Tuesday, July 16, 2013
If you have ever started seedlings indoors, you may be familiar with the concept of "hardening off" the plants. Or maybe not. Hardening off means basically "training" the plants to live outside, by doing small things like brushing the baby plants with your fingers to simulate wind and encourage strong stems, putting them outside for a bit longer every day, etc.
The first year I planted tomatoes I did zero hardening off. I just planted them outside on a warm day and they all did splendidly. Last year I did some hardening off but quite honestly it didn't seem to make a difference.
This was the year of XTREME hardening off.
I accidentally started my tomatoes almost a month late, at the end of April. Once the seedlings were about 2 weeks old and the sun was getting too high in the sky to really provide much light into my kitchen window, I decided to do an experiment. I put them in a mini-greenhouse (basically just a metal frame with a clear tarp overtop), inside which pretty much all of the plants got scorched and a few completely burned to a crisp. Okay, 2 down.
Within about a week it got too hot to even have a greenhouse at all so I just started leaving them outside 24/7. It wasn't freezing anymore and even if it got a bit too cold, this was going to be the tomato year for survival of the fittest.
Nobody froze thankfully, however they did all blow out into the yard during a particularly windy day and another couple of plants were lost.
After I potted them into their grownup homes, it rained HARD for pretty much a solid week and ended with a magnificent hailstorm. I sat in my living room, helpless, as they got pummeled. After the storm I went outside and discovered that while they were all quite mangled, nobody had died. And a week later, those mangled plants had developed ridiculously thick, strong stems and branches, at least tripling in size.
I was discussing my accidental method of hardening off with a plant scientist friend, who confirmed the hardening off myth: "I have always figured if they aren't tough enough to handle the elements, I don't want them anyway."
So there you go, Saskatchewan home gardeners. My XTREME hardening experiment of 2013 has appeared to be very successful. Don't be afraid to throw those babies outside in a thunderstorm; it'll only make them stronger.