I started taking records of my garden this year on a spreadsheet. It allows me to keep track of what kinds of plants, how many, production/yield. It also allows me to take notes about what grows and what doesn’t. Of the tomatoes I started in mid May, which was many, I only have a handful remaining and that is a generous estimation. I knew there had to be user error, since since SO MANY of my plants were dying to damping off.
Damping off is this obnoxious illness where you will see your tiny little sprouts, they will be trucking along, and then…droop. The droop turns to shrivel and poof; a few days later no seedling, but rather the wilted husk of the seedling that could have been. Between damping off and some overly curious cats, I lost a lot of those May 17th tomatoes.
I looked at my local extension office calendar and decided I still had time to try again. Gardening Lesson Number 4 is “replant, regrow, endure” after all. Damping off is caused by a disease, bacterial or fungal. Moisture is also a contributing factor. There were also user error issues that needed to be addressed.
Part 1: Because damping office is caused by disease, I started this round by washing all of my cells thoroughly and by sanitizing them in an antimicrobial solution. Some people use bleach water. I used Odoban because that is what I keep in my house. Next time I will probably use Oxyclean. I have an aversion to the smell of bleach so we don’t use it. After rinsing everything off, I left them to dry completely in the sun.
Part 2: I used sterile seed starter (no change there) as my growing medium. However rather than liberally throwing seeds into the cells, I placed one in each cell and planted more cells to account for germination rates; some of my seeds were quite old and stored in questionable conditions (my classroom library.) My second major change was using “No Damp Off” to top off my cells and cover my seeds.
Part 3: My watering technique has changed as well. Instead of watering overhead, I switched to watering from beneath by using the tray. I have also started removing my germination domes at the first sign of germination to promote drier conditions. I water with less frequency now, paying closer attention to the soil’s condition.
Part 4: Reducing the number of seeds per cell allows me to go longer without thinning or re-potting, which gives the plants more time to establish root structures.
Part 5: After the first set of true leaves appears, I apply a mixture of agriculture molasses (three TB spoons) and fish emulsion (one TB spoon) diluted in a gallon of filtered water for every other watering.
These simple changes have led to much healthier plants. I have had almost no incidents of damping off and the plants that have grown are as big, if not bigger, than the ones I started a month prior.