Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Garden party at the Friedman Student Garden

Volunteers, last greenery, and one of our two new cold frames in the garden.

It has been another successful year for the young Friedman Student Garden. The tomatoes grew tall in their fenced corner, the heirloom bean vines scrambled up the rails and produced delicious mottled pods, and the plot planted by the Quincy School students flourished, growing thick with kale, peppers and carrots.

But as the seasons have turned, so has the garden. To close the year and put the beds to rest, Becca Weaver and I hosted a garden party on November 24th. We had two objectives for this event. The first was obvious: the vines were dried on the fences and the garden was ready for a rest. But our other objective was more far-reaching: to build cold frames.

Laura Held (L) and Kyle Foley harvest lettuce, mesclun greens, and senposai.

We, by chance, chose an appropriate date for our end-of-season work. After an unusually warm fall, that Wednesday was the first day with a real bite to it, a sure sign that we were undertaking this labor just in the nick of time. Aside from Becca and I, a small contingent of other folks showed up. Fortunately again, it was also the perfect amount of helping hands, with Michelle Sisson, Kyle Foley, and Laura Held in attendance, and an appearance by Amelia Reese Masterson later in the afternoon on a break from work.

We got started by removing old plant material and putting it in our compost bins. We filled both bins up very quickly! Then we harvested what remained in the garden before the hard frosts moved their way in. Being thrifty, we had a healthy harvest of all kinds of greens, lingering peppers, stubby Tonda di Parigi carrots, and a bounty of green tomatoes.

While clean-up and harvest in the garden continued, some of us got started on building the cold frames. The idea behind cold frames is the same as that behind greenhouses. Using a translucent, airtight material, one can capture ground heat and sunlight to warm a space for growing plants. For the modern greenhouse, the material of choice is almost always 6 mil plastic,
but for small spaces, home gardeners and hobby farmers will often make use of old windows and build cold frames.In our case, we found a large set of free old windows being given away by a fellow who lives in Billerica. They are all of different sizes, but with cold frames, you can custom-build the frame to suit your recycled material. Typically, a cold frame is built as a wooden rectangle, with one long side being higher than the other, creating a slope. The window is then placed on top, secured with hinges, and the slope is angled towards the sun, which follow a low southern path in northern winter months. This allows for maximum "solar gain".

Using guidance from Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest, Becca made a design suitable for our needs. We used funding provided to us by the Friedman Student Council (thanks again!) to purchases our other necessary materials, including lumber, connectors, and hinges.

Senior cold frame engineer Becca Weaver treats the wood with linseed oil before construction.

Michelle Sisson gives the cold frame sidewall the business.

We then placed our cold frames over some remaining greens for which we wanted to extend the season. We also transplanted one of our rosemary plants (which performed spectacularly in our garden this season) into the cold frame and mounded it with hay to see if we can overwinter what is normally a tender perennial.

Jeff Hake transplants rosemary to the cold frames.

Our end product was two beautiful, double-lighted (windows on cold frames are referred to as "lights") cold frames that we hope will last for many more years in our garden. Not only have our greens remained growing and harvestable, but we will also plant into them earlier in the spring than the rest of the garden, taking advantage of cold-hardy crops like various greens, carrots, peas, and onions.

Towards the end of our time at the garden we had a wonderful visit from a father and son who were out on a walk. Though the father spoke almost no English and his son could not have been much more than a year old, they stuck around for awhile, the boy dawdling around us while the harvest and construction continued. He was hesitant to try a carrot that Becca handed to him but was nevertheless fascinated by what we were doing, mouth hanging open at the sight of our activity.

The garden is now closed for the winter, buried under next spring's first flush of moisture. However, it was an excellent year for our little plot, and Becca and I would like to thank our wonderful volunteers, Michelle, Kyle, Laura, and Amelia, the Friedman Student Council, the Friedman School administration, Jen Obadia, and the grounds and maintenance folks at the school for helping and supporting us through another year with our hands in the soil.

-Jeff Hake

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