What to do with your garden crops in the aftermath of a killing frost

Photos: Lance Ellis | EastIdahoNews.com

Different parts of the Snake River Valley have experienced a damaging, but not killing frost a couple of weeks ago. Within the near future, we will inevitably be having a killing frost, which will make most people’s gardens a thing of the past.

What do we do in the aftermath of a killing frost? Well, if the produce was protected, not yet ripe and didn’t have any freeze damage, then it can be ripened inside the home and used for fresh eating. If it received any frost damage, then place it in the compost pile or trash. Immature winter squash or immature summer squash that has been damaged by a frost will probably not get any larger at this point in the season.

If a squash’s vines were protected then, the fruit may continue to ripen, but if the plant’s leaves are frozen, then fruit itself would probably be affected as well and will rot and spoil.

Non frost-damaged immature squash fruit should be used shortly after a frost comes along even if it wasn’t frosted. It will not hold up in storage and will deteriorate. If it was frost-damaged, then it should be tossed into the compost pile.

Certain crops such as carrots, beets, and parsnips can handle a frost, and although their tops will begin to die off, the beets underneath will be fine as long as the frost was not hard enough to damage them. Other crops such as brussel sprouts can handle light frosts without issue and continue to grow and produce.

If you cover your garden, you are extending your growing season, but really only to ripen fruit.

The days are getting shorter, which triggers many plants to slowly die. Most garden plants are finishing up their growing season, and if done producing, should be cleaned up. Now is the perfect time to gather up dead plants and other compostable material and make a compost pile to start the process of breaking them down. With the right amounts of water, biodegradable materials and mixing you can have yard and garden waste broken down in a very short amount of time. One precaution though — if you had any diseases pop up this year, do not compost those plant residues. They should be collected, placed in plastic bags and disposed of in the garbage.

For most people, this was a slightly difficult growing season due to the intense heat we experienced during the summer and how much extra watering it took to keep plants growing, keep up with evaporation, and not have them drought-stressed. Many people also started planting a garden for the first time this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This summer was one of the best “warm-season type plant” growing summers in recent years. Warm-season plants such as watermelon, corn, beans, cantaloupe, peppers, tomatoes, and squash performed very well this year. Each summer season is unpredictable, and even small changes such as a warmer than expected May can have a dramatic effect on crop success. Seasonal weather anomalies can create a higher than normal disease or insect problem, or if the conditions are beneficial, the crop can be improved and have great quality.

If you have further gardening questions, call Lance at (208) 624-3102.