Checking Thermometers to Monitor Frost Temperatures

By: Maxwell Norton (UCCE Merced)

During frost season it is important to precisely know how cold it gets in various parts of your orchard or vineyard. Affordable minimum recording thermometers are available through farm stores and are usually pretty accurate but you need to check them yourself every year because they can “drift” up or down over time. The “U” shaped minimum-maximum recording thermometers are usually accurate at one end or the other but rarely both. Don’t use a “freebee” or a decorative thermometer.

Fill a plastic bucket up with ice. Add enough cold water to make a slurry. Shake the bucket gently so the slurry stays loose. Insert the thermometers into the ice & water mixture so that about 2/3 of the thermometer is submerged. If it is an electronic sensor and it is waterproof, make sure it is completely submerged. Electronic devices may have a separate procedure for calibrating – check the instructions or their web site.

Let the thermometers sit for twenty minutes. Pull the thermometers out one by one and immediately note the temperature. In a mixture of water and ice, the temperature should be 32F. If not, mark a correction factor on the thermometer. If it is more than 2-3 degrees off, you probably should not use it for something as critical as frost management.

Thermometers should be placed in the low spots in the field that get the coolest. They should be away from and preferably up-wind from buildings, blacktop, or anything that might radiate heat at night. The thermometer should be about four feet off the ground and not be exposed to the sky – a simple “shelter” consisting of a board to attach the thermometer to with a cover extending 6-8 inches over the top works. Position the thermometer horizontally with the bulb is one half inch lower than the other end. Face the shelter north so that the sun never hits the thermometer. After frost season, remove them from the field and store vertically with the bulb down.

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