“I think I’m sun-burning myself,” I say to Diane. She’s bent over the spinach bed, shaking small tan seeds into a shallow furrow. The warm sun and cool wind on my bare arms feels delicious, but I reach for the flannel shirt hanging from a nearby fencepost and slip it over my shoulders. Years of painful sunburns have taught me to re-introduce my tender winter skin to the spring elements gradually.
It didn’t take me years of growing vegetables from seed to learn to treat my plants with the same care. Nope, finding the seedlings I’d coddled indoors under grow-lights wind-flattened, sunburned, and wilted after one day in the field just once was enough. Now I make sure to run my plants through a couple of weeks of garden boot camp before I plant them outdoors. Generally known as “hardening off,” this process entails gradually introducing tender young seedlings to the harsh realities of outdoor life. Much as the skin of my hands has toughened and calloused over the past few weeks of outdoor work, so will the plants toughen in response to the elements, until they can stand up to the battering of wind, sun, and rain.
As a home gardener, I hardened off my seedlings by moving them outside for increasingly longer periods each day, carrying them back indoors if the weather got too rough. But now we’re growing far too many plants for this to be practical. So we’ve decided to build a high tunnel to create a sheltered outdoor space for hardening off. We’ll be able to extend our harvests with the tunnel as well, as it will provide frost protection on either end of the growing season.
Covered with 6 mil greenhouse film, the tunnel will be 40 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 7 feet tall. It’s small by agricultural standards, but should meet our needs for the next year or two. Last Wednesday we set the corner ground posts and this coming Saturday, May 14, we hope to complete the rest of the structure. And we’d like to invite you to participate. You are welcome to stop by between 10 am and 6 pm, help us bend a fence rail or two, take a hike around the farm, admire the lettuce sprouts, and meet our new farm dog, Bud!
If you’re interested in coming by, please email us for directions and details.