Bacteria, Buggies and Bad Gardening

Reader Contribution by Rima Austin
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“Hmmm … it could be bacteria or buggies in the soil,” said the sweet girl at Johnny’s Seeds when I called to explain to her that all but two tomato plants that I transferred last weekend died. Just up and died. I said, “Buggies?” She explained that, depending on the potting soil I purchased, it could have contained bugs in it that were not suitable for my plants. She asked if the young plants that I was transplanting all had at least two leaves on them. I told her that they did, and she said that meant there is nothing wrong with the seeds themselves. I have always been satisfied with the seeds that Johnny’s Seeds has sent me in the past so that left the soil.

These are the tomatoes we recently transplanted and you can see all of them have two leaves on them and look healthy.

An example of the wonderful goodness we received last year. The tomatoes, peppers and egg plant were all started from seed in Scotts Premium potting soil.

This had me thinking about what I did different this year than I did last year. Last year, I ordered 120 tomato plants from Johnny’s Seeds and planted every one of them. In the past, it has always been my experience that some seeds, for some reason or other, do not come up. Not this time. Every one of those plants came up; I had 120 growing tomato plants! Just so we’re clear, not tomatoes…tomato plants! Of course I was ecstatic but I didn’t have room for them all in my garden. I ended up throwing a lot of them in the compost pile, and they grew in the compost pile! For weeks I would walk by the compost pile gate and eat tomatoes right off the vine that were growing on the fence.

Our bounty from last year. We had several different varieties of tomatoes and they all did beautifully.

I went looking for the bag of potting soil that I used last year and, being the border-line hoarder that I am, I found it. That’s another thing about living on a homestead, you never throw anything away because as soon as you do that’s when you’ll need it, but I digress.

LEFT: A gift from my mother last year, the potting soil did incredibly well. Photo: courtesy eBay.

The potting soil was Scotts and was a gift from my mother. Because I had to purchase the soil myself this year, I decided to go with the less expensive brand at a discount store, thinking that it would make no difference. Au contraire! This led me to the conversation at the opening of this story.

Now what to do about it? I decided I did not want to just blame the store without giving them a sporting chance and tell me what they do in situations like this. I went in and talked with the assistant store manager, explained my situation, and asked him how they planned to handle it. He said normally they would send in a claim to the potting soil manufacturer. The manufacturer would then send a representative out to my farm to test the soil, he paused here for dramatic effect thinking, I assume, that this would deter me. No, I thought, I have all the time in the world and I love visitors so bring him on.

LEFT: A bag of potting soil I bought this year from a discount store. Apparently Scotts makes this as well but for a lower price. Photo: courtesy Ace Hardware

“Or,” he said, “You could get the number off the bag of potting soil and start the process yourself and cut out the middle man. Do you still have the bag?” (Smile: Do I still have the bag …) “Yes, I do. It’s still sitting there.” I left out the part where it will continue to sit there for at least another year until I move it to a more long-term location 20 feet away. He proceeded to tell me that if I was not satisfied with the way they handle it then come back and the store will be happy to handle the claim.

At this point, the only option I have is to mark this down as a lesson learned. I called Johnny’s Seeds to see if, for my region in Middle Tennessee, it is too late to order more seeds. She said it would be because they would be fruiting during the height of summer in the dead of heat. I thought tomatoes did that anyway, but I didn’t question her. If anyone has any input on that, I would love to hear it because I cannot see going an entire season without fresh tomatoes.

That brings me to my other question; do I purchase plants from a local market not knowing how they were grown or if they contain GMO’s? I have given myself until the weekend to decide what I want to do. Until then, I will be starting the process to have the potting soil tested. I feel that if they do have a problem with their soil then other people should not have to lose an entire crop as well and I always love a good cause to pursue.

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