the hard way

The descriptions I have read concerning hardening off plants--the process of getting it used to the outdoors after beng germinated indoors--range from detailed descriptions about tediously moving plants outdoors over the course of two weeks, increasing their daily exposure in hour increments to the simple one liner: "Before transplanting, move to a sheltered area outside for a week."

Given that I'm passionate about my little garden and have read what I thought was too much about germinating plants indoors, I was totally flabbergasted when I didn't transplant them outdoors properly, by which I mean I failed to harden off the poor dears.  I thought hardening a plant mostly had to do with temperature, but I learned that hard way that it's also preparing it for sun and wind exposure.  How on earth did I fail to see how important this was??

The real guilt lies with my laziness and impatience.  There is quite a colony of rabbits near our garden plot and I didn't want to harden the plants before I had a proper garden fence erected, and that took a fair amount of time and effort to build.  After that was done, it's no trivial distance from our apartment to the garden, at least while carrying a huge tray of plants.  It would have been doable to make the several needed daily trips with my various containers, but not desirable.

So in my foolishness, I decided to just open the windows by my seedings for a few days (going back to thinking it was mostly a temperature thing).  Once that was done, I brought out the main tray and planted four varieties directly in the ground.  I left the remaining plants in the tray out with the transplanted ones overnight.  After several days of glorious temperature, I thought they would be okay for a night.

The night turned out to be windy and many wilted leaves wrapped around themselves and dried that way--little bunches of once-leaves.  The next morning I took the tray in for emergency care and prayed over the ones still outside.  We then had a torrential storm.  Of those left outside, some of peppers maybe maybe maybe might survive, but the tomatoes are done for.

After a few days of nursing and taking the main tray outside, I finally planted all of those, but they were so damaged from that first night that I have low expectations.  The few thinned tomato plants that I put in odds-and-ends pots are doing alright, and I'm trying to do those the right way, but we shall see.  At this point, I don't trust my own judgement of the plants and their hardiness.  Everything could be dead come next week.

Ugh.  Lesson learned.

I was far too ambitious this year.  I need to take the time to learn about gardening in this climate instead of jumping straight into expecting a killer harvest with a million varieties.   If I need to, I'll buy a few plants from a local nursery and practice seed saving on those, become familiar with the problems associated with this area, and not waste my garden plot.  I've changed my goal to have this year be a learning experience.  The more mistakes I can make now, the better; that way I won't make them later.

Next year, I think I'll just try one variety of tomato and order from the Seed Savers Exchange, which I like much better than Burpee anyway.  I think I might go for the 250 seeds of the Amish Paste (which was one of the ones that got totally decimated this year), and I'll harden them off properly and go from there.  The hardest part is that I need to wait a full year before starting over again.

It's been frustrating and draining (emotionally and physically), but I'm really glad I had the experience of totally mucking up.  It has humbled me, shown me how much I care about gardening, and taught me the dangers of carelessness.  Forward!!

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