Thursday, April 1, 2010

Damping Off

For all my planning I am still having a rough start this year.  I started my seeds in a mix of potting soil and mushroom compost.  I knew that what I should have was peat moss, and probably a few other things like perilite and vermiculite, but I used what I had.  This is another one of those lessons that it is better to learn from someone else's mistakes than to risk losing time in your own garden.
Damping off is a term used to describe sudden seedling death.  It can be caused by a lot of factors, but preventing it is easy, and I knew that to begin with!
1. NEVER use soil to start seeds.  Always use a sterile soil-less mix, purchased or homemade, but it must be sterile.  Peat moss is difficult because it absorbs water and forms a dense structure, that when dry, is impenetrable. You must keep it thoroughly moist at all times, or your seedlings will die from dryness associated with the brick like nature of the peat.
2. Don't over water.  The fungi that can cause these dilemmas thrive with excessive moisture.  While germinating it is important to keep the mix constantly moist, but as the seedlings emerge, tapering back to moderate watering and light (1/2 strength) fertilizers will allow the little plants a chance to stand up on their own.
3. Be Sterile.  washing all of your seed trays, pots, spades and scoops with a 10:1 water/ bleach mix, will help to prevent spread of fungi and any related spores or bug eggs or other pests.

Some information I found at this site, states the following;

Not only will controlling your watering help to prevent fungus gnats, it will prevent the second most common problem, damping-off. This condition is caused by several fungi such as Phtophtora and Pythium. These fungi live at the soil line, just where air meets the moist soil surface.

When your potting soil is kept continuously moist by overwatering, the fungi attack your seedlings. The telltale symptom is a constricted stem, just at or below the soil surface. Once seedlings are infected, they tend to fall over at the soil line.

As mentioned, allowing the soil surface to dry out will go a long way in preventing this problem. If, for some reason, your potting mix remains wet for an extended period of time, look to your kitchencabinet to help prevent the disease. Cinnamon powder is a natural fungicide and has been shown to be particularly effective against damping-off. In addition, Weak chamomile tea (after it has cooled) is another natural fungicide

Honestly I did not know that there was much to be done for it at this stage.  Not all the seedlings are infected, some are, some aren't.  And prevention is always the cure.  I figured my only alternative is to cut my losses, and begin anew.  This may also be why I have no tomatoes sprouting as well.  Which is of more concern, because my leafy greens can be started all season long, but tomatoes have to been in like YESTERDAY....

I have to get to work, but I thought I would throw that out there.
My broccoli and Brussels sprouts have a few seedlings that are bent at the stem, preventing water or nutrients to help sustain them.  I have used unsterilized pots, unsterilized soil, and let my daughter over water.  Basically I have done everything that you are not supposed to do, and learned the hard way, yet again. It's a good thing out livelihood does not depend on the earliness of our garden...because I blew it!  I guess I will be going to the hardware store now!

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