After enjoying a delicious winter salad fresh from a friend’s garden around a week ago, Kate and I decided to bite the bullet and install our first cold frame here in Kansas. I nosed around the barn some, but discovered that we didn’t have the bits and pieces to make a nice looking, easy to use and easy to move cold frame. As luck would have it, the FarmTek catalog was on top of one of the piles on my desk … seeing it motivated me to search for cold frames on the FarmTek website.
After a bit of research, and discussion, Kate and I settled on one of FarmTek’s Flip-Top ClearSpan cold frames because it comes with everything included in a kit … even the baseboards. The FarmTek Flip-Top consists of a semi-rigid mini-hoop house attached to a frame that’s built of 50 year lifespan lumber. I like this lumber because it is made with recycled plastic. We chose the 4 foot by 12 foot model and placed the order.
FarmTek’s online ordering process is easy and the communication is excellent. Because of its size and weight, the cold frame kit has to be shipped by freight truck. The freight company and FarmTek communicated with us about that process, and it all went smoothly. I met the semi-trailer tractor driver at our farm last Friday at 4:45 PM and we had him on his way back to Salina, Kansas by 5. Even if you don’t have a forklift (we don’t either darnit), don’t be afraid to order something that needs to travel by freight truck. If the item is a single piece that weighs more than about 200 pounds, unloading by hand will be difficult, but more often than not, your shipment consists of several pieces, each of which can be easily unloaded by hand. This was the case with the cold frame, we broke the pallet down on the back of the truck … no single piece weighed more than 50 pounds.
I went to work on the FarmTek cold frame first thing on Saturday morning. Actually, the first thing I did was thoroughly till the spot where we intended to place the cold frame. The kit included all fasteners and other small parts in labeled bags … their labels matched those in the instruction booklet perfectly. Some screws required specialized driving bits … those were also included in the kit. The only tools I needed for the project were my Kawasaki cordless drill and conventional circular saw Kawasaki cordless drill and conventional circular saw, a hammer, heavy shear (for cutting plastic) and Vise-Grip pliers. I needed the pliers to extract a screw after I stripped its head.
The first steps to assembling the FarmTek cold frame included cutting and attaching the plastic lumber base-frame pieces together using stainless screws and special brackets designed just for that purpose. Next, I put the 2-piece arched-pipe rafters together using a self-drilling TekScrew to secure them. The end rafters where then assembled to the hoop structure’s pipe end-frame using PVC brackets and TekScrews. This probably took me an hour and a half total, including all the time I spent with the assembly manual and measuring twice so I could cut once.
After admiring my handiwork for a minute over a cup of coffee, I cut the end panels from the large roll of corrugated plastic material included in the FarmTek cold frame kit. I cut these pieces a little oversized, attached them to the end frames with TekScrews and special washers. Once fastened, I trimmed the plastic with my sheet metal shears. The next step was to install the remaining rafters. These fit into sliding PVC brackets that I had installed on the front and rear pipe frames before I attached them to the end frames. These steps took another hour or so to accomplish.
Kate and I built a 24 foot by 72 foot double-layer plastic covered greenhouse on our farm in South Dakota quite a few years ago. That experience taught me that installing the greenhouse film required patience and a fresh mind. So I called it quits on the cold frame for the day after determining that getting the corrugated plastic spliced and installed would be somewhat arduous. I saved that task and the other finishing touches on the FarmTek cold frame for the next morning.
I will run you through the covering and finishing process in part 2 tomorrow’s installment. Stay tuned.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines.