Out of the four seasons of the year, winter tends to be a challenge to humans, animals and plants, even though someone once said “winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, the touch of a friendly hand and a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home”. Some winters have extreme weather than others. We are currently deep in winter and there is need to be vigilant as gardeners and farmers regarding weather forecast.
When temperatures plunge, the cold can bring life-threatening medical conditions to humans where they experience hypothermia, when the body temperature decreases below 35 degrees. Additionally, cold temperatures can cause frostbite, freezing of skin and tissue, thus it is important to stay warm and dry, especially children, aged people and those with diabetic conditions. When a condition of hypothermia occurs, remember the primary treatment is to rewarm the patient.
However, plants are no exception as a cold wave can be disastrous to your crops. This week we should be bracing for a cold front, according to weather forecasts. Temperatures are expected to further drop and the question is what do we do with our plants, especially certain plants like tomatoes?
In horticulture, there is a small window where, with good planning and timing, you may harvest certain vegetables when everyone else does not have them in early spring. This early planting is achieved by having a plan of covering crops when there is a prediction of a freeze. I am amazed by some tomato farmers who continue to buy tomato seedlings in the middle of winter to plant in open fields. Just a couple of days ago, I asked one farmer how he will manage to protect them from frost without a greenhouse. He did not give details but said he had mastered how to protect them effectively. I will get back to the tomato plant with its own sub topic since more people want to know how to protect this particular plant from frost.
Protecting plants from the freeze
When there is a predicted freeze, gardeners worry about flowers, shrubs and trees. A freeze can also be unexpected, like what happened recently in Lower Gweru. What then can a gardener do? The following can help:
l Cover the plants with a sheet or blanket.
lNever cover plants with just plastic, it will damage plants, a cloth can be placed between plastic and plant. Remove it first thing in the morning if there was a night cold spell to allow plants to get the sunlight they need.
lHeavily mulch the roots.
lCreate insulation barriers around a plant. You can also place jugs of warm water inside the barrier.
lA string of Christmas lights can also help when tied around a plant.
lThatched barriers are common and they work, according to some farmers.
Protecting tomato plants
All the above can be used if it’s just a few tomato plants. Tomatoes are vulnerable to frost and sometimes the freeze can damage the plant and spare the roots. Some farmers have verbalised watering the soil, not the plant, at night together with barricading them as a measure to keep freeze at bay. Those with access to row covers can also use them. I have heavily mulched mine in the backyard. Do what you need to do to protect your plants.
In our garden nursery we have the following seedlings; rape hobson, tsunga paida, cabbage indica, cabbage star 3311, beetroot, lettuce commander, lettuce lolo rosa and hollyhock flowers. Tomato, onion and spinach ready next week.
Happy gardening week!!
lDoreen Mutobaya Badze is a retired nurse and passion-driven gardener. She can be reached on Cell: 0779 730 880 or 16 Metcalf Road, Greendale, Harare. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook page: Badze Garden Nursery