Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spring weather - hardening off transplants and bees

Two things have been frustrating about our spring weather. It’s been hard to put transplants outdoors to harden off. The days when temperatures have been over 55 degrees F or that winds haven’t blown have been few. Exposure to the outdoors helps leaves toughen and some plant movement thickens stems.

Note that there is a marked difference between the light intensity outdoors versus near a window indoors, as much as a hundred fold increase. The plants in the photo went from low indoor light to bright sun. They should have been placed in the shade outdoors as an in-between step. Even outdoor shade is considerably brighter than indoor light. The plants reacted to the bright light by turning white, indicating a breakdown of green chlorophyll (photo-oxidation). Gradually acclimating plants to brighter light is another reason to “harden-off” plants in stages lasting only an hour or two – if the weather allows.

Then there is the poor honey bee. They have gotten off to a rough start. Fall conditions were poor for them to set up stores for surviving the winter. Bloom was late this spring and though it is abundant now, the weather has usually been too cool for foraging. All and all this has been a stressful time for colonies and predictions are that many probably starved out.

In addition to weather, there is the worrisome problem of colony collapse disorder. Nationally, initial results from a survey by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Apiary Inspectors of America show managed honey bee colony losses of 33.8 percent over the winter. Last year losses were 29 percent. These continued high losses are causing fears of poor crop pollination. Gardeners can do their part by planting bee-attractive flowers and avoiding the use of pesticides particularly during bloom periods when bees are active.

Photo credits: Solarization of tomato, Carl Wilson and Honey bee, Jack Dykinga


  1. I had several bags of leaves I intended to mulch-mow into the lawn in the fall but didn't get to it until March. After dumping & mowing the leaves, I found I had many many bees in the front yard (seriously, my lawn was buzzing). They must have been living in the leaves. Any guesses what kind of bees they might be? I have a couple not-so-great photos I could send if that would help.

  2. I just started reading your blog this spring, and it's been so helpful to get current, local gardening updates and advice!
    I've now moved my more hardy transplants outside, and have planted some of them. The more tender ones (i.e., anything that fruits) I've been putting out on the porch during the day and bringing in at night. The tomatoes, eggplants (early variety), and pickling cucumbers are flowering, though some are still pretty small. Is is too early? Should I pinch them back?