Behold, and cry with me:
Let’s, you and I, have a little chat. I know that it is very hard to predict the weather, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure why you even try more than 24 hours into the future. Mostly, I take your attempts at atmospheric prognostication as lighthearted entertainment. I mean, the number of unknown variables alone make weather prediction more the stuff of crystal balls and Ouija boards than actual science. That said, I would very much appreciate it if you could please try to be within FIFTEEN DEGREES of accuracy for springtime overnight lows. Is that really too much to ask? Fifteen degrees, give or take? HUH??? IS IT??? WHAT THE HECK DO THEY PAY YOU FOR??????
Sorry. I lost my head there for a moment. You see, Mr. Weatherman, sir, I have these VITs (Very Important Tomatoes, in case you didn’t know) into which I’ve poured my very heart and soul and I was counting on your overnight low forecasts to be just a LITTLE bit more accurate. Like, you know… WITHIN FIFTEEN DEGREES. But, alas, they were not. And now, like my tomatoes, you are dead to me. Dead, I tell you. It is over between us. Oh, sure, it was not long ago that I visited you every single day – sometimes more than once – to peek at your titillating forecasts. Sun? Rain? Wind? Frost? Heat? Oh the anticipation I felt while waiting for your page to load. Would you be right? Wrong? A little of both? It didn’t really matter to me. It was all fun and games back then. But… no longer. You let me down dreadfully in my time of need. I may never recover. And it’s all your fault. You’re just going to have to live with that.
Egads. Can you even look anymore? I know I can’t. It took me half the day just to get up the courage to go out and look under the row covers, and when I saw the devastation, it took me the second half to recover enough to look again long enough to take pictures. The story:
This morning dawned bright and clear, sunny and beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky. And that, my friends, was exactly the problem. I have learned from my short time up here in the Northwest that the only time we have frosts is when there are no overnight clouds to hold the heat to the earth. You remove our omnipresent cloud cover and all that climate-moderating heat floats right out into space. Our infamous overcast skies act literally as a security blanket. And the thing is, most of the time, I’m thrilled with a crystal-clear, sunny, glittering, icy morning. I feel happier when I wake up to warm, yellow sunshine, and the air feels so sharp and clean and everything is so quiet like the frost has laid a hush upon the land. Any day from late fall until mid-spring, I look forward to mornings like these. Just not today.
I woke up at 6:26am, walked into the bathroom and out the window, I saw the rising sun glinting on the icy grass and eaves of the first-floor roof below me. My heart sank. Of course we would have a frost. Of course we would. OF COURSE. Two days after I planted my tomatoes out, on a night when the predicted low was FORTY SIX DEGREES and we were supposed to wake up to rain (read: security blanket of clouds, guaranteeing no frost). OF COURSE it would be sunny and clear and freezing. Why would I expect anything else?
I stumbled back to bed and attempted to forget about it. Maybe I was dreaming and it would all be better when I woke up. Of course, all I did was lie there with visions of dead tomato plants dancing in my head and keeping me painfully awake. I was plagued with a nagging guilt that I should be out there somehow SAVING them. A part of me was mentally berating myself for not doing SOMETHING, ANYTHING, NOW!! I am a pro at self-inflicted, irrational guilt. But what could I do? If they were frozen, they were frozen. I couldn’t change that. Plus, they’re planted in the ground… I can’t move them, I can’t warm them, nothing. There was nothing to do.
And then I did the worst thing of all: I began to hope. I thought, well, I worked really hard to cover them tightly with the Agribon, plus they are well-mulched, which keeps them warmer. How cold could it be? It was supposed to be FORTY SIX overnight, did I mention that? Plus, the row covers are supposed to provide “up to” 6 degrees of frost protection. There’s no way it got down to 26. Not possible. Maybe they were fine!
When I got up and went downstairs to work, I called my dad. I told him I wasn’t brave enough to go out and check on them. After a long conversation about hard frosts and soft frosts and numbers of hours of frosts and hardening off plants, and my going outside in a t-shirt to check the temperature to find 43 degrees in the shade at 8 am, I started to feel even better. He was pretty sure they’d be fine. Like me, he thought… 6 degrees of frost protection? There’s no way it got all the way down to 26 degrees and it had been sunny and warm the day before, so the heat from the soil combined with the covers should be plenty to keep them happy.
It is here that I will make a confession. Hold on to your hats, because here comes a great big dose of crazy. I, the most literal and rational person you’ll ever meet, have always had a nagging feel that the universe has it out for me in funny, small ways. It is all about luck. For instance, every single day, I have a moment of hesitation when choosing my pair of underwear. I feel like there is a right pair of underwear for that day and the rest are wrong, and if I decide to go against the universe’s choice of underwear for me for the day, things are bound to go wrong. I’ll break a nail, drop a glass, spill my tea onto my keyboard, the dogs will chew up something in the house they’ve ignored completely for the last 7000 days, I will get a blister and have to cut my walk short, the battery on my wireless mouse will die in the middle of the work day, the mouse that lives in my pantry will once again eat all the peanut butter off the trap without snapping it, the milk will be sour even though it should have 7 more days, the fish I bought for dinner will be mushy, the drain in the shower will stop draining, the toilet will stop flushing for no apparent reason, there will be a caterpillar in my bunch of greens from the farmers market, causing me to scream and toss them in the air as I run from the kitchen, refusing to return… you get the point. All because of my underwear choice.
In the same vein, I also believe that if I don’t at least partially expect all possible outcomes of a situation, bad and good, then the bad will always happen. This one is a little harder to explain. If a player on my favorite basketball team is attempting a free-throw and I think, “I really hope he makes this! He’ll probably make it! It would be so good if he made it!” then he will, invariably, miss it. However, if I think, “He might make it or he might miss it, and if he misses it, that will be OK too. He’ll probably miss it. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he makes it,” then I believe he has a shot at making it. If I make cupcakes for my family at Easter and I think, “I have this recipe down pat and everyone always loves them, they’re going to be great!” something will go wrong for sure… they will be dry or underbaked or something. But, if I think, “These are usually so good and so popular, but last time I made them, they were a little dry, and I’m worried that might happen again…” THEN they have a chance at coming out well. What can I say? I’m a nutjob.
So, in light of the above, you can see how I sealed the fate of my beautiful baby plants. I got all hopefully and positive and I honestly began to believe that it was almost impossible that they would be damaged. I had done everything right and the circumstances all said that they would be fine. One more phone call, this time with my uncle, who also was very positive and thought they’d be fine, and I was all geared up to go check. I walked out there with confidence that they would all be happy and snuggly and unscathed under their white blankets.
Boy, was I wrong.
That’s what I get for not considering the worst was possible.
But enough of that. I made that way too long. All I can say is that I have put by FAR the most time, effort, money, and love into these plants this year and it all went away in a poof of frost this morning. I nurtured them, hardened them off to all conditions, I watched the weather and the predictions like a hawk, I studied up on frost dates and averages, I blanketed them with frost protection just in case. I really thought I had done it right this time. I really thought I hadn’t left it up to luck. I really thought, but I was wrong.
So, yeah. That gambling thing? Not my gig. Remind me to skip Vegas.
In the Words of John Lennon, It’s (Just Like) Starting Over
Except that it’s not “just like” it. This IS starting over. From the beginning. I researched online and I found pictures of young tomatoes much worse off than mine from surprise late frosts and many people said they are surprisingly hardy and can come back from the damage as long as the stem and root are alive. Mine are, and so there is hope, but, at best, it says we’ll have a reduced and late harvest. So, just for good measure, I’ve started a new set of seeds. Late, yes, but better late than never. I am now convinced that we will have multiple frosts from now until May, despite the forecasts, and I clearly can’t rely on the Agribon to protect them. So, preparing myself for the worst case scenario, I will have this set of replacement plants at the ready should these completely succumb to the frosts we are fated to have.
And lastly, what really irks me (and confuses me) is that these nasturtiums came through the frost like nothing happened. I started these a couple of weeks after my tomatoes because I had a few extra soil blocks. You’re really not supposed to start them indoors because they don’t transplant well. I did it just for kicks with no expectations. Well, they grew really huge really fast, but I didn’t bother to transplant them into larger blocks and I kinda figured they’d die. Then, as an after thought, I stuck them in this pot when I transplanted my tomatoes since they had been hardening off at the same time. These nasturtiums are supposed to be totally frost-tender as well being hard to transplant and totally mistreated in the early weeks of their lives. But today? After the frost all but decimated my large, hardy, blanketed, mulched tomatoes? These puppies are just fine. In a pot, in the shade, no protection, nothing. GO FIGURE.