Our hunter-gatherer ancestors traveled long distances to find sustenance. When they found a fruit-bearing plant that was acceptable for consumption, they took what they needed and probably ate it rather promptly. And look at us now! We often drive several miles to reach food stores. I use the word “store” literally, for in spite of the colorful facades and attractive displays, in truth a supermarket is an enhanced storage unit, no more. But wait, there is more.
In 2004, the Leake family, South Carolina, took part in a self-imposed adventure. They went 100 days without eating a single ounce of processed food or refined ingredients. Their initiative was inspired by author Michael Pollan; more specifically by his book titled “In Defense of Food.” The Leake family did extensive research as part of their project and in an attempt to understand modern nutrition.
Knowledge leads to new choices and sometimes knowledge is made of shocking facts. In an article titled, “How far does your produce travel?” the Leake family observes that, “Produce from your local grocery store chain (whether it is organic or conventional) travels on average 1500 miles from the farm to your plate… the farther your produce travels the less nutritious it is by the time you eat it.” According to author Michael Pollan, “If you shop at your local farmers’ market you will automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious.”
A 1992 New York Times article titled “For Fresh Salads In Winter,” explains that Gardening author Eliot Coleman and wife Barbara Damrosh, landscape designer and gardening writer as well, enjoy fresh mache, carrots, kohlrabi and leek even on the coldest day in January… straight from their cold frame crop. In Maine, their home at the time the article appeared, the ground is frozen from December to March, though as any New England residents will tell you, winter here really lasts at least six months (some swear the actual length is eight months).
What grows well in a cold frame? That depends on cold-season weather conditions in your area, of course, but according to, shall we say, cold-frame enthusiasts, it is not a science that is set in stone. “I’ve learned what I can grow up here by trying all the things I was told were impossible,” says author Eliot Coleman. The key word here is “learn.” Gardening is an eternal classroom, isn’t it?
On the blackboard today, two words: greenhouse and cold frame. What is the difference? According to the dictionary, a greenhouse is a structure, primarily of glass, in which temperature and humidity can be controlled for the cultivation or protection of plants. A cold frame, by comparison, is defined as an unheated outdoor structure consisting of a frame and a top of glass or clear plastic, used for protecting and acclimatizing seedlings and plants. Lesson number one: Definitions are not set in stone either.
As with everything else in our environment, we adapt the structures we use for cultivating as much as we adapt the structures in which we live. Some cold frames, in spite of their names, are heated to turn them into hot beds, and not all greenhouses are made of glass.
Cold frame gardening quickly becomes second nature for many. The winter crop brings to the table more than a welcome harvest; it brings a sense of pride and the satisfaction of overcoming the elements, somehow. Ha! the wind it rages and the air is chilling to the bone, but we lack nothing and what we do have is here because of these two hands and a bit of work that reminds us, every day, that it is good to be alive.
“Winter Gardens. Just When Most Tillers Are Preparing To Plant, Cold-framers Are Harvesting,” begins a March 1990 Chicago Tribune article. Cold-framers. Is this in the dictionary? Twenty-two years have passed, but I could have omitted to mention the date and we would never know it. Like New Englanders who brave the storms of their “everlasting” winter, some practices endure. Cold framing (since we are in the mood for new words and definitions) is one such practice. “Spring has arrived in all its temptation for vegetable gardeners eager to get started, but for some, this is harvest time. The dead of winter was the height of the growing season,” continues the article.
I could not help but include another Chicago Tribune headline, this one from October 1995. “Poor Man’s Greenhouse – A Cold Frame Gives You A Jump On The Growing Season.” The second statement is right on the money. As for the first one… “Poor man?! Poor man?! It is not me who is poor,” says the cold-framer, “my harvest is rich and my table abundant with the fresh colors and flavors of the earth, and I have spent but pennies per plate and have not had to defrost the car to drive to the store in months. I am blessed.”
Cold Frame, a new definition: A treasure box.
Also Read: The Lettuce & The Catapult