Dec 162011
Frost on strawberries

by Avis Licht

Frost on strawberries

Frost comes in different forms, not all are bad for the garden


Some plants actually like a bit of frost. Knowing what to plant for the winter garden will help you be successful. And all frost is not created equal.  A little frost on the plants, like the strawberries in the picture above, doesn’t hurt many plants. Prolonged cold below freezing can cause problems. Be sure to observe your garden for frost pockets as cold settles into lower areas and valleys.

Here’s what you can do if you live in a frosty neighborhood:

1. Choose cold hardy plants for your vegetable garden.  These include: chard, kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, carrots, beets, kholrabi, peas and turnips and some varieties of lettuce. These plants work if there is thaw during the day.  If they stay continually frozen, you need to put them in an unheated greenhouse  or under hoops that are covered.

Frost on chard is okay

Frost doesn't harm chard if it doesn't go below 20 deg F.

2. Make sure the soil is moist before a big frost.  Moist soil holds 4 times more heat than dry soil.

3. Cover  tender plants with a woven material, blanket or sheet. Preferably not plastic, as this does not protect very well. You can lay the material over the plant, or put up stakes and keep it slightly away from the leaves.  Bring the material down to soil level, as the heat rises up into the covered area.

4. Place tender plants in pots and put in protected areas in south facing walls and under eaves, to get reflected heat from buildings. These would include lemon, lime, lettuce and herbs.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do during frosty days:

1. Don’t prune during frosty days.

2. Don’t prune frost damaged plants like trees and shrubs. Leave the damaged tips and buds on the trees and wait until Spring and let the plants start to grow. Otherwise you stand the chance of having the frost do deeper damage.

3. Don’t use chemical sprays that say they will protect your plants from frost.  There is no evidence to support these claims.

4. Don’t leave your gloves out to get frosted.  They will make your hands cold.  I know, I did this.

Bring your gloves inside, or they'll get frosted too

What good will frosty gloves do you in the garden?

To find out more about growing in winter you should read these books by Eliot Coleman from Four Seasons Farm in Maine.  Winter Harvest Handbook will give you many ideas. Your edible landscape can still produce wonderful food in winter. It may take a little more attention, but can be very rewarding.

Oct 282011
A variety of plantsIn a small area you can have a variety of different plants with different needs

A micro climate is not just a little bit of climate. It is a small area that is different from the area around it. It could be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts.

We are told to look up our climate zone in order to know what to plant.  But the truth is that where we live the “climate ” is affected by the hills nearby, your home, trees, how much asphalt there is nearby, any bodies of water and which way the wind blows.

A shady spot for lettuce

You can create tiny microclimates in your garden beds

In the picture on the right, I created a small micro climate in the garden bed by planting lettuce with zucchini in the Spring.  The lettuce grew well in the full sun of Spring, then was shaded by the leaf of the zucchini as the sun got hotter. By the time the sun was too hot, the lettuce had already been harvested.

The good news is that you can make use of your own yard’s topography to grow plants that might not ordinarily grow in “your” climate.  For example, if you live in a climate with winter frosts but have a south facing wall with an overhang, you can grow plants such as lemons and limes that like a warmer winter. It could be that even a few degrees of warmth will make the difference between a fruiting tree and a dead tree.

Lemon tree very pretty

This lemon has been moved 4 times, trying to find the right spot

I live in a cold winter climate, with many days of frost. I keep trying to find a good place for my lemon.  It’s not dead yet. But it’s also not filled with fruit.

I put it in the yard which gets 6 hours of sun in the winter, but the frosts were too much for it.  I covered it with our down sleeping bags on really cold nights, but that wasn’t enough.  I moved it to the deck in a pot, but it didn’t get enough sun.  I then moved it to the back yard along a fence that got reflected west sun in the winter.  It’s looking better and I’m not ready to give up yet.  But I do have to mooch lemons off my friends that live in a warmer location.

The main lesson here is to observe your own garden in all its seasons and all its weather.  Notice which plants are thriving and which are struggling.  Look for special nooks and crannies that can give you more warmth, protection or moisture depending on what your plant needs.  To find out more about micro climates, read this great article.





Oct 112011
Lay the material over the wire hoop to protect you plants

Lettuce under wire can be easily protected from cold weather

Now that Fall is here and we’re thinking about planting for the winter season, you should know about how to extend your growing season.

One really simple and effective product is  light weight material called a row cover.  You simply lay the material over your plants or vegetable beds.

Floating Row Covers protect plants from frost, while letting in sunlight, water and air.

  • Extend early and late growing seasons by providing frost protection down to about 28ºF
  • Aid germination by keeping soil moist
  • Prevent crusting of soil due to hard rains
  • Shield plants from insect pests, including virus-carrying aphids.

You can buy these online at Gardens Alive! an online store that specializes in organic and environmentally responsible products.

These covers can mitigate the effects of cold, but you still need to put in plants that can stand the cold.  It’s not like you can expect your warm weather crops to  thrive. Remember, we’re assisting these plants not changing they’re whole nature.

Click Here For More Good Row Covers

Autumn leaf color in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Beautiful Fall colors


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