This story appeared in the 2021 fall issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “first frost.”
Frost, you say? Probably one of my least favorite aspects of fall is this landscape-altering feature. Over the years of gardening on MOFGA’s fairgrounds, I have learned to associate the approach of the Common Ground Country Fair as the signal for possible carnage for tender plants. Up until the deep chill arrives, some plants, like the 5-foot-tall grain amaranth, can be real show stoppers. Frost has arrived as early as August 29 — we’ve had a frost-free season of just 90 days — though in freakish years, it can fail to show up until mid or even late October. It’s more common to show up the week of the Fair, and around sunset on a Wednesday or Thursday, I have often scrambled to cover vulnerable plants. Any prediction for frost in the state is a warning sign that it might land on the grounds. This particular area of Unity is somewhat of a frost pocket, and it’s been interesting to compare notes with neighbors with lower-lying property. How cold was it? On a couple of occasions on the cusp of the Fair, we have had a hard freeze, and plants go from a wilted to blackened state. It’s a bit of an eye opener for people camping on the grounds when this happens! One of the positive things about having a frost occur before, or even during the Fair, is that visitors get a reality check: a glimpse as to what we have to deal with. In those years there are crops, like Asian mustards and other greens, whose cold tolerance stands out. Then the message becomes: “Welcome to Unity, remember to extend your growing season with some of these plants, and be thankful if your garden was spared.” Also, it’s a reminder to keep those protective row covers handy! We can usually expect two or more weeks of frost-free weather after the first encounter, so it’s worth the extra effort.