Each year for those of us in the Northern areas of the country cannot wait to get outside and get working on our gardens and lawns. Probably the single largest mistake we make is starting too early. Despite all the newspaper or TV articles telling us the last frost date is May 15th or May 30th, give us a few abnormal 70 degree days and warm sun and it just forces us to get out there and till the soil. While we are at it we “might as well plant some flowers or veggies” and get a jump start on the new gardening season. If it is done for the exercise and sun bathing that is Ok. The odds are however that we will be out there replacing many or all of these plants in a few days or weeks due to frost loss.
Many cold weather veggies like kale, spinach, Junk removal Roseville cabbage, peas, carrots, etc. will be fine if the soil is workable and not too wet to handle. If the soil clumps as you attempt to turn it over or rake it flat, wait a few days for the soil to dry out a little. If you see that a late frost is forecast, a simple plastic tarp draped over the plants or seed beds will provide ample protection for the night if it not going to get too cold. Remember to remove the covering quickly in the morning to avoid overheating the plantings in the bright sun. Veggies like warm soil types for example tomatoes and zucchini will simply die with even the lightest frost.
Warm soil must be above 50 degrees even at night. Tomato plants, even if they did survive the frost, simply will not grow in cold soil. A warm soil plant planted later in the spring will not only survive but in most cases produce more fruit than the ones planted in cold soil.
If you have the money or time to build some miniature cold frames, this will greatly increase your growing season. A great eco-friendly way to create cold frames is to watch for junk pickup times each year and gather all those window sash being tossed out. By simply placing these together in an upright triangle shape over your planting beds, you can extend your growing season by weeks in both Spring and the Fall. Get as creative as you can afford to by adding things like hinges, night covers, and wheels. Hinges will allow you to fold the frames up during the mid day heat and close them down towards nightfall. I will do another ezine for building some inexpensive cold frames. Watch for it.
If you have the space that will allow it, using old sliding patio doors you can create a great, almost free greenhouse. Leaking doors that allow some water and air to pass are a major concern in your home but are actually an asset in the garden. Besides being free, you are not concerned about water tightness or the amount of air infiltration as long as it is not excessive. Sliding patio doors are tempered glass as well and using them on a slope is acceptable. Check with your local building department to assure they do not consider a temporary greenhouse or cold frame in need of a building permit. By using some salvaged 2 x 4’s and a few nails you can put together an adequate framing system to start your plants outdoors and get a terrific jump on the growing season. You must still keep an eye on the night temperatures as the glass will not retain the soil warmth for prolonged cold snaps. By adding an extension cord with a 100 watt bulb and making sure the ends of the cold frame are tightly closed, a bulb will provide a great deal of heat. A large frame may require more than one bulb of course. It does not have to warm enough for you to be comfortable, it just has to be above freezing for the plants to survive.