That old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ is one that I usually subscribe to 100% but this year, for some reason, I chose to deviate away from my tried and trusted method of growing my seedlings, opting instead for another method which I thought, erroneously as it has turned out, might result in stronger, happier seedlings. Not that my seedlings have ever been disadvantaged by my old method but I thought that it may well make more sense, in terms of compost, to try the step by step approach.
Normally, I sow my seedlings into Westland John Innes Seed Sowing Compost. The seeds germinate and the resulting seedlings remain there until they have their first or second set of true leaves (depending on time available). Next, the seedlings are carefully transferred into larger pots containing an All Purpose Compost and any subsequent potting on is always into more of the All Purpose stuff – unless the seedlings are tomatoes or cucumbers, as these are eventually planted into grow-bags.
This year I decided to take a different approach. Bearing in mind that I have never had any issues with the Westland John Innes Seed Sowing Compost, I decided to see if potting my seedlings on through the various John Innes compost stages would benefit them overall and so my seedlings were potted into No1 and then No2 ……. and what a mistake that has turned out to be.
I believe it is the No2 compost that is at fault, although to be fair it may well not be the compost per se. I bought the compost back in January/February and it could be that the compost I bought was old stock held at my local garden center, not that you could say for certain because the bags were in good shape. All I know for sure is that the seedlings have failed to thrive and have almost stalled in some cases. So today, I have repotted every tomato and chilli into my usual All Purpose Compost and tomorrow the beans, mangetout and corn will all be potted straight into the All purpose as well.
I have to say that I was shocked at the lack of root development on the seedlings, especially the tomatoes which, from past experience, usually throw out strong roots and lots of them, pretty quickly. This picture shows a close up of the root ball of one of my Stupice Tomatoes. The plant itself is around 1 foot tall, has been sitting in the No2 compost for several weeks now and yet there has been no significant root growth that I can see, from when I potted it on from the No1 compost. Having removed as much of the compost as I felt comfortable with from around the roots, I was left with few roots, the longest of which was only 2-3 inches. I did check the removed compost and there were no chopped off bits to be seen – what you see is what I got.
It was the same story for all the plants I repotted today and I can only hope that they will respond to the new compost. I did plant all the tomatoes much deeper than they had been because tomato plants will happily throw out new roots down the length of their stems and I hope by planting them deep, copious amounts of stronger roots will develop.
So the moral to my story is that if you have a system that works then think long and hard before you decide to change it …. you could end up causing more damage than a garden pest.