Living Off The Grid: Straw Bale Cold Frames 101

The end of the growing season for passionate gardeners can be a bummer. But, to anyone who wants to grow food longer and start it out earlier, this is the article for you.

Being self-sustainable in every way possible is great, so growing your food – and as much of it as you can – is important. Cold frames are a great addition to any garden because you can use them to lengthen your growing season, both by giving plants longer to grow before it gets cold and also by allowing you to start some seedlings early.

What is a cold frame? A cold frame is literally a frame used to protect your plants from the cold. There are several different versions and methods you can use to create your cold frame. Some like to build their own, while others like to look for materials they can reuse or re-purpose.

Your cold frame can be super elaborate, or you can give it the rustic homestead look. I’m going to go over the basic materials that are used when constructing a cold frame: you just need four walls and some windows. Some people prefer a permanent and stationary cold frame while others prefer a temporary version. This article covers the temporary version below.

Straw Bale Cold Frames  

I love this version of the cold frames because it is temporary, easy to set up, and the straw bales provide much-needed insulation, especially in colder climates. Always be sure you have a way to open the cold frame easily – this makes it easier for you to access the plant and the plants can get some fresh air during warmer weather.

All you have to do is get enough brick straw bales to enclose the area of choice. You can make your own windows by building a simple frame and use some greenhouse plastic as the actual window. You can also use glass, of course. I just used some old windows I found and they worked perfectly. Try to avoid windows with cracks or chips in them as it will allow cold air in and can cause injury later. Put your windows over top of the enclosure and you’re all set!

As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the easiest methods. You can also build your walls using: Bricks, Logs, Boards, Wood, Old Doors, Old Refrigerators, and basically anything else that can provide solid walls for the windows to sit on.

You can incorporate all sorts of different materials to construct a cold frame. Another reason I like the straw bale version is not only am I reusing and re-purposing old material but I can reuse and re-purpose the straw also. When I am completely finished using the cold frame for the year I store the windows and take the straw, which may be breaking down come spring, and use it all over the homestead. You can use it for animal bedding, compost, and mulch, just to name a few things.

Now that you know the basics, let’s move on to the plants in your cold frame. Many winter crops will stop growing when the temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t get me wrong, winter crops are frost tolerant and will survive through the low temperatures; they will just not do any progressing. If you happen to have cool weather crops in your cold frame, be sure when temperatures reach 50 F or above that you open it up and let the plants get fresh air.

By springtime, the cold frame isn’t really necessary anymore so if you used the straw bale method just recycle the straw. If your method of choice was something more permanent or stationary you can continue to use it for growing food. Either way, it can be surprising how much more food you can get and how much faster you can kick off your spring planting.

Most salad greens will continue growing in a cold frame. Some other plants that will do well:









 Along with several other root vegetables. This is just a short list of the cold, hardy vegetables that thrive in a cold frame. The cold frame is also great for growing flowers and herbs. One last benefit to note is that having a cold frame will keep a majority of the wildlife out of the garden.

*Sustainable Suggestions*

When remodeling or making repairs to your home, save any of the good scraps for future projects, including nails and screws. This could save you money in a pinch, as well as saving more trash from a landfill.

Photo #1 Credit: "Finished Our Straw Bale Cold Frame Today" by The Bairds is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo #2 Credit: "Cold Frame Built with Bales of Straw" by Terrie Schweitzer is licensed under CC BY 2.0