Read an Excerpt
A cold frame or hotbed is the best and simplest tool whether you are a beginning or avid gardener. Either is a tried and true means for starting plants. Everything stored and grown within may be transferred, at the time appropriate for the particular variety, to the waiting garden. If you use either one of these techniques, you will be rewarded with the earliest appearance of the bounty that comes with the spring.
Tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, peas and flowers of all variety are a few examples of the many things that may be started. All food crops or flowers that need an extended growing season can be initiated in a cold frame or hotbed. If you prefer to start, or wish to experiment with starting, your garden by seed rather than waiting or depending on nurseries, you will be well rewarded by these simple constructions.
A cold frame is a hotbed that does not have the benefit of artificial heat. It has the dual purpose of providing a space for the hardening off of seedlings started in heated protective shelters and/or letting them acclimate to local weather conditions before placing them in the garden. A cold frame may also be used to force bulbs or to protect hardy or partially-hardy biennial and perennial flowers. Cold frames may double as hotbeds if you place them in protected places and if they face the south and have water, heat, good drainage, and location where you can keep an eye on your prospects.
You may construct an old-fashioned hotbed or cold frame by digging a pit twenty-four to thirty inches deep. The finished, full size of the frame should provide enough spaceto meet your needs. A minimum of five-by-six feet to a maximum of six-by-eight feet is recommended for the average gardener. Construct the wooden frame to fit in the pit so that the walls extend above the soil line about eight to ten inches on the low side and fourteen to sixteen inches on the high side.
Note: Place the high side of the protected hotbed against a building and face it so that the sunlight pervades the interior. Make the frame full (four sided). The high side against the building should be lined with plastic; the low side should be unlined to allow for drainage. Fill and mound the outside of the framed pit with soil. Place the mounded soil against the outside walls. This provides additional insulation and protection for the tender seedlings and plants you are trying to nurture.
In the pit from which the soil has been removed, place eighteen to twenty-four inches of manure. It is strongly recommended that you use manure from horses or cows and that you add straw or other natural, biodegradable litter. Cover the manure with six inches of soil. Water the contents of the hotbed or cold frame thoroughly.
Enclose the top of the cold frame or hotbed with an easy-to-remove cover of framed glass, Plexiglas, or plastic to keep in the heat and the natural moisture condensation that will form. Make the framed cover light and easy to lift or prop up so that you can get at the seedlings.
In about two weeks the manure in the hotbed will begin to ferment and generate enough heat for the seedlings. Do not plant until then. Fresh manure is too harsh, and seedlings will perish from the lethal soil. Cold frames may take a little longer for the proper fermentation to take place. Seedlings may be started in the house or the outdoor planters after you have finished the construction of the hotbed or cold frame. Paper mesh cups or any other kind containing a planting soil and the seeds you wish to start may be placed inside in a south-facing window. The sun or, in a less temperate region, the constant heat of a common lamp, will aid your new plants in getting started.
Planting seeds in the cold frame or hotbed takes some care. Mark off shallow rows, about four to eight inches apart in the prepared bed and sprinkle the seeds. Do not overfill; four to eight seeds per inch of row is sufficient.
After the young plants emerge from the soil, you will want to thin the plants to one plant per every two inches. New growth will need room to expand. Firm the soil over the seedlings and water very gently, keeping in mind that these are young growing things. Make sure to mark each row with an empty container of seeds or other marker. Nothing is more disturbing than losing your place. Allow six to eight weeks before transplanting the seedlings to the garden or field. Refer to the instructions on the packages (the ones you saved) that give the proper planting depth and germination temperatures for the seedlings.
With some attention, time, and tenderness, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
Sally Windrow straightened her aching back and leaned against the hoe. She cast her eyes northwest to the line of growing gray clouds. A woolen scarf wrapped close to her auburn hair and tightly around her neck protected her from gusts of wind and the thawing winter's chill. The farmhand work clothes she had chosen for the day's labors camouflaged her full, work-firmed body. She was practical, pragmatic, and unafraid of hard work. Although she would deny it, she was a risk taker. Her practical, conservative temperament shared a curious lack of recognition that she, like other farmers, gambled with their lives by betting against the unpredictabilities of nature.
She stood on the southeast corner of the modest house that had once been her parents' home. Her father had built the house on the farm shortly after his return from Vietnam. Before he'd managed to use his GI Bill, and until Sally was five, they had lived in one of the two cottages his father had built for the hired hands. He had built their home with timber from their own woods. He'd milled the lumber himself and then sold the small lumber saw for the money he needed for a poured concrete basement. White vinyl siding, trimmed out in black on the frames and windows, now covered the former clapboard. It was the same rambling three-bedroom ranch house Sally had grown up in except for the expanded living room she'd added to accommodate her new fireplace. Her daughter claimed her old bedroom. Sally used her parents' bedroom for her home office, and she had laid claim to the larger spare bedroom as her own.
From where she stood at the side of the house, she could view the wide sweep of the five-acre clutch of barns, restaurant with its parking lot, hired-hand housing and cottages, outbuildings, machinery sheds, sheltered greenhouses, and animal shelters with their fenced pens. It was the working nucleus of her farming domain. It was the heart of what her life had returned to, where she regained a peace with herself and a sense of belonging again.
The farm had changed during the seventy-five years her family had owned it. Her grandparents had first secured a toehold in the land, and with hard work they let their roots sink deep to secure the future. Each generation had added something--barns outbuildings, animal sheds, tool and equipment sheds, and garages for all manner of vehicles. In the Forties, Grandfather Windrow had planted new orchards of nut-bearing trees, added strategically arranged beehives, and constructed the two large glass-paneled nurseries.
In the Sixties, Sally's father added several small cottages and converted an old barn into a triplex for the live-in hired help and their families. The living quarters for the hired help had been her mother's idea. Her mother had reasoned, and rightly so, that good help was hard to find and keep without offering more stability than mere wages. Her mother's insight had changed Windrow Garden from a family concern into a small community.
As she looked northward, Sally could see, sense, and smell the coming changes in the weather. The unusual, teasingly balmy last days of winter would shift again, and not for the better. What had passed for warmth had made it possible to begin to prepare the machinery for spring chores. The sky and rising winds foretold the possibilities of cold or freezing rain. A typical March prank. Neither would be welcome. If the freeze did come, Sally knew that winter might not loosen its hold completely until April was well underway. Bad weather now would slow and make difficult the work that she and her staff needed to complete before one of the busiest times of the year.
Spring required the preparation of the land, fertilizing, disking, sowing, and transplanting the readied seedlings. Everything took time, and delays would produce uncertainties for the intended truck-farm crops. Farm creatures might suffer and reduce their gifts. Chickens would lay fewer eggs, cows would produce less milk, and ewes would have hard birthing. Everything responded to the weather.
Weather was the conversation, concern, and consternation of all who depended on the land. It focused the attention, shaded the mood, and tightened the stomach in dismay. Her father had once told Sally that the reason people in the Midwest spent so much time talking about the weather was because there was so much of it. He'd meant change, and change in weather was the constant of farming life. She'd sought stability and comfort in every other aspect of her life that she could manage. It had not done that much good. When the cancer had taken her husband, she'd discovered that change came in more forms than weather and often with more devastating results.
The weather threatened now. Sharp, gusting breezes danced about her in warning. A northern blow was coming, and she felt her irritation rise. She'd hoped and prayed for a lasting and gentle end of winter, but the dark cloud bank made her realize she'd been hoping against her own better wisdom of Kansas. Cold rain and tiny pellets of ice and snow might come from those clouds. If it did, it would confine her to the house or tiny roadside restaurant and the tasks she might manage there. It was not an idea she relished. She preferred the outdoors. Fresh air, even cold fresh air, was stimulating. She'd grown accustomed to it, and she felt more in her element outdoors than in the confines of the restaurant she'd built.
She squinted. Fine lines traced their minute, sun-etched paths from the corners of her green eyes. Sally knew they were there, but she wasn't bothered that they'd begun to show at thirty-two. She'd earned them. They might have begun in the lonely hours and years that had passed since her life had been unaccountably rearranged by death. For her part, Sally believed the lines had begun to arrive with her return to the sun, wind, and rain that farmwork exposed her to. It did not matter. As far as she was concerned, they were a small price for the life that brought her heart joy again.
She'd come home to the farm three years ago to become the third generation to own and operate the farm. It had been something she never thought she would do. But come back she did, six months after her husband's death. She and her daughter returned after Sally graduated from a culinary school. Sorrow and the need to put distance between them and their old life brought them home. They arrived with a small faith in the certainty of the changing of the Midwestern seasons, the hope for a reaffirmation in life, and time. Hope and work had sustained them as the shock of their loss slowly receded.
Her mother had been so pleased when Sally brought her own contribution and the fourth generation to the farm with her. Sally's daughter, Gwynn Marian, named for both grandmothers, was twelve going on twenty-five. A miniature replica of Sally's youthful, wiry self, Gwynn Marian had initially been appalled at being transplanted into the country life. Bright, gregarious, flamboyant, and a serious tomboy, she quickly acclimated. She discovered the freedom of space, the liberty of rolling hills, the secrets of wooded tracts, and the opportunity of heady speed that her pony provided. When not engaged in pursuits across the two sections of acreage deeded to her mother, Gwynn Marian would read, surf the monitored Internet, and entertain herself with the affordable luxury of cable television.
A little loner, transplanted from the urban environs and progressive educational systems of Dayton, Ohio, Gwynn Marian found her local classmates little more than amusing. She tolerated them but found it hard to take them seriously as friends, academic competition, or athletic contenders. She missed her father. She'd try to remember his kindness, interest in her life, and the confidence he'd provided. In the three years since his death, his face had faded from sharp memory to a faint shadow renewed only by disheartening curious reminders offered in photos.
Sally glanced at the hotbeds and cold frames where they lay huddled against the south sides of her house, nearby greenhouses, and barns. In two to four weeks, the cold frames and hotbeds would become the first homes to a variety of vegetables for the gardens used by the people and families on farms and in towns throughout the county. She and the other hands on the farm would begin sowing the vegetables that needed the greatest length of time before transplanting. Sally was in a hurry for spring and wanted to see the new shoots working their way through the soil.
It was very different from the farm her grandfather had bought. His original garden plots had grown from feeding his small family to supplying the local farmer's market and grocery and health food stores throughout the surrounding metropolitan area. From small and modest beginnings, the truck farm had grown under the careful and watchful hands of her family for seventy years. It had become a family corporation of truck farming, greenhouses, and Sally's addition of a restaurant featuring home cooking and scrumptious cheesecakes served in the house that had once belonged to her grandparents. The sign for Windrow Garden Restaurant faced the two-lane blacktop. Its reputation, if not the location, drew people from the surrounding small communities of Leavenworth, Lansing, Bashor, Tonganoxie, and even a few strays from both Kansas Cities snuggled against the banks of the Missouri River.
Two meals a day, Wednesday through Sunday, and all the cheesecakes that Sally's imagination and available ingredients might provide were offered. The meals were simple. You got whatever was the one main fare prepared for each sitting. Everyday it was something new, but there was only one choice coming out of the small converted kitchen, and that was whatever Sally had planned.
Soups, hot breads, potatoes mashed or fried, salad, and cheesecakes were staples. Even a vegetarian could thrive on the fresh or home-canned creations she prepared in the kitchen. The main meal was always the surprise and the point of basic culinary interest for her guests. The Midwestern taste for meat and potatoes received a jolt through the nontraditional glories she packed into the chief course. Fish, fowl, beef, lamb, or pork, but only one. One drawn and created with heart and mind bent on pleasing the eye, filling the inner void, and titillating the tongue. One at a time. It saved money in preparation and ensured full use of what she'd provisioned. The day's fare was available to paying guests and farmhand alike. There was always enough but not so much that profit was thrown away.
The idea of converting her grandparents' house into a restaurant had seemed a good idea at the time. Lately, however, Sally had begun to wonder if she'd bitten off more than she might chew. Her mother, Gwynn, had encouraged her in her entrepreneurial spirit and happily moved to the nearby town of Leavenworth, Kansas, to be closer to other retired friends. Sally had no difficulty securing a loan for her project. The farm and its long legacy had been more than enough collateral. Legacy or not, money had been a little tight over the last year. There were resident hired hands to pay and new restaurant staff to compensate. The combined operations made money, paid the bills, and provided for her and her daughter's needs. It had taken most of Sally's time and much work to get the restaurant operating as a quasi-profitable venture and to keep the farm prosperous. She tried never to steal time from her daughter. Instead, she stole it from herself. Her social life had been reduced to the hub of her farm.
She put time, heart, and soul into the farm and restaurant. She had not forsaken love. Sally simply put it out of her mind. She did not allow herself time to think or do anything other than work. When she did think of love, she conveniently fortified her resolve to ignore her heart's whispered yearnings by attending to a project until the idea evaporated under the exertions.
She would tell herself that she had her daughter, her work, and the farm. She tried to let that be enough. Sometimes it was. She could toil in the restaurant with staff or labor in the field with farmhands and could go for days without feeling lonely. Her mind knew there was no other place in the world she would rather be, no other thing that she would rather be doing, and no life she would rather live. Still, her heart's regret was that her satisfaction came at the price of being alone.
Sally stretched her back against the awkward strain her tasks had caused her, frowned again at the low rolling clouds, and turned back to her work. There was always work to be done on the farm. And in Kansas, spring would have its typical struggle to take hold of the world again.
She dropped her hoe, turned back to the wheelbarrow, and lifted out another shovel of dirt to cover the hotbed's layer of manure. She automatically glanced at the untreated wood of the hotbed, checking it for weathering and rot. She never used treated wood. It would have leaked chemicals into the soil and tainted the seedlings she intended to grow. There would be no taint in her organic farm. However, she would have to repair the plastic sheeting on the framed lids. Even thickest clear plastic could not last through more than two seasons. Wind, weather, storms, and accidental rips were part of their lot.
Bending to her work, she smiled to herself as she remembered it was Monday. The restaurant would not open for business again until Wednesday. Her daughter would not be home from school until almost four o'clock. She figured she had enough time to do some things for the farm and a few things for herself. She was glad that she would remain mostly undisturbed for two whole days. In the evening she would ask her daughter how her day had been. Wednesday it would be back to the food preparation for lunches and suppers, except Sunday when only a later lunch would be served to the churchgoing folks.
Thirty minutes later, after she had managed to put the finishing touches on the hotbeds by making sure that the warming bulbs were working, Sally walked to the old barn to look for a roll of plastic sheeting for the framed lids. Lost in her own thoughts as she approached the huge double doors, a rumbling collapsing sound from the interior startled Sally. Just as suddenly, an alarmed scream erupted from inside the barn and sent a chill down her spine. She grabbed hold of the large wooden handle and jerked the door open with all her might. Inside, the windowless gloom of the old barn and the billowing dust made her blink and stumble against a scattered drift of hay on the floor. A second scream came from the darkened interior, quickly followed by the pained cursing from a man's terrified throat. Sally dashed past the machinery and ran as fast as she could toward the sound.
At the back of the barn, near the corn combine, Sally found Bill Cornweir pinned under a pile of hay bales. As Sally rushed to his side, Cornweir raised himself under the green avalanche and tried to use his broad shoulders and thick arms to move the hay away.
"Are you all right?" Sally asked, kneeling next to the stricken man.
"I can't get out..." he said, and collapsed against his exertions.
"Lie still. You don't know what damage you'll do."
"Can't seem to ... breathe good," he complained as beads of perspiration flecked his forehead. The false heat was an odd contrast to the billowing breaths of steam coming from his mouth in the cold barn. His chest heaved against the weight of the bales that held him and made his breath labor more.
Sally rose from where she'd knelt and grabbed the first bale she laid her hands on. She lifted and jerked it up and away from him in panicked motion. As she raised the bale from his body, he tried to move but screamed again as something seemed to tear inside him. The scream panicked Sally. With the bale in midair, she jerked involuntarily at the sound of Bill's shriek. She toppled backward with the bale.
"Damn it, Bill. I said lie still."
"Ah, lassie ... it hurts," he moaned, and sank to the floor again.
"Wait. I've got to get help. Don't move!" Sally ordered, scrambling to her feet as she turned to run.
Outside she ran toward the houses and yelled as loud as she could for anyone who might hear. Heads emerged from the greenhouses, and two men came running toward her. In the next instant Carl Marmer and Jake Grimes were at her side. They had been fertilizing and watering the new berry bushes when Sally called for help. Carl was a tall lanky man in his late forties. He'd run ahead of the sixty-five-year-old Jake and reached Sally first.
"Bill's in the barn, hurt. Stay with him," she said as she dashed past them. "Don't touch him, the bales, or anything. And don't let him move! I'm going to call an ambulance." She raced past them to the tack room and the phone on the desk. Fear thundered in her ears. She did not like the graying paleness on Bill's face when he'd slumped back to the floor of the cold barn.
Twenty minutes later the paramedics arrived, escorted by a sheriff's department officer. The barn had filled with Carl's wife, Martha, and the two younger male part-time workers. They'd seen people running to and from the barn and had come to offer whatever help they could. There had not been much to do but worry. The farmstead workers were milling about nervously, not knowing what to do, or taking turns as they tried to keep Bill conscious and still. The paramedics found Sally sitting next to Bill, holding his hand, and trying to say encouraging words to him. They examined Bill, stabilized him, carefully rolled him onto a flat-board restraint, secured it, and carried him into the ambulance.
Sally motioned to the ambulance driver, her eyebrow raised in question.
"Too early to tell," the driver said, understanding the silent inquiry. "Broken leg for sure, some ribs by the way he's acting. Might be some internal injuries as well. We won't really know till they get a look at him at the hospital," she said as she climbed up into the cab of the ambulance.
"Jake, go with him. Make sure they know he has insurance," Sally said, waving to the elderly man. "I'm going to call his fiancée. She'll want to know."
"Sure thing, Sally girl," the old man said as he scrambled inside the unit and sat next to the attending paramedic.
Sally felt a deep, sinking feeling swirling in the pit of her stomach as the ambulance drove away with her mechanic and right-hand man. She depended on him. As the farm's ten-year veteran at fifty-five, Cornweir was the backbone of the farm and a respected member of their little, rolling-hill community. No other hand had done as much as he to keep things running and running smoothly. He was the glue that held the farm together. It would take a long time for his injuries to heal.
"Fine thing," she said to herself, shaking her head. "I'm acting like I'm the one who got injured. Ungrateful," she muttered to herself as she walked toward her house. She made sure everyone who worked for her was insured for injury and covered by medical insurance. She'd done everything she could think of to protect the farm and the businesses. But now she heard her own head talking to her like she and the farm were the only things that counted. She did not like the message. She could not, would not, desert him, but she would need to temporarily replace him. The business of farming had to go on. If it didn't, neither she nor anyone else would have the farm to call their own. That was unthinkable.