It never fails, almost every year we have 2 or 3 nights in late September or early October that reach the low 30’s and leave a frost. They are usually not really hard frosts but they are enough to ruin the squash plants or nip the tomatoes. These cold nights are inevitably followed by 2 or 3 weeks of beautiful weather in the 70’s with lows in the 50’s. Not perfect weather for summer crops but still warm enough to ripen some tomatoes or grow a few more zucchini. So what do you do to protect your crops from these early light freezes? In our area it is not worth it to try and put up a hoop house or other structure. So what is the answer to protecting your garden from early frost?
Floating Row Covers!!
Floating row covers are the best solution for protecting your garden from early frost. Row covers are lightweight blankets usually made from spun-bonded polypropylene. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and can be found at most garden supply stores or on online. They can be known by several trade names like Agribon or Remay. I always buy the heaviest grade sold. The heavier grades last a lot longer, usually 5 or more seasons of heavy use (I’ve bought some lighter grades that only lasted one or less). The heavy grades offer from 6 to 8 degrees of frost protection, meaning they can protect down to 26 maybe even 24 degrees for a short time. These row covers can also serve double duty by adding extra protection in the cold frame later in the winter. They are rain permeable and let in plenty of light. But the heavier fabrics are not meant to be left on long term. My suggestion is that if it is going to warm up during the day then you should take your row covers off to let the sun light in!
Most of my row covers are cut to about 10 x 8 foot pieces so that they will also fit the cold frames with some over lap. I simply take them out and throw them over my plants and secure them with a few rocks or attach them to the tomato cages with some clamps. Although they are not perfect, for early light frost this seems to work well and assure my plants will live to fight (or produce) another day.
Of course row covers can be used to great effect on the other side of the gardening year as well by protecting your spring crops from a late frost. Everyone interested in simple season extension should have plenty of row cover fabric on hand!! I think every gardener should have at least 4 – 4 x 10 foot pieces on hand. I seriously don’t know what I did before I bought my fabric row covers (oh wait, yes I do, I used to cover my tomato plants with old bed sheets). Trust me fabric row covers are one of the handiest things any gardener can have around!! Buy some today, before the frost comes!!