The Q&A Archives: Why Did So Many Of My Seeds Fail This Year?

Question: I have a weekend house in the country with a vegtable garden. Almost none of the vegtables I planted by seed this year germinated. Only one pea and bean came up; very little of the swiss chard; none of the beets, squash or sunflowers; and my pumpkins came up but then the plants disappeared. The seeds were all new this year. And I gave half of the peas, beans and chard to a friend and all of hers came up. And I have had luck with the beets, swiss chard, squash, pumpkins and sunflowers in the past (although I have always had trouble with peas and beans).

I dug around and could find nothing in the rows I planted. It seems as though something ate them, but there did not appear to be any digging around rows nor did I see any obvious mole tunnels. I found a brown beetle looking bug around the missing pumpkins. But I did not see any leaf damage on the plants before they disappeard (but a week went by between the last time I saw them and they disappeared).

All of the things I put in as plants seem to be doing ok. So I think the soil is adequate.

Any ideas of what happened? I currently plant in rows -- no raised beds. Would seeds do better if I created some beds for planting seeds? Do I need different or better soil for seeds?

Any ideas for next year would be helpful.

Answer: When so many different types of seeds fail, I would suspect a soil problem. You may have planted into overly cold and/or overly wet soil and that would cause the seeds to rot. The soil temperature has a big effect on germination. For example, peas are planted very early, but beans need a warm soil and squash and pumpkins need a very warm soil. Peas and beans can benefit from use of an inoculant, especially in a new garden and if those plants have not been grown in that location earlier. Next, there could be a problem with slugs and/or cutworms, or perhaps a rabbit has been nibbling. Without being there to actually see what happens, it's a bit difficult to do more than make some guesses. Since you have grown seeds before I'll assume your planting technique was fine. Since transplants were okay, I would lean more towards the cold/wet soil explanation. Raised beds would help the soil drain better and warm up earlier, but this might cause you a problem during a hot dry summer if you are not there to water deeply about every fifth day. On the oher hand, raised beds do allow you to improve the soil to near perfection. I hope you have better results next year!

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