Tara Kate Linnane, the Gourmet Gardener.

Time to get tough or die trying

As May approaches and the signals of warmer summer days flicker in the distance, the chances of hard frosted nights are beginning to pass. If, like me, you have every indoor windowsill full to the brim with tender plants and seedlings, you will be glad to hear that a moving date for these crops is in sight.

Before the big move outside or even to the polytunnel, you will need to complete the process of hardening off. ‘Hardening off’ means acclimatising tender crops that have been raised indoors to the cooler temperatures and other environmental factors of the outdoors.

This is a gradual process and does take a bit of effort, depending on how many plants you have. Gradually expose the plants to increased amounts of sunlight and allow them to stay out later and later into the evening, but always taken in before night falls, along with the temperatures. It takes about two to three weeks to harden off plants.

Plants that have been sown indoors in recent months will be negatively impacted by a sudden shock of exposure to the elements, if they have not been given time to harden off. The most common problem is damage from cold temperatures, but equally, they can be scorched by direct sunlight. The effect of hardening off is to thicken and alter the plant’s leaf structure. It ensures new growth is sturdy, although growth will be much slower than indoors.

I use a crate for ease of logistics. Pack the plants into the crate or box and tuck them into a cosy corner outdoors, somewhere sheltered from wind as the tender seedlings could snap if blown around.

Cold frames

A cold frame is normally a box-shaped structure, covered with glass or plastic. It is used to protect plants from cold temperatures or strong winds. It can be thought of as a mini greenhouse and is a helpful option for hardening off plants. Cold frames can be fancy or simple. I have used old concrete blocks to prop up an unused window as a cold frame to protect seedlings but you can also purchase the real deal for a decent price.

The orientation of the cold frame is important. Facing south is best for these structures and a slit tight in the roof will allow maximum sun exposure. For easy access, the roof or cover should be light to lift but work with what you have. It may seem like a lot of effort, but being patient is key and will give your crops the best chance at life in the garden – and you will be thankful when you get to harvest the bounty fresh from the plot.

The plot to plate challenge

This year many more of us have chosen to go down the more sustainable route of growing fruit and vegetables at home or in an allotment. The Grow Your Own movement has had advocates for a long time but has become more popular in recent times, especially with educating kids on the experience.

Whether you are an expert at growing or a newbie, I have a challenge that will encourage a bit of fun and ‘healthy’ competition! I have committed to buying less plastic and picking more fresh food from my own garden this season. I would like to create meals with as many elements from the plot as possible. This takes planning and a bit of creativity sometimes, but I think it something that we could all get involved in.

I would like to see what creative ways you use your home grown produce over the next few months. Please share your plot to plate challenge photos with me, either on Instagram @twopeas_inapolytunnel or by emailing them to me at foodscapedesignco@gmail.com

I can share the best food photos and hopefully inspire others to join in our plot to plate challenge. On Instagram use the hashtags #plottoplatechallenge2021 #gourmetgardener

Timely tips for the garden

● When you are pricking out and potting up seedlings make sure to give them a pot that is not too big in size as you will only waste water keeping the larger pot moist.

● Even though the temperatures seem lovely, it is still too cold at night for tender crops like tomatoes and cucumbers to be left outside.

● Runner beans will need structures in place for them to climb so while you wait for the young plants to grow you can look to secure some structures for them to climb up at a later date.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

• Tara Kate Linnane is passionate about sustainability and growing all things edible. Together with her husband Barry, she has embarked on a journey of designing edible spaces and getting others started on their gardening adventures.

Follow their journey on Instagram @twopeas_inapolytunnel or visit thefoodscapedesignco.com to make contact for information.

You can email your questions to tarakatelinnane89@gmail.com

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