Never mind that you are zipped into a rain coat and your heater still kicks on regularly at home. You are at the Issaquah Farmers' Market standing in front of a tomato plant. Its leaves are large and dense, and it is bedecked with yellow blooms and tiny green fruit. You can't resist, and you end up cradling the pot gently in your arms on the way back to your car.
If there happens to be a break in the clouds when you get home, you may be tempted to hurry out to your vegetable bed to transplant your new tomato plant. Don't give in to that urge, though, or you are likely to find yourself with a limp stem and a few yellow leaves.
"It is still too cold at night," says Seattle Tilth's Falaah Jones, who serves as Garden Coordinator at the City of Issaquah's Community Garden at Pickering Barn. "Don't put it in the ground yet."
May is an unpredictable month at best in Issaquah; however, rain and cool temperatures are the norm. It is rare for the nighttime temperatures to rise consistently above 50 degrees in May, a temperature that is required for the survival of warm weather plants such as tomato, eggplant, and pepper. The Washington State Climatologist has determined that it is about as likely for the temperatures this May to be colder than average as it is for the temperatures to be normal or warmer than average. Accordingly, Issaquah gardeners will need to be attentive and patient. If the nighttime temperatures reach 50 degrees and stay there, plant that tomato!
Until then, you should protect your tomato and other warm weather plants at night by placing them in your garage or basement. Harden them off in the day by moving them outdoors. If the temperature doesn't warm up quickly enough, you may need to transplant the plants to a larger pots. While you wait, there are cool-weather crops to tend and harvest, and cucumber, squash, and pumpkin seeds to sow as the weather warms. You can also prepare the soil in your tomato bed and build a trellis or two.
The taste of that first vine-ripened tomato will be worth the wait.
For more tips on nurturing your warm weather plants through spring, contact Seattle Tilth's free Garden Hotline.