Heating cable laid in the cold frame, awaiting the layer of sand. (Mary Lowther photo)

Heating cable laid in the cold frame, awaiting the layer of sand. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Greenhouse growing in the winter

I have a heating cable I’ve never used that I’m contemplating putting to work in the cold frame

By Mary Lowther

Author Eliot Coleman figured that if he put Remay over his crops growing in his greenhouse, maybe the extra warmth would be enough to produce a better crop. It did. He found that even if the spun cloth cover froze onto the crops overnight, if he waited until the sun thawed it out during the day, he could harvest fresh lettuce.

I’m a good copycat and when I learn of something that seems logical, I’ll give it a try, so I set up my new cold frame inside the greenhouse instead of putting it outside. First I pulled out a few cucumber and tomato plants, pulled back the soaker hose, dug the latest batch of bones and meat leftovers into the soil, raked in organic fertilizer, laid the hose back over and stuck sticks around the hoses to mark where they were. I poured two inches of sand over this and put the cold frame’s lids back on to heat things up underneath, readying it for the seedlings I’ve got growing under lights on the seed table.

I don’t toss much into the garbage these days because everything vegetable-related goes into the compost heap and everything else food related goes into holes I dig in the soil right in the garden, including the greenhouse. I got the idea of putting meat, dairy and fish detritus in holes dug in the soil from a fellow community gardener who put fish bones and entrails under where he planned to transplant his tomatoes. Because some animal, probably our dog, digs out whatever I bury, I lay a strong mesh held down with bricks or heavy stones over top of the soil I cover the food remnants with.

I have a heating cable I’ve never used that I’m contemplating putting to work in the cold frame, but I’m coming to the same impasse that has prevented me from using it before: is it worth the extra electrical expense and would I damage the cable when I dig in to plant my seedlings? BC Hydro’s website calculates that the cost would probably be $13 a month, which, if it holds true, would be worth it if I kept it full and we ate from it all winter. If I prepared the soil so it was easy enough to dig by hand, I wouldn’t cut into the cable.

But I’m not happy with the cold water coming through the soaker hose so I think I’ll remove it and do the watering by hand with water from a can that’s been warmed up by the sun in the greenhouse or perhaps from an inside tap.

If I was using the cold frame outside, I could still take advantage of an additional cover of Remay over the crop simply by draping it over the crop within the cold frame.

Crops that I’m trying include winter density and romaine lettuce, spinach, escarole, radishes, and corn salad.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Columngardening