How to Build a Cold Frame in 30 Minutes // with the right prep, tools, and gusto!

Last week The Our Food Project presented at the Mi’kmaq Tourism, Agriculture, and Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq. We shared highlights from the Our Food Project and delivered a hands on activity related to season extension (especially important lately with the rising cost of food that we’ve heard a lot about in recent media. Check out a recent blog about this here).

When asked if we could facilitate a cold frame workshop, I didn’t fully digest one key piece of information: I would have 30 minutes to demonstrate this build.  What I normally would take two hours to facilitate, I needed to cut that time in four. Challenge accepted. Cold frames are one method of season extension that can allow you to grow veggies year round outdoors. You can build a window on top of an existing raised garden bed, or build from scratch.

Like most workshops, I always need to take a bit of time to prepare and adjust no matter how many times I deliver the same one. There is always something new to learn, whether it is about a specific topic or how to approach a session with a group. This is what I like most about workshops – new challenges always mean new experience and resources to add to my toolkit. The challenge this time? Demonstrate how to build a cold frame build without any glitches along the way… in 30 minutes!

If you are an experienced carpenter this may not seem like a challenge. For all community garden facilitators out there who don’t consider yourselves seasoned carpenters, this is for you. The following can apply to any length workshop that requires you to facilitate a garden bed build without too many glitches along the way. Here’s what I did:


  1. Take accurate measurements. Click here for a step by step guide using a recycled window. Also check out Niki Jabbour’s Book: The Year Round Vegetable Gardener for a clear step by step plan.
  2. Double check measurements. If you are using measurements from a specific plan, double check that the measurements are correct. Sometimes small adjustments need to be made last minute that you don’t want to fiddle with during a demonstration. In a workshop where you have more time, last minute adjustments can be okay and important learning for everyone.
  3. Order pre-cut lumber. This is if you want to build a cold frame in 30 minutes, don’t have access to a saw, or feel uncomfortable using certain tools. If you don’t have access to tools, check out places like the Halifax Tool Library and learn how you can borrow tools without the expense and hassle of owning. Depending on the group, I usually prefer to have lumber pre-cut unless I am comfortable with participants using saws and larger machinery. We ordered our lumber from Nova Tree in Truro.
  4. After you pick up lumber, double check that all you have all the pieces you need and associated hardware. Do this at least one day in advance so you can run and pick up extra lumber or hardware if necessary.
  5. Charge drill chargers, double check that you have the right drill bits, extra drill bits, and other hardware indicated in the plan. What’s important here is 2 drills. One for pre-drilling holes in lumber, the other for securing screws. This is getting specific, but this is probably one of my biggest lessons for efficient garden builds. Taking the time to switch out bits can be time consuming and finicky. For larger builds 4-6 drills is handy.
  6. Test drills. You never know!
  7. Make list of materials to take to the workshop and tape on your front door. I do this for every workshop. I love checklists… it essentially means my brain doesn’t need to 100% function at 8:00am when scrambling to make sure I remembered everything.

Day of:

  1. Lay out the lumber so it’s ready for the build before the start of your session. At this point you are simply putting together a puzzle with the aid of tools.
  1. Have drills prepped with drill bits and screws nearby

Begin Session:

  1. Key talking points before assembly (5min):
  • Describe the type of lumber used for cold frame and garden beds (we used 2” thick untreated hemlock)
  • Describe material used for window cover (polycarbonate is a great alternative to glass)
  • Types of veggies you can grow in a cold frame (cold hearty vegetables, such as: spinach, kale, mache)
  • Safety brief: Proper handling of tools and eye protection.
  • Acknowledge that it’s not every day you build a cold frame indoors at a conference. Have fun and others will too!
  1. In true workshop fashion, ask a volunteer to help hold lumber in place as you secure lumber in place. Drilling the pieces together should go fairly smooth – although be prepared for the possibility of a drill bit to break and to replace this in real time. That’s right! While you are assembling, you can answer questions about cold frames.

2. Voila, you are done! It’s helpful to have handouts of the plan that you built, cost of the cold frame, and how to use the cold frame.












Stay tuned for a season extension toolkit complete with plans, estimated costs, and material sourcing for a variety of different season extension techniques.

Bye for now,

Jen Organ, Community Food Programmer for the The Our Food Project of The Ecology Action Centre.


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