Gardening Articles and Videos

Take cold-weather gardening into your own hands
1/31/2011 | Sheryl McGlochlin

Article image: Take cold-weather gardening into your own hands


The "white stuff" is handfuls of snow we let melt next to our plants, in our Hoophouse, during the early spring season.


Published: Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011 3:00 p.m. MST


While most of us complain about the weather and not being able to garden, one gardener decided that was not her fate this year. She decided last year to grow some of her own food this winter.

Clo Dillman and her husband Dick have gardened in Riverton for the past 22 years. She is no stranger to gardening.

"I have been gardening for more than 45 years, ever since I was a young married. I always liked to grow my own tomatoes, and that is all I grew at first."

She admits it was a rude awakening to try and garden in the heavy clay soil when they moved there. She forcefully explained, "The soil we left when we lived in the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon was 100 times better than the soil we have here."

In spite of this problem, she has carefully planted, tended, harvested and stored many kinds of produce on their acreage. She has also grown many trees, annuals, perennials and other plants.

Her success in her main-season garden led her to want to do more. She tells of how her interest was piqued. "I wanted to see if I could grow stuff out of season.

"I started with a little hoop house and have been using it for three or four years. It worked, but I only got one cutting or one pan full of spinach. Although it did come back, it was not working how I wanted it to. "I heard about Eliot Coleman and how he grew vegetables in the winter. I had a neighbor who talked to me about Coleman and about the cold frame he built after reading Coleman's book."

Coleman's book title is "Four Season Harvest." It explains how you can make your garden more productive during the traditional gardening season.

After learning how to build her cold frame, Dillman needed a location. One advantage that she has that most of us would not is her south-facing hill.

She selected the south side of the light-colored shed for her location. That location prevents damage from excessive winds and also improves the solar radiation. She mentioned the reflected light and heat help her plants grow better. Her basic structure is fairly simple. It is 4 by 8 feet and is built from pressure-treated lumber. The glazing, or transparent covering, is made from 2-foot by 4-foot Plexiglas panels. She estimates the construction cost at about $150. Each Plexiglas panel was $24 each, so they were the most expensive part of the construction.

She was not happy with the soil in that spot. "While the light was good, the soil was not. That soil is as hard as a rock because that is where the horses always stood in the sun on the south side of the building."

To get the soil ready, she tilled in large amounts of composted horse manure. After fixing the soil, she built the cold frame. To help get better success, she started all of the plants inside her home about the end of October. The exception was the mache, also known as lamb's lettuce or corn salad, which she direct-seeded in the soil in October.

"I will start that earlier next year because it has been so cold it has not grown much. The other plants that were larger did much better. My first harvest was probably mid-December for the arugula, and the buttercrunch lettuce was about the first of December.

I have had two harvests of the arugula and four harvests of the butter crunch lettuce. I just cut the lower leaves, so they grew back very well."

Although this year has been very cold and somewhat foggy, she has had some good crops. The shortcomings of her cold frame is that some of the lumber on the glazing warped and lets some cold air into where she is growing her crops.

As it gets cold, the plant leafs freeze and dry out and die. To help prevent this, she sometimes covers the frame with a cloth to prevent the cold air from getting inside.

She encourages people to try growing more of their own vegetables out of season in their own areas. She left her final advice as, "If you think it can't be done, you still have to try it."

For more information on Eliot Coleman and growing plants out of season, check his website at His organic farm and greenhouses are in Harborside, Maine.

Larry Sagers is a horticultural specialist for Utah State University's extension campus at Thanksgiving Point

Learn more

Thanksgiving Point is offering a class on Growing Plants in the Greenhouse on Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22, from 10 a.m.-noon or 5-7 p.m. Cost $40.

Thanksgiving Point is also offering a Home Fruit Production course on

Feb. 1, 8, 15 and 22, from 2-4 p.m. or 6-8 p.m. Cost $40.

For more information, or to register, call 801-768-4971 or log on to

Wasatch Community Gardens is offering a workshop on Seed Selecting and Starting Seeds at Mountain Valley Seed Co. 445 W. 1700 South, Salt Lake City, on Feb. 5, from 10 a.m.-noon.

Get a hands-on seed-starting lesson and learn which seeds to grow in your garden. Registration Required. Cost $10. For more information, log on to