Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Last Frost?

So May brings frost again, after weeks and weeks of warmth. Fickle English weather...

We hauled all our 100 tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn, squashes and tender herbs - and even the strawberries in their big tub - indoors overnight on Tuesday. Our tiny flat looked like a jungle! And I was glad we did - in the morning the minimum temp. thermometer in the garden showed -2C! I realised I'd forgotten all about the french beans and the petunia seedlings and they had stayed out for the night, but they seem unharmed, which is a relief. We took the same precaution last night too, but the temperature only dropped to 3C - enough to give the peppers and tomatoes a bit of a shock but not to do them any real harm.

I have yet to check the situation on the allotment. The potatoes aren't showing any shoots yet thanks to a later sowing than usual (hurrah!) so they'll be okay, and I'd just harvested all the asparagus more than about two inches high so if that got frozen, wastage will be minimal. But the poor strawberries were unprotected and already well on their way to fruiting. Of course, strawberry plants are fine outdoors all winter long, but the flowers and fruits, when they're out, are much more tender and may be damaged by freezing. I'm afraid they're all going to be mush.

Looking at the weather forecast now though, it seems we're in for a pretty warm spell. The long-range forecast doesn't expect temperatures below 7C for the next two weeks, which takes us to late May, and I'm thinking... is it safe?

'The Last Frost Date' is an abstract and elusive thing. Books, magazines, TV presenters and seed packets will refer casually to it, as if it's a well known set-in-stone fact, but try to find out what it is for your area and it's a whole nother story. Since I started gardening a few years back I've taken it to be the first week of June, but I can't remember now where I got that idea from. And actually, I've often planted tender veg out in early to mid-May and never, ever lost any. Having tried to look up the date for my area again today, my mind's boggling. Although there's a general consensus that you're safe in mid-June, some websites have confidently informed me I can plant tender veg out from the start of May, and one said in mid-April! No way! And there's no hint as to where they're getting their information from. You'd think the Met Office would make such an important set of records available, but nope, can't find anything useful there either. The Gardener's Almanac has brought a lot of gardeners' records together to show which week of the year last frosts were reported on, by region, but the map's not detailed enough to figure out which box I'm in - it could be anything from the 17th week of the year to the 20th (we're in the 18th now). And records posted by individuals show that the actual last frost date in a given area can vary by several weeks - even a couple of months!

It's all about knowing when it's absolutely safe, of course, not about planting as soon as you possibly can. But I'm just an impatient kinda person, okay? Not to mention tired of looking after so many tiny pots that dry out really fast... and short of space... and worried about my tomatoes flowering too soon...

I'm gonna give it another week or so and reassess... It's not like the squash beds are ready yet anyway! In the meantime, when is YOUR last frost date perceived to be, and where are you? Is that date what you've observed, or what you've read (and if so, where?!)

4 comments:

Robert said...

We had a sharp frost a couple of days ago. A few years back, we had frost on June 16th. At the other end of the scale, sometimes we come through a mild winter with only three or four frosts in the entire period.

allot of veg said...

By observation in the higher parts of Leicestershire I'd go for the late spring bank holiday.
It did famously snow in June one year of course!
We have a really good local forecast thanks to a local weather enthusiast so I managed to get things covered for this one.

Green Lane Allotments said...

Last frost data can be tricky as individual gardens can have their own microclimate. Our allotment plot is more affected by frost than the garden. Frost pockets form in dips etc.

We had temperatures down to -3C which blackened some plants on the plot - wonder how those on our site who planted early tender crops out tempted by the warm weather have farded?

Amy said...

Around Cambridgeshire the last frost seems to be around the middle of May. so I think last week's was probably the last but I'm going to give it another just to be sure (well I'm not really ready yet either).

The best way to find out is by asking people with allotments, they seem to actually take notice of the weather.

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