Week 17: Frost Gambles

The first frost is always exciting. This year it was a tease of a frost. Just a light thing, not a killing frost, but it got our attention.

Among farmers, the timing of the first frost is always a matter of some discussion. We do know it will be sometime in October. Most years temperatures tentatively edge towards the 30s, and then some forecasted low of 35 on a clear, calm night heralds a likely frost. We gamble, either hoping for the best or scrambling to prepare for what might happen overnight.

This year that first frost gamble took us a bit by surprise. Monday's low was forecast at 39 (concerning), then up to 40 (no problem), and on Monday evening I thought I might as well text a neighbor to get an update: 37 degrees!  A real possibility of frost at ground level. While the plants would mostly likely scrape by, it would be irresponsible not to prepare. In most years an impending frost produces a flurry of activity around deciding what crops are worth covering with rowcover and which will be left unprotected to die, but this year the only frost-tender crop worth saving was the peppers. So we covered them in a few minutes and that was that. The work ended up being unnecessary, but only by the thinnest of margins. While peppers are hardy, some of the flowers next door at Greenstone Fields showed some damage on their very outermost petals. Next time it will be for real.

Even without a killing frost, the tomatoes met their end on Monday. They hadn't been ripening well for a few weeks (the plants went in the ground six months ago, after all), so we called it off. We found all the underripe green tomatoes and sent them to Sweet Farm Sauerkraut, then cut down the twine from the stakes and left the plants in a heap on the ground.

The death of a season's work is bittersweet, but it's better when the plants had the chance to live out their full useful life--and nobody minds the opportunity to dismantle things during pleasant October days rather than in blustery November.