Tricks for Growing Lettuce in Cold Weather Months

This frame has a double zippered front and a removable plastic top.

This frame has a double zippered front and a removable plastic top.

Well, let me preface this by saying that I might have waited too long to get this project going here in Connecticut.  In past years, I’ve planted my winter lettuce in early September and it was a couple of inches high by the time it needed winter protection.  This year we were birding in Africa when I should have been planting lettuce and I didn’t get it planted until about 2 weeks ago.  It’s now up and about 1/2″ high and I’ll see how it goes.  In the past, I have been able to pick fresh lettuce through winter months with the help of a cold frame.  I have a heavy quilt that I throw over the top of it when the temperatures are below freezing at night.  During the day, I take off the cover and the sun, even a weak sun of deep winter, will warm it up.  I put a soil thermometer in the corner to monitor the temperature.

One way to have a warm cold frame is make it a “hot frame” by digging out the bottom and putting  a layer of fresh cow or horse manure (not dog or cat) on the bottom.   You then cover it with about 6″ of garden soil for the plants to grow in.  As the manure breaks down, it releases heat, raising the temperature.  I didn’t have fresh manure, so I am just going with the protection of the cold frame.  When truly cold weather sets in, I raise the temperature inside by filling plastic gallon milk jugs with hot water and putting them around the edges inside in the evening.

I used to have a wooden cold frame with a sheet of Plexiglas for a top that my son Pete made for me.  It has deteriorated over the years and the Plexiglas shattered a couple of years ago, so I have searched for alternatives.  My friend Rachel found something at Costco and got me one, so we’ll see how it works.  Those of you further to the south still have time to get your winter lettuce going.  Wish me luck with mine.  I may have to break down and (gasp!) buy it this year.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Tricia Reid said,

    I wonder if you could adapt a raised bed to do something like this?

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    • 2

      I have never tried it on a raised bed, but if that’s all you have in your garden, I’d say give it a try. The good thing about raised beds (that they heat up faster in the spring) is also the bad thing in the fall, they would cool down faster. If you have something like bales of salt hay or even bags of leaves, you could pile them around the sides to give extra insulation. Let us know how it works out, if you try it.

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