Preparing for frost

P1000037It’s a mild and sunny 77F outside, why on earth would I want to think of frost?

Because it’s mid-October, that’s why.  And because I was just out in the garden harvesting a ton of green bell peppers where their branches had broken under the weight of the fruit… and realizing how many more peppers I still have out there that will have to come in before harvest, one way or another.

If you are in zone 6 or 7, you probably haven’t had a frost yet but one is coming soon.  Zone 8 folks, pay attention, too, it’s not too far off.  Here’s what people forget about “first frost dates” — they are an average.  My average first frost date here is November 2nd, but we have a small chance of frost start as soon as just over a week from now.  Or, we could not frost until past mid November.

Here’s what you don’t want to have happen: It’s 6pm, you are putting dinner on the table and the news reports it may frost tonight.  Ack!  All hands on deck!  Go save what you can!  Or worse… you wake up in the morning and see a frozen garden, soon to turn to mush.

You can avoid that unpleasant flurry of activity in the dark by keeping an eye on the extended forecast.  Weather forecasting is, alas, not an exact science, but if you see a forecast suggesting something in the mid-30’s coming up, you should be prepared to act and keep one eye on that forecast.  As it gets closer, the weather guys will be able to predict more accurately.  Don’t forget: your microclimate could be several degrees colder (or warmer) than the official station at the airport.

  • Be sure your backlog of food preservation tasks are caught up.
  • Start drying any tender herbs like basil, or hanging them to dry if it’s arid in your neck of the woods.
  • If you prefer to freeze, do you have room in the freezer? Do you have jars and lids for canning?
  • Are there crops that can be harvested now and put up (like those green bell peppers!) to reduce your workload?
  • Do you have room to hang your tomato plants indoors so the green tomatoes will continue to ripen and stay fresher longer?
  • If you are practicing season extension, do you have your hoops and row cover ready to go?
  • Ignore the crops that aren’t frost tender, like cole crops and radishes; they will be fine on their own.

Be ready ahead of time, and the first icy breath of winter won’t be a huge chore.  If you don’t know it, you can look up your first frost date ranges here.