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.
We're beginning to do a little outdoor gardening as our weather moderates. Setting up our cold frame turned into a several day project. The PVC cold frame I put together several years ago turned out to be light enough that strong winds could pick it up and blow it twenty to thirty yards! And we have lots of strong winds here.
So the first step in setting up the cold frame was to make it heavier. To do so, I cut a section out of the rear base of the frame and filled the PVC pipe with cement. Using a couple of adapters and trimming off a little of the pipe, the weighted section went back into the frame, giving it around ten more pounds of weight to keep it from becoming airborne. After the PVC cement had dried a day, I covered the frame with plastic.
For the cold frame to be effective, it has to have a good seal with the ground. Since the base of the frame and the spot where the frame goes are both a little irregular, I till the ground each spring so I can push soil around the base to seal it on cold nights.
I'm delaying adding any plants under the cold frame until tomorrow, as temperatures may drop into the upper 20s tonight. While the frame usually protects down to about 28° F, I'm willing to wait one more day until there's no freezing weather in the forecast. Even without the danger of a freeze or frost in our extended forecast, the cold frame is still important in protecting our young seedlings from strong winds as they acclimate to outdoor conditions.
With the tiller out and running well, I turned over our two narrow raised beds. One will be planted to lettuce, onions, and carrots early next month. The other will have caged tomatoes in it, although I may seed some spinach along the edge of the bed yet this month.
We had a cloudy and wet St. Patrick's Day here today, although we received less than a tenth of an inch of precipitation. But our weather is gradually warming as we head towards planting time. That's a good thing, as we have lots of plants growing, many of them ready to move under the cold frame to begin hardening off.
The top shelf of our plant rack has almost two full trays of vincas in four inch pots, a whole flat of lettuce, and a covered, heated flat germinating tomatoes and peppers. I got a bit impatient this morning with the tomatoes and peppers seeded a week ago and started communal pots of each, just in case. When I went back downstairs this evening, I noticed several more plants poking up through the potting mix.
The second shelf of our plant rack is filled mostly with flowers and herbs. I have a whole bunch of snapdragons up in a communal pot that need to be moved to individual quarters very soon.
Our two trays of onions on a shelf in our sunroom definitely are ready to go outside. The onions need a week or two of strong sunlight to toughen up a bit.
And our second round of egg carton petunias are now growing pretty well in a kitchen window.
Also in the sunroom are four big pots of Wandering Jew plants. That's way more than we need, but I suspect I'll be able to find good homes for the extras.
Also ready to head outdoors are our geraniums and brassicas. Our cauliflower plants are considerably larger than our broccoli, reflecting the two week head start I gave the cauliflower. We'll see if the early start helps the longer season cauliflower mature about the same time as the broccoli.
I used a bit larger images above, as our shallow well pump and new, raised herb garden show out the window.
The guys from Bloomington (IN) are celebrating the first month of spring by running a Spring Garden Tower Giveaway. They're giving away ten Garden Tower II units, with winners to be announced on April 10.
I've not used a Garden Tower, although I've tried to talk the guys out of one more than once. They have, however, donated lots of the units to schools in and around Bloomington, Indiana, for school gardens. (I know about that one from one of our daughters who lives in Bloomington and has seen the donated units in use.)
First prize in the giveaway is a Garden Tower 2 Starter Bundle. Nine second prizes of Garden Tower 2's will also be awarded. Third prize will be 250 folks offered a hundred dollar discount on a Garden Tower 2.
Something to Keep Your Eye On
New York Times correspondent Danny Hakim wrote in Unsealed Documents Raise Questions on Monsanto Weed Killer yesterday, "Roundup...is Monsanto’s flagship product, and industry-funded research has long found it to be relatively safe. A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer." Previously sealed court documents "included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services."
Hakim, currently serving as the Times' European business correspondent, wrote last year in Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops:
Something Nicer to Look At
A gloxinia that's been budding in our kitchen for a couple of weeks opened its lovely purple blooms overnight. When I started to take photos of the blooms, I must have shaken the plant just enough for it to shed pollen on its petals. With the pollen obviously dropping, I grabbed a Q-tip and hand pollinated the blooms.
We've had a little light snow today, but nothing like what is predicted for some of the east coast tonight and tomorrow. Of more concern to us are some relatively low overnight temperatures in the forecast.
We get to a point each March where there seems to be no more room available in our house for the transplants we grow. We began moving plants to our sunroom in February and moved on to putting some of the larger plants on our dining room table this month. Until the weather breaks enough that we can begin using our cold frame to protect and harden off transplants outside, things are going to be a bit crowded.
Some serious rearranging today opened up room under our plant lights. That space was quickly filled with vinca plants I moved from deep sixpack inserts to four inch pots. A couple of the vinca have bloomed already. I also filled our coco basket planter with trailing impatiens and crowded it onto the bottom shelf of our plant rack to let the plants acclimate a bit before moving the thing to our dining room table.
My generous seeding of lettuce last week cost me some time today. I had to thin the lettuce to one plant per insert cell, as some cells had six or eight seeds that germinated in them.
Our two trays of onions got another haircut and went to the sunroom, joining the geraniums, broccoli, cauliflower, and wandering jew plants that were already there. The petunias in hanging baskets that had been in the sunroom got moved to our dining room table by our bay windows. They'll begin spending warm days hanging from hooks around the back porch when the weather permits, coming back inside at night as needed.
Our second bunch of egg carton petunias are just getting going on our kitchen windowsill.
There actually is a bit of open space now under our plant lights and on our dining room table, but those areas will quickly be filled when we make our second planting of tomatoes and peppers and move some herbs from communal pots to fourpacks. We'll also be starting melons, squash, pumpkins, marigolds, and basil later this month.
With temperatures plunging outside today, it hardly feels like time to start anything. But the calendar says we're just six to eight weeks away from our target date for transplanting tomatoes and peppers. So I went ahead and started our Earlirouge tomatoes and Earliest Red Sweet peppers. I'm going to wait a few weeks before starting the rest of our tomato and pepper varieties. They'll be grown in our East Garden or in isolation plots in the field next to our property. Those areas of mostly clay soil don't dry down for tilling as quickly as do our raised beds.
We start all of our tomatoes and peppers from seed, growing our own transplants to save a bit of money, but more to have the varieties we like. There's absolutely nothing wrong, though, with buying transplants from a local garden center that stocks the varieties you like. Just be sure the plants look healthy and aren't too big.
I now start our tomato and pepper plants in something called deep inserts. Inserts are those plastic containers, usually with four to six cells each, that fit in a standard seed flat for producing all sorts of transplants. We switched to deep inserts over the cheaper, shallower ones a few years ago because they give our tomato and pepper plants more room to put on healthy roots, important for those times when transplanting gets delayed.
I fill the inserts with sterile potting mix. Since our mix contains a good bit of peat moss which doesn't readily absorb cold water, I water the soil before seeding with very warm water, letting the soil cool a good bit before seeding. Then I make a very shallow indentation in the soil in the center of each cell with my finger and drop in a seed. I cover the seed with an eighth to a quarter of an inch of milled sphagnum peat moss, as tomatoes and peppers germinate best in total darkness. Covering the seeds with potting mix would also work, but I had some peat moss I'd ground on hand. I usually add a few extra seeds at the corners of the cells, as we rarely get 100% germination from any seed.
Since blight took our Earlirouge tomatoes last season, I fell back to using seed saved in 2014 and 2015 for the planting. While our Earliest Red Sweet peppers did great last year, I used seed saved from last season and from 2015 for that planting.
The seeded inserts go to a relatively warm spot to germinate. For us, that's in a plant tray covered with a clear humidome over a soil heating mat. The thermostat for the heating mat is set at 80° F. The tray is under plant lights so that when the plants emerge, they'll immediately get some light.
One really doesn't need a soil heating mat. A warm area of the house, possibly near a forced air register, did the job for us for years. Covering the inserts, pots, or whatever the seed is planted in helps hold in soil moisture.
On occasion when starting seed of known poor germination rates, I'll seed a four inch pot with lots of seed, later transplanting what emerges into individual cells or pots. One time when I did this, it was with some tomato seed I'd had in the freezer and not grown out for twenty-five years. The seed germinated well, surprising me, but also making for some tricky transplanting later on. Note that I've had much younger tomato and pepper seed similarly stored turn out to be well and truly dead. (Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. )
We moved from a rather dry February to rain now leaving standing water on the ground here. We've received 1.36 inches of rain so far this month. It really seemed like more, as we had 30+ MPH winds driving the rain.
The extended weather forecast calls for more precipitation this weekend, only in the form of snow and/or freezing rain! Given my druthers, I'd opt for snow every time, as freezing rain can bring down power lines.
With things really squishy outside, I chose to transplant the dianthus I started in a communal pot in February to larger quarters. I transplanted sixteen of the small plants into fourpack inserts. Since I mixed commercial Carpet Snowfire and some saved Carpet seed in the planting, I have no idea whether we'll get plants with bicolored flowers (mostly from the commercial seed) or solid reds and pinks (from the seed I saved last year). Either way, I should have more than enough plants to replace the few dianthus we lost over the winter in the front flowerbed. Since dianthus is a biennial, we seem to have to replace about half of our plants each year. It's worth noting, though, that we've had dianthus plants bloom into their third season. And since these flowers are so easy to start and grow, I don't mind replacing a few each season.
The actual transplanting was just a matter of moving the plants from their communal pot to individual fourpack insert cells. I use a very old, very dull paring knife to lift the plants from their communal pot and tease them apart. Then I just poke a hole in the moistened soil in the insert cell and pop in the dianthus plant...often a tad deeper than it grew in the communal pot.
I noticed this afternoon that some of the lettuce I seeded on Sunday is already beginning to germinate.
I'm loving the warm winter we're having, but I also remember hard freezes and heavy snow in late March in years past. Since there's nothing I can do about the weather, I'll just keep cautiously plodding along, getting ready for another wonderful season of gardening.
When transplanting some geraniums yesterday, I was surprised at how big our trailing petunias have gotten. So today, I moved the petunias, three to a pot, to ten inch hanging basket pots. In a couple of weeks I'll attach the hanging wires to the pots and begin giving the plants some outdoor time hanging from our back porch. Hanging baskets are easy to bring back inside on frosty nights.
I also moved our next bunch of petunias off the soil heating mat, making room to start more plants there.
Since lettuce seed keeps well in the freezer, I always have a good selection of lettuce varieties to choose from. While some of our seed is getting pretty old, I seed heavy and then thin to what I need. We also economize by buying loose lettuce seed, rather than the more expensive pelletized seed (that doesn't keep as well).
For today's planting, I had to cheat a bit on sterilized potting mix. I filled several fourpack inserts with sterile mix, but had to fall back on some unsterilized Pro Mix. Pro Mix is generally considered to be a sterile mix, but our bale sat open outside last summer, so I've been playing it safe and either sterilizing it in the oven or pouring boiling water over it before seeding.
The iceberg lettuce I seeded today is sort of special. I used to get my Crispino seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds, but let a plant go to seed two years ago. While the germination rate of the saved seed is pretty poor, I have lots of the saved seed to use.
The Sun Devil seed is really, really old (2005). I like the variety that once was supposed to be PVP protected, but the patent application was dropped. But when I've tried to save Sun Devil seed, the plants always seem to rot instead of bolting and producing seed! I guess that may be part of the variety's heat resistant heritage.
The lettuce went into a tray covered with a clear humidome under our plant lights. I set the thermostat for the soil heating mat under the tray to just 71° F. Lettuce doesn't appreciate much bottom heat and will germinate at considerably cooler temperatures.
While I was seeding, I re-seeded our pot of rosemary that hadn't germinated. The rosemary in our raised herb bed doesn't appear to have survived the winter. Of course, the pots of thyme and oregano I seeded last month germinated well since our thyme and oregano in the raised bed are greening up nicely.
I also started a communal pot of Madame Butterfly snapdragons. I love to mix snaps in along our plantings of peas and vining cucumbers. Once the pea and cucumber vines are off the trellises, the snapdragons come on for a beautiful display of fall blooms.
So far, March has been predictably unpredictable. After weeks of warm weather in February, we're just coming off a cold snap that delayed several gardening jobs. But today started out clear and sunny with the temperature steadily climbing. Looking at our extended weather forecast, there seems to be no cause to delay any longer.
March 4 isn't the earliest we've planted peas here at our Senior Garden, but it's close. We start our tall, early peas as early as possible, well, because we can. There's always an itch to get started gardening outside each year, and planting our early peas seems to scratch that itch a bit without too much risk of a lost crop. The early start also means an early harvest in late May and early June.
The area for these peas was rototilled, limed, and fertilized last fall. It spent the winter under the cover of a grass clipping and leaf mulch, which I pulled back to reveal the pea row last Sunday.
I started the planting today by checking the soil pH of the row with our old electronic soil pH test meter. One end of the row was at an ideal 6.9, while the other end registered at 6.4, requiring just a touch of lime.
I used both a hoe and rake to open a six inch wide trench about two inches deep for the peas. Then I hoed in the lime, a touch of 12-12-12 fertilizer, and some granular soil inoculant.
With this early of a planting, I wet my seed and stirred it around in a slurry of Captan fungicide before sprinkling it liberally down the row. Note that I wore latex gloves while working with the captan treated seed.
Then I raked a inch or two of soil back over the pea seed. I used the rake to tamp the soil down in the row to ensure good seed to soil contact.
Depending on the weather, the pea seed should germinate in a week or two. Then it will be time to drive some T-posts and erect a double trellis around the pea row.
When I was done, I returned all of my gardening toys to our garage, as I probably won't be doing any more planting until we transplant our brassicas in early April.
Those brassicas, our broccoli and cauliflower transplants, got moved to our sunroom today. I also transplanted our geraniums from 3 to 4 1/2 inch pots and moved them to the sunroom. And...our two trays of onions got their second "haircut" today. They seem to be growing awfully fast.
Also indoors, we have a lovely, lavender gloxinia in bloom. Most of our gloxinias are now going through their required, annual period of dormancy. But several plants that hadn't bloomed last winter are finally putting on some buds.
Possibly a Helpful Link:
Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas - How we grow our peas
Even with its last blasts of winter, March is always a very busy gardening month for us. We'll be starting lots of transplants inside, shuffling them around warm, bright areas of our house when our large, lighted plant rack proves too small to hold all the transplants until we can start moving plants under a cold frame late this month.
If the relatively warm weather we've had continues, we'll almost certainly begin picking asparagus by the end of this month. The warm conditions will certainly have us mowing the lawn and field. And I hope to seed our early peas sometime in the next few days.
Our lettuce, tomato, pepper, and basil transplants will get seeded this month. That's especially exciting to me, as we have several new and new-to-us tomato varieties we're going to try this year.
I'll be watching soil moisture levels all month, looking for days when I can rototill our two narrow raised beds and our large East Garden plot. The improved soil in our narrow raised beds dries out pretty quickly, while the heavy clay soil in our East Garden takes some time to be dry enough to till without damaging the soil structure.
I also have a couple of building projects I hope to complete this month. Our rather new, PVC cold frame has proved to be a bit too portable, as the wind caught it several times last year and blew it fifty feet or so each time. I'll cut into the base and pour a bit of concrete ballast into the PVC to help keep the frame in place. I also have enough supplies on hand to construct a second PVC cold frame, hopefully improving on our original design.
Our woven wire tomato cages are in terrible shape, with the bottom wires having rusted and broken off. Those cages will get trimmed down for use as pepper cages. I'll gasp and pay the price for a new roll of concrete reinforcing wire (woven wire) to make a bunch of new tomato cages.
at Senior Gardening