Inch by Inch: When frost approaches

Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012 in Features

Inch by Inch: When frost approaches

As autumn advances, it's important to keep track of overnight weather reports so that you know when a frost is likely.  If it's a light frost, and you still have a lot of fruit on your plants, you can try to cover them with straw at the base and tarps over the top.  This is much easier to do if you have cages around your plants, needless to say, and it might not work anyway, but is worth a try. 

If the plants that are still bearing are big ... fruit trees, for instance ... it's probably time to pick what you can, even if it's not quite ripe, and try to ripen your final harvests indoors in a sunny window or a root cellar, depending on the fruit. 

When a frost is forecast for your area, no matter what, it's prudent to pick what is close to being ripe.  Root vegetables can be left in the ground; a light frost will kill the upper part of the plant, but it won't hurt the vegetable, and many of them ... carrots, for instance ... can even be left in the ground over the winter if necessary. 

Things that will definitely suffer if subject to frost are all herbaceous plants, including your herb garden.  Herbs can be harvested and dried, but leave the root ball in the ground, because many of them will grow again in the spring.  Pick what's left of your celery, lettuce, and beans.  Corn should be harvested now if you haven't already gathered it in.  Cucumbers and most squash should be picked, as well as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other fruiting vegetables. 

You can make stuff out of green tomatoes if need be, so if the frost warning is dire, pick it all.  If it's a light frost forecast, and you want to take a chance, tarp it and maybe get another week or two of a growing season.

Fruit trees should be harvested in advance of a frost, too.  All peaches, apples, pears, plums, and, if any are remaining, cherries, have to be brought in now.  Likewise, melons should be harvested, ready or not.

Pumpkins, and a few other hard-rined squashes, can survive a frost.  The plants will die, but the pumpkins will continue to turn orange in the sun, even after the vines and leaves have withered.  Leave your pumpkins in the field until they've ripened, or until the first snow hits.

Root cellaring apples and pears can help them ripen.  Layer them in a crate with newspaper or straw and put them in a dark, cool place, such as a basement or box room. 

Peaches, apples and cherries, on the other hand, should be left in a fruit bowl to ripen in the kitchen.

Apples and peppers need to be laid in the sun to ripen, so bring them back outdoors after the chill is gone to expose them to sunlight.  If they don't ripen immediately, you can try putting them in a closed paper bag for a while.

Melons should be left in a sunny window or on a table where sun strikes them.  Knock on the melon occasionally.  When it sounds hollow, it's as ripe as it's going to get.

Dry herbs by hanging them from a ribbon or string in a room that stays dry ... a kitchen is not the best place for this.  Once they have dried, store them in paper or plastic bags labeled with contents, or grind them and store them in small jars.

Corn, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, and most squash are probably ripe or close to it, so simply leave them in a warm place to finish the job.  Use the corn as quickly as possible or it will dry out.

If you have plants in containers, such as strawberries, small fruit trees, and roses, as well as any summer flowers that still have a little life in them, bring them indoors before the frost to keep them safe.  If the frost is a one-time, early affair, you can return them to the garden next morning; if not, find a home for them inside for the winter.  Don't forget to keep them watered and in the sunlight!

If your fruit doesn't ripen quickly after bringing it inside, don't despair.  Unripe fruit can be served to your chickens.  They'll appreciate it.

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