Archives for posts with tag: freeze damage

We were under a Frost Advisory last night. That’s the warmest of the cold-weather cautionary notices issued by the National Weather Service. It indicates that temperatures may drop into the range of 36 to 33 degrees over the duration of the advisory.

Was there any real threat? No. The overnight low forecast for our area was in the upper 30s, at the upper end of the advisory scale. Frost was possible, especially at daybreak, but not very likely to occur.

Did I cover the garden anyway? Yes. Even as the likelihood of frost or freezing temperatures diminishes, the consequences of their occurrence increases. The farther along the vegetables are, the more exposed they are to damage. Also, the later in the growing season that damage occurs, the larger the investment (of time, energy, materials) that is lost.

It’s a good example of risk analysis. Moderate likelihood multiplied by high consequences produces moderate risk which can be mitigated with low cost (throwing plastic sheeting over the planters is easy, provided I get the warning in time). Overall, the risk to the garden is low.

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Well, the temperature never dropped below 40 degrees, so there was no real danger of frost.  Yes, 40 degrees is cold—more wintery than autumnal—but not low enough to damage anything.  Still, everybody (people included) will be moving slowly until the sun warms us up again.

Of course, the frost warning underscores the fact that we are in an end-of-season race with the weather.  We have plenty of fruit—tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, string beans and squash—that could potentially ripen if given enough time.  The question is, will a damaging frost or freeze occur before the vegetables are ready for harvest?  It’ll be a closer finish than I think because the days are shorter and the garden more shaded than in summer.

If the summer squashes froze, it would be no great loss; they have yielded many fruits already this year and, in fact, this is the first season that we have actually had enough.  The same is true of the string beans.  We will make one more search through the vines to collect the stragglers before pulling the vines out.

There are many tomatoes left and it would be a shame if most of them cannot reach maturity.  On the other hand, there is plenty that can be done with them when green.

We didn’t get many bell peppers but we did enjoy the few we had (with sausage and onions).  There are several in the earliest stages of development (right now, they are green miniatures of their full-grown selves).  It would be nice to have a few more but I consider this year’s experience to be research into ways to achieve better success next year.

My main hope is that the eggplants can survive until they are ready for harvest.  At their current size of about three inches in length, they would not make much of a meal (although I’m sure that they will be delicious at any size).  If we are lucky, however, they will continue to enlarge until big enough for us to throw on the grill or roast in the oven.  Two of them have a good chance; the others are questionable.

Providing freeze protection is annoying.  The plastic sheeting must be supported above the seedlings (so as not to crush them) but it must also be weighted down to prevent it from flying off in a gust of wind.  Furthermore, it cannot be put into place until the sun is low in the sky (otherwise, the plants would cook) and needs to be removed shortly after sunrise (for the same reason).  Ironically, the early morning hours can be the coldest of the day.

But the freeze protection has its positive side.  There’s the protection against freezing, of course.  As a secondary benefit, however, the plastic sheeting also provides physical protection.  A critter (or critters) romped through the garden last night as occurs several times each season. They rarely damage the plants but with the garden covered, there was absolutely no danger.  The vegetable plants made it through the night untouched.

The beast (or beasts) had some fun with the uncovered east half of the east planter, though.  What a mess!  It isn’t clear what they are looking for.  Gold?  Buried treasure? Buried acorns?  Insects?  Nor is it clear whether they found anything.

Regardless of the intent or success of the overnight raid, the soil and mulch were easily restored.

It’s Election Day!  Finally, an end to the relentless campaigning that has filled every day since the spring (remember the interminable Republican primaries and debates?).  We voted early this morning and even though this is my eleventh presidential election—and who knows how many other state, local and school votes there have been—it never gets less thrilling.

It was very cold over night—temperatures dropped into the low 20s—and we awoke to a frigid and frosty morning.  Now that Halloween has passed, the National Weather Service no longer issues warnings (cold weather can now be expected every night, I guess) but I check the forecast every day and was prepared.  I brought in the last garden hose last night and shut off the faucet from inside the basement.

But I decided not to cover the radishes.  They have not been making much progress and it is unlikely that they would ever reach full maturity, especially the French Breakfast variety whose roots have not even started to enlarge.  Although the leaves were covered with a fine lace of frost, they fared better than I expected.  When the ice melted (by mid-morning), only a few of the leaves had the deflated look typical of cold-weather damage.

Nonetheless, I pulled them all up.  About half of the Pink Beauty radishes were near ripe (if small) but the other half and almost all of the French Breakfast radishes had not developed at all.  This crop is mostly leaves and in keeping with the season, we’ll sauté them (instead of throwing them into a salad).

The early frost decisively ended the year for most of the vegetables in our garden.  And although it was not a violent weather event (such as last year’s hurricane) and did not last very long (unlike the snowstorm last October), the cold weather left behind a mess of frost-damaged vines and vegetables.  The sight of them is not very uplifting—it is the complete opposite of the promising appearance of spring growth—and it is time to clean up and start getting the planters ready for winter.

So we disentangled the string beans from their trellis and pulled up their roots, some of which extended completely across the planter.  The bedraggled tomatoes, mesclun, bell pepper, eggplant and basil received similar treatment.  I was impressed by their extensive and deep root systems, which was reassuring even if not all of the plants produced as much as I would have liked.

Likewise, we pulled up the stakes and cages, cleaned them off and stored them on the back porch, next to the firewood.  We left the trellis in place (it is a more elaborate construction) but will probably have to move it next spring (we’ll be rotating our crops).  Until then, we’ll enjoy its rectilinear orderliness (and maybe we’ll hang Christmas lights on it).

The forecast held up and the temperature did, in fact, drop below freezing over night.  When I looked this morning—the sun having already risen—the thermometer was reading about 31 degrees.  The Weather Channel reported a low of 27 degrees so it may have been sub-freezing for much of the night.

However long it was, it was long enough.  Almost all of the plants that we left unprotected—the string beans, tomatoes, bell pepper and eggplant—were affected by the cold and subsequent warming; their leaves are hanging limp and lifeless.  Freezing and thawing has also cast a literal pall over the garden:  the greens are tinted with black, as if the garden is now permanently in shadow.

The radishes, toasty-warm beneath their tarp, weathered the frost well.  When I uncovered them, they looked as fresh as on any other morning.  It remains to be seen, however, whether there is enough sun left in the season to develop them to maturity.  At the moment, they are still nothing more than sprouts.

Although left out in the cold, the parsley and other herbs also fared well (they don’t need no stinkin’ tarps).  I was not surprised by this.  Last year, most of the herbs survived the late-October snowstorm that left them covered by a foot of snow.

I appreciate having gotten two day’s warning of the freeze—thank you National Weather Service—and am very glad that we were able to successfully harvest our remaining viable produce before it could be damaged.