I need some help and advice regarding some cauliflower I am growing from seed. I sowed 24 cauliflower seeds, two to a cell, in plastic cell trays a little over a week ago – on the 27th, to be exact. Almost all of them germinated very quickly, within three days. By two days later most of them were just under an inch tall with pale or purple stems. I thought they might not be getting enough light, so I raised them to within two inches of the two commercial grow lights I«m using. I«ve been watering the seedlings daily overhead and have been keeping the lights on for long periods (though not for regular periods). I am growing the seedlings in a commercial seed-starting mixture which should be sterile. Anyway, I haven«t noticed very much progress in the last few days. There are no true leaves or any hint of any – though admittedly I don«t know when to expect them on cauliflower. But the real problem is that now a few of the seedlings have fallen over. Do they have damping-off? If they do, do I need to toss everything out and start over? I have pepper and tomato seeds planted in the same tray, and I«m awaiting their germination. Will they be affected? I guess I could be watering too much or too vigorously. I water with a turkey baster – perhaps not the best tool – which can drop some large drops into the cell and, I guess, traumatize seedlings. Or they could be crowded. Maybe the rock-bottom humidity has something to do with it. I just don«t know how to diagnose the problem right now, and thus don«t know how to proceed. Can anyone tell me what I might be doing wrong?

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It could be a combination of; 1. damping off/Overwatering. 2. They have outgrown their cells. 3. The growing medium does not contain enough nutrients to sustain more growth. Take a close look at the base of the plants that have fallen over. Are they black and rotten? If they look healthy, then I would suggest they have outgrown their cells. You may need to give them some diluted fertilizer, but watch out you don«t »force« them, otherwise when you plant them out they may run straight to seed. With the tomatoes and peppers it is almost the reverse – don«t worry if they grow slowly – short, sturdy plants are better than long, leggy ones. If they get a bit pot bound they will be better still. Wait until you see flower buds on them before you plant them out. They will then continue to produce fruit right from planting out, whereas leggy plants will put all their energies into their foliage until they have established themselves in the soil, then get round to producing fruit. In a short summer you may miss out on fruit.

Can you plant out your caulis yet? I have had cauliflower growing in the snow and frosts and they do fine. (Just pull the leaves over the head of cauliflower and secure with clothes pegs if there is snow about. It stops the snow turning the cauliflower head yellow. Makes the neighbours laugh too…) If you have a few warm days you might try to get some into the soil.

I’d like to thank everyone for their advice about my cauliflower seedlings. Here’s an update and a couple of additional, specific questions for y’all to ponder.

My cauliflower seedlings do not have damping off. They have a sick sense of humor. Actually, I think I just “stunned” a few of them during an enthusiastic watering. Within several hours, the seedlings that had been laying on their sides were upright again.

As a novice seed-starter, I still have a few questions. A few of you advised me to fertilize the seedlings. They are growing in a commercial seed-starting medium which I believe contains no real nutrients, and I have not fertilized them so far. I have held off on this because it was my understanding that fertilization (or transplanting into a nutrient-rich medium) was not necessary until a seedling developed its first set of true leaves. I’m basing this on a passage from the book “Growing Fruits & Vegetables Organically,” which is published by Rodale. Does anyone have
knowledge or experience to the contrary?

I don’t know what a cauliflower seedling’s first true leaves look like or when I can expect them to appear on a seedling. I can’t find this information anywhere. Can anyone tell me what to look for and when? The seedlings have been out of the dirt for a week now, and not much seems to be
happening.