Garry2009
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Posts: 41
Joined: Sun Mar 29, 2009 6:12 pm
Location: Belleville, MI

Troubled Plants...?

Hi everyone:

I did something recently with my plants that's probably outside the boundaries of normal and acceptable. But it's working beautifully, it probably saved my plants, and I felt others here with "troubled plants" might benefit from it. However, I'm new to this forum, new to planting from seeds (other than corn, beans, radishes, etc), and new to container gardening. So I PM'd one of the forum moderators and asked, "Am I gonna gett killed for posting my goofy process to the forum?" His reply was something along the lines of, "State the possible downsides and your disclaimers, and go for it. And yes, expect to be clobbered over the head by some who defer to conventional gardening methods." Well, I have a hard head, so here I go.

I have 30-some-odd plants started from seeds (tomatoes/ peppers) in sterilized potting soil. Initially they broke ground and took off like crazy. Then things started going downhill. Plenty of light (grow lights, sun when possible); I water from the the bottom (everything is in peat-pots, I set them in a pan of water for 10 minutes or so); they're in a furnace room where the temp hangs around 70-degrees...everything is right as far as I know. I started them with Vigoro Plant Food a few times a week, and stopped that. I had sprinkled some with coffee grounds, and stopped that. Nothing worked. They gradually looked poorer and poorer every day. I'm an engineer, and eventually that kicked in...all that was left was the soil; I felt it was too compact, too dense, and maybe missing who-knows-what. So off I go to Walmart and return with a bag of organic garden soil, a bag of compost, and a bag of peat moss. I created my own kooky mixture of 1/3 soil, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost, which makes a nice, loose mixture that should offer plenty of nutrient. I Bit my lip and replanted everything: No plant food, no coffee grounds; just a very light bottom soaking of plain old water; I wanted those roots to go hunting for water! The following morning, I was sure I had made a dreadful mistake...everything looked like it was hungover from a big drunk! But they were doomed anyway, so I waited. The second morning blew me away! Every single plant had perked up significantly and was reaching for that light! That was 5 or 6 days ago, and the picture below shows you how they seem to enjoy the new surroundings. These plants--in less than a week--are as hearty and healthy as any I've seen.

Now for the disclaimers: We all know that transplanting is a risk under the best of conditions, and this was something I did purely out of desperation and common sense, not from a position of vast gardening experience. But it worked better than I had ever hoped for, so if your plants are failing and you can't seem to bring them back, maybe it's worth a try. But keep in mind...My only claim here is that it worked for me.

Okay, that's the crux of my goofy project: Equal parts of peat moss, garden soil, and compost. Technically, it probably shouldn't work (especially transplanting early plants)...but it did work and these plants are running away with themselves now. Can some of you old hands at this tell me why this goofy process is working so well? I have to assume it's the "loose" soil mixture, or maybe the previous soil was dead wrong; I'm new at this so I'm guessing. Some of you are probably gonna beat me up for posting this, and that's okay; I can handle it. But please just remember that it's working.

Garry

[img]https://www.lewisaire.com/plant.html[/img]

cynthia_h
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I can't tell you WHY it's working. But...

Mr. Engineer, Take notes of what you did on what day and what the result was. I guarantee, by next year, the details will have become fuzzy. You *want* to have the in-your-face detail recorded for reference next time.

The one-third stuff is similar to what Mel Bartholomew recommends for the first-time planting mix in the Square Foot Gardens:

1/3 compost from mixed sources
1/3 peat moss
1/3 vermiculite

When replenishing the SFG later, after the soil level settles and/or plants have absorbed some of the nutrients, Mel recommends replacing the lost volume with your own home compost. The peat and vermiculite are one-time additions.

I'm too hot right now (record heat here for this time of year) and no A/C, so can't think very analytically for very long...but thought I'd put this little info out there for you in case any of it is helpful.

Cynthia H.
Sunset Zone 17, USDA Zone 9

pepper4
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Location: Ohio

Gary, right or wrong I am going to try what you did because my tomato plants are beyond pitiful right now so I don't have much to loose. Like you mine were doing great at first and then suddenly something went wrong. Seems as though they stopped growing, leaves got yellow and brown. Don't get it because my other plants are doing great so far. I too did the coffee grounds and plant food. Maybe I did too much too fast. Live and learn I guess :cry: What you did might seem "goofy" as you said but you might be onto something :) Good luck!
Bambi

Garry2009
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Joined: Sun Mar 29, 2009 6:12 pm
Location: Belleville, MI

RE: Goofy process

Hi gang...

CYNTHIA: Thank you more than you know for the feedback. This was nothing more than a cockamamie experiment borne from desperation, but it seems to be working. Please feel free to suggest anything you think we we might do to make this even better. Obviously you know all about the "rights and wrongs" and we don't, so your input is highly welcomed and appreciated. As for the planst I'm gonna have to start staking these things soon...they're growing like weeds now!

BAMBI: I already know that your plants are on the way out, but still, be careful, okay? For God's sake, please respect the folks on this forum; what I did was purely out of desperation, not professional gardening experience. At any rate, here's what I did: Very carefully, I dug the plant loose from the old soil with a fork, making sure I got the whole root ball, soil and all. Again, very carefully, I massaged (and gently shook) the root ball until most of the "old soil" fell away. If there were lower seed leaves, I clipped them away with scissors. Then I filled the peat-pot with the new soil mix (don't pack it; leave it loose, and set the plant so the fruit leaves are just barely above the new soil. DON'T WATER THE TOP; set the peat-pot in a saucer of water for about 5 minutes and then set it under the lights...and leave it completely alone for at least a day, maybe two days. Let it struggle a bit searching for water. The first day won't impress you, but the second day should. You'll be inclined to over-water, but don't! There's water in the soil, let that plant find it, and it surely will.

CYNTHIA AGAIN: If you can shed any light on why this works, believe me your input is highly welcomed.

Thanks for the feedback,
Garry

pepper4
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Joined: Fri Mar 20, 2009 12:08 pm
Location: Ohio

I highly respect everybodies opinion and advice. I have learned alot from this site. I will post later on my results. Hope I have the luck you did. :wink:
Bambi

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Garry2009,

What you did was not that far outside of the bounds of conventional gardening, just a different mix is all. I don't use potting soil at all for anything, won't touch the stuff. Here is a picture of some Pepper seedlings that are growing happily in a very gritty mix.

[url=https://img261.imageshack.us/my.php?image=pepperseedlings.jpg][img]https://img261.imageshack.us/img261/9112/pepperseedlings.th.jpg[/img][/url]

This material is the leftovers from my bonsai mix. It is essentially the same as my full size mix just the smaller particles that I sift out. I have not fertilized these at all yet, seeds have a reserve of energy to get themselves started. They were recently watered which is why the surface looks wet. The surface will be quite dry before I water again.
Some of you are probably gonna beat me up for posting this, and that's okay; I can handle it.
If they're gonna beat you up they are gonna burn me at the stake.

Norm

The Helpful Gardener
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Location: Colchester, CT

I've been pondering this since Gary PM'd me. Here's how I think he pulled this off...correct me if I miss something Gary

The plants in potting soil are on their own, especially after using chemical fertilizers. They are putting out roots but they are young roots; not much root hair or surface area, and there is no biology in the pot to assist the baby plant. The root get near a soggy layer near the bottom and stop. They are not prepared to handle this much moisture...

Then Gary goes for it and switches it up to soil (like from outside soil, Gary, or potting soil?), peat, and compost. (Sounds like my seedling/flower box mix except I use coir instead of peat, and recommend it to you all for seedlings too). And what wondrous things start to happen beneath the surface? The bacteria and fungi in the compost begin to colonize the soil, recreating the natural nitrogen cycles we find in Nature. Mycorrhizal fungi colonize the root surface of Gary's peppers and tomatoes, creating a symbiotic relationship with the help of MHB's or mycorrhizal helping bacteria, who take a little nutrient from the mycorrhizae AND a little sugar that the plant was sending to the fungus. These mycorrhizae increase the surface area of the plants roots by six or seven times, allowing it to take in water and nitrogen and phosphrus, and even air in some cases, most jobs being handled by different species...

Suddenly the drought is over. The plants pick up and start exchanging materials with their symbiotic "roots". Bacteria cluster around the root zone attracted to the polysaccharides the plant is exchanging with the fungii. Protozoa swoop in for the kill, eating bacteria like a fat man eats popcorn shrimp. Predatory nematodes and soil mites eat the protozoa, and are eaten by earthworms...wait, we might have run a bit ahead to the garden, but back it up to nematodes and soil mites (maybe add springtails) and we have a pretty good food chain going, all centered right around the root. And you know about food. Like the title of the book says, everybody poops. And that's organic, carbon based plant food in a naturally regulated release right next to the plant's root.

The plant is thrilled, needless to say...

Entirely plausible, even probable. And a good reason to go organic...chemicals ruin this whole process. But that's a story for another time. We are gathered here to say good job Gary; way to trust the instincts and make it happen... :D

HG
Scott Reil

Garry2009
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Joined: Sun Mar 29, 2009 6:12 pm
Location: Belleville, MI

RE: Troubled Plants

Good morning, everyone:

Well, after reading the technical explanations here, it's clear that my success is attributed to dumb luck, and maybe a small pinch of common sense.

Scott, you're absolutely correct: When I dug the first plant apart (which is what generated the trip to Walmart for supplies), the root ball was much soggier than I thought it should be, for the water it was getting. And yes, I had used potting soil...a lesson learned, believe me. The soil in the new mix is Miracle Gro Organic Choice Garden Soil, by the way. Next year I'll use that coir or vermiculite (which I have no clue what they are).

Cynthia: Great idea on documenting steps and progress; I hadn't thought of doing that, but now I've created a file with notes and pictures.

Norm: Yeah, those peppers look fantastic! Obviously you've got just the right mix going on. Apparently the "loose" compound makes a big difference.

Bambi: Well, I surely wish you tons of luck if you re-pot. Being incredibly UNqualified to offer gardening advice, I was reluctant to post my process here, that's why I PM'd Scott first. But knowing your plants were failing, and seeing how mine responded to the new mix...I figured it was worth the risk. Scott rang the bell with a couple of other points, too: One, that chemicals probably disrupt the natural processes...and of course I was using chemical plant food. Two, the "food chain" concept makes all the sense in the world, at least to me.

All said and done, I have to admit that this is quite a learning experience. I've gained more about gardening from you folks in just my short time here, than I ever knew in all my years of outside gardening!

Garry

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