I’ve been working away at my garden plot at the Mamie D. Lee community garden in northwest Washington, DC over the last weeks. I noticed a difficulty with my seedlings raised indoors adjusting to the harsh realities of planted life in the garden. Several tomatoes I transplanted weeks ago when it was unseasonably warm did not do well: two died and the third barely survived.
To help the process of adjustment from cozy indoor life to outdoor one, you are supposed to harden the seedlings off, by exposing them in increasing amounts of time to direct sunshine, wind and cooler temperatures. As someone living in an apartment style condo without a direct access to the outdoors, this has been a challenge.
So as a solution, I loaded up my little seedling friends into a large flat box to take them out to the sun the next time I went to the garden. A day trip, if you like. They rode in the back seat of my car, getting bumped and jostled by the road and wind from the window. They sat outside with me when at the garden, and got a dose of the great outdoors. Then when I was done, I packed them back into the car, like kids on a school trip, and returned them back home to life by the window. I had raised those little guys from dirt and now I was invested in seeing to their survival and, like dreaming of one’s child going to college, I wanted them to thrive with fruit by mid summer.
This is what we urban gardeners sometimes resort to: like all gardeners, we do whatever it takes to get those little plants to survive and flourish. Sometimes we have to be creative to meet our unique urban circumstances.
Another wonderful aspect of urban community garden life is that it is a social experience. You meet others gardening their plots and have a small chat. You talk about conditions. You ask them about their plants and what they are doing. You get ideas and solutions. Its a wonderful way to work.
A solution I saw recently to my plant hardening problem was provided by another gardener’s plot: they had put plastic wrap about the base of their tomato cage (a square one) to provide a wind screen but still let in warmth. I thought it was genius.
I was looking for a way to protect my plants once transplanted in the garden, especially from the wind that has been acting up and wreaking havoc on my tender seedlings, breaking them at the stem and killing them instantly. I tried this by using plain old two foot stakes and plastic wrap. This worked!
The rest of my seedlings I put underneath the lush, towering foliage of my swiss chard plants, which were an overwintered gift from last year’s plot owner. Thinking of protecting my little peeps while getting them out into the world, I have nestled them underneath and in between these huge leafy plants which is providing partial shade and protection from high winds that can snap their tender stems.
To solve a space constraint issue that all urban gardeners usually have, I also built trellis teepees for my beans. I have four kinds of beans, thanks to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans, Scarlet Runners, Violets Multicolored Butterbeans and Southern Whipporwill Cowpeas. As always, I hope they are hardy and do well. These will allow these vigorous climbers to grow upward in a tight space. A week after planting, these beans have sprouted and are growing fast. Building the trellises was fun and I think they add a nice quality to my garden plot.
One of the cool things about gardening is that its challenges allow you to get out your problem solving skills and try things out. Just like this. Its great to work out solutions and get your creative genius going, then stand back and go, ‘yes, that actually works!’