Some garden vegetables can take cold weather; others cannot. You can extend the life of your tender crops if you take a little precaution to guard against a couple of early frosts.
Quite often, a few nights of low temperatures will be followed by warmer weather for several weeks in the fall. Just look at what has happened since last week. We had some scattered frost, and then it got warm again. If you can protect tender vegetation during these few cold nights, you can continue harvesting vegetables for a lot longer.
Many vegetable crops can go on producing long after the first light frost. It's usually mid to late November before we have a frost that will freeze tender vegetation.
Some gardeners try to gain more days of growing time by covering plants with baskets, blankets or plastic at the first frost warning. You need not cover your whole garden. Focus on the tender vegetables, such as peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, squash, beans and sweet potatoes, that will be easily damaged by slight frost.
Stretch temporary coverings of polyethylene plastic, blankets or tarpaulins over the rows to provide frost protection. You can place a small light bulb underneath the coverings to provide protection to about 25 degrees.
Anchor coverings so they won't damage garden crops if a sudden wind develops. As little foliage as possible should come in contact with the surface of the covering, because that foliage will be more susceptible to freezing.
After the danger of frost has passed, remove the coverings. Be prepared to put them on again to protect against a sudden frost later.
Harvest semi-hardy vegetables if temperatures in the mid to upper 20s are forecast. Pick hardy vegetables if temperatures in the low 20s seem imminent. Root crops such as beets, carrots, potatoes and turnips may be mulched and used as needed. If the soil begins to freeze, they will need to be harvested.
Semi-hardy crops that can stand a light frost include Swiss chard, beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, Irish potatoes, bibb lettuce, mustard, radishes, spinach and leaf lettuce.
Hardy crops can stand several frosts but should be used before lows reach 20 degrees. They include collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips and kale.
GARDEN WEEDS: There is an old saying, "One year of seeds, and you can count on seven years of weeds." In other words, if you let weeds mature and produce seeds they will return and haunt you for the next seven years. Too often I see people abandon their garden in the fall and just let the weeds grow up.
Weeds are a garden's enemies. They rob precious water and nutrients from garden plants. They harbor insects and diseases and compete for light. And most of all, they cause untold work trying to deep them under control.
The best control for weeds is actually the easiest: don't let them grow. Summer garden weeds have gone to seed now, so you should have already removed them. If you haven't, do so immediately. Compost them if you are experienced (it really needs to heat up well to kill the seed), otherwise, throw them away. Just make sure that they don't fall and remain in the garden.
There are three other ways that weed seed come about growing in the garden.
Manure. Weed seed can come in when you incorporate manure in the garden. Many weed seeds pass through the animal without being digested and will be in the manure. Composting the manure will reduce the problem.
Mulch. Mulch materials can harbor weed seed, too. Use a hybrid Bermuda hay, such as coastal, because it doesn't have seed heads. Many other types of hay will have weed seeds, including wheat straw.
Deep digging. Many of the books you read say to dig the garden deep. It is good for growing your vegetable plants, and it buries the weed seed deep. But at the same time deep digging brings up weed seeds that haven't seen the light for many years. Many weed seeds can live 10 to 12 years and then germinate when conditions are right.
The best thing, though, is to remove the weeds. Pull, hoe, chop, roto-till, mulch, bury or burn. Just destroy them in some manner. You'll be glad you did next year, and the years after.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call him at 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Richmond and Columbia counties have a Web page at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.