The first hard freeze in my area is expected to arrive tomorrow evening (Tuesday, Nov. 12). Over the next 24 hours, most gardeners in the path of the cold front will need to harvest the last of the summer vegetables and be ready to cover any crops that might not be ready for temperatures in the low 20s.
The last summer vegetables
I have harvested the last of the summer veggies in my garden — all the peppers, even the tiny ones, and the remaining tomatoes.
The tiniest peppers were chopped and sautéed along with some full-sized peppers and are in the crockpot as part of tonight’s chili.
The tomatoes will be used in salads as they ripen, since fresh tomatoes in winter can be hard to come by. Even harvested green and left to ripen slowly in the company of their pinker brethren, these home garden tomatoes will beat the flavor of most supermarket tomatoes.
I harvested anise hyssop for my pet rabbits, Moonpie and Charlie Copper, who love that particular herb. It has regrown considerably since the last time I cut off all the dead flowers, so the bunnies have a large-enough supply of leaves to last a few days. Anise hyssop, like basil, will not survive a freeze.
The Ichi Ki kei Jiro persimmons are also ready to come in, mostly, and I brought in a basket-full this afternoon. The tree is providing enough fruits this year that I’ve already shared with one neighbor (Hi, Anthony!) and will be able to share with a few more.
If you have these or other summer vegetables still in the garden, and the cold front is headed your way, consider harvesting them all before the temperatures drop below freezing. Summer vegetables that freeze on the plants will not be good to eat after they thaw.
Crops to protect from a hard freeze
Many of the cool season crops will survive the upcoming freeze in good condition and continue to grow when the weather warms up again. However, to be safe, I will cover the tenderest of the fall crops. These include lettuces, the remaining salad radishes, and the Swiss chard.
I will also cover the escaroles and radicchios, because they are mostly new varieties for me. Their cold-hardiness is unknown.
The good news is that I have located covers to place over the more tender crops. These include some actual, horticultural, spun row-cover and an old flannel sheet. Avoid using plastic if you can. If plastic is all you have on hand, make sure it is held above the plants and does not touch them anywhere.
The covers I use can keep the temperature of the garden underneath them a couple or three degrees higher than the outside air. This small increase can be enough to safeguard the crops.
Even the covered greens may look wilted and weird as a result of the cold weather. The key here is not to panic. Wait until warm weather returns before you make rash decisions like pulling up all the plants. Many of the cool-season greens “bounce back” to a more healthy appearance after freezing, then resume growing as the weather warms.
Crops that I won’t protect
The root vegetables will survive the cold with little trouble, especially since the soil here in north Georgia is still fairly warm.
Another crop to leave in place is the saffron. In my yard, this crop is growing in four different patches in the yard and garden, with each patch sending up its flowers at different times.
I’ve already harvested some of the saffron, but one day when I went out to harvest more, honeybees were visiting the flowers and I decided not to disturb the bees.
Something else to bring inside
I have already brought the arugula inside. This is one of the salad greens I’ve been growing in a shallow container on the back deck over the last few months. Other greens have included a “basic salad mix” for microgreens and a dense planting of cilantro.
An article about growing these other greens is on the Soil3 blog. I wrote it last summer, for gardeners working in very small gardens and as a way to grow a few more kinds of greens in summer, but the method works as an indoor garden in winter, too. I have a second container of arugula at an earlier stage of growth, that we can harvest from when this first container stops producing greens.
The containers of greens will stay by a south-facing window, and the window will provide enough light for two or three harvests of greens before the plants are worn out.