Nature’s Calendar – 2nd to 6th November – First Frosts

A series following the 72 British mini-seasons of Nature’s Calendar by Kiera Chapman, Lulah Ellender, Rowan Jaines and Rebecca Warren. 

“Well, Bug Woman”, I hear my East Finchley readers saying, “You must be living in a different ecological niche from the rest of us, because where I live it hasn’t stopped raining for a week”. And you would be 100% correct – the photo above is from a cold snap in December last year. But nothing illustrates the difference between the north and south of the British Isles better than the dates of the first frosts: the average first frost in Aviemore happens between 1st and 10th October, Edinburgh has to wait until between 21st and 31st October, and Barnet (where I live) usually doesn’t get frost until the early new year, between 1st and 10th January. I am more than amused to discover that frost is rare in  Westminster. My head tells me that it’s probably because of the urban heat island effect (whereby cities retain heat in all that concrete and brick) but my heart wonders if it’s all the hot air. You can find out the dates for your area in the UK in this very useful map here.

It isn’t just a matter of north or south though: frost is quite a temperamental animal. If you have a look at the map, you’ll see that early first frosts occur most often well inland, away from cities (that heat island effect that I mentioned above) and come later on the west side of the country than the east side. The west of the UK is traditionally warmer than the east side anyhow (all those Scandinavian breezes blow in not only waxwings (hopefully, it looks like a very good year for these occasional migrants) but cold winds. Of course, everything is up for grabs with climate change, so it will be interesting to see how this winter plays out. Already we’ve seen three storms, with major flooding impacts in the north and east of England, many parts of Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland. But as yet, in East Finchley at least, no frost.

As we know, frost wilts and kills plants, and freezes water so that it’s inaccessible to birds and other animals. Most insects and invertebrates are either hibernating, hiding or dead. It’s a time to remember to supply water and protein and fat-rich food for birds. But there are also benefits to frost – it kills off many pest species of insect, which keeps their numbers under some sort of control, and it’s said to make all the difference to the flavour of parsnips.

In her piece on frosts, Lulah Ellender mentions that frost makes rosehips and hawthorn berries more palatable to birds. She also mentions that some plants need cold  in order to germinate – the freezing temperatures break down the husk of the seed so that the plant can germinate. This is known as cold stratification, and lots of plants need it: Alys Fowler has an interesting article about it in The Guardian here. The list of plants that apparently rely on cold stratification has me scratching my head a bit, though – lavender is a Mediterranean plant, but apparently needs a dose of frost for the seeds to get going. Help me out here, readers! Have you had stick your seeds in the freezer to get them going? Reveal all!

Acorns, apparently requiring cold stratification

And do let me know your thoughts on frost. Have you had any yet? Do you live somewhere where frost is rarer than hen’s teeth? Are you in the process of getting your geraniums in for the winter? Share all. I’d love to know.


5 thoughts on “Nature’s Calendar – 2nd to 6th November – First Frosts

  1. Alastair Scott

    The frost chart is interesting, but I am sceptical of it.

    I have records back to 2006, taken with the same device. Here in South London we have never had an air frost (“the air temperature being below freezing point of water at a height of at least one metre above the ground”) – I presume that is what the chart depicts – in October.

    However, it is 50:50 whether there is one in November, and only one December (2015) didn’t have an air frost. That was an extraordinary month which was completely missed by the media because it had a “high minimum” at +4.8C – nothing obvious like temperatures well below zero.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Alastair, very interesting points, thank you for commenting. The site with the frost data seems to have been originally designed for the USA, so that gardeners would know the hardiness rating of their area. But I am going to ask them where they’ve got their UK data from, and to see if there’s another source of information from something UK based, such as the Met Office. If I can find something more useful/accurate I’ll post about it.

  2. Chistine Burns

    First of all congratulations on retirement and the joy of having the time to explore interests and ideas. I retired many years ago a little early and have never regretted it.
    Re stratification, you can have quite harsh weather inland in the south of France with winter frost. Much less humid although I am sure that is changing as well.
    I live in Teesdale and have listened to Margaret Bradshaw speak. I don’t think she considers herself inspiration because ‘what an unimportant idea’. But she is.
    And finally did you, or any of your readers, follow Chris Packham’s ‘8 out of 10 bats’ on utube. Fantastic.
    Love your blog. So interesting.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks so much, Christine! And I agree that Margaret Bradshaw would be horrified at the thought of being ‘inspirational’, though I’m sure she’d be pleased if her example got more people out and about and observing/recording the natural world. She reminds me so much of my Aunt Hilary, who worked tirelessly for various charities but would always pooh-pooh the idea that she was doing anything out of the ordinary.

      I haven’t watched ‘8 out of 10 Bats’ but I am hearing so much about it that I must take time out to have a look.

      Have a great weekend (and retirement! I love being retired!)


  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Interestingly (to me anyway) our (Royal St David’s) golf course has only once been completely closed due to a heavy frost in the 2 years that I’ve lived in N. Wales. The start is occasionally delayed until the sun rises and the ground warms up a bit, but only once, so far, closed. Walking on the frozen greens (or even fairways) can permanently damage the grass, so it’s best to wait or come back another day.


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