This fall we planted a huge array of beautiful vegetables for our CSA, markets and chefs. Then, wow! Fall arrived mid-November with record low temperatures. It started with a cold Saturday morning around 27 degrees and progresses to a whole week of temperatures in the 20’s, and one night all the way down to 17! We fought the good fight and still had huge losses, but not everything was lost.
To begin with, we sprayed the entire crop with seaweed extract. Applications of the brown seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum have been demonstrated to improve plants’ ability to tolerate cold stress by researchers at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. This actually helped quite a lot with the early temperatures between 27 and 32 degrees. We had no crop damage at all, even on some of our most sensitive varieties. I was singing the praises of the seaweed and turning cartwheels in the kale.
Then we got the 17 degree night. We tried to cover all we could with all we had. Some things were covered with Agribon row covers, and others with sheets of plastic. That night separated the strong from the weak. We had intentionally planted some very cold tolerant lettuce varieties: Speckled Trout, Winter Density, and Adriana. These varieties all came through the coldest night with no damage, with just a simple Agribon cover.
Other varieties that did amazingly well were our Churchill Brussel sprouts, the Fordhook Giant Swiss chard, and Marathon broccoli. I continue to be impressed with the importance of carefully choosing cold tolerant varieties for winter production. It is well worth the extra research. Examples of varieties that did poorly were Rainbow Chard, all cauliflower, all kale except Curly kale and all our mustards. The frisee and the escarole looked like a blowtorch hit it!
The root crops suffered much damage on the leaves, however, I don’t think the roots froze, so unless the weather remains extremely cold, the leaves will likely regrow and we will have root crops to dig later. The fields that receive sunshine early in the morning did the best, because they warmed up the fastest. The one field that gets shade all morning fared the worst because it stayed frozen for hours. Many winter crops can survive an hour or two of extreme chill, but the longer the chill is prolonged, the worse the damage is going to be. If I am smart, I will remember these fields that got early sunshine and warmed up fast, so I can put the most fragile crops there next year.
We are still planning on putting lettuce and broccoli in our CSA bags in December and hope to have Brussels sprouts for Christmas. If they don’t make it in time for Christmas, then we will simply cover them up for the year and welcome them in the spring! Winter farming is challenging, but I love it!
Eat your local winter veggies!