coldframes are for getting an early start in the garden come springtime.)

Don't wait, jump onto this project while it's fresh in your mind. A little work now will earn you garden dividends for seasons to come. And your palate will reap the rewards in just a couple of months time.


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