• Sir Francis Drake High School's insulated cold frame at the University of California’s White Mountain Research Station (elevation 12,470’)

    cold frame in snow

    A cold frame is a miniature greenhouse. From 2008 to 2015 ours was higher than any other test plot, greenhouse, cold frame, farm, or garden in California. In fact, it was probably the highest cultivated place in all of North America.

    We have two other projects here. Read about our worldwide array of artificial hypoliths and our Bristlecone Pine twisting project.

    Dusk on Mars

    Why did we do this? To extend our Mars Colony Project!  Colonists on Mars or the Moon will have to grow plants for food & oxygen, and compost waste.  The White Mountain Research Station is the most Mars-like place we can easily get to. It is bitterly cold most of the year, is very dry, has strong winds, and the air is about 2/3rds as thick as it is at sea level.  We are under no illusions that growing food in space will be easy. It takes at least 700 square meters of cropland to support one person on Earth -and that's without any meat, fish, milk or eggs.

    If this sounds crazy, we have distinguished company:

    • A NASA scientist, Dr. Christopher McKay at the NASA Ames Research Center, has proposed a plan to grow flowers on Mars, using Martian soil.
    • A Columbia University professor named Dickson Despommier wants to build a 30-story skyscraper in Manhattan (some of the word's most valuable real estate) and use it to grow vegetables. He calls it a vertical farm.
    • There is already the Arthur C. Clarke Mars Greenhouse on Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada, and several greenhouses in Antarctica, including the McMurdo Greenhouse. They grow salad greens.

    This project was featured on the front page of the Marin Independent Journal on September 4, 2008.
    It was also written up in the WMRS News in 2009.

    Part of our 2009 harvest from the cold frame

    (Who participated)

    Drake students:  Olivia Ashmoore, Liz Baumsteiger, Libby Caldwell, Sandy Curth, Jordan Doering, Monica Dreitcer, Brennan Duff, Matthew Gabel, Ellis Garey, Meredith Goebel, Murphy Goodwin, Cole Hersey, Daniel Hunt, Kate Iida, Haley Kabus, Anna Knowles, Eleanor Knowles, Sophia Lahey, George Lightfoot, Miles Lim, Salem Marrero, Sarah Melbostad, Emma Mooney, Ruby Nelson, Christine Quach, Lincoln Richards, Liv Salinger, Anthony Scopazzi, Jonathan Scopazzi, Jasper Scozzafava, Olivia Sicroff, Abby Smith, Cesi Solari, Geena Tognini, Marika Weinstein, Elise Wing, George Wing, Elena Woodside.

    Drake Parents:  Dorcy Brownback, Greg Gabel, Ray Goebel, Mark Knowles, Frank Marrero, Rich Melbostad ,John Scopazzzi, Jonathan Sicroff, Steve Tognini

    Drake Teachers:  Mary Buchanan (Science), Kay Cavan (English), Cooper Clark (Science), John Hayden (Science), Lori Martz (Math), Jack Sims (Art), Michael Wing (Science)

    Our cold frame specifications:

    • The total outside dimensions were 96" x 42" x 41" high.
    • Three chambers each measured approximately 25" x 32" in area. The right hand one had no window glazing.
    • Walls were 3/4" marine grade plywood with 3.5" of fiberglass insulation between inside and outside walls, for a total thickness of 5"
    • Double-glazed lexan window panes were Macrolux 8mm twin wall clear polycabronate, which is UV stabilized.
    • Automatic vents (Bayliss Triple Spring MK7 Vent Opener ) opened the left and center chambers when it got too hot.
    • Temperature and humidity data loggers (MicroDAQ LogTag) recorded in all three chambers. So did min-max recording thermometers.
    • Soil depth was approximately 12". We used E. B. Stone organic "Edna's Best" potting soil.
    • Hardware cloth was used on the bottom and sides and top to deter rodents.
    • A gravity-fed drip irrigation system with a 75 gallon reservoir watered all three chambers.
    • An electrical system using an 80-Watt Sharp photovoltaic panel, a MorningStar MPPT charge controller, a 12-volt sealed battery and a digital timer was added in 2010 to power a water pump and other electrical devices.
    Our thanks to the many people and organizations who have helped, advised and inspired us, given us seeds and tubers, and funded this project:

    Ms. Denise Waterbury, Mr. Scott Cole, Ms. Dori Cann and Dr. John Smiley of the University of California's White Mountain Research Station for giving us approval to place the cold frame at Barcroft, and Mr. Tim Forsell for cooking us wonderful meals.

    Dr. Joel Ransom and Mr. Chad Deplazes, extension agronomists at North Dakota State University, for sending us a particularly cold-hardy and short strain of winter wheat called CDC Falcon.

    Dr. Dan Biggerstaff of WestBred, LLC and Dr. Fernando Guillen-Portal of Barkley AG Enterprises, LLP, for advice on choosing and obtaining cold-hardy crops to plant and for sending us camalina seed.

    Dr. David Brenner, Curator in the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System, United States Department of Agriculture and Iowa State University, for sending us specially selected seeds of quinoa and chenopodium.

    Dr. Dan Hane, agronomist at Oregon State University, for advice on selecting appropriate strains of potatoes.

    Dr. John Bamberg, U.S. Potato Genebank, United States Department of Agriculture, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, for sending us cold-hardy potato stocks.

    Mr. Brad Katuna and Mr. David Reid, Engineering Academy, Sir Francis Drake High School, for help with construction of the cold frame.

    Dr. Patricia Holloway, School of Natrual Resources & Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, for lots of valuable advice and suggestions on cold-climate horticulture.
    The staff of Real Goods Solar in Hopland, California, for selling us the right photovoltaic hardware,

    Ms. Jennifer Upshaw and Mr. Alan Dep of the Marin Independent Journal for writing an article on the project.

    Mr. Don Drake and Ms. Liz Seabury, our Principals, for their support and confidence in us.

    This project was supported by generous grants from the PG&E Solar Schools Program, the Drake Fund, the Toshiba America Foundation, the California Fertilizer Foundation  and the Amgen Corporation's Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence.

    This project was inspired by a talk given at Drake High school in 2007 by Dr. Pascal Lee, Chariman of the Mars Institute, and Principal Investigator of the NASA Haughton Mars Project in the Canadian arctic.

    Michael Wing is also indebted to the Toyota International Teacher Program for sending him on a study tour to the Galapagos Islands, which included a visit to a demonstration farm on Isla Santa Cruz. Many of the preliminary ideas about the project came to him during that trip.

Last Modified on July 3, 2015