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Garden Doctors: The pluses of 'planting in hills'

Mira M. of Sebastopol asks: What does “planting in hills” mean?

I overheard a few people talking about doing this when planting his or her vegetable seeds and I didn't get a chance to ask them what that meant.

Planting “in hills” is a term used for the method of planting certain vegetable seeds in clusters. These clusters are not necessarily planted literally in raised mounds to form hills.

When they are planted in raised mounds, 4 to 6 inches high, the advantage is that the soil warms up faster and drains better, and water that collects around the base encourages roots to feed more deeply. Pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and melons are the more common vegetables planted in hills, with 4-6 seeds per hill.

Once the seedlings are established, the hills are thinned so that only the sturdiest 2 to 3 seedlings remain.

Jessica C. of Windsor asks: I would like to start some vegetable seeds indoors, but don't have a place in the house where I could put the seed trays near a window. How could I start them outdoors and protect them from the cold weather and frost?

If you plan to start a number of seeds prior to transplanting them into the garden, there's nothing more satisfactory and helpful, short of a greenhouse, than what's called a cold frame.

You can buy one that's ready to assemble from a kit, or make your own from old storm windows and whatever lumber you happen to have around. Thick, clear plastic works well also, if you don't have access to glass windows.

They can be of any size to suit your needs and in the shape of a square or rectangle, where the sides are made out of wood, which will be the framework of the cold frame.

The top and perhaps the sides, depending on the height you make it, will be the windows or plastic.

Cold frames should be constructed so the top is on a slant to allow the southern exposure into the entire inside area. That means the back end of the cold frame is higher than the front. The window orientation should be slanted toward the south. The top piece is attached to the back end with hinges to allow you to open and close it.

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