Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Porch Party #3 ... and Soil Gnats - Ugh!

I desperately need porch time!  Please join my party with visions of porches and gardens so I may escape.

Lately, I have been suffering from the dreaded Household Attention Deficit Syndrome.  This is an under-appreciated malady and is likely the leading cause of homes being condemned.  I find myself going from one task to another before any are complete.  I'm glad that guests at my party cannot come to my house. It's definitely not looking its best!

Soil Gnats
As for my garden topic, it isn't very glamorous, but it's one that many gardeners will eventually run into.  I am on the second planting of my salad garden.  The first planting was a complete flop thanks to issues with my newly purchased soil.  The issue?  Soil gnats (aka fungus gnats).

I bought 6 bags of this pricey organic potting mix for my 6 oh-so-perfect planters.  When I opened the bags, I noticed the swarm of little gnats and in my ignorance, I used the soil anyway.  My seeds still came up but within days the seedlings starting wilting and dying.  I learned that fungus gnat larvae eat the seedlings from below. 

A Fungus Gnat
I declared war.  I tried every folk remedy I could find - vinegar, oil, yellow sticky paper, plastic covered containers of wine (which would have done me more good if I'd gulped it down).  That worked on maybe 5 or 6 of them.  There's a carnivorous plant (Cape Sundew) that takes care of these gnats and some botanical gardens use them to keep bad bugs at bay.  I found them online, but not locally.  I didn't have time to wait.

I finally resorted to the sure thing.  I baked the soil.  In my kitchen.  In my oven. In my pans.  I haven't been excited about cooking since.  I still have several batches to go.  With the weather being so hot and muggy, I only do it in the early morning hours. Note to self:  If possible, save soil baking til the weather is cool enough to have the house open with pleasant breezes blowing.  Tornado-like winds would be even better.

I am now a major proponent of sterilizing soil.  I was doubtful at first - am I killing the good stuff in the soil?  Several sources said studies show plants grow better in sterilized soil.  My second batch of seedlings are coming up just fine.  OK.  I believe.

How To Sterilize Soil
Put the soil into glass or metal or clay baking containers so the soil is less than 4 inches high.

The soil should be slightly damp. If it forms a clump when you squeeze a handful, it's too soggy.  Dry soil is said to be difficult to sterilize.

Cover the containers tightly with foil. If your nose works, take that step seriously!

Set the oven for at least 180 but not over 200 degrees.  If you bake at a higher temperature, it will release toxins that are harmful to your plants. Once the temperature of the soil reaches 180, continue cooking for 30 minutes.  I didn't have an oven thermometer so I just set the oven to 190 and baked for 75 minutes including oven warm up time.

Here's a final bit of advice.  Let the oven cool completely.  Don't open the door.  Once the pans are cool to the touch, take them outside.  Do not lift the foil til you are out of your house.  Baking soil is not a pleasant odor. 

No more gnats. Happy seedlings.  It worked!

Another tip for keeping the gnats at bay - water plants from below.

So now that I have gotten everyone all excited about gardening (Ha!) and relaxing on the porch, on to the party!

I'll start us off with a few links of my own.


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