Well it has been a few weeks since we checked in with our company garden seedlings. The beefsteak tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and Spanish yellow onions are alive and well. Last week we transplanted our onions into a Smart Pot with Albion strawberries. This combination will help ward off pests and disease keeping our strawberries for our tummies and not the bugs.
Tomorrow is our last frost date according to the Farmer’s Almanac and we are getting pretty excited about moving our vegetables to their new home and maybe adding a few friends too! Over the next week or two we will be busy prepping our garden plot behind our offices to give our plants a great new home. However, there is one very important step left to take before our plants will be ready for a permanent home outdoors. Our tender plants must first endure a hardening off period or as I like to call it “Spring Training.” Spring Training is an intense few weeks baseball teams use to get their players prep’d for the season and thats just what my plants are doing.
Hardening off your plants that you started from seed indoors is important since the seedlings have been sheltered and protected inside. This hardening off period will allow your plants to slowly get used to the harsher outdoor climate. The hardening off period is essentially allowing your plants to slowly adapt to the temperature variations, light intensity, and winds of the great outdoors.
Our plants have been making the jaunt outside for the past few days (we haven’t had a threat of frost for the past week) and so far are holding up great. Today, temperatures dropped a few degrees and they got a nice shower. One thing we have noticed is a bit of damage from the lovely stink bugs. So far the damage has been minor so we are not too concerned. Stink bugs like the foliage of plants so if you are planting greens you will want to be on the lookout.
Here is a simple guide to hardening off your plants this season.
You will want to wait until you are past or close to the last predicted frost before starting the hardening off process. The hardening off is not difficult but it does take time and if rushed you could cause your plants to decline and possible not survive.
Step 1: The first step in hardening off your plants it to pick a location in which to place your plants outdoors. The best spot would be close to your home in a sheltered location that would still receive some sun. Only you pick your location move all your plants outside for a couple of hours the first day. After a few hours bring them back inside, if you have had your plants under grow lights it is wise to place them back under the lights for the remainder of the day.
Step 2: Take your plants outside for increasing amounts of time for a week, always bringing them inside at night. During the hardening off period be on the watch for high winds, hail, heavy rainfall, or cold spells. If these occur you will want to protect the plant or bring them indoors. You will also want to decrease the frequency of watering.
Step 3: By the beginning of week 2 your plants should be staying out all day and then begin to overnight outdoors. If there is a threat of frost be sure to bring your plants inside or protect them from the cold, you can do this with a cloche, frost guard, kozy coat, or a DIY version.
Step 4: At the end of week 2 your plants should be fully acclimated to the outdoors and ready to plant in your prepared garden beds. If you get a bout of bad weather it may take longer to harden off your seedlings. Just remember not to rush the process.
Hardening Off Seedlings with a Cold Frame:
Hardening of seedlings is much simpler with a cold frame. A cold frame is probably one of the smartest investments a gardener can make. A cold frame can be used to overwinter plants, extend your season, grow greens throughout the winter, and to harden off seedlings. To harden off your seedlings using a cold frame you will place your seedling in the frame and open the cover to the frame for a few hours the first day. You would then increase the amount of time the cover is left open each day for two weeks until the plants are acclimated to their new environment. Depending on which type of cold frame you have seedlings can be planted directly into the frame or set into the frame in their current containers. During week two your cold frame can be left open at night. However, if at any time during the process there is a chance of frost it would be in your plants best interest to close the frame.