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Judy Isacoff
Painted Lady in costume as an apple tree.

NATURE’S TURN: Dress rehearsal for Halloween: The killing frost

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By Monday, Oct 23, 2017 Farm and Table

October 23 – November 5, 2017

Dead-O, a k a Death Grip Yacon, Oct. 17, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Mount Washington — See the gardener move along her garden’s aisles, baskets in hand, under a cerulean sky striped with glowing pink clouds in the west. I see her harvest fennel bulbs and cover the few remaining ones with buckets or fabric. She turns to the raised bed across the aisle and cuts the stems of edamame bushes flush with the ground, lifts the leafy stems with her left hand and picks off swollen pods with her right, dropping them into the smallest basket. Then, she gathers up the spent plants and proceeds to the next bed to place the fluffy heap at the base of a 5-foot-tall yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) shrub to insulate its edible roots ahead of the killing frost. Predictions are that it will be 31 degrees by morning, maybe 29.

Castor Witch, a k a Red-Headed Ghost, appeared in the garden the morning of Oct. 17, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

As seen by passersby, I was that intent gardener absorbed in responding to the fate of frost-tender crops. Methodically reaping or protecting the few vulnerable varieties that remained, my hands were freezing. A new, penetrating cold was in the air last Monday afternoon. I awoke Tuesday morning to a thermometer reading of 32 degrees and the garden house roof freshly painted by Jack Frost. The season-extending fabric I’d loosely tied around yacon plants had mostly blown off; the uppermost leaves were drooping and would die by later in the day. Another bellwether of the change of season is the castor bean (Ricinus communis), grown in my garden purely as one of summer’s botanical wonders. Its red leaves had been hit and were drooping.

Halloween came to my garden a week early. The fabric meant to prolong the lives of plants transformed into their ghosts. The Death Grip look of stricken yacon leaves is just the beginning……

Turtle Tree Seed Atomic Red, Scarlet Nantes and Rolanka carrots with
Styrian pumpkin. Photo: Judy Isacoff


“FROST: Damage depends upon length of frost duration.
LIGHT FREEZE: 29 degrees F to 32 degrees F / -2 degrees C to 0 degrees C. Tender plants killed with little destructive effect on other vegetation.
MODERATE FREEZE: 25 degrees F to 28 degrees F / -4 degrees C to -2 degrees C. Wide destruction on most vegetation with heavy damage to fruit blossoms and tender semi-hardy plants.
SEVERE FREEZE: 24 degrees F / -4 degrees C and colder. Heavy damage to most plants.”*

And be thankful! Rejoice in the harvest.


A Gardener’s Guide to Frost https://garden.org/learn/articles/view/403/

*Frost And Your Plants: What You Need To Know – https://www.farmersalmanac.com/home-garden/2008/09/22/frost-temperature-outdoor-plants/


About yacon – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yac%C3%B3n

A rare find: Tripple Brook Farm offers a diverse selection of edible and useful landscape plants as well as native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. Selection includes unusual fruits, ground covers, hardy bamboos and cacti, ferns and mosses. Also, they make and sell special equipment for transplanting trees and shrubs. sbreyer@tripplebrookfarm.com

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