Of Beetroot, Experiments and Damping Off

This post is for Bren, to reassure her that I haven't forgotten my promise to her to write about my experiments with growing beetroot for leaves during the winter...

...I speculated last year that seeing my autumn-sown leaves were doing so well - despite the frost - that maybe winter-sown ones might perform in a similar way to the previous successes I've had with pea shoots. Alys Fowler thought they wouldn't - when I asked her here - but I resolved to try a little experimentation for myself anyway.

Armed with a fresh packet of 'Bull's Blood' seeds and a sparkling new propagator, I set to on 3rd January and made a thick sowing onto some seed compost. I covered them, then watered sparingly with a mist sprayer, added the propagator lid and left them on our bedroom windowsill to go about their business. As you can see, germination went well and I soon had lots of bright stems and leaves at the microgreen stage.

However, it's been a different story the past few days as the seedlings have gradually been succumbing to the dreaded damping off. It's the first time this fungal disease has happened to me, so I guess I'm lucky I've not had it before. Having had a bit of a #saladchat on twitter, it could be due to a number of reasons: too thick a sowing of seed; the type of compost I'm using (seed in this instance); the damp, humid conditions under the propagator; or any combination of these.

@saralimback also asked why I was growing my beetroot in a propagator because they don't usually need one. I explained I'm also experimenting with seeing whether a propagator can be used to bring on salads for an earlier crop over the winter. My pea shoots take around 4-6 weeks to crop at this time of the year, so anything which can bring them on more quickly is welcome. I'm also wondering whether a propagator might be a protective help for windowsill growing. Night time temperatures can still drop significantly behind those curtains during cold weather and thus slow down growth for a while. Perhaps I should be using the lid until germination and then only for any cold nights afterwards.

Despite these setbacks I'm not downhearted and I'll by trying this experiment again. My pea shoot experiment sitting alongside the beetroot one is quite different in its results so far. More on that on Friday.

My thanks to @saralimback, @miss_beehivin and @simiansuter for a great #saladchat on this topic yesterday :)

NB The first of this year's Salad Days is on Friday (25th Jan) - stand by to update Mr Linky with your posts!


  1. Oh what a shame VP but you've had a go. I think that your theory about taking the propagator lid off during the day after germination might be the solution :) Are you using a heated propagator?

  2. I ws reading up on propagators yesterday as I wanted to know when to remove seedlings and everything I read said to remove the lid as soon as the seeds had germinated to avoid damping off. Alternatively you could try opening any vents on it but also I think if you leave the lid on you are more likely to have weak leggy plants than if you give them tougher conditions

  3. Anna - no, it's a unheated one. I have a heated propagator too and I'm still debating how I'm going to use that one - I was thinking chilli and tomato seeds for starters...

    Helen - the vents were opened as soon as the seeds had germinated and I thought that the relative lack of condensation on the lid meant that things were OK. Evidently not! You've helped me decide which variable to alter next time, so lids off it is :)

    1. I think then that as it is an unheated propagator then that the damping off has come about because it's too warm and moist under that lid. Once you feel that the room is warm enough I suggest taking the lid off for a good part of the day. I would not be without my heated propagator which is used for tomatoes, sweet peppers and for half hardies that need an early start plus heat.

    2. Hi Anna - the room's heated so they'll be OK straight away. I'm going to try night protection only next time...

  4. If it's any consolation, my pea shoots sown on 2nd Jan have got stuck at the "mini root" stage...think it's a bit chilly for any more progress. Don't even ask about the jar of sprouting seeds!

  5. Shame about the damping off - its a tricky horticultural hand-holding balance isn't it?

    Its so cold, poor little blighters. On the up is the days are getting longer - hail a new season for us all.


    Must dust off the heated propagator and get out the seed packets for those chilli's and tomatoes you mentioned - time soon upon us!

  6. NMG - we found last year that a cold spell did tend to halt things a bit. That's why I've been experimenting with a propagator this year...

    Orkneyflowers - strangely it's my first time! No doubt I'll be getting more of it now...

  7. Oh, how I hate damping off. You get all excited about all that lovely germination, and then wham! All gone. Hope it works better taking the lid off, at least during the day.

  8. Thanks Janet - I was particularly proud of the beetroot's germination and it looked so pretty on the windowsill. Pride does indeed as they say, come before a fall ;)

  9. Ooh love beetroot leaves and anything's better than buying those sad little things from the supermarket....If it's any help we have found that only using the lid for propagation does the trick - unless they're in a really chilly place...

  10. Thanks VP...they do look beautiful, those beet sprouts. I tend to think it is the damp conditions, and agree..think the propagator isn't needed once germinated with true leaves. Also remembering beets do well in cool weather, even surviving under my row cover last year, I think they could take your cool nights under the curtain as long as there wasn't a cold draft on them.

    Great job!!!

  11. TG - one of the points of this is experiment is to see if using the lid gets things cropping more quickly. Therefore having the lid on was a crucial factor.

    Bren - my autumn sown ones are still doing well outside. This is just to see if I can usefully grow them starting them in the winter, just like you can do with pea and bean shoots.


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