A Missouri gardener describes the improvised tomato covers that allow him to get the earliest possible start growing the fruit.
For the past 15 years, my wife, Edna, and I have lived on a 40-acre farm in the foothills of the Ozarks, in a little Missouri town with the Osage name of Neosho.
Each year, starting in January, I receive lots of seed catalogs in the mail; my favorite is Tomato Growers Supply Co. They have a great selection of tomatoes, and each year I try three new varieties. My favorites so far are ‘Jetsetter,’ a large, early and prolific red tomato, and the hybrid ‘Big Beef’ that also is prolific and very solid with a wonderful flavor. I start the seeds in my woodstove-heated garage under grow lights.
My farm neighbors and I compete each year to see who can have the first ripe tomatoes. In order to beat the freeze and get my tomato plants in the ground early, I positioned a set of panels as tomato covers to shelter the plants. Each plastic-covered panel is 30 inches high by 15 feet long. It took 10 panels to cover both sides of the rows that contained 55 tomato plants.
In the past, I have used plastic jugs to cover each individual plant, but this was not always successful. For example, last spring we had a hard freeze after the tomatoes were planted — the plants covered by plastic jugs succumbed, but the ones protected by the panels all survived.