Snow on the mountains this week. Glorious. Other than the first fall frost, there is nothing else that jolts our memory into remembering that winter is around the corner.
For many of us in protected climates, the first fall frost hasnt quite arrived. About two weeks ago, we came awfully close, but at my house in Durango, the mercury dipped only to 35 degrees. Many of you those above 7,000 feet, in valleys and river bottoms, and in cold-air corridors have vegetable gardens that already felt the freezing temperatures.
Crops such as squash, melons, beans and tomatoes will have been most affected without some sort of season extension; however, other crops such as kale, chard, broccoli and even apples seem to thrive in our autumnal environment. They, like many cold-season crops (and many of us), tend to drag and droop during the dog days of June and July, only to be revived when our highs are in the 70s and lows in the 30s.
The goddess of the garden, the tomato, also gets much attention this time of year. We anxiously await its blossom-end to blush, hoping that we dont need to Google green tomato recipe again this year.
If you want to extend the growing season for your tomato crop, the first thing you need to do is to clip off any flowers or small fruit. Sorry, but they arent going to make it. Secondly, if you have fruit that is ripe or near ripe, remove it from the plant. This helps ensure the plants energy will go to the borderline fruit.
To protect your plants from a forecasted frost, the tried-and-true method of covering the garden with blankets and sheets works well as long as the fabric remains dry. If the fabric absorbs water, evaporative cooling can lead to colder temperatures adjacent to the blanket. To recharge the heat stored in the soil, fabric should be removed in the daytime.
Dont use vinyl or plastic tarps to cover crops unless you are sure they wont touch the plants, because plants will freeze where the plastic touches them.
When a freeze is imminent (thank goodness no more zucchinis!), look for fruits that are lighter green, or ideally, have the slightest blush to the blossom end. I have had success in ripening these fruit by layering them in a box, no more than two layers deep, separated by some newspaper. Place a couple of ripe tomatoes in the box to stimulate the ripening process, and then place the box in a dark and dry spot and check it frequently. No need for the windowsill know that tomatoes need temperature, not light, for ripening.
If your garden survived the cold nights Sept. 9 and 10, the length of the growing season looks promising. The long-range (eight - to 14-day) forecast indicates above-average temperatures, which coupled with last weeks above-average temperatures, may be what puts a nice red tomato on your sandwich.
My daughter will be so excited.
firstname.lastname@example.org. co.us or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.