Q How can I protect my plants if I hear an early frost is on its way?

A: If the weather outlook points toward an early frost and you still have many plants you’d like to protect, there are two things that you should do.

First, cover your plants, both to retain as much of the soil heat and moisture as possible, and to protect them against strong winds that can hasten drying and cooling.

You can use almost anything to cover plants: newspapers, bushel baskets, plastic tarps, straw or pine boughs.

Completely cover the plants before sunset to trap any remaining heat. Lightweight coverings such as newspaper should be anchored to prevent them from blowing away.

The second thing you should do is keep the soil moist by watering your plants the day a frost is predicted.

Commercial fruit and vegetables growers leave sprinklers on all night to cover plants with water. As the water freezes, it releases heat, protecting the plants even though they are coated in ice.

To prevent damage, those sprinklers need to run continuously as long as temperatures remain below freezing.

Q How can I stop geese from defecating on my lawn?

A: One easy and natural way to deter geese from using your lawn is to purchase some shiny Mylar balloons filled with helium.

Simply tether them with a heavy rock or board and place several around your yard. The shiny material and the bobbing of the balloons should scare the geese away. There are also geese repellents that you can buy.

Q I’ve heard that a chickadee is one of the smartest birds because it can remember from year to year where the bird feeder is. Do you know if this is true?

A: Chickadees are very smart and resilient. As they don’t have to head south in search of food and warm weather in the winter, chickadees prevail in many northern states for the entire year. Perhaps this is why you heard that chickadees are one of the smartest birds.

While we’re not sure they’re the smartest, recent research has suggested that there is something in the chickadee’s intricate metabolism that adds fresh, new cells to the bird’s hippocampus – the biological name for the part of the brain where information is stored.

It is this wondrously evolved cerebral renewal that gives this creature an apparent edge on winter.

With its better brain, a chickadee can remember the location of every single seed stash, which means it can survive in many areas of the country through long, cold winters.

Q I consider myself somewhat of a good cook but the term “parboil” always confuses me. Can you clarify what this cooking term means?

A: Parboil, which means to boil something partially, is also referred to as blanching. This procedure is usually followed by a final cooking in a seasoned sauce.

Q Is there a better way to store tomatoes?

A: To prolong the life of tomatoes, you should store them upside (or stem end) down. This will help keep them fresh for longer periods of time. Tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator, but the consensus is that tomatoes taste the best when served at room temperature.

Q Why do we call a hodgepodge of food that is either thrown together or brought by several different people a “potluck?”

A: The idea of potluck seems to date back to the days when people would hang a pot over a fire, allowing for constant simmering.

Unexpected guests would be welcomed to share what was in the pot, often with no idea of what it contained.

So in other words, they might be in luck if they liked what was contained in the pot.

Q How does soap make you clean?

A: There are many small hollows in your skin that collect dirt. When you run water over your skin, the water pushes some of the dirt out, but, soap pulls it out. When you mix soap and water, it creates bubbles full of air. As you lather, you are pumping air into the soapy water, making bubbles.

In one sense, the soap acts like a magnet, pulling the dirt away from the hollows of your skin. The rinsing water carries the dirt off. So remember, use soap and water when you wash your hands.

Q What happens to robins in the winter?

A: If you live in a cold weather state, you notice that robins disappear before the first snow. They fly south to warmer climates where there is a plentiful supply of worms. In spring, the robins come north.

This is called bird migration. Some birds only migrate a few hundred miles but the champion migrator is the small Arctic tern which builds a nest each spring in the far north (the Arctic).

Then in the fall, it flies miles south to the Antarctic. Next year it does the same thing again. In total, it flies 21,750 miles (35,000 km).

If you have a question for the Farmers’ Almanac write to Farmers’ Almanac, P.O. Box 1609, Lewiston, ME 04241 or e-mail: [email protected]

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