Hardening Off

Onion, sorrel, and parsley awaiting there turn on the potting bench.

Onion, sorrel and parsley on the potting bench awaiting their garden debut

With the price of nursery plantings heading north of the Pole this year, there is every impetus in the world to grow your own annuals and vegetables from seed. (For a complete how-to on that process, click HERE)

But now what? Your seeds have sprouted, your new little plants are showing promise, are they ready for the garden? The answer is a big “no.” There is a VERY critical next step to this process that you skip at your peril — hardening off. Essentially, your seedlings need time to adjust to the temperatures and light levels outside of their cozy indoor incubator. Place them directly out into the garden, and sun scald and death are likely to be the result.

During the Victory Garden years, we used large cold frames for hardening off, but the frames were difficult to open and close, and without close monitoring, inevitably I would forget to water the flats on warm spring days, often bringing entire batches of seedlings to a tragic end. A sprinkler on a timer helped, but still the process was bulky.

Coincidentally last year, in a quest to provide a better summer potting area, I had refurbished a wonderful old work bench, which has become my new favorite workplace in the garden:


(The incredible salvaged soapstone sink is another marvel and probably the most useful improvement I have ever made to the landscape, but that is a story for another day.)

The relevant factor for today’s post is that the potting bench has become my favorite place for hardening off. It’s out of the direct sun, but has full, bright light. It’s open to the air, so rain can fall on the plants, relieving me of some watering duties, and most of all, it’s convenient, in a location I pass by several times a day. The only drawback is that it doesn’t provide the thermal protection of a cold frame, but I have gotten around that problem by simply bringing planting materials out a little later from the greenhouse. The point here is that any open space out of the direct sun but in bright light will serve your hardening off purposes — nothing more elaborate is required. Don’t however, rush the process. A week in this open-air waiting room is essential before these little guys can grow up to be vegetable stars in the garden.

BTW: Don’t forget to find Michael Weishan & Associates on Facebook, where I check in several times a week with interesting photos and tips.

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