Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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September 27, 2016

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.


Monday, September 26, 2016 - Dramatic Weather Change

Our Senior Garden - Septmber 26, 2016Weather Underground forecastWe've had a dramatic change in our weather. After an extended period of daily highs in the upper 80s, it's 67° F here at one in the afternoon! Obviously, our air conditioning is now turned off and the windows in our house are blessedly open once more.

Our extended weather forecast suggests that fall has actually arrived in west central Indiana. That's a good thing, as our recent hot weather had baked my passion for gardening right out of me! We may even have to turn the furnace on at night!

A few hummingbirds are still noisily visiting our feeders. Those that we're seeing now are probably transients from the north stopping by for a few days on their migration south. We saw our last hummingbird last year on October 3, so seeing them today isn't all that unusual.

MacBook Pro ScreenshotI'm happily doing this update on my laptop at our kitchen table. After upgrading the MacBook Pro to Apple's new, free MacOS Sierra, I found that my file sharing settings were all busted. I couldn't save files from my laptop to my Mac Mini and its external drives upstairs in my office. Clearing the old settings and starting anew fixed the problem, but it took a while to teach the laptop where all my site and photo files were under the new setup.

About the only other problem with the upgrade was needing to switch the ugly default Apple background to my collection of background screens. That's sorta sad, as the old El Capitan background was pretty cool.

I worried a little about some slow responses of the laptop under Sierra. After a few minutes, though, I realized that the new OS wasn't the problem. The Firefox web browser running in the background was grabbing lots of chip cycles and memory, a longtime problem with that browser.

Our gloxinias around the house have required a good bit more care of late. I have to trim spent blossoms about every three days and check for pollinated blossoms shedding seed. The plants also have required watering more often than they did through the summer. Apparently the sun is striking our windows at an angle that creates a bit more heat on the plants.

Gloxinias

My garden walk this morning was gratifying. I first found that several of our fall broccoli plants were putting on heads. The heads weren't giant, but all but one were nice sized. One plant had buttoned as all our spring broccoli did.

Good fall broccoli Earliest Red Sweet peppers Skyphos, Winter Density, and Crispino lettuce

My next stop was to photograph some dazzlingly deep red Earliest Red Sweet peppers. It seems that both our open pollinated and hybrid peppers are producing beautiful red, yellow, and green peppers with deeper colors than they previously had throughout the season.

I found that I need to start picking lettuce soon. I didn't plant a lot of fall lettuce, but we have Skyphos, Winter Density, and Crispino lettuce ready to pick.

As I moved on, I found that our crowder peas (cowpeas) have put on pods. Now I need to figure out when to pick them and what to do with them. I've not grown them before.

Cowpea pods Alcosa savoyed cabbage Snapdragon

I next found a couple of ripe cabbages. While a red cabbage showed a lot of bug damage, an Alcosa savoy cabbage looked great.

And finally, I took a shot of a snapdragon in bloom. Our snaps that shared a trellis with our cucumber vines suffered this year, as the cukes were incredibly healthy and just about crowded out all the snapdragons. With the cucumber vines now pulled and composted, the snapdragons are beginning to bloom again.

 

Saturday, September 24, 2016 - Seed Saving and Plant Breeding

Beyond the varieties I mentioned yesterday that we're offering via the Seed Savers Exchange, we saved several other types of seeds this year.

Saving spinach seed was something new for us this season. I learned along the way that spinach plants can be male or female, and occasionally both. I'm not sure if our seed as good, as I spaced and did our first germination test without first stratifying the seed. Spinach is one of those hard seeds that requires a period of cold temperatures before it will germinate well. We're now awaiting the results of a second germination test...after stratification. If it tests good, we'll be one year into better adapting the new Abundant Bloomsdale variety to our specific growing conditions.

We again saved some dianthus seed. Seed saved from the Carpet series doesn't always reproduce the nice bicolor blooms of its parent commercial seed, but it does yield viable seed that produces plants with lots of very pretty solid colors.

I intended to save seed from one of the Sun Devil lettuce plants I grew this spring. Sun Devil is an excellent iceberg lettuce with good heat resistance. Seed for the old variety is no longer available. Sadly, the plant I hoped to save seed from died and rotted instead of bolting. Such are the fortunes of a wannabe seed saver!

The one Saffron yellow squash plant I put out from saved seed that I hoped had crossed with the excellent Slick Pik hybrid produced squash that looked suspiciously like butternut squash. I rogued the plant.

I had saved seed from the Roadside Hybrid muskmelon variety in 2014. Although saving seed from a hybrid is generally a no-no, I was curious to see what a second generation plant might do and produce. It turned out that the plants from saved seed produced melons that appeared to be (and tasted as) true-to-variety.

Along the same line of thought, I saved seed from a Sugar Cube cantaloupe this year. Sugar Cubes are hybrids, so it's hard to tell what we may get from the seed in the future.

I also saved seed from some dwarf basil plants. The seed for the plants was from a freebie experimental variety sent to me from a seed house long ago. I'm hoping it will reproduce well, as we got two very nice dwarf basil plants from it this year.

And we once again save seed from our Eclipse and Encore peas. Both varieties are PVP protected, so I can't sell or share seed, but can grow and save enough seed for us to re-plant. We also put a lot of these peas in the freezer for winter use. We've saved seed from the varieties long enough that I think they've begun to adapt to our growing conditions. I think that the Seminis/Monsanto (and now possibly Bayer) patent on these pea varieties expires in 2020. If I last long enough, maybe I'll sell you some seed from them in 2021!

Plant breeders spend years in school learning their trade and more time working to develop new or improved plant varieties. Lacking a degree or any real training in the area, I can still play with stuff a bit and see what we get. We got some Frankenstein squash in our East Garden this summer which eventually enriched our compost pile. But it's lots of fun to occasionally break the rules of seed saving to see what you might get.

I should add here that when I was farming in the 1980s, we spent seven or eight years working to preserve and hopefully refine the Reid's Yellow Dent field corn variety. I'm not sure how much good we did, but we did fill our corn cribs each year. We sold some seed as seed corn, but most of our corn went to our chickens, hogs, and cattle. While the field corn variety seemed to disappear from seed catalogs for a time, especially during the years we were working with it, it is now readily available from quite a few sources, including the same seed house that sold us our first Reid's Yellow Dent.

One of our problems with variety improvement is that we don't plant enough of any variety to ensure genetic diversity. Seed saved from just one or two plants, if continually reproduced year after year, may eventually get into inbreeding depression. We experienced that problem with our cucumbers, but fortunately, were able to breed a related strain back into our strain to revitalize it without markedly changing its desired characteristics. I'm hoping to plant enough Earlirouge and Moira tomatoes next season to avoid such problems. Since tomatoes are usually self-pollinated, I'm not sure how much a wider planting may help.

Friday, September 23, 2016 - SSE Offerings

Our offerings of open pollinated seed via the Seed Savers Exchange will be considerably reduced for 2017. We'll be sharing new seed for Quinte tomatoes, Earliest Red Sweet peppers, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. Blight took our main planting of Earlirouge tomatoes this season, but I'll continue to offer Earlirouge seed from 2015 that has been in frozen storage, as that variety still needs more growers to ensure its survival. I still have one lone Earlirouge planted very late in an isolation plot trying to mature a few tomatoes.

Quinte tomatoes Earliest Red Sweet Pepper Plant Japanese Long Pickling cucumber
Quinte Earliest Red Sweet Japanese Long Pickling

Dropped from last year's listings are the Alma and Feher Ozon paprika pepper varieties, as our saved seed was produced in 2013. While I'm pretty sure our frozen seed is still good, that's a bit too old to offer to other growers, especially for varieties that are still available from seed houses. I'm hoping to grow out those varieties from saved seed next season, as we'll need to dry peppers and grind them for ground paprika again next summer.

I also dropped our long offered Moira tomato variety from our SSE listing, as the blight eventually spread to those plants. While we got some nice tomatoes from the plants, I'm not confident in offering seed from diseased plants, even with hot water treatment of the seed. Fortunately, there is another SSE member currently offering Moira seed. Having found a reliable source that suggested blight wasn't seedborne, I saved some Moira seed for our own use from our last three Moira tomatoes.

MacOS Sierra

App StoreI spent some time this morning installing Apple's new MacOS Sierra (10.12) on an external drive of my Mac Mini. I'd read online about a few issues with the free upgrade and wanted to test it on a non-critical partition before upgrading my MacBook Pro laptop. The Mini's main OS is still Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.8), as that OS still runs carbon applications natively.

I started writing this section of today's update using Dreamweaver CS5.5 under the new operating system without any issues other than having to re-install Java and update Little Snitch. There were also several other updates that had to be installed, but it seems everything works.

I can't really evaluate some of the new features of Sierra, as my old Mini doesn't have a microphone installed to allow the use of Siri. But then, I really won't use many of the new features on any of my Macs. I do like to have at least one machine running Apple's latest and greatest, though.

Gardening

Our Senior Garden - September 23, 2016Organic Soil AcidifierWe currently have spinach, lettuce, carrots, lima beans, crowder peas/cowpeas, kale, red bell peppers, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower actively growing in our garden. While we're still regularly picking peppers and tomatoes, most of what we're doing is waiting for stuff to mature. I did spray all of our brassicas with Thuricide early this week. I also fertilized our row of kale with some 12-12-12 fertilizer to help it regrow after our first picking.

With an eye towards getting our East Garden ready for next season, I picked up a bag of Soil Acidifier to get the potato area ready. Basically soil sulfur, the product helps drop the soil pH down towards 6.0 to help prevent potato scab disease. We'll probably be liming the rest of the East Garden to bring its pH up to around 6.8-7.0.

Organics from Amazon
Safer Insect Killing Soap Neem Oil Pyrethrin Serenade Thuricide (BT) Dipel Dormant oil spray Diatomaceous Earth

Sunday, September 18, 2016 - Making Kale Soup

I made Portuguese Kale Soup last evening and am canning it today. This batch of soup differed slightly from our usual recipe in that I was careful to make sure it was gluten free. A couple of our family members can't tolerate gluten, and I found it pretty easy to make this batch gluten free.

Swanson Chicken BrothSince most of the ingredients for the delicious soup come from our garden, I only had to watch out for gluten in a couple of purchased ingredients. The Eckrich Skinless Smoked Sausage is gluten free, and I found that Swanson's 100% Natural Chicken Brothicon in the 48 oz. boxes is also gluten free, unlike their regular chicken broth.

As usual, some of the broth and the chicken came from bone in, skin on chicken breasts I'd purchased. We fillet and freeze the breast meat and boil down and bone the rest. I'd frozen a half gallon of this broth with onions in it when we brought in our Walla Walla sweet onions earlier this summer.

Ingredients from our garden: onions; garlic; tomatoes; carrots; peas; green beans; kidney beans; potatoes; and of course, kale.

Other ingredients: chicken; Swanson 100% Natural Chicken Broth; Eckrich Skinless Smoked Sausage; canning salt; and celery.

Rather than using some of our own canned, whole tomatoes, I was able to use eight or nine small Quinte tomatoes I'd picked recently. When I skinned the tomatoes by boiling them and popping them into cold water, I was surprised at how easily the skins came off. Then I laughed at myself. Quinte tomatoes are also known as Easy Peel tomatoes.

I canned nine pints of the soup and froze another quart. I think my wife, Annie, ate another quart of it all by herself. If our kale rebounds quickly enough from this picking, I hope to make one more batch of the soup yet this season.

Saturday, September 17, 2016 - Very, Very Early Morning Edition

Our Senior Garden - September 17, 2016Water CharityI just uploaded a revised version of my Gloxinia blog. Earlier this week, I realized that the blog didn't have mouseover descriptions of the photos in the blog. Adding those mouseovers takes a lot of tedious code work, but often adds some valuable meaning to the photos in the feature story. I finished the task a few moments ago (just after midnight).

As I worked the page, I could see that it was a decent blog posting, but also far too wordy for those folks wanting to learn how to grow gloxinias from seed. I've added doing a new, more succinct page, to my to do list for this winter for our how-to pages.

As I get ready to retire for the evening, it appears that we may have received another inch of precipitation over the early morning hours. It's been raining "cats and dogs" for almost an hour. We need the rain, as we haven't had a soaking rain in over a week.

Later (10 am)

Wow! I just emptied two inches of rain out of our rain gauge!

A Little More

I took the camera with me when I walked to the garden yesterday afternoon to dump the first inch plus of rainfall out of our rain gauge. Besides a shot of the gauge, I also snapped shots of some of the things still growing in our main raised garden bed. For some of the crops, it's going to be close on beating our first frost.

Main raised bed - September 16, 2016 Lima beans and cowpeas Yellow squash showing some powdery mildew
Rain gauge Fall lettuce Kale Fall carrots

Looking at the photos, I see that I need to spray our yellow squash plant with fungicide, as some powdery mildew is showing on some of its leaves. Our Winter Density lettuce, a bibb/romaine type, is ready to pick. I have no idea what to do now with the mess of runners in our lima beans and cowpeas. This is my first try at growing both crops, which look quite healthy at this point.

Main raised bed

After a good rain, everything in the garden looks pretty lush. It's hard to believe that in just a few weeks, frost will take most of the vegetable plants and flowers. If you don't know your frost dates (first frost of fall, last frost of spring), Dave's Garden has a page that uses your zip code to give you that information.

Weekly Deals from Ritz Camera

Friday, September 16, 2016 - Garlic Availability

Garlic from SSEI received an email from the Seed Savers Exchange yesterday with the subject line, "Garlic is on Sale (Hurry - It's Going Fast!)" SSE is offering a 20% discount on their remaining garlic varieties with the promo code, GARLIC20.

Garlic dryingWe don't need any more garlic for planting this year, but out of curiosity, I followed the link to SSE's garlic page to see what they had. I wasn't at all surprised to find that they are sold out of half of the sixteen varieties they offered this year. They do, however, still have eight varieties still available, several that we've grown and been satisfied with.

Still curious, I traveled to the garlic page of the Territorial Seed Company. The last time we bought garlic for planting, the best we got came from them. Territorial had twenty-nine offerings of garlic listed, with twelve of them shown as sold out. A bit of good news is that as of last night they still had elephant garlic (which SSE now doesn't). The elephant garlic we got from them in 2014 was some of the largest I've ever seen. Over two years, it has continued to produce huge garlics for us, some even larger than what Territorial sent us.

On a bit of a roll, I began checking other vendors from whom we've gotten good garlic in the past. Botanical Interests only had five varieties left, but one of them was Purple Glazer, a favorite of many growers. Sow True Seeds had ten varieties still available.

Burpeeicon, the granddaddy of all seed houses, has over thirty kinds of garlic apparently still available, albeit at Burpee prices. I had to laugh at their photo of elephant garlic. Somebody in their web page department seriously screwed up. A good elephant garlic only produces three to four huge cloves.

The point of all of this is that if you need to order garlic, you'd better do it in a hurry. And yes, there's an "I told you so" here, as I began warning readers to order garlic way back in July. I'm actually surprised at how much garlic is still available, especially from Burpee. In past years, everybody has been sold out by this point in September.

Full Disclosure: Both Burpee and Botanical Interests are Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertisers. If you follow one of the links to them from this page and purchase something, we get a cut of the action.

Another Miserable Failure

This season has been a tough one for us. It's my first year trying to grow a full garden after sitting out most of last season while recovering from hip replacement surgery. In any growing season, some garden crops will do better than others, and there are bound to be some crop failures.

Sadly, we've had more failures this year than usual. Our spring broccoli buttoned, producing only small main heads and sideshoots. We did, however, have some of the best spring cauliflower we've ever grown, growing side-by-side with the lousy broccoli. Our Earlirouge tomatoes got wiped out by blight, which also hit our Moira tomatoes later in the season. Fortunately, we had some Quite tomatoes and a couple of hybrid varieties growing in isolation plots far away from the diseased varieties that kept us in fresh tomatoes this summer.

Our sweet corn was decimated first by deer, and later by raccoons. I found one full ear and one second ear that were good from a twenty-five foot square planting. That now makes two years in a row that critters have gotten all our sweet corn.

Yesterday, I finished digging the last fifteen feet of our potatoes. Dry growing conditions had seriously impacted the plants, with blight finally finishing them off. The total of what I dug previously and yesterday probably didn't equal in weight the ten pounds of seed potatoes I planted. On the upside, we've enjoyed a few incredibly sweet baked potatoes from the planting and lots of tender new potatoes. But our crop this year could definitely be characterized as small potatoes.

Better News

Mecate yellow peppersHaving dug potatoes and mowed yesterday, I was pleased not to have any serious reoccurrence of my back problems from last week. I also picked a bunch of good Quinte tomatoes and some hybrids from isolation plots far from where our blighted tomatoes and potatoes grew. Our yellow Mecate peppers produced several good peppers. Since I already have two batches of Quinte seed saved so far this season, I'm debating whether to use the Quintes for seed saving or some great homemade spaghetti sauce. Or I may process the tomatoes and freeze them for one of our batches of Portuguese Kale Soup.

My lovely wife, Annie, came home from work on Monday with a terrible cold. I'd prepared supper, as usual, but what she wanted was some of our Portuguese Kale Soup. Fortunately, we still had some left, canned from last year. When we're sick, Portuguese Kale Soup has turned out to be our equivalent of chicken soup to warm and heal a sick body.

And...we received over an inch of rain today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Halved Blacktail Mountain WatermelonSame melon cut in chunksI cut a watermelon today that we'd had in the refrigerator for a week. I feared the Blacktail Mountain melon would be overripe, but it was still good.

Upon cutting the melon, I only saw one black seed and wondered if I'd misidentified the melon, as Blacktail Mountains aren't seedless. But when I cut the melon into chunks, lots and lots of seeds were present.

From the appearance of the cut melon, I think I brought it in when it was a little underripe. That may explain it holding so long in the fridge. Fortunately, it had good watermelon flavor.

Renewed watermelon vine with a bloom showing
Melons maturing on vine

When I took a bucket of kitchen scraps and a cart of spent cucumber vines to the compost pile this afternoon, I was surprised as I passed our melon patch to see that several of our watermelon vines have rebounded from some hot and dry weather. In places, there is a canopy of leaves much like what we had in early July, complete with an occasional bloom and several maturing watermelons. The vines putting on new growth appear to be Blacktail Mountain and Crimson Sweet, although a couple of seedless varieties we grow have melons that look much like Crimson Sweets.

Cleared trellisI'd cleared the cucumber vines off our double trellis last week. I left the trellis in place, as there are several snapdragon plants woven into it that may begin blooming again. We often get quite a display of fall blooms from snapdragons, especially when they're held upright by a trellis.

Clearing the vines turned out to be a pretty bad choice, though.

Benched

I have been benched from gardening for a little over a week. I had attributed some back pain in a post a week ago to digging potatoes, but realized later that hitting a rut while mowing had done some moderate damage to my "good" hip. Clearing the cucumber vines from our trellis on Wednesday resulted in muscle spasms in my lower back Thursday morning. After several days of pain killers and sitting on a heating pad, the pain localized to where it hurt when I hit the rut while mowing. I was finally able to mow a bit this afternoon, although I was very careful to slow down where I knew there were bumps and ruts in the yard.

KohlrabiWhile I've been down, bugs have riddled the leaves of the plants in our main garden. A single kohlrabi ripened, though, even with lots of insect damage to its leaves. Our cabbage may be inedible due to worms in it and our broccoli and cauliflower look pretty sad as well. Somewhat surprisingly, our kale still looks pretty good. Sadly, I'm not a big fan of kohlrabi, but my wife likes them.

Still Watching Our Gloxinias

Gloxinia seed pod (ovary)While I was bent over like a little old man, I spent a lot of time caring for our gloxinias and looking for seed bearing blooms to mature. We now have five or six fertilized blooms that appear to have seed, but none have gotten to the point where the seed is mature as yet. If all of those blooms produce seed, I'll be adding over a thousand seeds to our frozen cache of them, as a single bloom can produce hundreds of viable seeds.

Our cast of gloxinias on our dining room table subtly changes over time. Plants come into bloom and then fade and get moved under our plant lights in the basement. Other plants come into bloom in the basement or in our sunroom and get moved to the table where we can enjoy their display of colors.

Red, doubled gloxinia bloomOur most recent addition to the collection on display in the dining room is a plant with velvety, red, doubled blooms that fully open. It would seem that it's a cross of the Double Brocade and Empress varieties. I've not had a lot of luck hand pollinating the Double Brocades, as their blooms usually don't fully open, but this plant obviously has some Double Brocade parentage. It's large leaves and plant habit are more like the Empress variety.

Gloxinias on dining room tableI have one huge Empress plant with lots of fading white blooms that I've resisted moving downstairs. It has several fertilized blooms on it, and I was hoping they'd mature before I need the space for other plants coming into bloom.

The white Empress is on the far right in the photo at left. The red doubled plant is also visible in the center of the image.

Seed Saving

I've also kept a close eye on several germination tests over the last week. Our sample of Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed tested at 100% germination. Our first batch of JLP cucumbers came out at 70%. We've put saved pepper, tomato, basil, spinach, cucumber, and dianthus seed in the freezer for long term storage and future use. A couple of batches of watermelon seed turned out bad and had to be dumped, and a test of some saved cantaloupe seed is still ongoing, although it's at 60% after just a few days.

Our germination tests are really approximations of the seeds' viability, as we only test ten to twenty seeds in a batch. Commercial growers test thousands of seeds when they establish their federally required germination test numbers. But our tests do tell us whether to pitch a batch of seed or to have some confidence in its viability.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Marked bloom stemSeed head and harvested gloxinia seedI checked a gloxinia bloom this morning that I'd hand pollinated a couple of weeks ago. While it wasn't shedding seed as yet, I saw that a neighboring bloom spike on the same plant had burst open and was ready to be harvested. Apparently, I'd pollinated that bloom as well but hadn't marked it (with a twist tie loosely attached around the stem). Fortunately, I caught the seed bearing bloom before the seed spread all over the place, snipped it off the plant, and put the bloom and seed in a paper bowl to dry. As the bloom dries a bit more, it will continue to shed a little more seed.

I'd let our supply of saved gloxinia seed dwindle a good bit over the last two or three years. I just hadn't been very dedicated about hand pollinating blooms and watching for them to mature. With many of our gloxinias on our dining room table this summer, it's been easier to remember to grab a Q-tip and spread some pollen amongst available blooms and then monitor them for seed. Sending gloxinia seed to other gardeners also diminished our seed supply, but also produced many pleasant emails of thanks, often including photos of plants grown from the seed.

Gloxinias on dining room tablePretty purple and white gloxinia bloomsI had yet another email request yesterday from a reader wondering if we sold gloxinia tubers. We don't, and currently, we don't have any gloxinia corms in the dormant state necessary to ship them. It has gotten difficult to impossible to find gloxinia corms for sale. And when I've purchased corms, the results haven't been good. Some purchased corms or plants may have been the source of the INSV virus that destroyed our gloxinia collection several years ago. Fortunately, we had lots of saved gloxinia seed in the freezer at that time that we used to re-start our collection.

In my response to the reader's email, I suggested starting plants from seed, something we've documented at length in our Gloxinia blog. We're currently enjoying lots of gloxinias in bloom from two year old plants that broke dormancy this spring and summer. When they're done blooming, we should have another bunch of plants coming into bloom that we seeded in June.

Our Saving Gloxinia Seed page tells how to save gloxinia seed. It's an easy process that only requires some gloxinias in bloom, a Q-tip, and some diligence to the task.

Raised Beds

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Our Senior Garden - September 6, 2016It turns out, digging potatoes on Sunday wasn't such a good idea. I'm down with a very sore lower back. On the positive side, I've been enjoying binge watching The West Wing while my back recovers. I'm starting season 2 as soon as I get this update posted.

I'm not sure what happened to those ripening cucumbers I wrote about last week, as they were all gone when I looked this morning. I'm hoping Annie picked them, or else we have something really weird going on in our narrow raised bed. With those cukes out of the way, I can clear the vines off the trellis at any time now. I may wait to pull the trellis, as there are lots of snapdragons still actively growing along it that may put on quite a show over the next month.

The germination test on our first batch of saved Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed hit 80% germination when I checked the seed sample this morning. That put the seed just at the threshold where I'm willing to share seed. We'll probably save a late batch of seed from our ERS plants, as there are a lot of green peppers still maturing.

We did get a pop-up shower yesterday afternoon, starting our September rainfall with 0.12 inches of precipitation. It's a start.

And yesterday marked the first day since June that I didn't have to re-fill our hummingbird feeders. There are still a few of the lively little birds visiting our feeders, but the bulk of them have apparently headed south.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Good melonsOur Senior Garden - September 4, 2016Ignoring all the heavy grass clippings on the ground from mowing, I chose to work on other tasks today. With help from my wife and a granddaughter, we cleared ripe and overripe watermelons from our melon patch. I rolled a ripe Ali Baba melon a bit too hard out of the patch, and it cracked open in the field. While the melon was seedy (as usual for Ali Babas), it was also quite tasty. It got wiped off, cut, and went into the fridge as melon chunks.

About five watermelon had to go onto our compost pile with a similar number being in good shape. Three of the melons went to a daughter's family, as it's really hard to distinguish between ripe and a little bit overripe without cutting the melon (or dropping it).

With recent rains and some cooler weather, some of our melon vines have revived. We may get another cantaloupe or two and several watermelons growing on still good vines. Of course, the vines could collapse at any time also if bugs or lack of rain gets to them.

The ladies moved on to harvesting Earliest Red Sweet peppers while I brought in some Hungarian paprika peppers. Both are sweet peppers and went to family members. I've already saved and successfully tested ERS seed and froze pepper strips. We also have lots of homemade ground paprika left, so we can readily share those peppers as well (although the long, red Hungarians are really pretty).

Cucumber seed and gel in jar to fermentI harvested another bunch of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed. This time around, I continued cutting yellowed cucumbers and scraping out the seed until a quart canning jar was nearly full of seed and gel. I'm hoping that I left enough space in the jar for the head of fermented material that will push up over the next three days.

I still have about eight more yellowing cucumbers I could use for seed, but if the last batch and this one turn out to be good, I'll probably let it go at that. Small samples of our first batch of cucumber seed are currently undergoing germination tests. I noticed a couple of seeds had sprouted after just one day, so I think our first batch will prove to be good.

I was a little surprised to find several immature cucumbers still on our vines. We may yet get a cucumber or two for table use. Usually, once we begin to let cucumbers yellow on the vine, the plants quit setting new fruit.

I also dug the rest of our Red Pontiac potatoes and a few more Kennebecs this afternoon. Our weather is cool enough to permit working now in the late afternoons. Our potato plants have been up and down for some time, but now have pretty well died out. Sadly, there were far more small potatoes than ones of normal size. I got our potatoes in late this spring, and I think we're now paying the price for our tardiness in planting.

I found two good tomatoes on our open pollinated Quinte plants. I may nip a bit of the flesh of the fruit, but these two are for seed, as I haven't refreshed our Quinte seed for several years. There are lots more tomatoes ripening on the plants, but I really wanted to get some seed saved from this variety.

My original Quinte seed came from a commercial source in the late 1970s. I didn't grow it out often enough or goofed in preparing it for frozen storage, and the seed lost its viability. I was fortunate to receive a generous sample of the variety in 2011 from the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).

Work never looked so good. See SKECHERS Work Collection!  SKECHERS Work - Made to Last

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our Senior Garden - September 3, 2016Purple and white gloxinia bloomOur lawn mower finally found its way home from the repair shop yesterday, so I'll be mowing for the next few days instead of gardening. At least we had a slightly different gloxinia bloom open today. We'd had lots of colors, including some purples, but no single purple and whites until now.

I did get our first batch of saved cucumber seed processed yesterday. I'd begun fermenting the seed and surrounding gel on Monday. It was ready to be rinsed clean and hot water treated yesterday.

While fermentation of the seed isn't necessary, it's an easy precaution against seed borne organisms in and on the seed. Since I fermented the whole batch of seed, I'd been somewhat worriedly watching it closely. If left to ferment too long or at too high a temperature, the seed may begin to sprout or rot. Three or four days at around 70-80° F is recommended for the process.

I was easily able to pour off the head of fermented material that formed in the quart jar of cucumber seed. Then I added cool water to re-fill the jar, let the seed settle, and again poured off floating material and light seed. I had to repeat the process about four times to get most of the extraneous material out of the seed. Dumped into a strainer and rinsed, I still had to pick out a couple of cucumber chunks from the seed.

Hot Water Treatment of Cucumber Seed

Hot water treating cucumber seedHot water treatment of cucumber seed is generally not recommended. Make a mistake in the process, and you can lose your whole batch of seed! We take the chance to be as sure as possible we don't share diseased seed with other gardeners, although I set out about a quarter of our seed to be saved without being hot water treated, just in case. I've lost batches of cucumber (and tomato) seed in the past because I got my water too hot.

Holding the proper temperatureI hot water treat seed in a water bath in our kitchen sink, much the same way I developed color slide film in film cans years and years ago. The seed to be treated goes into a pint Pyrex measuring cup which goes into the hot water in the kitchen sink. I very slowly add warm water to the cup to raise the water temperature to around 100° F. I keep track of my water temperature with my forty year old Weston darkroom thermometer, but any good thermometer accurate in the 100-125° F range should do. I also start of teapot of water heating on the stove and keep a cup of cold water nearby.

Using either hot tap water or water from the teapot, I add hot water until the water temperature in the treatment cup reaches the desired 122° F. Sometimes it's necessary to pour a bit of water out of the cup to have room for more hot (or cold) water. I use the stem of the thermometer to stir the seed from time to time to make sure the temperature is consistent throughout the cup. As needed, I add hot water to the cup to maintain the desired temperature for twenty minutes. Sometimes I get the water a bit too hot, thus the need for some cold water nearby.

At the twenty minute mark, I begin gradually stepping down the water temperature by pouring hot water out of the cup and gradually adding cooler, but not cold water. I take a good five minutes with this step.

Then the seed is spread over paper towels laid over a paper plate or a cookie sheet. I let the seed dry there for about a day before dumping it into the paper plate or cookie sheet to continue air drying for a couple of weeks.

Hot water treatment of seed is not a substitute for saving seed from disease free plants. But if you get into disease problems with no other seed of the desired variety available, it can help save the variety for you.

Good Information on Hot Water Treatment of Cucumber, Tomato, and other Wet Seed

Charity: Water

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Our Senior Garden - September 1, 2016
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Our East Garden - September 1, 2016
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We usually don't see our first frost until October. Even with the shortening days of fall, September is still a month of harvesting from our Senior Garden. We'll be digging potatoes this month, the last of our crops from our East Garden plot. As the month progresses, we'll be bringing in butternut squash, lima beans, cowpeas, lettuce, and spinach. We should still be getting some late tomatoes and peppers as well. Our fall carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower will all be in a race to beat the frost, as they all got a late start this year.

Possibly the biggest thing we look forward to harvesting this month is kale. We like it boiled with onions and bacon drippings and also make several batches of kale chips. The real biggie are our annual batches of Portuguese Kale Soup. The delicious soup is sort of a crowning achievement of our gardening season each year, as it includes garlic, onions, tomatoes, green beans, kidney beans, lima beans, peas, potatoes, and of course, lots of kale from our garden.

As our crops come out and the gardening season winds down, we'll begin preparing our garden plots for next year. We'll check soil pH and add lime if necessary to raise soil pH to around 6.5-7.0 before tilling the plots. The area planned for potatoes next season will get a good shot of garden sulfur to drop its soil pH to help prevent potato scab disease. Compost and peat moss will be added to help restore soil nutrients and loosen the soil. And any grass clipping mulch remaining on the ground will get tilled under to add organic matter to the soil.

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