Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity
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Our Senior Garden - November 25, 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.

Thursday, November 26, 2015 - Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)

Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing Give Thanks:
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Happy Thanksgiving


Monday, November 23, 2015 - Thanksgiving Feast Run-up

Gluten-free rolls
Butternut Yams
Grandma's Yeast Rolls
Cinnamon Rolls

We have a couple of family members who must follow a gluten-free diet. That makes planning our annual family Thanksgiving feast a bit more involved. Several years ago, I found a recipe for passable gluten free rolls that seemed more like biscuits. The gluten-free crowd liked them, though.

Combining a couple of gluten-free dressing recipes (1, 2) yields a dressing that is at least edible. In a posting two years ago, I wrote, "If Stove Top [Stuffing] ranked a seven on a one to ten scale of goodness, I'd give the gluten-free dressing around a four!" Annie rated it a bit higher.

Our butternut squash yams are always delicious and gluten-free, although I'm going to have to buy the butternut squash this year to make them.

Definitely not gluten-free are Grandma's Yeast Rolls, an old family recipe. When she was living, my mother taught me how to start the rolls a day early, letting them raise the first time in the refrigerator overnight! And all by myself, I was able to turn the basic dough recipe into one for Cinnamon Rolls. Of course, there was the time I grabbed the red capped jar of cinnamon, only to discover later what I'd grabbed was ground red pepper! With all the brown sugar and icing, the "red pepper rolls" were still edible.

On Thanksgiving Day, we'll get to visit with my brother's family, including niece Libby Bloomquist and her husband, Wayne. We'll be thrilled to see them, as it's been a while. They are missionaries to Cambodia and are home on furlough. See Wayne & Libby Bloomquist: How the Lord Called Us Both into Ministry for details about them and their Christian ministry.

Sunny, but Cold

It's sunny here today, but still a little cold. Yesterday, the weather was just plain nasty, with a high temperature of only 37° F and steady winds that made it feel much colder. I had to break ice off the dogs' watering bowl and bucket.

It's supposed to warm up a bit tomorrow and Wednesday, possibly allowing a little outdoor work.

Shop at Now

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our Senior Garden - November 21, 2015International Rescue CommitteeLike much of the midwest, we had heavy snow here this morning. The ground was too warm for the snow to stick, but there were some of the biggest and prettiest snowflakes I've ever seen. About a year ago at this time, we had an inch or two of snow on the ground.

If I seem rather serene about the obvious end of another gardening season, it's probably because I finished clearing our main raised garden bed yesterday. On Thursday evening, anticipating a hard frost (28° F) Friday morning, I'd picked the last of our good lettuce. There wasn't a lot of it, just two small soft heads of Crispino, a full head of Winter Density bibb/romaine, and a bit of Red Lollo were the total take. But that's enough to make several salads as well as lettuce for sandwiches in the next few days.

Yesterday, I went ahead and picked out our row of kale, pulling the plants and stripping the good leaves from them. Kale is usually pretty frost hardy, but ours had suffered through several dry months, being heavily shaded, and picked back three times. It was ready to come out.

Garden refuse from cleaning out main bedWe didn't get a lot of kale leaves, but there were enough to make a nice pot of kale boiled with onion, garlic, and bacon. It went well with some spaghetti sauce from scratch I made for supper that included canned whole tomatoes from this season's garden and tomato purée canned last year. High acid, canned tomato products have a pretty long shelf life.

I still need to decide what to do with the kale stems and snapdragons I pulled from the garden. Brassica stems are pretty tough and don't break down well in a compost pile. Likewise, snapdragon stems also get pretty woody. The cartload of garden refuse will probably go in a small wash we're filling with whatever we have on hand (lots of used cat litter in it).

Speaking of kale and meals, we had Portuguese Kale Soup for lunch today. Annie, granddaughter Katherine, and I are all fighting colds, and all the vitamins in the delicious soup have to be good for us.

Odds 'n' Ends

While the gray skies of winter can be depressingly dreary, we're still getting some pretty sunsets and views here. I keep my backup camera in the kitchen to catch just such fleeting views. Wednesday evening, it was a beautifully colored sky just after the sun went down. Last night as the sun set, the trees across the road from us seemed to turn golden red in the dying rays of the sun. Two deer also posed for the shot.

Pretty sky Deer, color on trees

Seed catalogs seem to be a bit slow coming in this year. That may just be me, though, as we usually have our catalog from Twilley Seeds in hand by now. They've become our main seed supplier for many crops, especially for their Summer Sweet sweet corn. And actually, most of the seed catalogs we receive arrive sometime in December.

JSS 2016 Catalog CoverI did notice yesterday that Johnny's Selected Seeds has their 2016 seed catalog available to view or download online. I did a quick, cover-to-cover scan of the catalog and found quite a few items that could easily make me much poorer! They now carry the heavy perma-nest plant trays we like at a good price. I also got to oohing and ahhing at some of their gorgeous flower seed offerings. I'm going to have to be very careful and conservative when I view their print catalog and make my seed order.

I sent out another fat envelope of seed today to a seed library. While I'd previously sent just Earliest Sweet Pepper seed to a couple of Indiana seed libraries, this time I sent some Earlirouge tomato and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed along with the ERS seed to the Chesterfield Township Library in Chesterfield, Michigan. They're just starting their seed library this year (for next spring), and I thought an assortment of fresh, open pollinated seed packets might better serve their needs than just pepper seed. From the newspaper article I learned of them from, I suspect they'd appreciate any donations of open pollinated seed Senior Gardening readers might be willing to share.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - Cold and Rainy
Deal of the Week
Assorted Fall Tulipsicon
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(Offer Ends 11/20/2015)

Our Senior Garden - November 17, 2015It's cold, dark, and raining hard outdoors today...pretty typical weather for mid-November in Indiana. That's not so good for getting outdoor work done, but the rain is definitely welcome. At times, our well pump seems to be sucking equal portions of air and water!

I got out yesterday just as the rain began and pulled the floating row cover off our lettuce patch. The cover had developed another hole in it, and I decided to let the lettuce catch the full rain for a few days before picking what I could of it later this week. We're supposed to have a hard frost (22° F) this weekend that should pretty well end our growing season for this year.

High Mowing Organic Seed Catalog

Our print copy of the High Mowing Organic Seeds catalog arrived in the mail on Monday. I wrote a bit about the company on Sunday after downloading the PDF version of their catalog. As is my usual practice with our favored seed catalogs, I enjoyed perusing it, cover to cover. I didn't find anything more to order than what was already on my "shopping list." I went ahead and ordered a large packet of Red Ursa kale and an ounce of Who Gets Kissed open pollinated, supersweet sweet corn seed. The total cost of my order was $8.75, pretty close to the minimum shipping rates of some seed houses. High Mowing Organic Seeds includes the cost of shipping with the cost of individual seed packets with no minimum order required.

Starting to Prep the East Garden

East Garden Rotations
East Garden -2013
East Garden - June 30, 2014
Our East Garden lies fallow for 2015

East Garden RotationAfter laying idle this season, it got really hard to tell where our East Garden used to be. The alfalfa cover crop I tried to grow pretty much died out, with the plot growing over with grass, white dutch clover, and of course, weeds. The sage plants I'd used to mark the corners of the plot got mowed to death over the summer. Since I was physically unable to mow at that time, I'm certainly not complaining.

I got out on Sunday afternoon, apparently our last nice day for a while, and measured and marked the plot again. Our East Garden occupies an 80' x 80' area in a field just east of our property. I keep the field mowed and in return, the farm renter lets me garden part of the field. While the dimensions of the East Garden may sound impressive to city gardeners, we actually use only half of the plot each year. I try to grow cover and/or turndown crops on the rotated out half of it each year. Obviously, the whole plot got to rest this last summer, as my May hip replacement made keeping up with a large garden plot impossible.

Soil pH test meterBesides measuring and staking the plot, I also staked the area where we'll be growing potatoes next season. I'll need to apply sulfur to that area yet this fall to help acidify the soil a bit. Soil tests over the plot revealed that most of it was at an ideal 6.8 pH for most crops, just not for potatoes. The sulfur will lower the soil pH to help prevent potato scab disease.

When I drove the corner stakes, I found the soil to be bone dry and hard as a rock. I had to use a smaller, pointed stake to make a pilot hole before hammering in the 2x2 corner markers. I also had difficulty inserting the probe of my soil pH tester because the soil was so hard. Hopefully, the rain we're getting may soften the heavy clay soil just a bit.

I'd hoped to till the East Garden on Monday, but the rain moved in a day early, possibly keeping me from hurting myself trying to rototill. I'd like to fall till the plot to make spring planting a bit easier. The plot will still need to be tilled in the spring, even if I fall till it, but a fall treatment would make the spring tilling far easier and more effective at suppressing weeds.

Free ERS Seed Update

I've only had one reader take me up on my offer of free Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper seed so far (Thanks, Stan!). I've started contacting seed libraries here in Indiana to see if they would like some of our seed for their seed library programs. Sharing the seed in my general area makes sense, as the variety grows well here and may have somewhat adapted to our climatic conditions over the years we've saved seed from it. The Shared Harvest Seed Library at the Henry County (IN) New Castle Library received ten packets of ERS seed this week for their distribution efforts.

Commentary on Seed Libraries

If they become numerous and frequently used, seed libraries may prove to be a boon to home gardening. It's really hard to beat free seed!

In addition to encouraging home gardening, the requirement that those "checking out" seed each spring save seed to return to the seed library may help produce a whole new generation of seed savers. Members of both the Grassroots Seed Network and to a lesser extent, the Seed Savers Exchange, have expressed concern in forum postings at the graying of current seed savers. As a graying seed saver, I share those concerns.

Links about seed libraries:

Lots of Rain - More on the Way

Wundermap - November 17, 2015 - eveningRain gaugeOur current weather radar courtesy of the Weather Underground looks like a beast that's moving in to devour the Senior Garden. The long line of storms runs from the Gulf of Mexico well into Canada and should arrive here tomorrow morning. There's not much chance it will miss us.

As I alluded to earlier today, we need the rain, but possibly not so much all at once. I emptied 2.25" of rain from our rain gauge this afternoon. That brings our monthly total to date to 3.10".

Our extended weather forecast appears to have firmed up a bit, but not for the better. Once the rain stops, we're supposed to get a lot colder. Predicted overnight temperatures may reach the low twenties and will remain below freezing each morning for several days beginning this weekend.

While one can bundle up, cover, or otherwise protect garden crops for a night or two of slightly freezing weather, repeated overnight lows well below freezing for several days are more than we can handle. We'll definitely be picking the last of our lettuce and kale later this week.

The Cook's Garden

Thursday, November 12, 2015 - Lots of Wind

We've had a lot of wind with just a very little rain over the last 24 hours. That's about what was predicted for our area, although we were fortunate not to get any of the hail or worse suggested in the forecast. It's supposed to stay very windy through tomorrow, followed by what may be our first hard frost (27° F) of the fall Saturday morning.

In a bit of sick humor, I threw together a banner ad for anemometers on Tuesday. With the strong winds we had sweeping across the open fields to the west of us last night, I wished I had a real anemometer to see just how strong the sustained wind and wind gusts were.

Row Cover Repair

With the wind absolutely howling outside, I wasn't inclined to do much gardening today. I did, however, fix a tear in the floating row cover over our lettuce patch. Something (our dogs?) had ripped a small hole in it, enough to totally defeat the purpose of the row cover if not repaired.

Hole in floating row cover Closeup of hole in row cover Landscape fabric pins anchoring row cover A shovelful of soil seals the repair

The easiest fix seemed to me to be using a couple of landscape fabric pins to anchor the edges of the hole before shoveling dirt over it to seal the leak. I really would like to have fresh, homegrown lettuce for another week or two.

First Seed Order Arrives

I'd mentioned last Sunday that Reimer Seeds was still carrying a couple of hybrid varieties I wanted that apparently aren't available this year from my preferred seed vendors. I went ahead and placed an order that night for two packets each of Premium Crop broccoli and Melody spinach. Even with a postal holiday in between, the seed arrived in today's mail! That's pretty good service.

Garden Planning Woes

I'm struggling a bit with our garden plan for next year. I really thought I had our initial plantings "in the can" back in September. But after looking over our seed inventory and the few new garden catalogs that have trickled in, I find that I have way too many things I'd like to grow for the space we have available. I'd guess that statement may sound familiar to many readers of this site.

When our main seed catalogs finally arrive (color me impatient), my wish list of things I'd like to plant will only grow, further compounding the problem. After not having an East Garden and having seriously cut back our other plantings this season, I seem to want to grow out nearly everything on our seed inventory, especially the open pollinated vegetable varieties we save seed from.

What a nice problem to have!

Sam’s Club

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - Possible Major Storm for Midwest Tomorrow

Our Senior Garden - November 10, 2015We have dense fog again this morning, but not as thick as it was a week ago Monday. But the bigger weather news may be the possibility of a strong storm system over the midwest on Wednesday that could produce "damaging wind gusts, large hail and a few tornadoes," according to ABC News.

  • Severe Storms to Target Much of Central US on Veterans Day
  • Forecasters: 63 Million Should Have Eye out for Bad Weather

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgThe potential storm caused by colliding air masses isn't by any means a sure thing as yet, but it's worth noting. If it does form up, we'll probably see it here in west, central Indiana Wednesday evening.

I'm not going to try to do regular weather reports here on Senior Gardening, but when there's a weather event with strong winds predicted, my ears perk up a bit. We live in an area already prone to strong winds due to a nearby geographic formation, Merom Bluff. When 25 MPH wind gusts are predicted for areas a bit north and south of us, we often see wind speeds approaching 50 MPH.

I'll need to get some stuff put away and/or weighted down by tomorrow evening.

Anemometers on Amazon

Monday, November 9, 2015 - Two Really Mild Frosts
Deal of the Week
Harvest Roses from icon
Autumn Roses: Buy 12, Get 6 Free + Free Vase, just $29.99!
(Offer Ends 11/13/2015 - While Supplies Last)

We've had just a touch of frost the last two mornings. Since we've cleared out almost all of our tender plants and even covered our lettuce with a floating row cover, we haven't experienced any frost damage. Our two clumps of snapdragons remaining in our main garden bed have slowed down their show of blooms. And our kale seems to be just sitting still, not growing at all despite some rain and fertilization. I guess it's as tired as I am.

Out with the Old, In with the New

One of my little chores this morning was clearing all of last year's seed catalogs out of my office. I don't throw them away immediately. The second part of the job was clearing out some really old seed catalogs stored in our sunroom to make way for last year's major catalogs. I like to keep the old ones around a year or so to reference price and offering changes.

Free Seed Reminders

Earliest Red Sweet PeppersHere's a quick reminder that Senior Gardening is sharing free Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed with home gardeners. The only catch is that those who request seed need to try to save seed from the variety and share some of it with other gardeners. Full details of the offer were posted here earlier this month.

Also, those of you who might be helping with school or community gardens, now is the time of year to request free seed from seed houses. Many seed vendors clear out old, small lots, and/or surplus seed they can't sell by donating it to worthwhile organizations.

Save $10 on orders of $59.99 or more on Fall Flowers and Gifts at and be the reason! Use Promo Code FLWRTEN at checkout.

Sunday, November 8, 2015 - One Very Shaky and One Solid Recommendation

Our Senior Garden - November 8, 2015I've been in gardeners' nerd heaven the last few days looking at vegetable variety offerings for 2016. On a bit of a gardening high, I added Reimer Seeds to the Others to Consider section of our Recommended Seed Suppliers page. The company has an absolutely horrific rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog (32 positives, 13 neutrals, 78 negatives). But...they also carry some hybrid vegetable varieties discontinued by most other seed houses. I suspect they're picking up old, discontinued hybrid varieties on the cheap from seed wholesalers and growers. Even so, I plan to order both Premium Crop broccoli and Melody spinach seed from them this year, as I can't get those varieties anywhere else and the seed preserves well in frozen storage.

If one of your favorite hybrid vegetable varieties has disappeared from your favorite seed supplier's catalog, Reimers might still offer it. Just beware that it might be old seed.

The Solid One

2016 High Mowing Organic Seeds Catalog CoverWe didn't get any more seed catalogs in the mail yesterday. But when looking around our recommended suppliers list a bit, I saw that High Mowing Organic Seeds does have the PDF version of their 2016 seed catalog posted for download (16 MB) on their site. I quickly found that they were offering a vegetable variety we had run out of seed for, Red Ursa Kale. Since they include shipping charges with the very reasonable cost of their seed with no minimum order, that pretty well guarantees them getting an order from us this year. I should add here that I found their 2015 seed catalog the best organized and illustrated seed catalog I received last year! I'm enthusiastically anticipating receiving and perusing the print version of their seed catalog for this/next year (2016).

I also hope that other seed vendors will follow HMOS's lead in including shipping charges in the cost of individual seed packets. Shipping charges have made ordering garden seed at affordable rates difficult over the last few years. Many companies offer seed at very reasonable posted prices, only to gouge their loyal customers when checking out with ridiculous shipping rates.


I really enjoy this time of year in gardening. There's not a whole lot of heavy work to do out in our garden plots. I really enjoy going through seed catalogs, seeing what the various seed vendors recommend for the coming gardening season. Turning pages in a print seed catalog produces far fewer sore muscles than tilling garden plots or even cutting a few heads of lettuce.

We really won't be ordering all that much seed this year. I'd pretty well completed our seed orders last fall before I learned my hip replacement surgery would be delayed, wiping out our plans for our East Garden that year. Most of the seed we need was ordered last fall and is currently in frozen storage in our manual defrost freezer in our garage.

My wish list for next season on our garden orders spreadsheet is pretty conservative.

Orders Spreadsheet - November 8, 2015

This listing will grow as other seed catalogs arrive. Then it will shrink as I return to reality and make it fit my budget, available gardening space, and somewhat still limited ability to garden. But that's all part of the fun of gardening and this time of year.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, November 7, 2015 - First Seed Catalog

Our Senior Garden - November 7, 2015Botanical Interests 2016 Catalog CoverWe received our first seed catalog for the 2016 gardening season yesterday. Botanical Interests gets our "first in line" award for this year.

They offer a nice variety of small seed packets at pretty reasonable prices. Their offerings lean more towards heirloom and open pollinated varieties, although they do sell some hybrids. Shipping charges start at $6.95, though, and go up from there, depending on the total cost of ones order.

We've only placed one order with Botanical Interests. We got some nice, but small garlic sets from them last year. One good order doesn't earn them a spot on our Recommended Seed Suppliers list, but it's a good start.

Full disclosure: Botanical Interests is a Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertiser.

Seed Inventory

Seed ready to inventoryI did our annual inventory of all of our garden seed on hand this morning. Since we store our unused seed in a manual defrost freezer, it stays good for a long time. Doing a seed inventory before we order anything saves duplications and also reminds me of things we need to order.

I did a pretty complete description of our inventory process last November, so I'll just share a link to that posting here. I will say that the job took far less time this year than usual. Since we didn't plant our East Garden this year, I didn't have to re-inventory all of our saved sweet corn, melon, and squash seed.

More Frost on the Way

Floating row cover over lettuceWe're supposed to have frost the next two nights/mornings, so I covered our lettuce again this afternoon with a floating row cover. I used the same piece of Agribon+ AG-19 row cover I used last month to cover the lettuce, although I did trim it down a bit.

We had family in for a bit today, and I got antsy for them to leave so that I could get the cover applied while the sun was still bright. A row cover works by allowing sunlight through it to heat the soil. Then it works to hold in the heat. With 30-31° F overnight lows predicted, I wanted the cover on to retain as much of the day's warmth as possible.

With all of my walking boards used to discourage our dogs from digging in our garlic bed, I worked a bit harder this time around covering the edges of the row cover. I raked loose soil over three sides of the cover and used a whole lot of garden anchor pins on the side by the landscape timber to hold the cover tight against the soil. Just one air leak along the perimeter of the row cover can render it pretty useless.

I'll leave the cover in place for at least the next two days and nights. After that, we're supposed to have three frost free nights, followed by another frosty night. If we don't need more lettuce, I may just leave the cover in place until we do need to replenish our lettuce supply in the refrigerator. I did pick one very nice head of bib/romaine Winter Density lettuce today before applying the cover.

For folks in our climate region: Can you imagine how good it feels to still be picking fresh lettuce on November 7?

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Thursday, November 5, 2015 - The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners - 2015

On a bit of a writing spree the last few days, I got busy and updated our Senior Gardening shopping guides. The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners is obviously a gift giving guide. Our Shopping Guide for Gardeners covers the more mundane, but necessary tools gardeners regularly use. Both guides are notable amongst all the gardening buying guides online, as neither includes any mention of slippers, statues, or fountains. If you're into that kind of stuff, let me suggest the Plow & Hearth Gifts for Gardenersicon page.

Plow & Hearth

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - Our Best Garden Photos of 2015

Our Best Garden Photos of 2015

Senior Garden in heavy fog - November 2, 2015
Our Senior Garden - November 4, 2015

Today I get to publish one of my favorite annual postings for this site, Our Best Garden Photos of 2015. Our growing season isn't over quite yet, but the days of gorgeous flower and vegetable blooms and luscious, colorful fruit are pretty much a thing of the past for this season. While the oranges and browns of fall are pretty, I decided to go ahead an publish this feature story today, since I've had it pretty well done for several weeks.

With the bit of rain we had last week, we had a serious fog Monday morning. I could just barely see our garden plots from our sunroom window. One nearly area, close to the Wabash River, had zero visibility according to one TV station's weather report. The fog here didn't burn off until after ten in the morning. Fortunately, my sweetie, Annie, was able to creep through the fog for several miles before it cleared. She made it safely to work on time.

We've had some really wonderful fall weather of late. Daily highs have been in the upper 60s to mid-70s, a good bit above average temperatures for this time of year.

Mulched garlic bedI took advantage of a near 80 degree afternoon yesterday and mowed a bit of our lawn. While the grass needed a light trimming, I was really after a mix of grass clippings and leaves to use as mulch for the bed of garlic that I planted last month. I needed to get the bed covered to protect it from the coming freezes and thaws of winter, and also from one of our critter dogs, who'd been digging in the bed. I caught the dog yesterday afternoon just starting to dig again. Since I had a mop handle in my hand, she knew she was in serious trouble. I never had to use the flimsy disciplinary tool, fortunately. Catching a dog in the act (of misbehavior) seems to be one of the secrets to curing unwanted acts.

The grass clipping/leaf mulch received a good sprinkle of both lime and blood meal to help it break down over the winter. The various pieces of wood we use in the garden went on top of the mulch to further discourage digging.

Small head of cauliflowerSadly, I was only able to mow and rake for an hour or so yesterday. One of the lingering effects of my hip replacement last spring is that taking long trips in the car or truck or mowing for long periods of time are things my new hip really doesn't like. Rather than spend my evening last night on serious pain killers, I quit mowing while I was ahead. Most medical sources say complete recovery from total hip replacement surgery may take six months to a year. Since I'm at the six month mark, I guess I'm doing okay. And I can always mow a bit more today and/or tomorrow.

I cut our second and last head of fall cauliflower today. The head was relatively small, but the leaves that wrapped around it were beginning to part and allow sunlight to reach the head. For me, that's a good sign that it's time to cut the cauliflower, rather than letting the sun yellow it and make it bitter.

I'm really sort of enthused by the cauliflower, as our fall cauliflower often doesn't mature in time to beat the fall frosts. Of course, this time around we only had two cauliflower plants in our fall garden. But they both matured nice, if small, sweet heads.

We've been eating the previously cut head of cauliflower fresh on salads. It was just too good fresh to steam with broccoli.

With our row of broccoli and cauliflower out of the garden, the temptation now is to clear the remaining kale and lettuce and get the bed ready for next spring. We have rain in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, with potential frosts over the weekend and early next week. That may just push me to forego any more fresh kale and lettuce for this season. It's gotta be over at some point.

Raised Beds

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - Free ERS Seed

ERS and Ace size comparison
Earliest Red Sweet peppers

Earliest Red Sweet Pepper PlantI recently realized that I'm currently the only source that I know of, seed saver or commercial, now offering seed for the open pollinated Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper. If the ERS variety was highly valued, I could get rich selling all the seed I've saved this year, as I've apparently cornered the market. Sadly, Earliest Red Sweets are only a few days to a week earlier than other varieties in producing mature peppers. The peppers they yield are somewhat smaller than most of the current, popular hybrids such as Ace and Red Knight. Note that the peppers we harvested this year were a good bit bigger than the ERS peppers shown in the comparison image at top right, but certainly not in the size class of an Ace or Red Knight. But oh, do they ever produce a lot of tasty peppers per plant.

Being the current sole source of the seed really isn't all that cool. I'd much prefer that lots of other gardeners were growing the variety, saving seed, and making their saved seed available to other gardeners via seed swaps, the Seed Savers Exchange, the Grassroots Seed Network, or some other way. Having lots of folks preserving the variety helps ensure that should a grower or two lose their start of the variety, its unique genetic code would still be preserved by others.

There are lots of problems in this world that I can't solve. But I can help preserve this one variety beyond my own seed saving by offering free Earliest Red Sweet seed to other gardeners. There is a catch, however. If you write and request free seed, you have to pinkie swear that you'll grow out the variety, save seed if possible, and share some saved seed with another gardener or two.

Growing the Earliest Red Sweet Variety

Last of our peppersEarliest Red Sweet bell peppersFor years we grew hybrid peppers on our best ground, our main raised garden bed, and produced huge bell peppers any store or farm market would be proud to offer. We grew our Earliest Red Sweet and other open pollinated pepper varieties in isolation plots separated by at least 500 feet between pepper varieties to ensure no cross pollination of the various peppers occurred. Our isolation plots were located on some farm ground we have access to, but the soil in them isn't very good. While we got peppers from the plants growing in the isolation plots, they weren't all that great. During the 2015 growing season, I grew our ERS peppers on our best ground for the first time in years, and we had a bumper crop of good sized peppers.

Most gardening sources recommend growing peppers in a sunny location in good, well drained soil. I'd add that growing them on your best soil is a good idea, and of course, in an area where you haven't grown peppers (or tomatoes) recently. We also found a number of years ago when our pepper plants regularly bloomed and then died or tailed off into rather unhealthy specimens, that adding some soluble seaweed fertilizer to the soil added whatever our soil had lacked to grow good peppers. I suspect it was more the trace elements in the seaweed that the fertilization that improved our peppers.

We grow our own pepper transplants, starting them at the same time as we start our tomato plants, about 6-8 weeks before we intend to transplant them into the garden. When we transplant, we add a bit of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, a touch of lime, and the now essential seaweed powder (or liquid) to the planting hole, working it into the surrounding soil. We also use a liquid starter fertilizer when we transplant. And more recently, we've also used a soil drench of Serenade biofungicide as a preventative after we cleaned up a nasty experience with anthracnose and bacterial spot in our tomatoes and peppers.

We use grass clipping mulch around our pepper plants to hold in soil moisture and prevent weed growth. We also cage our pepper plants, sometimes using those cone-shaped tomato cages that always seem too short for tomato plants. We prefer to use old, cut down tomato cages where the bottom levels have rusted off for pepper cages, as our peppers on good ground often grow to 3-4' tall! Caging pepper plants keeps the fruit up off the ground, preventing rot, and also supports the somewhat brittle branches that can easily snap off if not supported when laden with heavy peppers.

Saving ERS Seed

Pepper cut to reveal seedsSaving pepper seed is really easy. Once your ERS peppers are fully ripe (red), pick only the very best peppers for seed saving. Cut the sides off the pepper, revealing the center seed cavity. (You can still use the pepper flesh for fresh use or freezing.) Rub the seed with your thumbnail to release it from the pepper core. I use a paper plate with identifying information written on it in permanent marker to hold the seed. Spread the seed across the paper plate and let it dry for a week or so. Then place it in an envelope, aluminum foil, or however you wish to hold your saved seed and store it in a cool, dark place. We actually freeze our seed for long term storage, but we also work really hard at getting our seed very dry before doing so.

For more information on 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. For just 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.

How to Request Seed

ERS Seed PacketTo request seed, stating your request. Be sure to include your mailing address. Please do not attempt to mail a SASE, stamps, or any money. (In the early days of the Seed Savers Exchange, one requested seeds by writing a letter of request, mailed with an enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope and a few postage stamps to pay for the order. Smile)

Don't fret if you don't hear back from me immediately, as I'll probably combine your request confirmation email with the notice of my having mailed your seeds. In a week or two, you should receive a packet of seeds that is similar to the one shown at right. (I currently get my seed envelopes from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.)

The seed you receive may or may not have been hot water treated to prevent seed borne plant diseases. We're thankfully past our disease problems with our peppers, so I stopped hot water treating the seed (but only after killing a big batch of seed when I got the water too hot!). All of our seed has germination tested at 80% or better.

This is a limited time offer. I printed and filled eleven packets of seed Sunday night and appear to have enough seed left to fill 20-30 more packets. But if I begin to seriously run down my supply of Earliest Red Sweet seed, I'll first cut down the number of seeds per packet. If I exhaust the seed I've set aside for sharing, I'll post a notice here on Senior Gardening of the cancellation of the offer.

Please note that this offer is only for individual gardeners, not seed houses or other commercial entities.

I'm hoping a good many gardeners will take me up on this offer, although I suspect I may not use up the eleven packets I've already prepared. I may even try donating some of the seed to some of the seed libraries I wrote about last week. By working together, gardeners can help preserve our seed heritage by preserving some older varieties of seed no longer grown, saved, and offered by commercial or government entities. Otherwise, those varieties and their diverse genetic code could be lost forever.

A Little Bonus from Saving Your Own Seed

Japanese Long Pickling cucumberWe seed savers often forget to mention the benefits of saving ones own seed. One can select fruit from plants that meet the characteristics one wants from a variety. Over the years, ones selections can refine the varieties' characteristics a bit. Growing the varieties year after year also allows them to adapt to ones local growing conditions. And of course, there's the free seed.

Date on JLP cucumber packetThere can also be drawbacks, as saving seed from too small a sample of plants can induce inbreeding depression after several years, which we experienced with our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. We didn't have any choice on that one, however, as only one seed from a very old packet germinated when we began preserving the JLP variety. Fortunately for us, one seed house offered seed by the same name that was a strain very close to ours. We worked several years to breed that strain into ours, but still retain the uniqueness of our strain by the selection of cucumbers to suit our requirements. Our JLPs have now returned to their previous vigor and high germination rates.

Enough. Request your seed and then grow some dandy, sweet red peppers (and share some seed with others).

Mountain Valley Seeds

Monday, November 2, 2015 - Recommended Seed Suppliers

Over the years we've come to rely on several excellent mail order seed houses to supply almost all of our garden seed. These companies provide true-to-variety seed with reliable germination rates, stand behind their seed if and when it fails (which is going to happen occasionally) with good customer service, and have fair prices and mostly reasonable shipping rates. Each November, we publish our list of recommended seed suppliers here. The ratings also appear on our Trusted Suppliers page, which gets updated several times each year. The 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 (DGW rating)
  • Burpee Seedicon - the W. Atlee Burpee Company, the granddaddy of all seed catalog vendors, still around with lots of great seed - just so-so ratings on plant orders - 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)
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds - had the best organized and illustrated seed catalog I saw for 2015 - shipping charges included with cost of seeds (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) - have been hammered over the last twelve months on customer service (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)

Several years ago, we began including a link to the Dave's Garden Watchdog rating of each seed supplier. The "DGW rating" is based on customer reviews of the companies' goods and services. Note that plant orders and erroneous reviews about GMOs sometimes pull down some of the ratings.

Sunday, November 1, 2015 - Seed Catalogs: Gardeners' Wish Books - (Slightly updated and re-posted from Friday, November 1, 2013)

Seed Catalogs - 2015As a child, I used to eagerly look forward to the arrival of mail order Christmas catalogs. My brother, sister, and I would spend hours looking at the illustrated offerings from Sears Roebuck, JC Penney, and Montgomery Ward before each making a short list of suggestions for our parents.

2015 seed catalog coversAs an adult gardener before the advent of the internet, I found myself doing much the same thing I'd done with Christmas mail order catalogs as a child, spending hours looking at possible varieties to grow in our garden. Items would be circled in the catalogs and grandiose lists written, only to be pared down later to fit a budget that demanded a garden more than pay for itself.

The first of our garden seed catalogs should begin to show up any day now, just a bit later than the old mail order Christmas catalogs used to arrive. Receiving catalogs early is important to us, as we must place some of our seed orders in November or December for transplants that need to be started in late December or early to mid-January (geraniums, onions, petunias, etc.).

While most seed houses now list their offerings online, print catalogs remain vital to our ordering process. One could browse through all of a company's offerings online, but it would take quite a while with so many companies and their extensive web sites. A print garden catalog allows one to page through a company's offerings at ones' leisure without any internet connection, often marking possible items for later consideration and/or leaving a folded down page corner or bookmark to pick up where one left off.

I still eagerly go through most of the major catalogs I receive, cover to cover. I enjoy seeing illustrations and reading descriptions of new (and old) varieties of flowers and vegetables we might try. And going through each catalog often saves me money, as I frequently happen upon something wanted or needed that I really wasn't looking for and would have missed online. With shipping charges ranging from almost reasonable to outrageous, filing multiple orders with one seed house for things I simply forgot is a real no-no.

November Intro

November remains a busy month in the Senior Garden. We still have lettuce, kale, and a single cauliflower plant to tend and harvest. Once they are cleared from our garden, it will be time to soil test, add lime if necessary, and till our main raised garden bed. We may even fall till our East Garden plot that laid fallow this season.

There are lots of final chores to be done for the season. Our asparagus patches will need to be cut and cleared. Trays, pots, and inserts need to be washed, sterilized (as best as possible), and stored. Tools must be cleaned and oiled. Our stored seed will need to be inventoried. Then our garden plan for next year will need to be finalized (as much as possible) before we order any seed or supplies.

We'll be publishing our updated list of recommended seed suppliers tomorrow and a feature story with our best photos of the season later this month. We'll also be updating our shopping guides, just in time for the holidays.

And...we'll be doing another seed give-away.

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