How To Grow Survivor Tomatoes

It happens almost every spring – the tomato plants in the garden are going gangbusters – actually everything is going gangbusters – and I am feeling like Super Gardener.

Then there comes that little chill to remind me that winter is not quite over yet. Hah, but I’m prepared for that. My agreement with my food producing friends is that I will protect them, so I diligently get out the row cover.

My family loves to play the guessing game of ‘will it freeze tonight?”. We stare at the starry sky (no cloud cover means cold) and feel the breeze (high winds from the north indicates a night that gets progressively colder).

I’ve learned to always cover no matter what I, or the majority of my family, think. I’ve lost too much over the years. The plants like it warmer anyway, even if they can survive on colder temps.

The worst any of us thought it would be was ‘mild frost’. So the actual hard freeze was little embarrassing.

Row cover will buy you between 2 – 4 degrees Fahrenheit of protection depending on how thick the cover is. I didn’t measure that night, but almost everything under the row cover died.


There were a few survivors. I copied a strategy an old organic farmer shared with me; place 5 gallon buckets full of water next to the plants under the row cover. The water helps to keep the plants warm.

I found you really have to have those buckets close to the plants, and the side of the plant that was closest to the bucket did much better than the side that was further away. Actually the buckets only had a warm zone of about six inches – everything out from that died of cold.

Why mess with buckets and row cover at all?

Well here in Central Texas we have a joke that goes like this; the visiting gardener asks a Texan “when does spring come in this area?”. And the Texan replies, “well, last year we had a really long spring that lasted for almost 48 hours”.

It just gets hot too quickly to get any production if you don’t plant early and plan on the occasional tomato killing freeze to get you.

Yup, life’s tough.


PS: If you want to learn the ultimate in survival food production check out my video “Grow Your Own Groceries’ at www.GrowYourOwnGroceries.com

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This post was written by Marjory


  • gena says:

    Marjory – my garden was going great, but something is eating the leaves off a lot of the plants. If I send you a photo, do you think you can tell me what might be doing it and what I can do about it? I bought you series on home gardening but have not had a chance yet to view it. It seems like every day I go out there and another plant has been eaten or partly eaten over night. Just the leaves. And not in just one location in the yard, several areas, mostly tomato plants but two of the pepper plants got gobbled last night. Again, just the leaves.
    Do pill bugs eat leaves? I know there are pill bugs out the a$$ in the yard, and I have seen a couple scorpions in one of the beds as well. I tried growing broccoli which grew great, but the leaves were the first to get eaten and I never saw any bugs on them.
    I have Sevin dust but have not wanted to use any poison on the food, am beginning to think I might have to. It is the 5% sevin dust for food crops. I bought it to control the scorpions on my porch so they won’t kill my little dogs.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Oh Gena,

      Please don’t use that Sevin dust. No matter how low a %.

      If you are getting everything eaten up there are several reasons.

      – the soil needs to be very rich, full of life, and healthy. Just like when you don’t get the nutrients you need you get sick, so do the plants. Insects are the predators of the plant world. The function and life purpose of predators is to remove those that should not be reproducing. Healthy plants might have a few bugs, but not many. And plats are healthy when they have good soil and moisture. So tell me about your soil?
      – timing. I’ve got a big patch of collards right now that are being demolished by insects. But it is way too hot for collards and the plants are weak from trying to grow in conditions they aren’t suited to. I really don’t mind the situation and knew it was coming. I wanted to bring this forward as a general principle – but I think you should be fine growing tomatoes and peppers right now.

      BTW, where are you located approximately?

  • gena says:

    Are we able to post photos on here or if you are willing to try to tell me what I need to do with whatever is eating my plants, email you the photos separately?

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      I don’t know if you can post photos… Why don’t you try it?

      Seriously, I try to spend as much time as possible researching how best to grow food, I don’t know that much about running websites. LOL. In fact, I really need someone with skills to manage this thing. 🙂

  • gena says:

    I just went out to take the photos and there are hundreds of little pill bugs, the little black things that curl up into a ball when you pick them up, all over in parts of the garden. Do I have to kill them little buggers. 🙁 I hate to kill anything.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:


      You don’t need to kill them. They generally don’t cause much trouble. And they are kinda cute – the way they curl up like that…

  • Dianne Winkler says:

    Marjory, Is it possible that Gena has tomato worms? I had them last year, 3, and they are voracious. We took pictures of them, they look just like stems and leaves. I just would never have known what to look for but a stem got blown off in the storm and was lying there on the ground. I began gathering up the wind damage when I realized that the stem I was holding had one on it. It was about 2 1/2 inches and about as big around as one of those fat crayons for toddlers. Very interesting things…. and HUNGRY! we carefully searched and found 2 more of the critters on the plants. We placed them in a big gallon jug in order to observe them for a while. I have some great pics of them if you have email. Once we removed them we had no more problems. Good luck, Gena. If you wish, you can send me your email and I will send you pictures too.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Yes, tomato horn worms. They are so big and juicy, I tried eating them but they taste awful. And the chickens won’t eat them either.

      I am also growing some tobacco this summer and I’ve been told I’ll get to pick off as many as 5 horn worms a day from the plants. Looking forward tot hat… grin.

      Hopefully Gena will take you up on the offer!

  • Susan K. Schmidt Juarez says:

    Ah, yes, the horned tomato worm – did battle with plenty of these! Then there was the cut worm – both, thanks to different moths that are quite active at night. Didn’t know this, but one way to protect our precious tomato plants is to plant a “trap plant” away from tomatoes. Dill is one highly recommended for such a sacrifice. Will have to give that a try.

    BTW, the horned tomato worms are difficult to detect among all that green, so best way to seek & destroy is to look for what I call “worm scat” on the tops of tomato plant leaves – yep, they do leave a trail of poop. Then you can start searching for the culprits on those stems and leaves above them. The cut worms are easier to find since these sport a brown color.

    Try to keep tomato plants through the Texas summer so that you can reap great harvest in fall when we should be moth free!

  • Kathy Lee says:

    Ah Marjory let us know how your tobacco plants turn out. I’ve tried and didn’t have much luck. I still have some seeds left,I’m going to try again next spring. The seeds are sooo tiny,I’m going to mix with alittle sand next time.

    1. Marjory Wildcraft says:

      Hi Kathy,

      The tobacco is doing great. It has got a an okra plant right next to it – almost entwined and they really seem to like each other. Bot plants were open to the morning route of the chickens (since the chickens wouldn’t bother either of those species) and I believe that is a good part of why there were no bug problems.

      I’ve already harvested some of the leaves for gifting friends who smoke (not on of my ivces at the moment – LOL).

  • Sandy Jones says:

    It’s a little more expensive but if you really want to keep those tomatoes warm, purchase some walls of water. They will keep for several seasons if you take good care of them after you remove them from your plants. I have also used them for zucchini plants that I started indoors too early. In my part of the country we deal with a lot of windy days so a wall-o-water (brand name) will protect the plant from the wind and keep a nice warm temperature both day and night.

    1. Sandy, I’ve never heard of those wall o water things. I’ll check it out.

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