It was a cold week on the farm folks! With spring only a few days away it seems that winter has decided to pay us one more visit. We had several nights well below freezing this past week including Wednesday nights where many farms in our area experienced lows in the low twenties and even the upper teens. So what you ask?
Well this is a particularly sensitive part of the spring season for many farmers in our area. Right now many farmers are planting tender transplants in the field. These plants are carefully time to take advantage of the first soil temperatures of the season warm enough to accommodate growth at something approaching a normal rate. So, as you can imagine a sudden cold snap can slow things down quite a bit. More than that, a farmer that’s caught unaware of an upcoming cold snap can lose a significant portion of his spring crop.
Now, I suspect that the more astute among you may be saying to yourselves, ‘hey, anything planted this early in the season has to be cold hardy right?’ That’s true enough, but as with many farmers in the area we grow our transplants in a greenhouse that’s nice and cozy. We also, like other farmers, gradually acclimate our transplants to outside conditions through a process called hardening off. This involves exposing our transplants to more and more outdoor conditions in a mini greenhouse-like structure called a cold frame over a period of several days or a week. Once our tender little plants have toughened up a little bit we’ll put them out into the field. No problem right? Not so fast.
In a situation like we had this past week our tender little transplants were hardened off and planted in fairly mild conditions. They aren’t used . Then we had a streak of nights below freezing before our transplants had really established them
selves in the field. They’re sitting ducks, and it’s too late to bring them back into our greenhouse to keep them safe! So what do we do? We do the same thing for our plants that you do for yourself on a cold night. We tuck them in under a blanket! This blanket is called a frost cloth, row cover, or by a trade name ‘reemay.’
This cloth is not all that impressive compared to what keeps us warm at night, but it serves the same purpose just as effectively. However, unlike our blankets, which trap the warmth generated by our bodies to keep us warm, row cover is designed to trap the heat absorbed by the soil during day as it is released overnight. This little amount of heat is enough to keep plants from freezing on a cold night.
So, if you come out to the student farm, or drive past another farm and see fiel
ds covered in huge sheets of white cloth just know that these proactive farmers are protecting their plants from the cold. Soon enough these wise and well prepared farmers will be bringing a delicious bounty of early spring greens and vegetables to market for you to enjoy. Hopefully, like our row covers, the thought of good food and spring weather coming soon will keep you warm through these cold nights!