Recently my brother contacted me about prepping a bed for beans and such and inquired about “hardening-off” his seedlings. Young, pampered seedlings that were grown either indoors or in a greenhouse need a period to adjust to outdoor conditions, gradually exposing the tender seedlings to wind, sun and rain and toughens them up prior to planting in the garden. This transition period is called "hardening off.” It usually involves the simple method of placing them outdoors for gradually longer periods of time. Hardening-off seedlings helps prevent transplant shock. However, one must be prepared to bring them indoors if there's a late freeze or snow.
My brother’s question was “How many days to harden off seedlings before planting?” I told him that several days; perhaps a week was often sufficient. I told him to observe the changes in the plants as they harden-off, sometimes one can see a marked darkening of the green or notice a strength or an ability to stand up even in a bit of wind, or popping back up after a bit of rain.
I explained that when in doubt, leave them out to harden–off longer, the only concern being their becoming root bound in the tiny containers usually used to sprout seeds. Becoming root bound stunts their growth, so check for that and re-pot if needed.
“That’s my worry.” He said.
“Don’t worry, just check.” I said. It’s okay to loosen up the soil in the container gently and lift out the soil and root mass to examine it briefly. Knowledge is power.
One should look for root growth on the outside of the root and soil ball, roots not in soil but wrapping themselves around the soil and obviously constrained by the walls of the container. If this is the case, they should be re-potted into a larger container with more soil. This way the plant knows that there is ample room to grow and more nutrient territory to be had and it will continue to grow and expand and seek its natural full expression. Another method instead of the re-potting of the seedlings is to temporarily plant them loosely in a tray or a wheelbarrow to allow for root growth and expansion as well as providing a continued ease of moving them in and out of frost danger.
Also, one can go the “not all eggs in one basket” route and diversify your seedling hardening off techniques profile. Try a few different things in an effort to maximize ones sense sureness. Learning gardening is an opportunity for experimentation and discovery.
I have found the Path of the Gardener to be an amazing potent Wisdom Path. Rich metaphors between the ways of plants and the ways of humans become evident. There is much to be learned about the process of all living things on this path. Immersing oneself in the planting and tending, in the growth and flowering and fruiting, in the dying, composting and the eventual return to the source can greatly enrich ones life.
The part which spoke to me today was The Sermon of the Seedling, especially the part about trying new techniques, about exploration and discovery. When taking on new projects, trying new things in life, changing the form of something so that the energy flows more efficiently or more in line with our preferences there is often a hesitation, a fear of failure.
What I have found is that if I maintain a mindfulness and consciousness through the decisions to move in the direction of my intentions or dreams, I can not fail.
Life is a journey of discovery, a process by which we like the seedlings, seek expansion and growth. We like all life are seeking a full expression of our selves. Whatever we decide, whatever choice we make, we will learn and grow either way. There is no such thing as failure when doing something. The only failing is “trying” which, in the end, is simply “not doing.”
Things not “working out the way one planned” should not be seen as the marker of failure, but instead, as the path of growth. Our own life story can attest to this if we examine it. How many times have we worried about changing jobs or shifting the shape of a relationship or moving to a new home only to find that the new form and situation was just what you needed? The wisdom of our lives tells us to take a leap of faith; we will learn and grow, either way.
We never fail to succeed.