As I write this, I’m up in the Virginia mountains at my parent’s place that I call Locust Ridge. Their first freeze (more than a frost) is predicted for tonight. Even the Southern Piedmont has a possibility of frost tonight (10/21/18). Update: As of 10 AM on 10/22, My sources tell me frost was very spotty in and around Charlotte, NC. Same here in the mountains of Virginia.
This week’s tip
For those of you who have taken my Successful Gardener classes, you know that our “first” frost usually occurs around Halloween. So if we do have frost in the Charlotte area on 10/22, does that mean we’ve been wrong about that date? Not at all. You see, the dates for both “first” and “last” frost are determined by average dates over several years. So a “first” frost of 10/22 is close enough to the average that gardeners should be on the alert for cold weather. Since we spend so much time outside in our gardens and landscapes, we should be aware that it’s cooling off anyway. Yes, it has been unusually warm this Fall, but until I see a definite change in weather patterns, I’m still going to look for frost in late October. And if you’ve spent any time out in the open, you should have noticed that while the Sun was still warm, the air temps are cooler than a few weeks ago. So what does all this mean?
First, any tender annual flowers, herbs, or vegetables might get burned or killed by the frost. You can sometimes cover your plants with old sheets or plant bed floating row covers to protect them. Covers will usually give you an extra 2-5 degrees of protection. That may be enough to get them through the night without damage. It’s worth noting that frost often appears just after sunrise, before the Sun has had a chance to warm things up. Don’t be in a hurry to uncover things in your rush to schools and offices.
Frost also brings an unofficial end to the “growing season”, that period between last and first frosts when most folks do the bulk of their vegetable and flower growing. I have to note here that in the Southern Piedmont, we can grow all kinds of great plants nearly all year long. We just have to be aware of the best conditions for each of them. Cooler temps and shorter days, along with regular cloudy conditions, do slow down the growth of many plants, even the hardiest ones. So it’s good to know the last and first frost dates in your area. I’ve already mentioned Halloween as our first frost date. Last frost in the Southern Piedmont is an equally scary date; April 15, otherwise known as “Tax Day”. Again, these dates are averages, so we may have frost events before or after these days.
Cooler weather also brings with it the opportunity to extend our seasons past those dates. I’ve already mentioned the covers you can use for some protection. There are others you can use, as well. I expect all of us have used plastic milk jugs or over-turned flower pots to protect plants overnight. I stopped using those after chasing after and/or collecting them after even a light breeze. You can build a cold frame from lumber or PVC and cover it in a clear (preferably UV resistant) plastic. You can use glass, or even recycled windows or doors. This economical structure offers more protection from the elements. There are lots of plans for these season extenders, and here is a selection of them.
“Tunnel growing” is becoming more popular, and there are low and high versions. Essentially unheated greenhouses, they offer even more protection. Used mostly on commercial farms and greenhouse ranges, I think they have use in a home garden, too. You can easily grow lettuce and greens in a tunnel for most of the winter. They have some extra challenges compared to a simple plant bed cover. They can easily overheat on a sunny day, so you’ll need some way to vent excess heat and humidity. Also, snow or ice can collapse a tunnel if the load gets too heavy. But fresh greens are worth it, I think.
Greenhouse growing is, of course, the ultimate in season extension. It’s also a subject much too detailed for this short review. Be on the lookout for greenhouse information in a future post. Just be aware that frost brings with it new and interesting opportunities to learn to be a successful gardener!
Classes are done for the year, but please keep an eye out for the 2019 Successful Gardener Series, coming soon!!!
How can I help you?
If you’d like me to come by and help you with a garden consultation, I’d love to do it. I’m familiar with all kinds of landscapes, urban lot or country homestead, the silty, rocky soils of the mountains, the good red land of the Piedmont, or the sandy loam of the Sandhills. They each have their challenges and their beauty. In an hour, I can solve problems, identify plants, show you some opportunities, and help you enjoy your garden even more! If you’re interested, contact me here.
I farmed and operated a plant nursery in NC for 15 years, and was an NC Cooperative Extension agent for 8 years. In that time, I learned a LOT about farm production and farm business management. I can help you with organic certification, transition to organic practices, and marketing your farm and food products. To learn how to cultivate profit on your farm, contact me here.
I’m a certified small business educator as well. In these times of great opportunity, strategic planning is essential for success. I can help you write a business plan, construct enterprise and cash flow budgets, and do market research. Individual consultations and group trainings are options for getting the information you need to succeed! To take advantage of the opportunities that are available to small business owners, contact me here.
Remember to enjoy your garden, because THAT’S what makes you a Successful Gardener!
Hope to see you some time this week!
Peace, Grace, & Love,