How to Start Your Summer Outdoor Growing Season Earlier
Experienced gardeners know that the sooner plants can be exposed to natural sunlight the better. In northern climates, this can be a tricky process with chilly spring nights. Kent Gruetzmacher offers up some advice on properly transitioning plants to the great outdoors.
To ensure a plentiful harvest, it is essential to maintain a consistent plant vitality throughout the entire lifespan of a crop.
These notions of a constant health stasis are crucial during the transitional periods of a garden’s lifecycle—those times when plants are stressed by infrastructural and climactic changes prompted by cultivators themselves.
Examples of transitional periods include transplanting plants into larger pots, or moving them from a vegetative growroom (metal halide lights) to a flower room (high-pressure sodium lights). While these changes are taxing for crops, they are a necessary feature in almost all indoor and outdoor operations.
For outdoor cultivators, perhaps the most stressful transitional period for their crops is the move from the controlled environs of an indoor room into the uncontrollable conditions of the outdoors.
While most outdoor gardeners would like to avoid the stressors of transitioning from inside operations to outdoor grows, this notion is impossible in most of North America due to the frigid temperatures of early springtime and winter.
As a result, almost all outdoor gardens begin in the comforts of the indoors. While this is the case, shrewd outdoor horticulturalists can still partially utilize sunlight to fuel their gardens in the spring by combining elements of indoor and outdoor growing.
The use of sunlight greatly lessens the demands of electrical usage for an operation while simultaneously making the transition from inside to outside less traumatic on crops. Here are a few pointers for getting crops outside early.
The Necessity of Hardening-Off Plants
The first thing that cultivators should remember when transitioning plants from indoor rooms to outdoor grows is that sunlight is far stronger than any artificial lighting. Therefore, it is essential that growers “harden off” plants as they slowly expose them to the sunlight.
This is accomplished by initially introducing sunlight to the plants, by way of weakened UV rays in a shaded environment. Often, gardeners create these shaded areas out of a PVC hoop-house construct that is covered in shade cloth—this cloth is simply some mesh material that allows for simultaneous air flow and UV protection.
Hardening-off is accomplished after plants have been comfortably in the shade for seven to 10 days at which point they are ready for full sun. Some caution is required, however. If one puts their plants in the sun prematurely during this transitional period, serious wilting and terminal stress can occur.
Option 1: Manually Moving Plants Inside and Outside
For the small-scale outdoor operation, or when plants are in small containers such as plastic cups and trays, manually carrying plants from inside to outside is an option. With this method, cultivators can utilize the energy savings and health benefits of sunlight without having to create any additional infrastructure for their outdoor gardens.
Furthermore, once plants are brought back inside they are sheltered from the cold nighttime temperatures and their “daytime” can easily be extended to at least a 16-hour light and eight-hour dark scenario.
There are a few downsides to consider in deciding to manually move plants inside and outside. Most importantly, one has to be present twice a day to complete the task. Second, if the indoor growroom in question is located in a difficult-to-access area such as a basement, this remedial chore can easily become overly burdensome.
Finally, if plants are in large pots (usually bigger than one gallon), carrying them twice a day almost becomes out of the question.
Option 2: Greenhouses
A popular option for easing the transition from the indoors to the outdoors is through the use of greenhouses. With these structures, cold spring daytime temperatures are greatly heightened as greenhouse walls trap heat within the greenhouse.
Furthermore, there are a plethora of ways that one can heat greenhouses during frigid spring nights. Greenhouses are ideal for growers that have large number of plants, large pots, or simply don’t want to carry plants inside and outside twice a day.
These set-ups work great for traditional outdoor gardeners who want to get their plants outside early, or they can also be used throughout an entire grow season to provide better security and environmental controls.
There are a number of considerations to make when weighing one’s options with greenhouses in the springtime. The primary concerns are the use of supplemental lighting as well as a reliable heat source.
In order to keep small plants within the vegetative phase of growth, lights must be hung inside the greenhouse to extend “daylight” hours—the lights can range from simple fluorescents to high-powered HPS fixtures.
However, as these lights will be on during the naturally dark periods of the springtime, they will make the translucent greenhouses emit light. If neighbors and light-pollution are a concern, the greenhouse will need to be covered by a black-out tarp during the nighttime and uncovered in the morning.
Finally, gardeners will need to heat their greenhouses at night. Choices for heating can range anywhere from a simple space-heater to a complex, thermostat-driven propane system.
Option 3: Carports and Trailers
This last option for getting full-season plants outside early may seem rather unconventional to the average grower, buts its remarkable ingenuity and practicality makes it hard to ignore.
Furthermore, this method is far cheaper than a greenhouse kit and can often be done with materials that most individuals already have at home. With a standard carport kit, horticulturalists can literally wheel their plants in and out of the structure for the daytime and the nighttime on a trailer. This method allows cultivators to move plants in big pots, as well as a large number of plants.
Deliberations to be made in using the carport methodology are based mainly on what materials one has on-hand. To illustrate, if a gardener already owns a carport and trailer, the option is really attractive.
What’s more, if one has a spare vehicle or four-wheeler to aid in the trailer moving process the simplicity of the operation is that much better. Finally, similar considerations concerning supplemental lighting and heating must be made for the carport option.