By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
If you’re a backyard vegetable grower, you might plan your garden around the last and first frost dates. The last frost date – usually May 20 – signifies the date that it starts to become safe to transplant such tender seedlings as tomatoes, squashes, and peppers outdoors. The first frost date – September 20 historically for Saratoga – typically means the end of the life cycle for these plants.
But what if the temperatures get chilly sooner? What becomes of those green tomatoes, still rock-hard eggplants, still growing squashes?
Answers from Saratoga Farmers’ Market vendors who might have provided you with the seedlings that started your gardens last spring vary as widely as the weather. But the general rule is to be watchful but not worried.
“If it looks like the night time temperatures are going to drop into the low 40s, you might want to cover those kinds of plants,” says Chris Dumar, of Balet Flowers & Design. “You also might want to water well, especially if you think you might get a frost.”
Covers for plants can range from row covers or sheets of plastic or even five-gallon pails. The key is to make sure the plants are covered but that the material still gives them some room to breathe.
Dumar also recommends spraying plants hit by frost with water early in the morning before the sun hits the plants. The water moistens the leaves, which can prevent them from being burnt by the sun.
While a plant hit by a frost is unlikely to continue producing its fruit, the fruit itself often is still fine to pick. Many farmers recommend picking tomatoes if they’re still green but look as if they’re starting to ripen well in advance of frost warnings. Unripe vegetables such as tomatoes, summer squash, eggplants, peppers and winter squash can be picked even after a light frost. These fruits will continue to ripen after a harvest on a kitchen counter, shelf, or sunny window.
And first frosts do sweeten some vegetables, particularly leafy greens, and brussels sprouts, creating a new season of eating.
The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is at High Rock Park through October, 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. We move indoors to the Lincoln Baths Building in the Saratoga Spa State Park on November 4. Follow our updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.