14 May 2008

Hardening off tomatoes

Spring, and it feels like there won't be another frost. This morning, standing at the bus stop while my kids boarded their bus to school, I was reminded of Van Gogh's Branches of Almond Tree in Bloom as I looked at a huge old elm, the bark angular and dark against the brilliant blue morning sky, buds urging to burst into bloom and leaf out, but today just smudges of green pastel, soft against the hard lines of branch and limb. From morning until now, I've been inhaling this air, so sweet I want to drink it.
I just brought my tomatoes up from the basement. They've been sitting under 40-watt fluorescent shop lights for the past six weeks, and it's time to bring them outside to harden them off and prepare them for the garden.
If I put them into sunlight right away, the sunlight will scald the leaves and kill the plants. So, I bring them into the light of day slowly. Tonight, they're on the north side of the house, where they'll acclimate to the fluctuating temperatures and breezes of outdoor living. Over the next week I'll gradually expose them to more and more sunlight until they're ready to go into the ground.
I like to plant my tomatoes as deep as I can, leaving only a few leaves above ground. This helps them develop deep, sturdy roots; they start out a bit slow, but by July they'll be doing fine.
Meanwhile my roquette is growing vigorously; I'll be eating it in just a few more weeks. My fava beans are a few inches tall and if we have a few more days like we had today they'll take off.

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