Uncovering frosted tomatoes


Listen to Lee, Lee

You’d think I would have known better or, at least, listened to my own preaching. An increasing warming spell a week ago induced many fellow gardeners around here to set tomato and pepper transplants out in their gardens. The average date of the last killing freeze around here is May 21 — but temperatures were getting warmer and warmer, and what with global warming . . . I have preached not going with your gut when it comes to times for spring planting, but was swayed with the crowd and the warming weather, and planted out over 50 tomato plants and a dozen pepper plants a couple of weeks ago.

Then the weather turned cooler, with night-time lows predicted to sink into the low 30s. Here in the Wallkill River Valley, cold air, which is denser than warm air, flows downhill like water to collect in low spots. My farmden always experiences temperatures a few degrees colder than locally predicted.

No problem. I made some wire supports over which I draped a row cover which is said to retain heat, offering about six degrees more of frost protection. I went to bed that night at peace with our planet. Read more

Summer Love

How Do I  . . .  er, Can Thee?

With apologies to E. B. Browning: “How do I store [as in ‘preserve’] thee? Let me count the ways. I store thee to the depth and breadth and height a Mason jar can reach . . . “ And in other ways.

Red, ripe tomatoes, the essence of summer. How to capture that essence for a dark, snowy winter day? A few ways: Let me count the ways.

Canning tomatoes can be a  complicated, drawn out process, or something quick and easy. In the heat of summer, I choose the latter, merely filling a large pot a half-inch of water and then whole tomatoes from which any diseased or unripened areas have been excised. Boiling down tomatoesNo de-skinning, de-seeding, or chopping. The pot is allowed to cool a bit after its volume has been reduced to one-half to two-thirds of the original volume.

Less than a minute with my immersion blender then homogenizes the works, readying the mix for canning jars that have been scrubbed clean — except for one more critical addition to each jar: 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice or 1⁄2 teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes. The reason for the lemon juice or citric acid is to make the mix more acidic. And the reason to make the mix more acidic is to prevent growth of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum which, you might guess from the name, causes botulism.

Tomatoes vary in their acidity. I actually bought a pH tester to test the acidity before adding the lemon juice or citric acid. The tomatoes tested at pH of 4.2. But tomatoes differ in their acidity, depending on variety (paste tomatoes are generally less acidic) and growing conditions; perhaps the next batch would not make the cut. So, just to make sure . . . 

Next, canning lids are put in a small pot and covered with water which was just brought to a boil. I fish out a lid with a pair of tongs and lay it in place atop a jar, then screw it down secure with the jar’s metal ring. The rings need to be tightened just enough to seat each lid against the glass but not so tight as to prevent escape of gases when the jar is heated, the next step.

I use a pressure canner, which speeds processing because less time is needed at the higher temperatures that can be achieved under pressure. Fifteen minutes at 10 pounds (which puts the temperature at 240°F) does the job. Forty-five minutes would be needed when canning with a boiling water bath, and that doesn’t include the time needed to get enough water boiling to be able to submerge all the jars.

I carefully remove jars after their allotted time and let them cool. Canned tomatoesOnce cool, pressing down on the the center of each lid lets me know whether that jar has sealed well. The lid should not move down when pressed.

Rich and Saucy

I failed to mention one more step early in my canning process, and that is the sorting out the San Marzano tomatoes. This variety makes the best-tasting sauce so we segregate it for single variety canning. In Italy, tomatoes canned with San Marzano variety tomatoes are specifically labelled as such. So are ours.

How Do I . . . er, Dry Thee?

As I wrote, with the help of E. B. Browning, “Let me count the ways,” plural. 

Years ago I pooh-poohed a friend’s suggestion to dry tomatoes, probably because he said eating them was “fun.” Then I tried drying some. They weren’t fun too eat but they sure taste good in winter, their intense flavor released as they are crumbled on salads or soaked in water and cooked with other vegetables. Not good on pizza, though; they burn.

Slices a quarter of an inch thick are good for drying. Layed on stacked trays in my dehydrator, with the temperature set at 130°F, the slices dry to leathery or brittle, depending on the ambient humidity, overnight.Drying tomatoes

Once dry, the slices are packed into canning jars with the lids screwed down tightly to prevent air from entering.

How Do I . . . er, Freeze Thee?

I haven’t yet finished “counting the ways.” One more way: freezing. All that’s needed is to cut any bad spots from the fruit and put them into a freezer bag.

The frozen tomatoes add yet another tomato-y flavor and texture for winter. To me, they’re more like fresh tomatoes than either the canned or the dried ones. Fresh-cooked, of course, not fresh raw. Fresh cooked or frozen fresh, cooked, lends a different flavor and texture than canned.

Just popping the fresh fruit into the freezer is also a way to preserve peppers. To me, though, the taste of frozen peppers are a far cry from the fresh summer ones no matter how they are used. But then, ripe, red peppers are one of my favorite garden vegetables, so the bar is high for them in any other form.

Winter’s Comin’

Ready of Ol’ Man Winter

October 31st, was slated to be the first hard frost of the season, later than ever. That afternoon, I went down my checklist of things to do in preparation for the cold.

Drip irrigation needed to be shut down so that ice wouldn’t damage the lines. I opened up the drains at the ends and at the low points of the main lines. I also  opened up the valves on all the drip lines so water wouldn’t get trapped anywhere. Some people blow out all the lines with compressed air.

The only parts of the drip system that ever need to be brought indoors are the parts near the spigot: the battery-powered timer, the pressure reducer, and the filter.

But I wasn’t yet finished with water. All hoses got drained, with any sprayers or hose wands removed from their ends. Hoses were also removed from frost-free hydrants to let the water drain freely out their valves. (The hydrants are frost free because water drains and enters the hydrant’s pipe four feet below ground, where temperatures, even in winter, remain at a balmy 50° F. or so.)

Tropical plants indoors

Tropical plants indoors

Moving on to plants . . . Tropical houseplants had all been brought inside, but outside still remained subtropicals, including some potted figs, pomegranates, bay laurel, olive, and an angel’s trumpet (Brugsmansia). Subtropical plants can tolerate, even enjoy, temperatures below freezing, even down as low as 10°F. for some of them. My pomegranates, the varieties Kazake and Salavatski, both from western Asia, are reputedly cold-hardy to below 0°F! All these subropicals will enjoy the great outdoors for a few more weeks, barring a drastic change in the weather.

Some vegetables remaining out in the garden can likewise weather cold weather well. Just to make sure, though, I laid “floating row covers” over beds of endive, mustard greens, and lettuce. These diaphanous coverings keep plants beneath them a few degrees warmer while letting light and water filter through. The soil retains enough heat to protect roots of turnip and winter radishes, which are further protected beneath their leafy canopies.

I forgot to pick and eat Sungold tomatoes, which would be done for after a freezing night. Any red peppers still left on the plants had been harvested; those plants would also be dead on the morrow. I can’t complain; the Sungolds and the peppers bore well and for a longer time than ever before.

The final cold prep was to check the greenhouse, making sure window, sidewalls, and doors are closed up tight, and the heater is functional.

I’m ready for Ol’ Man Winter.

Not So Cold

The morning after: The cold turned out to be not nearly as dramatic as expected. A little before sunrise a cloud cover crept over the sky, tucking in the earth’s warmth rather than letting it radiate out to a clear sky. The low temperature for the night was 28°F. Even the pepper and tomato plants had toughened up enough by then to tolerate that amount of cold. Not to keep ripening good-tasting fruit, though.

Temperatures aren’t predicted to drop near freezing for many days after that night, but I didn’t consider my scurrying around to move or cover plants, and drain water lines, to be wasted effort. Endives and other greens still out in the vegetable garden transpire very little water in cool weather, and even less so when covered with floating row covers.

The only watering needed from then on would be of the compost pile, easily accessible from one of the frost-free hydrants and a short length of hose, connected as needed.

“Trip” to the Mediterranean

Greenhouse temperatures dropped only to 40°F, the temperature at which I set the thermostat. Cloudy days in there are like today are akin to winter days along the Mediterranean: Very cool and somewhat dreary. On sunny days, I open the greenhouse door to bathe in a tropical paradise of sunlight, heat, and high humidity, with lush plants of lettuce, mustard, arugula, celery, chard, claytonia, and parsley blanketing the ground. Greenhouse fig and greens

Fig trees in the greenhouse have slowly eased their way into dormancy. I hurried them along by lopping them back — except for the few branches still ripening a few fruits. Those figs, ripening in low sun and cooler weather (even in the greenhouse), aren’t as tasty as those of summer and early autumn. I wonder how tasty November figs are in Italy and Greece?



Half a Pear, Tree

   Perhaps last winter’s weather — extended cold, but not frigid temperatures, and hardly any snow — is still playing games with us. Perhaps it is mischief from the early, extended, very warm weather in early spring that was followed by plummeting temperatures and our biggest snowfall (4 inches) of the year. Whatever the reason, some weird things are going on this growing season.Half dead pear tree
    Look at one of my old pear trees, for instance. This tree might be called my “sample” or my “first cut” pear tree. When I hear tell of a pear variety that might be worth growing, I get a scion and graft it onto this tree. The scion bears quickly, in theory, at least, and, if it passes the “first cut,” perhaps it will warrant its own tree. There’s not enough time or space to put every Tom, Dick, and Harry of a pear variety on its own tree.
    The tree now has about a dozen varieties of pear growing off various branches. That’s not weird, though. What is weird is that, right now, the top half of the tree is fully leafed out while limbs on the bottom half of the tree are leafless.
    A disease? Doubtful. A disease killing that much of a tree at once would probably originate in the trunk or roots, in which case the whole tree or only the upper portion would be leafless. And anyway, those leafless limbs are not dead. Cutting beneath the bark reveals living, green tissue.
    My hypothesis — a weak one — is that the cold snap in spring, where temperatures in the ‘teens followed a spate of temperatures in the 70’s, is the culprit. Warm temperatures in late winter and spring cause plants to rapidly awaken and lose the cold-hardiness they maintained through the coldest parts of winter. The pears seemed quite awake when that cold spell struck.
    But why was only the bottom portion of the tree affected? (Here’s the weakness in my hypothesis.) Windless, clear nights, such as during spring’s cold snap, bring a temperature inversion. Under such conditions, denser cold air can settle down near ground level. Even a few feet of elevation can make a difference, one that’s evident when riding a bicycle or motorcycle on a clear summer night on rolling terrain.
    So maybe the bottom half of the pear tree experienced temperatures just below the tipping point where enough damage occurred to delay leafing out.

Other Pear Trees, Still Whole

    No other plants, including other pear trees, experienced this bifurcation. Then again, the “sample” pear is all by itself where the microclimate might be slightly different.
    During that cold snap, the other pears were quite awake, seemingly just about ready to spread their blossoms. I was braced for a total crop loss. Weirdly, the trees went on to blossom just fine and now have what’s shaping up to be a decent load of fruit on them.

Seedling Troubles

    More weirdness: Every season I sow vegetable seeds according to a schedule I’ve developed over the years. I sow the seeds in mini-furrows in flats of potting soil or potting soil topped with a mix of peat moss and perlite. Every season I make my own potting soil from a mix of equal parts peat moss, perlite, compost, and garden soil, with everything sifted together through half-inch mesh hardware cloth.
 Sickly tomato seedlings   And every season I’ve had sturdy, lush green transplants to set out over the past few weeks. Not this season. Too many of the transplants are stunted, with flaccid leaves that are not uniformly lush green. Some have slight, interveinal yellowing of oldest leaves, some have slight reddening of veins, hinting, respectively, at insufficient nitrogen and phosphorus uptake .
    As usual, the weather could be blamed. Those auspicious, sunny days of late winter gave way to a long period of overcast days. Rain or not is not the issue because seedlings were in the greenhouse, watered as needed. Overwatered? Underwatered? Cool greenhouse temperatures could limit root growth, in turn limiting uptake of nutrients even if they are in the soil.
    The potting soil could be the culprit. Although ingredients of my mix are always proportionately the same, the compost isn’t exactly the same from year to year. Same goes for the “garden soil” that goes into the mix. I scrape it up from various places around the yard: the bottom of a finished compost bin, from my catch-all extra soil bin, from top layers of a pond I’m occasionally hand-digging.
    A couple of other gardeners and farmers have concurred with their seedlings’ poor growth this year. Perhaps it was the weather? Do you want to weigh in?

And the Winner Is . . .

    Very few people offered hypotheses on why only one limb of my plum tree was in bloom. Neither the weather nor any other environmental condition was to blame. In fact, I had grafted the tree a few years ago to four different varieties in order to spread out the harvest date and offer a greater variety of plum flavors.Plum, blossoming branch
    The bulk of the tree had already flowered.The one blooming branch was that of beach plum, the least reliable, smallest, and, to my taste, least flavorful of the lot. Perhaps I’ll graft that limb over to yet another variety.
    Congratulations to Tom,, on winning a copy of my book Grow Fruit Naturally.



    The talk of the town these days is the weather. In this town, at least, and other towns throughout the Northeast. After a relatively snowless winter punctuated with warm spells, spring knocked early at winter’s door and was let in. Even I, who try to be guided by the calendar rather than my gut, succumbed, planting peas a full two weeks earlier than my usual date of April 1st. Flowering trees and bushes — and more importantly, those whose flowers later morph into luscious fruits — similarly fell prey to spring weather’s apparent arrival.
    As I write, snowflakes tumble down from a gray sky, adding to the three inches of snow already piled onto spring green grass. Temperatures tonight and tomorrow night are predicted to drop near 20 degrees F. We’ve all been duped!!

Nanking cherry flowers with snow

Nanking cherry flowers with snow

    I’m most concerned, and least able to do anything about, weather’s effect on my fruit trees and bushes. Nanking cherries were in full bloom a few days ago, a full two weeks earlier than average. Asian pear flower buds look about to pop open, blueberry buds have fattened in preparation for opening , and black currants and gooseberries have almost fully leafed out.
    Options available to commercial orchards are not feasible in backyards. Such as sprinkling plants with water so that the heat of fusion released as water freezes keeps buds warm; you can’t stop sprinkling until weather warms enough to melt all ice. On clear, cold nights, heavier, cold air sinks but can be warmed by mixing in warm air from higher up. Not many backyard gardeners have wind machines or are willing to have a helicopter hover overhead all night pushing down warmer air.
    What we backyard growers can do that orchardists cannot, feasibly, is to snug a few small plants — bushes and dwarf trees — beneath a blanket. (Except that I have a lot more than a few small fruit plants.) That’s about it. Besides keeping fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Winter Cold!!

Peach flower buds, dead

Peach flower buds, dead

   Peaches are famous for their early blossoming, so I was especially worried for them. My peach tree spent its first few years in a large pot which could be conveniently lugged into the garage whenever cold weather threatened its blossoms.
    No need to worry this year. I checked the fat, flower buds, and they are already dead. Winter’s cold and/or fluctuating temperatures evidently had already done them in.

(Too) Early Peas

    My early planted peas took advantage of the last couple of weeks of balmy weather and sprouted quickly. Temperatures near 20° will surely freeze those sprouts. They might resprout from protected buds below ground, or not.
    I nudged ol’ man winter aside and created a warmer microclimate over the sprouts by putting up metal hoops covered with row covers over them. They may have been better off with the blanket of snow tucked all around them. Then again, the snow cover might settle too much, or blow away.
    In a few days, I’ll see how the peas fared. Worst case scenario: replant.

Not Climate Change

    “Climate change” is the battle cry for this whacky weather. But is it really so whacky?
    As far as the cold, the average date for the last killing frost of spring in my garden is around the third week in May. The key word here is “average.” Looking at a tabulation of percent chance of cold temperatures on various spring dates (, on average there’s a 50% chance of the thermometer hitting 24° on April 14th around here, a 10% chance on April 27th.

Peas under tunnels & snow

Peas under tunnels & snow

    “Frost” means 32°F. For that magic 32°, which is lethal to tomato and pepper seedlings but of no consequence to cabbage and onion transplants, there’s a 50% chance of that temperature on May 13th, even a 10% chance on May 27th.
    Of course, temperatures in my (or your) garden could be a few degrees different from those at nearby weather stations, which supply those averages. Still, looking back at my own records, while last year Nanking cherries blossomed here on May 2nd in 1999, they blossomed on April 18th in 2004, on April 26th in 2012, and on March 29th in 2015.
    So it seems like whacky weather is the norm. Except this year, it does still seem that the early warming was slightly earlier, and the later cold — 15°F, now, the day after the snowfall — more intense. Then again, Nanking cherries have never failed me.

Cold? No Problem.

Brrrr! The mercury plummeted to nine degrees Fahrenheit in my garden a couple of weeks ago. Yet I was still harvesting fresh salad greens. And I don’t mean kale and Brussels sprouts; they’re tasty and still available in my “back forty,” but tender and succulent they are not. Likewise, I don’t mean turnips, carrots, or other root crops that can nestle in the relative warmth of the earth. (My root crops anyway were pulled and packed away into a box for winter storage.)
What I am talking about is lettuce, endive, and Chinese cabbage. These vegetables, which ARE tender and succulent, must have antifreeze in their cells to be able to remain so in the face of such cold temperatures. Actually, that’s not far off: With gradual exposure to increasingly colder temperatures, cold-hardy plants are able to move water out of their cells into the spaces between the cells, where freezing would cause less damage. Moving water out of the cells also concentrates the solution within the cells and — if you remember from your high school chemistry — concentrating a solution lowers the temperature at which it freezes. Warming weather reverses the process.
Mother Nature had a little hand from me, in the form of row covers, which are diaphanous blankets thrown over plants to offer them additional frost protection. Spun-bonded row covers let light and water pass

through. I’ve used these materials in spring and autumn for many years, but looking through the Harris Seeds catalog (, I came across a “point bonded row cover” which was said to give plants an additional 8 degrees or more of cold protection. That’s a lot.

A few weeks ago, I set metal arches (made from 5-foot lengths of concrete block truss reinforcement) over the rows, cut the row cover to 6 foot widths, and laid it over the hoops secured by additional metal hoops over the row cover. The material evidently is very effective; my guess is that endive and lettuce are cold-hardy to the low 20s and the row cover would bring protection down to the low to mid ‘teens. But this was 9° F.!
Row covers represent a trade-off between cold protection and light transmittance. Generally, the  heavier the row cover material, the warmer the temperature under the cover and the less light reaches the plants.
So in early spring, I’ve use a 1.25 ounce cover to speed along growth of new plants. This cover lets about 70% of the sunlight penetrate and keeps plants about 3° warmer than outside the cover. In early summer, I use an even lighter weight material, 0.55 ounce, to cover my eggplants so flea beetles don’t ravage them. Eighty-five percent of sunlight makes it through this lightweight material.
The point-bonded row cover is a heavier material than row covers I’ve used in the past. Endive, lettuce, and Chinese cabbages are now snuggled under 2 ounce fabric. Only about 30% of the sunlight, which is sparse anyway this time of year, makes it through this material. But the plants are fully grown, so don’t need to grow. To just stay alive, now, they need cold protection more than light.
So I’m driving along here in New York’s Hudson Valley and what do I see growing wild along the

roadside? A cactus. A cactus growing wild outdoors wouldn’t be an oddity in Arizona, but New York doesn’t have the climate and soils usually associated with cactii.

The Eastern Prickly Pear or Indian Fig (Opuntia humifusa) actually grows wild throughout the eastern parts of North America. You’re most likely to come upon the plant growing in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Not the one I found, though. This plant was growing on a rock face, which is well drained, on an east-facing slope right at the edge of woods. Not particularly sunny.
Prickly pear cactus can be oddly attractive, even edible. The pads, once the spines have been rubbed off (not with bare hands) can eaten be raw or cooked. The red fruits are also edible. The Opuntia species usually eaten is O. ficus-indica, which is not hardy in cold climates. Even that species never tasted that good to me so I wasn’t anxious to try eating any of the roadside plant.

Also, in New York, Eastern prickly pear is classified as an “‘exploitably vulnerable species,’” which is a plant likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges within the state if causal factors continue unchecked.”

I lied; I did pick off one fruit for tasting. It was seedy and flavorless. All was not exploitive, though, because I am planting the seeds.

Too Much Respect, Walnut Tech, and Nasturtium Homage

Last week I wrote that popcorn “don’t get no respect,” but should. This week: garlic, why so much respect?. It may be sacrilege — although it was not the case 50 years ago — to say that I’m not crazy over garlic. The amount of space people now devote to garlic in even small gardens never ceases to amaze me. If pressed for garden space, I’d fill every square inch with tomatoes, peppers, peas, and other vegetables that you can sink your teeth into right out in the garden, rather than garlic. You can’t purchase that experience; you can by garlic.
Okay, I do grow some garlic. But not well. My garlic’s roots don’t get to wallow in soft, mellow, compost-enriched, drip-irrigated soil along with my other vegetables. The cloves get tucked in an out of the way place where neighboring plants force its green shoots to stretch for light and the soil is not nearly as nourishing.
A challenge to grow something well can be more attractive than a good harvest, which is what induced me, a few weeks ago, to purchase some heads of California Softneck garlic for planting. Potential problems with this purchase did nothing to restrain me — again, for a potential challenge rather than future flavor.

First, it was a little late for planting. Garlic likes to be settled into the ground in early fall, even as early as late summer. Roots grow as long as the ground temperatures remain above 40°F.. Planted early, then, roots can begin foraging for nutrients and anchoring the cloves against being heaved up and out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws.

The second problem is with the variety California Softneck. Softneck varieties are generally grown in — guess where? — California, and are generally, not always, less cold-hardy than hardneck varieties. Perhaps my purchase was a cold-hardy softneck. Perhaps not.  California Softneck does not seem to be a true variety name.
Oh well . . . into the ground the cloves went, 4 inches apart. Because everything else was so iffy about this planting, the cloves were awarded prime real estate, right in the vegetable garden. Because of late planting and dubious cold-hardiness, these cloves got further coddling with a mulch of pine needles to slow cooling of the soil.
I like a little garlic and even if California Softneck puts on a poor showing, next summer I will harvest some of the hardneck varieties I planted, as usual, in late summer in an out-of-the-way spot outside the vegetable garden.
Buckets of black walnuts awaiting processing have spurred new technology in backyard black walnut husking. The nuts are ubiquitous, delicious, and free for the taking. Problem is that they are wrapped in spongy, green husks that are messy and tedious to remove.
The usual approaches to husking are stomping on the fruits or driving repeatedly over them, then rubbing off the barely clinging pieces of husk. It’s a lot of stoop labor.
Enter a trowel, the kind with the serrated edge that’s used to spread tile adhesive. One edge of said trowel went into a slit I cut partway into a sturdy piece of wood, which kept the trowel oriented vertically.
  To husk, roll a nut along the serrated edge. With that done, a twist of the halves in opposite directions leaves half the husk in one hand. The other half peels away with ease.  This walnut-trowel technology works especially well with husks whose flesh is still plump, as they are when freshly harvested. Husks go into a bucket and nuts onto a tray for a couple of days of drying, then to the barn loft for a couple of months of curing.
My friend Bill is sticking with his stomping-on-the-fruit method of husking. Sometimes I also walk along and stomp a few nuts before stooping to gather them up. For bulk processing, though, I like using the trowel.
Every time I walk past the arbored gate into my vegetable garden, I get to admire the nasturtium vines hugging and trying to climb the locust posts. Red, orange, and yellow flowers continue to peek out from among the round leaves that still ooze the freshness of summer growth.
Nasturtium offers a lot of bang for the buck. No need to start plants ahead of planting out in spring. I just poke a hole in the ground and drop in one or two of the pea-sized seeds wherever I want a spreading

glob of greenery and flowers — perfect for, softening the stark contrast between a vertical post and flat ground or the sharp-looking edge of a wall.

If that’s not enough to recommend nasturtium, eating them would almost be. Either the leaves or the flowers are a spicy addition to any food. The taste is too sharp to wolf down in any quantity. Nasturtium is good en masse to look at and good with a light touch for eating.

        Late news flash: A few days after I wrote about and was admiring my nasturtium, night temperatures plummeted to 24 degrees F. The flowers melted into a tawny mass of ones and stems, all of which I whisked over to the compost pile before it turned to mush. It was a good run while it lasted.

It (Could Be) Cold

I see a lot of gardens under wraps this morning, plants covered with upturned buckets or flowerpots, or blanketed under . . . well . . . blankets. Day after day of balmy temperatures have made it hard to hold back finally getting vegetable and flower transplants out of their pots and into the ground.
But temperatures just below freezing were predicted for last night (May 13th) and everyone got a wakeup call: Freezing temperatures, which could kill tomato, marigold, and other tender plants, are still possible. It’s all about averages; around here, there’s about a 10 percent chance of a frost the middle of May.
The likelihood of cold, frosty, or freezing temperatures has been detailed — see — for locations throughout the country. The closest weather station connected to that site around here is in Poughkeepsie, and in mid-May that site has a 50% chance of experiencing cold weather (36°F.) and a 10% chance of of experiencing frost (32°F.). Cold air, being heavier than warm air, sinks to low-lying spots on clear still nights, such as last night, so my garden in the Wallkill River valley is usually a few degrees colder than surrounding areas, such as Poughkeepsie. Fortunately, temperatures last night here dropped only to 31° F.
Not that lower temperatures would have done my vegetables or flowers any harm. I took the advice I’ve been doling out to others for the past couple of (warm) weeks, and held off planting anything that could be harmed by frost. So tomatoes, peppers, melons, and the like are still in pots that I moved into the warmth of the greenhouse last night.
I’d like to plant out all these cold-tender seedlings but chilly temperatures are predicted for the next few night. Even chilly temperatures, let alone freezing temperatures, are not good for tender plants.
Still, anyone looking out over my garden this morning would have seen white blankets over some beds and overturned flowerpots over a few plants. Because my garden is in a cold spot, temperatures well below freezing were not out of the question for last night. Cold enough temperatures could damage cabbage and its

kin, lettuce, onions, and other cold-hardy transplants that have been growing out in the garden for the past couple of weeks. I had some row cover material readily on hand, so why not, methought, throw it over some of the beds anyway? Just in case.

Throwing covers over plants at 7 in the evening is a lot more pleasant than waking up at 3 am with the sinking feeling that temperatures have really plummeted and then, if they in fact did, running outdoors in the cold darkness to cover plants.
Fruit trees, shrubs, and vines present another story. A freeze won’t kill the plants, but low enough temperatures could kill flowers or developing fruit, as it did on many fruit plants last year. One frigid night and you have to wait a whole year for the next crop. Unfortunately, not much could be done about this situation. Fruit plants here are too many or too big to cover. My tack is to keep fingers crossed.
Critical temperatures for fruit damage vary with the kind of fruit, the stage of flower or fruit development, the depth of cold, and the duration of cold. Probably other things, too, such as humidity and plant nutrition. 

An excellent table of “Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage on Fruit Trees” can be viewed at So, put simply, 25°F would spell death to 90% of my apples, which are in full bloom, and pears, which are post-bloom, and 28% would do in 10% of their fruits. Plums, also post-bloom, tolerate a bit more cold.
In addition to crossing fingers, my tack is also to grow a variety of fruits, and especially native fruits.

Pawpaw blossom, from below.

(Apples, pears, peaches, and most plums are not native.) It’s not a chauvinistic choice; it’s just that these natives — American persimmon, pawpaw, blueberry, grape, and gooseberry, to name a few — are better adapted to our conditions. And not just the weather here. Pests also.

This spring has been the most perfect spring in a long time, with plenty of clear, sunny days and gradually warming temperatures that kept blossoms from jumping the gun. Playing the averages, the critical cold periods should be pretty much be behind us. As with the stock market, though, “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”
Update, May 17th: Warm days and nights that are not too chilly are predicted for the next few days, so I planted out tomatoes and peppers today. I’ll still keep an eye on temperatures because there’s still a 10% chance of temperatures dipping to 36° as late as May 28th according to records at the nearby Poughkeepsie weather monitoring station.