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Frost got us last night - What to do about squash and sweet potatoes?  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Last night it got a bit chilly.  Skim of ice on the bird bath.  So I watered everything quick but the sun was already up.  Tomatoes and peppers appear to be fine.  Butternut, buttercup and sweet potato leaves are done for.  Cantaloupe leaves are half damaged.

So, should I harvest the squash and sweet potatoes?  Or leave them on the vine and in the ground for another week or two?  I'd like to wait if it won't do any damage but if it's best to harvest now, I'll do it.
 
pollinator
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Wow Mike, that's early even for here.  

I have left squash on the vine after frost several times and it was still good to eat, maybe better.  I'm not sure it stored as long though, so that may be an issue.  I'm sure Joseph knows more about that.
 
Mike Jay
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I know, we just started getting enough ripe tomatoes to start canning.  It's threatening again tonight so I'll do a better job of covering things.  It's hard to cover 6' high tomato trellises though.....
 
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I pick the squash immediately after a frost if frost is threatening again soon. No sense leaving them in the field to get frozen solid after the leaves are no longer there to protect them from radiant freezing. Fruits are less likely to be damaged by frost, sun, weather, animals, insects, mold, etc if they are in the shed than in the field. So I pick as soon as possible after frost.

If the squash actually got damaged by the frost, I feed them to animals, or make worm food or compost from them. Or eat some of them.

I try not to damage the vines while picking. Cause we might have a warm spell sufficiently long for a second batch of fruits to mature.

Sweet potato tubers are not very susceptible to cold snaps, so I harvest when it's convenient.

 
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I use cages for my tomatoes, some are made from calf panels cut in quarters, so stand about 7' tall and some types of tomatoes I grow will fill one of those.

I also do rummage sales and thrift stores and have lots of covering materials, with clothespins and acco-binder-clips and what they call A-clamps (they look like an A with a spring to keep them closed). It's a pain to store the cover stuff most of the year but that few weeks I need them I need them.

Take them off in the morning and hang on line to dry out from the dew or frost. Your plants won't mind a bit of 'the stain that won't come out' but do darn up or patch the holes. For high stuff I prefer nice solid blankets. For low cover sheets often work but I still want to err on the side of 'solid' and breezes can go through a sheet.

Sweet potatoes and most of the cucurbitae don't like frost at all, you'll lose those leaves right now.

As long as your fruit didn't freeze (you can tell that mushiness) you can wait a bit on harvest. If it froze, harvest immediately, cut off/out the froze and process immediately.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks for the quick replies everyone!  I decided to just cover the individual squash since I'm not sure they are fully ripe yet (cold, wet, short summer) and the next week should be highs around 70 and dry.  We had a bunch of canvas shopping bags so I laid one over each squash.  They looked undamaged from last night's frost.  The cantaloupe did better than the squash so I covered the ones with decent fruit with a junk tarp.

My tomatoes are in a row 25' long with a linear trellis 6' high.  So I bought some cheap tarps today and in conjunction with some beater tarps I had already, I made a teepee down the length of the row.  30 peppers are all in one 25' long row which I was able to cover with a piece of row cover.

Forecasts are for 37, 38 and 32 depending on who I look at so hopefully we'll miss it tonight.

Thanks!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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At my place with high altitude, and clear skies, and get radiant frost when air temperatures are as high as 40 F.

 
Mike Jay
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Well, according to the local weather guys, two nights ago it only got down to 34 and last night it got down to 33.  But yesterday morning I had a thin skim of ice on the bird bath and clearly frosted plants.  And this morning the dew was wet on the kale and no ice.  So I think we made it through the night.  I'll pull the tarps off in a bit.  

This week's weather looks downright Utah-like with sunny skies for 7 days with highs in the low 70s and lows around 50.  So I'm hoping for a bunch of tomatoes to can and a few more weeks of productivity.  Yay!

Thanks everyone
 
Mike Jay
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Well the weather has been great the last two weeks.  Here's a pic of the squash.  Left is Waltham butternut, middle is Lofthouse buttercup and right back is MN midget cantaloupe.  Since the frost the butternuts have put out the most new leaves and some of the squash flowered.  So they took a beating and are still alive.  No frost in the forecast for the next week.  
squash1.jpg
[Thumbnail for squash1.jpg]
 
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if you let your sweet potatoes go through a frost they will probably be all right. however next spring you will be fighting wild vines all over the area.
 
Mike Jay
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Hi Robert, why is that?
 
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I've always heard that you shouldn't let your sweet potato vines freeze or the the potatoes won't store well.  We've never tested that though.  

I guess I thought a frost would do similar?  It probably just depends on how badly the vines are damaged.

We try to leave ours in the ground as late as possible because the tubers grow so much during that last month and then try to dig before the voles discover them or a first frost.
 
Deb Rebel
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Well our wet weather arrived about two weeks late. We have about a week of icky sloshy and the night temps start slipping to the 40's so all the houseplants have to come in. And be de-crittered. It's also warning that within another two weeks we will be cleaned out by frost so start packing up the garden now. I am going to wade the squash and start final pick then take the vines so as not to have to deal with it with sudden warnings of night lows of about 40 (which means we can hard snap freeze about 3:30 am and the weather forecasters didn't say anything about it) Here you always subtract five from whatever they say for a low once they start saying 45 or lower. I need to time the squash coming in though where it has quit raining so I can use the solar dehydrator, the two little electric ones take too long and don't hold as much.  
 
Mike Jay
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The sweet potatoes got grumpy but they still have some leaves on them so I didn't dig them.  If they don't store well, I guess that will be what I blame
 
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The tubers of your sweet potatoes should be fine, the vines most likely not so fine.
When you do dig those sweets be sure to harden them off for three weeks, not doing this step is a sure way to have them start rotting in storage.

Last year we let ours go through two heavy frosts (by accident, time was not on our side) and after digging and hardening off, the stored all winter long (granted in Ark. that means Jan., Feb., Mar. is our traditional beginning of spring).

Redhawk
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Bryant, they're curing right now.  Unfortunately I think they like to cure at a relatively warm temperature (80-90F).  Our warmest spot is in the upper 60s.  But last year they kept for us through to March so it must have worked.

Our summer was pretty cool and wet.  From my 20 plants we got a bunch of tubers but most of them are skinny (under an inch).  None are as fat as a racquetball .  I'm not sure if I should even use them to grow new slips next year or if I should buy a new sweet potato for next year's slips...
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Ours cure at temps of 80's day time, 50's night time, I think moisture is more of the key for good hardening of sweets. We start the cure in high humidity and it goes down over the cure period.

Redhawk
 
Mike Jay
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Ha, we barely get to 80's in the heat of summer.  Near the wood stove in another month it will get to 80 but not now.  They are in the basement which is moderate humidity.  Harder to change that except that the wood stove will dry it out a bit.  I guess I'll keep working with what I have.

What do you think about using these rat tail sweet potatoes for slip generation in the spring vs getting a good mother tuber from the store?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Those are the kind I use for slips, fatties are for the tummy, rat tails make good slip producers, doesn't take them as long to get growing.
I just set them in a shallow dish of water.

Humidity under 68% is good for curing sweet potatoes. They grow them in Canada, so I would think that all of the US should be fine for growing and storing them.
I know the "pioneers" grew them and stored them all winter long.
 
Mike Jay
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Great to know, thanks Bryant!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Welcome kola
 
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