Monday, March 22, 2010

The Trials of Headlong Leaping, Part II

Three out of four of the raised beds are finished and lookin' sa-weeeeeeeeet.

As I may have mentioned before, I finished them up during a rainy weekend and by the end of it I was pretty FED UP. However, patience and the help of A prevailed, and everything came together. Mostly. Now I've run into a whole set of new problems which revolve around the following question: how do I keep these darned seedlings alive?

The first aspect of this challenge is the hardening off process. What is the hardening off process, you ask? Well, it's stupid, if you ask me.

Since my seedlings were born and raised in the vegetable equivalent of Intensive Care, ie, with stable food and water, no wind and very little UV light because they were inside, they are extremely vulnerable to the wild winds of the wilderness otherwise known as the backyard. It kinda reminds me of that study that came out a few years ago that said that babies and children that are raised in extremely clean homes actually aren't necessarily as healthy as babies whose mothers aren't really into the whole "cleaning" thing because the OCD Moms remove all the bacteria that is supposed to build up the babies' immune system over time. (HA. Vindication is excellent.) Anyway, that's how my little plants are right now. Spoiled, lilly-stemmed weaklings.

The solution to this is to gradually expose them to the elements and allow them to transition into big, strong adolescent seedlings before I kick them out to fend for themselves night and day. Starting with just a half an hour a day, I'm supposed to stick them outside in the sun and let them get used to it. Then, the UV rays and natural breezes will toughen them up and their little flimsy cell walls will muscle up enough for them to survive to adulthood. Makes sense, right? Right.

Except...I'm really not that patient AND my seedlings are the weaklings of the weaklings, apparently. FED UP with the ordeal of the raised garden beds, I just took out the pea sprouts and plopped them right in there, hoping for the best.

I asked my Mom via long distance telephone communication whether or not they would survive without being hardened off, since it was totally overcast and damp out. She said they probably wouldn't. So I went ahead and planted them, obviously. What's the use of a little motherly advice if you don't promptly throw it to the wind (and the sun...and rain...).

First of all, there's no way I'm using these seedling trays again next year. The little cells wherein I planted the seeds are just that: little. Too little. They're probably about and inch and a half in diameter, and about three inches deep. It is impossible to remove those delicate little roots from such cramped space. I managed to damage a couple stems in the effort.

Secondly, the pea seedlings were fine during the dark, rainy weekend. They were decidedly NOT fine, however, on the following sunny day. The word "frizzled" comes to mind. Most of the little leaves turned white and withered up. The sugar snap peas seem to have survived, but the pole beans are doornail material. Luckily, I they sprout quickly and I went ahead and put some seeds directly into the garden itself, sidestepping the whole hardening off issue since they'll be naturally accustomed to the vicious outside world.

Luckily, I only planted the peas. They sprout quickly and can therefore quickly be replaced by their newly planted seed-brothers.

The tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, lavender, squashes etc, stayed in their cramped little cells and were to be hardened off. I set them outside for a half our, went inside for a nice refreshing Coca-Cola Classic and a stimulating People Magazine, and returned to find them severely sunburned.

What the heck!? I seriously only left them out there for half an hour. UNFAIR.

So now I don't really know what to do - do I continue hardening them off, or do they need time to heal? I'm probably going to keep hardening them off, as in my experience plants don't really "heal." They either die or move on to new growth. So here's hopin'.

And by "I'm probably going to..." I mean "I am continuing to..." because that whole sunburn situation was actually a few days ago now and I'm just a slow blogger.

Which leads me to the final problem: Ulrich the Dog.
That. Dog.

I love him...right?

Yesterday I set out all my seeds for hardening off, and even included some of the other plants that I leave outside in the summer but have been in all winter (like the rosemary bush, olive and orange trees, etc). Ulrich is notorious for snuffling in the potted plants and causing all kinds of mess. I think he likes to stick his nose in the dirt or eat it or something. Whatever he does, it must be tons of fun because it's very hard for me to stop it. Especially after I water them. I think his brain process something like the following:


In the house I've resorted to covering the smaller plants with glass bell jars for protection. Keeping the cloches on the plant outside would pretty much defeat the whole purpose of hardening them off, as it would block the wind and filter the UV.

So I put them outside, ordered the dog not to touch them and turned my back for like thirty seconds.

As any parent of a small child can attend, thirty seconds is more than enough time for disaster to strike.

There was a loud crash, and a small yelp, following by scrambling toenails on the patio. I turned to see Ulrich struggling under a toppled olive tree planter, which was now broken. He was flailing on my seedling tray. After screaming like a mad woman, and chasing him off I assessed the damage: three tomato seedling and four squashes broken clean off. Several others smashed.

I hope the smashed ones will recover, but for the record that now makes them both scorched and smashed. It's not lookin' good.


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