Gardener in Boston asks for help

– Posted in: Weather

This just came in my mailbox:

I just stumbled across this site, and it’s great.
I am desperate to ask some of the gardeners what to do about my poor tomatoes, but cannot figure out how to post. [Ed. note: You have to register and then be approved before you can post, but anyone can submit a comment.]

In a nutshell (being swept away by our latest Nor’easter) here’s my problem:

We had an average April here in Boston. Chilly and damp, but with a week of so of pretty nice weather. Towards the end of April we managed to get the
vegetable garden tilled. I had gotten all my seedlings (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, squash, cukes, etc.) and had them growing indoors with the light, babying them along and they were doing great. Started bringing them outside during the day to get sun, and then back indoors on the cold nights. All was going well.

Planted the garden on May 13th – well past the frost dates, and even later than I usually plant. Of course, as soon as I got the plants into the ground, this area of the Northeast decided to go into a total weather tailspin. All we have had is rain, more rain, clouds and temps well below normal. We have had rain for 16 out of the last 24 days. And the temps have been well below normal.
I can barely even stand to look out my window at the garden. The seedlings are just hunkered down looking grim. Surprisingly, the cherry tomato plants seem to be holding up better than the larger tomato varieties. I have Early Girl, Big Boy, grape and a yellow cherry tomato; also peppers (which are hanging in there). The cukes may not make it, and I’m not sure about the squash. The radish seeds however have germinated merrily, right on schedule!

We keep hoping that this weather pattern is going to change, but we still have many more days in the long-range forecast of gray/wet weather. It is supposed to start warming up by the weekend however. Today it is 45 degrees with very strong winds.

Am I going to have to completely replant all my seedlings? Is there anything that I should try to do to salvage them? Cover them up or even dig them back up and bring them back inside? I hate to think of the trauma to their roots if I do that. Or should I just write them off and see what is still growing if and when this front ever breaks up; and then re-plant as necessary?

I have never seen weather like this so late in the season, and I’m originally from northern Vermont!!!
Any help that you or your members could give me would be much appreciated. Next year I’ll wait until June to plant.

Kathy Moody

If anyone has advice to give, please submit a comment.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Jess June 19, 2005, 2:28 pm

The secret to cold weather gardening is drainage and heat.
Damp conditions breed disease and the cold literally destoys melons, cukes, the maxima variety of pumpkins and squash and yellows tomatoes.
How you achieve heat is pretty simple. You need sun, but utilize coffee cans or cut out plastic containers to form a minature greenhouse. Place freezer bags of the appropriate size with wire hoops to keep the bags off the plants and rain puddles from forming and you have licked the problem
Make certain though that nothing does well in 50 degree cloudy weather for daytime highs. Plants like the ones above will only tread temps like that, but a number like peppers or melons will just die.
You might try also varieties which withstand cooler temps. It has been very cool here in South Dakota and Green Zebra has been amazing along with a Russian variety Silvery Fir Tree.
My personal advice is staggered plantings. Plant your radishes and peas early. Start your other plants by sprouting them indoors and transfer them when it is hot.
Be careful on vines though as they get rangey quickly and do not do well in the garden ever then.
Hope that helps:)

Talitha May 25, 2005, 10:49 am

I can’t speak for peppers in particular, as I’ve yet to have a successful year with them, but I would like to give some general encouragement. While many plants (tomatoes, peppers, basil) are certainly happiest in hot sunny weather, bad weather does not always mean that there is no hope for them. I have grown lettuce during droughts; of course, it didn’t do half so well as the year it was cool and rainy all summer, but it did grow and produce. Likewise, I have had tomatoes and basil the bounced back against all odds. I think whether or not your plants bounce back depends a lot on what weather will follow your current nasty situation. If it then clears up, and is sunny and hot, your plants will probably survive, but not produce quite as well or as early. If it stays dreary all summer, you’re probably out of luck in any case.

In the mean time, Judy Miller is right about covering them. If your temperatures are only plunging below 60 during the night, you can just toss old bed sheets on them every evening before it gets cold to trap in the warm air. If it’s cold all of the time, then it would probably be best to construct mini-greenhouses over the plants as Judy suggested.

Let us know how things turn out.

rosemarie hanson May 24, 2005, 8:05 pm

As I was weeding my garden and pulling out the self seeded tomato plants, I noticed how much happier and healthier they looked than my transplants, and I said to myself “_____ this, next year I am just going to start them outside”. My understanding is that eggplants and peppers are a little more finicky than tomatoes, and can be really stunted by going out too soon. I am holding of on planting and curcurbits, and might start them inside if it doesn’t warm up.

Sandy Mullins May 24, 2005, 4:46 pm

We are on the coast in Downeast Maine which normally gets pretty temperate weather. This spring has been the pits! Like you, we have gotten rain, rain and more rain. I did walk up the road today and spotted a very small break in the clouds with blue sky peeking out! However, according to the local weather forecast, we are in for more of the wet stuff. I have not planted any tender annuals or veggies, but the spinach, lettuce and onions are doing fine. Hopefully, we will have a lovely, long and warm summer! Hang in there – summer is bound to arrive soon!

Judy Miller May 24, 2005, 3:44 pm

Poor thing! We’ve all been there. The cukes you can re-plant or try to save. You might try putting cloches on the plants, or an improvised hoop house out of small lengths of black poly pipe stuck in the ground as ribs over the rows and plastic sheeting clipped to them. Open it from the ends to ventilate, then you can remove it as necessary. That’s probably what I would do. And like you, I’ve found the smaller fruited varieties of tomatoes and other fruits all hardier than the big blowsy ones.

Here in the mountains your experience is the rule, not the exception; many folks keep back dupes of things just in case. And some folks grow their melons & peppers in greenhouses in order to get any fruit set!

Good luck.