Field Report: Top Hat Tomatoes Weather the Freeze

Tomatoes wear hats for the cold, too.

Forager Ali Lauria emailed me this photo after her regular pick-up from Teena’s Pride this past Tuesday.  Our farmers have become quite adept at weathering the sometimes freezing cold of a South Florida winter, but it’s not without a cost.

This new technique is one of several methods grower Michael Borek employs to keep his tomato plants alive and healthy when the temperature takes an extreme dip.  The tiny baby plants stay warm overnight, wrapped in tissue under plastic pots that act like miniature greenhouses trapping the heat inside.  I spoke with owner Teena Borek this morning about the process.

“It took 20 people two days to cover all 40,000 heirloom plants growing in the field,” she explains. “Michael told me it added $1,000 an acre to our costs.”

The Borek’s precautions come at a high cost at the outset, which they will absorb.  But it is well worth it for a full, healthy crop that can be harvested and sold in 120 days to their CSA and restaurant customers like us.

Teena also explains that the mature tomatoes do not receive protective coverings as part of preventative efforts.  Instead, they are “watered” — last week for 12 hours — which results in more cracking in older tomatoes, but enables some to be saved from freezing.

“There are a lot of elements that determine the outcome of a freeze,” Teena adds.  “Last January, [Michael] lost everything.”

Then, the cold was deep, persistent, and without wind.  Last week, the cold was deep but not as long lasting and with a breeze, which displaces the frost.  The Boreks were able to keep damage to a minimum.  20 percent will be lost when all is said and done; farmers with beans and squash, and others with tomatoes, didn’t fare as well.

“We prepare for the worst and pray for the best.”


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