Frost damage

Like many gardeners, I suppose, I am always tempted to make early sowings, hoping for mild spring conditions. This often results in early harvests but can go wrong when the weather turns nasty. This year has been particularly challenging. Winter storms battered our overwintered peas and broad beans. Their fleece covers were ripped away and the peas more or less decapitated. Although I hoped they would recover, repeated damage from high winds and severe cold left them in a pitiful raggedy state so they were grubbed out. The broad beans looked little better, though have grown out of the damage now and may turn out to be quite productive.

Brief warmer periods were punctuated by unseasonably cold conditions. Here in the South we often enjoy a fairly warm spring and little more than a light frost by the time we get to April, which the hardier of young plants shrug off without seeming to suffer from it. This year, though, the cold periods were brutal. Temperatures regularly dropped below -4C when the pears were in blossom, which caused extensive damage. Only the fact that they were laden with so much blossom saved us from entirely losing the crop on the earliest varieties to bloom. We then found frost damage on otherwise quite hardy plants such as rocket and peas. It seems likely that much of this was caused not so much by the cold itself, but by the cold coupled with fierce winds. This can have a drying effect on the leaves, so many were entirely dehydrated and left crisp and useless.

For the first time, we found damage to one of our grape vines. The Black Hamburg vine springs into action quite early in the greenhouse. This is usually a positive thing, but this year some of the early leaves and the first bunches of tiny flowers were damaged by the cold conditions. We were fortunate to be able to protect the even more delicate peaches by hanging sheets in front of the plants or widespread loses might have been expected. Our other vine – the Muscat of Alexandria – needs warmer conditions to start into growth so had not yet put forth any tender shoots and thus survived, as far as I can tell, without damage.

Frost damage to the blossom of early flowering fruit trees is always a risk, though not one we experience too often here in the south. Damage to early vegetable plantings is less troublesome. They can be resown and later sowings, made when growing conditions are more favourable, often catch up, more or less.

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