Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Frost on the Farm!

By Nicole Sugerman

Just last Friday, we all took bets at our staff meeting as to when the first frost would come. Megan guessed last night, an estimation that seemed wildly early in my season’s-end-denial. Yet, on Sunday, I was shocked to find a frost advisory for that night when checking the week’s weather.

Hot-weather crops, like basil, tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash, will wilt once they receive a “hard” (strong) frost. The structure of the plants’ cell walls burst because of the expansion of the water molecules inside when they freeze, and the plants wilt over, their foliage a slimy green color. Other plants, however, can survive through a frost, and a few even thrive; greens, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas all become sweeter and better tasting after a frost, the cold turning their starches into sugars.

Usually, the day before the first hard frost is predicted, us farmers embark on an epic ‘frost harvest’. On this day, we harvest everything that might die during the frost that night. We harvest all the green tomatoes and peppers, hang to dry all of the hot peppers and flowers, collect all of the eggplant and delicate herbs. Because of the wet weather this year, few of these plants remain to save during frost harvest. And the frost advisory was so sudden and unexpected that I feel completely unprepared. I did not even know another frost was predicted for tonight until I just checked the weather right now. I am cursing myself for not covering up my experimental dry beans before I left the farm today.

The tricky thing about frost is determining if it actually came, where it came, and whether it got to the plants. Sometimes, there will be frost on car hoods but not the fields. Since cold air sinks, a light frost could hit low in the field but not at the top. And covering our crops with rowcover, the very thin white veil you see over many things when you come into the fields, can add a degree or two of warmth to the crops and prevent them from freezing.

I do not think that any of our crops were affected by last night’s frost. I am keeping my fingers crossed about tonight’s.

I thought I was ready for the frost to come. I have thoroughly enjoyed the season, and thought it was high time that the growing season slowed down just a bit. But now that the frost is here, I am having doubts. I am not ready to give up farming for another cold winter, and I sure will miss eating so much eggplant. Tomorrow morning, I will run down to the bottom of the field, breathlessly checking on our lower planting of peppers, and summer squash, and dry beans. I hope they are okay, but I know it is only postponing the inevitable, for another week or week and a half at most. Frost season is upon us!

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