Preparing for a Spring Freeze

Learning a valuable lesson on watching the calendar more than the weather trends

Weeks ago we started growing seeds for our garden.  I’m beginning to wonder if we started a little too early.  Some of the tomatoes are doing VERY well and are about a foot tall!  Another variety is shorter.  Peppers, cabbage, onions and various flowers are doing well, but will make it a little longer in their little plots of soil.  Last week it was so warm we were thinking we should put them out.  But, alas, it’s still only the beginning of April, and these plants generally shouldn’t be put out till mid-May.  “But it’s been so warm for about 2 months, SURELY we can put them out???”  Then reality hit.  Last Friday morning it got down to 32 degrees at night.  Tonight and tomorrow will be the same.  I have two planters with spinach and lettuce sitting on my front steps, facing south.  Those I can bring in.  I am very glad that I didn’t put any of these other plants out yet.  Otherwise I’d have to figure out how to cover them to protect them from the frost and/or freezing temperature.  As it is, I will need to cover my strawberries and carrots.  And then there the fruit trees that have all bloomed in the past couple of weeks.  They ARE semi-dwarfs, but I’m sure I don’t have enough sheets to cover them.  I may go out today and buy some cheap large sheets, so I can cover them.  The other option is to do what I did last week.  Go out before dawn and spray them with a mist of water before the sun rises.  I first heard of this technique while reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Farmer Boy.

There was a night (early morning) on July 4 that their area in New York state had a night that dropped to freezing.  Father Wilder woke up all the children (at probably 3 or 4 in the morning) and brought them out to the cornfield.  They had to pour a little bit of water onto each tiny corn plant to protect it from the freezing temperature.  But it had to be done before the sun hit the plants or the heat of the sun on the frost would cause the plant to die.  It was a strange idea to me, but I’ve looked it up and there is truth to this.  The little bit of water that turns to ice on the plant actually causes a reaction that creates heat and protects the plant from freezing. Other options include putting outdoor Christmas lights on the trees and leaving them on all night.  Leaving a sprinkler on all night to mist the trees.  Watering the ground around the trees which will absorb heat from the day and release that heat during the night.  Filling a few gallon jugs with warm water and placing them around the tree to releases the heat over night.  These last two, though, will work much better if the tree is covered by a tarp that reaches to the ground.

Apple and pear trees are supposed to be ok even if temps are in the low 30’s.  The projected low for tonight and tomorrow here is 32, so they should be ok.  The peach tree is a larger concern.  I might have enough sheets to cover it and then trust that the apples and pears will be ok – and maybe spray them in the morning before sunrise, just to be a little more safe.  Later today I’m going to water everything.  Then in the evening I’ll cover the peach tree, strawberries and carrots, and bring in my two little pots of spinach and lettuce.  And tomorrow, I’ll repeat it.  And hopefully, that will be the last freeze issue for this year.  But maybe not.  It IS still just April 9 in northern Illinois.  Those tomatoes will need to wait a few more weeks.