Friday, February 18, 2011

What I've Learned This Winter: Cold Sensitivity in my Crops

This year was really the first real Winter i've had the pleasure to experience in Austin. The past 4 years have been uber mild. Even last year with it's 'NEAR RECORD LOWS' days were nothing to compare with the actual deep, hard freeze we experienced this year for several days. Bitter winds, cold days, even snow! This was a great year for me to sit back and watch the few veggie plants remaining from my Fall/Winter planting to see who would survive the freeze, and who'd wilt in defeat. Last year i covered everything with an insane amount of sheet, tarp and even heat lamps and christmas lights. I had harvested most my goodies this year, though and decided to see what happened to the remaining few. My future homestead will involve easily assembled floating row cover, some cold frames, and maybe even a green house. I need to know which veggies need to be protected, and which can be left on their own. This is what i observed this year:

Broccoli can take a frost, even a hard one. But it needs to thaw out the next day. Several days of frozen to the bone was more than it could handle. First frost: still perked up. Second frost: frozen, but still edible. After a few days of frozen: wilty, burned, suitable only for compost and chicken feed (the eggs have been SO GOOD lately, btw)

Kale: Kale did great. I have some in raised planters that totally died a sad and uneccessary death. The plants that were in the main bed in the ground are still growing, with some frost burn on the outer leaves. I've read that a frost will make them sweeter. My plants are still oddly tiny, so not much has been harvested for report on that matter. First frost: just fine. Second frost: frozen, and perked back up. After a few days of frozen: plants in the ground: badly frost burned, plants in raised beds: dead and sent to the compost heap.

Cabbage: This one makes me sad. I've never grown a successful cabbage. The snails or aphids always get them. I had one beautiful cabbage head that is no longer beautiful. The chickens were sure stoked. First frost: perked back up. Second frost: wilty and upset, but still alive. After a few days of frost: total mush and frost burned.

Onions and Garlic: The real troopers of the bunch! They're still a bit wind burned, and some of the garlics are still droopy and displeased, but most will be making it through to June. I lost a few little onions, but most are just fine. The multiplying onions are frost burned, but just as vigorous as before and the bulbing onions seem to be back on their way to making bulbs. First frost: fine. Second frost: knocked over and frozen in the wind, but thawable. After several days: frost burned, wind burned, a few melted, most A. OK.

Flowers: Violas rock. Calendula not so much. The violas got some frost bite, but they're well on their way to filling in the gaps. The Calendula, very unfortunately, totally melted. The ones in the ground might spring back, but the planter housed ones are a loss. My soaps and lotions are sad to hear that.

Herbs: Most appear to be coming back. The lemon balm is singed, but has some greenery at the base. The sorrel is filling back in. Both of these were surrounded by multiplying onions that may have helped to insulate. Not sure about the thyme, they were tiny to begin with. My large sage is a little droopy and the rosemary even got some frost bitten leaves. The margoram is a loss, but it was recently planted and pathetic to start with. I think if there had been more snow insulating the plants, more would have survived.

Xeric: The Agave Marginata is not pleased. Frost bitten and stunted. It's had some strange set backs in growth this past year and we may pull it out and replace with the pups it's happy to clone. Smaller pups that had been transplanted melted with the freeze. All the native yuccas and agaves are totally fine (we harvested them a few lots over a while back). Prickly pear: no good, but will probably come back with new pads.

So, that's my report. It's good to know your plants: who can survive and who needs babying. Research and guidelines are great, but first hand evidence is the best. What were your losses and successes this year?

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