Dealing with Frost in the Garden

frost in the garden, beating frost, extending gardening season

Gardeners who live in temperate climates often dread the first killing frost of a given year. Unless you can beat the frost, garden harvests will probably plummet. This is especially true when thinking about warm weather crops like beans, peppers and tomatoes. There are a couple of things one can do to beat the frost, at least for a while, thus extending ones gardening season.

Beat the frost by planting some crops which can handle a light freeze.

Cabbage (as pictured above), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, Swiss Chard, beets and carrots are just some crops which will stick around and still be useful, after several frosts.  Many root crops can be mulched and harvested later, even in the dead of winter. I remember my father harvesting Brussels sprouts, in NJ, at Christmas and New Years.

Bush beans can be covered with blankets or tarps.
Bush beans can be covered with blankets or tarps.

Beat the frost by covering warm weather crops.

“Covering” means to cover them the evening before and extended frost and uncover them as soon as the threat has passed. This can extend ones harvest by several weeks. For some reason, everywhere we’ve lived, we observe a pattern. There is usually a killing frost followed by up to six weeks of gorgeous, frost free weather. By covering warm weather crops one can sometimes gain more than a month of harvest time.

beat the frost, beans and frost, frost protection
Bush beans which survived a hard frost by being covered under a blanket

Crops which are close to the ground are the easiest to protect as one simply throws a cover over them. Still, I have tarped tomato plants in 5′ cages when they have had a significant crop still to ripen.

tarped beans, frost protection and tarps, beating the frost, fall gardening
Bean’s over 6′ tall tarped with a light bulb underneath

I’ve tarped trellised beans which were quite tall. I even put a high intensity light bulb under the tarp in an attempt to save them with temperatures going down into the upper 20s. It sort of worked. I rescued about 1/3 of the seed even if the vines didn’t survive.

Cold Frames can Really Help Beat the Frost

beating frost, beat the frost, cold frame
This is a cold frame made from a discarded futon. Notice the heat source.

One year I received seed to a very rare bush bean. I planted most of the seed in the spring. By mid summer the plants had all been decimated by rabbits. So I planted a couple more seeds. The new plants started to produce pods in September. I could see that they weren’t going to make seed, if left on their own. So I put a small cold frame around them, heating it with a shop light. Because of the small size to be heated I was able to harvest a good deal of seed, finally pulling the plug on the project sometime after Thanksgiving. I was pretty sure I could have kept those plants alive until after Christmas, but I got tired of covering and uncovering them and turning the light on and off. A cold frame, unattended can cook or freeze plants.

Fall Gardening Thread: Green Country Seed Savers

Question: Have you noticed that the first frost seems to be timed with the dark of the moon?

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