This year most of Alberta has had a longer period without frost, and many areas have been lucky enough not to be hit yet, and it’s nearly October! Well if you are looking for ways to dodge the first few days of frost when they do happen, here are some options-both obvious and maybe not so obvious (and if your garden has been hit, start planning for next year).
Frost generally occurs for two reasons:
1. Either there has not been enough heat accumulated throughout the day or
2. The heat that was accumulated has been allowed to escape to the point the temperature drops to freezing.
Drop Cloth—for a simple “Band-Aid” solution, the old standby, quick-fix is the drop cloth. Use any old bed sheets or blankets and make sure not to break any fragile branches. Placing stakes into the ground every few feet is a good way to keep the branches safe. This can work for fruit trees as well, depending on size. Remember to remove each morning after frost danger has passed.
Mulch –Although not really a viable solution for protecting tomatoes or other large annuals, mulch is an option that prevents the escape of heat into the atmosphere and would generally be used on plants less than six inches in height, or to protect roots of perennials over the winter. In addition to preventing water loss, it acts as an insulator. Good mulches for autumn include leaves and other organic debris.
Water—Water acts as a temperature pacifier and keeps the ambient temperature from fluctuating as much as it otherwise would in drier conditions. The key here is to ensure the temperatures at the time of spraying are not already close to freezing. Watering near or just before the warmest part of the day is best as long as most of the water does not evaporate before nightfall. Another idea is to use water that sits in a rain harvesting system that has been sitting in sun for several hours. Just be sure not to shock the plants by any sudden temperature changes when first spraying.
The following may be too late to start implementing this year, but these are some you may contemplate for future seasons…
Heat sinks—A heat sink is any physical body that collects the sun’s radiation throughout the day and releases this captured heat after dark. Such examples include large rock or brick masses, water tanks, and anything especially dark in colour. Remember that the effect can vary greatly depending on the type of material used as well as its colour. Experiment and do your own research.
Elevation—the areas especially prone to frost depend on elevation. So which is it, the higher areas or the lower areas? Well, both actually. Cold air tends to sink to the ground and ‘pool’ at the lowest spots as if it were water. At the same time, areas on the peaks of hills are more exposed and the soonest to fall victim to cold air masses. So the best answer is whenever possible, plant the most tender plants in the mid-elevations. They will be protected by the higher surfaces and most of the coldest air will sink to the lowest spots first.
Planting under a frost barrier—Finally, planting larger and less frost-sensitive plants and trees in such a way as they shield the lower plants from heat loss is an excellent way to keep the ground temperature from dropping to freezing. The general rule that works best here is, the less of the night sky that is visible, the less heat will be lost. Conifers or any tree with broad, over-hanging branches are good options. Just ensure that they will not shade out the plants, so planting these taller trees on the north side of fragile lower plants is a good solution.
Finally, many root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips and so on can be kept in the ground for several frosts. Some say it actually enhances flavour. For extra protection, simply cover in a six-inch layer of mulch and in Calgary's climate, this should suffice for well into October.
Remember that it only takes a couple of hours for frost to cause damage. iin most cases the best we can expect is about a few degrees maximum that we can affect the temperature. This is done by collecting the sun’s energy during the day and making sure it stays with the most sensitive plants at night. Sometimes though this can make a huge difference when the autumn sees just a hand-full of days that hover around freezing, followed by a couple of weeks of warmer nighttime temperatures. So take advantage of the longer growing season with these few simple measures against frost.
A must watch!
For anyone who has ever been to or lived in New York City, this video will really hit home. Even if you haven’t, Sanderson’s visuals of Manhattan’s once natural ecologies are awe-inspiring—and he gives a surprisingly positive vision of what New York (or any urban area) could look like in the future. He even talks about how the multiple connections in the ecosystem are responsible for its resilience.
It is so intriguing to imagine what the physical history might have been in a place you know so well in its current state. We often take for granted the complexities of life that existed before colonial settlements moved in--before we began to build so many human-oriented structures. Many times we just assume that, yes, there were trees, maybe some meadows, ponds--not much happening. This video reminded me otherwise. I am highly impressed with Sanderson’s interpretation in that he pays respect to the complex web of life that must have existed in order to support the 51 unique habitats on that land over 400 years ago. What is missing from his commentary, however, is the fact that Manhattan, like most urban areas, is highly dependent on input from the outside world. In fact, in its current state, it is nearly completely dependent on exterior sources for its food, building materials, and other life essentials for the survivability and daily living requirements of its inhabitants.
That said, enjoy the talk and think about the tremendous impact we humans have on our living systems and how we might better adapt our living arrangements to harmonize with our natural environments. Enjoy the talk!
Valentine’s Day Special - Resilient Relationships
In permaculture we often contemplate what it takes to create a more resilient system when designing a sustainable ecology. The more bonds or connections we can create between various elements, the stronger the web or network connecting the system as a whole. The same principles can be applied in so many other facets of life, and human relationships are no different. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I wanted to touch on this topic briefly, as human partnerships—romantic or otherwise—can be among the most important factors to our survival.
The relationships we share with our loved ones can be considered living systems in the same way as a thoughtfully designed garden or forest ecology. In either arrangement, the more connections we create, the stronger the whole system becomes. So how are these connections formed? Anyone somewhat familiar with permaculture will recall the ‘needs and yields’ analysis we often perform when considering the arrangement of different elements in a design. For example, planting pole beans next to corn creates multiple connections which aid the growth of both plants. The corn needs nitrogen—a yield fulfilled by the bean. The bean needs a structure on which to climb, yielded by the corn plant, and so on.
So, let us consider how this might relate to human pairings. Many of us have likely pondered the needs of our partners on a somewhat regular basis (hopefully). Consider how your yields mesh with those needs, and if they don’t quite mesh perfectly, that is what we can build upon (and let’s dispense with the essentials of acquiring shelter, food or sustenance, and clothing and move up the needs hierarchy to more social, emotional and personal needs for this discussion). Some needs we might consider here are the need for recognition, understanding, the need to be appreciated, to be heard, or supported in our endeavours, the need to feel that we matter—the list is endless. The good news is, anyone can fulfill these needs at any time—it might just take a little careful thought and work.
For example, maybe you can recollect a conversation you had with your partner about a comforting childhood memory, let’s say, where a relative cooked a special meal for them or took them to a special restaurant where they were served that meal, and it has been one of their favourites ever since. Now either you are an experienced cook or you are not. This is where we start to build on our yields. Even if you have been known to burn water on the stove, you can learn to cook. Take a class, or if that is not possible, the internet and library are great places to start. Learn everything there is to know about that meal and surprise your partner with a delicious and romantic display of prawns korma, daal, and gulab jamun to finish or something like tourtière, mixed greens, and gratin dauphinois—or maybe simply home-made cinnamon buns (anything is great by candlelight)! The point is, in doing something involving careful thought and consideration for who the person is, we have fulfilled at least 2 or 3 of the needs mentioned above and maybe more.
Another area to consider is your partner’s favourite music. Let’s say she loves Latin music. If you can get away once in a while (in secret so as not to ruin the surprise factor) take a crack at some Salsa or Merengue lessons (or for the more adventurous there is always Bachata). One day when you have reached the point of being comfortable with the dance, on a quiet night at home turn the lights low and if she doesn’t know the dance well, her own personal lessons are about to begin! On the other hand, maybe you can’t quite get away with the element of surprise. Why not take lessons together? This is a wonderful way to make sure you make time for each other.
If dancing or cooking is not your thing, consider learning various massage techniques. Maybe your partner has constant neck or back tension. Everyone needs a massage! All this information is readily accessible at very minimal cost. Other ideas are easy enough to come by. Educate yourself about your partner’s culture (if it is different from your own). Learn more about their life. Have deeper conversations. Find ways of supporting them in the goals they’ve always dreamed of accomplishing—that’s the recognition, and the part about being heard, respected, and understood.
Yes, I have made this sound way easier than it is. Relationships are complicated ‘ecologies’ whose resilience depends on far more than mere needs and yields. This is just a starting point. I am only planting a few seeds here in the hopes they will germinate into something far more beautiful and life-giving. Nowhere have I taken into account those relationships which may be beyond the point where this article could benefit, nor have I acknowledged the ones who already think along the lines of “needs and yields” and simply may not realize it yet—good for you if you have! Of course, you’ll notice I have not even touched on the topic of sex, but that would require another long article altogether (I will just say two words: ‘Kama Sutra’). The point is, just as an ecological garden cannot simply be a spattering of plants co-existing in the same space, a healthy relationship must be more than two people simply co-existing as such. Every relationship is different, but our needs and yields as human beings are more similar than we might at first recognize. Nevertheless, reflecting on your partner’s specific requirements and then planning how to answer these desires with a course of action that is both thoughtful and loving, is a giant step toward relationship resiliency.
Ted Bahr is the founder of Prairie Sage Permaculture. MORE