Farmers in Texas typically enjoy a long, hot growing season. The average first frost date is November 15th and the last is March 10th, but in recent years the frost has been arriving much later, so when freezing temperatures arrive farmers are often unprepared.
Here are few hints, tips, and notes to keep your garden thriving through the cold winter months.
The first line of defense from the bite of freezing temperatures is seasonal planting. Planting varieties acclimated to the cool temperatures that can handle a frost will always make protection planning easier. The following varieties can withstand a frost:
Artichokes, bok choy, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, peas, quinoa, radicchio, arugula, broccoli, broccoli raab, Brussels sprouts, beets, cabbage, carrots, collards, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, Some lettuces, mustards, onions, parsley, parsnips, radishes, bunching onions/scallions, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard, tatsoi, and turnips.
Using a physical barrier is another helpful tool to keep the chilling winds off of the plants so they can maintain a sustainable internal temperature and continue growing once temps have warmed back up. Frost cloths, blankets, or tarps are available to cover large swaths of growing spaces. Place steaks, posts or PVC pipes throughout the farm to support the cloth and prevent it from resting on or crushing the plants, weigh down with rocks or soil and keep covered for the duration of the frost. Some frost cloths allow a certain amount of light to pass, giving the farmer the ability to keep the cloth on for extended periods of freezing temperatures, we call these row covers.
Picture of farm with PVC ready to be covered with frost cloth at the first sign of a frost event
Also covering individual plants, like fruit trees, is acceptable as well. Cover all of the foliage, stems, and branches you want to keep alive.
Before a freeze it can be helpful to water, or spray, your plants to further insulate them from the damaging effects of freezing. Water within the soil and the plant cells act as an insulator, increasing the amount of time it takes to freeze the point of death, making quick cold snaps not so deadly.
Remove all exposed equipment to a warm location, or keep well covered with a cloth, towel, or plastic. Anything from irrigation tubing, timers, sprinklers, and other tools should be covered, or protected to eliminate the costly replacement. Hose bibs should be wrapped and covered, or left with a small trickle of water to keep the pipes from freezing solid.
To further eliminate loss from freezing, harvest all available produce, even if it may be a bit premature. A small harvest is better than no harvest at all.
Some farmers try to beat the freeze by creating a warmed or warming zone around their crops. As the days in the texas winter a usually quite warm, some farmers utilize black plastic ground cover in the fall months to absorb the sun's energy and channel it directly into the ground, keeping the soil and roots warm and productive.
Some farmers will also leave black large plastic buckets or tubs filled with water scattered strategically around the crops and fields. During the daylight hours the black plastic is once again used to absorb the sun’s energy to warm the water contained in the tubs. As water cools slower than the surrounding air, the buckets will radiate heat through the cold chilly nights, creating a zone of warmer air amongst the crop foliage, reducing damage done by frost.
With the inclusion and combination of these practices into your farming regiment, you will be sure to keep production going well into the frost months of winter! Happy Farming!
Director of Agriculture
P.S. For pictures and videos of Lettuce winterizing our farms, go to instagram.com/lettucenetworks