Best Items to Grow in a Cold Frame

As a homesteader, you likely want to grow as much of your own produce as possible. During the warmer months, this is a straightforward task. However, as winter approaches, you’re probably scrambling to figure out how to keep growing your staple veggies. Enter the cold frame. If you want to grow produce all year long, a cold frame is a practical solution that extends your growing season for various crops.

What Is a Cold Frame?

A cold frame is a version of a traditional greenhouse that lets you grow produce in an insulated area. Unlike a regular greenhouse that uses gas or electric heat, a cold frame relies on the sun’s warmth to create a mini growing climate for your garden. Your crops will be safe from wind and harsh winter conditions.

One of the best things about using cold frames is that you can make your own with plywood, plastic, PVC pipe, or plexiglass. Check out our guide on how to make four different types of cold frames to meet your needs.

What Should You Grow in Your Cold Frame?

To some extent, the answer to this question is that you can grow whatever you want to in your cold frame if the conditions are right. However, here’s a rundown of the best crops to grow in your cold frame this winter.


You can direct sow your lettuce when the temperature inside your cold frame is between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Before you sow, till the bed well because clumps of dirt or compost can make it hard for the plants to germinate, especially in colder temperatures.

Once you sow the seeds, cover them lightly with a quarter inch of soil. When the lettuce seedlings are about four inches tall, thin the crops to be between four and 16 inches apart. Firm-headed lettuce will need more space between each crop.


Radishes are one of the quickest-growing crops, which remains true when you grow them in your cold frame. On average, you’ll go from sowing to harvesting radishes in just 30 days. You can direct sow radishes between four and six weeks before the last frost date in your area.

Plant the radish seeds between half an inch and an inch apart, with the rows about 12 inches apart and in full sun exposure. A week after the seedlings emerge, thin the radishes to about an inch apart so the crops can form round roots. Without enough space, your harvest will be woody and bitter.


Kale’s flavor actually improves when it’s grown in cool weather, so it’s a perfect match for your cold frame. Plant the seeds at a shallow depth (between an eighth and a quarter inch deep) with about an inch between each seed.

In three to four weeks, you should begin seeing seedlings. Thin the seedlings with scissors when they’re about four inches tall. For the best-tasting kale, make sure you harvest the outer leaves before they get too big, so they’re still tender. This will avoid having bitter leaves.


Spinach is like kale in that it tastes better when grown in cooler weather. As soon as your soil is workable after winter, you can direct sow your spinach in your cold frame. Spinach needs six weeks of cool weather to grow correctly. In fact, soil temperature shouldn’t exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure crop germination.

Sow your spinach half an inch deep in a spot with full sun. You can achieve a consistent spinach harvest if you plant seeds every two to three weeks until the soil reaches a temperature above 70 degrees.


Onions are robust, allowing them to withstand freezes and frosts. When you plant them, remember they need full sun to grow healthy, so make sure your cold frame is in a sunny spot on your property.

Onion sets are easier to plant than seeds. Plant sets about an inch deep, with rows about a foot apart. The soil will need to be loose for your onions to grow correctly, so make sure you till the ground well before planting. They also are heavy feeders, so side-dress them with compost every one to two weeks for best results.


Carrots don’t transport well but grow well in colder conditions, so they’re an excellent option for your cold frame. You can direct sow seeds about four weeks before the last frost in your area—plant seeds between three and five inches apart with 12 inches between rows.

Like onions, carrots need loose soil to grow correctly. Ensure you till the soil well before planting so the carrots can easily push into it, even in colder weather. Ensure no stones are in the soil so your carrots can grow straight. Thin the seedlings three inches apart when they’re an inch tall and fertilize them with compost every five weeks after they sprout.


Parsnips are a great plant to start when your soil is workable because they require a longer growing season. As with most other cold-frame veggies, it’s best to direct sow parsnips because they don’t like to be transplanted. Till your soil about 12 inches deep and mix in a two-inch layer of compost before sowing.

Sow two seeds per inch about half an inch deep. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them so there are about four inches between each. Starting early lets you harvest your parsnips before they get too hot.

Final Thoughts

Looking for some inspiration as you start your homesteading journey? Or maybe you want to convince a loved one that it’s worth the jump to start theirs? Our book Dirt Rich makes a wonderful gift for yourself or someone you love this holiday season. Focusing on being content with life, this book can motivate anyone to live a simpler, less stressful life.

Fresh produce is one of the many benefits of homesteading. If your climate allows, a cold frame is a perfect asset on your farm to extend your growing season. Building your frame lets you make the ideal size to grow any of the plants above, among others.