It’s that time! The target Plants On Deck dates is approximately April 20. That’s just a little over a week away so it’s time to get the little guys in shape by hardening off the fussy tomatoes, orange cosmos (bees seem to love them), and cucumbers. (It’s also probably past time to plant a few Swiss chard and melon seeds. Someone should get on that.)
Anyway, hardening off is a tedious but important process that POD rarely executes perfectly. Basically, it involves setting your seedlings out in the elements to gradually become acclimated to the cruel, cruel world.
First, take a peek at the 10-day forecast. For tomatoes, we’re hoping for evening lows, from the 20th on, no lower than 50. (Check.) For cucumbers and melons, 60 would be preferable.
Day 1-4 Because every gardener has a right to a shortcut or two, POD chooses to begin the hardening off process by opening the window an inch or two to let the fresh air and breezes in. A gentle breeze will help strengthen your seedlings’ stems.
Day 4-6 Place your seedlings outside in a sheltered, shaded area for an hour or two.
Day 6-8 Gradually increase exposure to sunshine. Don’t let them wilt!
Day 9-10 (or 14, if you’re really good and patient, which POD isn’t) Continue gradually increasing the amount of time your seedling spend outside until you feel confident enough leaving them out overnight.
Then, voila, after performing the seedling shuffle for a week or two, it’s time to transplant.
Who knew kale could be so tasty? The next time you find yourself craving the super green, give this a whirl (Thanks, Smitten Kitchen!):
Take a bunch of well-washed kale, about 10 oz (after you’ve dried the leaves, removed the thick stems, and ripped them into large pieces) and toss the leaves with about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil. Squeeze a scant half a lemon over the concoction, toss on some salt and cayenne (if you’re feeling in the mood for a kick), spread on a cookie sheet or two, and bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until crisp.
The winterbor kale overwintered marvelously and will continue enjoying POD real estate until it’s time to tuck tomatoes into its home.
Although the last harvest was in November, kale’s a gratifying addition to a tiny gardening space. Because it can survive temperatures well below freezing and becomes even more flavorful after a frost, it works perfectly as a late fall/early spring crop. (This batch was planted as a set in early October 2009.) It’s just so satisfying to put home-grown greens on the table in dreary November and again in optimistic April — it’s even more delightful when you know the pots would have otherwise been left vacant.
Not only that, but kale’s one of those superfoods: you know, a heroic food that simultaneously fights cancer, strengthens bones, bests cataracts, and it may even ward off dementia. (We’ll see about that.)
And so it begins. It’s a modest start featuring last year’s overwintered Brussels sprouts and kale with the addition of this year’s pepper cress, early radishes, lettuce, and parsley. POD’s happy to report that with the assistance of large trash bags covering the containers, all survived last weekend’s below-freezing temps.