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Need help! Sprouted seeds dying after 2-3 days

8 years ago

Bear with me...this is a long post, but I felt like it was necessary to go into detail in order to get the best possible advice from you all :)

Okay, let me start off by saying that I am completely new to gardening (other than research I've done online over the last couple of weeks). Now that that's out of the way, I'll begin by explaining my situation and then I will describe my setup, environment, etc. to help you experts narrow down the possible causes of my problem :)

1 week ago today inside of my apartment using my 72-slot 'germination station' tray, I planted 2 slots of some sweet basil seeds and 2 slots of tomato seeds. 3 or 4 basil sprouts appeared out of the soil in 2-3 days, and 2 or 3 tomato sprouts showed after 4-5 days.

Let's start with the basil:
Everything looked fine until the next morning when I saw some movement in my peripheral vision. I looked closer and saw what looked to be some kind of millipede-looking insect about the size of an earwig crawling around my soil. It dug down into the surface and when it came back up again, it went straight for the tip of one of the basil sprouts and tugged at it before digging back down into the soil never to be seen again. I thought to myself, "Well, I've read that some of these insects can be good for the no big deal." I went to work and when I came home about 8-9 hours later, the length of that sprout that the bug went after was noticeably cut down in size. The next morning, it looked like it had begun to shrivel up and 1 of the other sprouts had disappeared as well. The basil sprouts in the adjacent pod looked to be okay though. This continued until all of my basil sprouts had either disappeared or shriveled up.

When I realized that all my basil was dead or going to be dead, I just decided to start digging down into the soil with a tiny stick to see if there was anything interesting going on. When I pulled the lower soil up to the top, I noticed a few very tiny yellowish-white bugs crawling (not flying) around. They looked kind of like fleas in shape I suppose.

Now let's talk about the tomato:
when my tomato seeds sprouted, they popped up in that hook/loop shape that I expect to see. They remained like this for 2-3 days, and yesterday afternoon one of the 'loops' had begun to straighten and they looked like this (notice the one on the right):

When I woke up this morning, my tomato sprout looked like this (again, notice the one on the right):

I haven't attempted to dig up the tomato seedlings' soil yet, but when I get home later this evening I will probably do it if the sprouts look like they're going to die.

Now, let me describe my methods so there are no assumptions here.
- I have read about 'damping off' being a common cause of new seedlings dying, so I was extremely cautious about overwatering (conceivably to the point of underwatering).
- I used miracle gro seed starting mix from Home Depot
- The soil was fairly moist already, so after the initial watering and planting of the seeds I only gave the soil a single small squirt from a squirt bottle each morning.
- I used a 'germination station' which has 72 'slots' for you to put your soil/medium into, and a lid for you to place on top to help keep the moisture inside during germination. I used 4 of these slots (2 for basil and 2 for tomato).
- Immediately after I saw sprouts, I removed the lid from the germination tray and began using my T5 Fluorescent grow light for ~15 hours per day, which I hung about 4-5 inches above the seed-starting tray
- The temperature of my apartment remains between 76F-80F
- After about 3 days, I noticed the soil seemed to be drying out more between waterings, so each morning I gave each pod a few squirts rather than the single squirt I was initially giving when the soil was still very moist
- I only watered once per day using tap water. I do not have a water softener.

I'm wondering if the bugs I saw in my basil sprout (including the millipede-like insect) may be attacking the roots of my plants. If this is the case, did they come with the soil? Should I ask for a refund?

I don't think this is 'damping off' disease since I definitely did not overwater, there are no fungus gnats, and the sprouts seem to be sort of shriveling up rather than falling over at the soil surface level.

I'm not sure what I could be doing wrong, and I don't want to try again until I have some idea of what went wrong so I don't repeat the mistake. I'm hoping that I can possibly get more clues (and pictures) by looking at the roots once I dig them up later today. I appreciate any advice you all can give me. Thanks in advance.

- Ryan

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