frost vs. freeze

About two weeks ago, we claimed our garden plot.  We fenced it, carved out and mulched two walking paths, and added some topsoil.  We've planted all of our seeds at this point, though we probably should have waited on some of them, and are in the process of hardening off the indoor-grown plants.

If you look close at the picture to the right, you'll see the stems of the plants are purplish.  That's a good sign that the plants are hardened off.

I have a three-phase system for hardening this year: first, I bring a tray out into the "tube," which is some spare fencing wrapped with plastic to provide windbreak and shade.  (It can only fit one tray at a time, so the process is pipelined.)  The next day, I move the tray outside the tube, but next to it, so it has some shade/windbreak, but less than before.  Finally, I move it out into the open, where it will be planted eventually.

While it's a great system in theory, there have been a few frost warnings recently, so I've had to bring the trays indoors some nights.  I want to wait until we're out of the woods on frosts before finishing up the process and planing everything.

We did plant a few tomatoes as a test, and they're still going strong!  We did a second wave as well, so there are about 30 little tomato plants living it up in our garden right now.  While that sounds like a lot, it's less than a sixth of the total number of tomato plants we currently have.  And there's no way we'll be able to fit them all in our plot.  There are still some open spots, so we might take them over if nobody's claimed them by planting time.

When there's a frost warning, like tonight, I need to cover these plants that are currently in the ground.  I've been covering them with plastic cups and putting a rock on top of each (they're still small enough for that, but barely).  One lady across the garden did nothing for her tomatoes a few days ago, and they went from beautiful, mature, and probably expensive plants to withered, black wraiths.  Another sad story impending: I noticed a plot with freshly-planted tomatoes today, about the same size as mine.  I almost ran home for more cups, but decided that people probably didn't want me to micromanage their garden.  I'd put money on the poor things being dead in the morning, though.

N loves explaining all the hydrological elements of gardening, and was kind enough to explain to me why a frost can happen when the temperature is above freezing, which happened this week.  Basically, while the general air temperature can be around 40 degrees F, pockets of air can dip down to freezing.  If the dew point is right, the dew will freeze, and it's the frozen dew that can rupture the cell walls of sensitive plants, killing them.  Nice bed-time story, no?

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