I think it was two years ago, on a bleak November day up in the organic centre that I met Charles Dowding. Of all the things I learned from him that day, and I really did learn a lot, one of the most useful things I came away with was his idea that hardening off was a load of old tripe and could be dramatically improved for both the plant and the gardener by a piece of horticultural fleece.
In a nutshell he transplants plants at a much earlier stage out into his garden, (skipping a time consuming labour intensive potting on period in some cases) and covers them in horticultural fleece, laid flat over the bed for several weeks. After that time he removes the fleece. The plant is now growing well, having acclimatised to the outside conditions and away it goes. Given the choice of taking things in and out for a week or just planting them out and covering them with fleece which one would you choose?
There are multiple uses for horticultural fleece. One great example is using fleece for overwintering crops like garlic and onions. In the last few years since I have gotten into the habit of fleecing the crop immediately after planting in November and leaving the fleece in place until the end of January/early February I have noticed a dramatic improvement in both the success of the sets or cloves (99-100%) survival rate over winter (as opposed to 70-80%), and much improved vigour of the green leafy growth with none of the usual beating they would take without the fleece over winter in the wind and cold, all of which gets them off to a flying start in spring and yields large returns. Win win as they say. Now onward to conquer the April/May drought pattern we have been experiencing for the last few years!
This fleece business is great but why isn’t it mainstream? Reading the GIY weekly column of May 13th here I was surprised to see them recommending the older time consuming, labour intensive method of hardening off. I think fleecing is by far easier for beginners and experienced alike. Just don’t forget to shake out a few slug pellets if you are putting a particularly tasty crop out; lettuces, pumpkins and beans all come to mind!
O by the way in one of the school gardens this year we set everything from seed, left them in the polytunnel to germinate and covered them with horticultural fleece to moderate both day and night temperatures, (leaving one tunnel door open at all times). We sowed the same seeds, used the same compost etc in another school garden polytunnel and had dramatically different results. Faster and better germination rates all round under the fleece despite minimal watering and attention from a once a week class. Same input in the second school garden, same once a week class but much poorer results.
I rest my case.
Charles has some good books under his belt but if you can meet this very nice and unassuming man for a day course with him I highly recommend you do. He makes his living growing veg and has really tested the ” old rules” of gardening to see if they are worth doing.
I’m not on commission for the makers of horticultural fleece in case your’e asking.