Hardening Off in Autumn?

The act of hardening off is associated more with late spring than early autumn but even at this time of year at Pig Row, we are scurrying back and forth between the glasshouse and a sheltered area at the bottom of the hill. 

Kale Nero di Toscana and Cabbage Frostie 

We sowed these plants in late August, potted them on in mid-September and prepared the bed for them earlier in the month. Kale and Cabbage are fast growing plants and the time from pricking them out to growing them on was relatively short, just under a month. We do sow under glass but a late direct sowing in August may be worth a chance for those without a greenhouse. Just make sure the soil is warm, you don't need any fancy gadget to do this, just a finger*. Drive it into the soil and if it feels cold and wet, good chance that a direct sowing of seeds will rot but if it is dry, warmish and isn't too unpleasant than you can sow away. After late August though you may struggle unless you use a tunnel or a cloche.

Kale Nero di Toscana

Over the last week we have been bringing these plants in and out, get them ready to go into open ground by the simple act of hardening off. It is never advisable to grow something under glass and then just plant them out. You will regret it, and though the plants may not die (they will more than likely be dead by morning), they will be knocked back and may never get away and will never give you strong, healthy plants.

Come and have a go if you think your hard enough

The best way to get your plants ready for open ground is to follow the tradition of hardening off. Placing them in a sheltered spot during daylight and bringing them under cover when night falls. You have to remember to do this for a week, and to keep myself from forgetting this year I have opted to place them on top of the wall outside the kitchen and then bring them into the kitchen as evening falls. It is now quarter past seven in the evening here and it is dark and the rain is ice cold, and the plants are in the kitchen on the slate floor. Plenty of times since we arrived at Pig Row have I suddenly yelled, 'Oh bugger'. Normally this is not so restrained and is dotted, dashed and abused by many four letter words but I have a toddler-cum-parrot in the house now and I have to be careful what I say. The old Robin Williams joke about children is absolutely true, I once did swear in the car and Little D repeated it all the way home. 

So, if you do buy some cabbage plants this autumn, harden them off or as Little D yelled at my neighbour this morning, 'Grow them hard, grow them hard'. Shame faced I wasn't until I saw the action he was doing along with the words, he was slapping his head. It is amazing how quickly your knees can lock around a child steering him away from people he shouldn't slap his head at, still it's better than 'bloody hell'.

* There was an old wives tale about checking the temperature of your plot by dropping your trousers and sinking your bum into the soil. Though this is funny and appealing to my sense of humour there is something of the glass hammer joke about this. However, if you want to sink your buttocks into your soil at this time of year, I can't stop you but be aware of neighbours and if they see you invite them to join in. It's only polite.