The month of May can be especially frustrating for the Yooper gardener. Days can be warm and the dirt is easily moved in the garden, but we all know that the weather can change on a dime and a cold frost can quietly blanket the ground. Experienced Yooper gardeners know that it is still a little early to transplant certain types of plants such as tomatoes in our Upper Peninsula gardens. There are however many different ways to work around nature and get your plants in the ground early.
Last year while in the Menards garden section I found a product called Aqua-Shield. There are many different trade names for this product, but the concept is the same. It basically acts as small greenhouse filled with water to protect plants during cold nights. It also tends to hold in moisture and keeps the destructive wind from ruining your plants. When I first bought this product I was a little skeptical and decided to test with only a few plants. I transplanted my first plants during the second week of May and decided to sit back and wait. To my surprise these tomatoes not only survived, they thrived!
This year I bought 9 more shields from Menards. I decided to use some heirloom Pink Brandywine tomatoes that I grew from seed that I had saved from last year. My seeds were planted the last week of March so they were more than ready to set roots in freshly tilled garden soil. This variety tends to take a little longer to produce fruit, so any extra ground time in our short growing season is a plus.
Start off with healthy plants. I clip off many of the lower leaves and try to plant as deep as possible. Tomatoes can grow extra roots from the tiny hairs on the stem. I also soak each plant’s roots with water before back filling. My experience has shown that this helps with transplant shock. The next step is to carefully place a 5 gallon bucket over your newly planted tomato plant. Put the Aqua-Shield product over the bucket and fill each cavity ¾ of the way with water. Once each of the Shield’s cavities is filled, remove the bucket from the center. Be sure to pay attention to the bucket handle as sometimes it can get slightly stuck. Pull it gently and it should come out. The walls will collapse in on themselves creating a tee-pee like structure thus protecting your plants from the harsh spring environment. As your plants advance you can move the base of the walls to open up the tee-pee structure. I usually pull my walls out of the garden when my plants grow a few inches over the top of the structure. To remove, carefully lift the walls off of the ground, over the plant and pour out the water. Stake your tomatoes and follow your normal growing methods for the rest of the season.
These types of products are sure handy and can give the northern gardener a leg up on mother nature. The heat retention and wind block gave my tomatoes a protected environment that allowed the plants to become strong and healthy. Last year this all culminated in sweet delicious tomatoes later in the season. With cooler weather in the forecast for the next 10 days of May why not give this type of product a try? Hopefully 2013′s experience will be as good as 2012. When we garden here in the Upper Peninsula we need all the breaks we can get!!