Maine Gardener columnist Tom Atwell had his shed built for him, but he constructed the fence. Photo by Tom Atwell

This is when the winter gets boring even in a normal year, never mind a pandemic year. The holidays and, every four years, the inauguration are over. The decorations are down. It’s too early to start seeds for vegetables and annuals.

And you can’t go skiing or snowshoeing every day, especially with the bare ground we have in southern Maine.

What gardeners can do is build things that will make gardening later this year more interesting, as well as more productive.

Regular readers will remember that as soon as the lockdown was announced last March, I planted lettuce under a cold frame in our snow-free vegetable garden and was harvesting some of that crop in late April. That is normally when I would have just started planting our unprotected cold-season crops.

I had a commercially built cold frame on hand, but if you have or can find a discarded window, it is a simple task to build your own cold-frame.

A cold frame is easy to make from an old window. Photo by Evan Mills

A friend, Evan Mills of Gray, posted on Facebook a picture of a cold frame that he said he’d “thrown together with scrap wood from raised beds,” and that he plans to build a better one soon.

Plans are available online, but it is really simple. Build a base that matches the size of the available window, make the north side higher than the south side so the plants get more light. It is easier if you put a hinge on one end so the crops are easily accessible.

For those who want raised beds (Nancy and I plan to avoid them until we get too decrepit to easily get up after weeding while on our knees), they are another project people can do between now and spring. In addition to being good for people who have difficulty leaning over and/or kneeling, they also work for people whose soil is bad, poisoned by lead or other contaminants, or where soil is nonexistent – on asphalt, for example.

There are dozens of designs for raised-bed gardens, using wood, concrete blocks, corrugated metal and other material. If using wood, don’t use pressure-treated varieties because of the poisons it contains. Those poisons not only can harm you but will cost you big bucks when the lumber rots and it is time to dispose of them.

The simplest raised beds use the ground as the floor, but the ones where people garden at waist height require a platform and a strong base to hold the soil up that high. One type I saw online used recycled plastic barrels supported on an X-shaped frame. As I said, I haven’t had to resort to raised beds as yet so cannot recommend any particular construction method.

If your garden has trouble with deer, woodchucks, raccoons or other pests eating the plants, a framed screen could be created to go around the raised bed.

Depending on your carpentry skills – and mine are minimal – other, more complicated options are possible. Building an arbor for flowering plants such as morning glory, roses, clematis and hydrangea would be an excellent project.

The frame could serve as an arching garden entrance, or you could build a bench between two connected trellises.

We had a beautiful garden shed built for us last spring, and it has come in handy for holding wheelbarrows, rain barrels during the off season, tools and other garden supplies. This shed replaces one that my son-in-law and I built two decades ago. That one served its purpose, so that proves it can be done by amateurs, but it was beginning to rot, and it never was attractive.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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