Frost Free Fields

Garden Covered

We’ve had our garden covered with translucent plastic for weeks in anticipation of frost. It seems to be working – no frosts. Even last night when we got a little frost on some exposed plywood, although it was 33°F on the thermometer, the uncovered gardens passed with almost no damage. The plywood and other objects up off the ground get frost sooner than things on the ground since they don’t have the warmth of the soil to protect them.

I went down into the valley to the general store. They have had frosts already which have killed the pumpkins and other sensitive plants. The cold air settles so that even though we are at a higher altitude we’re actually getting more frost free days. We’ve noticed this effect for decades. Our neighbors just 600′ lower get frosts earlier in the fall than us. On the flip side though, we get snow earlier in the fall and lose it later in the spring so we have fewer months of open pasture and can’t plant as early in the spring as they can.

Fence Pumpkins

The touch of frost last night, just enough to burn a few pumpkin leaves in one of our gardens spared most sensitive plants. Other pumpkins in the same garden and other places are fine. I suspect that the pumpkins growing up over the fences will do the best the longest as the cold air flows away from them. I have wondered about trellising them on a south face. This happened accidentally one year and I got very long pumpkins. Amazingly the vines were strong enough to hold even quite large ones hanging from the trees.

A trick I use in the spring is to spread wood ash on the fields. This melts the snow early by changing the albedo so the sun is not reflected as much. The increased solar absorption warms us early. This is a trick, I’ve read, that the USA and Soviets considered employing during the dreaded cold war. Even if we get another snow on top of the wood ash it still works since some light passes through the top layer of snow and quickly melts it from below. This method gets us an extra month of snow free fields in the spring.

The only problem is I don’t have much wood ash anymore since our new cottage is so energy efficient I burn very little wood, about 3/4 cord per year compared with the 3 to 7 cord we burned in our old farm house down the hill. I have all sorts of schemes for using a huge monstrous funnel on top of the mountain and the wind to shoot tractor trailer truck loads of ash up into the air to melt our snows early. Winter day dreams. The coming cold is long and white.

Outdoors: 58°F/33°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 67°F/65°F

Daily Spark: One man’s global warming is another man’s balmy day.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Frost Free Fields

  1. Victoria says:

    i just discovered your blog and really like it. Great trick with the frost seeding. I have bare spots in my pastures that I’m going to hand seed like this for this year to try and revitalize them.

  2. Rich says:

    Awesome share! Thank you very much

  3. Erik Schneeg says:

    Hi Walter, any ideas on how to spread the ash? I usually end up throwing mine in the air and letting the winter wind take it. Problem is it usually blows it into my face and clothes. What have you used to spread it?

    • This is how we do it now. We go up on the hill and judge the wind. It is very consistent here. We toss scoops of dry wood ash as high as we can and the wind scatters it across the fields. A scoop with a couple of feet of handle gives you some leverage to toss further.

  4. Teresa says:

    This is a great post. I love to hear how creative people get to extend their growing season.

  5. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, I like your giant funnel fantasy . . . think crop duster and (cheap) finely powdered charcoal. No potash like wood ashes, but a nice soil amendment anyway. Just as easy as other crop dusts, and in a season when the pilots really need work. Or something like a home kit Thundergull (last I heard, about $25 K) with a volkswagen engine, and with a payload of several hundred pounds, not even requiring a pump, since the prop is rear facing. Ain’t daydreaming great? I’d suggest one of those lawnmower engine powered parachute canopy ultralights, also with a rear prop, but can imagine what kind of frostbite you’d get using one in late winter or early spring.

    • Eeks! Definite frost bite city! :) I have wondered about getting ash or lime spread from the air but it is just a fantasy. Wood ash is what is available around here, in fact I got a flier in the mail of a 10% discount as it is end of season sale time when they’re trying to get rid of their stock before winter. Coal dust would probably be places like VA, PA, etc. I hadn’t realized it was a good soil amendment.

  6. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    OOOps!! Not coal dust, powdered charcoal!! You might even find a forest fire site, gather smaller hunks to the tune of several vans or trailers full and do some shredder processing into bags. Coal dust is nasty and toxic!!

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