Shielding Plants From Frost

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your garden get frosted over last night? Here on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, I experienced a light frost: slight pockets of it on the grass, and my cold frame (and all the neighbors’ roofs) were covered this morning in white.

Frosty cold frame

The polycarbonate top on my cold frame was white instead of clear this morning.

It glittered brightly but quickly burned off in the morning sun.

How are your plants? A bit of precaution is needed to keep tender vegetables alive.

The best, of course, is to have them planted under season extension tools like a cold frame or a cloche. Here are some Little Gem lettuce starts that are thriving in my Triangle Tunnel:
Lettuce under my Triangle Tunnel

By the time I got out to look at it this morning, the sun had already turned the frost to water droplets on the corrugated polycarbonate on this cold frame.

If you don’t have your plants under a cold frame or a cloche, you can still protect them during this cold weather with floating row cover (FRC).

FRC closeup

Floating row cover is a very thin, spun-bonded (not woven) polyester cloth.

Called garden fleece in England and known here as crop cover or by brand names like Reemay or Frost Protek, it can be laid loosely over plants, even just draped there overnight. For very tender plants, fold it into two layers. Be sure to hold down the edges to keep it from blowing away, or cover the edges with soil as I did for this row crop:

FRC on peas

Floating row cover over a row of peas will protect from frost. It is laid loosely on the bed with the edges tucked under a bit of soil.

Air, water and light can get through the FRC, but it provides enough of a barrier on many crops to keep frost from laying directly on the plants and killing them. Even though it’s called fleece, it doesn’t keep the plants much warmer, so it wouldn’t be enough of a cover to keep lettuce alive if the nighttime temperatures are dropping below 32 degrees F, as they are in many places around Puget Sound right now.

If you don’t have any FRC on hand and you still want to shield your veggies from frost, just carefully cover them with an old sheet or blanket overnight, but be sure to remove that each morning.

Want to know more about our weather patterns, and why we are having this spate of cold, clear weather right now? Check out the excellent explanation of the “modified continental polar” air we’re experiencing now from UW Professor Cliff Mass’ blog.

Controlling Leaf Miners

The spinach leaf miner has been a scourge in my garden this summer. While I’ve been snipping and destroying affected leaves, which is the best tactic once your plants are under attack, I’ve also been conducting an experiment to see if I can avoid the pest.

Leaf miners attack the leaves of spinach, beet and Swiss chard, and their presence can be devastating and unsightly. At our Master Gardener booth at the Ballard Farmers Market this summer, we have had more questions about leaf miner damage than any other problem. Clearly, this is a pest that has flourished in northwest Seattle this summer.

Here’s what the leaf miner (Pegomya hyoscyami) can do to a leaf:

Leaf miner damage

That photo is a bit dramatic, because of a recent rain that rotted the damaged parts of the leaf.

Here’s perhaps a more typical view of the damage:

Leaf miner early damage

What you see is the result of the pest larvae burrowing into

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the leaf and mining their way through the cells. They arrive at the plant via a small fly, which lays its eggs on the underside of the leaf:

Leaf miner eggs

One way to thwart this pest is to regularly search for those eggs and destroy them when you see them. But if you love beets and chard like I do and have a lot of plants, this method is difficult. So I tried another way.

This summer I started a batch of Rainbow chard in a large pot and covered the pot completely with floating row cover, the spun-bonded polyester fabric that is so useful to us cool-season gardeners.

As the plants grew, I had to prop up the material to get a sprayer for my watering system into the pot. I used interlocking wire flower stakes to hold it up. Here’s what it looks like:

chard in pot with floating row cover

And here it is with the floating row cover removed:

chard in pot with row cover removed

Although the chard is planted rather thickly and hasn’t achieved its full size yet (I’m thinning as I eat it), I found that I could completely avoid the leaf miner with the floating row cover. I have been monitoring the pot regularly and have seen no damage. Just six feet away in the adjoining bed, I had such heavy damage to a row of baby beets that I had to harvest them prematurely.

As I continue my fall planting of beets and chard, I will again cover the plants with floating row cover. I’ll also plant the new crop far away from the area where the plants got hit the hardest. Crop rotation and floating row cover are tried-and-true non-toxic ways to reduce pest damage in the vegetable garden.


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