Archives for posts with tag: overwatering

It’s a happy time of year in the garden.  Everyone is growing with vigor and strength (every one of the vegetables, that is).

Well, almost everyone.  One of the cucumber vines is showing the unmistakable signs of bacterial wilt, having been infected (I presume) by the striped cucumber beetles who arrived in the garden only recently.  The upper third of the vine is completely and irreversibly shriveled.  I snipped off the afflicted section and will see whether the condition spreads to the remainder of the plant.  Based on experience, I’m fairly sure that it will but as my father used to say, hope springs eternal (he usually said this about our always-hungry cat).

Bacterial wilt aside, the cucumbers have not been particularly successful this year.  We are very happy with the varieties—they are the tastiest and have the silkiest texture of any we have ever grown—but the vines are small and weak and there has not been an abundance of fruit.  Whether this is due to the particular cultivars, too little or too much water, the soil (very likely; we dug only small pits for the seedlings), or—who knows?—sun spots is not clear.  It is nearly time to take soil samples for testing and perhaps that will shed some light.

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The lettuce seedlings in the last three spots I planted (in the third go ‘round) have vanished, lost to overwatering (by Mother Nature, not to point a finger or anything) or, perhaps, too much sun (ironic, given how cool it has been lately).  This late in the lettuce’s season, I will say “uncle” and not try (again) to reseed.  On the other hand, the lettuces from the first sowing that I replanted last week (see June 14, 2013) are doing quite well.

And luckily, we still have excess heads of both types of lettuce from that first planting; enough, in fact, to transplant one to each of the bare spots.  After doing just that this morning, we now have 16 lettuce plants safely on their way to maturation.  Some of them are almost ready for partial harvest and, soon, we’ll start clipping leaves (the cut-and-come-back method of harvesting) for as long as the cool weather lasts.

It’s early for a season recap but even so, I will have to start thinking about what might work better next year.  My initial thought is that we might want to start the lettuce indoors next year.  We chose not to do so this season based on the belief that transplanting the seedlings would be problematic.  I have found, however, that once they reach a modest size (three or four leaves), the lettuce plants can be replanted easily and effectively.  The compartmentalized seed trays we use will further facilitate the process.

Alternatively, it is possible that the lettuces would do well in containers.  The pots would have to be large enough for several heads to fit but small enough to be easily moved out of the pounding rain or beating sun.  Translucent covers might also be a good idea and more manageable with a smaller container.  Further, with this approach we might be able to grow the lettuce in warmer conditions.  If so, we could start experimenting later this year.

Ideally, we would have mature lettuce at the same time the tomatoes are ripe.  That’s right:  I’m thinking BLTs.

Yesterday, it rained and rained, through the night and into this morning.  More than an inch and a half had accumulated by the time the storm passed.  There will be no need to run the water for several days.

With the soil in the planters moist (but not soggy) and the sun finally shining (but not too brightly), it seemed like a good time to redistribute the lettuce seedlings.  The first seeding was very successful and there are two, three or even four heads growing in each spot.

On the other hand, three of the spots from the second and third seedings are bare (with three others likely to become empty soon).  Using a trowel, I dug a large hole in one of the vacant spots and then scooped out a lettuce plant, taking a generous clump of soil to protect its roots.

I carefully placed the lettuce plant into the hole and then used the displaced soil to fill the newly-created void.  Of course, there was not quite enough soil from the first hole to completely fill the second.  Digging holes is not a conservative process.

Regardless of how careful I am in containing the spoils from each excavation, a small portion always gets lost.  The remainder becomes more compacted and the result is a slight depression anywhere I have dug.  As with friction (which always acts in opposition), this phenomenon is unyielding and immutable.

After repeating the process a few times, the budding heads of lettuce are now spread out over most of the lettuce patch.  I’m not sure how the transplants will react to the move but I’ll keep a close eye on them to insure they do not dry out.

So maybe we don’t bother trying to grow lettuce next year.

The third round of lettuce seedlings have sprouted but not every seed and not at every location I planted.  I’ve kept them covered and moist (if anything, we’ve had too much rain lately) but there is nothing but bare soil in some of the spots.

And the seedlings that have sprouted are so very small and fragile.  The romaine lettuce sends up a stem that is no thicker than a few strands of hair.  It is easily knocked over by wind or beaten down by rain.  The red leaf lettuce is not much hardier.  Even in fair weather, the miniscule sprouts are susceptible to burning in the sun.

Meanwhile, one of the second planting of red leaf lettuce has disappeared.  I’m not sure if it disintegrated in the heavy rains or was melted in the heat, but it is no longer anywhere to be seen.

Not very encouraging.

On the other hand, the first planting of lettuce seems to have turned a corner.  The individual heads are getting larger daily and are sending out new leaves.  We will soon have to eat the excess or transplant it elsewhere.  Given our lack of success with subsequent sowings, the latter is most likely.

A friend of Rachel’s brought us a pot of Italian arugula seedlings (she took some of our surplus vegetables) and perhaps we will plant them with our other lettuces.  The arugula is already established (and easily recognizable with its narrow, jagged-edged leaves) and, according to the friend, very easy to grow.

When the weather flips suddenly from cold and rainy (we had to turn on the heat last Friday!) to hot and humid (more like what we expect in August), it makes watering difficult.

On the one hand, plants like tomatoes enjoy the warmth but they do not like to be overwatered.  At the other end of the spectrum, lettuces prefer moist conditions but will wither in the heat.

It reminds me that I have to pay close attention.  Automatic watering will probably not be sufficient and manual irrigation—the good old watering can—might be needed.

According to most of what I’ve read, it is very easy to overwater plants.  In fact, the gardening book we’ve been turning to most often this year claims that overwatering is the number one cause of seedling failure.  Damping off and other diseases are abetted by an abundance of moisture.

So I’ve been very careful not to overdo it.  I’ve been using a spray bottle to water the seedlings (so as not to disturb them or the soil) and have been waiting until the surface has become dry (but not arid) before watering again.  For the seeds that have sprouted, I have removed the clear plastic lids to keep the humidity low.

But I suppose it is possible to err in the other direction.  This morning when I checked on the seedlings, they looked to be ever-so-slightly shriveled (not usually a good sign) and a few of the leaves have developed brown spots.  When I felt the soil surface, I could see that in some of the seed compartments, the soil had contracted a bit.  Apparently, I waited a day too long.

I gave everything a thorough watering (not the squashes and cucumbers which are still covered) and hope that the seedlings will not be permanently affected.  Going forward, I will have to be more vigilant and try to better anticipate the seedlings’ needs for water.