Tag Archives: climate change

Four Ways to Prevent Dampening Off

One of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging is that whenever I started writing about gardening I found myself on another rant about climate change. There is nothing like paying close attention to the weather to make one notice strange patterns. So rather than going on another rant, I will simply reference this Sac Bee article on the changes in the jet stream that has made this winter-spring so cold in much of the West.

A mixed bunch of seedlings (with the names in notes, roll your mouse over ...)
Creative Commons License photo credit: hardworkinghippy

Here in the Williamette Valley temperatures are still below normal. I lost some basil to dampening off. When conditions are cold and damp they stress tiny seedlings and promote the growth of fungus. If this happens seedlings will suddenly just fall over and die. So sad.

So here are four things to do to prevent dampening off.

1. Clean your containers. Recycling old containers is very environmentally friendly, but without a good cleaning they can harbor diseases. Before reusing your containers, wash them with very hot water and a biodegradable soap. If you still have trouble, you can mix a small amount of bleach in to help sterilize things.

2. Sterilize your seed starting mix. If you are reusing old potting mix it also could be hiding diseases. Commercial mixes aren’t always sterile either. You can bake your potting soil in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. However this process does involve a smell that some might not enjoy. Another option is to cook your seed starting mix in the microwave. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes until steaming. Allow to cool.

3. Provide ventilation. Seeds need to stay moist in order to germinate, but there can be too much of a good thing. Providing a little fan for your seedlings can help them grow strong and stocky as well.

4. Avoid overwatering. You don’t need to water unless you see the top of the soil is starting to get dry, especially once the seeds have germinated. I find that even tiny seedlings without their first “true leaves” often have roots going right down to the bottom of the container.

Truthfully most of the time I find I can just buy some seed starting mix, pop it in a container, water, add seeds, water again, and presto! Baby plants! However, if you are starting seeds when it is cold and wet, dampening off can be a problem. Depending on what seeds you are starting, you might need to provide a seedling heating mat to avoid stressing your little darlings. In general, the more ideal the conditions, the less you have to worry. So give them lots of warmth and light too!

Hopefully warm, sunny weather will be on the way soon and we can forget all about the dreaded dampening off.

An Early Spring

I haven’t been garden much over the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I planted some peas and some fava beans in my yardshare garden, but assumed they would stay underground for a while until things warmed up. Then last week I notice the crocuses coming up.

Creative Commons License photo credit: audreyjm529

Ok, I thought, it’s pretty early, but when I lived in Ohio the crocuses lived through occasional late spring snowfall. No problem. But this week the magnolias started dropping the fuzzy shells that cover their buds. In a few days they will be in full bloom.

Creative Commons License photo credit: emdot

The problem is that once these processes are triggered by weather changes they don’t stop. The blooms can’t stop growing once they start. The weather here in Eugene will turn cold again and it will start raining, and raining hard. If it rains or turns cold while all the fruit trees are blooming then we can look forward to a very bad year for fruit. We will have few apricots, plums, cherries, or peaches.

I don’t want to harp on climate change again, but I have to say something. One period of exceptionally cold or warm weather doesn’t mean anything, but if you are a gardener you can record these signals. Keep a garden journal and record when the crocuses come out every year. This is actually invaluable information for you in terms of keeping track of your planting dates and also for scientists to understand how climate change is impacting different areas. You can understand climate change. You can see it happen if you pay attention.

Understanding Climate Change

Lilac II
Creative Commons License photo credit: starmist1

I just wrote this rather long comment on Fern’s blog, in response to her post on climate change. I really love her blog and don’t mean to sound critical, but I thought it was worth repeating here, because her comments reflect a common misconception about how scientists are investigating climate change. Often people look at one year or one season’s weather and notice it is cooler than the previous year and so conclude that there isn’t clear evidence of climate change. The problem with this is that you can look at 1 or 2 years or even 3-5 years and find evidence for or against climate change.

There is a big difference between observing the weather and measuring the climate. I understand why many people, including some scientists are still not sure, but it’s important to talk about why so many scientists are convinced. Weather in individual places over time might be warmer or cooler year to year or season to season–there are always those types of variations. What makes many scientists worry is the changes in average temperatures world wide, over decades.

Biologists are also finding many plants and animals that are changing their ranges or flowering earlier. As gardeners, we can and should be helping to gather evidence about climate change in our local areas. Some gardeners regularly monitor the weather, including daily highs and lows, rainfall, and the first and last frosts of the year. This is the kind of information that, if it’s continuous for decades, lets you begin seeing climate change in action. You can also monitor your garden plants for changes in seasonality. If you want to monitor climate change for yourself and help scientists you could join the National Phenology Network. Their volunteers have been monitoring the dates of flower blooms (lilac and honeysuckle since 1956).  It’s normal to see flowers bloom earlier one year and later another, but when you monitor for decades and the average bloom date gets earlier and earlier, that’s when scientists start to worry.

It’s common for people to look at year to year variations and wonder where the evidence is, but a climate scientist is looking at decades (for temperature and precipitation changes) or centuries (if they are looking a CO2 levels in frozen ice.)

Here are a couple of audio stories from NPR about phenology.

Climate Scientists Enlist Citizen Volunteers
Beautiful Lilacs Tell a Tale About Climate

If you want more information, you might want to pick up The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery. Flannery does a good job of explaining what evidence scientists are examining and related politics.