Did you plant your garden early this year because the weather is so mild? I did! This afternoon, and I was expecting this, I got an email from the Weather Channel saying we should expect a “hard freeze” tonight…
Don’t panic… there is good news!
There are simple things you can do to save your seedlings from spring frosts and a hard spring freeze.
A cold frame, shown below, is a simple wooden structure with glass lids that utilizes solar energy and insulation to create a microclimate in your garden. Cold frames are best known for their ability to ‘extend’ your season either in the spring or autumn.
For those of you who have harvested and eaten a salad of fresh greens in February or have flowers blooming well past frost, you know the attraction of using cold frames. You also know how easy they are to make and use.
However, not every household has the tools and a handyman or handywoman to build a cold frame. If that’s the case for you, you can use my link to purchase a cold frame from Amazon… SKB Portable Wooden Cold Frame Plant Bed Protection
By the way, in the image above, that’s famed farmer Eliot Coleman in his garden in Maine. I learned of him and how to protect my crops back in the early 1990’s when he and his wife Barbara Damrosch hosted the TLC show called Gardening Naturally. Through watching Gardening Naturally I became so motivated in extending my growing season that my life was transformed – it’s an amazing accomplishment which I highly recommend!
These two books by Eliot Coleman absolutely changed the way I garden and taught me everything I needed to know to garden year-round successfully, click on either to be taken over to Amazon to purchase…
When Gardening Naturally aired, I was living in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. When I saw Eliot harvesting all winter long in Maine, I knew if he could do it in zone 5a that I could certainly do it in Pennsylvania, zone 5b. And so my illustrious journey began.
Today, I am living in southeast North Carolina. Yes, a whopping zone 8a! We have such a long growing season here but I will say the mid-summers are stinking hot and it is challenging to keep some plants alive in temps of 100 degrees F for two months!
What!? You don’t know your hardiness zone… well go on over to the USDA Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map and find out – simply click on your state and the map will show just the zone details for your state.
If you don’t know the differences between Hardiness Zone and Last Spring Frost and First Fall Frost you will want to read my post on that too! Knowing this makes all the difference!
Floating Row Covers and TunLcovers
We have had such a mild winter in southeastern NC that I decided to get an early start on my spring vegetables, the types that can withstand cooler temperatures (cabbage, broccoli, spinach, some varieties of lettuce, radishes, peas, mache, carrots, claytonia, and turnips).
I put my seeds in the prepared garden beds 11 days ago fully knowing that we would absolutely have 4-6 nights of freezing temperatures. The seeds have germinated!
Since I’ve been gardening for forty years now, and in much colder climates than we have in southeastern NC, I feel confident that when those few frost or freeze warnings came out in the spring that I am well prepared to cover my tiny plants.
This is where ‘season extension’, knowledge of and having the necessary tools available comes in handy! Normally, I would have placed cold frames over these two beds prior to seeding them but because this is a brand new garden, only 10 days old, I have not got all of my garden equipment constructed yet. So I chose to use two simple pieces of equipment that I had in the garage instead…
In the image below I have a Agfabric Floating Row Crop Cover/Plant Protection Blanket (can be purchased at Amazon) on one bed (left), and a small 18′ long plastic hoop tunnel called TunLcover (Row Cover and Plant Protector, at Amazon on the other bed (right).
I love using both the TunLcover and Floating Row Cover and have always had both types on hand, they are so valuable and have saved my plants more times than I can count over the years. They’re durable and reusable. Those shown in the photo below are 8 years old, both are in perfect condition – do know, I take good care of my tools.
By the way, I learned from Eliot Coleman that when you put a cold frame in an unheated hoop house you are creating climate conditions that are two zones warmer than where you’re gardening. Yes, I’ve done it and it’s true – it does work and extends your growing and harvesting seasons. Try it for yourself and see!
Note: I used two rows of TunLcover over the 3 foot wide bed to cover the entire bed of seedlings underneath (right side).
The bed to the left side was seeded two days ago. Whereas the bed to the right side was seeded 10 days ago. I’m doing succession planting. The floating row cover bed is simply laying flat on the ground since there has not been enough time yet for the seeds to germinate. I have also used whatever was laying around to hold the floating row cover down, they’re so light-weight that a breeze would blow it away.
The image below shows what my seedlings look like under the protection of the TunLcover. The wire hoops extend down about 4 inches beyond the plastic, these get pushed into the ground thus there is no need for objects to hold the thing in place, the wind will not blow it away.
By the way, I would not have planted these seeds if daytime temperatures were not over 70 degrees F daily for the past 3 weeks without having cold frames built – the only reason I am able to get away with what I’m doing is because those cold temps will only happen for a few hours before dawn, I know the sun will be warming things up first thing… and since temps have been in the 70’s and 80’s every day for 3 weeks now, I know that my soil and the ground in general is warm enough to help keep my seedlings warm enough through a few hours of cold with these added protective coverings.
Again, here are my links to purchase either of these two season extenders…
Know Your Average Frost Dates Too So You’re Completely Ready
If you were wondering what your average frost dates are this is a wonderful interactive map – Find your first and last frost dates on this interactive map over at The Farmers’ Almanac – simply click on your state and a little window will pop-up.
My Last Spring Frost date is March 28th, my First Fall Frost is November 5th. Knowing these dates helps in being prepared for weather that could turn your gardening efforts into mush in one night. Go into both the spring and fall seasons knowing how alert you need to be.
I planted two beds fully knowing that I would have to pay close attention every evening, until April 15th (the date when I feel our chance of any damaging frosts diminishes to nearly none), to what the temperatures are expected to be and being on-the-ready to cover up my seedlings before dark if need be.
In the above image the dates listed are normal averages for a light freeze/frost in south eastern North Carolina, where I live. The possibility of a frost occurring after the spring dates and before the fall dates is 50 percent. Frost and freeze temperatures are categorized by their effect on plants:
- Light freeze: 29 degrees F to 32 degrees F – tender plants killed, with little destructive effect on other vegetation.
- Moderate freeze: 25 degrees F to 28 degrees F – widely destructive effect on most vegetation, with heavy damage to fruit blossoms and tender and semi-hardy plants.
- Severe freeze: 24 degrees F and colder – damage to most plants.
What has your freeze alert experience been like? Leave a comment below.
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