Continuing our series on how to simplify your vegetable gardening journey…
An unusually cold Canadian norther had blown through the north Texas area (and many other areas, as well), leaving behind a sheet of ice and blanket of snow on the streets that shut schools and some local businesses down for two or three days. In the meantime, my brassica seedlings – broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, cabbage – sat under warm lights in the spare bedroom, where they had been growing for the past month or so, waiting to be planted out.
The temperature warmed up enough for me to do so, and since my garden book told me it was time to plant out brassicas, I did so that weekend, the second weekend of February, digging through a little snow to do so.
Alas, I had failed to check the weather forecast. A day too late, I discovered that within two days another cold front – this one even colder and more brutal than the one a few days earlier – was forecast to move into our area. I triple-covered my babies with frost blankets and old sheets.
Nevertheless, two-thirds of those plants succumbed to the never-seen-before (by me during my seventeen years in Texas, anyway) five-degree (Fahrenheit) low that hit us one night less than a week after they had been planted out.
As I mentioned before, the unexpected does happen, but there was no excuse this time for me not to have known about the impending event. Had I checked the ten-day forecast and kept my plants inside for two more weeks, I would have had a beautiful and large crop of greens that spring.
Besides checking the weather forecast, how can you stay ahead of Mother Nature so that you don’t lose a bunch of plants? Here are a few tips.
1. Keep the soil rich with nutrients.
This will help to prevent pest problems, and if part of your enriching process involves heavy mulching, it will give some protection from the cold, as well.
2. Have a hotbed in your yard.
A hotbed is like a small greenhouse made with either a wood or PVC pipe frame that is covered with plastic sheeting, and carpeted thickly at the bottom with degrading compost (which provides part of the heat). If you have more space in your yard than in your house, it allows you to start frost-tender plants a couple of weeks early in pots outside.
3. Have frost blankets on hand.
As you now know, they can only do so much, but they can protect frost-tender plants from a light freeze, and protect lettuce and brassicas from a harder freeze, down to twenty, perhaps even fifteen, degrees.
4. Prevent the inevitable pests as much as possible.
No matter how healthy your soil is, if you live in the Southern U.S. your summer and winter squash plants will get invaded by squash bugs and squash vine borers (which are definitely the worse of the two evils). In some places up North, Japanese beetles are the bane of even the most diligent gardener’s existence. Research organic methods of discouraging the pests that are likely to show up in your area, and implement as many of those methods as you can to keep their populations down.
5. Plant two weeks after the average last frost date.
The average last frost date is just that – an average. If you plant frost-tender crops right after the average last frost date, there is no law that prohibits a frost from occurring the day after you put things in the ground! So play it safe and give yourself a little time cushion.
Mother Nature can be fickle and ornery sometimes, but the savvy gardener will take steps to stay ahead of her bad moods. And this will make your gardening life much simpler.
For a comprehensive resource on how to grow your own food without chemicals, with limited maintenance and with a high yield, be sure to check out my e-book How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind.