Listen to the locals

One of joys of having our own stick house again is that I can have a proper country garden. I have gardened for many many years including three years of subsistent living where the only vegetables I ate were those I grew myself. The place I did that gardening was near lake Alma Saskatchewan only a few kilometres from the American border. Lake Alma is 49.11N. Our new home is in Alonsa and it 50.79N or ten degrees more northern. It works out to about 220 or so km (120 miles further north). What a difference ten degrees makes. In Lake Alma the rule was no matter how nice the weather, you don’t put in your tomato plants until after the Victoria Day weekend which is the third weekend in May. There will be a late frost that will kill them.

I purchased my tomato plants five days after that weekend and it was a couple of more days before I actually got them in. I did ask the locals. They looked dubious about planting now and two said they wait until June 1st.  One told me she waits until she sees the big northerns leaving the area. Big northerns? You know, the really large fat Canada Geese that don’t nest around here but do hang around for a while in May and then go north.

My tomato plants were already a bit spindly and the weather was a lovely 30C and there was no forecast for cold in the long range and so I didn’t listen and I put planted the tomatoes anyway. If I still had my little portable green house I would have waited until June 1st. But that’s gone and I didn’t feel I could justify replacing it this year with all out other expenses.

The inevitable happened. We had three nights of bitter cold with the temperature going down to 0C, -4C and -2C (32F, 25F, 28F). I did my best for those poor tomato plants. I watered them thoroughly and then I covered them up late in the day before the heat had time to dissipate. They came through just fine on the first night but the deep cold was beyond a light frost and into a killing frost and covered or not they got hurt.

None are dead. The damage ranges from slight to nearly catastrophic.SAM_5584

This Plant should recover and be minimally set back. Damage was limited to the edges of some leaves but the apical meristem (budding area) is undamaged. It even had a blossom on it which was undamaged. Interestingly enough it was the old fashioned yellow boy, a heritage variety of yellow tomato.

SAM_5585

This plant is marginal. It is not dead but it has frozen on the meristem. If I leave it, it will come back from the sides but be severely set back and lose a month or more of production in our short season. That is enough to mean it won’t produce much before the first killing frost we normally see by the end of August. I can only hope to get green tomatoes that will ripen indoors or can be converted to vegan mincemeat.

SAM_5586

This one is most likely hopeless. All the leaves were frozen including the meristem. It was a fancy new high yield hybrid too, and so I tried it but bought only one. I prefer those good old heritage ones which always seem to do better in a northern garden. The only way it will come back is from the bottom and it will take almost as long as starting from seed which is not long enough up here in the north to get tomatoes. I will buy more tomato plants and replace the two hopeless ones and add two more to make up for the marginal ones but leave them in. To try to stay on schedule, I’ll buy some bigger plants in larger pots for the replacements. And I won’t be getting another fancy hybrid. I have been told there is a great greenhouse just a few kilometres away.

And as I was putting away all my blanketing and tarps, flocks and flocks of hundreds of big fat northern Canada geese flew over honking happily. Next year I will get a replacement for that little greenhouse I used to have and the tomatoes don’t go in until June 1st or I see the big northerns moving on.

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