As this prolonged cold period is coming to an end, I thought a few notes on salvaging garden crops would be in order. In this last couple of weeks, the minimum temperatures and amount of snow cover varied quite a bit over the region so some gardens will have suffered more than others.
Well-mulched root crops with a blanket of snow over the top are quite likely to be fine, no matter how cold it got in your garden. Root crops with little mulch and no snow cover, however, are going to have frost damage on the shoulders of the roots. To see how yours fared, after everything thaws later this week, pull a couple of carrots, beets, etc., and see if the top of the roots look like they have been frozen (a water-soaked appearance). If so, the roots won’t keep for long because the damaged tissue rots and the rots will spread to the rest of the root. To salvage frost-damaged roots, dig them all up soon, cut off the damaged top part and store the roots in the refrigerator. They should keep in good condition for 4-6 weeks, possibly longer.
Lows of -6 or -8oC (21-17oF) usually don’t kill purple sprouting broccoli, winter cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kales and other winter hardy cabbage family plants as well as the hardiest varieties of leeks. This was an unusually long period of cold, however, which might increase damage in some varieties. If it didn’t get below -5oC (23oF) where you are, though, all those crops should be fine once they thaw out. Right now everything looks wilted and sad and will continue to do so until the soil thaws and they can get enough water back up into their leaves. Just leave the plants alone for now and see how they do. If you are in a hurry for kale, it can be picked frozen and used immediately in a cooked dish. For everything else, including cabbages, let them thaw out completely and absorb water before you harvest. It can take a frozen head of cabbage a week to thaw out. When you harvest leeks, don’t be dismayed by the deteriorating outer leaves (after this cold, they will be a mess)—once you peel them off, the leek inside is usually fine. As I have noted before, after such cold weather Brussels sprouts will be very sweet (and parsnip lovers will have a treat too).
Leaves of leafy greens, such as chards, Komatsuna and others may or may not have survived—it will depend entirely on how well you mulched before the cold arrived and on how much snow cover there was. Plants with plastic over them or in tunnels may have fared a little better if they were also well mulched. Even if the leaves were killed by cold, the roots are likely still alive. If they are, they will grow a new crop of leaves in the spring so don’t be in a hurry to remove them even if the leaves have turned black and collapsed from frost damage. The same goes for parsley. The one green likely to be just fine no matter what, is corn salad—that little salad green is pretty much indestructible!
We won’t know until spring if there has been damage to trees, such as figs, citrus, olives, tea. Severe cold can damage the embryonic figs and the tips of branches. I don’t know if my outdoor lemon tree has survived despite the cheery Christmas lights wrapped around it. So we shall see…anyway, the great thought for this week is that the shortest day is the 21st and after that, days will (slowly) start getting longer. And the first Seedy Saturdays start up at the end of January!
Sad news for those of you that have been to my gardening classes and Master Gardener workshops: my dear old dog Charlotte, is no more. She travelled everywhere with me and enjoyed the attention (and treats) so many of you gave her over her 15 years.
Good news for 2017: I am on the point of sending my newest publication to the printer so it will be available in early January. Watch my web site for: Resilient Gardens 2017: Pollinator Gardens, Garlic Diseases, Pest Update. The main theme is how and what to grow to make your yard and landscape a richer source of food for pollinators and how to provide nest sites for them. The garlic diseases section covers the variety of root diseases, which are a perennial concern for coastal gardeners.
Best wishes to everyone for the season and a new gardening year!
About Linda A. Gilkeson, Ph.D.
Linda earned a Ph.D. in Entomology from McGill University in 1986, then moved to British Columbia to work for Applied Bio-Nomics Ltd., a company that produces biological controls. From 1991 to 2002 she worked for the provincial government, promoting programs to reduce and eliminate pesticide use. She was head of the provincial State of Environment Reporting Unit for the next six years, then the Executive Director of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy until the end of 2011. Linda now devotes her time to writing, teaching and consulting.
Linda has co-authored pest management training manuals for the government and organic gardening books for Rodale Press. She has self-published two books: Year Around Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast and West Coast Gardening: Natural Insect, Weed and Disease Control. Her recent book, Backyard Bounty: The Complete Guide to year-Round Organic Gardening in the Pacific Northwest, has become a BC best seller.
As a private consultant, Linda is a regular instructor in the Master Gardener programs in BC and is busy year around giving workshops on pest management and organic gardening.
Linda has served as President of the Entomological Society of Canada, the Professional Pest Management Association of BC, the Entomological Society of BC and the Salt Spring Island Garden Club. She was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee medal in 2003 and an outstanding achievement award from the Professional Pest Management Association of BC in 2005.
Follow Linda's work at lindagilkeson.com