One of the Joys of Maturity
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.
It didn't rain today (not yet, anyway), and the temperature got up to 50° F. I took advantage of the favorable conditions to spread some Milky Spore where moles have been playing around our raised beds and move compost to our asparagus patches.
Even though our truck came with a bed liner, I put a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the bed to make things easier. I also wisely dropped the truck into 4-wheel drive before venturing into the field to shovel up last year's compost pile.
Either there wasn't as much compost as usual, or I left too much on the ground for the crop of pumpkins or butternut squash that will grow next summer on the site. We have fantastic results growing either crop following a compost pile.
I ended up getting a two to three inch layer of compost spread over our raised bed of asparagus, but that left only a little left for Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, one off our ground that we tend. Both patches had previously been fertilized pretty heavily and had compost applied during the summer.
Getting this job done was a priority, as we didn't get compost applied to the patch last winter. I was still too gimpy from hip replacement surgery. The lack of the annual application of black gold negatively impacted our asparagus harvest last spring. So even though I got some compost on the patches last summer, I still wanted to give them an additional boost with more compost now. It's only two or three months until asparagus picking season!
Talk about luck or good timing! It just started to rain!
We've been fortunate so far this weekend to escape a predicted ice storm. We're still under a freezing rain advisory, but it may stay warm enough for us to miss some of the damaging ice accumulations folks to the west of us are experiencing.
My major gardening victory this week was getting our bale of Pro Mix to our basement. I'd left the bale outside, open in a large trash bag. It had picked up lots of moisture, more than doubling its weight. I finally remembered that I had a lightweight hand truck and used it to move our still somewhat frozen, eighty pound block of Pro Mix to the basement to thaw.
Sadly, leaving the Pro Mix outside to get wet probably negated its major advantage, being a sterile planting mix. It doesn't seem to take much for mold and/or damping off fungus to get started in such mixtures. I did, however, scrape off enough thawed mix from the top of the bag earlier this week to root a few of our wandering jew cuttings. I added the Pro Mix to some other potting soil and sterilized it before dipping the cuttings in Clonex Rooting Compound and putting them in 3" pots. We still have more cuttings trying to put on roots in a glass of water.
Our pots of vinca were ready to come off the heat mat this week, having produced an acceptable 15 plants or so. Our egg carton petunias are now beginning to germinate after being reseeded (after I let them dry out).
With pretty lousy weather outside, my wife on the road much of the week, and little gardening to do inside, I disappeared late this week into a good book. I'd resisted buying Mark Greaney's new Jack Ryan novel, True Faith and Allegiance, when it came out in December. Greaney co-wrote several Jack Ryan novels with Clancy before the original author's passing and has now produced three more such novels that stay pretty true to Clancy's writing style.
To keep me from nibbling on unhealthy stuff while I read, I keep reheating a quart of our canned green beans that have some leftover ham and ham juices mixed in with them. Such treats remind me of why we work so hard to grow and can our own green beans each summer.
I was really hopeful that today would be a nice day. We did indeed get the 50°+ temperatures that were predicted, but they also came with rain and wind gusts up to 50 MPH! It has turned out to be an altogether nasty day outside.
Our snow cover has melted off. The melted snow plus the rain today will help with water tables, as December was a dry month here.
I'm hoping this warm-up will produce enough dry periods when I can get out and prune our apple trees. Winter is the ideal time to do this job, as the trees are dormant. Without any leaves, it's easy to see crossed limbs that need to be pruned. If we should get a 24 hour period above freezing, without rain, and not too windy, I'll apply dormant oil to the apple trees. Dormant oil smothers insects and insect eggs on and sometimes under the trees' bark.
A predicted extended warm spell should allow our finished compost pile to thaw. If that occurs and it isn't pouring down rain, I'll spread the compost on our asparagus beds.
A bright spot in this winter gloom is that the vinca I seeded last week are beginning to come up. Vincas take a good bit of time to mature, but produce lots of lovely flowers once they get going. I'm hoping to use vincas instead of geraniums at the corners of our raised garden beds this year.
The vincas will get moved to fourpacks once I'm sure all the seed that is going to germinate has come up. From there, they'll stay under our plant lights, possibly being moved to 4" pots as they mature.
Our seeding of egg carton petunias, done the same day as the vincas, didn't turn out so well. The soil in the egg carton cells dried out quickly, before the seed could germinate. I re-seeded the cells yesterday and will need to be more careful monitoring soil moisture in them while they're on a soil heating mat under our plant lights.
When the egg carton petunias and vincas are off our heat mat, I'll get started seeding geraniums. Since we've had mixed results in the past germinating the ivy leaf varieties of geraniums, I began stratifying half a packet of Summer Showers seed yesterday. While stratifying sounds pretty esoteric, it just means I put the seed on a wet, brown, coffee filter in a ziplock bag and stuck it in the refrigerator.
We're still in the deep freeze here in western Indiana, but have high hopes for a thaw by Tuesday. It's a not-so-toasty 15° F here in the early afternoon, with the daily high temperature predicted to be 21. With others experiencing much worse conditions around the country, I'll be thankful for what we have.
I wrote briefly in November about collecting and starting hosta seed. I tried stratifying some of the seed, while also planting some seed that hadn't been through the cold, wet process. Both pots of hosta have now begun to germinate, putting up tiny single hosta leaves.
The stratified seed has germinated a bit better than the non-stratified seed, but this wasn't much of a scientific test. That I got any sprouts made me happy.
If our baby hostas survive, they'll go into our front and side flowerbeds. The hostas there have suffered from mole damage and dogs laying on them. By late fall, five of our six existing hosta plants appeared to be dead or dying.
One of the Wandering Jew cuttings I put in water on Thursday appears to have put on a tiny root. By tiny, I mean a water root less than an eighth of an inch long. But it's a start. When the water roots are about a half inch long, I'll treat the stems with rooting compound and set them in individual pots in sterile planting medium. They'll be covered with clear humidomes until there is enough root growth to support their leaves.
Speaking of clear humidomes, I noticed that both of ours that fit our Perma-nest trays had yellowed and were becoming brittle. While we get our heavy duty trays from the Greenhouse Megastore, they don't sell the covers. I found that Park Seed carries them and ordered a couple of new ones last week.
I also found that during our current cold snap, our newest Gro-mat couldn't keep up with the cooler conditions in our plant room. I'd set our soil heating mat thermostat to 80° F for our germinating petunias and vinca, but the soil in the pots never got above 75°. I switched to an older Gro-mat whose built-in thermostat is shot and still only got to about 78-79°.
All of our major seed catalogs have arrived or I've downloaded a PDF copy of them. As always, they're an attractive bunch. Clicking on the images below will open a larger view of each catalog cover in a new tab or window. Clicking on the names below the images takes you to the companies' web sites.
Obviously, seed companies put a lot of effort and creativity into their annual seed catalog covers. From a posting I did back in 2015, one can tell that seed catalog covers have been a bit of an art form for a very long time. The images below are from the Seed Catalogs collection of the Smithsonian Library.
One can also just Google "old seed catalog covers" in Google Images and see a lot of nice cover artwork.
I also owe Scott Slezak of Annie's Heirloom Seeds a thank you. When I started putting together the cover art for this page, I realized I didn't have a cover yet for Annie's. I emailed Scott late last night, and he was kind enough to get their PDF catalog posted this morning so I could include their cover art for this year.
Shipping Rates (Going Down!!)
I'm not sure why, but I noticed when I updated the minimum shipping rates table on our Recommended Suppliers page that several seed houses had dropped their minimum shipping charge for this year. High Mowing Organic Seeds may have pushed things a bit, offering free shipping on any size order for two years. They went back this year to a $2.95 shipping rate on orders under $10. Larger orders still ship free.
The table at right lists minimum shipping rates for many of the seed houses we use. The up arrow at the end of some lines is to show that shipping rates go up as ones order total increases. What it doesn't show very well is that several seed houses drop the shipping rate or eliminate it altogether as ones order total increases.
It's once again that time of year. I first tried downloading TurboTax from Amazon, but their server kept dropping my very slow internet connection. I did get a refund, even though they don't usually refund downloads.
Looking elsewhere, I found that Sam's Club had a good price for the software with free shipping. I love free shipping! Our dogs went nuts a few minutes ago when the UPS driver slipped our software inside our storm door. (The dogs are staying inside a lot during some really cold weather.)
A Little Snow and a Lot of Cold
Yesterday, the light bulb that heats our dogs' pen in the garage burned out. So I got shake and baked with wood chips crawling into the dog pen to change the bulb. I noticed that I'm getting too fat to easily fit through the dog door anymore!
It appears that things won't thaw out until next Monday or Tuesday. At least I have my fat to keep me warm.
With cold temperatures and snow falling outside today, I decided to start taking cuttings from our Wandering Jew plant. We've kept a Wandering Jew plant in our west facing kitchen window for years. The afternoon sun illuminates our plant and makes a dazzling display.
Our current plant is not the original, as wandering jew plants seem to wear out after twelve to eighteen months of growth. It's a seventh or eighth generation plant, cloned each year to produce a new plant for the kitchen and others for our back porch and to give away. When the new plant takes its place in the kitchen each spring, the parent plant goes to our back porch for several months before the stems become woody and the plant begins to languish.
Taking cuttings now seems to be about the right timing in our area to be able to move new plants outside in early April.
To take cuttings from a wandering jew plant, one snips off stem sections about four inches long at the tip of the plant's growth with several leaves attached. Since the stem will be challenged to supply water to the leaves until it forms roots, I pull off all the lower leaves on the cutting, leaving only two or three at the top.
At this point in the process, one has the choice of rooting the leaves in some sterile medium or popping the stems into a glass of water to form water roots. I'd planned to root our cuttings some of each way. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring in the bale of Pro Mix from the back porch when I brought in a bag of potting soil. The bale was open in a large trash bag, but had adsorbed a lot of moisture. After picking up the eighty pound frozen brick of Pro Mix, I decided to just plop all of our cuttings into water today.
In a week to ten days, the cuttings should begin putting out stubs of roots about a quarter to a half inch long. I should have gotten our Pro Mix inside and thawed by then and will dip the base of each cutting in Clonex Rooting Compound Gel. Each treated stem will then go into a three inch pot of Pro Mix or some other sterile potting mix. The rooting compound really isn't essential for wandering jews, as they can root without it, but just not as well.
The potted cuttings then will go into a tray with a clear cover under our plant lights. It's important not to let whatever clear cover you use to hold in moisture to touch the leaves, as that can trigger rot. A little gentle bottom heat helps the rooting process, but certainly isn't essential. When we're doing our cuttings, our soil heating mats are usually in full use germinating crops for our garden.
When the cuttings root in two to three weeks, one can let them grow for some time in small pots. I often move them fairly early to ten inch hanging basket pots, their final destination, as a matter of convenience. Then the hanging basket pots can sit under our plant lights in the basement (without their hangers), on a sunny shelf in our sunroom, on our dining room table by our large bay windows, or later, under our cold frame or in a protected area of our back porch on warm days.
My mother used to start seedlings in egg cartons on the kitchen windowsill. In a bit of a nostalgic mood, I tried starting petunias in egg cartons several years ago. The experiment turned out well, although the petunias quickly outgrow their egg carton cells.
Having started our petunias for hanging baskets in egg cartons today, I thought I'd brush up an old posting from 2012 and tell how we do it.
I cut off and discard the narrow flap on the egg carton before splitting the egg cell section from the top. One of the advantages of styrofoam cartons over cardboard is that the top can go under the egg cell section as a watertight drip pan. Before putting the halves together, I punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each egg cell with a sharp pencil.
The cells of the egg cartons get filled with sterilized starting mix. We make our own from potting soil and peat moss, heating it in the oven for an hour at 400° F to kill off any damping off fungus that might be (and often is) present in potting soil. I've also tried using peat pellets in egg cartons but didn't have much luck with the pellets in egg cartons or otherwise.
Before seeding, I water the starting mix thoroughly with warm water. Our petunia seed comes as pelletized seed, so planting is just a matter of getting one seed in the center of each cell, something harder to do than it sounds. A few extra seeds do provide insurance in case not all of the centered seeds germinate.
Petunia seed needs light to germinate, so I don't cover the seed. To help the pellet dissolve and release the seed on the soil surface, I go back and drip several drops of warm water on each seed with an eyedropper or old syringe.
I part with Mom's practice of just setting the egg carton on a windowsill to germinate, as it's a bit cold on our available windowsill these days. Petunias also benefit from a bit of bottom heat during germination, so ours went into a planting tray with a clear cover on our heat mat and under our plant lights. Our soil mat thermostat has a probe that goes right into the soil, so we can be pretty exact with our seed starting temperatures. For petunias, I set our thermostat at 80° F. A warm, sunny windowsill might work as well.
Once germinated, I keep the petunias on the heat mat for a day or two before removing the clear cover and shutting off the heat. They acclimate a bit under our plant lights in the basement before being moved to our kitchen windowsill. The petunias have to be watered almost daily once they get started, due to the small size of the egg cells. The egg carton tops used as drip pans make bottom watering pretty easy.
After four to six weeks, the petunias outgrow their egg cells and get moved to fourpacks and go back under our plant lights. At that point, I usually start more petunias (in egg cartons) to be used in our garden and flowerbeds. In early March, I begin transplanting three petunias each to ten inch hanging baskets (without the hangers attached), still leaving them under our plant lights.
As our March weather moderates, the hanging baskets go under our cold frame to harden off for a few days or outside in a protected area of the back porch during the day. After about a week, we begin to hang the plants from the hooks around our back porch.
We almost always have a hard freeze late in March, so bringing the petunias back inside on cold nights has become a bit of a ritual at our house. Last year, we had a 28° F low on April 2-3 that required bringing in not only our hanging basket plants, but everything that was under our cold frame!
Starting our petunias as early as we do gives us gorgeous plants starting in April. A drawback is that the plants begin to require a good bit of pruning and fertilization by July or August. It sometimes seems that the plants just wear themselves out. But with a little care, most of the plants make it, and we have blooms well into the fall.
Our standard hanging basket petunia varieties are Supercascade and Double Cascade. We get our seed for them from Twilley Seeds. The Supercascades are easier to care for, while the Double Cascades make a much more spectacular show when in bloom. Unfortunately, as the double blooms brown, they're really ugly and need to be trimmed regularly.
Twilley packages most, if not all of its seed now in foil packets. The pelleted petunia seed ships in a reusable plastic vial...in a foil packet. That may seem like overkill in packaging to some, but we appreciate it, as we freeze leftover seed for use in later seasons.
Since I set the thermostat for our soil heating mat at 80 today, I also started a couple of pots of vinca, which requires that temperature to germinate well. Vincas, however, don't need light to germinate, so that seed got covered with an eighth inch or so of potting mix.
It's really a bit early to be starting vinca, but we didn't do well germinating them last year. An early start will allow me to try again if we have bad luck getting them going this time. Also, we're planning to use lots more vincas this year at the corners of our raised beds.
We've had several days of warm and rainy weather here. In between showers, I was able to cut and compost the stalks from our two asparagus patches. Sadly, with the rain, I wasn't able to spread compost over the patches as I'd hoped, but did give them both a good shot of commercial fertilizer. As there's a thundershower going on right now, the compost will have to wait. Things are supposed to freeze up for the next five days.
I saw some very small zip top baggies in the Sow True Seed catalog and thought they'd be great for holding tiny seeds such as gloxinias. Such seeds seem to get lost in standard seed packets and often stick to the glue of self-sealing packets. While tiny seeds can cling to plastic bags from static electricity, a swipe over the outside of such baggies with a sheet of fabric softener kills the static and lets the seeds flow freely.
Not needing anything else from Sow True Seeds and not wanting to pay their minimum $3.95 shipping charge for a dollars worth of baggies, I began looking elsewhere for the bags. I first found them online at Walmart. To my good fortune, I also found them in the craft section at our small, local Walmart store.
Any active outdoor gardening is still months away for us. Inside is another matter. We'll soon be starting petunias for hanging baskets, geraniums, onions, and vinca. We'll also take cuttings from one of our favorite house plants. I have a general idea of when to start these plants from past experience, but also have some tools to help out when I'm uncertain.
When I'm working with something new, or have one of those senior lapses of memory, a couple of free web pages come in handy in determining a seeding date for transplants. The first comes from Dave's Garden. It calculates ones last and first frost dates from your postal zip code. (For Canadian gardeners, the Old Farmers Almanac has a listing of frost dates for many Canadian cities.)
The second comes from Johnny's Selected Seeds. They've offered a Seed-Starting Date Calculator for years, first as a downloadable spreadsheet, but now as an interactive web page. One just enters their approximate last spring frost date (from Dave's or elsewhere) and the page calculates a date or range of dates when one should start seedlings. This year's calculator appears to have been expanded a good bit to include a lot more vegetables and flowers. It may not have everything listed that you need. For example, Johnny's doesn't sell geranium or vinca (periwinkle) seed, so they don't appear in the calculator.
Some seed vendors print planting information on their seed packets, usually stated as, "Start seed indoors xx weeks before your last frost date." A few seed vendors publish some pretty clear instructions in their seed catalogs and on their web sites. Here are the directions from two outstanding seed houses for starting Mountain Fresh Plus tomatoes.
I plan to start planting today or tomorrow with petunias for our hanging basket plants! I praise the Lord each morning and evening for another day of life and gardening.
at Senior Gardening