That’s what we’re experiencing right now in semi-South Texas, my least favorite season. Not quite spring, not quite winter: sprinter. It’s also what I become this time of year, sprinting up and down steps, carrying plants outside in the warm sunshine and back in during night freezes.
The plumeria become dormant and are impervious in that they require no water or light. But they do need temperatures above 32 degrees F. The hibiscus and the epiphytic cacti don’t really go dormant here, and they really don’t like it when the temps fall below 40. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants I sprout from seed every year don’t do well when it gets below 50.
Given the above various temperature needs, and given variation in February and March from the 20s to the 70s, sometimes within a matter of two days, and one becomes something of a sprinter.
Some day I hope to have huge rolling greenhouse carts that will allow me to move dozens of plants at a time in and out of a heated barn. But that day is not now.
I have been developing my own strain (lets call them Brazos Beefsteak) of open-pollinated tomato for six years now. I’ve been selecting seeds from plants that, No. 1, produce great-tasting fruit, No. 2, produce a lot of it per plant, No. 3, produce said fruit quickly, No. 4, keep setting fruit on into the heat of summer, No. 5, produce large fruit with small seed cavities and, No. 6, show resistance to nematodes and tomato viruses.
In this part of the country it’s important that a tomato produce fruit early because there aren’t many days from the time it’s warm enough to plant tomatoes in the ground until the mercury begins to climb into the 90s. Most tomatoes stop setting fruit at about 90 degrees, which is why it’s also important to me to develop a tomato that can set fruit at an even higher temperature.
I think my Brazos Beefsteak plants are well on their way to achieving most of my goals. They really are delicious, large and prolific, quick-producing for a beefsteak type, and pretty good about setting fruit even in the heat. They are not, however, as resistant to Verticillium wilt or similar maladies as are some hybrid tomatoes. But I keep plodding along with my open-pollinated breeding program nonetheless – because I’ve found the hybrids just don’t taste as good as these. And good taste is almost the whole point, right?
As always, I’ll just be glad when sprinter is over and I can put all of these plants back in their almost-permanent outdoor homes and give my knees and shoulders a rest.