The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

April 28, 2016

Chamomile tea helps protect young seedlings

Filed under: Disease,Seed Starting — bob @ 7:11 am

In my last post we discussed damping off, a fungal disease that attacks and kills developing seedlings. A clean growing medium will minimize the occurrence of damping off.  And a seed starting mix can be pasteurized by pouring boiling-hot water through it.

Once the seeds have germinated and the newly emerged plants are off to a good start, there’s more you can do to protect those tender seedlings.

There’s plausible evidence showing some homemade concoctions can inhibit the growth of pythium, the fungus responsible for damping off. One of these is chamomile tea. That’s right, the same tea we brew when we feel like mellowing out with something warm to drink.

Steep at least two teaspoons of chamomile flowers into each cup of boiled water. Let the tea come to room temperature before straining and using. This is quite a bit stronger than what most people use to brew a cup of drinking tea. The stronger you make the tea the effective it is.

 

Chamomile grows wild in some gardens.

Chamomile grows wild in some gardens. Every year we collect chamomile for tea. 

Use a spray bottle to water your new seedlings by spritzing the tea over the plants and soil once a day. To help the tea be more effective, make sure you allow for plenty of air movement around your plants while they are growing.

Eventually Mother Nature will take over and you won’t need to use the tea anymore. As seedlings grow and get older they will outgrow their susceptibility to damping off.

Bob

 

 

March 31, 2016

Use boiling water to protect newly sprouted seedlings against damping off disease

Filed under: Disease,Seed Starting,Soil — bob @ 10:50 am

Growing your own transplants from seeds is a very satisfying experience and can save you money too. However it is not without it’s problems. Just about every gardener who has started plants from seed has a story to tell of watching a crop of seedlings just starting to make good growth then all of a sudden the plants shrivel at the soil line, fall over and finally die.

That is a symptom of a condition known as “damping off”. It also kills newly sprouting seeds under the soil giving the impression of a low germination percentage. The gardener gets the wrong impression that he’s planted a batch of bad seed when in reality it’s damping off.

Damping off is most commonly caused by a soil based fungus called Phythium, but Rhyzoctonia and other species of fungi can cause similar problems. Whatever the case, it is not curable.

It’s an insidious disorder. The seedlings can look sturdy and strong then suddenly,bam! overnight an entire tray of seedlings will be lost.

Most of the time you can avoid damping off by purchasing a fresh bag of sterilized soil-less seed starting mix. Sometimes however, even a new bag of starting mix can harbor the fungus, although that is pretty rare.

When Pythium shows up, it’s probably the gardener who contaminated the mix by using dirty tools, pots, or even the potting bench. All tools and containers need to be scrubbed clean with a detergent. To be doubly sure, the items can be dipped into a 10 percent solution of household bleach.

Although all plants can be infected, some species of plants are more susceptible to damping off than others. For example petunias are prone to the infection.

A six inch pot is a good size for less that thirty or so seeds.

A six inch pot is a good size for less that thirty or so seeds.

Whenever I start a batch of expensive or hard to find seeds and don’t want to take any chances of losing those precious seedlings, I take the extra step of re-sterilizing the starting mix. Some might say I’m being extra cautious but sometimes seeds are irreplaceable and need all the protection we can give them.

For small amounts of soil, I pour boiling water through a pot of starting mix — then go back and do two additional pours. If you decide to try it yourself, be sure to place the pot in a spot where the water can drain through easily. I like to do this outside on a wire rack rather than in the sink.

This boiling water method has been used by gardeners for a long time and has shown to be pretty effective. Since the entire volume of the soil mix will not reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature at which it would be considered sterile — this could be considered more of a pasteurization method rather than actual sterilization technique.

Bob

 

March 25, 2015

Building a grow light fixture for seedlings using recycled parts

Filed under: Equipment,Seed Starting — bob @ 4:16 pm

There was a small project that I had to get done this week. I needed to add another bank of lights in my seed starting area.

You would think that after so many years as a professional gardener my seed starting room would look like some kind of laboratory complete with stainless steel racks, electronic equipment and all other sorts of really cool stuff. A few years ago when I was starting many thousands of plants, that was pretty much the case. Now days, I’m gardening at a much smaller scale.

My seed starting area is probably much simpler than what the average serious garden has. My general rule for these types of things is to not buy anything fancy or brand new if I can make it myself without sacrificing functionality.

I have a a pair of three foot, single bulb fluorescent light fixtures that I bought for a couple of bucks at a garage sale last fall. My plan was to attach them together to make a single assembly that I can easily adjust up and down depending on the growth of the seedlings.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

Florescent light fixtures from a garage sale.

There were no florescent tubes when I got them. That actually was a good thing since, over time, the amount of light  florescent bulbs produce dramatically diminishes over time. I didn’t have to dispose of any used bulbs which saved me some hassle. The bad thing was that I only had the seller’s word for it that the fixtures worked.

The first thing I did was open up the case to inspect the innards to be sure there were no wires shorting that could be an electrical hazard — they both looked sound.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

The cover protecting the fixture wiring just snaps off and on.

Next I tested them with my new bulbs and sure enough, they lit up nice and bright.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

The bulbs lit fast without flickering.

Fixtures like these usually have pre-drilled holes that are used for mounting onto various surfaces, these were no different. I had some metal drawer brackets in my inventory of useful stuff that I saved from an old dresser. They were the perfect size for joining the two fixtures together.

I used self-tapping sheet metal screws to attach the brackets to the light fixtures.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

Self tapping screws means no drilling necessary.

I bent pieces of heavy-duty fencing wire to make hangers for each end of the fixture assembly.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

Heavy wire bent into shape makes a fine hanger.

The assembly is hanging by leftover ceiling light chain from a section of shelving that someone gave to me.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

A section of used plastic shelving hold the light fixture assembly and seedling trays.

Even if you don’t have parts like I had laying around, recycling center that sell building materials often have fixtures, shelves and other parts for sale at very reasonable prices. I noticed while visiting Recycle Ann Arbor today that they had five nearly new florescent fixtures in stock.

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

Florescent light fixtures still in their boxes at Recycle Ann Arbor

For a very modest investment in cash and time I ended up with an additional seedling grow light.

Bob

 

 

 

February 18, 2015

Time for starting early seeds.

Filed under: Seed Starting,Seeds — bob @ 12:23 pm

This is time of the year when most people are counting down the number of days to the first day of spring. Gardeners  on the other hand, are calculating the number of weeks until the last frost. That date is far more useful for gardeners than the vernal equinox.

At this time, we are somewhere between ten to twelve weeks from our normal last frost. The way the winter is going right now, I’m planning on a later frost date rather than an earlier one. You have to take your best guess as to when it will be safe to plant outdoors months down the road.

The other alternative, which most people choose, is to just let the greenhouse manager worry about frost and buy your plants from him when the time comes. The problem with that is if you want a particular variety that you’ve seen in a catalog or magazine, it may not be available unless you grow it yourself.

So it’s time to sow some seeds, those that need a long time to germinate, grow and develop before setting outside in the garden. My new seed order arrived in the mail Tuesday and in it were some of those seeds I need to sow now.

The first of many seed orders.

The first of many seed orders.

I’m starting just a few vegetables this week: onions, leeks and celery.  I’ve cut back on flowers and am sowing just heirloom petunias and black-eyed Susan. In years past I would have been starting butterfly weed, sweet William, foxglove, and yarrow too.

The peak season for starting the rest of the seeds won’t begin for another three or four weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 28, 2015

Garden seed catalogs

Filed under: Catalogs,Seed Starting — bob @ 8:38 am

A lot of gardeners I know get pretty antsy this time of year. Seed catalogs are arriving in our mailboxes almost every other  day and making us even more fidgety. I suppose that’s the whole point of the catalogs, to make us excited about the up coming gardening season so we buy something we may not otherwise want or need. The familiar seed company logos are like the faces of friends we haven’t seen for a while.

I don’t consider any seed catalog junk mail, even the new ones I’ve never seen before and will probably never order from. Sometimes I find a jewel hiding in those too.

I’ve been gardening for many years and have seen seed companies come and go. Some stick around for eight or ten years while others try to break into the crowded field and fade away after a few years. The most familiar names have been around for generations.

Some homey-looking seed catalogs look like they’re from a small, friendly business when in fact they come from multi-national conglomerates. That’s marketing I suppose.

Most seed companies, even the small homespun outfits, don’t actually grow their own seeds, they purchase them through brokers and from other suppliers.That makes sense when you think about it.  Keeping genetic lines going and varieties true-to-type is a very time and labor intensive business, takes highly skilled managers and lots of land. The best most can manage, if they try at all, is to grow just a few varieties.

To me,  there is something about holding a printed catalog in my hand that I don’t get holding a tablet computer. Plus, with printed catalog you can mark pages and write notes all over it. I use bright colored marker and make big sweeping circles around the varieties I’m interested in. Then I write the page number on the cover. To me it is a lot easier, or maybe more intuitive, than book marking web pages on a computer.

On the other hand, when it comes time for ordering and paying, I’ll buy online — it’s so much easier that way.

Do you have a favorite garden catalog?

Bob

 

 

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