The tomatoes have sprouted. The greenhouses are full of tender leafy greens. Eggplants and peppers are trying to germinate over specially heated mats. And the forecast is calling for a low of 21 degrees Fahrenheit tonight.
In December or January, we would have just closed the greenhouse doors to protect the lettuces and called it good. Today though, we have a couple weeks' worth of new crops to keep from freezing. They're in one of the most sensitive stages of growth: only the first leaves, known as cotyledons, are present in any of the crops that have germinated. In this very young state, even hardy crops like broccoli and lettuce can succumb to temperatures below 25 degrees.
So there's been some rearranging.
I went out to the farm this afternoon to finish the weatherizing that Ted had started on Sunday. He closed all but one of the big greenhouse ends, and I cut a new strip of plastic to attach to the last one. Now they'll all retain a few extra degrees of heat from the sunny day, hopefully keeping the crops from melting under frost.
At this time of year, all the greens in the high tunnels are destined for FOOD for Lane County partner agencies and meal sites. That's a few thousand pounds of highly nutrient-dense food to lose in one night, and covering the ends of the tunnels is the best we can do for them. Cross your fingers.
In the propagation house, we have a few more tools at our disposal. Ted transferred all the starts (minus a few trays of leeks that aren't up yet-- they'll be fine!) to the inner bench, over which we drape a long strip of plastic to act as a second heating tunnel. That should keep the spring crops happy with lows in the mid-twenties.
The heat-loving crops-- like those tomatoes and the yet-to-germinate eggplants and peppers-- could still freeze in those conditions, though. So, in addition to getting bottom-heat from the heat mats they're on, I covered them with a swath of row cover and set up a small space heater nearby. The row cover will give them an extra degree or two of warmth overnight, and the heater will kick on once it starts to get cold in there. If the electrical system can handle it all and nothing breaks (again, cross your fingers), that should keep those summer varieties alive.
One night. One night could ruin everything we've done this season so far. Or, it could just be a small shock that the plants recover from quickly. It's supposed to jump back to the low thirties tomorrow and stay there every night this week.
After a night of 21 degrees, a few light freezes will start to feel easy to us all.