Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Hardening Off

Posted on | April 15, 2010 | 4 Comments

Hardening off is a transitional period during which one accustoms seedlings started indoors to the natural environmental conditions outdoors, in preparation for transplanting.  It’s a delicate process requiring patience and diligence to prevent shock or stress to the seedlings.  Or so I hear.

I’m not exactly sure how hardening off works because patience and diligence are in short supply around here.  The little bit I was saving for this week was used up when my goat milk soap refused to trace even though I stirred it until my arm was numb (Note to self: put stick blender on my wish list for Mother’s Day.  Then spare myself the disappointment and just go buy it on my own).  As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I even used up some of next week’s patience and diligence, so conditions won’t be improving any time soon.

Which means the seedlings are going to have to fend for themselves.  Sure, I’ll put them out on the deck in the morning to start feeling the sun’s rays without the kitchen window running interference.  But I can’t promise I’ll be home if it gets too hot.  I might just be 70 miles away at the zoo with the kids and the seedlings will have to deal with it.  Even if it gets up to 89 degrees.  Really. 89 degrees in the first week of April.  After a winter with 3 snowstorms that shut down the entire state.  Losing the spring garden to freezing temperatures and the summer transplants to sudden and extreme heat.  Yeah, that’s fair.

I’m especially glad that as I carried those precious plants out for their first breath of spring air, I lectured the kids on the principles of hardening off.  Gradual exposure, careful monitoring, wind and rain protection, blah, blah, blah.  So when we arrived home from the zoo, sweating and sunburned, to find our seedlings wilted and broken, they asked me doubtfully,

“Have you actually done ‘hardening off’ before or did you just read about it?”

Clever kids.  Even the 4 year old knows there’s a difference between reading about how to do something and actually pulling it off yourself.  A big difference.  I like to think my kids will never grow up and decide they should put in all their own hardwood flooring with their only assistance being a 2 page pamphlet from the local home improvement store.  I mean, there’s a thin line between do-it-yourself and driving-yourself-to-the-brink-of-insanity-with-a-project-you-have-neither-the-skills-or-competence-or-money-to-complete.  Trust me.  I’ve done it seen it.  It isn’t pretty.

But even if you don’t have the knack of proper hardening off, you don’t have that much to lose.  So you germinated the transplants from tiny seeds, babied them with grow lights, and gently fertilized them with fish emulsion. (Have you ever smelled fish emulsion?  Have you ever smelled the downstairs of a house where fish emulsion was used to fertilize the seeds growing on the windowsill?  I won’t have to host bible study again for a long, long time.  Like never.)   So what if 8 weeks of work wilts in one afternoon while you’re at the zoo?

You’re only out the cost of the seed packets.  A small price to pay for keeping you too busy to watch television (did you really want to know about every crime within a 100 mile radius?  Sure, that’s the way to get a good night’s sleep) and out of the shopping malls (are there malls anymore?  I don’t know.  There certainly isn’t one next to the Southern States or Tractor Supply Company where I spend my time).  Bet you’ve never heard of a farmer embarrassed by a sexting incident.  Nope.  Got no time for that when you’ve got to thin the seedlings with a pair of tweezers.

Besides, sometimes God appreciates effort over aptitude.  With a little water, my transplants actually recovered.  They even survived a later incident of being trampled by the dogs and left outside during a surprising night time dip into the 30’s.  Go figure.  By the time I put those plants into the ground they should be able to survive almost anything.  Which is good.  Because around here, almost anything can happen.  All the time.


4 Responses to “Hardening Off”

  1. Autumn
    April 15th, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    Amen! Mine went outside and in once then outside and have been out there since. Sadly, they are still spindly, leggy seedlings that refuse to get fat. I keep trying, every year. I’m about to go out and get organic feed for them. Maybe that will help. My husband asks if I’ll put them in the garden this weekend and I keep saying they are still too small….but I’m just not sure they will grow any bigger in their “pots”. Sometimes I wonder if I should forgo the organic and just try to get big plants and veggies…*sigh*

  2. lisa d
    April 16th, 2010 @ 4:27 am

    One of your best! Personally, I just buy big, hardy plants at Southern States. No time for this seedling business…

  3. Annabelle
    April 16th, 2010 @ 7:29 am

    I was right there last year… with 150 Heirloom tomato seedlings that I started in my son’s room on a mat.With grand plans for my new 4000 square foot garden and selling seedlings. I actually did harden them off gradually, but for too long. When I finally found the time to transplant them and pot them up the weather kept flip flopping. Then my Alpine herd queen got pneumonia and suddenly the tomato babies were off the radar.(with a 107 fever for almost a week!) She didn’t die, but the few tomatoes that survived turned out to be terribly stunted. So…. get them in the ground before it’s too late. Luckily for me we have a local “heirloom tomato lady” that sells seedlings that I will happily support this year.

  4. Tanya
    April 16th, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

    The title got me. Did you really mean to name it that? Ha Ha…

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