Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to Harden off Heirloom Tomato Seedlings

I started the last of my warm weather seedlings just yesterday (eggplants, pepperoncinis and Rutgers and Beefsteak tomatoes).  Is it bad that I get sad when I'm all finished with my transplant seedlings and only have my direct sow seeds left?

So far I have had excellent germination rates, I use all heirloom seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I have not been disappointed yet.  Last year I had great success with heirloom tomatoes.  This year I am trying some new varieties.

We have a whole 36 pot seed tray just for tomato plants:
6 Chadwick cherry
6 Gypsy
12 Amish paste
12 Arkansas Traveler
Hardening Off Tomato Seedlings

Here is the method I use.  With a nod to the medical community, I will use our mantra for starting a patient on a new medication as an allusion to exposing sensitive seedlings to sunlight:


  • Day 1:  I wait until late afternoon when the sun is gentler and I set them in a sunny spot on our deck that is protected from wind.  I leave them outside for about an hour and a half.  No signs of distress, so I continue on gradually increasing exposure.
  • Day 2:  At lunch I set the plants outside again around 1 o'clock.  At 5 o'clock they are still looking pretty perky but I go ahead and bring them inside.
  • Day 3:  Saturday is sunny and beautiful so I set the seedings outside from 9 to around 2 during the harshest sun of the day.
  • Day 4:  Sunday it rained all day...HARD.  No fun in the sun today guys, back under the grow light you go.
  • Day 5:  Back on schedule.  They should be able to handle full sun all day long without any problems.  I take them outside in the mornings, water them in the morning if they need it and bring them inside every evening so they do not get too cold.
Just as with medicines in the body, too much of a good thing can be, well, too much.  Now all I have to do is wait for the soil to warm and I can plant these little guys out in the garden.  Don't they just look beautiful?  And even those little seedlings SMELL like tomato plants.

Can. Not. Wait.