Plant Your Hardy and Semi-Hardy Vegetables Before the First Frost
Planning a vegetable garden for the colder months requires a little bit of information and strategy. First, you need to know what your hardiness zone is and then you need to know the first frost date and the first freeze date. Once you have this knowledge at hand, you can begin to plan your garden so that the vegetables you plant will be safe and thrive during the cold harsh weather of winter.
Every location has a hardiness zone. The hardiness zone is a measure determined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a standard for the likelihood of a particular plant’s ability to grow successfully in a particular geographic location. The hardiness zone takes into consideration the minimum likely temperature for each region. The USDA has an interactive hardiness zone map that allows you to look up your hardiness zone by entering your zip code.
First Frost and Freeze Dates
Once you determine your hardiness zone, next you need to know when the first frost and when the first freeze are expected to occur in your area. I have found an easy to use source to generate this information. Whenever I want to know the first frost and first freeze dates, I go to The How Do Gardener. This is a helpful and informative website that utilizes information gleaned from the National Climactic Data Center and uses an interactive service, much like the USDA interactive hardiness zone map, to provide you with the first frost and first freeze dates. You simply enter your zip code and the dates are automatically presented to you.
Plan Your Cold Weather Garden
After learning your hardiness zone and the first frost and freeze dates, you now need to decide what to plant.
I live in northern California, in Hardiness Zone 9. I need to be sure the vegetables I plant on October 1, 2015 will mature before the first freeze date which traditionally follows about two weeks after the first frost date. Since the first freeze date in my zone is December 1, 2015, I need to select plants that will become mature and will be able to be harvested before December 1, 2015. Most seed packets have the number of days to maturity and other helpful planting information on the back.
Note that hardy plants can tolerate freezing temperatures. Even so, they need to be planted in order that by the time freezing weather occurs, the plant is mature enough to withstand the harsh, excessive temperatures of 32° degrees Fahrenheit or below or 0° degrees Celsius or below.
Table of my October Planting Schedule
I selected these plants because of the number of days to maturity. These plants will be mature before the first Freeze Date, according to my location.
Protect Your Garden From Cold Weather
The first frost date in my area is November 11, 2015, so my biggest concern is keeping the vegetables from being harmed by the harshness of cold weather.
Although the vegetables you plant in October are considered hardy or semi-hardy, they still need a small level of protection from frost and freeze. Prior to the first frost date, place some type of mulch on top of the dirt at the base of the plants. Mulch is a ground cover that can help keep the soil from becoming overly cold. Types of Mulch include hay, straw, alfalfa, barks, hulls, grass clippings, garden clippings, dried leaves, recycled wood, and gravel.
As well as using mulch to cover the soil, place a protective barrier such as plastic or a fabric made specifically for outdoor weather over the plant. This should be sufficient enough to protect the plant from frost. When using plastic, be sure to remove the plastic when the sun comes out. This will allow the plant to breathe and let excessive moisture evaporate.
Whether you use a mulch, a plant cover, or both, your plant should have enough protection from becoming harmed by extremely cold temperatures.
Plant What is Right for Your Region
With proper consideration and planning, you should be able to enjoy fresh vegetables even in the cold winter months. Before planting, think about the following:
- what you like to eat
- frost and freeze dates
- cold weather protection
- how long your vegetable plant will take to mature
No matter what season, you can put delicious fresh food on your table all year long.
Recipe: Simple Zucchini and Grape Leaf Salad
The joy of gardening includes walking out and picking something to include with a meal every day. Zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, and radishes are still producing and so I can make a delicious salad from these vegetables.
I also grow grapes in my garden and while grapes are a fruit, the grape leaves can be cut and eaten raw. So while I am waiting for the grapes to mature, I can use the grape leaves in the salad without harming the actual fruit.
Here is a recipe for a very simple salad using zucchini and grape leaves.
- ¼ Head lettuce, torn to bite-sized pieces
- ¼ Cup Radishes, sliced thin
- ½ Cup Zucchini, sliced thin
- ½ Cup Grape leaves, torn to bite-sized pieces
- ½ Cup Tomatoes, chopped
- Salt and Pepper, to taste preference
Place all ingredients into a medium sized-bowl. Toss and serve with your desired dressing.
This recipe makes a large dinner salad for two people or a small side salad for four people.
Related Gardening Articles:
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
The How Do Gardener, http://www.howdogardener.com/439-2/freeze-and-frost-dates
The National Climatic Data Center, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/
University of California Master Gardeners, http://ucanr.edu/sites/scmg/Mulch_A-Z/Types_of_Mulch/