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. I’m hoping this makeshift hut gives my green beauties a little bit more time. Even a slight blush would be enough that I can shepherd a few to ripeness indoors.

If not, I suppose I’ll be making a lot of salsa verde this year, instead of the salsa I dreamed about when I first planted these 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 the water vapor sinks from its high-energy state into water, a lower energy state, heat, is being released inside my little tomato hut.

The dirt itself is also a nice thermal sink. It will have retained some heat that will radiate out, hopefully keeping my subtropical green babies toasty.

Tomatoes don’t love temperatures below 55 degrees. In fact, anything below 50 all but halts ripening. And anything below 60 can cause cat-facing, which are puckers and scars on the blossom end of the fruit.

Knowing that, I have actually been thinking about putting up this plastic hut before now. We’ve had cooler than average temperatures leading up to now, and there were several nights of temperatures well below ideal.

Seeing how well this is working so far, perhaps I’ll be quicker to put up plastic next year. And maybe I’ll even start my tomatoes out under some plastic, so I can get them going sooner.

In the meantime, all I can do is wait things out, to see if my hut was good enough to get the tomatoes to the blush side.

If not, I’m already googling for salsa verde recipes with green tomatoes …

And I’d 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 rjean@willistonherald.com. My phone number is 620-640-9991 for those who don’t Facebook.

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