Great! You have started your seeds indoors and have beautiful little seedlings…what do you do? Immediately plant them outdoors? I wouldn’t recommend it; before transferring directly to the garden, you will want to harden the plants off for sun and for cool evening temperatures.
There are several methods for hardening off and protecting vegetable seedlings. For hardy vegetable crops such as califlour, broccoli, brussle sprouts or cabbage you can plant them in the dirt if all danger of the ground freezing has passed and cover them with glass or plastic cloches, frost fabric or a really economical solution is to cut around the circumfrence of a 2 liter plastic soda bottle and sink the bottle slightly around the seedling. Keep the cap off during the day to allow air flow. The plastic bottle protects from frosty mornings.
For our seedlings we took a different approach. You never know when inspiration will strike, I purchased the mini conservatories(pictured above) at a discount pottery outlet long before we bought this house and they have been stored in our garage for the last six years. I purchased them for in interior decoration for a party I was catering and put maiden’s hair and baby’s tear ferns in pots inside them. Since then, they have not been in use. I decided to use them on the east facing wall of my garage. The seedlings will get air flow with the lids up, morning to part afternoon sun and the lids can be closed to protect against frost.
For soft stemmed tender crops such as tomatoes, peppers and most other vegetable seedlings, keep them indoors just as long as possible. When the seedlings reach 3-4 inches, begin taking them out in the sun for part of the day (preferably in the morning) so they can adapt to the bright sun without burning.
Here in the midwest, the weather can be very unpredictable during the transitions between seasons, it is best to start and keep your seedlings indoors for as long as possible, but if your seedlings are in stress in their seed pots, follow these simple methods to get them out in the garden and protect them from the hot sun or the frosty mornings!