Posts Tagged ‘frost’
The view in early June shows onions holding their own between closely-spaced tomatoes and broccoli (left). However, even at this point, the lower parts of the onion stalks spend most of the day in shade. The stalks are the leaves, and they obviously require full sun all day for best production. (Ignore the onions on the right; they are last season’s victims of the Lost Onions method of kitchen gardening.)
My small kitchen garden is a laboratory that provides evidence each year supporting well-accepted theories of kitchen gardening. It also suggests that many alleged “best practices” are, at best, pretty good practices. This season, my success with crowding tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower reinforced my growing belief in cramming together vegetable plants to maximize your harvest. Eventually, I suppose I’ll have to think up a cutesy name for this approach so it can take its place next to “square foot gardening,” “lasagna gardening,” “straw-bale gardening,” “vertical gardening,” and “no-dig gardening,” among others.
The Lost Onion Gardening Method
Last season, I planted several rows of tomatoes in which I left only 12 inches from one plant to the next. Until late blight struck, the plants thrived. So, in the interest of growing more produce in the same space, this season I went a step further: I set plants a foot apart within their rows. I also laid out rows very close together.
Here’s a map of my small kitchen garden’s main bed in 2010. I added details only in the section I’ve described in the main article: Tomatoes, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower (labeled as broccoli). The grid represents one-foot squares, with the planting bed being 14’ deep and 28’ long. When you plant this tightly, you don’t walk in your vegetable garden, you wade in it.
I left just 18 inches from one row of tomatoes to another. When that looked “airy” I planted a second pair of rows with only a one-foot gap. My rationale for putting two rows of tomato plants just one foot apart was that I’d be able to reach and manage both rows of plants from one side.
18 inches from one of the tomato rows, I planted a double row of onion sets: white and purple. 18 inches from there, I planted a zig-zag row of broccoli plants, making the broccoli row itself very crowded. The line drawing shows this section of my small kitchen garden with tomatoes on the right, then onions (with cabbage at the bottom), and then broccoli and cauliflower.
I was very happy with this layout with one exception: I lost my onions.
How my Garden Grew
After several hard frosts, I peeled back the dried up tomato plants and ripped out small broccoli trees. There, right where I’d planted sets in the spring, were young onion sprouts. A few onions are in good enough shape that I can use the bulbs. The others’ stalks will substitute as spring onions in my Chinese stir fry dishes.
Technically, I didn’t so much lose my onions as I lost access to them. The tomatoes grew like champs, eventually extending four feet beyond the tops of their 7 foot supports. The broccoli also outgrew the onions; by season’s end one broccoli plant was eight feet tall!
The onions? They kept pace with the tomatoes and broccoli for a while, but sadly, onions grow to about 20 inches. So, the season wasn’t far along before the onions were in complete shade.
Consider the onion: They have tall, slender, spiky leaves that seem well-adapted for survival in very sunny climates. They have none of those thin, flimsy leaves typical of annuals that can’t survive extreme summer heat.
Heavily shaded, only a few of the onions produced flowers. But by the time the tops should have matured and started falling over under their own weight, the tomato and broccoli plants had formed a canopy over them; I could barely wiggle between the plants to do maintenance, and no way was I able to bend down to the onions without displacing tomatoes or broccoli. I’d lost my onions.
Mid autumn is a tad late in the year to pull your first onions but these are my first. There may yet be another dozen golf-ball-sized wonders ready to harvest from my small kitchen garden.
In early November, I dismantled the tomato trellises, pulled the spent plants, and ripped out the broccoli trees. As I pulled back the weeds, lo-and-behold: there were young onion tops! These were a large onion variety, but the biggest ones in my garden are the size of golf balls. In many cases, the onion bulbs are too ratty to eat. However, the tops are tender enough to use as spring onions.
So, despite the abuse I’ve given these plants, they have forgiven me and provided some flavor to my life and my cooking. They have also taught me that onions will not tolerate crowding if it covers them in shade. When I plant onion sets next spring, they will have the front row of southern exposure… or there will be a generous three foot gap on each side of the onion bed to assure a sunny disposition.
This spring’s early start has peach blossoms busting out all over with pear and apple blossoms anxious to pop. When a fruit tree gets and early start, it often loses fruit when more typical weather returns.
Every year that fruit trees have graced my small kitchen garden, I’ve faced an uneasy springtime vigil: Will my fruit blossoms survive?
Fruit trees produce blossoms in response to increasing warmth. By late April, the temperature has usually been high enough for enough days that we get a dramatic display of white, pink, and purple.
Early Spring Kills Small Kitchen Garden Fruit
Two phenomena are particularly distressing to any fruit-grower: a late freeze, and an early start.
While the pear blossoms have held off longer than the peach blossoms, this cluster will probably pop within two days. Meteorologists predict a freeze in two days. Will my peaches and pears survive?
Late freeze—In some years, we see the typical gradual warming that brings on the blossoms in late April. However, with all those gorgeous blossoms on the trees, a cold front drops out of the north and temperatures plummet below freezing.
The opened blossoms freeze, killing the fruit. The kitchen gardener loses out.
Early start—In some seasons, the air temperature rises in March, staying relatively steady for several weeks. Fruit trees react by budding up and putting out blossoms weeks earlier than is typical. If the “unseasonable” warmth continues, there isn’t a problem. However, usually an early start leads to an abrupt return of “seasonal” temperatures. This means sub-freezing nights that can kill fruiting blossoms and destroy hope for a fruit harvest.
Edgy Vigil in my Small Kitchen Garden
During an early start, I can’t help but monitor the bud clusters on my fruit trees. As long as the buds remain tightly closed, even a deep freeze isn’t going to hurt them. When the clusters start to loosen up, I become particularly concerned. Will blossoms pop early this year? If they do, will a nighttime freeze exterminate my fruit crop?
So far, my apple trees are keeping a tight grip on their petals, but the warm weather will almost certainly make them let go in early April. It’s more common for them to wait until late April. That two-to-three week difference could make the difference between a bumper crop of fruit, or a very poor harvest.
This year the vigil started in mid March. It has been crazy warm, and the trees are responding. In fact, my peach trees are in full bloom, pear trees are close on their heels, and my apple trees—the late bloomers of my fruit trees—are threatening to pop. Experience tells me this is very, very bad. Heck, last year we had a killing frost in lat May!
I’m enjoying the gorgeous fruit blossoms, but I’m not happy about them. If Mother Nature blankets us with cold air, there may be nothing to harvest this summer and fall. While I continue my vigil, there’s nothing I can do about the outcome. I don’t need the fruit harvest to survive, so I’ll merely be disappointed if there’s a killing freeze. I can’t imagine the anxiety of a commercial fruit grower when faced with such an early start.
Subscribe to Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog
Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has introduced a video blog titled Visit with the Gardener, in which I share snippets of what’s going on in my garden and/or kitchen. I try to keep the videos under two minutes and provide either useful tips and techniques – or encouragement – for you to try new things in your kitchen gardens.
Please have a look, and jump over to Youtube to subscribe to my channel. Here’s the link to my channel: Your Small Kitchen Garden Vlog. And here’s an example of a recent post on the vlog. Please enjoy:
Other useful information about fruit blossoms:
How To Save Your Fruit Tree Blossoms From A Spring : : Little Home – How To Save Your Fruit Tree Blossoms From A Spring Freeze. In most parts of the country it’s still dead of Winter. However, in a few spots like here in the Desert Southwest, the warming weather starts to play tricks on …
Fruit Tree Update: Recognizing Cold Damage to Peach Blossoms – Recognizing Cold Damage to Peach Blossoms. Spring can be a very dangerous time for fruit tree blooms. If cold weather hits when the buds start to swell and bloom then some or all of the blossoms can be killed. …
I planted tomatoes when it was clear there was no further danger of frost. That afternoon, the weather service issued a frost advisory, and we’re facing at least two more nights of unseasonal cold. My tomato babies are not happy with me.
Have you planted your small kitchen garden? More importantly, have you planted it earlier than you should have? Apparently, I have. I started setting my tomato seedlings in the garden during the past weekend; I’ve planted 34 seedlings in my small kitchen garden.
Then, guess what? Canada generously sent some fresh air this direction. My small kitchen garden found itself at the southern edge of a wall of cold air, and meteorologists warned that there would be “pockets of frost” in my area.
Frost kills tomato plants. So, despite having been planted at the average last frost date for my area (which varies, depending on who you ask), my tomatoes faced possible doom on the same day they first felt the touch of garden soil.
Frost Emergency Countermeasures
A late spring frost is usually very light. Because the ground has warmed well above freezing, a light frost isn’t likely to settle on it. However, leaves that hang free a few inches above the soil may become cold enough to freeze through. You can protect such leaves simply by surrounding them with heat captured from the soil.
I rigged a simple tent to protect my tomato plants. As the plants are in three adjacent rows of the garden, I pounded wooden uprights into the ground at regular intervals between the rows; eight uprights in all standing about 18 inches above the ground. Then I pulled our 20’ by 14’ camping tarp from the shed and draped it over the uprights. Finally, I weighted the tarp with bricks and pieces of broken cinder blocks in case a wind comes up. (Photos at end of this post.)
The tarp will hold in plenty of heat coming off the soil. Even if the air temperature drops below freezing my young tomato plants will stay warm. Aside from tomatoes, I have onions, peas, lettuce, spinach, and carrots already sprouted in my garden. None of those will mind a light frost; only the tomatoes needed cover.
If you’ve planted cold-sensitive plants during this period when so many regions are passing their last frost dates, pay attention to frost alerts in your newspapers, on TV, and in on-line weather reports. If the forecast is for temperatures of 40F degrees or lower, take your potted plants inside, and rig some kind of cover for the ones you’ve already set in the ground.
I’m fortunate to have a giant tarp that we bought on a camping trip where the rain never stopped. Supported by wooden uprights I installed between the rows, this tarp will trap in heat and keep my newly-planted tomato seedlings from freezing if frost descends on the garden. If you don’t have a tarp, you can drape annuals with bed sheets to protect them from frost. Remember to remove such covers after frost melts in the morning.
Before the first frost, I had a gorgeous patch of basil in my small kitchen garden. Two frosts in two weeks nearly decimated the patch, but I had saved a bouquet of basil clippings on my dining room table.
The first frost all but wiped out the basil in my small kitchen garden, but I had prepared: I had harvested a bouquet of basil plants and set them in a bowl of water—like cut flowers in a vase.
I used about half the plants to make tomato and mozzarella salad and left the others on the dining room table (they made a nice centerpiece).
Before that first frost, I had also harvested the last of my tomatoes—actually, two large bowls full (about a third of a bushel). This morning, I selected the eight ripest tomatoes from that nearly two-week old harvest and made up yet another bowl of that killer tomato and mozzarella salad.
To complete the salad, I picked through the basil plants in the garden. Last night’s frost had destroyed what was left of the tallest plants. But deep under the weeds and the tall, dead basil plants, I found about six healthy small plants. Then I picked over that basil centerpiece on my dining room table.
What I found in my basil bouquet took me back thirty two years to my greenhouse bedroom in my parent’s house: the basil clippings I’d put in a bowl of water two weeks earlier had sprouted roots!
About two weeks in a bowl of water, and this hardy basil stem put out quite a few roots. I’m going to plant this and a several others in a flower pot and see whether they’ll grow into the winter.
I started dozens of plants from clippings when I was a kid, but haven’t thought much about it since. Of course, many plants you might grow in a small kitchen garden must come from clippings of some type. Seedless oranges, for example, can’t possibly grow from seeds, so every one you’ll ever grow must be a clipping from a tree that grew from a clipping and so on back to the very first seedless orange tree.
Fruits and vegetables that grow seeds don’t always reproduce “true.” That is, the fruits from a second generation may not resemble the fruits from which you collect seeds. This is especially true when the variety of fruit or vegetable is a hybrid (meaning it’s bred from two established varieties).
You might have seen this expressed in your own garden. If you’ve lost a few beefsteak tomatoes in the soil one season, and then let volunteer tomato plants grow and mature in the next season, I’ll bet the fruits on that second year plant weren’t nearly as appealing as the first year’s beefsteaks.
I still have a small pile of tomatoes that ripened on my dinining room table. I picked these on the day meteorologists (accurately) predicted we’d have our first frost. Most of the tomatoes were significantly underripe, but they’re looking good now.
Growers maintain the characteristics of apple, pear, peach, grape, and other fruit varieties by starting new plants from grafts—clippings taken from established trees and grown on hardy root stocks. Growers may obtain root stock by taking clippings from established trees, dipping them in rooting hormones, and setting them in water—or a very moist growing medium—and letting them sit for a while… just as my basil bouquet sat in water for two weeks.
One project on my off-season gardening agenda is to plant herbs in a couple of flower pots. It’ll be nice to have fresh basil, chives, and cilantro on hand through the winter. While I’m at it, I’m going to move my rooted basil clippings into potting soil and see how they do.
Aside from planting a few herbs indoors, I need to pull my tomato stakes and add the dead tomato plants to my compost heap. I also have pea trellises (hardware wire supported by seven foot wooden stakes) that needs to go into the shed for the winter. I have a healthy crop of lettuce that’ll make salad in the next few days, and after that fourteen tons of leaves that are gathering on my lawn will all go inside the rabbit fence and crush the life out of the small rain forest of weeds that has grown in the past two months. If things go my way, I’ll hibernate until the ground thaws.
The first frost of autumn sits lightly on yesterday’s grass clippings: the most recent addition to my compost heap.
The season has turned in my small kitchen garden: there was a significant frost last night. Living in hardiness zone 5b, I hope that you zone sixers have several more weeks of growing season ahead… and I’m jealous of you zone seveners, eighters, niners, and tenners (oh, the cool stuff you can grow in zone 10). Fortunately, the weather forecasts had warned of frost, and I’d taken steps in case they were right.
A Defensive Harvest
It doesn’t take deep cold to kill tomato plants, but they may survive a minor frost. I never take that chance. So, yesterday I picked every tomato that appeared to have any chance of ripening. Some were already partially ripe, while others were completely green. Why had tomatoes ripened on the vine in my small kitchen garden? Because I’m lazy.
Some months ago, I explained why you shouldn’t let tomatoes ripen on the vine. I harvest by that philosophy. However, I planted far more tomato plants than I needed this year, and after making and canning more than three gallons of tomato sauce, I lost interest in doing more… until I heard the frost warning. I couldn’t let all those tomatoes go to waste.
Frost completely destroys basil. So, I cut off a dozen or so plants yesterday, and set them in a bowl of water to hold them over so I can use them today. I thought I’d finished with tomato and mozzarella salad, but it’s too good not to make up one more bowl full. Dill and lettuce I ignored; they don’t mind frost. In fact, I’m expecting another solid week or two of growth on the lettuce plants… I’ll use the dill to make pickles this week or on the weekend—I’ve never made pickles, and I like trying new things.
My Dining Room Table
During my transition from fall gardening to winter sloth, a lot of stuff lands on my dining room table. That’s where I always ripen tomatoes. Now, along with ripening tomatoes, there is a bouquet of basil, a platter of butternut squash seeds, and a paper towel dotted with tomato seeds. These will move on before Thanksgiving.
We’ll eat some tomatoes and sauce or toss the others. The basil will go down with the tomatoes we eat. I’ll put the seeds in the refrigerator in a week or two to convince them it’s winter. In March, I’ll plant the tomato seeds indoors for transplanting to the garden in May. I’ll plant the squash seeds in the garden in June as the spring pea plants begin to expire.
Is Your Small Kitchen Garden on Break?
Is it tempting or sad to think that time has run out this year for gardeners? Actually, it’s wrong to think that time has run out. There’s still much time to do useful things in a garden. I’m going to plant a pear tree soon; later today, I’ll place an order on line and have the tree shipped to me (I’ve been posting quite a bit lately about planting pears).
End-of-season tomatoes, tomato seeds, squash seeds, and a bouquet of basil are prominent on my dining room table. Yes, that’s also a dying Venus fly trap that followed my wife home from the gardening store about a month ago.
If you’re not planting fruit or other perennials, this is a great time to start a new garden. Lay out new planting beds, cut and remove sod, build raised bed gardens, and condition the soil so it’s ready to work at the earliest possible moment in the spring. Some annuals like to start in the fall so they have a head start in the spring, and some seeds winter over just fine so they can pop the moment the soil thaws. I’ve never planted annuals in autumn, so I can’t make recommendations. I have had volunteer plants show up in my garden, and those lead to a few suggestions.
Annuals to Plant in Autumn
Planting cilantro and dill now will likely result in early sprouting in the spring. By planting, I mean to get the seeds in the ground as you would in the spring, but don’t water them and encourage them to grow. Actually, established, young cilantro plants may stay green well until mid winter, and they’ll start growing as the air warms in the spring.
I’ve seen onions winter over and start growing in the spring with no special attention. I’ve also had volunteer tomatoes, squash, and gourds start in my garden, but I wouldn’t plant those in the fall; I want squash to sprout in late spring, and I’d rather plant tomato plants (rather than seeds) after the last frost instead of waiting for seeds to sprout several weeks later.
I’ve heard you can plant some varieties of broccoli in the fall… come to think of it, I once left several “spent” plants in the garden one year, and they started growing again the next spring. I wouldn’t chance this with any common variety; look for hardy, slow-growing plants—and maybe the supplier can confirm they’ll winter over OK outdoors. I’ve also heard peas planted now—or later this fall, will start growing when the soil thaws, and I’d be very tempted to do this… but I never have. If I think of it, I’ll put in a test row this fall and tell you what comes of it next March or April.