Tonight I am so annoyed at myself.  Over the past two days we’ve been having the worst wind.  Last week, when it was beautiful in the 70’s, I started hardening off my tomato seedlings.  I’ve had them growing under lights in the basement for about 6 weeks, and when I went down there on Monday, they were all pressed up against the lights.  So I whisked them up to my front stoop, which has a Northeast exposure.  They straightened out, and toughened up, and were doing great when this wind started to gust about.  I thought about bringing them in, but they were doing so well, and I thought maybe the wind would be good for them (duh), so I left them out.  They were fine yesterday, but I guess it got colder last night than I realized, and the wind had dried them out, so when I went out this morning they were wilted, and somewhat frizzled.  I watered them well, and they’ve recovered somewhat, but they’ve obviously had quite a shock.  I checked the weather report and it’s supposed to go down to the 30’s tonight.  The weather in this area is so crazy!  Last Sunday it was in the high 80’s.  It’s May, for crying out loud.  They are now warming up in my kitchen.  I think most of them will make it, tomatoes are very tough.  However, I may have lost a tomatillo (which I’ve never grown before).

This experience just goes to show what a challenge the whole hardening off process is.  It’s pretty easy to start plants indoors, if you have the right equipment.  But then when it’s time to get them out of the house into the garden, you are at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather and lapses in your own judgement.  The first year I started plants indoors I had read about hardening off.  But I thought, oh come on, what’s the big deal and just took them out of the house and popped them in the soil.  They all promptly died.  That pretty much taught me an important lesson.  I now harden off all my seedlings, and have had some amazing successes, especially with a cold frame in the early spring.  But tomatoes, and other warm weather plants (peppers, zinnias) still pose a great challenge for me.  I always somehow manage to fry them somewhat, either from too much sun, too little water, or too much water (torrential rainstorms).  One of my main problems is that I am too busy at this time of year to be consistent in moving trays of plants in and out of the house, and around the yard to get gradually greater and greater exposure.  Fortunately some hardening off, however inept, is still better than none.  Most of the plants recover and go on to grow better than if I started them straight from seed in the garden.

Faced with these challenges, I’ve been thinking about how to scale back on the indoor seed starting.  On Saturday I was at the nursery (in a thunderstorm) and was very impressed with the number of varieties of tomatoes, all sorts of heirlooms, such as Brandywine and Green Zebra, plus other interesting varieties.  I start seeds indoors primarily because there are some great varieties of vegetables and flowers that you can only get as seeds from a catalogue.  I love zinnias, but have a terrible powdery mildew problem.  There is one variety that is more resistant to powdery mildew than most, Benary’s Giant Series.  But if you start zinnias after the last frost here you won’t get flowers until August.  There are other flowers that you will never see in a nursery that are simply amazing, such as Asarina scandens, which is a lovely delicate vine with gorgeous bell shaped blue flowers.  See it here  I’ve been reading up on a seed starting technique that is new to me, winter sowing.  Dave’s Garden has a ton of info on it, such as this link. I thought about it this past winter, but I didn’t plan early enough for it, and didn’t have the right supplies or mind set.  I may also go back to buying tomato starts from the nursery.  But you never know, those seed catalogues in December and January are pretty appealing, and once you’ve bought your tomato seeds, what can you do?