Stay Away Jack Frost!
Updated: Sep 13, 2021
You Never Know Exactly When, But It’s Coming...
Farmers have to work with nature’s calendar. And there are two frost dates we watch for. The first is the last spring frost. And the other is the first fall frost. They are bookends to our “growing season.” The trouble is that these two dates are extremely unpredictable.
The unpredictable-ness is even more in play in the middle of Minnesota because there isn’t a large body of water that might moderate the temperature swings. So, a cold front can quickly drop the temperature in our area and catch us by surprise. Even the best meteorologists and weather forecaster make it clear that you just never know. In fact, there is an old Minnesota farmer saying (which I learned from Dave Lilligren) that says: "There might be "average" frost dates, but no "normal" frost dates".
Still, “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” (which looks at weather trends for the past 40 years) guestimates that this year our first frost will be September 18 -- so we still have 10 days (and our weatherman’s 10-day forecast is encouraging as well).
Freeze temperature classifications are based on their effect on plants:
· Light freeze: 29° to 32°F (1.7° to 0°C) -- kills tender plants.
· Moderate freeze: 25° to 28°F (3.9° to -2.2°C) -- damages most vegetation.
· Severe freeze: 24°F (-4.4°C) and colder -- heavy damage to most garden plants.
But, like it or not, we have to get ready for this eventuality. It will come and it is better to be prepared for it. So we will be putting our low-tunnels in place and taking other precautions to make sure we are prepared.
Remember When Wind Damaged Our High Tunnel?
The event was reported in our April 2 blog. An unexpected and powerful windstorm played havoc with our high tunnel. Not only did it shred our plastic membrane, but the winds lifted the metal frame off the ground and twisted it horribly.
Although we could still use part of it to protect our laying hens until the weather warmed up, much of it remained (to this day) in its twisted state. At that point we simply had so much to do to get the new garden ready that we couldn’t stop to fix the high tunnel.
But now, as the cold weather approaches, we will be trying to carve out blocks of time to mend and repair it so it is ready to house the chickens through the colder winter months. We will have to straighten out the metal ribs where we can, re-anchor the structure (this time deeper!), provide a thick layer of hay or wood chips on the floor to absorb the manure all winter, re-apply a tough plastic membrane over the entire structure, and build an chicken wire fence around the interior. The chicken wire allows us to raise the membrane on sunny days to provide for more airflow as needed and still keep the chickens contained!
The chickens will not be affected by the first frosty days, but we hope to have the high tunnel ready by November 1. And really, it should be ready a week or two before that “just in case.” If we get one of these early snows (like we have the past few years), the chickens would be in a heap of trouble.
That’s just one more example of how we have to be constantly pivoting to respond to nature’s schedule -- get things done when you can before it is too late! Make hay while the sun... you know.
The Squash Got Squashed
One of our efforts to try a new planting method ended in disaster this season. We noted that some other farmers were using big tarps to cover existing fields to suppress weeds and grass (so that the area under the tarp would be ready to help establish a new garden area next spring), but in the meantime, they also punched holes in the tarp and planted some crops for harvesting in the fall.
So we laid out the tarp, pinned down the edges with rocks and dirt, punched in some holes, and planted several varieties of squash. It seemed like a great way to prepare new ground and get a harvest off the same space!
Unfortunately, a windy day just after we planted, pulled up the tarps and as it flapped around, the squash and pumpkin plants were mangled. It was quite disheartening.
But it was one more reminder to us of the value of diversifying your crops. We will have plenty of peppers, spinach, cabbage, salad greens, onions, beets and more to keep your boxes full in the weeks ahead!
Yes, It’s Corny, But “Where’s The Beef?”
We’ve mentioned it before, but we think it is important to repeat. The industrial food supply chain has been severely disrupted by several cascading events.
At the core of all of these has been...you guessed it: COVID.
Many of our nation’s largest meat-processing facilities were shut down for weeks due to so many workers testing positive. And, even after the plants came back online, the conditions and stricter health code regulations greatly slowed down production.
Even though there are many regional slaughter facilities across the nation, they were also impacted by health concerns and they just couldn’t keep up with the demand.
The impact has been significant. Each one of these m