by Charlene Burgi
|Then and now: Granddaughter Justine and daughter Lynette in the garden two weeks ago, and butternut squash with frostbitten leaves.
A few weeks ago I mentioned the vegetable garden never looked prettier. And then, Friday came the first frost advisory for us in Lassen and Modoc Counties. In fact, it wasn't even an "advisory"—it carried the label of "warning"!
Surely, those balmy 80-degree daytime temperatures wouldn't fall below 32 degrees at night? I was wrong. All the squash plants that covered the ground like a lush green carpet burned back, revealing more squash that grew undercover. The cukes didn't like the frost either, yet the tomatoes held their own and remained quite perky though laden with fruit.
The early frost warning indicated to me that we need to begin preparing for winter within the next few weeks. So soon you ask? A call from a dear friend in Novato reminded me it would be best to start "punching holes" in the canopy of our evergreen trees down there. This allows the gusts of wind to sail on through, instead of creating a sail of greenery that could knock the trees over. Don't put this project off to the last minute. Arborists' workloads will begin ramping up, and nothing can be worse than asking them to come do work in the middle of a storm—never a safe option!
Despite the heat wave in Marin this week, it's not too early to start thinking about other winterizing chores. If you have backflow devices on your irrigation system, are they covered with a locked thermal blanket? Are exposed pipes still insulated, or have years taken their toll and exposed the pipes to the elements?
I know. It's Marin, not Lassen. (I haven't forgotten the roots of my childhood and adult years.) But I still recall a week of freeze that caused my swimming pool in Novato to turn into an ice rink. I also recollect another winter when my horse stood for hours looking at the door leading into her stall before I finally went out to see what had captured her interest. Pipes in the barn leading to her water feeder had burst and entertained her with hours of a magnificent (yet costly) water show.
The weather charts and projections look ominous. Are you preparing to hunker down in the event that Marin has one of those rare freezes? Or rain for weeks on end? Is gutter cleaning on your to-do list after the leaves fall? Are drain lines cleared? Do your rain barrels have a safe exit for excessive water so the overflow doesn't end up under your house? Is there a fresh back-up battery in your controller? (Some controllers do not have back-up batteries.) And how about the depth of the mulch in your garden? Three inches should be the minimum amount of bark placed around the root zone of your plants. That blanket of mulch can potentially protect the roots from freezing in a cold snap. Do you have on hand Cloud Cover or Wilt Pruf, a polymer film spray, to help protect frost-tender plants exposed to the cold? The list goes on.
Begin your winterizing early. Before you know it, soup will be simmering on the back burner of the stove and you will be curled up with a favorite novel while the grasshopper
is out shivering in the cold!