Mother Nature played a cruel April Fools’ joke on me. The forecasted low last night was 38°F. The actual temperature recorded was 29°F.
Whoa, what a drop! I even checked last night around 9 pm before bed and saw that there was a freeze warning out for most of Arkansas and half of Mississippi and Alabama. “Poor souls,” I thought.
This morning, I about flipped when I saw 29°F as the low. We had just planted over 140 tomatoes in our campus garden on Friday. Would they be dead?!
When I arrived at school, I rushed to check on them. A few showed slight water-soaking, but the majority of them looked ok! Whew! It’s marvelous having the garden on a hill with the ag building to the north to offer some frost protection. Today, students covered them with row covers.
At home I didn’t fare so well. Baby basil plants were burned this morning, and my potatoes were turning black when I got home later in the day. I actually had the forethought to cover my tomatoes at home a day early for the 32–34°F they forecasted for tonight. That protection likely saved them.
Tomatoes are one crop gardeners try to protect as we play tug-of-war with the weather. Early enough to be the first to have them but late enough so they don’t freeze. With last night I realized my mindset on starting tomatoes has changed after moving to Texas.
My cautious rule back home was to never plant tomatoes before May 1. Since I like to grow my own plants, seedlings started around March 15 would have enough time to develop regardless of a warm or cool spring. Our average last frost was April 20 in northwest Tennessee, and the delay would ensure my plants weren’t hindered by the cold weather. Even though they were planted later, many years I would have tomatoes by the 4th of July and beat other growers in the area to have the first ripe fruit.
But, living in Texas my focus is to plant my tomatoes ASAP because we get hot so quickly. Pollination shuts down above 90°F.
However, I’ve learned my lesson with this experience. Thanks to an idea from Lindsey Kerr I have strung lights under the floating row cover and topped that with tarps and blankets to protect the tomatoes. Never again will I plant a tomato before April 1. I’m not joking.