Cold Weather & Frost
When the nights start getting longer, and pumpkin spice lattes are making their annual debut, it’s time to start thinking about protecting your garden from the coming nippy nights and possible frosts.
To get pointers in the gardening department, be proactive and check the Farmer’s Almanac for frost dates in your area. When the time comes, start by putting any potted plants into a garage or shed to give ample protection. Just as long as it’s not too warm. Drastic change in temperatures can mess up your plants. Once the cold night has passed, place those plants outside in the sun again. Once winter officially arrives and you bring plants inside the home, make sure to check them for pests or diseases. Try keeping them away from the rest of your other houseplants, just in case.
For those earthbound gardens and raised beds, start by harvesting those tender herbs and vegetables that won’t last the chilly temps (usually 32-34°). Basil, cucumbers, melons, eggplant and tomatoes, to name a few, should be picked. Basil can be cut, and stems placed in water for a nice herb bouquet on your countertop. For tomatoes, even though still green, if there’s a small blush starting on the fruit, they can still ripen inside when placed somewhere warm.
Now that you gathered your tenders, some plants can withstand a light frost (29-32°), squash being one of them. It might wilt the vines, but the fruit will be fine, either way it’s always good to pluck these puppies once they’re ripe and the threat of a heavy frost is in the air. Broccoli, cauliflower, beets and swiss chard are also survivors of light frost.
But when the temperatures dive around 25-28°, this can destroy most of your plants. Some veggies such as carrots, kale, radishes and spinach, can do well with harder frost; even adding more flavor to them.
After you’ve gathered the tender vegetables, it’s time to cover and protect the rest of your green kingdom. Before it gets dark, give the soil a good watering (but don’t soak it, this can be damaging). Cover the plants to help contain the warm air. You can use a sheet, a tarp or even cardboard as a covering. If you want to get fancy, gardening stores do sell special fabric coverings for gardens to help stabilize the right amount of warmth. When covering, try not to have it touch the foliage. Placing tall stakes underneath your cover is great as a support structure, creating a nice little cozy cave for your green darlings. Just don’t forget to anchor the protected covering down, or all your hard work could blow away.
Another form of protection is placing hot cups over smaller seedlings. You can use 2 liter soda bottles or gallon jugs, by cutting off the bottoms and placing over the tender shoots, to give it that mini-greenhouse effect.
When the sun rises and the frost dissolves, uncover those plants! Letting them hang under their coverings during the day could be damaging to your garden. If you notice some of your plants showing signs of damage after the frost, gently snip away the injured parts. Keep doing this ritual every evening during the cold weather, and by keeping your plants nice and snuggly, you can savor those extra weeks of your garden.
At the end of the season, when Old Man Winter has come upon us, there is a way you can protect your garden bed so that you have less weeds and soil erosion for the following season. After everything has been harvested and died off, clean out the beds of any remaining plants. Some would be tempted to till the soil. Don’t! Tilling can destroy channels setup by roots and earthworms. These tunnels allow water and air to circulate throughout the soil in your bed. If you mix this up, it compacts the soil and destroys those channels. To help prevent erosion in your garden bed, add dead leaves or straw as a covering to protect it. This also keeps the nutrients in the soil preserved as well. If you don’t have either one of these, a tarp works too.
As the skies get grey and our breaths become visible, take pride in the crops you’ve grown this season. With your garden tucked in and protected for the winter. You can use the following cold months to plan out next year’s crop. An exciting creative endeavor that will be fun and tasty in the end.
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