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Cold Frame Garden Bed Update – Year One

I learned the hard way that a lot of gardeners get a start on gardening – like ordering seeds – in January, so I figured it’s a good time to share my cold frame garden bed update!  Sure, there’s snow on the ground but it’s time to start thinking about gardening now.  I was really late to start my vegetable and herb gardening last year and it was a bit of a mess.  But despite many setbacks, I did manage to grow quite a bit and now I know what I need to do differently, so today I am sharing my two cents and my cold frame garden bed update.  All of you seasoned gardeners are welcome to chime in and tell me where I went wrong!  I am going to try to grow a better garden this year, so I welcome any advice.

Cold Frame Garden Results

Did I Enjoy Gardening?

Let’s get this out of the way, lol.  No!  I hated it!  I loved building (and then charring) the frames and designing how they looked.  That, for me, is the fun part!  But once I shovelled the soil in (which was gruelling and awful work), it was infinitely less fun for me.

I Hate Gardening

Although I did feel a little “spark” of pride as seeds became leaves, that joy was short lived when I experienced some immediate flops…

Cold Frame Garden Struggles

Why didn’t I take to gardening?  Well, I don’t have a green thumb, for starters, so this whole project was a struggle for me.  I hate touching bugs, I hate weeding, I was super disappointed when things didn’t grow, and I had zero interest in reading up on it – even though I bought some great books.  BUT I did feel a lot of pride again once we finally grew tasty things and I could serve a bean side dish with beans I grew and make yummy dill and cheese sconces (here is the recipe) with dill I grew.

Homemade Dill and Cheese Scones

Plus you know how proud I was of the the sage pesto recipe I shared recently.

Homemade Sage Pesto

A lot of things taste terrible from the store (dill among them), so I did enjoy how delicious it was to eat things right from the garden.  I’ll keep doing it, but this isn’t a hobby I currently love.  It’s not saving money, either, but it will (hopefully…eventually…) provide us with a steady source of quality produce.

Cold Frame Gardening

Everything I Planted & How it Grew:

Left Hand Bed:

  • Sage (yes)
  • Crown Pumpkin (sorta)
  • Parsnips (no)
  • Carrots (sorta)
  • Drunken Woman Lettuce (yes)
  • Mache Corn Salad (yes)
  • Bok Choy (sorta)
  • Cauliflower (no)
  • Peppers (no)
  • Peas (sorta)

Middle Bed:

  • Summer savoury (sorta)
  • Land cress (sorta)
  • Rainbow chard (yes)
  • Potato (no)
  • Strawberry (no)
  • Winter thyme (sorta)
  • Ice bred arugula (sorta)
  • Arugula (sorta)
  • Bok Choy (sorta)
  • Golden berry (no)

Right Hand Bed:

  • Dill (yes)
  • Space Master Cucumber (yes)
  • Palestinian Kusa Summer Squash (yes)
  • Beets (no)
  • Dry Bean Black Turtle Beans (yes)
  • Mint (sorta)
  • Red Cabbage (no)
  • Napolento Basil (sorta)
  • Bush Bean Black Valentine (yes)
  • Bush Bean Gold Rush (yes)

Cold Frame Garden Bed Results Year One

What Grew Well in My Cold Frame Garden Beds:

As you can see, I had a lot of failure!  Let me share a little more in detail, for anyone who is curious.  First, let me share what grew well in my cold frames.  I was very successful with:

  • Beans (all were really successful!)
  • Squash
  • Sage
  • Dill
  • Rainbow Chard
  • (Some) Lettuces and Arugula (technically grew, but bugs ate many)

Cold Frame Gardening for Beginners

The squash hid on me and grew really giant!  But still delicious and I’ll grow this kind again.

What Grew Well in my Cold Frame Garden Beds

Chard was the one leaf bugs HATED so while my arugula and bok choy were decimated, these grew super well.

Swiss Chard is Easy to Grow

Szuka kicked around seeds before I got the lids on my garden beds so many of my herbs were messed up thanks to her, lol, but dill and basil and sage grew well!

Cold Frame Garden Problems

I LOVE using fresh herbs in pretty much everything I cook, so I want to get serious about growing more herbs this year.

How to Use a Cold Frame Garden Bed

I LOVED growing beans!  They didn’t take up much space, they grew really well, and were super tasty.  I preferred the yellow, only because they were easy to spot.  I was so surprised just how many beans we got from a couple small rows – bowls and bowls full, and for weeks we were harvesting them!  I’ll definitely grow them again and do more rows because they performed well.

Cold Frame Gardening ResultsWhat Grew Well in my Cold Frame

What Had Mixed Results:

  • Cucumber (grew slow and stumpy and ran out of time)
  • Mint (grew, except Szuka had kicked the seeds around so there wasn’t much)
  • Basil (was slow growing, only a tiny clump)
  • Thyme (also grew slow and not much)
  • Arugula and Poc Choi (grew super well but bugs ate)

Cucumbers Grew Weird and Short and Fat

  • Peas (grew well, but not enough)
  • Carrots (small and slow growing – only a few actual carrot sized carrots, but chooks loved the tops)

Small Garden Bed UpdateSmall Vegetable Gardening Tips

What Didn’t Grow at All:

Basically, my most interesting things didn’t grow!

  • Blue pumpkins (they grew but too late in the season and froze)
  • Potatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Peppers
  • Parsnips
  • Golden berry
  • Strawberries
  • Red Cabbage

Bugs Ate Bok Choy

How to Fix my Cold Frame Gardening Woes:

First, I’ll plant more of what worked!  And then I might ditch some crops I knew would be a struggle and proved me right.  I ordered seeds willy nilly because it was fun – I’ll pay more attention to what will grow best in my “zone”.  I’ll start earlier, with better soil, and mind the garden beds don’t overheat.  I’ll also treat for bugs naturally.  Here are my tips from learning the hard way, for any gardening newbies!

Tip #1: Get Your Supplies Early

Because of the raging pandemic, a lot more people got into gardening and there was a severe lumber shortage here and many other cities.  And because of shields going up in stores and the like, the price of Lexan (what we used for the lids) skyrocketed and supply dwindled.  Plus the automatic lid openers that were key to our plan were really, really backordered.  Because timing is everything for gardening, don’t do what I did and decide to garden last minute.  Round up those supplies (especially seeds!) early – and get building!

Tip #2: Enrich Your Soil

As a new gardener, my soil was just topsoil I got by the truckload and added some fertilizer to, so it really wasn’t really top notch.  I think this year I’m going to really work to improve the quality of my soil.  My great uncle, who really had a great vegetable garden, apparently used miracle grow all the time.  I might try that or something similar – I’ll definitely have to get into composting too, to make my soil as healthy as possible.

Tip #3: Get Automatic Lid Openers

By the time I built my DIY cold frame garden beds it was hot and the automatic lid openers we bought were back ordered so I think I cooked some of my seeds!  I also think I didn’t water them enough – I underestimated just how HOT it could really get under the Lexan lids!  But now I know and the beds are built – and automatic openers in place – so I will be ready to utilize the heat to start my seeds earlier and then be ready when it gets too hot with my Plan B.

DIY Cold Frame Garden Update

Tip #4: Get a Plan B if it Gets Too Hot

Once we realized the garden beds COOKED under the lids, we started leaving them fully open during the day and then closing them at night, which was a hassle.  So I think this year we’ll build a second set of lids, with a hooped frame and mesh, to keep animals from eating the crops, but then give the gardens some ventilation – and access to overnight showers – during the hottest part of the summer.  Plus some crops just outgrew the shallow lids.  Stay tuned for that upgrade this spring!

Cold Frame Garden Results

Tip #5: Don’t Underestimate Bugs

I sort of had this stupid idea that bugs wouldn’t be a huge issue under the Lexan lids.  I was wrong.  Some wormy things (I think) decimated a few of my “crops”.  They loved poc choi and HATED chard.  This year I will need to treat for bugs and am looking into organic options for that.

Garden Decimated by Bugs

Tip #6: Don’t Be Discouraged

Sometimes things just don’t grow!  Even experienced gardeners consoled me and told me some things don’t grow – bad seeds, bad luck, who knows?  I am going to keep track of which company’s seeds did well and try to order from them again, in case it was an issue of some companies selling better seeds than others (I bought seeds from a LOT of different places because so many were mostly sold out by the time I ordered).

Tip # 7: Keep Notes

I made a detailed sketch of the gardens – and forgot to do one, so I had to figure out what was there which was difficult.  But other than that little mistake, I kept notes on what grew and what didn’t so ordering seeds this year I will be more knowledgeable.  Without notes I surely would have forgotten!  I’ll keep track of my progress, what works and what doesn’t, and tips I pick up along the way so that I can continue to grow (haha) as a gardener and build on this tiny bit of progress and success.

Don’t Forget to Pin For Later:

DIY Cold Frame Garden Update: What Worked, What Didn't & What I LearnedLessons Learned Growing in a Cold Frame Garden Bed

P.S. Click Here for the Cold Frame Garden Beds Building Tutorial



  1. Kelsey
    January 22, 2021 / 3:35 pm

    I’m not sure what growing zone you’re in. I’m in 5B, so my experiences may be a little bit different!

    Mint–Only plant it inside of a container. If you plant it in a bed, or even in the ground–if it takes off, it will choke out EVERYTHING. At our last house, we had a whole pasture of almost three acres that got infested with mint. It was NUTS! But it smelled lovely when we mowed 🙂

    Pumpkins–they take waaaaay longer to grow than you think they should, especially if you want bigger ones. I wouldn’t dedicate raised bed space to them, because if they take off, they can take up an crazy amount of space. If you have a place off to the side somewhere, that you could toss your pumpkin seeds, they’d probably fare well on their own! But seriously, one 12ft row of pumpkins for me turns into easily a 20×40 foot patch if you let it! (I think we kept the neighbors goats in pumpkins for most of the winter with one row last year haha)

    Potatoes–I can’t tell how deep your beds are, but potatoes probably like it a little deeper than you had them. Potatoes are kinda fun, because as the growing season goes on, you start to see them push up the soil, then you mound up more soil on top. I typically do three, maybe four soil additions. With that in mind, by the end of the season, my potato piles are typically about 24 inches tall. The quality of potatoes you plant really has an impact on the quantity you get out. Typically we’ll plant four twelve foot rows of potatoes, and that’ll take about six pounds of started potatoes.

    If gardening on its own isn’t fun….maybe you can find some by-product that you love? For me, I don’t love the work, but I do love making pickles! And by that I mean, I f’ing LOVE making different kinds, the process of preparing, canning, and best of all–giving away pickles. I love those things so much, I’ll gladly grow enough produce for the whole neighborhood just to get to picklin’ time!

    Good luck!!!

    • January 26, 2021 / 3:55 pm

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share these tips! And I love the advice to find joy in the by-product of gardening. This year I’m planning to grow woad for dyeing and already ordered cucumber seeds for pickling – so I think that advice will be excellent and hopefully help motivate me. I will say a pasture of mint sounds amazing, lol – hubby LOVES mint tea so we could use that up so quickly haha!

  2. Trudy
    February 1, 2021 / 8:57 am

    Wow, you really jumped into it with both feet! I saw that list of seeds and just shook my head. It sounds like you really reflected and solved many of your problems already. Suggestions from a retired gardener (I am still working, but not on a vegetable garden! The critters eat everything, but maybe if I had a cold frame… HA!)
    Don’t plant so much variety.
    Start your seeds indoors where you can baby them.
    Read all those directions.
    Focus on what worked.
    Grow what you REALLY want.
    Listen to Kelsey, the pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers don’t want or need to be in a cold frame.
    Is there a gardening club near by? Never mind, you live in the boonies! How about online in your area? Is there a local hardware store? Maybe with a bulletin board? A garden center? Gardeners love to share tips, you need info on what works in your area.
    Try other ways along with the cold frames, like potatoes in a grow bag or wire cylinder, and herbs in a window box up on your deck.
    Keep on with journal and good luck!

    • February 1, 2021 / 1:21 pm

      Thanks for all these tips! I wanted a lot of variety to see what worked and what I liked to grow. I am still doing a lot this year, lol, but also fine tuned my list quite a bit based on my results. I was a bit ambitious with peppers and berries last year, lol. But honestly, the variety was the only thing that kept this fun for me!

      This year I’m building a fourth open bed for my squash and pumpkins etc – they were never supposed to go in my cold frame but we didn’t get the fourth bed done in time, so I thought, “whatever” and grew them in the cold frames. They were what grew really well so I’m glad I put them in there.

      I built the cold frames to avoid growing seeds indoors – I don’t want to do that, I don’t have the space and I don’t want to harden them off. But I am hoping my cold frames help me get a start on the season without doing that – that’s the intention of them, anyway 😉 We shall see how well that works around here, with our unpredictable spring weather. But it was my goal to me able to use them to lengthen the growing season without having to start seeds or anything…

      I’ll definitely look into your suggestions for potatoes! But I’ll admit, these beds and maybe a fourth might be all I can manage haha! I’m sure with time this will get easier.

  3. Beth
    February 1, 2021 / 10:19 am

    I sure hope that gardening becomes joyful for you this year. The failures do make it discouraging but everyone has them. I do think it is important to plant more of the thing that work for you. 🙂 Maybe try some early sowing of lettuce crops in your frames but then do the next outside of them or uncovered as they don’t like the heat. Peas are another one that don’t like it super warm. Peppers and tomatoes love the heat. I keep my herbs in pots right near my kitchen door. It is nice to use fresh herbs in cooking. And it would be even nicer if they didn’t produce really well for two weeks and then die back – looking at you, dill, basil, and cilantro.

    Anyway thank you for the reminder to send in my seed order. 🙂

    • February 1, 2021 / 1:22 pm

      Thanks for these tips! Funny, my peas grew and my peppers didn’t! I thought for sure the peppers would love the heat. But I think I need to get a better handle on the heat in the frames – I really had no idea how hot it would get!

  4. Heather
    February 2, 2021 / 12:24 pm

    Kelsey beat me to the mint warning😊

    I grew up helping master gardener aunts and dip and out in my tiny yard. Cauliflower and broccoli can be hard and the worms LOVE them. I know many hardcore gardeners in PA just don’t want to put in the work.

    Basil in my area needs lots of hot sun to thrive. Because we live in town, I need to put it on a pot to maximize sun as our neighbors trees shade our yard.

    I have great luck with lettuces of all sorts but as mentioned, lettuces do not like the heat, at all. Mine do well in troughs that I start in spring on the back porch with a cling wrap cover and I reseed the containers in the fall.

    If your deck gets lots of sun, that would be a great place for herbs in pots.

    You aren’t a tomato person? Cherry tomatoes are very easy to grow.

    I never had luck with carrots. The few we managed to grow were bitter.

    I think strawberries need two or three years to produce decent fruit. I used to work on a strawberry farm but that was more than 30 years ago, new varieties might be different.

    Now you have me anxious for spring

    • February 2, 2021 / 12:38 pm

      I wish I had that mint problem, lol.

      My deck gets no sun, lol, this is the sunniest, warmest part of my yard – other than down by the lake, but then there’s crazy weather and wind down there…

      You’ve got lots of great tips, thank you! I’m making lots of notes – but it’s also just really interesting to hear what works and doesn’t work for people!

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