Two nights ago, we had a predicted low of 28 degrees. This is cold for fruit buds but even more so for the 1000 or so tomato plants that had wintered in a greenhouse and were suddenly planted into two of our hoop houses that day. The predicted low earlier in the day was 30-32 degrees. That low dropped after the tomato plants were in the ground. Of course.
Steve asked a produce-grower friend if we should cover the tomatoes that night he wisely said, “Well yes, I would cover them if they were mine”. This conversation happened at the 7:00 p.m. soccer game and with those words, the mellow evening in our near future started to take on a different tone. On the 25 minute drive home from the game, we told our son that we’d need his help covering the tomatoes. He was mildly enthusiastic in his reply until we returned home and he saw that his younger sister was sitting in her pajamas reading a book.
“Well, how come Adair doesn’t have to help,” he said.
“Because it’s 8:30, she’s in her pajamas and it’s her bedtime,” I said.
“But I haven’t even had dinner,” said Will.
“Neither have we,” I said as I ate cold noodles out of the pot on the stove.
“Here’s a fork,” I offered him as he hungrily growled down cold bow-tie pasta, changed out of his cleats and put on his nice Nike basketball shoes.
Minutes later, Steve, Will and I were driving out to the hoop houses along with the row cover to cover up the tomatoes. The process of covering tomatoes goes more smoothly the more people you have. The row cover is not heavy, though cumbersome due to its width, which is 45 feet across and 100 feet in length. It’s kind of like a tea towel on steroids. Did I mention that it was dark by this time?
There we were, pulling the row cover up and over the tomatoes, trying not to crush them as we sheltered them for the night ahead. The tomato rows were wet and muddy from being watered in after they were planted. This resulted in me getting stuck almost to my knee in mud which required Will’s assistance to dislodge me from my mucky place among the tomatoes. The effort of becoming unstuck, unrolling yards and yards of fabric and attempting to do this all rather quickly warmed up our bodies in the cold of the hoop house. At one point I looked up at the sky through the plastic covering the hoops, and could see the sliver of a new moon and bright stars above. It was beautiful even with sweat dripping down my back.
We lost between 30-40% of the tomatoes that were covered that night. Many more plants would have been lost had we not spent the hour it took to protect those rows of tomatoes. More importantly however, was our son’s comment as we returned to the house,
“Well, that was a good hour of work”, he said. All griping from earlier, forgotten. These are some of the family moments that I appreciate that come from living on a farm. Sometimes–a lot of time–you have to do something you don’t want to do. You’re tired, hungry and cold. You don’t want to go out into the cold again but you need to. It is a choice, a rather simple one at that. You spend an hour, or three, putting some muscle into increasing the odds that the crop you just planted will live. What a great lesson for a 12 year-old to learn, all on his own.