Cold framing – Part 1


Blood, sweat and…

Last weekend I tackled winter. Now I’ll be the first to admit that winter in South Africa is not overly harsh. We don’t suffer the scourge of snow. Yes we get hail but it’s the size of smarties not baseballs. Even the frost hardly bites. However, some of my* softer veggies don’t do to well during the colder months, and so, equipped with a few Google inspired designs, I began building a cold frame.

A cold frame is kind of a mini greenhouse of sorts but it’s always smaller, sometimes portable and often disposable. By using a cold frame the green fingered horticulturist can warm plants in the autum, protect seedlings from frost in the winter and even integrate irrigation all year long for effortless gardening (ja right!). My plan was to ensure that tomatoes, lettuce, beans and other softer veggies make it to my plate during the colder months.

Step 1 – Planning

Blood, sweat and…

This is definitely where you want to spend some quality time. More thought during planning will directly translate into less frustration during execution.

When it came to the frame I considered wood and steel but settled on PVC. The reason for this is that PVC is dirt cheap, very light and functionally acceptable for what I was trying to do.

Even before I got started I invited Dave, an older, wiser more ten fingered friend of mine over to the house to give me a bit of advice. As I think of that I’m reminded of Solomon’s words to the wise in Proverbs 15:22:

22 Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.”

To build the frame I collected the following material from the local hardware:

14 4 metre long spans of 20 millimetre PVC pipe R4.95 each
1 4 metre long span of 22 millimetre PVC pipe R6.95
4 20 millimetre T-connectors R7.95 each
1 4-way-connector R9.95 each
4 Right-angle-connector R12.95 each
4 20 millimetre joins R4.95
1 Bottle of PVC rock cement R16.95

The frame cost about R150. At about R8,30 to the dollar that translates into $10.

Step 2 – Assembly

This is the not-so-fun part of the exercise.

I read the Old Testament book of Exodus a while back. A lot of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle. Chapter 31 verses 1 – 3 really struck me:





1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 “I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all {kinds of} craftsmanship,”

The real workers.

Did you notice how God in His infinite wisdom bestowed the knowledge of craftsmanship on Bezalel? Well, in His infinite wisdom, He chose not to be so benevolent with me. Putting the frame together took about 4 hours longer than it should have.


Step 3 – Preparation

It all started out as rubble.

2010 Soccer World Cup fever has hit South Africa. It’s really exciting to be in a country hosting such a major event. One of the projects that the City I live in is undertaking is called the Gautrain. It’s a rapid rail system to facilitate the quick movement of tourist in and around the city. The track eats through the earth about 5 kms from the plot that I stay on. They’ve excavated tons and tons of dirt and rock to carve the route for the train. This comes with benefits: A quarry of stone just waiting to be utilised.

The digging resulted in a hole.

I had already decided to build a raised bed on which the cold frame would stand. I have a nursery on the plot behind our house and I figured in addition to warming up the winter sprouts the frame could add to the privacy of the back garden if it were raised about 60 centimetres.

Also I’ve wanted to do something with stone my whole life.

The hole was filled with rubble.

Now I’m no engineer, but I figured if I was going to have a natural stone wall I had better lay some type of foundation. After Casswell and I cleared a 4 metre by 2 and a half metre bed we got around to digging a 30 centimetre foundation.




Step 4 – Building

Yes, my back was sore for a week after this.

Maybe you can see the grey border around the perimeter of the bed? It’s a clay sand that we dug up from the dam in the middle of the plot and then mixed with water into the foundation rubble. It took forever, but my kids had a blast and ended up totally caked in mud.

After that we laid a rim of larger stones and filled the centre with soil. My plan was to use the inertia of the soil pressure to keep the stone in place. Time will tell if this actually works out or not, but I have certainly enjoyed the effort involved in putting the whole thing together.

The jobs not finished by a long shot. I still have to cover the frame with plastic and do some planting, but the rest will have to wait until Part 2, who knows, maybe next week?

The half finished process.

Right now I thought I’d say this: In Genesis because of man’s sin God pronounces judgement on him. Genesis 3:17 – 19 says:





17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.””

Painful stuff. I experience the ramifications of that curse every time I don gloves pick up a spade and head out into the garden, and every time I go into the office, in fact every time I attempt anything. Basically sin has messed everything up. Everything.

Adam, and each one of us, caused and causes this mess we find ourselves in. That’s why the words in Romans 5 are so startling:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

How do you experiance this curse? Do you enjoy the fruits or the labour?

* too be honest the veggie patch really belongs to Liezl.

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3 thoughts on “Cold framing – Part 1

  1. Great Post Mark!

    Interesting and a nice integration of scripture.

    Weeds are my toil…some of them here have stickers (sharp points) that irritate your skin.

    I was into composting for awhile. Now there’s a sermon illustration. I’ll have to think about that one…..Take rubbage and rotting veggies, grass clippings and just about anything green and add it to a pile of dry matter, then it eventually-with turning and care-turns into a sweet smelling organic mulch compost.

  2. I take my hat off to you Mark, the biggest thing I have ever done is a herb garden…it does however make me want to try bigger things!
    Maybe some advise from your side: what 4 veggies would you recommend I try planting now? The tuff ones that is as I am not building what you just did ;-)

    • You do other stuff. Unfortunately the whole thing fell apart in the wind and rain we’ve had this week. I’m going to have to think up a better design for the structure.

      Haven’t forgotten about “your post”.

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