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A Pollination Moment
from Pollinator Paradise Farmer's Market E-mail reminders

Gifts of Frost

We have had several frosts this past week, including one last Friday night, as predicted.  Fortunately most of the produce for last week's Farmer's Market had already been picked by then.  When I went out at dawn to pick dill, the arugula leaves crackled where I stepped and the dill leaves shattered if I did not pick carefully.  Everything was crusted with ice.   The arugula and dill regain their resilience and turgor as soon as the sun warms them. Not so for the hot-season vegetables.  No longer available are squash, cucumbers, melons, and beans.  There may be a very few eggplants, peppers and tomatoes picked before the frost that are still good enough to sell, but realize that they were not picked this week.

While the frost is taking the life of hot-weather plants, it also reveals.  This was not a productive year for tomatoes.  The plants grew and grew, but produced few flowers and thus few fruits.  Some varieties were very late.  I was especially disappointed with my two favorite heirloom tomatoes:  Brandywine and Persimmon.  Both are late season tomatoes, not expected to produce until late August or early September, but usually they are doing well by then.  This year I harvested two Brandywine tomatoes and perhaps a half dozen orange Persimmons.

Because the plants produced so much foliage, I wondered if perhaps I just couldn't see the ripening fruits under all the leaves.  It takes the first frost to find out.  This year the frost revealed a number of green fruit on my heirlooms that may yet ripen for me.   In contrast, the Sunleaper and Costoluto Genovese that had started producing in abundance by September were covered with green fruits that I've harvested and left on our porch or in our garage to ripen for the winter.  Many will mold first, but some are likely to last until December, when they will be a true gift of the frost. 

Frozen squash plants also reveal gifts.  The white and green pattypan are often camouflaged by leaves and stems until they reach 4-6 inches.  I found two large white patty pan hidden under the squash stems once the leaves wilted.  Similarly, several eggplants that were hidden in foliage became visible.  Best of all, I found two entire pepper plants in the midst of my tomatoes where I had forgotten that I had planted them.  The tomato foliage protected them from the frost so there were 4 or 5 lovely green bell peppers ready to pick.

Some crops actually do better after the frost:  winter squash, carrots and beets, for example.  They convert starches to sugar with a freeze, so they get sweeter.

Mostly, though, the frost is the harbinger of winter's sleepfulness and peace.   Poet Robert Frost described it well:  

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well 
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.

(From After Apple Picking)

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October 18, 2002
Copyright 2002, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.