Friday, May 4, 2012


Maybe I'm just stressed out and ready to see faults in everything.  Maybe I've been killing my plants out of paranoia.

The mites seem to be very elusive. I brought over a plant to the local plant pathology lab. They could only find one mite, but were not able to identify it.  So I walked past a couple buildings to show the mites to an entomologist. Somehow he ended up with mite free leaves and thrip free blooms.  I'm glad for the no thrips, but puzzled how I missed giving him a mite to look at.  The darn things crawl really fast. They seem to like hanging around the soil and pot rims.  These little details and their long front legs makes me think these may be a an Oribatid mite or a predatory mite. Perhaps one of these? Or these? Or these? Or these? Or a Hypoaspis mite?
When I peered through the microscope in the plant pathology lab, I got a clear view of the mite, even clearer than my camera got.  It looked a lot like the last photo, an Amblyseius swirskii or some mite in that family or possibly in the Hypoaspis family.

That still won't stop me from trying to catch a few mites to bring back to the entomologist. If he verifies those are predatory mites or soil mites, then I'm not going to bother trying to get rid of them. It's doing me more harm trying to kill them, than to accept them as part of the microbiology.

This is my opinion on springtails.  Though they look ugly floating in the bottom of the water tray and just plain annoying, they serve a real function. Spreading good fungi and eating harmful stuff.  In fact it seems whenever I see my african violets growing in soggy wet soil without rotting, almost always, a colony can be found.  I learned that lesson once with a Christmas cactus. I sprayed and sprayed until most springtails were gone. The soil got moldy and the plant collapsed.  I learned to better leave the springtails be and just water less.

What about the strange growth? What is causing it?  The plant pathologist lifted one of my african violets out of its pot. He grumbled about the roots. "All dead" he said. "No roots, the plant's dead." He continued to complain how wet the soil was.  I too was shocked to see how soggy it got.  It felt dry on the surface.  It also got wet from spraying all my plants with forbid.  Out of curiosity I'm getting the soil tested to see if there is more to it or if the soil is just wet or has the wrong ph.

I'm still waiting on the soil test result.


I went through several of my African violets in the basement. I lifted the worst looking ones out of their pots. Sure enough, the soil was a big wet, soggy, compacted chunk. It didn't even break up properly. It just came apart in chunks. I could have sculpted it perhaps.  The roots? What roots?  They ended where the solo cup was. These were 4 inch pots.  Every single damn one of my African violets using my new custom mix rejected it! They just said Nah-ah, not going to grow there. The roots also lack the fine hairs.

I thought long and hard what is different about this mix than ones I've tried to make in the past.  (besides a few strange ingredients like buffalo compost).

It came down to one:  Vermiculite.  I almost never use it, but was inspired when I saw a video blog recommending the stuff. The person liked it better than perlite. I saw it at our Menards and thought why not?  So what did I learn?

1. Vermiculite is NOT a substitute for perlite. Especially the fine dusty stuff.  It is also no substitute for soil moist chunks either.

2. Don't skimp on the perlite. I hate the stuff. I hate the dust it generates mixing it. I also hate how it always finds its way on the leaves, between the leaves and inside the crowns of my violets. Brushing it off scratches the leaves and leaves ugly scars.  I also hate how it always floats up to the top. If it's the miracle grow kind, I get fertilizer burn along with it.  But it doesn't pay to go without it.  Perlite is just one of those required things to lighten the soil and give enough air for the roots to grow (as well as prevent too much water from staying int he soil.)

3. Maybe I put way too many things into my soil mix.  I can probably cut back on some of the organic fertilizers and slow release stuff.  Maybe just a sprinkle of one kind will do per 5 gallon bucket.

4. Don't get carried away with the watering.  Sure I don't like having to water every day, or even every 12 hours upstairs in my bedroom (when it gets over 80 in my room), but soaking it won't save me any time or hassle.  Or if I must, soil moist has proved me much better.  In fact it saved many of my plants.  The difference: the jelly rocks swell bigger and they appear to suck in moisture.  This seems to increase the humidity of the soil. Excess moisture drains.  I can use fewer of them.

5. Light. I'm burning my plants. I just noticed I had my basement timer set to turn off the lights at 10pm and on at 6am!  I'm going to cut back about an hour per week, until I get down to about 12 or 10 hours.

With those in mind, I'm going to try watering less (the heavy mix) and repot the worst ones into something lighter w/o vermiculite.  I think I may already be seeing improvement.  I'm not sure if the forbid helped or just laying off the watering for part of a week.

The tight leaves in the center are starting to grow out.  There was mites on this ges, but they are either dead from the forbid or moved off into the soil where they should be (if they were soil mites).  It will take time to see if this new dryer soil mix helps improve it.

B50. (bloom count: Up to 10 per stalk.)

This is one that seems to have evaded a lot of the tight leaf growth. What is different about it? It must be root bound.  It's constantly drying out to the point of wilting.  Speaking of which, I had to stop typing to water it and revive it again. It wasn't completely gone. I may or may not lose the lower leaves and some blooms.

My show plants showing tight growth?

Turns out this darn thing was root bound. In a 4" pot.  And it's getting too much light.  well no more (hopefully)

I put it in a 5" pot. It didn't seem to work trying to get it back into a 4", even after breaking some of the root ball.  I'm beginning to think my Lilac Butterflies has the potential to become a large standard. Just look at how large those leaves are. I hope I don't regret putting it in a bigger pot.  The soil mix added should be as light as what it was growing in if not lighter. (this one used the old mix (miracle grow african violet soil + perlite + Miracle grow orchid mix)  The miracle grow bark provides nice air holes in the mix.

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