As promised earlier this week, I am following up on my last podcast episode covering How to Extend My Garden Season.  If you can tell from the title of this episode, I had some big failures and learned some valuable gardening lessons last Friday night and Saturday morning.  In this episode, I am going to talk about the 6 Lessons Learned from the End of My 2019 Garden Season, and hopefully you will pick up a thing or two that you can use in your own garden!

Circle of Life in the Garden

Frost and snow damage after the weekend storm – October 14, 2019

I am the Garden Guy at Small Scale Life.  I have been around gardening all my life, and I find so much peace and joy in the garden.  I don’t know what it is, but there is something about seeing those first blossoms, first tomatoes and first peppers that really makes me happy.  My wife Julie says I sing to my plants, and while I’d never admit it on air, you all know she just might be right!

You can imagine that the end of the garden season is always a bit of a struggle for me. I hate to see my plants die, even though that is the natural progression of life in the garden and also our lives.  It is inevitable: we are all dying from the moment we take breath and spread our roots, so to speak.  It is up to us to make our mark on life to the best of our ability, and that is all part of leaving a legacy.

But I digress into a rabbit hole (as I often do).

Let’s talk about Extending My Garden Season and my complete failure to protect my plants from frost.

Extending My Garden Season

Frost; Frost Protection; Extending Garden Season; Raised Beds; Garden; Hybrid Rain Gutter Grow System; peppers; hydroponics; Larry Hall; Grow Bag Garden System; herbs; vegetables; wicking beds

I used plastic tarps on the raised bed gardens and bed sheets and blankets on the wicking beds. I did not experience frost damage on plants under the plastic tarps – October 2016

As I discussed in the recent article and podcast episode titled “Frost is Coming: How to Extend My Garden Season,” I knew that I needed to protect my plants from the frost that typically hits around October 11th.  My plan was using the following methods to keep my garden alive:

  • Short Term – Use row covers to against frost (sheets, blankets and tarps)
  • Medium Term – Clear out green beans and install low tunnels over the greens in Wicking Bed 1 and over peppers on the Big Self-Watering Basin.
  • Long Term – Design and build cold frames for Wicking Bed 1 for the start of the 2020 season (to test for early spring/cold weather greens).

That was my basic battle plan, and I was set to execute the plan on Friday.


Reality Strikes Back

“No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” ~Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Field Marshall and Tactician


While gardening is not open warfare, sometimes it feels like it.  You can battle pests, weeds, blight and my two nemeses this week: weather and time.

As the front rolled across the Central US, it dumped snow on my friends in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.  Why wouldn’t it do the same in Minnesota and the Twin Cities? 

I was a tad naïve as I completed work and got myself together to go on a date night with Julie.  I figured that I would handle covering the plants when we got home.  Easy cheesy: I had done it a million times with my garden and my mom’s gardens up north.

Julie and I went on our date and had a great time.  When we got home, the temperatures were dropping, and the wind had picked up.  The front was rolling in and the rain was starting to fall.  At midnight, I was out in the garden cursing my “poor planning, preparation and execution” earlier in the day.  I guess I needed to follow my own Event Planning advice and use that advice for the garden!

I got the tarps over the self-watering planter systems and Wicking Bed 1.  I thought I had secured the tarp over the small self-watering planter (the Patio Salsa Self-Watering Planter), and then I focused on Wicking Bed 2.

Wicking Bed 2 was a bit more difficult.  It has tomatoes and cucumbers trellised on conduit, and the problem is that the conduit is at two different levels: 6-feet high and 7-feet high. I put a blanket over most the tomatoes, and then I tried to cover the whole bed with a big tarp.

I tried to heave my tarp over the 7-foot high conduit, and I suddenly realized that big tarps, tall conduit and increasing winds were not my friends that night.  I struggled with it, and every time I made some progress, the wind blew the tarp off.  I cursed a lot, but I finally got the tarp over the two levels of conduit.  I tried to secure everything with bungee cords, and I went to bed hoping the winds would calm down and the tarps would make it.

They didn’t. 


6 Lessons Learned from the End of My Garden Season; gardening; garden fail

This is not how I wanted to wake up and what I wanted to see on Saturday – October 12, 2019

I woke up the next morning and after pouring a cup of coffee walked over to the window to look at the garden.  The first thing I noticed was the snow coming down and sticking to the plants in my garden.  Yes, you heard that right: sticking to the plants in my garden.

  • Two of the row covers held: Wicking Bed 1 and the Big Self-Watering Planter.
  • Two of the row covers completely failed: Wicking Bed 2 and the Salsa Patio Self-Watering Planter.

The wind had not subsided in the night.  In fact, it intensified, and my tarps did not stay in place.  I had tarps on the ground and exposed plants.  It was a mess.  My flying circus turned into the Led Zepplin, and instead of a fireball of death, I had ice crystals of death all over the place in my garden.

I went into “Harvest Mode” immediately and harvested everything I could.  I left the greens and peppers for another day since they were secure under their tarps.  It truly was a disaster and a fail, simply because I failed to prepare and execute my plan.

On Monday, I harvested the peppers from the Big Self-Watering Planter System, and I left the greens. They could stand the cold, but I knew the peppers were on borrowed time, especially with my schedule in the next couple weeks.

What are the 6 Lessons Learned from the End of My Garden Season?

6 Lessons Learned from the End of My Garden Season; gardening; frost; frost protection fails

Anything not covered had snow on it. There was no choice: it was time to harvest – October 12, 2019

I took some time today and thought about what I learned from this whole experience.  I think there are some valuable lessons that you could use in your own garden.  Here are my 6 Lessons Learned form the End of My Garden Season:


  1. Time and winter waits for no one. Take the time to protect your vegetables and herbs.  If you don’t have time, harvest everything off and call it good.
  2. Include season extenders in your overall design. Design frost protection and season extenders into the overall planter/garden bed design. Retrofitting and working around full grown plants when you are under the gun is challenging.
  3. Include ways to secure tie-downs. Have a way to connect and secure your row cover, low tunnel or shade cloth to the planter/garden bed. This could be eye bolts or other methods to connect rope or bungee cords.
  4. Build and test early. If you are going to use row covers, low tunnels or cold frames, build them out and test them with your planter/garden beds early in the season.
  5. Get ready to process produce. If your season extenders fail, you will need to harvest everything quickly. In fact, you might just call it when the frost is forecasted.  Chances are the fruit won’t get that much bigger or set new fruit, so you really are about done when the first frost strikes.  It is better to harvest now than to leave fruit frozen on the vine.
  6. Prepare for winter clean up. Clear the garden beds and planters of dead plants once the season is over.  I will discuss this in more detail in a “Preparing for Winter: Protect Your Assets” post and podcast in the near future.

Next Steps

I will continue to keep my greens going for a while longer, but it is time to shift gears.  I have started to prepare for winter.  I created a post and podcast episode in 2017 titled “7 Steps to Winterize Your Garden,” and I will be expanding on that article with some other tips, steps and hacks that will help you prepare for winter.  It really does come down to spending time to protect your assets, and who wants to spend more money for not preparing?

Poor planning, preparation and execution will cost you every time, so make sure you take the time to get stuff done before the weather hits!  When temperatures are dropping and the snow is flying, you don’t want to be trying to catch up and dealing with disasters!

Your Turn

How did your garden fair with that nasty front?  Were you more successful than me?  I hope so!  There is some time left this season, but as they said in Game of Thrones:

 “Winter is coming!” ~ literally every character in the show over and over and over again

For some of us, it is already here!

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6 Lessons Learned from the End of My Garden Season;; gardening; frost

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