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One of the Joys of Maturity

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December 19, 2014

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

Friday, December 19, 2014 - Sunshine at Last

Our Senior Garden - December 19, 2014We have a somewhat sunny day today, our first in weeks and weeks. The sun is streaming in my office window behind my computer display, but I refuse to pull down the blind, something I've done a good bit over the last few weeks to keep the cold out. But for a bit of warm winter sunshine, I'll put up with the glare.

The one outdoor job I thought about doing today can't happen. I'd hoped to screen some finished compost for our asparagus bed, but the compost pile is frozen.

Seed Catalogs

Annie's Heirloom SeedsSeed catalogs for the new gardening season continue to trickle in. Our copy of the 2015 Annie's Heirloom Seeds catalog arrived in the mail on Wednesday. We are still waiting on five other seed catalogs before being able to compare varieties and prices before placing the bulk of our garden seed orders for next season. Since we're going to try to sneak by with old onion seed for next year and have a good supply of geranium seed on hand, both of which we seed in January, we're not in our usual rush to get orders for those items placed.

Violet of Sicily cauliflowerAnnie's is a small, family owned business, now operating off Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan. They specialize in heirloom and open pollinated varieties, growing "the most rare and hard-to-get varieties" themselves. We first found Violet of Sicily cauliflower through their catalog, although a number of other seed houses also carry it under the name Purple of Sicily.

Owner Scott Slezak shared a funny story in one of their newsletters last
year about a supplier's cows eating their garlic sets (that were to be sold via Annie's Heirloom Seeds). He also mentioned in an email that they had experienced similar problems, only it was with their pigs rooting up their neighbor's lawn before they moved to the island (and got rid of the pigs). That's just one more reason why I'm glad I now tend vegetables and not livestock anymore. (I do still miss the chickens and their fresh eggs.)

Seed catalogs late coming in include Burpee, Johnny's Selected Seeds, R.H. Shumway, Sow True Seed, and Territorial Seed. Burpee is always late with their catalog mailings. Since I fussed with Johnny's last year about the overkill in how many catalogs they sent me (and a number of other issues), I suspect that they may have scrubbed my name off their mailing list. Despite the Jung Seed parent company having already sent me Vermont Bean Seed and Totally Tomatoes catalogs I won't use, their Shumway catalog is still MIA. I suspect that Jung is trying to consolidate Shumway into one of their other seed groups, as the name is old and the catalog is probably one of their more expensive ones to print and mail. I have no idea why we haven't gotten catalogs yet from Sow True Seed and Territorial, as we've place orders with both in the last twelve months.

I've got about a week's worth of patience remaining on waiting for the late catalogs. Then I'll go ahead and place our seed orders for next season, and companies that couldn't get a catalog to me in a timely fashion will just lose our business for now. I continue to support vendors who offer print seed catalogs over those with online sales only.

Wow! Even with the sunshine, I'm a tad grumpy today!

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Monday, December 15, 2014 - 2014 Garden Review

Our annual review of the Senior Garden, A Year in Our Garden - 2014, is now posted. It's mostly a cut and paste from postings over the year in chronological order with the added perspective of how things turned out. It includes lots and lots of garden photos, some pretty good and some, well, just illustrative of the topic being discussed. By dumb luck, one has to get a few good shots when taking well over 5,000 photos in a year!

Broccoli row in East Garden Onions and carrots Potatoes
Sweet corn patch on June 30

We had some fabulous crops this year (broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes, and sweet corn) and some not-so-fabulous ones (melons, tomatoes, celery, and garlic). But up or down, it's important to keep track of what worked, whether one writes a garden blog or not. Our annual review often reminds me of things I want to try in the future, things that worked and should be done again, and mistakes I don't want to repeat.

Yet Another Good Seed Catalog Arrives

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2015 catalog coverEarliest Red Sweet bell pepper envelopeOur 2015 Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived in Saturday's mail. I've already placed one order with them this fall, as I ran out of the self-seal seed envelopes I get from them. I use the envelopes to make attractive packaging for seed shared via the Seed Savers Exchange, the Grassroots Seed Network, and at seed swaps. Most of the seed we save for our own plantings gets stored in far less glorious, but cheaper homemade aluminum foil packets.

As with most of our trusted seed suppliers this year, SESE probably won't get much business from us. We only need a few items and still have a good supply of the Yellow of Parma onion, Kevin's Early Orange Bell Pepper, Hungarian Paprika Pepper, and Rosemary seed we got from them last season. But this is another seed catalog I enjoy paging through each year, cover-to-cover.

I sorta lost track of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for several years. We'd ordered from them and been satisfied with their seed. But somewhere along the line, we didn't order and eventually fell off their mailing list. I rediscovered them a few years ago, and am glad I did. All of the varieties we ordered from them last year germinated well and were true to variety (important for open pollinated seed).

Yellow of ParmaHaving mentioned the Yellow of Parma onion variety we grew for the first time this year, I wrote of it in our Onions We Grew in 2014 feature story:

If our Yellow of Parma onions store well, they will almost certainly be included in our future plantings. They produced beautiful, large yellow onions with golden skins, showed some resistance to early toppling over in the winds that buffet our garden plots, and generally were the star of our yellow, open pollinated onions this year.

Hungarian paprika pepperI was also quite pleased with the Hungarian Paprika Peppers we grew this summer from their seed. The plants went in late, but still produced good numbers of long paprika peppers that ripen to a deep red. Mixed with our Paprika Supreme, Feher Ozon, and Alma paprika peppers, they produce a nicely colored (red-orange due to the Feher Ozons), slightly spicy ground paprika. While I like having a mix of varieties in most things I put up, I may leave out the Feher Ozons and Almas, more orangish peppers, and just go with the Hungarians and Paprika Supremes to produce a milder, redder Spanish paprika.


Gloxinias on plant rack Gloxinias on December 14, 2014

Our gloxinia plants that looked so good on our downstairs plant rack in September look pretty sad today. I spent several hours Saturday trimming spent blooms, dead leaves, and large leaves from the plants. The big leaves often hang over the pot into the plant trays we use to bottom water the plants. Leaves touching water is an invitation for rot, so the big leaves had to go.

Most of the gloxinias seeded in February have completed their first blooming cycle. They may or may not begin to bloom again before heading into their annual, required period of dormancy. The older plants got a very dilute shot of fertilizer before going to the bottom shelf of our plant rack.

White gloxinia on kitchen counterThe middle and especially the top shelf of the rack are filled with plants seeded a good deal later that should begin to bloom soon. Our early plants were all the Empress and Cranberry Tiger varieties, while our most recent planting was of Double Brocades.

So we're down to just a single gloxinia bloom today under our plant lights, plus a blooming plant on our kitchen counter.

Dining Room Remodeling Almost Done

Dining room paintedWe once again can walk through our dining room. The bulk of the remodeling, which included insulation, a whole new ceiling, and a fresh coat of paint for the walls is done.

The carpet got pulled yesterday, revealing some lovely wood flooring in a few places and flooring in horrible condition most everywhere else. Annie and I now have to decide whether to have the old floor restored, cover it with laminate, or carpet the room. We'd originally planned to have new carpet installed in the living room and dining room, but when we both saw the good sections of old flooring along with the beautiful woodwork in the room, we began to wonder. Right now, we're leaning towards restoration or new laminate flooring.

Either way, it's nice once again to be able to walk through our house without dodging the dining room furniture that had been moved out of the room. There's also a good bit of plaster dust yet to be cleaned up that drifted to other areas of the house. Of course, with the job close to being complete, we are mentally moving on to other rooms that need plaster repair and painting.

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Friday, December 12, 2014 - Fedco Seed CatalogFedco

Our Senior Garden - December 12, 2014Our copy of the 2015 Fedco Seed catalog came in this week. The unassuming looking catalog contains lots of what you might expect, good seed at good prices. But it also contains a lot more information than other seed vendors are currently willing to supply.

There's a very frank discussion about whether Fedco should be selling seed produced by Bayer and Syngenta, both makers of neonicotinoids, insecticides linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD). It also includes a note that no seed from Monsanto/Seminis is included in the catalog.

Beyond that, Fedco tells in general terms where their seed comes from (i.e., from "Small seed farmers including Fedco staff" to "Multinationals who are engaged in genetic engineering.").

I really like their "Your Last Chance in 2015" and "Dropped Varieties for 2015" on page 111 that includes some truly humorous, brief explanations as to why stuff has or will disappear from their catalog. Along with "New Seed Varieties for 2015" on page 3, they also have a list of "Back in 2015."

Fedco page 17Heldover Seed NoticeUnlike any other seed vendor I know of, Fedco is open about their practice of selling old seed that still meets government germination standards. Going a step further, Fedco identifies old seed in catalog listings with their most recent germination rates!

Greencrop beans heldover

When I got to the final sections of the catalog, I hit upon a real find. Fedco Seeds' Organic Growers Supply division is offering 83" x 50' packages of Agribon-AG-19 floating row covers in the 83" x 50' size for just $13 plus shipping. For comparison, Johnny's Selected Seeds, a usually good, but expensive vendor, is currently charging $25.95 for exactly the same product! Johnny's prices on larger rolls are coemptive, but their price on smaller rolls is way out of line. I've ordered floating row covers in this size from Johnny's in the past, usually on sale, but feel a bit betrayed by an employee owned company that is constantly raising prices well beyond consumer price indexes, and especially what we retired folks receive in Social Security COLAs.

There are many more nuggets of golden gardening info in the Fedco catalog. It's one that really deserves paging through from front to back.

You can order a Fedco catalog here, or download their catalog (in pieces for the various divisions) here.


Our web host, Hostmonster, informed me just minutes before they brought down our site Tuesday night that they were going to do some serious site maintenance. Such updates are important, but a little more notice would have been nice. If you had trouble accessing our site during the evening outage, my apologies.


Our weather forecast for today was for clear skies, bright sun, and a bit warmer. The weather folks went oh-for-three on that one! Our next chance at seeing the sun appears to be the middle of next week, with the possibility of snow by the end of the week.

Burpee Gardening

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Sunday, December 7, 2014 - Another Seed Catalog

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds free catalog The Whole Seed [paid] Catalog

Our Senior Garden - December 7, 2014Our copy of the free Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog came in the mail yesterday. I say free, as they have a larger, paid version, The Whole Seed Catalog, that contains a lot of feature stories and other gardening information in it.

With our reduced ordering this year, Baker Creek probably won't get an order from us, as we're already well stocked with seed. In years past, we've ordered varieties such as Tam Dew honeydew, Sugar Snap peas, and Ali Baba, Picnic, and Kleckley's Sweet watermelon seed. We plan to grow most of those varieties in 2015. We just have plenty of seed for them in frozen storage.

Cut honeydewI actually found the Tam Dew and Ali Baba varieties a few years ago by just paging through the catalog and reading variety descriptions while looking for some good, open pollinated varieties to grow in our garden. Tam Dews have turned out to be our favorite honeydew, even over Passport varieties, for their unique flavor and hardiness. The melon skin turns almost white when ripe.

Ripe Ali Baba watermelonWe didn't put in any Ali Baba watermelons in our initial planting last year in our large, East Garden. When cucumber beetles ravaged some of our transplants, I put in a hill of the dependable Ali Babas in mid-May. It turned out that they produced as many good melons as any of our other varieties of watermelons that were transplanted several weeks before them.

Zinnias, seedless watermelon, and Picnic watermelonWe also skipped growing Picnic watermelons last year due to space restrictions. We'll probably work them back into the East Garden this year, as they produce lots of medium sized, flavorful melons. (A small Picnic melon is pictured at left with zinnias and a couple of larger seedless melons.)

Kleckley's Sweet watermelon used to be my favorite variety, but we'll probably skip growing them again in 2015. They are a thin rinded melon, so you don't see them at vegetable stands, as they don't ship well. The local population of raccoons seem to sense their thin rinds and go for the Kleckley's first in our melon patch. Even with the various raccoon deterrents we use, we almost never get a ripe Kleckley's Sweet due to raccoon damage.

Even though we grow a lot of open pollinated melon varieties, we don't usually save seed from them. Growing melons for seed would require isolating the plants from other melon varieties so that they don't cross pollinate. We're just not set up to do that right now, so places like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Sow True Seed are really important to us for occasional re-supply of our favorite open pollinated varieties., Inc.

Saturday, December 6, 2014 - Brr, It's Cold

The Senior Garden - December 6, 2014I just turned up our thermostat higher than it's been in years, as it's really cold in my office this morning. Along with the cool temperatures outside, we've received about two inches of rainfall in the last 24 hours, leaving standing water all around us. Things are supposed to dry out over the next week, with the possibility of a nice, sunny day or two when I may be able to get a few outdoor jobs done.

Growing Potatoes in a Bag

AmazonI ran across an interesting posting this week by Foodie Gardener Shirley Bovshow, How To Grow Potatoes in a Bag. Shirley tells how to grow potatoes in Smart Pots or other similar bags. From her excellent instructions, it appears this task should be a fairly easy one for patio gardeners or those who don't want to grow lots of potatoes or experience the "joy" of digging potatoes. While I couldn't find a video of Shirley's instructions which appeared on the Hallmark Channel's Home & Family Show, there are lots of videos on YouTube describing this growing technique.

I liked this idea enough to add Smart Bags to The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners feature story.

First Seed Order Arrives

Lacinato kaleOur seed order to the Seed Savers Exchange Store arrived yesterday. That's pretty good turnaround time, since I only placed the order Tuesday afternoon. It was a small order that included packets of Lacinato kale and Scarlet Nantes carrots, a one ounce packet of America spinach, and a pound of Champion of England tall pea seed.

Last year, I started keeping our fresh seed that arrives during the winter months in a dark cabinet in our basement rather than freezing it. Freezing incoming new seed would involve getting our big bag of stored seed out of the freezer and sorting the different seed types into the smaller bags I use to sort carrots from sweet corn and such.

Speaking of tall peas, I still have a large packet of Spanish Skyscraper pea seed I acquired from Sylvia Davitz through the Seed Savers Exchange member listings last year. I grew out a bunch of them a couple of years ago. They produced a good many tasty peas, but easily outgrew our five foot high trellis and got bent over in the wind.

I'd planned to turn one of our 5' x 30' Dalen Garden Trellis Nettings on end and run it around and up (about 16-20') an old telephone pole last year, planting the peas at its base. I reconsidered when I realized the old poles had probably been treated with creosote, a product that may leach into the soil and cause health problems. So the seed never got planted.

I'm now considering planting the peas on the sunny side of our garage, running a trellis up to the top of the garage, to see just how high the peas might grow. I've read of them reaching 16' or more, in one case going up, over, and down a bit on a walk-through trellis.

Note: I wrote about the varieties we're sharing via the Seed Savers Exchange this year in a November posting.

Comfort Food

Asiago Cheese & Tortellini SoupAnnie and the grandkids were late coming in last night, as there was a performance and dinner for them in Terre Haute. Since I was having one of my all-time bad days with my hip, I stayed home. Getting very hungry on a cold, wet afternoon, I decided to make a batch of our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup, one of those really delicious, but not-so-healthy dishes. (The recipe calls for a pint of heavy whipping cream!)

Annie and the grandkids finally arrived, Annie with leftovers from Olive Garden. So after all the hugs and greetings were done, I had a second bowl of the soup with one of the garlic breadsticks Annie had brought home. Then I went to bed and slept like a baby for ten hours!

Note: I'm going to avoid stepping on the scales this morning and definitely not think about cholesterol. I may even have another bowl of soup for lunch.

Burpee Gardening

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Transplanting in kitchenTransplanting gloxiniasI still have a lot of trays, inserts, and flower pots to wash and sanitize before bringing them inside to store for use next season. I've become a bit of a nut about clean pots and sterilized soil after somehow bringing the INSV virus inside and losing our previous collection of gloxinias to it. With temperatures in the 40s, I'm still waiting for a warmer day to turn on the garden hose and get with the cleaning in a big way.

I did, however, bring in a few trays and pots to clean so that I could begin moving some Double Brocade gloxinias from fourpacks to 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots. With my wife at work, I took over the kitchen sterilizing potting mix and cleaning the trays and pots.

I made quite a mess (which I cleaned up before said wife got home), but only got ten Double Brocades and a couple of huge Cranberry Tiger gloxinias moved into bigger quarters. The Double Brocades moved easily enough, but the larger Cranberry Tigers required six inch pots, which quickly exhausted my supply of sterile soil.

The Double Brocades I worked with today were seeded in early September and moved to fourpacks in October. I expect we'll begin seeing our first blooms from them in February, just five months from seeding.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Twilley Seed 2015 Catalog CoverSSE Store 2015 Catalog CoverGarden seed catalogs for the 2015 gardening season began arriving in the mail last month. While we're still just getting a trickle of them, we'll soon have more than we can go through, cover-to-cover.

So far, two of the catalogs received are from companies with whom we'll definitely place orders. Our Twilley Seed catalog was an early arrival in mid-November, while our Seed Savers Exchange Store catalog just came in today's mail. The SSE store catalog includes offerings from the Seed Savers Exchange seed banks, while their Annual Yearbook of member seed offerings won't arrive until January (but is available online year-round).

Having little to no self control where seed catalogs are involved, I quickly paged through the SSE catalog while simultaneously filling out an online order. The items I order from the SSE store, such as America spinach and Champion of England tall peas, are generally not available from other vendors, so there's no real advantage in waiting to place an order.

From my experience today, it appears that the SSE Online Store is has of age. Previously, only small packets of seed were offered online, although folks at SSE promised updates to the store to include larger quantities of seed. This year, one pound and larger packages of seed are listed. Members who log in before building their order also see seed prices discounted in the listings to reflect their member status, a big improvement. And the online store seemed to function flawlessly, reflecting some improvements in their web programming. I think the site is now on par with any of the other commercial seed vendor sites I visit.

I'll enjoy paging through seed catalogs all this month and next, even though today's order wiped out four of the seven items our November seed inventory indicated I needed to order or re-order. I'll almost certainly add a few more items as I peruse catalogs, but we really don't need all that much new seed this year.

If you're looking for online seed vendors and/or garden seed catalogs, our Recommended Suppliers page lists those we've used and liked. Most links there are to the company's catalog request page. I also include a link to Dave's Garden Watchdog for each vendor, so you can see what other gardeners think of the companies.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Donate Now!Back yard and garden plotsEven inveterate gardeners like myself need a little downtime. The month of December, when garden chores are at a minimum, provides just such a rest.

With our garden plots pretty well cleaned up for the season, we'll turn our attention to cleaning up pots and flats in preparation for starting transplants next year. Tools will be cleaned, oiled, and sharpened where necessary. We'll be ordering seed and supplies for the next gardening season as well. That shouldn't take all that much time, as when we did our annual seed inventory in November, it only indicated that we needed to order seven items!

Picking spinachWe lucked out on the weather yesterday with temperatures in the 60s most of the day. I was able to get several of our garden beds and plots cleaned and prepared for winter. After picking a small bowl of nice spinach leaves, I cleared one of our narrow raised beds of the remaining, frost damaged spinach. Then I raked out both of our narrow raised beds before mulching them with a grass clipping/leaf mixture. The mulch will help keep the beds weed free and ready for planting next spring.

Cutting asparagus stalksI also cleared another raised bed of asparagus stalks, cutting the tough stalks off at the ground with a pair of lopping shears. The asparagus stalks went into a hole I'm slowly filling instead of our compost pile. The fibrous asparagus stalks break down too slowly to include in a regular compost pile.

I've read that the reason for clearing away old asparagus stalks is to prevent insect and disease carryover. I suspect that's true, but I can't imagine trying to pick asparagus next April will all of the previous year's trash in the way.

Two remaining isolation plots also got cleared of dead tomato and pepper plants, along with a lot of fruit that didn't mature. I also finally got around to moving our late pumpkins to the compost pile.

Only Bonnie's Asparagus Patch remains to be cleaned up, and I'll be done with garden cleanup and prep for the year...almost. I still need to move compost from our finished compost pile onto both of our asparagus patches.

Jackson in garlic bedHutch paintingWhile I was working in our main garden, Jackson, our lab/great dane cross endeavoured either to keep our planted garlic cloves from leaping out of the bed or keep himself warm and comfortable.

While I was working outside, son-in-law Hutch finished up the remodeling of our dining room. He replaced the entire ceiling and painted the room. We haven't moved back into the room as yet, as we need to pull the carpet in preparation for new carpet being laid.

Even with the required maintenance and renovations, we're blessed to live in a lovely 100+ year old house that has huge windows and beautiful woodwork. As I've somewhat ungracefully aged, I find that I'm jobbing out a lot of the maintenance these days. And actually, it's better that someone who really knows what they're doing does these jobs.

Gifts for Gardeners Shopping GuideShopping GuideSince some previous postings will drop off this page as we move from November to December, let me add that I've recently added a couple of shopper's guides to our Feature Stories section. The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners is pretty much a Christmas gift suggestion piece, while our Shopping Guide for Gardeners is intended to be a continuing feature on the garden products we like and use and may prove useful to other gardeners.

In the second piece, I suggest that new gardeners might start with just a shovel, garden hoe, rake, and possibly a trowel, with the first three actually being essential for a 10' x 10' initial garden plot.

I got started with just those tools, although I had the advantage of the loan of a neighbor's rototiller to turn over my first, adult garden plot. Of course, I turned way too much ground that first year, and found that I couldn't keep up with the required weeding. Fortunately, our first garden plot, which only yielded a little usable produce, didn't turn me off to the wonderful avocation of gardening.

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