Imagine my surprise if not outright shock -- last weekend when I strolled into the garden only to find all my vine squash top leaves blackened with frost. Luckily, no harm was done to plant or fruit -- the young pumpkins were my main concern -- but it certainly brought me out of a reverie of Indian summer. When not cursing nature for pulling stunts like this, one has to be grateful for the early warning. Yes, folks, frost is The Word for October. While some years this area doesn't suffer any real damage until November, smug gardeners such as I should be reminded that the Official Frost Date, according to Crockett and other gardening heroes, is October 10 -- this Saturday. This doesn't mean you have to rush out this weekend and gather all your green tomatoes and baby peppers, but it does mean that monitoring the weather is a must from now on, if you want to get the most out of the fall garden. GETTING READY: The big question, of course, is what to do about a brief overnight frost -- one, that is, that's likely to kill stuff off. Actually, there's not a whole lot you can do, unless you yank out old sheets to drape over your tomatoes overnight; but then you have to get up at the crack of dawn and take off all the sheets before going to work, and that's more trouble than it's worth. In fact, when the frost hits, just enjoy it. Your garden may look pretty bedraggled for a while, but it is the end of the big push in the growing season, when you put away your spade and fork, stop feeling guilty about all the things you're supposed to be doing and really start planning for next year. However, when you're sure it's going to come, send the kids out to pick off all those green tomatoes and peppers. Get a sharp knife and a pair of gardening gloves to protect yourself against eggplant thorns, and hack away at the stems of the shiny purple fruit. If you're one of the lucky ones who still have summer squash coming in, take that up, not matter how small. Harvest all your annual herbs. Cukes should also be picked. It may sound like a lot, and when you spread all of the produce out on the kitchen table, it may look like a lot. But when you think about it, most of these crops should be winding down now anyway. If you have a lot of weeds in the garden, this is the time to leave them alone and let them protect delicate young plants that wouldn't survive if exposed. THE FROST-HARDY: It takes more than an early cold snap to put a dent into peas, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, beets, turnips, kale and chard. Even young seedlings should fare well through such weather. So ignore those, and plan on tending to them later, when the cold sets in for good. Even pumpkins, if they are ripening now, shouldn't be hurt by a dip into the low 30s. Winter squashes will survive nicely, and cabbage-family crops are enhanced by the cold: They taste better, and do fine. Winter-hardy perennial herbs should be mulched this weekend. These include thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley and chives, among others. Perennials that won't survive the winter should be potted, if they aren't already, and brought indoors. These include rosemary and scented geraniums. As long as you're potting plants, dig up some extra garden soil and fill a couple more pots to start basil, dill and parsley for an indoor winter herb garden. Use buckets or deep pots to allow plenty of room for root growth for these fast-growing herbs. Celery will survive until December, but to prolong it and blanch it at the same time, build up soil and mulch around the stems as high as you can. Don't worry about lower leaves getting smothered