Thursday, May 13, 2010

Do It Yourself Kitchen Garden Inspiration: Build an Amish Cold Frame

Realization of the Day:
In all my years of gardening, I've never used a cold frame—and I love cold frames.

Several Amish families moved to this area two years ago, and in my opinion we're all the luckier for it. The Amish neighbors I've met so far have all been very friendly, and they've already brought much to our rural community. There are three basket makers and a furniture maker. The rough cut siding on our new sheep barn came from the Amish sawmill down the road.

More below. . .

Amish Cold Frame 2

One of the families sets up a stand next to their house each summer and sells organic produce from their large garden. They grow wonderful sweet corn, and I think I ended up buying most of their tomato harvest last year. The stand is run on the honor system so you can shop anytime; the very reasonable prices are posted, and you just leave your money in the coffee can on the table, making change if you need it.

I love the convenience, but I'm always hoping the wife and/or husband will be home whenever I stop by, as we usually have interesting talks about gardening, sharing our successes and failures, trading growing tips, and laughing. I always learn something new.

Amish Cold Frame  3

The husband's brother lives with his wife and young children on the farm next door, and the two brothers do carpentry work. They're the ones who built our sheep barn last fall, and they came back last month, along with a young apprentice, to build us a big new haybarn.

It's a little different working with the Amish. They don't have telephones, preferring face to face interaction instead. Dropping by unannounced to discuss business or for a little visit is perfectly acceptable. Not knowing if there's a change in plans until they simply don't show up for work that day is something you get used to. (Actually, construction workers with phones often don't call either.)

Since they drive their horse drawn buggy to work, part of the deal is that you have to go pick up their gas-powered table saw, ladders, and any other big tools in your truck before the work begins, and then bring them back when the project is complete. You also have to provide a place for their horse.

These guys usually only take jobs that are within a 10 mile radius from their farms, but fortunately they made an exception and traveled a few extra miles to work for us.

Amish Cold Frame  4

While we were picking up the tools a few days before construction on the haybarn was set to begin last month, I spied this cute cold frame in their small front garden.

The Amish don't like to be photographed, and of course I respect their wishes, but oh, the wonderful photo opportunities I've missed! Fortunately they don't seem to mind the fact that I'm always pointing my camera at everything else except them, so it didn't seem odd when I asked if I could snap a few pictures of a cold frame.

Amish Cold Frame  5

Did you notice that the title of this post isn't How To Build an Amish Cold Frame? The guys didn't use blueprints or plans of any kind when they built our barns, so naturally there aren't any for this little impromptu project made from scraps of wood. He didn't even know what size it was when I asked. (It's 24" x 66.")

Amish Cold Frame  6

As for whether it's an authentic Amish cold frame design, I have no idea. He said they had one similar to it back home in Ohio, but the top didn't open; you had to lift the whole thing up and move it off the plants on sunny days. My favorite part about this one is how cleverly it opens up. I love the shape, too; it looks like a little house rather than simple a box.

Amish Cold Frame 7

This isn't a particularly complicated project, and I thought that if I photographed every angle and detail of it, some of you handy types would be able to figure out how to build one for yourself if you liked it as much as I do. As I said, it measures 24" x 66", but you could adapt the design to pretty much any size.

Amish Cold Frame 8

Actually, at the time I was taking these photos it was for purely selfish reasons. My hunky farmguy Joe also happens to be one of those handy types who doesn't need plans to build things, and I'm hoping that I can get him to build me my very first cold frame for fall—or at least before next spring.

Amish Cold Frame 9

If not, I know somebody who might be talked into making me one—and I won't even have to drive over and pick up his tools first.

Do you use cold frames in your garden? If you've shared cold frame photos on your own blog or on flickr, you're welcome to include a link in your comment—I'd love to see them!

More about our Amish neighbors:
7/30/08: Super Market

©, the laid back and low key foodie farm blog where we never mind being 'stuck' behind an Amish buggy on the highway—unless it means somebody else is going to beat us to all the sweet corn.


  1. What a beautiful cold frame! I'm going to have to my hubby make me one of these. Of course, I've been asking him to build me a rustic coffee table for a year now so I don't know how soon that'll be!

  2. This is our cold frame that we put together this year.

    This is what we grew in it.

    I love this design for my boxes that are only 6 inches deep. I am gonna have to sweet talk my farm guy into one of these.

  3. Isn't that amazing! I don't have that kind of talent but I'm sure my dad could be convinced to make one for me.

  4. Here is my "coldframe", certainly not as convenient as the Amish built but it worked well. I seeded tomatoes in March.

    I hope to be able to do it again this fall to extend our season here in Mid-Missouri.

  5. I put a little tutorial on my old (not-updated-ever-anymore) blog a year or two ago:

    very easy - no carpentry and easy to bust down and move somewhere else.

  6. I've only started gardening again the past couple of years, but saw one of these at our SOMO store and it's on our list for next early Spring. Thanks for the info!

  7. What a brilliant cold frame! I wish I'd had one last Tuesday night.. I lost my tomatoes to a late frost!

  8. Ours is even simpler than that--basically an angled box with an old window as the cover. And yes, I use it. And occasionally kill things in it. Whoopsy. Here's the post about THAT stupidity . . .

  9. That's a great coldframe. Things are just made better when the projects plans are passed down gereations.

    Here is what I use in my tiny urban garden - umbrella greenhouses!

  10. Hi there - I picked up the link to your blog from Fennel and Fern. What a fantastic cold frame - much better than the plastic and metal job I use (which invariably falls apart each time I open it). Another job to pop on that ever growing list!

  11. A cold frame is on my wishlist/to do list for our garden next year. I LOVE the design of this one ... I think I am going to ask my husband to study it and see if he can replicate it.

    I nominated you for a Sunshine Award. Stop by sometime to pick it up! Have a great day!

  12. This is the first year I'm using a cold frame... I made myself a hoop house type cold frame and I am very proud of it.

    I used what I had laying around except for some pieces of rebar, so it was very affordable ($10!). I made it so it comes down easily and in the fall I'll be able to put it up again over any garden bed that I will want to try and extend the season with.

    To get the hang of it this spring, I just used it for my started flats and it's working beautifully!

    I really enjoy your blog :)

  13. Very interesting article. I grew up in Southeastern Minnesota where many Amish have migrated in the '70s and do they make beautiful, high quality furniture. I love the cold frame. I use the raised bed garden technique and cover it with plastic sheeting held up with pvc tubing which works pretty well. Your cold frame looks much sturdier though. Thanks for sharing.

  14. i love the amish and their work! hard, hard work. what a gorgeous cold frame. i'll try to make one like that for this winter. i have a glass one, the props up, very old from grandpa. i used it well this year

  15. Here is my cold frame. It is south facing and has a concrete block wall behind it that acts as a heat source over night. It is based off of the idea of passive solar greenhouses.

  16. I grew up right next to Holmes County in Ohio, which is basically ALL Amish and Mennonite. My dad drills water wells and has worked on Amish farms as long as I can remember.

    One of my jobs as a kid was to answer dad's 'business phone' in a polite, professional manner and take messages if he wasn't home. Although the Amish don't have phones, some Mennonite families will have a phone in a barn, etc. for emergencies- such as a water pump knocked out by lightning. I can recall many conversations like this:
    "This is Eli Yoder on Rt 30. I'm calling for John Miller. His pump is out."

    I would ask the man where the farm was and get these directions (the Amish don't say 'right or left')

    "Oh, you go out Rt 30 about 4 miles and go to the north when you come to the Old Pasture road about half a mile past Trail. Then you follow that road for another mile and go East when you see the new barn..."

    My dad STILL knows all those winding roads by heart. When we go home to visit, I love to go driving away from the 'tourist trap' Amish areas and out into the countryside. It's so lovely...

  17. I love the cold frame! It would work really well where I live in the cold part of the world. Thank you for sharing. I have already put an order in with my husband. Now I just have to hope that he gets to it before winter!

  18. I have just this moment discovered your blog and what do I find but THE MOST AMAZING COLD FRAME I HAVE EVER SEEN. I will be building one of these very soon. Thank you so much for the great photos! Who needs more direction than this!!

  19. Love the cold frame and the surrounding garden. These are serious faming folk! I've used an assortment of cold frames and green house beds over the years and am struck by the practicality of this design. When the winter is over and early summer dawns, change the plastic for mesh and you have a cover for strawberry beds. The dear deer in our neighborhood will eat strawberry plants to the ground. Just may get into strawberries this year with that sort of baffle!

  20. Thanks so much for this wonderful idea. I can't wait to get my husband to build it!

  21. Hi, I love this cold frame design. May I post a link from my blog?


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

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