It's early April -- the warm weather is here a tad early -- and it's planting time.
Gentlemen -- Start Your Engines!
The final, and probably the most important step, in the growing from seed process has now arrived for my indoor tomato and pepper plant starters. It's time for the babies to grow up and move outside.
This happens to be the biggest source of frustration for many growers who are "sans" greenhouse. The "hardening off" process can just be maddening to go through, because you never truly know when the plants that you've been nurturing for months are finally ready for outdoor conditions.
I can tell you this much: moving indoor plants outside and leaving them there is a sure way to lose a crop. I've lost them before. This process isn't easy, nor is it scientific. You can do everything right -- that is -- by the book -- and still do something wrong.
Indoor plants are used to indoor conditions. They've had a constant source of warmth. No stiff wind to deal with. They don't deal with cold mornings or hot days. Indoor plants are accustomed to getting 12-hours of light, generous feedings of fertilizer and water and a constant temperature of 72 degrees.
Putting it short and sweet: What you've got is a bunch of spoiled brats.
Putting the babies outside -- then -- is somewhat of a shock. But you've got to do it at some point -- and by the looks of these photos -- the time has come. The plants are ready for their permanent home, but introducing them to outside conditions has to be done slowly and carefully.
The babies just spent another two hours outside this morning. And they reacted much better than yesterday, where some where wilting after just two short hours under a covered patio. They recovered soon enough and seemed to handle today's cool morning weather quite well.
Hardening off plants is a difficult thing to do if you work full-time like Venus and I. We simply do not have the hours in the day to monitor this plants. We can give them extended time -- and plenty of attention -- during the weekends. But -- during the week -- it's a short two hours in the morning and another dose of outside conditions at the end of the workday.
At some point -- probably by next weekend -- I'm going to choose one of these plants for an experiment. This will be my "Canary in a Coalmine" so to speak. If it can survive one full day and one full night outside -- in rough outdoor conditions -- then my "hardening off" procedures will have worked.
But -- if it up and dies -- I've got more work to do.
Should my "Canary in a Coalmine" survive this "final" test -- then all plants will be placed outside. But -- we're not done yet. This is yet another step. The plants will be kept under a patio cover, shielded from the harshest rays of outdoor sunlight for another four to five days. They will get limited sun in the late afternoon -- but that's a perfect introduction to outdoor conditions.
Finally, at one point in the next two weeks, the Canary in a Coalmine that survived the first full day and night outside will be placed in direct sunlight and darkness for a full 24-hours. This will be the final test.
If it lives -- congratulations son -- you just grew your own tomato garden.