A Modified Straw Bale Cold Frame
Do you want to get an early start on your garden but the cost of cold frames is too high? If you’re anything like me, you want something inexpensive, eco-friendly, and super easy to make! The following instructions for creating a straw bale cold frame (or redneck cold frame, as I like to call it) check off all of those boxes!
The first time I created a straw bale cold frame was back in 2008. I wanted an easy way to get my greens started early in the year and keep them growing later in the fall. Two different cold frames created with straw bales and old storm windows allowed me to grow our own salads for about a month longer at the beginning and end of our season.
Those first straw bale cold frames were replaced by my little greenhouse here on our homestead. But the greenhouse doesn’t seem to protect the baby greens as well as the straw bales and glass, so I’ve returned to this really attractive method of extending my season.
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For more information about DIY in the garden, check out How to Start Seedlings Indoors.
Making Do With What I’ve Got
I’d love to build a permanent cold frame with wood, glass, hinges, and insulation…that would be pretty cool. But my construction skills are pretty rudimentary and usually involve duct tape and some curse words, plus a few nicks and cuts for good measure.
So I tend to create the easiest, fastest, and cheapest solutions I can slap together with whatever I’ve got lying around. The only material I needed to purchase were straw bales for $4 each and I can use them in the garden to line my paths when it gets warmer. The old storm door was leftover from a remodeling project.
Sometimes I modify the straw bale cold frame and, instead, place the cold frame up against the side of our garage. I also set up cold frames with straw bales for the back in the garden too.
Building a Straw Bale Cold Frame
The setup of your straw bale cold frame is super simple. You can build it against a wall or create a straw bale back instead. Choose a sunny location for your cold frame. Make sure your straw isn’t sprayed with persistent herbicides that might stunt your plants. You’ll need at least two straw bales for the sides and more for the back if you are not placing it against a wall. I use old windows, storm doors, and even glass shower doors for the cover. You’ll want to use shatterproof glass and make sure that old windows do not have lead paint on the frames.
- Place 2 or more straw bales in a row for the back of the cold frame
- Place 1 straw bale at each end of the back row, at a right angle to the back
- Lean the glass against the back and check for gaps between the glass and side bales
- Move side bales so that they are snug against the glass to hold in warm air
- Prepare the soil inside the cold frame or line it with cardboard and top it with 6 – 8″ of potting soil
- Plant seeds or baby plants in the soil and water
- Place the glass cover so that it leans up against the back row of straw bales and covers the bed
- Check your cold frame on sunny days and remove the glass or move side bales away from the glass to allow hot air to escape. The air will heat up quickly in full sun!
Lisa, Enjoying getting to know you and your site. Plan to try the cold frame at our new place since nothing has been done there yet. However, what’s the purpose of the cardboard?
Welcome! I put down cardboard to smother any weed seeds that might sprout. You can do this and then add compost or potting soil on top, then plant directly into the compost. By the time the seedlings need to reach down deeper, the cardboard should be soft enough for the roots to grow through. I hope this helps!
PS: You would need several layers of cardboard if you are covering turf or weeds, and top it with enough soil or compost for the plant to grow in for the full season.
I guess mine could be classified as redneck too…an upside down fish aquarium. It gets my lettuce up and growing every year.
Lol! Well, you have to have duct tape on it somewhere, I think 🙂 Then you’ll be stylin’ Krista!
I love this! My construction skills are sadly lacking, too, but I’ve been saving up some glass shelves from an old refrigerator that quit working with a view toward someday figuring out how to make a cold frame with them. Now I know how to use them! Thanks so much, once again!
The body of that refrigerator is on it’s back and serving as a storage bin for unopened, 50 pound bags of chicken, rabbit and dog feed and the drawers are now water dishes in various places around the yard.
What a great way to use something that most folks would send to the landfill! I’ve also read about burying an old refrigerator, door side up, in the ground and using it as a mini root cellar…always wanted to try that. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and best wishes with your cold frame!