The Great Damping Off of 2014

Well, the pepper plants didn’t make it.  I only started two pots, mind you, but both seedlings keeled over the other day.  I had put them outside for a few hours and thought maybe the wind had just been a little too strong, but upon closer inspection the seedlings looked like they had been pinched at the soil line, and that is apparently a sign of “damping off“.  Combined with the mushroom I found, I suspect that I was indeed watering them too much.

I thought the tomato plants were okay though, until this morning when I found one of them similarly flopped over and pinched.  I am fretting over the remainder; in fact I raced home this evening to put them near a fan (I’m reading that air circulation can help with this).  It’s weird though, because all of the plants seemed perfectly happy and healthy, sprouting new leaf growth.  I’m now torn between waiting it out and trying something like a chamomile tea or hydrogen peroxide solution that might – but probably not – kill whatever fungus is doing this.  Meanwhile the squash, cucumbers and watermelon seeds I started last week are already starting to sprout, and I’m worried that I started them in much too small of pots since the roots are already snaking out the bottom.

Truly, despite all my research I’ve made so many dumb beginner mistakes on this garden project!  I put too many seeds in each pot, thinking only one or two would germinate, then wound up with 5 or 6 sprouting in each pot.  And then I thinned them later than I should have.  I thought grow lights would be completely unnecessary, but now have several “leggy” tomato plants from them having to stretch to get enough light from my window.  (With the worst offenders I was able to add more compost to the pot and bury a little bit more of the plant stems, which seems to have helped, and hopefully it will start warming up so that they can go outside for some direct sun.  Assuming, of course, they don’t die first.)  Watering has also been a challenge.  Up until recently I was watering them from the top, rather than the bottom.  And, obviously, I’m having a hard time figuring out what is enough (but not too much) water.

The other thing is, on the advice of the garden store lady I used compost for my seedlings.  I told her that I had read that seedlings should be started in soil-less potting mixtures so they don’t get dirt-born diseases/fungus, but she convinced me the compost was the way to go.  While I’m sure I’ve been over-watering, I can’t help but wonder if the compost was a bad idea after all, especially since she said to me, “worst case scenario the seedlings won’t make it and you can just buy plants then.”  Hmmm.  It’s really too late at this point to try more tomato and pepper seeds – I’ll have to buy plants at the nursery now, but next year I’m going the sterile route to see what happens.

On the one hand, it’s a great lesson about how hard it actually is to grow actual food in a non-commercial, non-chemical manner.  It’s enough to make you wonder how we survived as a species for so long pre-industrialization.  And germs are everywhere!  On the other hand: seriously, I can’t grow a stupid pepper plant???  It’s a little demoralizing, I have to tell you.


About Lori Allen Writes

Lori is plotting to take over the world one essay, one quilt, and one hand knit sock at a time.
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