Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shading the Cold Frame, and New Arrivals

If you're like me, it's been a busy week outside at your house. Spring chores are in full swing--I've been pulling the season's first weeds, moving chickens to different pens, and planting perennials. I also took a trip to Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio and picked up 19 new pullets, just ready to lay eggs. This will be welcome news to those of you who've been going without eggs because we haven't had enough to go around. Some of the new girls are laying already (five eggs in the travel box on the way home!) but their eggs are "pullet eggs"--teeny tiny eggs that are the first eggs a chicken lays. They will soon increase to saleable size. We bought 16 Golden Comets and three Barred Rocks.

Chickens in the travel box, eager to see their new home. 
The new girls have settled in well, with very little fuss. They still aren't laying their eggs in the nestboxes, however. Every day I have to go on a pullet egg hunt. Today, they were on the floor UNDER the nest boxes. Ah, well. They'll learn.

The other big thing I did this week was move all my plants out of the greenhouse downstairs to the cold frame that Mike made me for my birthday.  I'm very excited--the cold frame should save me a ton of work. Every spring I have to do the hardening-off dance: put the plants out, bring them back in. Put them out, bring them back in. Repeat, repeat, repeat. With the cold frame, I put the plants into the cold frame, and they are protected from cold nights. During the day, it's important to vent your cold frame or the sun shining on the glass will literally cook your plants. I put a thermometer in the cold frame for a couple of days this week, and the temperature climbed into the upper 90's if I didn't vent the cold frame. With the windows cracked, the temperature inside the cold frame stayed in the 70's.

Of course, cold nights are not the only reason to move the plants in and out--no matter how good your grow bulbs are, the sun is stronger. Your seedlings just can't take that bright sun. It will burn the leaves and kill the seedlings fairly quickly on a bright day unless you've let the seedlings adjust gradually.

The way to gradually adjust seedlings in a cold frame is to use white wash. Whitewash is just a mixture of standard garden lime, water, and a little salt to help it stick. Some hydrated limes are caustic--if there's a warning on the bag to wear gloves when you apply, heed the warning!

The whitewash will shade your plants perfectly. Just mix a cup of salt, a couple of cups of garden lime, and about a gallon of water. An empty milk jug is perfect for this--you don't even need to rinse it out first (some old recipes use milk in the whitewash). Put the cap on and shake it until it's all mixed. You can add more water or more lime to make it the thickness you like. Then pour in on your glass and spread it with an old paintbrush.

When you're done, you'll have nicely shaded windows.

Now you can add your plants. Load it up! Put your plants right onto the rocks. Don't make the mistake I did and leave them in the impermeable flats. Those flat trays worked great to bottom water my seedlings in the greenhouse, but wouldn't work here where the seedlings must be top watered. This is the time where you find out how nice and smooth you made your gravel--if you have bumps, your plants will fall over.

After the plants have been in the cold frame for several days and all is well, it's time to remove some of the whitewash. Just spray it lightly with a hose. You don't want to take all the whitewash off, just enough to allow a bit more sun.

Of course, if you get a strong rain, you may need to re-apply the whitewash before the next sunny day. It's both an advantage and a disadvantage that whitewash comes off so easily. It's great that it comes off in the rain, because rainy days are usually dark and cloudy, and the plants will welcome the extra light. But you do have to remember to reapply the whitewash the next day.

I'll run the hose over the windows one more time before the plants are ready for full sun. When they're completely hardened off, I'll just go out every morning and open the windows all the way, and then close them up at night. Remember, (unless it's late fall or winter) NEVER leave plants in the cold frame in full sun with the windows completely closed, or they will cook.

That's it for this week! Enjoy the last of the spring bulbs. Are your tulips as gorgeous as mine are this year?