April 22, 2021


When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was to check the thermometer. It read 33°F (0.5°C). But it was still dark out, so I knew the numbers would probably drop at sunrise like they always do. My concern? My tomatoes! 

After chores, I went to inspect the garden.

Frost on comfrey.

Frost on strawberries.

Frost on catsear.

Frost is beautiful but deadly to tender species like tomatoes. Last night, I took precautions and covered each of my baby tomato plants with jars.

Canning jar greenhouse domes on tomato seedlings.

Are you still alive in there, little tomato plant?

From the traditional last frost date, I knew I was transplanting early and possibly taking a chance. But the weather has been so pretty and it seemed like freezing temperatures were behind us for the year. 

In my mind, my traditional last frost date is around April 20 to 22. To refresh my memory, I got out Dick Raymond's Joy of Gardening. The copyright date is 1982 and it was Dan's first gardening book. It lists the last expected frost dates for my area as April 10 to May 10. That's quite a range, so my April 20-22 is somewhere in the middle. Updated dates, however, now list my last expected frost date as anywhere from March 30 to April 15 (they seem to vary depending on whose chart it is). 

My takeaway from all this isn't so much a lesson learned as it is a confirmation of something I figured out years ago—always prepare for the extremes, not the averages. The extremes, whether temperature, rainfall, or whatever, don't pop up often, but when they do it's a relief to be prepared for them. 

And my tomatoes? After the sun melted the frost from the jars, I removed them.

About half of my tomato seedlings look pretty good. About half look wilty. I watered them all with tepid water and now I wait and see. I will likely loose some, but the survivors will be good for seed saving, don't you think?


  1. I'm betting your wilty tomato plants will be just fine. Two years ago, our neighbors who grow tomatoes in their make-shift greenhouse actually had most of their plants turn black because of an unexpected really hard frost. He was devastated but left the plants just to see what would happen and darned if they didn't have enough life left in them that new greenery sprouted and they bore tomatoes! Dick Raymond's first book is one I cherish and refer to over and over and over. I have his second one, too. :o)

  2. Mama Pea, I hope so! Thank you for sharing that with me. It give me hope! I'm guessing it depends on how much of a root system they have.

  3. I agree with Mama Pea. If they have any sort of a root system at all, they should come back. The ground will stay much warmer than the air, and the jars would have trapped that warmth in at the base of the plant.
    After our early spring tease, we are in chilly conditions now, but things look warmer toward the end of the week.

  4. Cold here this morning too, covered my herbs last night. Great job covering your tomatoes!

  5. I have never seen anyone use glass jars as frost protection which got me to thinking. My mom always used "Wall of Water" devices which have half the thermal conductivity of glass but are more expensive. The Amish in our area use a lot of plastic buckets and paper bags (feed sacks) which have 1/5 and 1/20 respectively the thermal conductivity of glass. I only know these figures because I just looked them up but it shows they are really onto something.

  6. I don't think you have to worry too much. Glass cloches have been used in Europe for decades as plant protection. When I plant out some things early, or even at the right time, because we've been known to have snow in late May, I use plastic cloches because they're cheap, and tomato cages with feed sacks around them. Not only does this protect from light frosts and cold, but also holds in the heat and deflects the cold winds. I have a couple of sheets I can toss over the whole kit and kaboodle, if we're getting snow as well. I've seen a lot of different set ups to protect tender plants and use whatever I have access to.

  7. Leigh, we have had a bit of a downturn as well - not frost bad, but definitely not warming the soil up. Every year I think I should plant earlier than the end of April, but every year it is actually around the first of May.

  8. Rosalea, the root system is my biggest question right now because they've been slow to grow. But you're right about the ground still being warmer, so I'm hopeful. We go back into the 30s again tonight, and then start a warm-up.

    Nancy, I hope all your herbs survived!

    Ed, so that means that plastic containers would be more effective. I'll have to remember that. As it was, the jars were pretty much an emergency measure idea.

    I've seen those wall-o-water thingies in nursery catalogs. They are pricey! But people who use them say they work. Maybe I should knit or crochet some "caps" for my tender plants!

    Nina, interesting! And hopeful. None of my little plants have died yet, but a couple of them look pretty sad.

    TB, I did hold off on planting corn because it likes warmer soil. That will be next month's project!

  9. I'll bet they'll be fine. I used the top part of my hubby's soda bottles on the peppers I was brave enough to transplant out there for the same reason. So far, they are looking fine.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  10. Here too. So we wait until May 1st to put out our summer-ish crops, although this year I was tempted. We may get one or two dustings of frost even even. But our "seedlings" are way more tolerant to it. It may mean a later harvest by up to a month, but I got time.

    Your plants may have gotten frostbit, but they'll recover.

  11. I am in 8A and the majority of my garden looks dark green and wilting after the frost. I have too many plants to cover...over 80 pepper plants alone. But, next year I will be investing in something to protect them. I am encouraged to hear that there may still be hope. Watered everything yesterday. Will wait and see what the next couple of days brings.

  12. Daisy, the soda bottle tops sound like a good idea. I'm at a loss for plastic to recycle though, since we don't drink soda. I'm glad to hear your peppers are doing well!

    Jo, that's definitely encouraging. I held off on the corn, but the tomatoes were getting too big for their seedling trays, so I took a chance!

    Amy, I agree! It's wonderful to feel encouraged. :) 80 is a lot of plants, and kinda leaves it all to chance. Like you, I need to come up with a strategy for protection next year.

  13. I agree with most, that the roots should have remained warm, so you will hopefully be alright! We used several things, from empty plastic coffee containers, to empty cat litter containers with the tops cut off, to several of the styrofoam coolers we bought for a dollar last year at the family dollar store, along with blankets, sheets, towels, etc. It has looked very interesting in the garden for the past two nights, but I think we managed to save everything except a small amount of blueberries. Oh, and we also used every bucket we had available! We used what we had, as you say! Have a warmer weekend!

  14. My mom use to save those big gallon glass jars pickles and mayo come in and other stuff and would use those as cloches to ward off frost. and then use straw about half way up the glass. I can never remember losing too many plants with her glass jars. It was always comical to us kids rushing to place the jars on young shoots and then spreading straw late at night when mom had the premonition of frost...

  15. Wyomingheart, I've been keeping an eye on them and it looks like some will make it, some probably won't. We have a gully washer in the forecast, which probably won't help! I definitely should start collecting something to have handy for the next time this happens.

    Kevin, the addition of straw is a very good idea! Thanks!

  16. Wish I had your knowledge and could write like you. Think I know about how you felt. I was afraid to look outside as there was definitely a big frost out across the cutover. I haven't set out any tomato plants yet but I sure hated to see the azaleas and all the tender green leaves turn black from the frost. Hope all your tomato plants make it...they look so healthy and pretty. Frost this time of the year is just dreadful!

  17. We had frost this morning also. I was surprised because we're supposed to reach mid 60 today. So I suited up in my big parka to take Zuki out for her walk. Luckily it wasn't all that cold. I might even be able to go out with no jacket at all later.
    Hum tired puppy is taking another nap...I should go get some sewing done.

  18. Henny, a lot of the time I'm making it up as I go along. :) We had a number of things take a hit from the frost. But it wasn't a hard freeze, so I think everything will recover. Hope that's especially true of my tomatoes!

    Renee, a new puppy? Yeah! I think you have the craziest weather of anybody I know!

  19. What a great idea. Canning jar greenhouse domes. I will forward this idea on to my son who has become active in gardening since moving into their current house.

  20. I read on another blog the other day that if you water the plants (melting the frost) before the sun gets on them, then the frost will not damage the plants. They said that a professional greenhouse told them that. I have not tried it yet as it is way to early to plant warm season plants in NW PA, but I am jotting it down incase I get an unexpected frost.


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