Preparing for the first frost

It’s always a crap shoot predicting when the first frost will occur at Halcyon Acres®. Temperatures can be ten degrees lower than the ‘local’ forecast, so you play the guessing game and hope optimism doesn’t end in dismay as you step out to brown, withered plants glistening at dawn.

preparing produce garden for frost at Halcyon Acres

Photo credit: MorgueFiles.com

Even with a light frost you’re probably not going to save tender plants such as peppers, basil, eggplant, most squash and melons no matter what you do, so it’s best to collect as much as you can from these crops if you suspect a freeze. You can stave off the damage from a few light frosts and extend your season for a month or more with most other items in your garden.

Bed sheets work great as a cover. They’re easy to work with, light, flexible and pretty good at providing protection from damage. One thing to keep in mind, though, is temperatures often drop in the morning, so it’s best to keep covers on until 8 a.m..

Usually my biggest concern is the tomatoes. You might lose the plants, but you can save most of the fruit from an initial frost if they’re protected. The great thing about tomatoes is you can bring them in green and they’ll ripen off the vine. In many years past, I’ve collected wheel barrels full after a first frost, sorting through them and assembling them in storage (a vented, single-stacked rack is best) according to ripeness for weeks. Sure, you’d have to throw a few out once in a while (if you didn’t a bad one could ruin them all), but it was delightful grabbing daily ripe tomatoes into the Christmas season. Sadly, the constant rain after a long summer drought did most of them in already this year, so I’ve turned my attention to other salvage activities.

Last night’s forecast was a low of 38 degrees, offering a good chance we’d have a cover of white in the morning. So yesterday I collected all the melons, most of the squash, half the eggplant (they’re still small), a bunch of peppers, basil and whatever tomatoes I could grab as the sun set. All but the tomatoes (these were ripe) will keep for a while stored properly. No frost, so I decided to take the optimistic route with the 37 degree low forecast for tonight. If we get through that, we should have at least another good week of growth and harvesting from the entire garden.

A lot of plants hold up well to frost if they’re established. I don’t worry much about broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, any root vegetables, many of the lettuces (romaine is particularly hearty) and most of the herbs. In fact, if you get a good snow cover before the ground freezes, you can harvest most of the root vegetables all winter long. Just make sure you mark where they are so you can find them under deep cover.

We’ve actually been fortunate the frost has held off this long. Last year our first frost was in early September. Of course, it warmed again through December, so I was able to do some additional planting. Weird year.

Do you have any questions about extending the life of your garden into fall and winter? Feel free to post in the comments below and I’ll try to provide answers.

nlevin

Nanette Levin learned the produce practices she uses mostly the hard way over 20 years of experimentation. Hopefully you'll consider this site one of the many good resources that have cropped up to help you avoid mistakes as a new gardener or a more experienced one shifting to chemical-free solutions. There's a lot of free information (concerning plants and horses), but we also offer consultative support for those seeking customized attention.

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7 Responses to Preparing for the first frost
  1. Chef William
    October 11, 2012 | 1:27 am

    Out here in Wisconsin I have been told that the cabbage can make it all the way down to 27 degrees and still be harvested. In years past, some actually had two planting, but now when it has been harvested, they plant wheat. My little plot of ground only allows for family needs. Lucky for me, we will be headed down to our place in Mexico in a few weeks, where the planting season starts in December for some crops.
    You always share such good information, I really enjoy visiting your site.
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    • nlevin
      October 11, 2012 | 2:19 am

      Cabbage is pretty hardy. Broccoli is better (but won’t stand the heat). Mexico – bet hot peppers will be on the menu :-). Didn’t have a long enough growing season for the sweet ones to fully ripen this year. Still working on the solution for that one.

    • Potter
      November 23, 2014 | 4:06 pm

      Frost on my pumpkins. Feels good! I tried to water my gadern mums. Just a trickle came out. I thought there was a kink in the hose. But no. It was cold enough for ice to block my gadern house!

  2. Julia Neiman (@julianeiman)
    October 11, 2012 | 7:32 am

    More great tips Nanette. A couple of years ago we had this sudden surprise frost and lost some of our tomatoes but we saved more than we lost. I got giant pumpkins that year too.

    This year we didn’t plant pumpkins but they grew anyway so we’ll have lots of pumpkin soup, and other wonderful treats over the winter.

    Canning tomatoes in glass jars works well as does making juice for all those tomatoes rescued from the frost.
    Julia Neiman (@julianeiman) recently posted..5 Easy Excuses to FailureMy Profile

    • nlevin
      October 11, 2012 | 1:05 pm

      It’s wonderful when you’re able salvage from an unexpected frost, isn’t it Julia. I tend to keep a close eye on the weather forecast this time of year, but that doesn’t always work. Great suggestion on canning. That’s something I really need to get proficient at. Have all the materials – it’s just a matter of scheduling the time to learn and do.

  3. Debbie
    October 12, 2012 | 4:54 am

    Last Friday night my 2 youngest kids and I brought in all the white and green tomatoes. Today I made some tomato juice and now will have to wait for the rest of them to ripen. With the drought this year. Our garden didn’t do very well. I am grateful for what we got.
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    • nlevin
      October 15, 2012 | 11:22 pm

      I usually really enjoy collecting green tomatoes at the end of the season for months of enjoyment as winter hits, Debbie. Not this year with the fall rains after such a long drought. Oh well – was able to do some additional planting and harvest some fall crops I didn’t expect with some needed natural water. I think we all had garden challenges with the weather this year.

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