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Our Senior Garden - April 24, 2015

One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.


Friday, April 24, 2015

A light frost - April 24, 2015

Transplanted pepper
Transplanted tomato

We had a light frost last night, as overnight temperatures dipped to 34° F. Since we still had all of our tender plants covered, we suffered no damage. The cold frame's max-min thermometer recorded a low of 39° F, so I guess I got the frame sealed up a little better last night than the night before. We still have a couple of cool nights in our weather forecast, but not serious enough to delay the planting of tender plants. Of course, I'll be drying out and saving our Hotkaps and floating row cover today, just in case.

I put in three bell pepper plants and four tomato plants this afternoon. The three Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants were still pretty small. The four Earlirouge tomato plants were about eight inches tall with rather sturdy stems. All of the plants were caged. The pepper plants got cut down and re-purposed tomato cages, while the tomato plants got five foot tall cages made of welded wire. The tomato cages are wired to T-posts, as they tend to topple over in the wind when top heavy with tomatoes.

This is the first year in some time that we've grown some of our pepper and tomato varieties for seed saving in our main raised garden bed. Such plantings are usually made in our East Garden or outlying isolation plots which have only marginal soil for gardening. It will be interesting to see how these plants do in the rich soil of our raised bed.

In planting, I sprinkled a little ground limestone in each tomato hole to fend off blossom end rot and watered the plants with very dilute starter solution with some Serenade biofungicide mixed in. The Serenade helps prevent diseases such as anthracnose and bacterial spot. And each transplant got a temporary cutworm collar made of the top of a wax paper coffee cup.

After mulching today's planting, I was able to rototill the very end of our raised bed where our sweet corn transplants will go. Once the corn is in, we'll have our initial planting of our garden done for this year. Depending on how things go, we have succession crops planned for areas where the current crops will come out by mid-summer.

Garden viewed from south to north

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Thursday, April 23, 2015 - Apple Trees in Bloom

Granny Smith apple tree in full bloom

Stayman Winesap on left, Granny Smith, and volunteer in background
Volunteer apple tree

One of the real visual treats of spring is seeing our apple trees (well, and trees all over) in full bloom. Our Granny Smith tree has more blooms on it than I've ever seen. The volunteer apple tree we rely on for pollination is now freely blooming as well. It got heavily pruned back the last two falls, as it had some sick limbs on it, so I'm thrilled to see it in bloom again. (And later, I'll love its small, red apples.)

Most of the bees visiting the trees this morning when I took these photos were bumblebees, although I did see some honeybees on the Granny Smith tree a couple of days ago. Two new studies released in Nature suggest that insecticides containing neonicotinoids may do far greater damage to wild hives of bees and bumblebees than kept hives.

All three of our apple trees are in close proximity to each other. While the tiny, dwarf Stayman Winesap only put on a couple of blooms this year, that's two more than last year. The Granny Smith, of course, is filled with blooms. And the volunteer apple tree shown in the background behind the Granny Smith at right, has lots of blooms once again.

No Frost/Freeze - Whew!

Max-min thermometerOur overnight low came in at around 36° F, well above the point where anything in our garden would be damaged. Under our cold frame, the max-min thermometer recorded a low of 38° F, certainly safe, but suggesting I work a little harder at sealing the frame at night around its base.

Our frost protection will need to stay in place for one more night predicted to run around 36° F. After that, things look pretty good temperature wise, although we may have rain tomorrow and Saturday. While it was really important to get our cold frame opened this morning before the full sun was on it, the Hotkaps over some of our geraniums and tomato plants can stay in place today. Stuff under them doesn't seem to heat up in the sun like the cold frame does.

Flowers under cold frame

Sweet corn outside in sheltered area of porch Samaritan's Purse - Helping In Jesus' NameOther than a few leftover lettuce transplants, our cold frame is full of flower transplants. Some of our remaining geranium transplants are beginning to show a little stress from having been left in their pots so long. I'm going to have to get busy moving flowers into our garden and flowerbeds very soon.

With no room under the frame for our two trays of sweet corn transplants, I moved them to a protected area of the back porch this morning to begin hardening off. I want to get these transplants in the ground just as soon as possible, as even the deep inserts they're planted in can cramp root growth. Also, the field next to our garden will be planted to field corn this year, so I want our sweet corn to pollinate well before the field corn tassels. Unless our forecast for tonight improves considerably, the trays of sweet corn will go back on the dining room table overnight.

Tractor Supply Company

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - Planting Peas

Getting pea row readyRow seededEven with a couple of cold nights coming up (36, 38° F), I went ahead and planted our Eclipse and Encore peas today. While both varieties require fairly warm soil to germinate well, our pre-sprouted pea seed couldn't wait any longer for warmer weather.

Since I'd fall tilled our main raised bed, I only needed to scuffle hoe the area to be planted to clear it of germinating weeds. After driving T-posts at either end of the row and stringing the row, I opened up an 8" wide furrow about an inch to an inch and a half deep with a flat bottomed shovel. Then I spread light layers of 12-12-12 fertilizer, lime, and granular pea inoculant and thoroughly incorporated them in the soil with my garden hoe. Doing so will give the pea roots some fairly loose soil to drive down into.

Closeup of pea seed in groundI'd made a mistake with pre-sprouting our pea seed by not treating it with captan, so the pre-sprouted peas were a mess of sprouted seeds, rotting seeds, and sticky captan I'd tardily added. So before using the pre-sprouted seed, I treated some more pea seed with captan to prevent seed rot and used it to sow a straight line of seed down the row. Then I used the pre-sprouted seed to make a wider, approximately 4-6" wide planting. I used a garden rake to pull soil back over the seed and tamp it firm.

Peas planted and aisle mulchedI added a third T-post in the middle of the row to support a trellis, but I didn't string the trellis today. It was simply too windy to mess with trying to work with the light, nylon netting. It will be at least a week or so until the peas are up enough to require support. Even though Eclipse and Encore are short vining pea varieties, I trellis them to facilitate seed saving. Pea pods on the ground tend to rot pretty quickly.

When done with the seeding, I mulched the aisle between our onions and the peas with grass clipping mulch, as well as finishing mulching the lettuce I transplanted yesterday. The mulched aisle may look a bit wide, and it is. I'm leaving a full forty-eight inches on either side of our pea row for easy access. The next row to be planted, our peppers and tomatoes, will also have forty-eight inch aisles.

I'm not terribly pleased with my garden plan this year. Putting taller crops in the middle of our large, raised bed may shade crops to the north. That's another reason for the wide aisles. Also, someone other than me may be doing a lot of the picking, so I'm trying to make things as easy for them as possible.

Frost Advisory

Hotkaps and floating row covers on - April 22, 2015Geranium on cistern covered with HotkapAnnie and I had settled in after supper to watch the news when the weather person said a frost advisory was in effect for our area tonight. Beyond just a frost, the TV station was now predicting and overnight low of 32° F.

So I drug myself out of the easy chair, collected our Hotkaps, floating row cover material, garden pins, and such and headed for the garden. It turned out that I had just enough HotKaps, some new and some previously used, to cover all of our geraniums and tomatoes. I used the floating row cover for our softbed of onions, carrots, and lettuce, with the lettuce being my chief concern there.

Our early peas, brassicas, and garlic should be able to withstand a frost or light freeze, so they got no covering. I'd already closed our cold frame during the daytime to let it build up a little extra heat for the night. And our hanging basket plants should do okay, as they're under the edge of the porch and up pretty high. Despite all the insulating we've done, our old farmhouse still leaks a lot of heat.

Cold frame closed Geraniums and tomato plant under Hotkaps Floating row cover over softbed

So we're ready for the cold, down to around 28° F or so, as long as we got everything sealed up tight.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - Windy

Our Senior Garden - April 21, 2015And I thought it was windy yesterday! We have a bright, partly cloudy day today that would be ideal for working outside, except for the wind. Our closest weather station is reporting winds over 35 MPH. A weather advisory out of Indy for today predicted 50 MPH winds, which I suspect is pretty close to some of the gusts we're having. So, I'm mostly staying inside today.

My daily check of our started sweet corn was productive this morning. Of the seventy-two cells I seeded, sixty-one have shoots up, about an 80% germination rate. Before I move the flats outside, I'll reseed the empty cells, although what is already up should be enough for the very small space in our main garden devoted to sweet corn.

I did notice a little lacy mold growing around a couple of sprouts, so I watered the flat with a captan mixture. I also had to add a little captan to our pea seed we're pre-sprouting, as there was some mold starting there, too.

Sweet corn shoots emerging in flats

Note that these seed flats are normally covered with clear humidomes to retain moisture. I do uncover them through the morning hours when the sun streams in through our bay windows, so that the plants don't cook under the domes.

Light House Mission

Monday, April 20, 2015 - Transplanting Lettuce

Lettuce transplanted Join Angie's List Today!We have a blustery spring day today. While it's in the 50s, wind speeds of up to 30 MPH make working outside a bit unpleasant, especially when you get your hands wet.

I managed to get my hands good and wet transplanting some lettuce into our main raised garden bed. I'd left about five feet of space at the end of a carrot row for lettuce. Spacing the lettuce pretty closely, I put in fourteen transplants. Since we're partial to romaines, that made up over half of the planting, including the Defender, Winter Density, and Red Romaine varieties. I also put in a couple each of the Boston butterhead, Skyphos, and the iceberg, Crispino.

The transplanting shouldn't have been too tough, as I could work from outside the bed. But getting my hands wet as I watered the holes made them cold in the wind. I started to mulch in the lettuce, but cold hands and the wind playing with the mulch defeated me. It's supposed to be sunny and less windy tomorrow.

Even with the chilly weather, it made me feel a bit like summer seeing the reds and greens of the lettuce now in our garden.

Hostmonster.com

Sunday, April 19, 2015 - Showers of Blessings

Our Senior Garden - April 19, 2015Trees in bloomI somewhat appropriately listened to a rather tinny piano playing There Shall Be Showers of Blessings this morning. It reminded me of my youth, sitting with my parents in the old Union Chapel Methodist Church. The old wooden building, complete with outhouses, has long since been torn down, but the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried remains.

We're experiencing the blessing of showers today at the Senior Garden. Having gotten our carrots seeded and our onions transplanted yesterday, the showers are indeed a blessing.

The rain, so far, has been a pretty gentle one. I'd taken the precaution of partially closing our cold frame last night, in case there was heavy rain or even hail. But while steady, the rain hasn't been excessively heavy.

Our Granny Smith apple tree is in full bloom now, although it pollinator trees, a dwarf Stayman Winesap and a volunteer apple tree, have been a little slower to bloom. I stood under the Granny Smith a few minutes yesterday and marveled at all the bees visiting it. I didn't see any bee traffic between it and the volunteer apple tree, its main pollinator, but I didn't look too long. Bees get a little grumpy in cloudy weather.

Lettuce transplantsRain gaugeThe lettuce transplants which I didn't get in yesterday look great sitting under our cold frame. Just as soon as we get a break in the rain, which could take until Tuesday, I'll mud them in at the end of our carrot rows.

When I erected the double trellis for our tall peas earlier this month, I also installed our rain gauge. Rainfall can vary a good bit within just a few miles, so having our own rain gauge gives us fairly accurate measurements.

During the winter months, we've relied the last few years on local weather sites, all within seven miles of us, for our precipitation data. Unfortunately, the Weather Company, parent company of The Weather Channel and The Weather Underground, announced last week that they will be discontinuing the classic version of the Weather Underground next month. The move has created a firestorm amongst their members and users, as the new site simply doesn't work right for individual stations that report to the Weather Underground.

Last year, The Weather Channel without any warning discontinued their local garden forecast pages. I relied on them for accurate UV forecasts, among other things. It would seem that the bean counters have taken over the weather sites from the meteorologists.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015 - Sweet Corn Transplants

Our Senior Garden - April 18, 2015Sweet corn transplantsWe're on a bit of a tight planting schedule this year due to my upcoming hip surgery. Fortunately, it appears that we may be past our last frost, which will allow getting things started a bit earlier than usual. So I'm looking for ways to speed up the process of planting which usually lasts throughout May and sometimes into early June.

I seeded our sweet corn at around eleven o'clock last night. No, I wasn't outside fumbling in the dark. I worked in our kitchen seeding two trays with sweet corn. I've read with interest over the years about how some commercial sweet corn growers use transplants to get their sweet corn to market as early as possible. Sowing transplants has the advantages of avoiding poor seed germination in cool, spring soils, gives the corn a head start on weeds, and of course, brings the crop to market early, while prices are relatively high.

While an attractive idea, our sweet corn plantings have been too large to use transplants until this year. Last year, I did experiment with a tray of transplants that I used to fill in gaps where our sweet corn seed didn't germinate. That worked out well, other than I didn't grow enough transplants to cover all the bare patches.

Trays seeded to sweet cornSo last night, I filled two seed trays containing #606 deep inserts with sterile potting mix and seeded them to the new, open pollinated, sugary enhanced variety we're trying this year, Who Gets Kissed? I used deep inserts instead of our usual, more shallow ones, as sweet corn sinks a fairly deep root early on. The deep inserts also had the advantage of yielding 36 plants per sheet (or tray), rather than the 32 cells of the #804 inserts we usually use. If the seed in every cell germinates, the seventy-two plants should give us enough plants for our small, intensive planting this year, plus a few extras. (Note: I did a germination test on the seed when it arrived this year. It germinated at a bit over 90%!)

Pre-sprouting Pea Seed

Another idea I've read about is pre-sprouting pea seed. We already have a lush looking crop of early peas growing, but our two short vine pea varieties require rather warm soil for good germination. The peas in question are the Eclipse supersweet pea and the related Encore variety. I have small samples of both varieties, but neither is commercially available anymore, nor from seed savers, as they are PVP protected varieties.

Eclipse, and to a lesser extent, Encore, need warm soil to germinate. So pre-sprouting the seed indoors might be the best way to go with them. For the volume of peas I want in our row, transplants would be difficult, although I may try some just as a backup plan. The problem, of course, is if my efforts don't work, we'll have seriously reduced our stock of the Eclipse variety, which didn't do well for us last year.

For most crops, I wouldn't go to such lengths to get a crop, but Eclipse peas really are super sweet. Encores are just a tad behind Eclipse in sweetness and are far easier to germinate.

Pea seed on wet coffee filterThe method for pre-sprouting is the same as we use for our geranium seed and also for seed germination tests. The seed to be sprouted is laid out on wet paper towels or coffee filters. The paper towel or coffee filter is folded over the seed or covered with another wet paper towel or coffee filter to ensure good contact with the seed, and placed in a ziplock bag. The bag goes into a fairly warm (70ish) location and will need to be checked for moisture and gemination daily. When the seed sprouts, one carefully moves the tender sprouts to a garden furrow to be covered with a thin layer of damp soil, or alternatively, to individual pots for transplants.

I did use a paper plate under the coffee filters this time to keep the round pea seed from rolling around too much. I was surprised this morning when I checked the seed and found it rather dry. At first, I feared a leak in the ziplock bags I used. Then I realized that the paper plate had soaked up a lot of the moisture in the bags. So I added some water and returned the two bags of seed to the shelf where I'm keeping them.

Bagged, germinating pea seedAs soon as most of the pea seed sprouts, I'll carefully scatter them in a shallow furrow in the garden, covered with about a half inch of soil.

The fun part of growing this crop is that our Eclipse and Encores will be growing on good soil for the first time in several years. As we tried growing seed crops of both varieties in recent years, we planted them in our East Garden where we could have thirty to forty foot rows of them. While we had some success doing that, peas are a crop that really need fertile soil. We lavished compost around the East Garden plantings, but still struggled to produce good crops of peas there. So I'm hopeful that returning our short peas to the fertile soil of our main raised bed will reproduce the good crops of the varieties we used to get from them there.

Here are a couple of good entries about pre-sprouting peas:

Good Forecast

I continue to anxiously watch our extended weather forecast for any sign of a late frost. The coldest night currently in the forecast is for 38° F. While we have a gorgeous day today, rain is predicted for Sunday and Monday. But it may be followed by a five to seven day window of warm, clear, dry weather when we can get a lot of planting done.

Later

Cutworm collars off broccoli and cauliflowerOnions transplanted and carrots direct seededOnce I got outside this afternoon, I ignored our lawn that already needs cutting again. Instead, I first removed the paper cup cutworm collars from our broccoli and cauliflower. After firming the soil around each plant after the collar was out, I watered them with a mixture of starter fertilizer and Thuricide. The Thuricide is to protect the plants from the worms left by small white cabbage moths and cabbage loopers laying eggs on the plants. After removing the collars and watering, I added a bit of fresh mulch around each plant.

A second job took the rest of the afternoon and early evening. I direct seeded carrots and transplanted onions into our main raised garden bed. With our reduced garden space this year, I only seeded ten of the available fifteen feet to carrots, leaving room at the end of the bed to transplant some lettuce in a day or two.

Our carrot culture was basically what I've described in How We Grow Our Carrots. I did omit overseeding the carrots with radish seed, something I sometimes do to help break the soil surface for the slow germinating carrots. Instead, I left a walking board over the seeded carrot rows to hold back weeds and retain soil moisture. Our ten foot double row of carrots seeded included Laguna, Mokum, Nelson, and Scarlet Nantes. With rain predicted for tonight and tomorrow, I only lightly watered in the carrot planting.

After last year's onion trials, transplanting two, fifteen foot double rows on onions didn't seem like all that much. Our one flat of four rows of onion transplants provided just enough onions for this transplanting with a few left over. I spaced the onions 3-5" inches apart in the row with four inches between the rows. Varieties planted this year included Copra, Milestone, Yellow of Parma, Patterson, Walla Walla, Red Zeppelin, Red Creole, and Rosa di Milano.

Once the onion plants were in, I watered them with a mixture of starter fertilizer and Serenade biofungicide. The Serenade is to help fend off black mold. Again, with rain on the way, I didn't overdo the watering.

How We Grow Our Onions gives complete directions, from starting transplants to storage, on growing onions.

I'm sorry not to give step-by-step directions here instead of links to how-to's and feature stories, but I was one tired senior gardener by the time I got done. It took a hearty supper of leftover lasagna, garlic cheese bread, with a huge side of homegrown asparagus plus a serious painkiller to get me to write this much.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's another wet spring day in our Senior Garden. We started today with rain followed by fog. While the rain stopped early in the day, it remained cloudy all day. The good news was that it was warm, almost 70 degrees.

Flower starts to be transplanted Flats of transplanted flowers

I used today to get some of our flower starts transplanted from the communal pots they were started in to fourpack inserts. This is a job I often get too busy to do on time and end up with rather large flower starts to transplant. Today I caught our dianthus, impatiens, snapdragons, gloriosa daisies, and petunias at just about the perfect stage to move them into fourpack cells. I still have a pot each of trailing impatiens and shasta daisies to transplant that are still too small to move.

Burpee Gardening

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Apple blossoms ready to openTulips in bloomWe're picking just a little asparagus each day. Since I'd picked heavily on Monday, Annie and I only managed to get 13 ounces of asparagus spears yesterday and today. The heavy pickings I'd done Sunday and Monday went to the proprietors of the Nestle Inn bed and breakfast, where we stayed Monday night after catching a concert in Indy. We had their top floor suite, which is really deluxe, although there were a lot of steep stairs to climb to get there.

Like a lot of folks, our tulips are in bloom. They're a real treat for us to see, as the strong winds here often shatter the blooms pretty quickly. We also have lots of apple blossoms on two of our three apple trees. Our dwarf Stayman Winesap is just showing a very few blooms, as it's still pretty young.

Noting that I'd put in the first of our onions and carrots a year ago tomorrow, I checked the area where our onions, carrots, spinach, and lettuce will go this year. It was still too wet to really work, but I was able to rake the surface, making the area look a little more planting ready. The raking also will slow down germinating weeds, a much easier method than hand pulling or hoeing them when they get bigger.

East Garden

Fallow East Garden

After playing in the soil for a few minutes, I got down to the main job of the day. I did our first mowing of the field east of us, site of our large East Garden. It felt a little funny to just mow over what usually is an area being prepped for melons, potatoes, and sweet corn. With my hip replacement surgery now re-scheduled for next month, I just sailed across the alfalfa cover crop on the East Garden, just as I did the rest of the field.

Daisy and Jackson enjoying grass clippingsBy not planting the area this spring, we'll be giving up most of our space hungry crops this season. That includes our melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), potatoes and sweet potatoes, yellow squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, and the extra rows of broccoli and cauliflower we usually plant with our leftover brassica transplants. I thought we wouldn't have any sweet corn this year either, but managed to squeeze in a few rows of it in our garden plan for our main raised bed. Hopefully by this time next spring, I'll be a lot more mobile and once again get to plant the plot. In the meantime, it's in a cover crop that should help improve the soil somewhat.

Some readers may have noticed what appeared to be two dogs by our main raised bed in yesterday's splash shot. If so, it wasn't your eyes. Daisy and Jackson quickly located the grass clippings I'd dumped beside our garden and stretched out on them for a nap. These two dogs often lay on our compost piles. Given a fresh pile of warm grass clippings, they enjoy them, too, as a soft spot. They've also been known to occupy mulched areas in the garden, Daisy most recently flattening a few broccoli transplants (which survived). When I can, I leave them a nice pile of clippings, mainly to keep them out of our garden plots.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Our Senior Garden - April 13, 2015

Craftsman 44
Agri-fab 44 inch lawn sweeper icon

We have a pretty good line of rain approaching this morning. I mowed grass yesterday, but didn't get it raked, as my lovely wife seduced me with an offer of eating out last night. So this morning, I got out early and swept the yard of the grass clippings put down yesterday. As I finished, a few drops of rain were visible on the hood of the mower.

I wanted the grass clippings off the yard for several reasons. They were heavy enough in places to kill the underlying grass. But they also will make great mulch for our onions, carrots, and lettuce, once we get those crops in the ground. I also used a couple of loads of clippings to mulch around some trees. I also find it a good idea to have an unused pile of soft clippings by the garden and around our younger trees, so the dogs will lay on them instead of in mulched areas of the garden.

Jackson under apple treeJackson, our tall lab/great dane cross dog, looks rather small curled up on the fresh grass clippings I laid around our Granny Smith apple tree. We finally found Jackson's original owners, and it turns out that he still visits them. His original owner remarked that we share the dog.

We're on our second lawn sweeper from Sears. We simply wore out the first one over ten years of use. This model, the Craftsman 44" High Speed Sweeper Attachment for Riding Mowers, seems to be holding up pretty well after several years of use. It's a model made by Agri-Fab, their Agri-Fab® 44 in. Lawn Sweepericon.

Prices for the lawn sweepers jump around a good bit from day to day, although the models appear to be almost identical. When I checked today, Rural King had the model on sale for $280 (regular price, $300), while Sears was at $288, Amazon at $329, and TSC at $330. When we bought ours, Sears was the cheapest.

Asparagus

Small picking of asparagusWe're enjoying some small, early pickings of asparagus now. Our raised bed of asparagus is producing some, but not much, possibly because of all the compost I spread over it this spring. Bonnie's Asparagus Patch is also slowly coming in with its usual thick, tasty shoots. As we get more rain and things continue to warm up, we'll soon be overwhelmed with fresh asparagus from the two patches.

Asparagus in Bonnie's Asparagus Patch

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Sunday, April 12, 2015 - Almost a Disaster

Our Senior Garden - April 12, 2015Hot under cold frameOn one of the prettiest mornings we've had so far this spring, I almost caused a major disaster for our garden. I was a bit lazy this morning, nursing some sore muscles produced by using a heavy post driver when I erected our pea trellis yesterday. I took a cup of coffee to my office and messed with cleaning up some old feature stories for an hour. I didn't plan on going outside until the lawn had dried enough to mow.

Then I decided to grab our daily "splash shot" that tops this page (and appears at left as well today). Looking out over our garden from our sunroom window, I realized in horror that it was noon, and I hadn't yet opened our cold frame.

Cold frames are designed to hold in heat, and their plastic covering even intensifies the heat of the sun on sunny days. Left closed or sealed, temperatures under a cold frame can quickly reach levels that will damage or kill the transplants under them.

I'd made a similar mistake years ago and ended up killing some of our more tender, melon transplants. So I shocked our granddaughter as I ran (yes, grandpa was running) for the stairs, shot outside, and opened the cold frame. I was relieved to see that the transplants remaining under the cold frame showed no ill effects from the 104° F temperature it had reached.

Cold frame survivors

Whew!

Sears

Saturday, April 11, 2015 - Let's Try this Double Trellis Thing Again

Our Senior Garden - April 11, 2015TSC Lawn & GardenEvery vegetable garden presents its own unique challenges. Low or sloping ground, rocky or clay (or sandy) soil, a bit too much shade in parts of the season, and grazing by rabbits, raccoons, and/or deer are all challenges we've faced at our Senior Garden. We've abandoned some really poor ground, terraced and raised garden beds to eliminate soil erosion, grown green manure turndown crops, hauled in tons of soil amendments, and experimented with all kinds of critter deterrents.

One challenge we have as yet to solve is the winds that sweep across the open fields to the west of our main garden plots. There's not much one can do about the weather. And the winds have become much stronger and more frequent in the twenty-one years we've gardened here. Until we began anchoring our tomato cages with T-posts, strong winds regularly tipped over the cages, usually when they were heavily laden with fruit, and often partially uprooting the tomato plants. Onion plants not grown in protected areas get tipped over prematurely, cutting short their growing season.

Moving our garden plots to a more protected area isn't an option available to us, as we live on a 1.3 acre lot. We do have a large garden plot in a somewhat protected field to the east of our house, but it's not our ground and it doesn't have good soil. And even it is affected by strong winds. Two years ago, a possible funnel cloud ripped a path through the cornfield across the road from us before tearing a large limb off our Granny Smith apple tree and reeking havoc in our East Garden. Our raised beds are located in just about the only good spot we have for a garden, so we have to live with the wind.

Early peas ready for trellisNylon Trellis NettingAll of the above brings us to a discussion of growing the early, tall peas we so love on a trellis in a windy area. We usually are able to get these peas seeded sometime in March by preparing the pea bed in the fall and planting treated seed in the spring. Once the pea plants have fully emerged, I string a nylon trellis on heavy clothesline wire supported by T-posts. The peas, with a little training here and there, climb the trellis, bloom, and begin to fatten peas in their pods.

Strong winds many years have ripped the brittle pea vines from the trellis. The weight of the vines, foliage, and especially the nearly ripe peas causes the vines to bend, cutting off any water or nutrients to those parts of the plants.

Last year, I tried something new, a double trellis to surround the pea vines and give them more support against the winds we experience here. Sadly, I got the trellises too close together, spacing them eight inches around the pea row. The vines growing on the outside of the trellis still got ripped off of it, bent, and rendered useless. But the idea showed promise, as the vines between the trellises stayed erect, producing a nice crop.

Double trellis around peasSo when I strung our double pea trellis today, I spaced the two trellises fifteen inches apart, hoping to contain the vines mostly inside the nylon netting. This project is obviously an exercise in trial and error, but our first try with it last year showed some promise.

Taking a chance transplanting tomatoes on April 11!With no freezing weather in our extended forecast, I took a chance and put in tomatoes at either end of the trellis. I transplanted a Mountain Fresh at one end and a Mountain Merit at the other. To cap off my early planting enthusiasm, I put Maverick Red geraniums at each corner of the bed.

Over the last few years, we've grown Amish Snap, Champion of England, Extra Early Alaska (mostly a shorter pea vine), Maxigolt, Mr. Big, Sugar Snaps, Spanish Skyscraper, and Tall Telephone (Alderman) peas on our trellis. Other than the Tall Telephones, all of the varieties have produced good early peas for us. With our more limited gardening plans this year, I only seeded Champion of England and Maxigolt peas in March, as they are the two best producers for us in most years.

Since we have to anchor our tomato cages with T-posts anyway, I began growing a caged tomato plant at either end of our pea trellis a few years ago. I just anchor the cage to the end T-post(s), which allows it to defy the strong winds, standing tall even when terribly top heavy with tomatoes. The ground under the tomato cages sits empty most years until the soil warms enough for tomatoes and most danger of frost is past. (Note: I have an extra plant of each variety transplanted, just in case.)

Since our tall peas are an early season crop, we get double duty out of our trellis(es) by growing our vining strain of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers on them after the peas are cleared. Such a succession has worked quite well for us over the years.

In May, we'll be starting a row of the Eclipse and Encore pea varieties. Both produce very sweet peas on short vines that still benefit from a short trellis (3-4' high). Both are PVP protected varieties whose seed is no longer commercially available. So we grow our crops of them from saved seed we've produced, but we can't legally share the seed with anyone else. That's too bad, as the rather difficult to germinate Eclipse variety produces the sweetest peas I've ever tasted, with the related Encore variety not far behind.

Gardening Tips

Using lime to mark garden spotsBottom watering with feed pansSometimes when you have to measure things in the garden to find the spot you want to dig or transplant into, it's a bit hard to mark the spot well. Today, I simply used a bit of ground limestone to mark the spots where our first T-posts should go. Lime is relatively cheap, doesn't hurt the soil, and is easy to work with, as long as you stay upwind from it.

Today was also our first bottom watering day for our plants in hanging baskets. Up until today, I'd been giving them small surface drinks with a pitcher. But to totally soak the pots, I set them in a feed pan and the top of an old steam canner and allowed the soil to draw all the water it could.

Our dogs seemed somewhat miffed that two of their previous four outdoor feed pans weren't available today, although I caught Daisy, our red beagle cross, drinking out of one of them. With about fourteen plants to water, it takes an afternoon to do them all. So the dogs won't get their extra feed pans back until tomorrow.

Next Up

We're sort of on hold on gardening for now, as our main raised garden bed is still entirely too wet to even rake the surface, much less transplant or direct seed into. But transplanting onions and lettuce and seeding carrots and spinach will probably be our next, major gardening effort. And I really need to spend the next two dry days mowing our yard and the field next to us.

Raised Beds

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mulched garlicAsparagus coming upBetween storms and showers, I'm beginning to get some real gardening done this week. Yesterday, I cultivated around our garlic with a soil scratcher before mulching the bed. Even though the bed is pretty fertile, I scratched in a bit of 12-12-12 mixed with bone and blood meal around the plants. The mulch applied was a mixture of leaves and grass clippings that had sat several days so the mulch wouldn't burn the plants. The soil was still wet enough to require using walking boards to access the garlic patch and also to prevent soil compaction.

With my camera still in hand after the mulching, I snapped a shot of our awakening asparagus. Mostly thin shoots are beginning to appear. We were able to mix some freshly picked asparagus with carrots and gourmet green beans this week with a meal. It shouldn't be long before we have all the asparagus we can eat.

Spring peasNext on my photo tour of our garden plots was our row of peas planted mid-March. They're up and looking great. I need to get my T-posts driven and hang a trellis for them to climb on in the next few days.

This row of peas is made up of Champion of England and Maxigolt, both tall pea varieties that we really like. We'll later plant a row of Eclipse and Encore short peas when the ground is warm enough to germinate those varieties. And no, I didn't hit the saturation button in Photoshop for the image at right. The peas really are that green!

Transplanting Broccoli and Cauliflower

Today, I transplanted broccoli and cauliflower into one of our narrow raised beds I'd prepared for the crop last fall. After fall tilling and a bit of liming, the bed was covered with a heavy layer of grass clipping mulch for the winter.

Rather than clear the decaying mulch, I simply moved the existing mulch where I was going to plant to areas where the mulch had thinned out over the winter. I strung my row marker strings for the two rows of brassicas about 18-19 inches apart, and similarly spaced plants in the row 18 inches apart.

Each planting hole got a light sprinkle of 12-12-12 fertilizer and some lime worked deeply into the hole and the soil around it. Since we'd experienced clubroot with our Violet of Sicily cauliflower last year, those holes got a fairly heavy dose of ground limestone, as lime helps hold back that plant disease. I watered the planting holes with a half strength mixture of Quick Start with a bit of Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder to catch any trace elements our soil might lack.

Getting started Transplanting down the rows More mulch around transplanted brassicas

I use old coffee cups with the bottom cut out as cutworm collars for our brassicas. The open bottom of the cups allows downward root growth, while the cup lip, spaced an inch and a half above the soil level, prevents rootworms from feasting on our tender, young transplants. After a week to ten days, the plant stems will be tough enough to remove the cutworm collars which will allow more lateral root growth.

Once I had all of the brassicas transplanted, I applied a fresh layer of mulch to hold back weeds and retain soil moisture. Today's planting included five each of Premium Crop and Goliath broccoli, three Violet of Sicily cauliflower, two Fremont cauliflower, and four Amazing cauliflower. Even though we haven't yet reached our frost free date for this area, I risked putting in a Maverick Red geranium at each corner of the bed.

I give complete seed starting to harvest information about brassicas in our how-to article, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - Your Annual Nag about UV Exposure

Once or twice a year, I feel compelled to nag my readers to protect themselves from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. I'm acutely aware of the dangers of sun exposure, as I've had quite a few skin cancers removed over the years and regularly have to use a rather expensive fluorouracil cream product on potential cancers. Being fair skinned, having gotten many severe sunburns during my childhood, and then riding a tractor for eight years with a thin T-shirt on when I was farming, I'm probably experiencing just what I deserve.

Beyond getting appropriate medical care, protecting oneself from UV radiation while still being able to do the outdoor things we love is a major concern. The CDC notes that the hours between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. (Daylight Saving Time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors, with UV rays being greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America. Heavy clouds do filter out some UV, but not as much as you'd think.

So the trick for we senior gardeners prone to actinic keratoses and/or skin cancers is to find ways to garden without exposing ourselves to too much UV radiation. Keeping in mind the CDC recommendations and checking UV scales often posted on weather sites can guide one on when it is safest to work outside. But not all jobs can be done in the early or late hours of the day. For me, mowing is one of those jobs where I have to be out in the sun at peak UV hours.

Steve's sun gearI've come to rely on sun protective clothing, and, to a lesser extent, sunscreen,icon for protection from the sun when working outside, even in low UV hours. Even in the early spring, I start wearing one of several sun protective bucket hats when I'm outside, even when going shopping! Since we live in a windy area, I appreciate the chin strap to keep me from having to chase my hat across the yard. My "sun gear" hangs just inside the back door to remind me to put it on.

When I get into serious gardening in warm weather, I generally wear a T-shirt with a sun protective shirt over it along with a hat. And since I've had cancers on and in my hands, I wear gloves almost all the time when working outside.

At one time, Coolibar was the only show in town for sun protective garments. With more emphasis on skin cancer in recent years, other entities such as Columbia have entered the market. Hopefully, such competition will eventually reduce the prices on sun protective gear which until recently has been quite expensive.

Here are some related links about UV radiation and protective clothing:

Chuckle

Petra...enjoying a dog's lifeI often write my postings with a cat at the side of my chair, or even in my lap. Last night, I had the company of Petra, a shelter dog who came to live with us several years ago. She senses coming storms and wants to be inside at times when a storm is coming. She recently learned to climb the stairs to my "writers garret" upstairs. At other times, she hides on the stair's landing, halfway to the upstairs of our 100+ year old farmhouse.

Petra actually is a working dog, as she's absolute death on moles. When we first moved to the Senior Garden 21 years ago, we had my last farm dog, Leslie, to hold down the moles. When Leslie died at 17 years of age, the moles rebounded into our yard and garden plots. With Petra, the moles are now held somewhat at bay. The trade-off, of course, is that one has lots of holes to fill in the yard left by Petra and her running mate, Daisy. But I'd rather fill holes in the yard than use many of the commercial mole control products available.

It's a pretty good life for Petra, and for that matter, Annie and I.

Hummingbird Feeder

New hummingbird feederBirdscapes feederIt's probably a little early, but I went ahead and hung our first hummingbird feeder from the back porch today. We didn't see our first hummingbird last year until April 28. By hanging the feeder in front of our large kitchen window, we'll be pretty sure to notice any transient hummingbirds that appear at the feeder. That will signal me to get our other feeders ready to go.

When our first resident hummingbirds arrive, there's not too much pressure at the feeders. But after their first clutch of eggs hatch and the babies leave the nest, it takes three feeders to prevent total hummingbird mayhem from occurring as the birds fight for dominance at the feeders.

Until last summer, we'd exclusively used Birdscapes 12-ounce Glass Hummingbird Feeders, simply because they were cheap. They're a bit hard to clean, and the perches break off rather easily. But we've managed to keep at least two of them hung each summer and have a fair supply of spare parts from old, broken feeders.

The feeder I hung today is a Perky-Pet 16 Ounce Hummingbird Feeder a daughter gave me last July for my birthday. While a bit more expensive than the Birdscapes feeder, the pretty blue feeder is very easy to clean. It does lack perches for the birds, although I've seen some hang on to the edge of the feeder when it isn't too windy.

Like most folks who feed hummingbirds, we make our own nectar for them. We mix water and sugar at a 4:1 ratio to make the nectar, bringing it almost to a boil on the stove to completely dissolve the sugar.

If you're wondering when hummingbirds might arrive in your area, I found a page that gives some approximate dates for the eastern half of the United States. They also have another page with good instructions for making your own nectar.

Cold Frame

With it misting to raining outside today, our cold frame is standing open. In about the only gardening I did today, a flat of flowers got moved to the cold frame this morning.

Almost full cold frame

While the cold frame looks to be full, there's actually a flat with dead sage plants and my failed experiment with germinating bulbils in it that can be moved elsewhere anytime.

Sam’s Club

Monday, April 6, 2015

Our Senior Garden - April 6, 2015WTHI-TV ForecastIt looks like we're in for a rainy week. Such is the month of April for gardeners and farmers. While warming temperatures are welcome, the days when one can till the soil and/or plant are limited by good ole April Showers.

Our extended forecast a few days ago called for rain early today through Friday, but the frontal system moving in slowed a bit, giving us a day marginally dry enough to get started mowing our grass and raking grass clippings for the first time this season. About half of the clippings, those with the most leaves mixed in, went on our working compost pile. The other half got piled beside our main raised garden bed to be used later as mulch.

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Sunday, April 5, 2015 - Happy Easter

Our Senior Garden - April 5, 2015New bird feederWe're into our second, really nice day in a row today. While it's still too wet out to garden or mow, I did get all the sticks and branches picked up from the yard and burned.

Yesterday, I hung a new bird feeder from a pin oak tree in our back yard. I'd been thinking about getting a regular bird feeder for a while. Then web buddy Don Smith sent me a link to a review of the Droll Yankees CC18S 18-Inch Onyx Sunflower Tube Bird Feeder with Removable Base. I was hooked and bought the rather expensive feeder.

When it arrived, I wasn't disappointed. It was, as advertised and reviewed, solidly constructed and made to last. I hung it from the pin oak tree because I'll be able to see it there from my easy chair in the living room. The tree is a favorite roost for local cardinals.

I moved all of our marigold starts from their communal pots to fourpacks yesterday. In addition, I got lucky and found a cheap packet of Shasta Daisy seed at Walmart and seeded it. We grew Gloriosa Daisies for the first time last year and really liked them. The white petaled Alaska Shasta Daisyicon with its yellow button should brighten the flower bed on the east side of our house. Of course, they may not bloom until next year, but with perennials, you sometimes have to give them a year to get going.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, April 4, 2015 - Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse - April 4, 2015

Eclipsed Moon Setting
First Light in East

Something, a thirsty cat, I think, woke me up early this morning. After filling the water bowl in the kitchen, I noticed the full moon out our west facing kitchen window and remembered a lunar eclipse was supposed to occur in a just a few minutes. So I fired up the coffee maker, got dressed, and grabbed my camera.

My first images through the kitchen window weren't very good. Only when I got outside, switched to both manual focus and exposure, did I get one decent shot of the eclipse. And before long, the fun was over. The moon was dipping into the horizon in the west, only partially eclipsed, as the first hint of morning light appeared in the east. The full lunar eclipse wasn't visible from here in Indiana, but folks out west should get to see it. And what I saw was really a pretty cool way to start a day.

Cool Morning

Cold frame plantsOur overnight low bottomed out at 33° F at around eight this morning. If we're lucky, that could be our last night of potentially freezing/really cold weather this month...if we're lucky. Our cold frame did its job of protecting the plants under it, giving its usual 4° margin of safety overnight. I can actually improve the cold frame's performance by working to get a better seal at its base than I did last night. I often hill dirt up around the base before really cold nights. One can also add gallon jugs of hot water under a cold frame to add a few degrees to it.

While I trusted the cold frame for our plants there, I really didn't trust our weather forecast for a low of 34° F. I brought all of our hanging basket plants inside for the night.

Communal Pots

Flowers seedlings in communal potsLettuce and dianthus moved to fourpacksI often start some of our flower and vegetable transplants in communal pots. Extremely small seed and old seed that may not germinate at a very high rate often get spread over a single flower pot to germinate. And if I have more things to start than I have space over a heat mat (or I'm being just plain lazy), I'll also turn to communal seeding to save space.

Such shortcuts allow me to get more things started at once in less space. But shortcuts usually have a price. For planting to communal pots, one eventually has to move the seedlings to larger growing quarters to produce good transplants.

Several days of rain that already has our monthly precipitation total at 1.72 inches gave me time this week to get some flowers started in communal pots and lettuce seeded too heavily in fourpacks moved to individual cells of fourpacks. The dianthus started from some fairly old (2009) saved seed moved easily into fourpacks. I still have more of the lovely little flowers to move, but ran out of space under our plant lights for them, and also ran out of sterile potting mix. Such small plants are still subject to damping off fungus, thus the use of sterile transplanting medium.

I'd been disappointed with the germination of some of our lettuce, but it turned out I'd made an error in germinating it. I'd put our lettuce in a tray with other seed starts over our soil heating mat that was set at 75° F. Predictably, several of the lettuce varieties simply didn't germinate. I pulled them from the tray and reseeded those varieties, but didn't put them back over the heat mat. Of course, both the old and newly added seed germinated in the cooler conditions, leaving me with ten to fifteen lettuce plants per fourpack cell! I had a lot of plants to thin, some getting moved to other fourpack cells. We now have lots of lettuce transplants.

One shelf of plant rack

As plants mature and some recover from the shock of being moved from their communal pots to single pots, they will be moved to the cold frame to harden off. Our tomatoes, peppers, and some lettuce got moved this morning. That freed up more space under the plant lights for more transplanting from communal pots to fourpacks. I still have two pots of marigolds, two pots of impatiens, a pot each of snapdragons and gloriosa daisies, an egg carton of petunias, and the rest of the dianthus to transplant.

With our yard still squishy from all the rain, we'll work on picking up sticks and limbs today. I've already picked up about twenty pounds of bones from the yard the dogs have drug in from the woods. Area hunters poaching deer in the off season frequently field dress their kill, leaving behind legs and such that our dogs drag into the yard. Once we get the sticks, limbs, and bones all out of the yard, we'll be ready to mow when things dry out enough.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Our Senior Garden - April 2, 2015The Weather Underground 10-Day ForecastWe're getting into one of those frequent April rainy patterns that can make gardening a bit difficult. It's times like these I'm especially glad we have raised beds that dry fairly quickly after a rain and can be worked from outside the beds or on walking boards.

It only took a year, but I got around this morning to updating our feature story, Building a Raised Garden Bed, to include the raised bed I put in last April.

I cleaned gutters yesterday, so I guess we're ready for the rain. More than the rain, though, the prediction of an overnight low of 34° F for Saturday morning has me considering bringing our hanging basket plants back inside for one more night. Our stuff under the cold frame should do just fine, even if the temperature drops a couple of degrees lower than what is predicted.

First asparagus shoots upPea plants just barely visibleI guess my eyes are getting old, as I missed seeing the two asparagus shoots that my wife noticed last night. There's really not much to see, but it's a good sign. I'll need to keep a sharp eye on the spears and any others that emerge, as asparagus can grow several inches in just a day's time.

I did see that our early, tall peas were beginning to emerge yesterday. But at that point, they were no more than green dots on the soil surface. By this morning, they were up enough to catch in a photograph. We're supposed to have a dry, sunny day on Saturday. By then, the peas should be up enough that I can erect our double trellis around them to support their vine growth.

With large, yellow-orange patches of thunderstorms showing just west of us on the WunderMap weather radar, I'm not going to get any outdoor gardening done today. I guess I could use a day off.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 - Another Gardening Season Begins

Crockett's Victory GardenWater CharityJames Underwood Crockett wrote in Crockett's Victory Garden, "The primary job of the April gardener is getting the crops in the ground, either as seeds or as young seedlings." Weather permitting, that's just what we'll be doing this month in our Senior Garden. We have broccoli, cauliflower, and onion plants just about ready for transplanting. Carrots, beets, and spinach can be direct seeded as soon as the ground is ready. Later in the month, we hope to transplant lettuce, tomatoes, and bell peppers into our main raised bed. We'll also direct seed some short peas and a little sweet corn.

Along with planting, we'll begin mowing soon. That chore produces the grass clipping mulch we use to hold back weeds and retain soil moisture. The garlic we planted in October will be the first crop to be mulched, once one slow row of pokey garlics finish coming up. There should be asparagus to pick. Our tall peas seeded in March will need to be trellised just as soon as they begin to emerge from the soil.

It's exciting to be starting another season of gardening.

Plow & Hearth

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