Posts Tagged first freeze

First Freeze

This morning marked the first freeze on our five acres. Our outdoor thermometers tell me the temperature has lingered at 29 degrees Fahrenheit for at least four hours, possibly longer – more than enough to signal that autumnal preparations for winter should be nearly completed.

Deciduous leaves of tulip poplars, sweet gums, sourwoods, red maples, black gums, dying green ashes (victims of Emerald Ash Borer), spicebushes, beautyberries have already discarded at least a third or more of their summer leaves. Oaks, always last to leave the party, are only just beginning to release their leaf bounty to the forest floor.

Strong winds ahead of recent cold fronts ripped off many leaves before today’s freeze. Swirls of dancing red and gold would leap into stormy air, then tumble down together, a few leaves plastered by raindrops to windows.

This morning’s freeze brought an entirely different kind of leaf fall – a peaceful release. First singly, and then more and more as the morning sun kissed them, trees gently let go, their leaves drifting as they floated to frosty ground.

It is time for extra blankets, cups of steaming beverages, and winter meditations. May the season bring peace to all.

Do not disturb until spring.


Freeze Frenzy

Gather ye peppers while ye may

Gather ye peppers while ye may

I’ve been away from the blog a bit, because I’ve been outside trying to catch up on gardening tasks. Those tasks achieved urgent status this week when it became clear that the first killing freeze of the season was imminent. In my region, it is supposed to be tomorrow night. But I live in a cold pocket, so I’m betting we’ll see temperatures below freezing in my yard tonight.

Yesterday afternoon, I picked all the greens that were big enough to eat, along with fresh chives, parsley, dill, and basil, and every pepper left on the plants. Peppers faint at the slightest sign of chilly air. I also picked a big bouquet of nasturtium flowers. They are another plant that melts into mush when 30-degree temperatures visit the garden. I love the fragrance of nasturtiums; they smell like heirloom roses — sweet, but not cloying.

The green basils all melted into fungal yuck during our two weeks of rain, but the purples put on a late growth spurt.

The green basils all melted into fungal yuck during our two weeks of rain, but the purples put on a late growth spurt.

I’ve covered the greens bed with a tent of garden fabric, and I expect they will  mostly survive the two-day chill we’re in for. Warmer temperatures are predicted to return after that, so I’m hopeful more home-grown salads will be in our near future.

Enthusiastic broccoli

Enthusiastic broccoli

My tented broccoli loved the two-week rain. I don’t think I’ve ever grown such happy fall broccoli. Flower heads are just beginning to look big enough to harvest. After the cold snap, I’m going to fertilize these veggies and the greens in the hopes of encouraging some faster growth before prolonged cold settles in.

Chives and parsley also loved the two-weeks of rain.

Chives and parsley also loved the two-weeks of rain.

The drought had turned the chives into dry stalks, but they got a new lease on life after two weeks of rain. I’ve never had such a healthy autumn chive crop. And the parsley perked up too.

A sure sign of colder weather

A sure sign of colder weather

This afternoon, Wonder Spouse helped me drain the front water feature and relocate the partially submerged pots of plants that summered there. It’s slimy, mucky work, and we had to relocate four unhappy frogs down the hill to the small pond on our floodplain. These frogs were not born in our little water feature; they migrate up from the creek during rainy summer nights. The tree frogs and toads that start as tadpoles in spring in our artificial pool metamorphose and move out into the yard.

The water in the bucket is murky, but you can just make out the outlines of the four frogs we relocated today.

The water in the bucket is murky, but you can just make out the outlines of the four frogs we relocated today.

Earlier this week, I cleaned up my greenhouse, which had been vacant all summer. Then I weeded my way to where my potted plants had been summering beneath the Southern Magnolia, cleaned up all the pots, then loaded them into a wheelbarrow for transport to the greenhouse. By the end of summer, these pots harbor a wide assortment of weeds, slugs, snails, rolly-polys, and occasionally (but not this year) tree frogs or a Carolina Anole. This year’s biggest surprise was a cranky black rat snake that considered the area its turf. I posted some photos of it on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page. It has been quite annoyed by my weeding, and today it was very upset with us as we drained the water feature, even rearing up as if to strike when Wonder Spouse stepped closer for a look.

Nestled snugly in their greenhouse for their winter naps

Nestled snugly in their greenhouse for their winter naps

The good news is that the frenzy of activity prompted by the impending freeze is done — and a good thing, because I’m not sure that either Wonder Spouse or I will be walking fully upright tomorrow. We were pushing our joints and muscles pretty hard, and our “mature” bodies just don’t bounce back from that sort of abuse the way they did a few decades ago.

When I do recover and the warmer weather returns, I’ll resume my attempts to catch up on weeding. The prolonged rains caused every weed to quadruple in size, so it’s going to be a winter-long task.

That’s if the winter will let me. Weather scientists are saying we’re in the midst of a strong El Nino year, which for my region means average temperatures and above-normal precipitation.  Frozen or liquid, precipitation impedes yard work. But perhaps that is just as well. I confess the idea of remaining warm indoors with books and my computer for a month or two is sounding pretty darn wonderful about now.

Stay warm, ya'll.

Stay warm, ya’ll.

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Freeze Rushes Fall

Everything worth picking before the freeze

Serious gardeners are weather watchers for good reason. In spring, I try to get beds weeded and crops sowed before predicted bouts of rain. During the summer, I watch for thunderstorms packing hail and damaging winds, and try to compensate for prolonged heat and drought with measured doses of precious water. During early fall, I listen to the weather seers very closely for frost/freeze predictions.

This year, we didn’t get any frosts before our hard freeze. My hillside thermometer registered 27 degrees F this morning, and by afternoon, my tender pineapple sage and other flowers were looking mighty depressed. I count myself lucky. The poor folks in the northeast got heavy, wet snow before their first frost — while many of their deciduous trees are still cloaked in leaves! Now that’s just cruel of Mother Nature, if you ask me.

Fortunately, the local meteorologists predicted this frigid turn of events well in advance, so I spent the past week running around at warp speed planting newly arrived perennials and trees (more on those another time), picking every vegetable worth picking, preparing my greenhouse for my potted plants that summer beneath my magnolia, and moving those plants to the greenhouse. Oh yes, I had to, ahem, remove the giant pokeweeds and trees growing in the beds surrounding the greenhouse too; otherwise, no light would have gotten to the plants within at all. Thanks to Wonder Spouse for his help accomplishing that strenuous task.

That basket full of delight in the photo above contained 34 Carmen Italian Bull’s Horn sweet peppers, 11 Apple sweet peppers, 2 Viva Italia paste tomatoes, 3 small slicer tomatoes, and 12 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes. I’m missing those fresh tomatoes already!

Here’s a shot of the greenhouse after I straightened it up a bit inside, swept it out, and watered down the capillary cloth on the shelves and pavers on the floor:

Winter home ready for potted plants

Those of you who maintain greenhouses will likely notice that mine isn’t exactly clean. However, I keep it shut all summer, and the sun kills everything growing in there that’s not supposed to be there. Also, I don’t grow anything prissy enough to be offended by my untidiness.

Here are my potted plants enjoying their last few moments in their summer spot beneath my big evergreen Southern Magnolia:

Summer home for potted plants

The dense leaf canopy of this tree prevents heavy rains from damaging my potted plants, and its shade prevents the afternoon sun from frying them. They seem to like it there. One year, I found a Gray Treefrog living in a pot with one of the plants.

Here they are all moved into their winter quarters:

Settled in for winter

I’m only showing you one side, because at that point, the plants that summer in my front water feature were waiting for Wonder Spouse to come home and help me move them. Waterlogged pots are very heavy. When he arrived, we moved those pots; they now occupy the shelf and floor across from the shelf you see here.

The frigid temperatures were preceded by a day of wonderful rain. We got nine-tenths of an inch! I knew that rain was predicted, so I utilized the beautiful, sunny fall day before that to accomplish all these urgent garden chores. The insects also seemed to know what was coming. Honey and Carpenter Bees bustled in record numbers around my flowers as I worked. The pineapple sages and lantanas hummed with activity, and bees bumped into me more than once as we tried to occupy the same space simultaneously.

I also saw more butterflies that day than I had seen in several weeks. Numerous little skippers danced among the lantanas. Two Monarchs also couldn’t seem to get enough of those flowers. I urged them to fly south while the weather held, but they lingered even after dusk began to darken the landscape. Here’s hoping they made it safely out of the reach of the early freeze.

Monarch dines late despite approaching freeze

Next gardening chore: fall clean-up — oh goodie!


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