After months away from my tropical oasis, spent shivering and celebrating with family in the states, I was eager to get back and start planting again. I gleefully, with the occasional skip, started poking seeds into every pot I could get my hands on. Lavender and other herbs from home, Ceylon spinach, kang kung, and every other green; tomatoes from every hot zone around the world which might survive my roof, more chillies, local anomalies, and finally my most beloved salad greens.
Beloved, you ask? Yes. Despite the delicious, coconut-y mallungs of Sri Lanka, I still have mad salad cravings. Just contemplating the very hour my mesclun mix is ready to pick makes me feel like one of Pavlov’s experiments.
Unfortunately, it was my precious salad greens that suffered from my zeal to be out in the garden again. I committed the beginner’s sin of over watering them and was sentenced to witnessing their pitiful collapse brought on by damping off disease. Any which way the garden is situated, seedlings are susceptible to developing a fungus when kept too moist. The stem is attacked and breaks at the soil line, often leaving seemingly healthy plants keeled over and their poor gardeners ready to call in CSI.
Because I live in a very humid environment, I will not be watering the same way I did my past temperate gardens. Let this be a lesson. Every season is different and each gardener must develop a system to identify when the plants need a shower.
Know your soil
One way to avoid over watering is know what your soil looks like at various degrees of wetness. My soil, for instance, is near black when saturated but much more sand-colored when dry. When you begin preparing pots and beds, after adding your compost but before sowing, do a simple sample test. Soak your bed until it is fully saturated but not soupy. Write down the color. Leave the bed alone but check it every day and keep track of the color (a chart in your garden journal will be handy). What does it look like after two days? Three days? Additionally, you need to get your fingernails dirty. Every time you note a color change, poke your finger about two inches into the soil and note whether it is “wet”, “moist”, “damp”, “cool”, or “dry”. The more detailed your descriptions, the more you will learn about your soil, climate, and water.
Know your plants
Just like with the soil, you need to know what your healthy crops should look like. If you are new to a variety, look it up. Simple web searches often yield forums, seed catalogs, and enthusiasts sharing pictures of their beloved at every stage of growth. You can even ask your local nursery keeper. One clear sign that you are over watering is if your seedlings are becoming pale and yellow-ish. The first two leaves to emerge from a seed are packed with nutrients for the rest of the plant and are typically very green. Wilting yellow leaves are over-watered leaves. Also talk to seed suppliers and other growers about a variety’s tendencies. I have found a ton of advice from the customer comments openly shared on Baker Creek’s product pages.
Keep a journal
Almost every “how-to” article you will find on this site is going to include this bit. Every garden is unique despite zones, weathermen, and the almanac. Your neighbor will inevitably be able to grow something that just can’t make it on your side of the fence. Try not to covet and instead focus on building your own personal almanac by journaling everything you do in the garden. Keep track of what you plant, where you plant it, when you water it, the diseases and pests you face, how much and when you harvest. All of this information will be more useful that reading the same seed packet again next year.