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November 20, 2014

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.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - "New" Feature Stories

The Senior Garden - November 19, 2014Tractor Supply CompanyIt's only mid-November, and I'm already sick of windy, cold, and snowy weather conditions. Things are supposed to warm up a bit towards the end of this week, but I have a better fix for the cold weather...that I'll tell about sometime next week.

Being forced inside does push one to do a few things that otherwise might not get done. I added three how-to articles to our feature stories index this morning. I'd noted them here in the blog before, but only had them indexed from an orphaned web page I need to add to our top and bottom of these pages or do away with. Added were:

Growing Garlic from Bulbils

Elephant Garlic BloomElephant Garlic BulbilsI've had a food storage bag with three elephant garlic blooms in it in my office since early fall. I bagged the blooms from the drying table in the garage, but didn't quite know what to do with them. Interestingly, the garlic plants that put up the scapes had very large elephant garlic cloves. Some of the cloves got replanted last month and others found their way into various dishes we cook.

Up until this week, I'd acquired most of what I knew about garlic bulbils from the excellent page the Boundary Garlic Farm has on them. I had learned that a "scape" is the stalk growing out of a garlic bulb. The page also noted that although "sometimes referred to as a 'garlic flower' it is not really a flower. Like cloves from a bulb of garlic, bulbils propagate garlic vegetatively and the bulbs that grow from them are clones of the parent plant."

A Google image search produced a page of great shots of garlic scapes, "blooms," and bulbils. Other searches turned up some good pages on growing garlic from bulbils:

While most of the pages are from folks who are selling bulbils (mostly in Canada), they're also very free in telling how to save your own bulbils and let them reproduce.

If our bulbils are viable, it appears the main part of growing garlic from bulbils is patience. Our tiny bulbils may produce something called "rounds" next season, a garlic with only one clove. Depending on clove size, we might get a normal elephant garlic by our second, but more likely, third year of growing out the bulbils!

Come back in three years and maybe I'll have a feature story on growing garlic from bulbils! But it's always fun to learn about and try new things in the garden.

Ashley & Vogelzang Heaters Now Available At Tractor Supply

 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - Cold!

The Senior Garden - November 18, 2014GloxiniasLike much of the northern half of the United States, it's cold here this morning. We caught a couple of inches of snow yesterday, and then the temperature plummeted last night. So we have daytime temperatures in the teens with 20-30 MPH winds.

I turned my attention today to cleaning up the gloxinias on our plant rack downstairs. They often get ignored, other than their weekly watering. So today, it was time to pinch off dead blooms and leaves and rearrange the plants in their trays under our plant lights. I was also reminded that I still had a lot of plants in small fourpacks that needed transplanting to four and/or six inch pots. Of course, my potting soil is a frozen brick on the back porch, so uppotting the plants will have to wait.

Monday, November 17, 2014 - Seed Saving 2014

We save seed from open pollinated plants in our garden each year for a variety of reasons. Doing so obviously provides us with garden seed to use in the future. Most of varieties of seed we save are no longer commercially available. And seed saved over the years may adapt to ones growing conditions and expectations. Of course, things may also totally go south on variety refinement, which makes it important to always have a saved sample of ones original, good seed. There's no command (control)-z in seed saving.

The Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook has a nice page, Why Save Seeds, and offers basic seed saving information for a lot of vegetables. If you're willing to part with three bucks (plus shipping), Growing Garden Seeds: A Manual for Gardeners and Small Farmers by Johnny's Selected Seeds founder, Rob Johnston, Jr., is an excellent reference to have on ones shelf. The Seed Savers Exchange has a good search engine on their Resources page that points to planting and seed saving information for both vegetables and flowers.

Seed Savers Exchange Offerings

We saved a lot of different kinds of seeds this year, but will be offering only the same seven varieties via the Seed Savers Exchange and the Grassroots Seed Network that we offered last year. (Note: Clicking on the images below will open a larger version of the image in a new window or tab. Clicking on the variety name will take you to the variety listing on the Seed Savers Exchange.)

Moira tomatoes Quinte tomatoes Earlirouge plant and tomatoes
Moira Quinte Earlirouge

Our tomato offerings were all developed by Jack Metcalf at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm, in Trenton, Ontario. Moira has been our favorite canning (and slicing) tomato variety for years. Quintes are another of our old favorites, although our saved seed went bad in frozen storage years ago. A refresh via the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) got us going with them again. Our Earlirouge seed came from our own archival seed storage after I'd searched high and low for seed on the web. All three related varieties are semi-determinates, producing medium sized tomatoes with great flavor and deep red interior coloring.

We also are offering three pepper varieties this year in the Yearbook. I'd hoped to offer four, but things just didn't work out with our Paprika Supreme peppers. We've offered the Earliest Red Sweet variety since we got a new seed start from fellow SSE member, Paul Hagan, after our saved seed went bad in frozen storage. We're again offering saved seed from our Alma and Feher Ozon paprika pepper plants. Unlike most of our other offerings, both of the latter varieties are readily available from several commercial seed houses.

Earlliest Red Sweet peppers Alma pepper plant Feher Ozon Japanese Long Pickling cucumber
Earliest Red Sweet Alma Paprika Pepper Feher Ozon Paprika Pepper

Japanese Long Pickling
Cucumber

A final offering is an improved version of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber. Our strain of the excellent bread and butter pickle and slicing cucumber that was produced from one lone seed that germinated from a long frozen packet of 1994 seed began showing the effects of inbreeding depression several years ago. After a bit of hunting I was able to find some JLP seed not directly related to ours and bred it into our strain, restoring its vigor and disease resistance.

Other Seeds Saved

We also saved seed from some Saffron yellow squash, but we won't know until next year if they crossed with something else.

On a whim, I saved muskmelon seed from some Roadside Hybrids, just to see what we got from the saved seed, as I suspect this is a hybrid variety that will soon disappear from seed catalogs. Saving seed from hybrids is normally not recommended, but as an experiment, I decided to give this one a try.

I also saved seed from a hill of Moon & Stars watermelon that definitely crossed from surrounding watermelon varieties, as the melons had both very large, standard watermelon seed and small watermelon seed that is characteristic of some of our seedless varieties.

Crispino lettuce bloomingWe saved seed from a Crispino head lettuce plant that went to seed when I wasn't watching things carefully. When I discovered it had bolted and didn't immediately need the garden space it was growing in, I let it mature seed. I already know the seed is good, first from a germination test, but also from having grown out some nice plants from the seed that provided us a few fall salads.

I'd planted a really long (40') row of Eclipse and Encore peas this year in some marginal soil in our East Garden. Both varieties are PVP protected, but I can save as much seed as I want for my own future use, despite the legal seed saving limitations. The Eclipse planting was pretty much a failure, but the Encore peas produced a nice harvest for freezing before yielding another good harvest of mature seed to plant next year. When I recently saw that the last vendor offering Encore seed had dropped the variety for 2015, I was glad I opted for seed saving over another harvest of the delicious peas this year.

We also had a small planting of Mohon's greasy beans. It's a family heirloom sent to me by a gardening friend years ago that we've grown somewhat successfully for the last three years. They're great pole beans, but we've just done a poor job of growing them out over the last few years.

Some In's and Out's of Seed Saving

When saving seeds, following the directions provided in any number of books or web sites produces good results. One selects healthy looking mature vegetables from healthy looking open pollinated plants that have been properly isolated from which to save seeds. The seed is then harvested and processed and dried according to those instructions. And, you get lots of good seed for planting in succeeding years...usually.

Over the years, we've run into some exceptions to the generalization above. Some have turned out to be fortuitous strokes of luck, while others have proved to be challenges, if not downright failures.

On the positive side, we found that saving seed from the Carpet series of hybrid Dianthus yielded viable seed that produced healthy plants that remained true to variety and were indistinguishable from plants produced from somewhat expensive commercial hybrid seed. I saved seed from a hybrid on a lark and got lucky and learned something along the way.

Then there are our favorite pickling cucumbers, the Japanese Long Pickling variety. Our start of them came from one last, very old seed that had been in frozen storage for years. I thought we'd lost the strain, but the resulting plant produced tons of long, thin, delicious, tender, burpless cucumbers for table use, canning, and seed saving. We saved seed from a bunch of cucumbers each year for several years, but began to see our saved seed becoming steadily less viable over the years and our plants much more susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew and bacterial rind necrosis.

Of course, somewhere in those excellent directions on seed saving, it's mentioned that one needs to save seed from several plants, if not as many as possible, to preserve genetic diversity and plant vigor. And thus was my introduction to something called inbreeding depression, which comes from "too small of a population of fellow breeders during pollination." My cukes had all come from one original plant, and in time, had become steadily weaker and less viable.

When I was farming, we saved and shared open pollinated Reid's Yellow Dent field corn when seed for it had become very hard to get. All commercial outlets that I knew of that had carried it dropped the variety. We had requests for serious quantities of seed corn from as far away as Brazil! We didn't have a lot of arable land on our 40 acre farm, just 26 acres. The most Reid's we ever grew was 22 acres of the stuff, reserving a couple of two acre fields for sweet corn and hog pasture.

I'm rambling, but when I selected seed corn, I walked a lot of acres with a picking bag over my shoulder, selecting seed corn for the traits we thought most important, including strong, healthy stalks that didn't lodge late in the season and large ears that were totally filled with corn. So when we shelled and stored hundreds of pounds of seed corn, it had come from hundreds, if not thousands, of plants.

Getting back to our cucumber plants from one seed and one plant, I began searching for sources for the seed and was pleasantly surprised, after one false start, to find a commercial vendor who occasionally had Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed in stock. It proved to be true to variety, but lacked the refinements we'd bred into our strain, both good and bad. The cukes were thicker and spinier, but the plants also had a good deal of disease resistance. So, we bred the new strain of JLPs into our existing strain, being really careful about disease control. We're beginning to see healthier plants that produce lots of viable seed once more, although the refinements for thinner cukes for pickles haven't been evident as yet.

This year, one of our challenges has been our Paprika Supreme peppers. We had just one plant grow out from the last of our original, commercial seed. We had a bunch of other Paprika Supremes grow out from saved seed that I feared might have crossed with some standard bell peppers. The plants all produced copious amounts of true-to-variety paprika peppers which we used to make ground paprika and also saved seed from. But the saved seed tested very poorly in germination tests!

Paprika Supremes are supposed to be an open pollinated variety. Due to some deer damage, the original plant flowered and set peppers well before the plants from saved seed which got eaten down by deer! The saved seed plants eventually produced a bounty of lovely, long, red paprika peppers, but obviously, didn't have much chance to cross with the "pure" plant from commercial seed that had pretty well quit blooming by the time the later plants came into bloom.

I have a lot of saved Paprika Supreme seed from both the commercial and saved seed plants, so I can experiment a bit. I've actually found one obscure source online that confirmed that hot water treatment of pepper seed can very slightly improve its germination. Freezing the seed before doing any more germination tests or seeding may also improve germination rates, as I may have produced "hard seed," seed that doesn't germinate well until winter conditions or time work their wonders on it to allow germination.

And of course, if I get some good transplants started next year, I'll try some hand, cross-pollination of blooms between plants, as what I saw this year seemed to be plants being self-sterile (blooms not able to pollinate themselves to produce viable seed, although able to produce fruit). I'll also be planting a cluster of plants to help ward off inbreeding depression. I also was able to pick up a small quantity of commercial Paprika Supreme seed, so we have a good chance of doing pretty well with the variety next year.

Try It!

I'm certainly not a plant breeder, but I've saved farm and garden seed for forty years. While some of the above might sound discouraging, saving seed from one open pollinated vegetable variety (to start with) can be fairly easy and quite rewarding. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you go down in flames. But it's usually worth the effort.

Sunday, November 16, 2014 - Seed Inventory

The Senior Garden - November 16, 2014 - with JacksonSeed inventoryEach year, I drag our X-Large Ziploc Big Bag of saved seed out of the freezer for our annual seed inventory. I always worry a bit about thawing and refreezing the seed, but the seed is only out of the freezer for about 24 hours. Inventorying the seed saves me lots of money, as I don't inadvertently re-order items that I have plenty of in stock. I was really surprised this year at how little seed we may need to order for next year.

Doing the inventory is a big job, as we have lots of old seed we save in our big freezer. Even frozen, seed can go bad in time, but we've had great luck at keeping most kinds of garden seed viable in frozen storage. Our most recent big success from frozen seed was germinating some Earlirouge tomato seed that had been in frozen storage since 1988!

I now keep our seed inventory on a spreadsheet. For years, I went through lots of legal pads doing inventory and mapping out our garden plots. But with computer tools, I've found it far easier to keep track of what seed we have on hand with lots of other useful information. Currently, my spreadsheet includes columns for: Family, type, variety, days-to-maturity, year of seed, hybrid or open pollinated, amount of seed, seed source, price of last purchase, and more columns for comments on germination and my take on the variety.

Seed inventory - 2015

Setting up a spreadsheet for a seed inventory or for garden orders is really pretty easy. Any spreadsheet computer application should do the job. I use Office/Excel 2008 on my Mac Mini, but one could easily do the task with the free, open source OpenOffice suite of applications. There's even the free OOo4Kids (pronounced "OpenOffice For Kids") suite that features larger font sizes for kids and we old kids with failing vision.

The first run-through of entering all the necessary data is a bit time consuming. Once that is done, each year it's just a matter of updating the info and deleting the seed that's been used up. I keep my garden orders spreadsheet open when inventorying to cut and paste lines of seed I need to reorder for the next gardening season.

Reorder items

I only came up with seven vegetable items to reorder for next year from this year's seed inventory. That's a good thing, as last year was a brutal year for seed orders. I'd run out of lots of stuff and most of it was expensive in the quantities I required. (Thank goodness for the Fedco Seed cooperative, which saved me tons.)

Brutal year for seed orders

One of the nice things about using a spreadsheet for seed orders is that you can have it automatically tally the totals for various seed orders. I spent more on seed orders last year than I'd ever done in the past. It now appears that we'll only be spending pocket change for what little new vegetable seed we need. Flower seed, however, often runs up our order totals, and I'm still working through inventorying our flower seed.

A Few Words About Seed Storage

Freezer in garageWe've had good results freezing our old flower and vegetable seed for years. We currently store our seed in a medium sized, manual defrost, chest type freezer in our garage. The "manual defrost" description is really important, as seed viability can be adversely affected by the rise and fall of temperatures in a self-defrosting freezer. We do, however, keep seed in our self-defrosting refrigerator freezer for short periods during planting season until we can get the leftover seed back to the big freezer.

Gloxinia packets and vialsWe use a lot of different kinds of things to hold our various kinds of seed. Our precious, saved gloxinia seed is mostly in glass or plastic vials which go into Ziploc bags, mainly for sorting purposes. Much of our saved seed remains in the individual seed packets it came in from the seed vendor. Some of the newer, foil seed packets are really great for storing seed in the freezer. We also use homemade seed packets made from aluminum foil to store seed we've grown and harvested ourselves, although the labeling done in magic marker on the foil can be a bit hard to read once the foil wrinkles a bit. Large seed such as saved pea seed often just goes into a pint Ziploc bag.

I began shifting some of our seed to self-sealing seed packets we currently get from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I found it easier to write all the info I wanted on the paper envelopes over our previous foil packets. For Seed Savers Exchange seed sharing and at seed swaps, I print the labeling on these envelopes, including a nice photo of the variety along with information about when the seed was grown, its most recent germination test, and the original source of our seed.

Quinte seed envelope ERS seed envelope Alma seed envelope Moira seed envelope

Big seed bagAll of our seed gets sorted by type and bagged again into larger Ziplocs, with gallon bags for sweet corn, beans, peas, and cucurbits, and quart Ziplocs for things like carrot, herb, and onion (which really doesn't store well for more than a year) seed. All the variety bags then go into a huge Ziploc that is easy to carry and keeps our seed separate from our frozen food.

Possibly the biggest trick in seed saving is getting ones seed as dry as possible. Our use of freezer bags with the air squeezed out of them helps keep moisture away from our seeds.

Some of our oldest saved seed, such as the Earlirouge tomato seed, has made a long journey. The Earlirouge tomato seed and a number of other tomato varieties were saved in a manual defrosting upright freezer during our farming years in the 80s. After a divorce and losing the farm, that seed went into a, gasp, self-defrosting refrigerator freezer during the five years I was single (and not really gardening much). When Annie and I married and bought the Senior Garden (and the house and garage that went with it grin), the seed went into our current chest freezer in the garage.

After finishing the seed inventory today, the big bag of seed, which weighs just a bit over ten pounds, went back into the big freezer.

Main garden East Garden

I took the camera along with me when I returned the seed to the garage, as we're having our first snowfall of the season today.

Friday, November 14, 2014 - Seed Catalogs

Twilley Seed 2015 Catalog Cover

The first of our 2015 garden seed catalogs have begun to arrive. That ushers in an enjoyable time of leafing through the various catalogs, noting items we might like to try. We really won't know what seed we'll need to order until we inventory our saved seed and get a bit further along with our garden mapping for 2015.

We've purchased almost all of the seed used in our gardens from mail order seed houses since we started gardening in the 1970's. A neighbor who was also our landlord and had been my foreman at the loading docks where I worked through college loaned me his rototiller and his Burpee Seed catalog in 1973. I was hooked forever.

We purchase seed from mail order seed houses because there's simply a far wider choice of seed varieties available there than one could ever find on seed racks in stores. One also has the option of ordering larger amounts of seed than seed racks offer, frequently at considerable savings. While most mail order vendors now offer online sales, we still like paging through print seed catalogs on cold winter days. We do, however, use the Internet for placing most of our orders.

Trusted Suppliers

Our list of recommended seed suppliers is based on our recent and long-term experiences with the vendors listed, winnowed a bit using The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden. Some of the relationships run back well over thirty years, while others are more recent additions.

We shy away from seed houses that have been gobbled up by large, corporate conglomerates (Shumway being the lone exception), staying mostly with independent companies and a few, still small, family owned and operated operations. All of our recommended suppliers have clearly stated that they do not sell or intend to sell in the future Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Rather than try to list our favorites in order, these listings are in alphabetical order. We've used each of them in the last 12-18 months. Note that links, where possible, are to the vendor's mail order catalog request page.

  • Annie's Heirloom Seeds - An interesting selection of seed from a family owned business - If you give them a try, be sure to use the "TryAnnies" coupon code for a discount on your first order! (DGW rating)
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - offer an incredible array of heirloom seeds - good customer service (DGW rating)
  • Burpee Seedicon - the W. Atlee Burpee Company, the granddaddy of all seed catalog vendors, still around with lots of great seed - excellent customer service, but a tad expensive - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)
  • Fedco - a cooperatively owned seed house in Maine featuring cold-hardy selections adapted to the Northeast - "Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%." Possibly the best value for your dollar in purchasing garden seed! (DGW rating)
  • George's Plant Farm - a highly rated supplier of sweet potato slips (DGW rating)
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - a bit expensive - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)
  • R.H. Shumway - lots of heirloom (and other) seed presented in a catalog with lots of woodcut illustrations (DGW rating)
  • Seed Savers Exchange - offers small quantities of open pollinated seeds through their print and online catalog - far more variety in open pollinated seed through their members-only annual yearbook (DGW rating)
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - grow 40% of their own seed - used them several years ago and then lost track of them, before once more "discovering" them again (DGW rating)
  • Sow True Seed - a relatively new (founded in 2009) seed house that offers untreated, open-pollinated seed with an emphasis on helping buyers know how to save their own seed for the future. (DGW rating)
  • Territorial Seed Company - good variety of seeds - flat rate shipping for seeds (okay for a bunch of packets but prohibitively expensive for just one or two packets) (DGW rating)
  • Twilley Seed - our main supplier of sweet corn seed during our farming years and now - no online sales as yet - offers both a print and downloadable catalog - excellent customer service - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)

Others to Consider

I can't afford to order from all my favorite or reader suggested seed houses each year. The list below includes some vendors we've not recently used, one we had a minor problem with, and a few new places we'd like to try (when my penny jar fills up again).

  • Amishland Heirloom Seeds - a one-woman operation specializing in the rare varieties proprietor Lisa Von Saunder has obtained from "Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonite, and Pennsylvania German farm families on their multigenerational farms" in her area of Pennsylvania. She also offers "rare colored, unusual, landrace, exotic, and foreign seeds from around the world," including "a growing collection of rare Belarusian/Russian/UKrainian tomatoes." (DGW rating)
  • GenericSeeds.com - no print catalog and limited offerings - good prices and fair shipping rates - got some bad geranium seed from them in 2014 (DGW rating)
  • Heirloom Seeds - I ran across this one several years ago when hunting reasonably priced granular soil inoculant for our beans and peas. There again is no print catalog, but their item and shipping prices are fair. I also like that they're a small, family owned and operated supplier. (DGW rating)
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds - an organic seed house in Vermont recommended by a reader (DGW rating)
  • John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds - lots of interesting varieties you may not find elsewhere (DGW rating)
  • Pase Seeds - got some excellent Double Brocade gloxinia seed from them in 2014 - no print catalog (DGW rating)
  • West Coast Seeds - ships to both the U.S. and Canada with seed regionalized for the northwest - flat rate shipping for seeds (okay for a bunch of packets but prohibitively expensive for just one or two packets) (DGW rating)
Burpee.com - Tomato HP Logo Full disclosure: Burpee and Generic Seeds are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. Generic Seeds- Garden Seeds Starting at $1.39

Canadian Only Vendors

I obviously have no experience in buying from the folks listed below, as they only ship to Canadian addresses. But each one comes with one or more positive recommendations from Senior Gardening Canadian readers. Some of our recommended suppliers, Johnny's immediately comes to mind, also ship seed into Canada. The Seeds of Diversity site has a great resource list of seed providers, including sources in Canada (Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian outfit.), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

  • William Dam Seeds - enthusiastically recommended by several readers (DGW rating)
  • Upper Canada Seeds - a Canadian supplier that apparently grows their own tomato seed - I like this one because they offer the Moira tomato variety, which we work to preserve and share via the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. (DGW rating)
  • Boundary Garlic Farm - appears to be a good source for garlic bulbs and bulbils for Canadian growers - has an extremely informative and helpful web site about growing, curing, and storing garlic (DGW)

Other Supplies

Perma-nest trayAfter years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, hanging baskets and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore (DGW rating). We have placed several orders with them over the last few years. Each order arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. At my request, they began carrying the sturdy, but rather expensive Perma-Nest trays that make handling heavy flats full of moist planting medium much easier. Perma-Nest trays are solids, so I often slip a slotted 1020 tray inside the Perma-Nest tray to allow for some drainage.

Gro-mat with wire rack

Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat for heat mats Thermostat and heat mat in use

While we're close to the subject of seeds and seed starting, I'll recommend a couple of seed starting products we use and are quite happy with. My original seedling heat mat was a Gro-Mat. While sold with a wire rack that keeps it from touching the bottom of seed flats, I use mine without the rack most of the time. Note that I also melted the center of a standard 1020 seed flat with it before I added an external thermostat to my setup! After that experience, I switched for 366 days to another, cheaper heat mat. It lasted exactly one day longer than its one year guarantee! With the addition of a thermostat, I went back to a new Gro-mat and have been reasonably happy with that setup since. My original Gro-mat still works, although I only use it with a thermostat attached or with the wire rack provided with it.

Our thermostat is a Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat. It's easy to set, hangs conveniently on a hook on our plant stand, and keeps our grow mat from melting things. I also noticed that the price for the unit hasn't changed much since we bought ours in 2009.

Shipping Charges, Promo Codes, and Such

Minimum Shipping Rates
Generic Seeds - $3 (free over $25 order)
Seed Savers Exchange - $3 (orders up to $10)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - $3.50 (flat rate)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - $3.50 (orders up to $10)
Sow True Seed - $3.95 (orders up to $15, but see image)
Johnny's Selected Seeds - $4 (orders up to $10)
Burpee - $4.95 (orders up to $10)
Fedco - $5 (free shipping for orders over $30)
Annie's Heirloom Seeds - $5.95 (flat rate)
R.H. Shumway - $6 (orders up to $35)
Territorial Seed Company - $7.50 (flat rate)
Twilley Seed - $8 (goes down beyond $25 order)
George's Plant Farm - free shipping

It's not a bad idea to do a web search for coupon or promo codes for free shipping or other discounts from seed houses. Such offers become pretty scarce towards spring, though.

At right is a table of minimum shipping charges I put together last spring that is still pretty accurate. I found it necessary to begin watching such charges when I found that ordering one or two packets of seed from certain vendors was cost prohibitive because of their shipping rates.

Seed Quality - Old Seed

Staying with reputable vendors usually assures one of getting good seed, but a few negative experiences with seed quality from some of our most trusted suppliers got me asking the leaders of seed houses some hard questions a few years ago. I should have known the answer, as it's been published elsewhere in the past.

Seed houses often purchase seed for several years use, storing the bulk seed in special temperature and humidity controlled conditions. Government regulations require periodic germination testing of garden seed, but there's no way to tell if a seed packet labeled "Packed for [year]" was grown the previous season, or one, two, or more years earlier. One seed manager told me (off the record, of course) that seed his company sold could be up to five years old! The addition of a notice on seed packages of "Seed grown in [year]" would certainly be more transparent and helpful for gardeners who save seed from year to year.

My "When Hell Freezes Over" List

Eagles: Hell Freezes OverYou may notice some well known seed houses that don't appear on our list of recommended suppliers. Sometimes that's just because I tend to go with my favorites. But in a very few cases, I've had unresolved issues with an otherwise respected seed house and determined never not to use them again.

The old saying that one should never say never comes to mind as I write this section. Don Henley's line that later named an Eagles' live album and their most successful tour may also figure into this thought process. At the beginning of the concert recorded for the Eagle's Hell Freezes Over album, Glenn Frey joked to the audience: "For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation."

So those missing, big name seed houses from our list of suppliers may have just made my "when hell freezes over" list. Rather than give the few offending seed houses any publicity (far worse sometimes than bad publicity), I simply don't mention or link to those companies. Who knows? We may kiss and make up at some point. And, it's better to just stay positive with our listings.

Out permanent page of Recommended Suppliers appears in our Features section. It gets updated somewhat regularly.

Burpee Greenhouse Contest

Note: Contest ends on November 23, 2014 at 11:59 PM EST.

Friday, November 7, 2014 - Sorting Day

The Senior Garden - November 7, 2014Bags of garlic, onions, and potatoesIf you store harvested garden crops such as carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes, regular inspection of the stored crops is essential. Otherwise, one ends up with bags of spoiled material. So about once a month, I check the carrots stored in the vegetable drawers of our refrigerator and the bags of garlic, onions, butternut squash, and potatoes in the basement.

The inspection process is ongoing most of the time, as whenever I use something from a bag of stored produce, I check it or at least gently squeeze the stuff at the bottom of the bag (onions and potatoes) to make sure they're not going soft and rotting.

I actually got started on this inspection last week when I needed onions and potatoes for a batch of Portuguese Kale Soup. Many of our Red Pontiac potatoes had small eyes on them, but none had gone bad. Several green onions sprouts were visible through one of the bags, so I knew I needed to do a full inspection very soon.

Checking onionsI've found that just a visual inspection of our potatoes and especially the onions isn't a good enough method for checking for sprouts and rot. I dump out the bags and return the contents one potato or onion at a time. Frequently, I can feel that an onion that has started to rot, even though it looked pretty good on the outside.

Checking Kennebec potatoesWith today's sorting, I didn't have to pitch any potatoes, but found a half dozen sprouted and/or rotting onions. The culls go into a bucket that gets dumped on the compost pile...usually when it begins to smell really bad. Our few Kennebec brown potatoes were in great shape. But I did have to hoist the 40-50 pound bag of red potatoes back onto its hook. In my haste last weekend, I left the gunny sack of potatoes on the basement floor.

Almost Done

Dining room ceiling

Polishing chandelier
Chandelier crystal light covers

The remodeling of our dining room is almost done. The new ceiling is in place and has been "mudded" and sanded twice. Painting should commence this weekend. And boy am I'm tired of cleaning up plaster dust!

Having procrastinated for two weeks now, I finally got out the Brasso and began cleaning and polishing the chandelier for the dining room. The crystal bulb covers got washed in the kitchen sink. At some point, it will get hung again, although I doubt it will be this weekend.

Once the walls and new ceiling are painted, we still have carpet and curtains to do for the room and the living room.

This job has taken a good deal longer than normal, as we're fortunate to have a son-in-law who is handy with such stuff. But with his day job as an addictions counselor, work only gets done on the weekends. So we've been living in a torn up downstairs for several weeks.

Where's the Brasso?

I had to hunt a bit for our can of Brasso today. Turns out, it was in our sunroom computer workshop. I'd last used the Brasso to clean the contacts of the ROM chip for an old Macintosh IIfx. While the IIfx was a graphic designer's dream machine in 1990, the motherboard contacts for the ROM chip are tin. Corrosion builds up on the contacts and chip, occasionally producing the chimes of death when you try to boot the computer.

The answer to my problem with the IIfx and corrosion turned out to be periodic cleaning with Brasso! The image at left is a composite of the IIfx running its Solar System screen saver when it served as one of our classroom computers.

Burpee Gardening

Thursday, November 6, 2014 - Our Best Garden Photos of 2014

If you take enough pictures with good equipment, you're bound to end up with a few good shots. Out of over 5,000 shots I took this year, I found 35 I thought good enough to share in Our Best Garden Photos of 2014 feature story.

Snapdragon Honey Bunch Grape Tomatoes Kale in October

Don Smith sent me an interesting link yesterday for free Kindle eBooks on gardening. I was pleasantly surprised at how many free titles are available.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 - The Garden Tower 2

Garden Tower ProjectTwo years ago I wrote about the launch of the Garden Tower Project. Three guys from nearby Bloomington, Indiana, were just coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund an innovative, self-contained, vertical garden tower they'd designed. Fast forwarding 23 months, there are now over 4,000 Garden Towers in use across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Yesterday, I received an email from the project's communications manager, Tom Tlusty, announcing a new Kickstarter campaign for a redesigned Garden Tower 2. It incorporates a number of improvements over the original Garden Tower while retaining its unique composting core and small footprint.

Starting today at 4 P.M., they'll be taking early orders for the improved Garden Tower for a month. Doing so allows them to offer the new tower at a reduced rate while accumulating enough orders "for production to be efficient and economically sustainable."

I've not used a Garden Tower, but if I were an apartment dweller with a sunny patio and/or no longer physically able to maintain a standard garden, I think the Garden Tower might help fulfill my need to get my hands dirty and grow something green.

Normally retailing for $350-400, the Garden Tower 2 is available for $232 shipped during the brief Kickstarter sale.

Full Disclosure: As of yesterday, the Garden Tower Project became one of our Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertisers. Even if they weren't an affiliate, I'd have still written this promo, as I like the concept of their tower...and hey, they're local guys making good.

Election Day (U.S.)

The Senior Garden - November 4, 2014In contrast to a beautiful day yesterday, we have a cold, rainy day today. It's just the kind of weather the talking heads on TV would say discourages voter turnout for the mid-term elections. But when I voted just before noon at our local firehouse, the workers there said turnout had been fairly heavy. Our township tends to vote early and late, usually with a good turnout. I can remember waiting in a long line to vote early in the morning with neighbors who were, like me, voting on their way to work.

Harvest

As I drove to town today, I noticed only a couple of small fields that haven't been harvested as yet. With rain today and several more days in our extended forecast, farmers may have trouble getting those last fields done. Fall tilling is probably out for the next week or so, too. But most of the harvest appears to be in.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Sunday, November 2, 2014 - 24° F = End of Growing Season

The Senior Garden - November 2, 2014Nasturtiums flattened by overnight freezeThis morning the sun is bright and we have several nice days predicted where I may get some final garden cleanup done. Our overnight low was predicted to get down to 28° F last night. That wasn't accurate, as two nearby reporting stations showed lows of 24° F!

The row of slightly frost damaged nasturtiums I showed yesterday were completely flattened by the freeze. Interestingly, our bed of lettuce and spinach appears not to have too much frost/freeze damage. And of course, our row of kale may have been improved by the frost.

Speaking of kale, I nearly filled a twelve quart kettle with Portuguese Kale Soup yesterday. I ended up using two, five-gallon buckets of slightly packed kale in the soup, as the kale after being stemmed really cooks down. There's still enough kale left in the row for a good sized batch or two of boiled kale.

After our family had chowed down on the kale, I canned seven quarts of it (the canner's capacity) and had another quart for the refrigerator. While not usually a problem, I had trouble keeping the canner at ten pounds of pressure for the required ninety minutes of canning time. The canner slipped down to as low as eight pounds and once got as high as thirteen pounds. I'm hoping the bacteria that need to be killed in the canning process can deal with an average pressure of ten pounds per square inch, which produces a canning temperature of 240° F.

Canned Kale Soup Watching the pressure gauge

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November is usually the month that marks the end of our growing season. We've pushed that well into the month in the past with favorable weather and by using floating row covers to protect tender crops. I opted this year to try getting our garden plots ready for next year, rather than trying to extend our growing season a few weeks more. With our first real freeze (31° F) last night, and a colder night predicted for tonight (28° F), only our row of frost hardy kale may survive. And the kale's time is limited, as I have a pot of chicken broth heating on the stove for one last batch of Portuguese Kale Soup this year.

Main Raised Bed East Garden

Narrow raised bedsNasturtiums nipped by frostOur two biggest garden plots, our main raised bed and our large East Garden, have been cleared and tilled. We still have a number of other small garden plots to clean up. Three isolation plots of tomatoes and peppers will need to come out in the next week. Our narrow raised bed of lettuce and spinach along with another narrow raised bed of kale will have to be cleared and tilled before the ground freezes. The lettuce/spinach plot will be planted to brassicas early next spring, while the kale bed will contain caged tomato plants at either end with our early peas trellised in between. Since the early peas get seeded in early March, fall soil preparation of the bed is essential.

I found it interesting that I had to look hard today to find any frost damage. I finally saw that our row of nasturtiums had gotten nipped just a bit last night. I suspect tonight's freeze will show a bit more. But at least today was bright and sunny, as we had sleet blown by strong winds yesterday afternoon.

R.I.P. Hanging basket plants and gloxiniasBeyond clearing garden plots, I have stacks of trays, hanging basket pots, standard flower pots, and fourpacks to be cleaned and sterilized before they come inside. After the INSV virus took all of our gloxinia collection a year or so ago, I decided not to overwinter any of our existing hanging basket plants. In addition, I've been soaking all pots and rinsing all trays in a bleach solution before storing them for the winter.

Orange-green pumpkinsThere are sprayers to be rinsed out and garden tools to be cleaned before storing them. Our plastic tub of various garden chemicals and biologicals got washed and stored in the basement this week. Some of those products don't do well with repeated freezing and thawing.

And I still need to figure out what to do with one of the saddest things in the garden: pumpkins that didn't quite ripen in time for Halloween. They're still nice as seasonal decorations through Thanksgiving, but it would have been far nicer to give them to some kids for Halloween.

Coming Attractions on Senior Gardening

I wondered if our first seed catalog for the 2015 gardening season might come in today's mail. Last year, we received our Twilley Seeds catalog on November 1. But alas, there were no seed catalogs in the mail today. When we get our first one, I'll post an updated listing of our Trusted Suppliers, something I've been working on, off and on, for several weeks.

I'll also be doing our annual seed inventory this month. It's a tiresome job that must be done before placing seed orders. Doing so prevents duplicating good seed we have in storage and leaving out something we need for our annual seed orders. It also facilitates updating our listings of seed offered for sale via the Seed Savers Exchange and the Grassroots Seed Network.

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