From a distance, my garden looks a bit strange right now. That’s not just because a cold snap has laid over the parsley, the sunflowers, the cosmos, and other things just a bit.
It looks strange because Friday night, in anticipation of a potential freeze-up, I fastened two large sheets of thick, clearish plastic over my tardy tomatoes, one vertically and the other horizontally, with no gaps open to wind. I’m hoping this makeshift hut gives my green beauties a little bit more time to arrive. Even a slight little blush would be enough that I can reasonably shepherd a few of them to ripeness indoors.
If not, I suppose I’ll be making a lot of salsa verde this year, instead of the delicious corn salsa I had dreamed of when first I planted my tomato transplants on May 31.
The plastic hut is a little trick I’ve been thinking about a lot in North Dakota, thanks to research being done at Williston Research Extension Center by Kyla Splichal. She has put up a hoop house to test season extension, and her results are amazing.
She’s getting produce much earlier in the season and much later, too. In 2016, she reported tomatoes and peppers still going strong in the high tunnel in October. She thought they might even make it to November.
Frost had meanwhile already stopped all production in the companion beds outside the hoophouse a couple of weeks before, demonstrating the substantial season extension possible with a hoop house.
Of course, Splichal’s hoop house is a lot nicer than my makeshift plastic hut. Hers is a double-walled plastic structure on a steel frame, with roll-up sides, impervious to wind gusts. It’s set permanently in place, however, making ventilation key. It will get too hot in the hoop house too quickly in spring, and humidity will also tend to build up disease pressures quickly.
My untidy plastic by comparison looks a bit crazy. I put heavy rocks and logs at intervals around the contraption to hold the plastic down, then covered every exposed edge with dirt to keep the wind from lifting the plastic and shifting things around too much.
So far so good, however, makeshift or not. I can see condensation on the inside, which suggests warmer, moist air is hitting the plastic sides, which is cool due to outside temperatures. As water vapor sinks from a high-energy state to its lower energy state, water, I know that a some heat is being released inside my little tomato hut.
The sun puts some solar energy in through the clearest plastic, and the dirt itself is a nice thermal sink. It will radiate heat upward, hopefully helping to get my subtropical green babies through a difficult two or three days.
Tomatoes do not love temperatures below 55 degrees. In fact, anything below 50 all but halts ripening. Heck, anything below 60 can cause cat-facing, which are puckers and scars on the blossom end of the fruit.
Knowing that, I had actually been thinking about putting up a plastic hut before now, as we’ve had several nights in the last several weeks with temperatures well below ideal.
In fact, last year I had actually purchased a plastic greenhouse with a vague notion of using it to protect tomatoes at the season ender. The item cannot now be found, however, hence the makeshift hut.
Seeing how well it is working so far, perhaps I’ll be quicker to put up plastic next year. Or perhaps I’ll buy another plastic popup greenhouse, for something that looks less haphazard. Shoot, maybe I’ll even start my tomatoes out under some plastic, so I can get them going sooner. All the should have would have could haves are going through my mind now with a hard freeze in the forecast.
In the meantime, all I can do is wait it out, to see if my hut was good enough to get the tomatoes to the blush side.
I’m optimistic. But I’m also already googling for salsa verde recipes that can be made with green tomatoes …
Speaking of ... I’d also love to hear about your favorite green tomato recipes as well. You can post them online at my page, Grow With Me, or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My phone number is 620-640-9991 for those who don’t Facebook.