Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day Two: Tomatoes and Cold Weather

There must be a better way ... I'm right now thinking of developing a way to better protect tomatoes than sheets and bags. Maybe I'll give LEDs a try. Or maybe I'll invest in a small heater of some kind to put under the sheets. Anyway, going on Day Two of this cold snap, I thought I'd update on the damage. And be prepared: today's blog is full of dead things. It's not a great day in TomatoLand.

Cold damage to tomatoes is an insidious thing. It tends to creep up on the plant, so it might take hours or even a day or two to see the full effects of the damage. It might be tempting to cut away wilted, dying or dead growth right away, but it's important to resist that urge. First, there's no sense in shocking the plant. Second, you don't yet know the true extent of the damage. So I say wait until the damage is completely revealed, then cut away the dead parts of the plant. And don't worry if you have tomatoes on the vine—they will still ripen, even on vines that are heavily damaged. Also, you might be surprised: the plants will often bounce back surprisingly well as soon as the weather warms up.

Anyway, last night I did the best job yet of covering my plants. I first covered them in giant bags, then wrapped them in sheets. The worst damage from last night appeared where the plants actually touched the insulation material, which acted as a conduit for cold temperatures. Otherwise, all of the damage in the pictures below is from the night before, when the plants blew over. The first picture shows the north exposure (direct exposure to a cold wind); the second picture shows the southern exposure on the same plant. So you see ... the damage is extensive but limited to the northern side.

And lastly, this isn't tomato related, but also kind of a bummer. I'm a pretty dedicated lover of lizards. I was the kind of kid who begged for things that slithered and caught snakes by the bagful in the forests and swamps around my house. While other kids were dressing their puppies in adorable hats, I was breeding praying mantis. So I was kind of saddened to find this knight anole dead on our porch overhang last night. Yes, I know he's an invasive species, etc., etc., etc., but still ... that's a tough way to go.


  1. Are you in West Broward? I am just west of US 1 and did not have the dame you experienced. The only leaves that look like your pictures are my Everglades tomato, which I did not cover. All of my grow box tomatoes, which I covered, came through fine. Sorry to see such damage.
    How was the Brandy Boy? My first one is huge and cat-faced on the bottom, but I am hoping it will be ripe in another 2 weeks or so.

  2. Great blog! I'm in south florida too, and just got done putting 100+ plants back into their proper places!

    If you used any kind of plastic, that's a big nooooo! They are better off uncovered! I actually used the black cheap weedcloth to cover 50' of succulents, clothespinning two pieces together to cover a row and weighing down the ends because of the wind. My yard is frozen (yea for the weeds boo for the grass), but the plants are fine! Another thing I use is flannel backed vinyl table cloths, flannel side to the plant. Clothespins make good holder together fasteners.

    LED's don't put out any heat so would do no good. What you need is a string of normal christmas lights (the little glass bulbs) under a cloth cover, but not touching plant or cover and turned off in the morning...might find some on clearnace now if you hurry!

    Wish I could grow tomatoes like yours!

  3. Hi Jon,

    I think it's a combination of location and wind.

    As a native Floridian, I insisted we have a patio on the SE exposure of the house. Then I built my slat house for my orchids. Since I built the slat house about fifteen years ago, I have NEVER brought them inside for the cold. I'm in far EAST Broward, though.

    This year, I put my heirlooms cherry tomatoes in homemade earth boxes, at the very southern edge of my slathouse (should be linked in my s/n, if not, picture is here, on my blog, ). This way they'd get the full on winter light, as well as protection from the house from those cold northwest winds. Also, trellising them was easy, as I hung it.

    I had a wee bit of windburn on the furthest west plant, maybe 4/5 lower leaves. Everything else was fine.

    Sorry to see the destruction, and the poor little dead guy. At least we didn't have iguanas falling from the trees this year (and thankfully they've not discovered my slat house yet).

  4. Hey commenters! A few thoughts ...

    I'm in east Broward, almost all the way east. So my temperatures are a bit more modulated than out west. We're usually a few degrees warmer at least. The damage I experienced was due mainly to a cold wind.

    Thanks, Susan, for the tip on the X-mas lights. This is not a technique I've ever used, so I'm only passing it along secondhand. Noted: don't use LEDs.

    And Blonde Gator, get this ... he wasn't dead! That thing clung to our porch all day, looking grey and sunken-eyed and dead as a doornail. Then in the late afternoon, with sun on it, I went outside and realized he had MOVED. I couldn't believe it. The thing was alive. He spent the whole cold spell hanging from our porch (two days), then disappeared. So ... one lizard lives to fight another day.

  5. How about Idaho ? Anyone from Idaho that reads this?

  6. Hey Anon ... We get the occasional drop-by from colder climes (Canada, northern US), but mostly it's hot-weather growers around here. Were you wondering about something?