Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Fear of the Frost


From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

1. a thin layer of ice that forms on the ground, on grass, etc., when the air becomes cold
2.  the occurrence of weather that is cold enough to cause water to freeze and frost to form

To farmers of fruits such as strawberries and citrus, especially in areas where frost is rare but happens, (for example,  central and southern Florida), a frost can be a disaster.

For gardeners in upstate New York, frost is as certain as death, taxes, and snow.

It came this morning to several people I know in outlying areas. But in Binghamton and Johnson City proper, given our location in a river valley, we escaped it.  It also helped that clouds started to form in early morning.  We were lucky.  At our house, it appears the temperature got down to 39 degrees.

Yes, it is a little early even for us.  And we have another chance for frost tonight.

So what does frost do?  Well, first off, temperature is funny.  At the height air temperatures are taken, it could be too warm for frost, but at plant level, it can be cold enough for frost can form.  Frost formation can depend on wind, on clouds.  We have a rough guide from experience.  When will frost form? And when won't it?

What frost does is form ice crystals on the plant leaves, and, for tender plants, it will injure or kill the plants.  And what plants are tender?  Well, a lot of what we grow in gardens:  tomatoes, peppers, squash. Many annual flowers, including nasturtiums and marigolds. Some herbs, such as basil.  Many other plants can take a light frost.  Some can even survive what we call a "hard freeze".

Sometimes, you can save your tender plants by covering them. In that way, the frost doesn't form. But that only works so long.  At some point, you have to let your plants go to that Great Plant Place in the Sky. Or wherever.

When that happens, I mourn the loss of the tomatoes, peppers and basil, and the ending of summer.  I say goodbye to my frost-blackened flower plants. (Conveniently, I ignore the memories of sweaty heat waves and the droopy droughts of summer.)

As I (fortunately) don't depend on my garden for all, or even most of, my food, I don't fear the frost, but I do fear what comes next.

But once the frost comes, I won't be unhappy.  It will be time for apples and pumpkins, for cinnamon scented cider, for donuts from the Cider Mill, for butternut squash, for the semi-annual Ithaca Library Book Sale, and the Ithaca Art Trail.

Unlike last year, we have a good apple crop.

And there is the turning of the leaves

On second thought:

Bring fall on!

Do you live in a four season climate? What is your favorite season of the year?


  1. Hey Alana,
    I think the most frequent time I am afraid of frost is in early Spring when all my hostas have already started to leaf out. I hate whenthat happens.

    Check your email, I sent you an email earlier today about the Bluebird House.. ! Bluebird House Givewaway Winner !

  2. The weather is changing here in England too after the long summer. Only last week, the temperatures were hot. Then, it rained for a week. I hopefully hung out washing yesterday morning in the sun. By midday, rain had soaked it. No frost yet, though.

  3. You are in such an unpredictable area. IF we get frost in the Lowcountry it would certainly not happen anytime soon. Shame cus so much can be lost. Same in spring!

  4. Autumn is drawing in in England, the nights are getting darker and it is far colder than before. I don't mind though, I like winter :-)

  5. I live in NH and my favorite seasons are spring and summer. Spring is known as mud season and may not be so pretty early on, but I LOVE the idea that winter is past and the days are lighter longer. Fall makes me sad every year. And this year it seems colder than usual and it's not even officially fall yet!


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