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.
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.