Thursday, 30 May 2013

Hardening Off

Every gardener knows the feeling that comes in spring. A few days of good weather early on, and we get to wondering "Can I plant those less hardy flowers and vegetables, or is it too soon?" All gardeners are optimists and we wish so hard that one weekend of hot, sunny, dry weather is a portent, an indicator that it will continue for the next several months uninterrupted (except for the overnight rain showers watering the garden, of course). We've all sacrificed geraniums and cucumber plants because of hope.

Of course we can put our plants out during the day and give them protection at night, or from freak bad weather that's not in keeping with our mental picture of continuous sunshine. Here, we call this gradual exposure to discomfort "hardening off". It toughens the cells of the plant which would otherwise be soft, lush and green from sugars and water. Being soft and sweet leaves plants vulnerable to weather, to aphid attacks, fungal diseases, what have you. A soft plant quickly becomes a dead plant. (Or, if you want to sound really fancy, you can say it's suffering from chronic necrosis.)

French beans, very much alive for now

It's not just plants that have to harden off around here. As long as it's dry, the Podgelets have been going outside in their puppy pen when the thermometer reads 10 degrees plus. The lambs stay out in the rain and cold now, with hedges and full bellies of milk to ward off chilling.

Tails ringed, ear tags in

The horses no longer get rugs put on them; they have to bear the transition into spring with a thin winter coat. Though they can put themselves in draught-free stables, they rarely do and accept the wind and rain on their backs as long as they can keep their heads down and eat the new shoots of spring grass.

Already recovered

Being cold causes warm fleece to grow, or increases appetite. Being wet ups the oil production to waterproof fur. It's all a trade-off: enduring some adversity to gain some strength. I think the same process happens with people, but on a psychological level instead of a physiological one. Heck, if the ability to grow hair was a strengthener against fear or anxiety, I would be an emotional Sampson (though I would resemble a Sasquatch).

Ram lamb's recovery more of a drama, as he had other bits ringed!

I hate inflicting any kind of stress or pain on my animals: docking tails, tagging ears, administering shots or horrible-tasting worming solutions. I try and keep in mind this concept of hardening off when a lamb struggles in my arms or a puppy shakes its head after a mouthful of worm paste. It's going to help you endure I remind them. And myself.

A pair of Podgelets do muscle resistance training with my riding boot


Anonymous said...

So, being totally clueless about sheep....why do the tails get docked?

Jennifer Montero said...

Anon - It's not mandatory to dock tails (in fact I think some breeds like Portlands have to have tails left on if they're destined for the show ring) but many shepherds do it for hygiene reasons.

Long tails collect "klinkers" (a polite term for layers of sheep shit) which attract flies. Flies lay their eggs in the warm, now shit-covered underside of the tails. Maggots hatch and burrow into the sheep and eat their flesh. Left untreated sheep die a horrible death. Short tails = less shit, flystrike is easier to spot and treat, so I hope it's ultimately kinder to sheep.

You now know all there is to know about a sheep's arse. Consider yourself an expert and share the knowledge liberally - dinner parties are a great place to do this!

Pam said...

Klinkers! That's a new one for me-I call them dingleberries. Sad day you don't learn something new. Poor (ex)ram lamb-that is definitely the universal "I've just been banded" demeanor. Happy spring!

janice bendixen said...

Jenn, I share your pain when it comes to necessary-tough love. When Boog had to go get the big operation, I think I was more miserable than she. I put a blankie out and we spent next two days on the lawn. If I feel that way about one pup, I can't imagine how you must feel about 30 sheep and 12 (?) dogs and/or Podgelets.

janice bendixen said...

BTW, thank you for the lamb porn photos. They're adorable

Peruby said...

And with children. I've bit my lip many times in an effort to endure the pain of watching my child go through the "hardening" phase. You want to do everything for them - fight all their battles, but "No". Let them work it out for themselves. It is in their own best interest and will help them survive the long haul. It is torture, I tell you and just breaks your heart.