Archives for posts with tag: freeze warning

There was a frost advisory two nights ago, a freeze warning last night and there is a freeze watch in effect for tonight.  This is what I would call a winter preview.  I’ll be relieved after next Friday—November 1—when the National Weather Service will dispense with these announcements.  At that point, we can expect that it will be cold at night, every night, until spring.  Frankly, the near certainty of it is much easier to deal with.

The only vegetables remaining in the garden are the eggplants and bell peppers.  The three eggplants still hanging on are smaller than I would like but are (I believe) ripe enough to eat.  So, yesterday, I harvested them (rather than risk their freezing).

There are still many bell peppers—almost a dozen—at various stages of development.  None are large enough to even begin to turn color; all are the traditional green.  To prevent their loss to cold temperatures, I snipped them off to take inside.  When I lined them up on the edge of the planter, there was one of almost every size.  If Goldilocks were joining us tonight for dinner, she would be sure to find at least one of them that was juuust right.

With nothing left growing, I decided it was also time to pull in the hoses and shut the garden down for winter.  I did this with no ceremony even though the action marks the end of the 2013 growing season and heralds the onset of winter.

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For the most part, the seedlings are ready to be transplanted to the garden but could use a few more days of hardening off.  Today, I put them out into full-sun for a few hours and will continue to do so, increasing the duration every day until the upcoming weekend.

Another reason to wait longer before setting the seedlings out is that the temperature still gets down into the 40s at night.  We haven’t had any more frost advisories or freeze warnings so there would not be much risk to transplanting now but it would not be very productive, either.  The growth of most of the plants would be stunted by the cool temperatures.

This is not to say that the seedlings are not anxious to get outdoors permanently.  Most of them are getting too big for their plastic pots and some have sent roots out through the drainage holes looking for water.  The crookneck squashes are particularly impatient to get into the garden.  A few of them have already started to form female flowers, which can be identified by the tiny proto-fruit at their bases.

Once again, the odds are against us.  Last night, the National Weather Service issued a frost advisory and tonight, a freeze warning is in effect.  We are more than a week beyond the official last expected frost date but as noted before, that doesn’t mean that frost or freezing temperatures are impossible, just that they are unlikely.  This late in the season, it should be very unlikely.

Have we entered a period of unlikely occurrences?  If I had a jar filled with uncooked rice and beans, would the two be perfectly separated, one layered over the other?  [See The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.]  Would now be a good time to travel into deep space?  [See The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.]  Should I run out and buy a Lotto ticket?

Last night, I covered the most delicate seedlings in the garden—the romaine and red leaf lettuces—and tonight I will do the same.  But with a greater risk of freezing temperatures, I will also cover the west planter.  I should be able to get black plastic sheeting over everything except the peas who extend well above the top of the planter (even if their trellis was not in the way).  They will have to tough it out.

Even during the day it is colder outside than it is indoors (just like winter!).  Therefore, I am suspending the hardening off.  It’ll be like a snow day except that everybody has to stay inside.

We’ve been starting to think about this year’s garden which is the first step towards actually doing something about it.

When planning at this early stage, the milestone that comes up most often is the average date of last frost.  Seed choice, time of sowing, period of hardening off, and date to transplant all work backwards (or forwards) from this important seasonal transition.

So, when is it?

In the old days, we would ask an old-timer or consult an almanac.  I don’t know anyone around here who falls into the former category but there are a variety of almanac websites (and, presumably, one can still buy a print version), most of which provide a list of cities and dates.  Looking at the Farmers’ Almanac, for instance, I found a map of the US and after clicking on New York, a short list of cities popped up.  The nearest to us is Albany for which the average last spring frost is May 2.

That was very simple and convenient but Albany is significantly farther north than we are.  Also, the notes indicate that there is a 50 percent chance that frost will occur on a later date, which sounds risky.  With further research, I thought I might be able to determine whether the risk of frost—with a higher confidence level—might be expected to end earlier.

Other websites attempted to refine their estimate by combining information from several nearby cities, based on our zip code.  For example, Moon Garden Calendar presented data for Poughkeepsie (to the north of us) and Yorktown Heights (to the south).  For a 10 percent probability of exceedance (the site allows a choice), the dates range between May 14 and April 29; a linear interpolation would give us May 7.  At Dave’s Garden, three cities were presented (Mohonk Lake and Middletown, both across the river from us, and Poughkeepsie) and their information was averaged for me.  The “almost guaranteed” date after which frost will not occur is May 4.

These dates still seemed late to me so I went looking for other sources.  I next tried the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), which provides a map on which rough contours have been plotted.  Based on this map—which is extremely low in its resolution—we are on the border between a last spring frost in the range of April 30 to May 10 and April 20 to 30, with proximity to the Hudson River clearly accounting for the latter zone.  We are in a transitional area with a microclimate that depends not just on the river but elevation as well.  Apparently, I needed a more detailed map.

A little web searching led me to PlantMaps.  This site is a great example of a geographical information system (GIS), where a lot of available information is linked to a physical location.  In this case, after entering my zip code, I was presented with a zoomed-in interactive map of New York hardiness zones (see July 28, 2011), along with a list of other available maps, among them a Last Frost Date map.  I clicked on this link, and was directed to another color-coded contour map.

This one appeared to be in greater detail than the CCE version—after all, it is powered by Google Maps—but the problem with it is that because of all of the detail (roads, terrain, satellite imagery, etc.), the contour colors are difficult to match with the legend.  As best as I can tell, we are located somewhere between a last frost date of May 1 to 10 and April 21 to 30.  This is essentially the same result as before but with higher resolution.

Which should not be a surprise.  The source cited by all of these websites is the National Climatic Data Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  They maintain data for a long list of locations in each state, compile and average them, and maintain contour maps that present the information visually (the raw data is also available in text form).  Their map (which is low resolution, just like CCE’s) puts us squarely in the May 1 to 15 zone of last spring frost; the nearest city listed in their database is West Point, with a last spring frost date of May 3.  The Farmers’ Almanac had it right after all.

Based on all of this, we are approximately 14 weeks before the last frost.  Therefore, we’re already behind!  Of course, I knew that before I even started this exercise.

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 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.

In final preparation for tonight’s potential freeze, we picked all of the tomatoes still hanging on the vines.  Most of them are green—we will have to decide whether to fry them up or pickle them or do something else—while one or two are showing a hint of pink.  They’ve been patiently waiting for the sun to ripen them but the days are now too short.

Next, we clear-cut the lettuces.  They have gotten slightly bitter with age but paired with citrus (Rachel’s trick for balancing the flavors) and the almost-ripe tomatoes, they will make a fine final salad of the year.  On the other hand, given the mesclun’s determination and perseverance, I will not be too surprised if they return for another round (I’m not holding my breath, either).

To complete our harvest, we started sifting through the French Filet (low) and Blue Lake (high) vines, looking for ripe string beans.  At first, I thought that we would not find very many—previous yields have been modest—but apparently I hadn’t been searching thoroughly enough.  After checking each vine top to bottom, left to right, we ended up with a large zip-top baggie full of beans.

Before heading back into the house, I pulled out a tarp to cover the radish sprouts.  If they can survive the freeze, they might still make it to maturity.  I used pieces of stone to hold the tarp in place (I never did get around to paving the perimeter of the planters) and will hope that it is sealed well enough to retain the heat of today’s solar radiation.

Oddly, Saturday’s cool temperatures are expected to be followed by unseasonable warmth on Sunday and Monday.  October can be a difficult month to predict, lodged as it is between September, a month more closely aligned with summer, and November, which often feels more like a winter month.

There is a freeze warning in effect for Saturday morning and if the forecast holds up, it will mean an abrupt end to the growing season for a lot of us in the northeast.  In some ways, I would prefer the decisive finality of a hard frost—nothing to do but clean up afterwards—but because we still have fruit on the vine, I hope that the mercury does not drop below freezing (or, if it does, it is not for very long).

Just in case, we will start harvesting whatever is ripe or nearly so.  We have one yellow bell pepper that is ready to go and two Trucker’s Favorite tomatoes that although not fully red are far enough along to make a nice addition to tonight’s salad (they will go nicely with watercress and radishes).

The most sensitive plant remaining in the garden is the basil.  To head off what would be a catastrophic loss, we clear-cut the entire patch, leaving behind an orderly grid of stubby stems that only Morticia could love.  It also left us with a big bowlful of basil leaves.  What to do with them?  What else?  We made pesto, our go-to recipe for basil.

Actually, I should say that Rachel made pesto; I pulled the leaves off the stems (and took pictures).  She prepared two types:  one with all green basil, parmesan cheese and walnuts; the other with a mix of green and Red Rubin (i.e., purple) basil, pecorino cheese and almonds.  The variations in the ingredients make for finished pestos (pestoes?  pesti?) of intriguingly different flavors, colors and textures.

Since we started to grow basil in quantity and with some success (it did wonderfully well this year), I have come to appreciate what a versatile and delicious food pesto is.  Besides its common use as a sauce for pasta (greatly improved by the addition of a small volume of pasta cooking water), pesto can be added to soups, spread on vegetables before (or after) grilling, used like mayonnaise on sandwiches and heaped on crostini or bruschetta.

Pesto is also good plain and by itself, eaten straight from the food processor.  This is not unlike snacking on spoonfuls of peanut butter taken directly from the jar (often, while standing in front of the open refrigerator).  Depending on its consistency (we like ours fairly tight), pesto doesn’t stick as badly to the roof of your mouth but it does leave little specks of green on your teeth.