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Saturday, April 19, 2008

How To Make a Cheap Cold Frame

Cheap PVC Cold Frame
Here is what I spent a large part of yesterday doing. Just to cover for myself, within the subset of this project, a large part of that time was spent running around returning things or buying things that I will get the first time around, next time.

For those that don't know, a cold frame is sort of like a miniature greenhouse. Like greenhouses, they provide a few more degrees of warmth to young seedlings and allow you to start them outside a bit earlier in the gardening season. They could also be used to extend the gardening season when the weather starts getting colder.

I was a bit late getting to this project. I'd been tossing the idea around since last season, but only now got around to it. Unfortunately, this will not see much use, as the weather should be just warm enough in a few days. But for those few days, we'll be able to use it.

Now, here's the list of ingredients I bought:

  • Two (2) 3/4" diameter PVC pipe, 10 feet each.

  • One (1) 1/2" diameter PVC pipe, 10 feet.

  • 8 PVC corners with side out (or outlet elbow connectors). These are what are at the vertices of the cold frame (a.k.a. pointy corners).

  • 8 1/2" male adapters. These are needed to attach PVC pipe to the outlet elbow connectors.

  • Something clear for the sides. I used clear shower curtain liner from Target. $2.34. The dollar store might have some too. For the size I was making, I only needed one.


Making it is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure you buy enough PVC pipe for the dimensions that you want. Our's is 1.5 feet length x 2 feet width x 1.5 feet height. Once you have the pieces cut out...just put the PVC pipes into the connectors.

You can see that I'm currently using clips to hold the shower curtain in place. This is not the best arrangement. If something pulls too hard on the curtain, it will come loose from the clips. I haven't figured out a better way yet.

Shower curtain saves you money
I had originally planned on making the cold frame out of Lexan. It would've looked much snazzier, but Lexan is so(!) much more expensive compared to PVC pipe, which is dirt dirt cheap. I had also bought 50 feet of 4 mil plastic tarp for the sides and top. That was $10, but I ended up using clear shower curtain, because I had wanted clear sides all along. I wanted as pure sunlight as possible reaching the seedlings. While the plastic tarp did let heat in, it was not clear. If you're on a tight budget, clear shower curtain is the material to use for the sides.

If using Velcro...
So, shower curtain is the first way to save some cash money. Next tip is if you use velcro to secure the top. We are planning to do this so we can vent the cold frame on too-hot days. On not-hot days, we wouldn't need rocks on top, which could fall inward and bust the shower curtain, forcing you to spend more money. So! About the money saving part. In this case, do NOT buy the Velcro they have at the hardware store. Buy Velcro from Walmart or a crafts store; it'll be cheaper, according to my wife. If the Velcro from the crafts store is not adhesive, I am thinking of using two-sided tape. I happen to have some already, so I won't need to spend more money on that.

Wasted trips are not frugal
I had to go back to Home Depot once to return a male adapter. I had nonchalantly reached into the box at Home Depot and grabbed 8. Well, just keep in mind that some dumb people will put wrong stuff back into the wrong boxes. Then some dumb people will come along and nonchalantly reach into the box and grab some without bothering to check the sizes. Driving a couple of miles to the store to return a $0.34 item is not very frugal. So make sure to check that you have all the right dimensions!

I'm a newbie
Of course, this is my first time making a cold frame. We haven't tested it out yet, and won't have much of a chance to. Perhaps some of my ideas are really bad. Maybe shower curtain won't stand up well to constant sunlight. Maybe PVC will cause us to sprout 2 more arms (which might be pretty useful). If I've made any bad suggestions, I'd appreciate it if you let me know.

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2 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Ginny

    The shower curtain will probably degrade in the sunlight, but overall it is a nifty idea. I understand about being a newbie at it. I am a newbie at building chicken coops. I just came in from spending a half hour trying to get a carriage bolt through a 2x4 and now I am off to the store to buy the right sized drill bit.
    .... :-( ugh!
    I'm sure the neighbors had fun watching me on the ground wrestling with the bolt.

  • Birdie

    Very neat.