We planned to take off the plastic on a day when it seemed we would finally be clear of the threat of frost. Unfortunately, that day ended up being around 90 degrees and cloudless -- the first of two such consecutive days.
I kept having hesitations the night before thinking it's just going to be too hot. But the plants had already experienced such heat in the greenhouse -- there were times before we put up a tarp on the top of the greenhouse to provide shade that we were battling 110+ degrees.
I was very concerned with the strength of the expected sunlight, but also kept remembering what I had read in greenhouse books that the light inside a greenhouse is actually more intense than outside because the amount that is reflected indoors bounces around inside the plastic instead of passing through. Not entirely convinced, the matter was taken out of my hands when I heard my husband pulling back the plastic in that morning when I was still in bed! The matter was out of my hands... the die was cast... the deed was done.
I don't know what the greenhouse books were talking about with the light being more intense inside the greenhouse -- clearly, the plants were now experiencing bright direct -- not bright diffuse -- sunlight once the plastic was removed, and they were rather shocked by it. I should have listened to all that hesitation I was feeling: by 11 am they were clearly unhappy. I watered everything, which is not a minor undertaking because we are using rainwater we collected off our home's roof into two 275 gallon containers and this usually means hand-watering.
Noon: unhappy, still wilting plants. At 2 PM, I watered the most unhappy ones again. By 3 PM they were so wilted I thought they would die. I crawled inside to worry and mourn these plants I had raised from mere pups. At 3:30 PM I gave myself a forehead dope-slap and cried, "GIVE THEM SHADE!!!" I called my husband to come home from his worksite, and by 4 PM we had re-deployed the tarp over the bare bones of the greenhouse structure. Phew -- relief at last! It stayed up there until the temperatures came down and we had a partly overcast day.
This whole transition from plastic to outdoors of course is important -- and sadly, we get to practice and learn from it only once a year (I don't anticipate the transition back under plastic will be traumatic). Yes, it would be nice to do it on a day that's 70 degrees and overcast, with two more similar days following. But we all know that New England weather cannot be commanded, much less understood. In hindsight, we should have waited until the plants weren't having to deal with both high temperatures AND direct sunlight on their first day out.
But -- as they say: live and learn. And most of the plants did survive, surprisingly. How much they were set back is unknown, but surely they were. Certainly, the tender texture of many of the eating greens was highly compromised. What other loses in quality, quantity and timing of future produce we will sustain as a result are yet to be seen.
We used up a LOT of saved rain water getting the plants through all this stress -- water that could have been otherwise stretched further. Another thing that came into sharp focus as we ran out of stored rain water just a few days after we planted out all the starts is that we need to expand our water saving system. We increased our bed space about four-fold over last year, yet we increased our water saving system less than 20%. Even a math-phobe like me can see that that will never work!
Taking steps as we are to nurture the soil fungi and bacteria, we just don't like the idea of putting chlorinated water on the gardens -- seems awfully counter-productive to both support and threaten the little buggies! You can see the temporary solution we are using in the photo of the just planted-out garden above.The 30-gallon gray barrel is filled with municipal water and the chlorine is allowed to off-gas before we use the water.
Photos: ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images