By Philip Harnden (Willow Creek Press, 2003)
At first glance, Philip Harnden’s treatise on frost seems to be a children’s book. It’s the size and heft of many picture books, its cover is colorful, and inside pictures dominate nearly every page. But this is no bedtime story — especially for those of us who live where frosts, freezes and deep freezes are a concern more than half the year.
Harnden, one time editor of North Country Gardener, a newsletter for northern gardeners, briefly and completely describes the nature and effects of frost, its relationship with humidity and water, and how gardeners can deal with frost to extend the season in their vegetable gardens.
The book starts with a discussion of hardiness zones, frost-free zones and microclimates. As northern gardeners know, the effects of a cold night can vary tremendously depending on how high or low your garden is and which direction it faces. Harnden also explains how frost works—from the wonderful surprise of hoarfrost when water vapor crystallizes on plants to frozen dew, the slick coating of ice. It’s the depth and sophistication with which Harden treats his subject that is especially appealing. He gives you all the details you need, without being boring.
The book is especially useful for gardeners who want to stretch the growing season and continue to grow and harvest produce past the first, second, third or even more frost incidents. For new gardeners, his section on siting a vegetable garden is fabulous. I wish I had read it thoroughly before siting my vegetable beds in a sunny area that’s frequently belted by gale-force winds. He offers great suggestions on how to deflect wind and hold heat. He also runs through the pros-and-cons of the myriad methods for defending plants against frost: row covers, cloches, walls-o-water, coldframes, hoophouses and greenhouses.
If you garden in the north and want to harvest vegetables earlier and later in the season, The Gardener’s Guide to Frost is an informative place to start – and it has lots of pictures.