Update: greens post-Polar Vortex

I promised an update on how various protected and unprotected vegetable plants fared in the recent cold snap. We heard from Gordon Clark on his greens before the single-digit cold; here’s what he had to say about what happened next in his Silver Spring garden:

The “Polar Vortex,” regrettably, proved to be more a test of my low tunnel’s structural resilience than its frost protection capacity, as one of the 50 or so mile an hour wind bursts associated with the front blew it open.  This was in spite of the fact that I had MANY bricks, as well as a couple large rocks and a tree stump holding down the plastic cover.  Clearly, if you are expecting heavy winds tying down a low tunnel with clothesline (in the Elliot Coleman “chenille” method) is advised.  (All the more so if your tunnel is an open/exposed area, which mine is.)
Fortunately I had removed most of the remaining greens before the Vortex struck (they had been growing since August and I doubted such old plants could take much cold stress); by the time I discovered the tunnel mishap the arctic temps had turned my remaining lettuces, mustard greens and chard to mush.
On the positive side, I want to note that while the Polar Vortex destroyed pretty much everything still left outside (sans low tunnel) in our community garden, there were two notable survivors who made it through both the intense cold and the preceding snow in pretty good shape – the indestructible curly kale, and savoy spinach varieties, which despite some browning on larger leaves, retained perfectly healthy growing tips (both are pictured below).  Note to self for future winter plantings!

I also asked MG Robin Ritterhoff to report on her Bethesda garden:

She says: “The cold frame kept my mâche, arugula, a couple Swiss chards & lettuce alive during the polar vortex. By contrast, unprotected Swiss chard in the back bed is a mass of wet black mess.”

Today I checked the beds at the Derwood Demo Garden to see what had survived. We also had lettuce alive under cold frames:

but nearly everything exposed to the open air was dead or almost dead, even Red Russian kale:

The only exception was a super-hardy plant of Even’Star Landrace Collards, developed on Even’Star Farm in St. Mary’s County, MD.

All our plantings under plastic low tunnels look pretty good, though, and none of ours blew away, since we fastened them down not only with bricks but with pieces of wire crisscrossed over the top and stuck in the ground. Here’s some Rainbow Lacinato Kale (a cross developed by Wild Garden Seed in Oregon) still doing fine:

One more surprising survival: in the unprotected 6-inch deep salad table on my back deck in Germantown (where it got down to near zero degrees), the arugula pretty much bit the dust, but I still have cilantro plants alive:

Time for some salsa?

One Comment on “Update: greens post-Polar Vortex

  1. Hi Erica,

    Isn't amazing how tough cilantro is! It grows so much better is cool weather than hot weather. Except for various kinds of kale,spinach and carrots, I fear that polar vortex was too much for my greens. I don't have a cold frame, just row covers. I did put an extra layer on, but Mother Nature was too fierce.


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