Saturday, June 6, 2015

Damping Off Disease in the Bean Patch

You win some and you lose some. In the case of my Monachelle di Trevio beans I've lost two thirds of them.

They started off looking great. I got 100% germination and they were looking good. Here they are on May 23, just 10 days after I sowed them in paper pots and three days after being set out in the garden.

But within a few days the first seedling started to look sickly and quickly fell over and died. Then a couple more, and yet a few more. Dave and I took off on the 29th to spend the weekend in San Francisco and I pretty much expected to come home to find 100% mortality.

Well, there were a few left when I inspected the garden on the 1st. Here's what the patch looked like on June 3. Boo hoo, just 6 survivors, a bunch of dead plants and one more on the way down.

Look at this poor thing. The first sign of things gone wrong were when the first two leaves started hanging down. Within a couple of days the stem would develop a linear stripe and then the entire plant would keel over. The outer layer of the stem was mushy at the soil line and rubbed off if you touched it. All these symptoms lead me to believe that it's a Pythium infection. The other common cause of damping off of bean seedlings is Rhizoctonia. And Fusarium is another soil borne fungi that can be a bean killer as well, but is not typically the culprit when it comes to damping off.

The first treatment that I tried after the the first seedling died and more appeared to be going down was a soil drench of Actinovate. I've had success treating mature bean plants with Actinovate soil drenches, but this was the first time I tried it for damping off. It didn't work and I suspect that it may even have made things worse. The problem with a soil drench when dealing with pathogens like Pythium and Rhizoctonia is that they thrive in wet conditions. The second treatment that I tried on the beans was really sort of incidental. I was spraying my leeks and garlic with a 70% Neem solution for an ongoing rust infection and I just sprayed the beans with the attitude of "let's see what happens".  That was on June 1.

So here's the patch shown below on June 6 and it's still 6 survivors. I finally pulled that dying bean seedling shown above, it was dying much more slowly than the previous seedlings. The survivors are actually looking pretty good, considering. I think the Neem treatment actually worked.

So here's my dilemma. When I thought that all the beans were going to die I sowed some seeds of Delicata squash and intended to put them in that spot. So, do I make the surviving beans share space with the squash or do I start my remaining Monachelle bean seeds and set them out on the trellis with the rest of the plants and treat them prophylactically with  Neem. I haven't decided yet. The squash aren't ready to set out yet, so I'm going to wait and see how the surviving beans do. I'm going to start the rest of the bean seeds and if the beans in the garden look like they will do ok I'll add the new beans to the patch and find a different spot for the squash. If it looks like the the survivors are struggling I'll put the squash there and put the new beans elsewhere.

Last year it was my bush beans that struggled. Look at them this year. They're on other side of the same bed growing like crazy. The bush beans had the benefit of unusually warm early spring weather which got them off to a great start. The poor pole beans had the misfortune to be starting in unusually cool and damp late spring weather.

There's always some new challenge in the garden.


  1. You are so right about the challenges! I've not seen damping off in the garden, only with indoor seedlings. Sounds like you have a working plan that covers all the bases. I've got a little septoria leaf spot showing up on tomatoes, which happens every year about this time. I sprayed with Serenade and neem oil. I don't know if that helps but it shouldn't hurt anything, and the tomatoes usually get over it once the weather dries out.

  2. It is always something. Today I just pulled the first of my basil plants. They were already infected with basil downy mildew. Sigh. The other two sets don't seem to have it, but I won't know until tomorrow. I was afraid after pulling the plants to touch my other ones. At least I found out fast so I have a chance of not infecting the others. I planted in three spots in the garden just to have more than one shot of avoiding it.

  3. Last year a lot of my beans damped off too. The ones that survived were in the part of the bed that had blood meal added. This year I moved them, solarized the bed to warm it, treated them with innoculent to give them a better chance, and also added blood meal. So far so good. Heck, if not I'm out of ideas! Usually I'm swimming in beans. It was hard to lose so many.

  4. That's a story of "the survival of the fittest" if ever there was one! I don't think I have ever suffered Damping Off disease in the garden beds - if I get it, it is usually with tiny plants in pots. Beans are often vulnerable to soil pests as well as diseases, so I always sow a lot more than I need. Right now my Runner Beans are doing fine, but I have several more in pots still (which look as if they will not be required). Being away from home when you have sick plants gives you anxiety like having sick kids, doesn't it?!

  5. Too bad about the beans. I always direct sow and never have that problem, although I always lose a few to something that nibbles of the growing tip. Trouble with fungicides is that they usually work better as a preventative than a cure. Good that the Neem worked.

  6. I had a gardener friend pass on some advice to me recently ... when plants die in the garden, always replace with the same kind since you had planned on having that many plants in the first place. Seems obvious, but I had never thought of it that way. If plants died, I just figured I'd have less of what I wanted instead of replenishing the same variety. :)

  7. The only surprise in the garden seems to be if there are no surprises! That's too bad about your beans - I hope those that are left pull through for you. I just sowed my beans last week and some are coming up but they actually don't look that great - I'm not sure if it's because they are still small and I am just being paranoid or if there actually is a problem; and so many seem not to have germinated at all yet, so that's another level of anxiousness...


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