Frost Watch

Round Robin

| October/November 2003

CHICAGO, Illinois— The frost watch is on as the fall weather alternates between warm and sunny and cool and rainy.

To get the most out of the last blooms from annuals and a few more leaves from delicate herbs, we’re on alert to cover less-hardy plants when frost threatens. Typically, Chicago gets a burst of chilly weather and a frosty night or two in October, but it’s often followed by a couple of weeks of warmer Indian summer.

We keep a supply of old sheets ready for covering the flower beds and front-yard herb garden. It’s a pain to put them on at dusk and remove them in the morning, but it’s usually worth the trouble.

Back in the vegetable garden, though, we use a covering of garden fabric (such as Reemay) that lets light and moisture through and can be left on all the time. We just stake it down well so the wind can’t whip it off. These fabrics warm the plants up by 10 degrees or so, enough to keep the tomatoes ripening well into autumn.

When the temperature drops below freezing, if we still have green tomatoes, the most effective method I’ve tried for ripening them indoors is to pull the plants up, roots and all, and hang them, root-end-up in a cool, bright spot inside. The fruit continues to ripen and tastes nearly as good as sun-ripened crops, and even some of the hard, green tomatoes that won’t ripen off the vine will redden. I’ve kept tomatoes going well into December this way.

If you don’t have an appropriate spot for this admittedly messy method, the next best technique is to pick the tomatoes and bring them in to ripen in a cool, dim spot out of direct sunlight. If you need to pile them up, wrap them individually in newspaper first.

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