Tag Archives: frost

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Backyard: Prepare for Frost

Oct. 10, 2012

Create ‘Climate Change’ in Your Garden: Prepare for Frost

Some  folks may remember that first frost came early for central Mississippi last year, at the end of October. While frost is a pleasant milestone of  the
seasons for most people, it can be tragedy for fall gardeners. At  least, without precautions.
Commercial  growers use a lightweight, white material called Agribon to protect their crops from frost. It comes in different thicknesses for ever  greater
frost protection, some as much as 8 degrees below freezing.
You  can order it from any of a number of commercial suppliers online. A 50-foot by 83-inch roll costs about $20 at growerssupply.com.
Unfortunately,  if all you are trying to protect is 4-foot by 8-foot Jim’s Plot, that’s  something of a waste—unless you cut it up and give away what you
don’t  need to friends or neighbors. Get a smaller size (two 14×14-foot pieces for $39.99 at Peaceful Valley: groworganic.com.)
Urban  homesteaders are always looking for a cheaper way to use, reuse or repurpose what’s on hand, so they shouldn’t feel obligated to spend  money to protect from frost when it can be done for free. Such a route  is to use old bed sheets or a light blanket, just enough to keep the  frost off tender shoots.
The  main concern is that the covering must be light so that it doesn’t  crush the plants. If the weather is really cold, rather than just  throwing it on at
night, it should be white or translucent to allow some  sun to penetrate and hold heat if it’s left on during the day. (You  don’t want to smother your
Some  farmers use Agribon as a seasonal cover that performs multiple tasks: keeping plants protected from frost; acting like a mini-greenhouse,  holding in solar heat for greater soil temperature; and protecting from  insects. They usually use the lighter weights of Agribon, rather than  the heavy, thick versions. It won’t protect much below 32 degrees, but  it does offer protection from a dip in temperature and/or biting winds.
That  should be enough for any cold snap we might get now. We normally don’t get a hard, killing frost until around the end of November to the first  of
December. As winter approaches, more intensive measures may be  required.
For  example, a simple way to keep winter greens from freezing is to simply take a few plastic soft drink bottles or milk jugs, fill them halfway  with
water, and put them between the rows of your plants. That passive  solar heating will keep the plants from freezing below the level Agribon  alone offers and especially if placed under Agribon with the plants.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.


Use Agribon or old sheets to protect against frost

Oct. 21, 2011
Agribon protects against frost, but old sheets work, too
This patchy frost came about a week before normal, but it sends something of a hint of things to come as winter approaches.
Regarding frost: We use Agribon to cover our plants. It comes in different thicknesses for ever greater frost protection, down to about 28 degrees.
You can order it from any of a number of commercial suppliers, such as Grower’s Supply, or Pleasant Valley (www.groworganic. com). A 50-foot by 83-inch roll costs about $19.95.
A cheaper route is to use old bed sheets or a light blanket, just enough to keep the frost off tender shoots.
A lot of folks seem to have put off planting until almost too late.
With first frost, you’ll have to shift gears a little.
Reader response: “I enjoy your column and common-sense articles. Where can I find a Jim’s Plot kit? I am 83 years old so probably can’t actually construct one, but if I can find the kit perhaps someone can put it together. I would very much like to grow my own salad makings again.”
And: “I hear talk about a Jim’s Plot all the time and would like to try one. Where can I find info on how to build it and how to get it started? I thought now would be a good time to start one for spring.”
Actually, you can buy a kit for raised bed gardening, using recycled materials.
Here’s one online for $129.95: http://eartheasy.com/composite-raised-garden-bed-4-x-8.
I’m sure there are others available online, or by ordering through your local garden store.
What I recommend is outlining a 4-by-8 area and enclosing it in nontoxic materials; either synthetic lumber that’s purchased, including from recycled plastics and rubber, or from materials you have at hand like concrete blocks, tin or other materials.
Regarding landscape timbers: Studies by Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service showed insignificant contamination of soil from pressure-treated lumber using chromated copper arsenate or ammoniacal copper arsenate as a preservative, and it has no proven effect on plant growth or food safety. But, it’s your call.
You could simply mound up the soil as a natural boundary, or use cedar or redwood lumber.
If you are not comfortable or able to dig, you might suggest to members of your church or a local civic organization that young folk be enlisted to build these types of growing plots for elders as a community service.
In the plot, you can put either bagged soil – Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil is widely available at garden stores and is OMRI approved for certified organic use – or dig from areas of the yard where leaves may have accumulated over the years to provide loamy soil. Start keeping a compost bin to add to
periodically and build up the soil.
Leafy greens
It’s a bit late to be planting now, but you can still scatter some collard, mustard green and turnip seeds, and if the weather plays right, you could have some leafy greens to eat up until a hard frost, and some might bounce back if the winter is mild.
Started store-bought cabbages and bok choi can survive frosts pretty well, too; check local garden stores. Collards actually sweeten after a frost.
Generally, the first hard frost is about Dec. 1. If temps stay warm, it takes about three weeks for greens to get past the leaf division stage and another three weeks for maturity. So, there’s a general parameter for your garden.
However, since we often have warm winters, the growing season sometimes can be extended, without extraordinary efforts, such as using cold frames.
If building one now for use in the spring, just put down cardboard or layers of old newspapers (to block weeds) and put leaves that are falling from trees in it and cover it with black plastic over the winter. When you uncover it in the spring, voila! It should be decomposed enough to mix with compost you have saved
also to provide a rich, dark, loamy growing medium ready to plant.Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Soil’s Voracious Appetite

February 11, 2011

Soil with voracious appetite key to organic garden

How’s your 4×8-foot organic “Jim’s Plot” doing? If your garden is like ours, most of the plants have played out their life cycle or succumbed to the cold weather, even using Agribon or some type of frost-prevention row covers.

It’s a mixed lot; and a pretty ragged one! This winter has not been kind, but it should pay off with fewer bugs in summer.

Some of these plants, like the chard and carrots, will spring to life in spring. So, don’t be too quick to pull up old plants if they appear to have good roots.

Pretty soon it will be time to plant again. I know, looking at seed catalogs has you champing at the bit, but it’s not time yet.

Look ahead on the calendar. When do you intend to plant?

Here in central Mississippi, the old folks used to plant seeds on Good Friday, which this year is April 22. To be cautious, I’ve always planted a week after Easter, as we sometimes have a frost that week; Easter this year is April 24. That’s kind of late.

We’ll probably set out plants in March, relying on Agribon to protect them from frost; but that’s a gamble. According to the temperature tables, there’s a 50 percent chance of 28 degree weather where we are on March 9, and warms thereafter.

Here’s a pdf frost chart for Miss.: http://bit.ly/f8QSAb.

For all states, see: http://bit.ly/i5SmsT.

Most of our neighbors set out summer crop plants the first week in May. But there’s a caveat: They use pesticides, herbicides, etc. For organic growing, if you want to beat the bugs, plant as early as you can after the last frost date. We don’t have the luxury of spraying bugs.

So, to set your planting timetable, count back at least 60 days (and possibly 90 days), which should be now: Time to work your soil to make sure that it will have digested all the old plant material from your cover crops and any other green amendments so you are not robbing your new plants in spring from nitrogen being used in the decomposition process.

Why the variation in time? You want your soil to be hungry and healthy.

Healthy soil with lots of microorganisms in it is hungry and will digest vegetable matter quickly, turning it into rich, moist earth with lots of “loft” in it, to hold moisture and combat compaction; unhealthy soil will take time.

You know that smell of freshly turned earth? That’s actually the odor of actinomycetes, fungi-like bacteria. Soil repeatedly dosed with chemicals lacks that odor and the moist, crumbly texture of living soils.

Chemically laced soils can still grow crops when more chemicals are added, even when all the naturally occurring fungi that act to feed plants are killed off by them. But we want a full organic symphony of nutrients for full flavors with our food crops.

You can quicken the soil digestion process, if needed, by adding micro-organisms used for compost (such as actinomycetes, rhizobial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, Azolla, yeast and others, as long as they are not genetically modified organisms, GMO, which are forbidden in organic products) available from garden supply stores or online. Healthy micro-organisms with lots of vegetable mass for them to eat create robust soils for healthier, bountiful crops.

You might also consider buying a screw-in chlorine filter for your garden hose (available from pool or spa supply stores) to use when watering to keep from stunting the soil micro-organisms.

Keep dumping composted compost in your plot; and stir it around some. If you have some leaves, put them in; keep turning them. It may not appear that much is happening in your garden, but it’s busy. The soil is repairing itself from the growing season, with a little help from you, to make it ready for spring.

We want soil for planting with good “tilth,” crumbly and loose, that smells alive like fresh-turned earth!

Homesteaders, have you ordered your chickens yet?

If you plan on backyard chickens, the major suppliers generally ship from February to July.

Some online sites:

Video – PallenSmith Choosing the Right Chicken Breed for You: http://ow.ly/2Pmzf.

Catalog: Murray McMurray Hatchery: http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com. Or write: Murray McMurray Hatchery, PO BOX 458, 191 Closz Drive, Webster City Iowa 50595. Phone: (515) 832-3280.

Upcoming events:

Annette and I will be at the Gaining Ground-Sustainability Institute of Mississippi conference on “Sustainable Living” Feb. 19-20 in Hattiesburg (Note: Felder Rushing was scheduled to speak, but he is unable to attend). For additional information, visit http://www.ggsim.org.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.