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Every year I try to see how early I can harvest a ripe tomato in my zone 6a garden. So far, the best I have accomplished is June 5th. This year I gambled and planted my early tomato plants out on Tuesday April 23rd and of course gamblers often get burned. This morning's low temperature was 34 degrees with a heavy frost. I covered the plants with bins, so we will have to wait and see if they were injured and if they can make it again tonight which also promises to be cold.
I knew I should have waited another few days, but they were also calling for rain and the area I have for the early tomatoes still needed to be tilled.
I was afraid that it would be a while before the ground would be dry enough again, so I went ahead with the tilling and then the early planting.
I worked in some regular compost when I tilled, and then added some ultra-rich worm compost to the planting holes and then a layer of black mulch around the plants. Hopefully the mulch will help warm the soil a bit. The types of tomatoes that I planted were selected for their fast harvest dates. I put the determinant varieties in the garden so I could support them with regular cages and then I planted indeterminant varieties in the raised beds in the greenhouse. I didn't manage to take a picture of the finished beds, but here is one taken just before planting:
Concerning my worry about planting too early and having the tomatoes injured by the cold, you would think that the ones inside the hoophouse would be fine, but... The greenhouse plastic has been on the structure for five or six years now and is becoming more prone to condensation. When I checked at 4:00 am this morning, The tomato plants in the greenhouse had water droplets on them from the condensation. I should have covered them with buckets or some kind of cloche. Also the entire greenhouse was covered in a thick frost bringing the thermometer near the ceiling down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit - yikes!
I will cross my fingers and hope that all the tomatoes in the greenhouse as well as the ones out in the garden will rebound with not much consequence, but the gambler never knows for sure if he will win until the game is played. I'll keep you posted.
Until then, happy garden planning and/or early planting!
- Your friend Marc