Frost, a Gardener’s Good Friend

– Posted in: Garden chores, Recommended Links, Weather

Frost crystals on chicken wire - Photo by Cadence taken on January 23, 2006
Barbara Damrosch makes the case that frost is a gardener’s good friend. She points out that the action of frost on the soil helps to break it up and improve it, and gives suggestions on how to use this to your advantage. This is a more workable idea for vegetable gardens than for perennial beds, but it’s good to be reminded that cold weather is not the enemy.

More like a severe great-aunt who makes you eat your Brussels sprouts.

Thanks to Mary Ann, the Idaho Gardener, for alerting me to the article. You can subscribe to the feed for Barbara Damrosch’s Washington Post column, as well as the other WP columnists, by going here.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathy Purdy November 28, 2006, 6:27 pm

Thank you, firefly, for digging up some information on why snow would be called “poor man’s fertilizer.”

firefly November 28, 2006, 4:13 pm

If you Google “snow nitrogen” you’ll find quite a few links on the subject. One source I found estimated that snow and rain can deposit from 2 to 12 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

In lieu of compost (I didn’t get around to starting a compost pile this year), I bought a lot of organic soil at end-of-season prices and put a layer down on the beds, hoping it would do some good by spring, so I’m glad to read this article.

In fact, I’ll stop cussing at the squirrels who have been digging madly, and thank them for breaking up the soil instead!

Kathy Purdy November 26, 2006, 9:56 pm

Carol, I don’t know how to make a bona fide caption, but if you hover your cursor over the picture, you will see it was taken this past January. We did have glorious weather this weekend. I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. However, I have a cold and looked at the sunshine more than did anything in it.

Carol November 26, 2006, 9:50 pm

I don’t know if snow has anything special in it, I’ve never heard that and don’t remember reading about it, and I thought I had read all the LIW books.

I love a good, cold frost. Please tell me the picture above is not from this weekend in your garden, but just a good one you had on file. I hope you enjoyed some of the good weather we had in the midwest this weekend.

Kathy Purdy November 26, 2006, 4:40 pm

I googled Malone, NY, and if it’s the same one that Almanzo lived in (small towns do change their name on occasion), he lived way north of me. The closest big city is Montreal, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was USDA Hardiness Zone 3. I remember that same scene in the book, but I really don’t know what Wilder was referring to. It makes me wonder if snow traps nitrogen. If anyone knows, please enlighten us.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) November 26, 2006, 3:43 pm

There’s a line in Laura Ingalls Wilder Farmer Boy where Almanzo’s father is pleased with an early snow before the ground is frozen. He plows it under and tells Almanzo that it was poor man’s fertilizer and “carried something from the air into the ground that would make the crops grow.”

Would the additional moisture cause more heaving and breaking up of the soil when the ground did freeze? Or was it something else? Or just rural legend? They were farming up Malone, New York? Is that anywhere near you?