The frost has been toying with me this year. Arriving home from Common
Ground Country Fair after dark September 21st I hurried to the garden to throw sheets and
other covering over the tomatoes, eggplant and my cucumber experiment. It was crystal
clear and the time I usually get my first frost. It didn't come.
A couple of nights
later with the threat of frost again I picked most of the tomatoes, ripe, nearly ripe and
green. I covered the eggplant and cucumber experiment. The tomatoes did not get frosted.
Nor did the peppers left uncovered because we have already gotten all we expect from them.
The winter squash was completely killed but right next to the squash the basil was
untouched. That is weird since basil is the most tender and first to go.
I think I know what happened here. It was the mulch effect in reverse. A think hay or
grass clipping mulch insulates the soil keeping it a fairly even temperature. In this case
the frost was extremely light and there was enough warmth rising from the uncovered soil
under the basil plant to protect it while the mulch held the soil warmth in and allowed a
vagrant whiff of frosty air to freeze the squash leaves.
The next time there was a threat of frost I only covered the cucumber experiment. No
frost that night. Then two mornings later I looked out and saw that the tomatoes had been
pretty well frosted, some green leaves close to the ground. The eggplant had been hit but
not terminally. Same for the cucumbers. The cucumbers would have been wiped out if it
weren't for the covering that I had left partially over the plants.
The cucumber experiment, by the way, is a hill of cucumbers that I planted August 5th.
I figured if the weather is going to keep getting hotter maybe I could get a late crop.
The planting was a bit later than I wanted but I thought I'd nurture it along anyway to
see what happened. There are cucumbers on the plants about two inches long so I wasn't
that far off. And, as usual, the first planting has died.
A photographer from New Jersey was here in mid August. When taking pictures of me
harvesting cucumbers he asked if that was my second planting. Ah, no. In Maine with the
spring frost free date being about June 1st that was the first planting. In Maine seldom
does anyone bother with a second planting. But the vines do usually die before frost which
is why I thought I'd just try a second planting. Though late, I like the idea. If I get my
act together next year, I will start some cucumber seedlings indoors timed to transplant
about mid May into black plastic mulch with silted row covers to keep off late frost. That
should extend my season at least two weeks (The set-back of transplanting and the cool
temperatures won't give me much more of an advantage than that.) Then a second planting in
early to mid July should extend the season the other way.
What I find most amazing about these light frosts is that the peppers are still growing
with just slightly nipped leaves. That is not the most amazing thing though. The peppers
were not mulched but the zucchini was and it is still alive. It has gone bald on top but
there is a three-inch-long zucchini with a flower on the end of it which, with the warm
weather predicted for the week, will probably reach harvestable size. I don't have any
theory on why those plants are still alive.
© October 5, 1997
Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For
Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine
in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You
can eat his organic produce at his son's southern