Dealing with a late-spring frost

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - 8:42am

Okay, Punxsutawney Phil, there were more weeks of winter than you promised. I planted my seeds when the seed packet said to, after the usual date of the last frost. But there have been hard frosts since the seeds sprouted, and despite my best efforts many of them died.

I may have a longer growing season than some, but sometimes that just means problems in my garden happen earlier. In my area, a hard frost warning in March is unusual, and a late March frost is rare. But we had several this Spring. Many of my seedlings died. This happens to the best of gardeners and farmers. What lessons can we take away from this?

Home-made crop insurance. You did not just buy or save one packet's worth of seeds for that vegetable, did you? Whether it's 3/$1 packets of radish seeds at the "dollar store" or fancy oragnic seeds from a catalog or seeds you saved from last year...you need spares. Extra seeds are like home-made crop insurance. And, guess what? The larger packets at the online seed retailers are not that much more expensive than the smaller ones! Example:  at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, their Early Wonder Tall Top Beets are $2.05 for 5g and $5.50 for 28g. Too many seeds? Remember, most of these will be viable next year, and even the year after that if stored properly. Or you could gift the extras to a neighbor who gardens to strengthen ties in the neighborhood.

I got you covered. Covereing your sprouted plants with mulch or even an old comforter or blanket can insulate them from low temperatures, up to a point. When we heard things would dip below freezing overnight, I shoveled on pine straw mulch, the local equivalent of straw. I shoveled it out the next morning, after things had warmed up, but just left it next to the rasied bed in case I needed it again, soon. And I did. What seedlings we saved from cold weather were directly due to this technique. Last year we used an old comforter, but the principle was the same. Mulch just insulated a larger area. 

Gimme shelters. Your cold frame or greenhouse (or windowsill) might have to work a little later in a year with a longer winter. If you like you can switch to raising seedlings for when, finally the great outdoors is ready for them.

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7 Comments

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3124
Not good news

While I sympathize with your plight, I note that we can expect frost right up to the end of May and, in fact, still have several inches of snow on the ground as I write.  We've got seeds started indoors and I worry that they may be too big for our seed starting space before we can put them in the ground.  We'll probably push the limits with the brassicas and root vegetables, but the tender plants, particularly the melons, may take over our living space first.  I think I need a greenhouse in a hurry.

Doug

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
green thumb crowding

Doug, I have an entire FLAT of tomato 5" plants that are about to be repotted into paper cups and take up 2 to 3 times more space. And another flat of veggies and herbs that will need larger containers right after that - STAT.  The kitchen windowsill is full, we are about to lose our dining room table and will have to start more seedlings on my bedroom desk and an occasional table near a window.

It's 44 F going down to 31 F outside, but thank God I no longer live on LI, in NY, where spring planting was at the end of April, and everyone has oil heat, and uses electricity made in oil-fired plants. At this point the main flora I am dealing with is in the form of logs for my woodburning stove.

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3124
coincidence
Quote:

It's 44 F going down to 31 F outside, but thank God I no longer live on LI, in NY, where spring planting was at the end of April, and everyone has oil heat, and uses electricity made in oil-fired plants. At this point the main flora I am dealing with is in the form of logs for my woodburning stove.

Ha, that's almost exactly what our temperatures are for today and tonight in western NY.  At least the snow is melting slowly.  And, I'm still making a few trips a day to the woodshed to stock up on indoor firewood.

BTW, do you know or are you aware of Patricia Allison?  http://www.patriciaallison.net/

I believe you're both in NC, if I recall correctly.  I'm going to be attending a 5 or 6 day training session on sustainable life skills she will be putting from May 17-22 in southern PA. 

http://www.4qf.org/index.php/age-of-limits/233-sustainable-life-skills

I attended the Age of Limits workshop (if that's the proper term) last year that follows Allison's session this year.  I had a great time and learned a lot.  4qf is an interesting place that has been working toward off grid sustainability for close to 20 years.

I hope your garden doesn't take over your living space before you get to eat it.  Take care.

Doug

GM_Man's picture
GM_Man
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 4 2012
Posts: 74
re:green thumb crowding

Sorry to hear about that crowding Wendy,

Sounds like you relo-ed to a New-England-State-of-Mind (with apology to Billy J).  You will need to look into a green house or a hoop house on the Southern side of the house.  A hoop house helps a lot to get the hardier plants growing (Arugula, radishes, brockley, Swiss Chard etc) by planting those in a green house during April and planting them again as late season plants.  This past winter I created a small window bed by a large picture window on the South-side of our home with the intent to convert to a platform for ALL those small starter pots.  Last year we converted a small closet in my den into a growing room with these LED lights.  We had the absolute best tomato and pepper plants in my entire life coming out of that little closet.  

Regarding the benefits of a hoop house in New England, my neighbor Cathy was able to harvest fresh greens from her hoop house all Winter long.  I allow my free range chickens (gotta love 'em) to run around scratching in our hoop house once the snow starts to fall.

Regarding construction of a hoop house, do not use sched 40 white plumbing PVC!  It is way too brittle to hold up over Winter.  Use the grey electrical conduit instead.  It is much better in dealing with snow loads and is not as brittle.  A hoop house is a great boon to anyone in Winter no matter their latitude or altitude.

Like Doug, we can expect a frost even through the end of May.  That occured last year and ruined our Apple harvest.  So we start hardy plants inside during the end of March, migrate tomato's and peppers to a small grow room, move hardy plants to the hoop house during mid-April, plants are placed in the hoop house in early May and start exposing the outside plants to temps during this same time, and finally plant according to timelines suggested by the seed packets starting in May based on soil temps.

Wow!  I really must stop rambling.

Cheers!  GM_Man

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
Actually, Doug I am in

Actually, Doug I moved to the SC midlands, near the state capitol, Columbia. I WAS in NY.

I went from zone 5 to USDA 8 overnight. What a change. It's awfully weird to plant things that I could never grow in NY, like okra, cala lillies, peanuts and figs. There are northern things I miss growing, like most varieties of apples or cherries, lilacs and mint (which die out too easily here). But overall, it's nice.

A double or triple growing season is really nice. The insect problems here are, however, out of this world.

GM_Man - Hi! And thanks for the info about the PVC pipes no handing snow loads and getting  brittle: many of our members can use that advice.

Thrivalista's picture
Thrivalista
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 5 2011
Posts: 60
Indoor room to grow

We broke down and bought a couple of sturdy wire shelving units to put starts and lights on. Otherwise they would have taken over our living space, too. The shelves live in the basement - or could even be disassembled - during the other 3 seasons.

GM, your conversion of a closet into a grow-room has got me thinking....

jasonw's picture
jasonw
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 1018
Investing in Row Cover

For locations that have the threat of late-spring frosts, I highly recommend folks investing in floating row cover to provide an easy method to protect young plants.  It comes in various protection levels, 3-7 degrees of frost protection, and can really reduce the work needed to save plants from an unexpected storm or frost.

It also can be used for times when frost is not an issue.  Below is our newly planted salad and carrot/parsnip beds.  Once we direct sow our seeds, we cover the bed with Agribon-19 (3 degrees of frost protection) and then do the initial watering.  The row cover helps prevent seeds from being disturbed and also acts as a barrier for pests and moisture loss.  Truly helps keep things in place and protected. 

We recently invested in a roll (83" x 250') of Agribon 19 from our local plant nursery  (http://www.groworganic.com/agribon-ag-19-83-x-2612.html) and it is well worth the $50.  You can run out and lay pre-cut segments on the beds in no time at all and the row cover will last for years. 

It is also really good for protection in late fall and even can be used to protect plants under snow and over winter plants under the cover and snow. 

Good luck this Spring. 

 

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