“There were a lot of sighs of relief this morning.” That’s what John Gavin was hearing Tuesday morning from tomato growers in south Arkansas.
“I couldn’t find anyone this morning saying they had any injury due to frost and freeze,” said the Bradley County Extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “We had cold weather and a lot of wind and there could be some blistering of the leaves, but we won’t see anything for a day or two.”
A sleepless, but happy, Hermitage, Ark., tomato grower Randy Clanton expressed his relief Tuesday morning after a night of temperatures at the freezing mark. “The Lord smiled upon us again last night.”
Clanton was reached by cell phone as he toured his acres evaluating the damage after a night when temperatures hovered around 31 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
“There’s very minimal damage so far,” he said. “There are probably some isolated places in our area with damage, but it’ll be minimal.”
Clanton used three separate approaches for his tomatoes. He left 30 acres alone, had 350 to 400 acres worth of tomatoes under close observation in the greenhouse and 40 acres were under set irrigation. This technique, frequently employed by strawberry growers, involves spraying the crop with water to form an icy shell around the plant. As the ice forms, it releases heat, keeping the plant inside just above freezing.
“I’m really excited about the water part of it. They look better than the ones we didn’t water,” Clanton said, adding that he joked with a colleague that the set irrigation tomatoes “looked like they grew last night.”
The forecast for Tuesday night called for temperatures in the 30s, but no freeze warning or watch was posted. Regardless, Clanton is being cautious. “We’re not out of the woods yet. Last night, I didn’t sleep a wink and it looks like I’ll stay up with it again tonight.
“It’s your livelihood. It requires your undivided attention.”
For more information on growing tomatoes, visit www.uaex.edu.