Today is the last day of February, and we planted our first seeds of the season.
It’s just an experiment. We don’t know if it will work. We planted two kinds of romaine lettuce in our cold frame. One was a standard-issue Burpee, and the other was a fancy-pants organic Thompson and Morgan.
Last year, we used the cold frame for seed-starting, and we failed miserably, The cucumbers suffered a 100% mortality rate, parsley was almost as bad, and the few sunflowers that survived were destroyed by pests almost the instant we transplanted them. If that weren’t enough, we didn’t realize that you have to start root vegetables in situ, so the carrots and beets were naturally a wash-out.
It’s not that we’re giving up on seed-starting (although I can hear you saying that might not be a bad idea). We’re going to try and build a hoop-house for that, so the cold frame is freed up for our lettuce experiment.
We were concerned about viability because the cold frame, a rectangle of treated lumber with a glass door for a roof, was filled with some really crappy compost we got last year from a local supplier who shall remain nameless. (It wasn’t the dump compost, which we’ve been very happy with.) But last weekend we stumbled on an excellent estate-sale find that solved all our problems. It was one of those composting barrels that you spin on a frame.
At retail, one of those barrels could run as much as $200., but we got ours for a song – a mere $25. And, get this – it came with compost inside!
I have no idea whose estate the composter came from but, whoever he was, he really liked peaches. And hazelnuts. Regardless, we figured a stranger’s household compost would be a better bet than the stuff we had, and we wanted to use it, so in it went.
We put a thermometer inside the frame to see how warm it got, and the results were encouraging. Although the nights have been slightly below freezing, the temperature in the frame in the morning was almost 40. During the day, when the sun is out, it gets up to 70 or 80. Even on a sunless day, it’s in the 50s.
The seeds went in today. We planted five rows, about a foot apart. We thought we had one of those watering cans with a showering spout, but we couldn’t find it, so Kevin improvised by pouring the water through one of those little plastic planters with a few holes in the bottom. We made sure the soil was wet enough, closed the cold frame, and crossed our fingers.
At night, we’ll cover the lid with one of those reflective screens you put inside your car windshield to keep your car cool. It’s not quite big enough, but we’re hoping not quite big enough is sufficient.
Our seeds are supposed to sprout in 7-10 days. We’ll see if they do. We’re by no means certain, but we’re cautiously optimistic. Experienced gardeners will no doubt have a good sense of whether this whole lettuce-in-the-cold-frame experiment is a good idea or a bad idea. If you think it’s a bad idea, you’ll do me a big favor by not telling me just yet. God knows, I’ll figure it out soon enough but, in the meantime, I’ll have at least a week of hope.
I know, I know – hope springs eternal. If only lettuce did.