Jen Swanson

pollinator
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since Jul 11, 2020
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Vancouver, Washington
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Recent posts by Jen Swanson

James, I have to guess that the reason for your experience with your seedlings has to do with the soil, the small cells  the seedlings are in, and that they have not been warm enough.

Tomatoes are an odd plant in that they like really warm temperatures when they are germinating. Heat mats help a lot. The red color of your seedlings tell me they have been too chilled. What are your temps for them, day and night? They definitely don't like being colder than 50 at night and germinate best in the 70s and 80s range.

Second odd thing is that they love lots of room for their roots. My friends and I have experimented with uppotting them to gallons instead of 4" pots once they have a couple sets of true leaves, and they perform way better going directly into gallons. Bury them deep in the gallons - as deep as you can, and they will grow roots all along the buried stem.

Lastly, the soil. I have experimented with using my own compost and garden soil to grow seedlings and failed miserably. All sorts of wierd pests, fungus gnats, damping off and failure to thrive. I even tried baking the soil in the oven for an extended period of time to sterilize it. I expect there's a way to do it that that works, but I now buy seed starter mix and my experience is night and day better. A little goes a long way because I just use it either in the little 1" cells like you have or as a topping on potting soil for bigger seeds planted in bigger pots.

Good luck and thanks for sharing!
Using plastic for starting seeds.... I start thousands of seeds every year, many for other people, and just can't imagine/think of doing it any other way. Plastic seeds trays, plastic pots, mesh and watering flats. Well, at least I do reuse them until they are worthless.... Bad me.
2 days ago
Hi David. Whether a plant will grow from cuttings totally depends on the type of plant. You'll be more successful taking the right type of cuttiing for your plant (soft growing tip, softwood, hardwood), at the right time of year for it, and using the right medium for it (e.g., water, sand, pumice, garden soil, etc.) Rooting hormone helps in most cases unless you are using water as the rooting medium. Some plants also root better using airlayering or by burying some of the live branches in the ground. It all depends on the plant. I don't know of any central source for that kind of imformation but I'm sure you can find the information you need for the plants you want to propogate on the internet. In doing so, I'd suggest finding a few different, reputable-looking sources that agree as the right method for your plant.

As to a plant not developing a proper root structure when it's grown from a cutting, I don't think that's accurrate. The root structure can and will be impacted if the potted plant is not watered properly or is allowed to get root bound, or if it is not transplanted carefully.
3 weeks ago
My worm bins always seem to be soggy, but yours seem downright drenched! I use newspaper shreddings (when available) and sawdust. Sawdust especially adds volume and helps keep the bin environment healthier.
4 weeks ago
Hi Terry -

Welcome to permies!

I do have a few thoughts for you -

Regarding the food plants you've listed, some of these are warm season plants (like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil) and some are cool (like lettuces, chard, spinach and cilantro), meaning they want to go in the go in the ground and grow at different times of the year. I'd make a schedule of what you'd like to grow, then do some research on when they need to go in the ground in your area.  You may find that you could pretty much have a garden year round!  (You don't have peas on your list? I love peas. They can go in pretty early as they are a cool season crop and they add lots of nitrogen to the soil because they are nitrogen-fixing.)

Irrigation - Is your Pops overhead sprinkling your food beds? Drip irrigation is much better for your plants. Most food plants don't like overhead watering (especially tomatoes!). Getting the leaves wet, especially late in the day, can encourage all sorts of diseases, like powdery mildew, to name just one.

Borders - Planting the borders around your beds with native wildflowers, or even just flowers to which beneficial insects are attacted, can really bring in a lot of beneficials. Weeds, on the other hand, can attract bad bugs and give them a place to overwinter, lay eggs, etc., so attending to what's around your food garden is pretty important.

Row covers - I've used row covers pretty effectively to prevent my seeds from being eaten and to protect some of my plants from insects that want to lay eggs by my plants. The timing of when you put on the covers is important and depends on the plants you are growing and the insects you are hoping to deter.

Stink bugs - I haven't had a problem with stink bugs, but I have with others. I think your tactic of trying to locate and handpick the eggs and get 'em early is a good one. I'd also say that, although neem and insecticidal soap are considered organic, you could easily be killing beneficial bugs that eat stink bugs and their eggs, or that are parasitoids (even more fun, IMO). Killing off the beneficials just gives the bad bugs more of an opportunity. And I think diligence will pay off, although it's not easy! :)

Other pests - Many come out at night. Visiting the garden with a flashlight and a bucket of soapy water to deposit your finds in could be productive.

Gardening is all a big experiment :) It sounds like you are ready to learn. Don't expect perfection. Learn from what works and what doesn't, and your garden will improve each year.

Good luck and happy gardening!
To add to what Timothy said, I'd uppot the tomato seedlings into gallon pots as soon as they grow some true leaves (the second set). I know lots of folks who have experimented with uppotting tomatoes into 4" vs gallon pots over the years, and those uppotted directly into gallon pots grow much better and faster than those uppotted into 4" pots. Tomatoes are peculiar this way. They love having lots of space for their roots!
1 month ago
My greenhouse is infested with spider mites. Sadly, it took me a long time for me to identify what was causing the stippling on some of my plants that I've overwintered in the greenhouse.  I usually don't bother with treating any of my plants for insects. My experience is that my garden insect issues generally go away with time and don't cause that much damage anyways, so I have relied on beneficials and the changing seasosns instead.  However, there are no beneficials in my greenhouse and not much of a change of seasons either.

Now spring seed starting season is in full swing, and I to need get rid of the mites ... and the newly arrived aphids that showed up on my chives, of all things!  I've searched online and asked many friends about how to clean a greenhouse in a way that kills insect eggs. I couldn't really find any good answers. We ended up power washing the greenhouse interior down, then we washed it with soap and water, and then we sprayed it with diluted peppermint oil. I am now checking my greenhouse plants daily and spraying the infected ones still remaining in the greenhouse with insecticidal soap daily until the situation is clearly under control. (The chives and anything else that can tolerate the cool weather are outside now.) I am planning to put some flowers in the greenhouse this summer in hopes of attracting beneficial insects. I may end up ordering some P. mites, too, if the mites persist.

That's what we've done and my plan going forward. But I figured you all might very well have some better ways to handle this issue organically. What do you use?

Thanks!
I am no okra expert, having grown it for the first time last summer, but I do grow tomatoes and peppers every year. Okra likes hot weather, even hotter than peppers and tomatoes do.  That can be a challenge in the area I live in, because the nights are always cool. I read that okra needs nighttime temperatures above 60 degrees F. and daytime above 85 F. as well as full sun.  You might want to try a protection tent when you are first starting them out to keep them warm. I've learned that my peppers love a protection tent at night, in the spring and fall, to retain heat. I open it a bit during the day during this time if it's really warm outside, but I can leave it on during the day most of the time. I've really extended my harvests by months doing this and the peppers are much more productive. I got lazy last year and didn't do it. I  I will never do that again!

Good luck!
I have lots of slopes in my yard and was thinking about erosion as I read through all the posts on this thread. To add to what Dane said, one thing that has really worked for me is to halfway bury firewood in the soil, crossways so as to prevent erosion, in front on anything I plant on the slopes. I credit doing this to the success of my plants, and it has helped keep the soil and the mulch from falling down the hill, so it’s helped build up the soil. Plus, it looks cool!
What a lot of great ideas!

I would like to add a few more:

We struggle with grass and weeds as well.  I'd suggest digging a shallow ditch (maybe a few inches deep) all around your beds to stem the grass from coming into the garden.  Then thickly mulch a path that follows along the same line (but don't mulch the ditch). The roots will hit the air when trying to come in the garden's direction, which will stop most of them and save you a lot time weeding. In larger areas where you want to kill the grass and weeds, try solarizing with clear plastic for a year, if you can. That will kill everything alive underneath the plastic, including the weed bank of seeds. Or, depending on what you are going to end up using the area for and how quickly you need it, you can cover it with cardboard and a thick (6") layer of mulch and let it sit and decompose. This will also kill most of the weeds. If you cover it with soil, then mulch, you can use the bed right away for trees and shrubs.

Chopping the weeds down before they flower and not tilling is incredibly important. I am glad to hear you don't till, or at least are trying it. Tilling is not good for the soil's biotic activities and it raises weed seeds to the surface. Any area you are trying to cultivate has a good 5 years worth of weed seeds just waiting to germinate. (There's more but most of them will germinate in this time frame, if given the chance.) You don't want to add more by letting your weeds go to seed. I have a area I've been trying to convert from one full of invasive weeds into a meadow garden with mostly natives. The fourth year I really noticed a big difference in the amount of weed seeds germinating in the area, so killing or mowing weeds before they flower does eventually work.

Another thought - it sounds like you are amending the soil with mulch and compost?  Only fully decomposed materials should be used in a vegetable garden.  As mulch decomposes, it robs the soil of nitrogen, which would decrease the fertility of the soil until the decomposition process is complete. And, of course, tilling mulch into the soil worsens that whole situation, as it robs the nitrogen deeper into the soil.

I am curious about the pest issues as well. One thought is to add flowers, native if possible, around the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects. Another is to focus on using plants that don't get as many pests and do well for you. I believe very much in keeeping the plants that work and throwing the ones that don't in the compost. I don't know whether you are using anything to try to kill the pests, but using any sort of chemical on them usually kills the beneficials as well, and what you end up with a bloom of the bad ones. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I don't use anything (other than a natural slug bait) in my garden and I don't have any real problems with pests. I do rotate in my veggies and I have lots of different kinds of flowers in my yard that bloom throughout the year, making my garden more welcome for the good guys.

Good luck. I hope the advice you've gotten as a result of your post helps. I'd hate to see you give up!