Written by Josie Gilmore
October is officially here as shorter days welcome us with brisk morning air and autumn slowly seeps into the yellowing Aspen trees. Our local farmers are looking forward to the interlude of the winter season by preparing for the first frost and racing against the clock of the first freeze. A frost is gentler than a freeze; frost means there is a thin layer of ice on surfaces, while a freeze turns everything into ice. In the words of Christin Mihon from Tasty Acres Colorado, the first frost “puts a punctuation mark on the end of the season,” while the first freeze is all about preparing infrastructure.
After our first frost, summer crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and basil let out a final sigh as they are officially done for the season. Farmers get ready to do a “kill harvest.” The harsh name is simply a term for harvesting the final crops from the plants before they retire for the year. Laying row cover or growing in high tunnels can help extend the lives of some winter crops, but autumn’s lack of daylight leads the plants to slow down their development and produce less new growth.
To the delight of many of her CSA members, Noelle Trueheart of Common Name Farm saves this period of the season to harvest green tomatoes. Some vegetables are enhanced by the cold weather and can even produce more sugar this time of year due to these temperature changes. Spinach, carrots, and root vegetables are at their prime in this type of climate; farmer Christin already has customers patiently waiting for her winter carrots.
The first freeze, on the other hand, creates a mad dash against the clock. Before the first freeze comes, farmers have to pull out all of their irrigation systems to switch into winter mode. This work is not easy, made more difficult by wet hands and cold temperatures. Additionally, Christin has the privilege to farm where she lives, which is a huge benefit. Being able to go outside to turn off irrigation pumps or adjust high tunnel vents as the weather changes on a whim is a freedom that not all farmers have.
As winter approaches and our environment is wildly changing, each year brings its own ups and downs. This past September has been incredibly hot in Colorado. Meanwhile, two years ago, September 8th brought the first snow. These swings in climate are only getting more erratic as our world changes around us—a fact that our farmers know and work with intimately. Farmer Noelle eloquently puts it: “As farmers, we are trying to control life. But we have no say over when the frost comes, which is a complete relinquishment of control. It’s kind of a relief.”
So, we celebrate. We celebrate our farmers for withstanding the battle that is farming, and we appreciate their efforts by facing the uncertainty of autumn with them. We celebrate the good food in which we have had the privilege to indulge this year, and enjoy the nuanced selection of crops that continue to be harvested. We celebrate the introspection, grief, and melancholy of the end of the season. And we celebrate the frost, silently falling and telling us: it is time to rest.