Fried Squash

Thursday, April 26, 2007
I'm pretty good at growing plants from seed, but things start to go awry when I set the seedlings outside to harden off. Case in point: My two butternut squash plants.

I had two beautiful, healthy plants that I brought out to the garden on Sunday. Monday I returned to the plot and found them wilted and sunburned and just generally looking miserable. They obviously didn't enjoy their first day under the sun.

I know about hardening off seedlings. The process is simple: Set plants outside for a few hours, then bring them back in. Set them out for a few hours more the next day, then bring them back in, and so on, until they've adapted to the sunlight, wind, and fluctuating temperatures of the outdoors. But since I live in an apartment, setting plants outside, for me, means walking them four blocks away to our plot. And sometimes it's hard for me to get out to the plot once a day, let alone twice. Four blocks isn't a lot, but it's not exactly as convenient as setting plants out the back door.

So when my seedlings go out, they go out. For good. I put them in what I call the "transitional zone," tucked next to a clump of daffodils. That gives them at least a little protection from the elements, which works well for some plants, but not so well for others. Obviously. I need to do better.


Blogger Diana said...

You can build a little cold frame in your transitional zone, with a few hoops of wire or plastic piping covered with some floating-row-cover fabric; or a box of some 2x4s with sheets of glass resting on each side... Or even an upside down aquarium from someone's garage sale! And if you know it's going to be extra sunny, you can drape some mesh or light-shade-inducing fabric over the whole setup.

None of these are beautiful options, true, but in the fight between Beauty and Butternuts, Butternuts win every time! :)

10:34 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

I saw the title of this post and got all excited because I thought you'd be talking about frying squash flowers. Oh well.

I usually pick a cloudy or rainy day to start hardening off my seedlings. Either that or I let them spend the first few days outside but in the shade. Even the shade is brighter than my indoor lights.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to suggest a small cold frame out of PVC pipe and plastic also, but Diana beat me to it. Another very simple option is to cut the bottom off of a gallon milk jug or 2 litter soda bottle, take the lid off for ventelation, and place one over each plant.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

An old umbrella frame with the handle jammed into the ground, then swathed with row cover or nylon net might work, too, Christa - and also might look too crummy for someone to want to swipe it ;-)

Good luck!


2:21 PM  
Blogger raine studios said...

wow, this same thing happened to me, and not because of the apt/plot situation, but because.. hi, i work full time, and so unless i do it all over the weekend (not too gradual!) it's pretty much sink or swim here too.

I put 2 little plants outside monday morning in what i thought woudl be a nice and shady spot.. got home to find very sad and droopy plants.

I brought them in and drenched them with water and luckily they perked right up. it was even worse, because these where the sunflowers that my KIDS had planted in yogurt cups, so they were very sad to see THEIR PLANTS all droopy and sad. There was much rejoicing when they recovered :)

still gotta figure out what to do though.. i have several trays of stuff i need to get outside.. glad to know it's not just me!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Kylee Baumle said...

I've had the same problem in the past, except my biggest problem is damping off. So far so good this year, though. Right now, my seedlings are on the front porch, where they don't get direct sun these days (we've gotten flooding rains for the last two days).

I have a cold frame we made last year from an old window, and I think we'll get that out of the attic and the little seedlings will go in there for a week or so.

I like starting things early, but sometimes I wonder if it's worth it!

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In her book about organic veg growing Joy Larkom suggests that you can start the hardening off process at home by fanning the plants with a piece of thick card. Start in one direction actually touching the top of the plants as you fan then turn 90 degrees and do it again. I've never actually tried it myself because we've got a cold frame but Joy's book is a bit of a bible in my house so if she says it works it's got to be true...

3:45 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

These are all great suggestions. Thanks, everyone!

Diana: I have a few extra pieces of wire from the tomato cages we built. I can probably construct something simple out of those.

Anthony: I *hope* I'll eventually get some squash flowers to fry. That's something I'd like to try. Never had fried squash flowers before.

Heather: I like the milk jugs idea. Some of my plants -- the tomatoes, for example, are already too tall and fat to fit under a milk jug, but I could use this technique for my smaller plants.

Annie: I can see my husband's expression now -- "Babe, why is there a broken umbrella in our garden plot?" :-) But I love the idea! Easy to do and a great way to give new life to something that would otherwise languish in a landfill somewhere.

Amy C: It's not just you! Maybe some of the suggestions here will help you as well. Glad to hear your kids' sunflowers made a recovery. :-)

Kylee: Fortunately, I've never had problems with damping off. I was wondering, too, if it's worth it to start seeds so early. I really like starting plants inside, though, when it's too cold to garden outside.

Liz: That's interesting. I've read about this on a couple of other blogs, specifically in regard to tomato plants...creating fake "wind" to help strengthen the plant stems. Another technique to add to the mix.

8:16 AM  

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