Growing Henbane from Seed Indoors
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Peter "Sir Hyperbolic"
Posted on: January 20, 2006

What Am I Trying To Do? Grow henbane, from seed, in winter, indoors in a cupboard. With the intention of putting 2 or 3 plants outside in a small polythene greenhouse, and keeping 1 or 2 alive in the cupboard with artificial light.

How Far Have I Got? The henbane seeds were put into a disposable plastic transparent pot with a lid on and a couple of drainage holes at the bottom. The pot is about 3cm high, 14cm long, 5cm wide and contained compost 1cm high and about 7 henbane seeds. The seeds were first soaked for 1 week in the fridge. Getting them into pots was difficult from the vitamin bottle caps containing both water and seeds but managable to keep them fairly separated. Within 2-3 weeks of time of them being near a heater, in a warm room with the lid on - they suddenly germinated more or less at the same time - and going from being no seedling at all to about a 1 inch seedling in less than 36 hours, almost as I had my back turned so to speak.

The seedlings had their very small first leaves but were just over an inch high - and needed transplanting due to the very cramped pot. That was done with a small fork and they were sucessfully put individually into black pot noodle pots. There is about 1 inch of rock and stone at the bottom, and drainage holes, then compost of neutral nature with lime added (about 1 teaspoon per pot) and filled to about 1 inch from the top.

The first seedlings I thought would benefit from having about 1cm of the stem covered with soil as they looked long weak and thin. This was a mistake so I read and the stems must never be covered. These all died from fungus (I presume) as they were also rather damp, and just fell over and disintegrated. They received about 6hrs of fairly poor window sill light. Note this experiment is taking place now and it is December.

I have set up the airing cupboard to give them artificial lighting. The pots are now about 2.5 feet directly under a 37watt striplight (fluorescent), with a gentle fan pointing at the door to reflect the breeze, as opposed to blowing the seedlings, and a halogen 400watt heater facing the door, which heats the cupboard to about 80F. I also placed a tray of water on the middle shelf, which evaporates about 100ml of water every 12 hours, to attempt to create a slight humidity.

In the last 24 hours I have lost 4 seedlings which wilted and died then rotted to near nothing (in about 24hrs), but I noticed the soil was bone dry. I know from previous experience over-watering them seems to cause fungal growth (damping off I heard).

My questions are:

Is is feasible to grow henbane in an airing cupboard as I have described, under a 37 watt fluorescent light, and possibly 1 or 2 eco bulbs. The eco bulbs are common light bulbs in the UK which claim 100watt light power for 25watt energy. Their useful characteristic being that they are cold and the plants could be put 5cm or closer to the bulb without much if any heat.

The fan is supposed to strengthen the stem and help stop fungus growth (by blowing the spores presumably), but has the disadvantage of drying the plants out quickly - which cannot be overwatered or let to go dry. Is the fan in the cupboard a good idea?

The recommended basic mixture of compost for this is 1 part sand, 1 part compost. Naturally I hear it grows on rubbish heaps, in sandy places, out of rocks, and likes a chalky alkaline, sandy mixture and not too much water.

My compost mixture for my next seedlings is a chalk based cat litter 1 part, compost + lime 1 part. Is this suitable?

Other relevant points:

None of these seedlings developed 2nd leaves or true leaves. After germinating they made little or no progress and usually after a further 7 days either wilted in dry soil, or bent over and died from fungus or damping off.

Henbane is poisonous to cats, my indoor cats seem to like eating flowers and plants so they must not come into contact with them. This rules out leaving them on window sills in any room other than the bathroom, or leaving the airingcupboard "grow room" door open.

I dont have money to spend on greatly improving cupboard conditions like HPS lighting, extraction fan, or building an outside greenhouse. I can afford more striplights or any kind of suitable lighting up to the cost of about 50 if necessary.

Any advice or pointers you could give me would be greatly appreciated. If there are any major flaws in my technique then it will be a great help to know what so I can eliminate them.

There are two clues to your problem. The seedlings were tall and thin, which means they were not getting enough light. Put something under the pots to move the seedlings closer to the lights. Intensity falls off as the square of the distance for any artificial light. Only sunlight does not do that, because the sun is too far away for it to matter if you move plants a foot or more closer or farther away. You could also get more lights.

The other problem is the damping off fungus that has gotten into your growing area. You will have to swab things down with a sterilizing agent -- all the walls and the floor and ceiling! Also you did not mention anything about sterilizing the compost, so I presume you assumed what you used was free of harmful organisms. Any soil sitting around for any length of time becomes contaminated and should be re-sterilized. The best way to sterilize it is to let it dry out and then re-wet it with boiling water. Cool and then sow immediately. The fan stops spores from settling onto the soil or plants as well as not allowing the soil surface stay wet enough to allow fungi to germinate. But anyway, cover the pots with clean plastic to minimize spores settling on the medium, while waiting for the seeds to germinate.

You may be overdoing the liming of the soil. Get some litmus paper to measure the pH of your final mixture. Wet the soil mix with distilled water. It should be neutral to a bit above it, but henbane CAN grow at pH 4.5 (quite acid) to 8.2 (fairly basic). I do not think that the kitty litter is a good medium. It is usually far too sticky once it gets wet. I doubt that UK kitty litter is very different from the Canadian version!

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