Down deep, we hope it will stay warm forever, but we know it would be freaky if it did. Cold weather is coming. Its arrival may see a flurry of hysterical activity or some measured final actions preparing our garden for cold weather. That activity level is up to you.
Cold weather, even a frost, won’t hurt many plants in your vegetable garden. Root crops are generally safe from frost, but sweet potatoes often grow with ends above soil line, so they may be damaged, limiting their storage lives. Frost will also harm tomatoes, eggplants, okra, squash, beans, cucumbers, tomatillos, peppers, black eyed peas and melons, for instance. “Squash” includes pumpkins, so don’t believe the advice to harvest when the “frost is on the punkin,’” for frost will severely curtail the storage life of that food crop.
If you start early, doing a little at a time to wind down your garden, you can avoid the last-minute frenzy when TV weathermen say, “By the way, we’ll probably get frost tonight.” That usually means early tomorrow morning, not during the night, incidentally.
If you have just a few plants out that would be vulnerable to frost, you can cover them with a blanket, old mattress protector, etc. You’re better off NOT using plastic, because plastic conducts cold, and wherever it touches leaves, it will “frost-burn” your plants. We usually get a frosty night, followed by one or two more cold nights, and then a few weeks of warm autumn weather before a hard freeze. If you cover plants against frost, find some way to keep them from being windblown to another location.
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The same techniques you use to protect seedlings from frost in spring may be used: cover, moving air via a fan or sprinkler turned on just before dawn. Last year, though, we had a sudden, steep drop in temperature, a hard freeze all at once. That can happen again this fall, of course.
I’m moving vulnerable potted herbs and potted peppers into the greenhouse now, and picking red peppers from the garden. I may have my garden helper dig one or two culinary peppers from the garden for overwintering indoors. The two I have in mind are both Capsicum chinense varieties, one is “Trinidad perfume,” the other “Sweet Datil.” Seed sellers claim these peppers have no heat, or piquancy, but they do. I’ve found one is delightful, three is too fiery for our taste.
C. chinense is also the species for habaneros, but these chiles contain a small fraction of the heat of habaneros. Incidentally, most peppers are C. annuums, but they are perennials in spite of their species identity. The men who named them grew them as annuals, and didn’t know the stems would turn woody and last through a frost-free winter.
One thing we should keep in mind is that we should protect our soil from direct sun and pounding rain by planting cover crops or mulching. If we want plants to seed themselves, ornamentals or herbs, for instance, thick mulch will prevent seeds’ germination. Just leave a small area bare that would receive seeds. I have tiny seedlings of self-seeded chervil in some of my raised beds, and we’ll not cover those with mulch or compost.
We’ve been busy collecting seeds such as red and yellow-flowering columbine and marigold seeds, and collecting leaves of Tulsi, Thai and Mexican basil for dehydrating. We make pesto of sweet basil, using olive oil, basil, parmesan cheese and walnuts, then freezing in small amounts. We use larger containers of pesto for dressing pasta, but small amounts may be used in any recipe that requires basil. We add minced garlic to pesto only after it’s thawed. Frozen garlic tastes musty to me.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.