How to delight in more food this fall by beating the first frosts


Row Cover in Vegetable Garden
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Scrambling around your garden in the dark with a flashlight on a chilly fall night, trying to harvest all the vegetables you want to save before the first hard frost descends on your garden.

Being taken aback by a frosty garden when looking out your window and feeling disappointed that you had no idea it was going to get so cold last night. You wish you had known so you could have harvested a few favorite tender vegetables.

For some gardeners, the first fall frosts are a relief, and for others, it feels like a disappointment when the season finally comes to a close.

If you’re one of the gardeners who would love to continue harvesting from your garden well beyond your first frosts, I’ve gotten the magic solution for you – frost cloth!

row cover protecting plants from frost

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How to Use Reemay to Protect Tender Plants this Fall

Frost cloth, also know as reemay and row cover, is a light white fabric, usually made of polypropylene or polyester, that can be placed over cold sensitive plants to protect them from low temperatures.

You’ve probably noticed that sometimes in the fall you may get one or two nights of frost followed by a string of warm and sunny days. Those few cold nights killed your tender vegetables, but if you had protected them from the cold they would have gone on to offer more harvests in the following weeks.

Basil would be a good example of a plant that’s not very frost resistant. It can start to get damaged when the temperature dips to just 38 degrees F. If you love having fresh basil to harvest for salads and pasta dishes, you could cover that garden bed with row cover to coax the basil along for a few more weeks.

In my garden, by the time the frost hits, my warm weather vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are looking pretty rough and not producing much anymore. I don’t make the extra effort to cover them with row cover because I’m ready to say goodbye to them.

In contrast, my fall planted crops like arugula, cilantro, and salad greens are thriving in the cool temperatures of fall. They’ll survive the first few light frosts, but once the temperature drops into the mid-20’s F they start to get frost damage and eventually die.

But, if you cover some of your garden beds with row cover, you can get these vegetables to stay alive into the early winter for many more harvests.

spinach with frost how to protect plants from frost with row cover

Some plants are more cold hardy than others. Spinach is one of the hardiest!

Tips for Using Frost Cloth

You need to make sure the frost cloth is not touching the plants. Frost settles on the row cover and will burn the parts of the plant that are touching the material.

I use PVC bent into hoops to create a frame to make space between the reemay and the plants I’m protecting. You could also use wire, metal cages, or anything makeshift to hold the fabric up off the plants.

If you live in a cold climate like me (Wisconsin, 5a), even with row cover the plants will eventually get killed as the temperatures slowly drop into the low 20’s F, teens, and below. After using row cover for a few weeks I remove it and replace it with greenhouse plastic to extend my harvest even further into the winter. Last year I harvested from my garden 11 months of the year! (I show you how to do this with videos and handouts in my Extend Your Harvest class.)

building a frame to protect plants with frost cloth

Building a frame to protect plants with row cover.

There are several different weights of frost cloth. The heavier weights give more cold protection, but decrease the amount of light getting to the plants. This isn’t an issue in the fall and winter since plant growth is coming to a stop due to low light, but it does matter in the spring.

You can also use your row cover in spring to protect from the early spring frosts, but you’ll want as much light transmission as possible to encourage plant growth. So, read over the different types here, think about what you want to use it for, and decide which is the best choice.

You can order row cover from seed companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, find it on Amazon, or buy it from a local nursery or garden store. The Hudson Valley Seed Library will even cut pieces of reemay to whatever length you want!

Don’t give up on your vegetables this season with the first frosts! You can extend your harvest for more weeks by covering your cold-sensitive plants with row cover and you’ll have fresh vegetables to use in meals well into the fall.

Learn how to use row covers, low tunnels, and cold frames to extend your harvest season in my online class, Extend Your Harvest: Plant a Fall Garden. Find out more!

 

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