A frosty reception

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A frosty reception
6th June, 2018

Seasonal Gardening Tips by Steve Fleischmann

Living and growing in the Blue Mountains means dealing with frost. Frost forms when the ground temperature drops below zero degrees and moisture in the air freezes and settles. Frost mostly occurs in open gardens with exposed surfaces because frost tends to “fall” and can be blocked by tree canopies and verandas.

This is important to understand because one measure for frost protection is to employ a variety of covers that can be draped over plants to protect them. There are a number of products available online or in garden centres under names such as “frost cloth” or “horticultural fleece”. Draped over garden beds, and held in place by rocks or pegs, they act as a barrier to frost yet allow water to pass through.

Corn salad, or Mache, is a great winter leafy green

Another way of dealing with frost concerns a mixture of timing, variety selection, and healthy soils. Many plants cope quite well with frost as long as they are reasonably mature and healthy. Planting Brassicas such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages (White, Red and Chinese) and kales early – I start my first sowings around Christmas, and my last around March/April – means that by the time the frosts come the plant is mature and has the ability to cope with being frozen. In fact, many of the Brassicas taste better after several frosts because it increases their sugar content.

I mention this because it seems to be a common understanding to plant this family in autumn and winter. Personally, I find this much too late, plantings I make at this time tend to bolt to seed in spring – not much good if you want to eat fresh veg during winter.

Many lettuces actually prefer the cooler weather and, surprisingly, come back to life after they thaw out. I have found ‘Wonder of Four Seasons’ and ‘Speckled Trout’ lettuces grow well in winter, but there are dozens of others just as good. By picking off outer leaves you can also reduce incidence of slug attack by removing habitat.

Many varieties of lettuce cope really well with Blue Mountains winters

Additionally, most radishes are winter hardy and cope very well with the hardest of frosts. Every year I plant lots of daikon throughout autumn for harvest in winter and they are used in pickles and soups, the leaves of radishes are edible too.

Chinese cabbage, daikon and coriander planted throughout autumn

My favourite winter green would have to be Mache or corn salad. A European leafy green that looks like a miniature lettuce but has a lovely nutty taste and loves the cold weather, In fact it only really grows once the overall temperature drops and will bolt to seed once spring and warmer weather arrive. Plant a lot of them because you harvest them whole and you will need several florets for a decent mid-winter salad.

Using compost generously when planting winter crops not only benefits the plants ability to grow healthily, it has the added benefit of providing some warmth through bacterial decomposition.

Resources

The New Organic Grower & Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman

Did you know?

Frost can actually help organic gardeners by killing overwintering pests and diseases.

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