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April 18, 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, April 18, 2014 - Good Friday

The Senior Garden - April 18, 2014

This morning's garden chore was removing the cutworm collars from our broccoli and cauliflower plants. In the ten days since I transplanted the brassicas, their stems should have firmed up enough to be unattractive to cutworms. And it's important to get the paper cup cutworm collars off the plants as soon as possible to promote better lateral root growth.

I had a bright, warm, sunny morning to do the job. In fact, it was so sunny that when I got done, I thought to check the current UV index. Weather Underground uses a sorta weird sixteen point scale, but it was 14.7 out of 16, so I cut my gardening off at that point.

Removing the cutworm collars gently is important, as one could undo any rooting the plants have already done by just yanking on the whole collar. (Yep, been there, done that!)

I use a quality pair of kitchen shears to cut down the sides of each cutworm collar. Then placing fingers on either side of the plant stem, I very gently pull half of the cup up and out of the ground. I then "V" my fingers around the plant stem and pull the other half cup.

Cutting the cup Pulling one side of cup
Firm soil around plant Watering plant

Raised bed of brassicasOnce the cup is removed, it's important to firm the soil around the plant, trying to close up the small slit left by the cup. Then I thoroughly water each plant with the same dilute fertilizer solution that I used at transplanting.

This is one of those jobs best done early or late in the day, as it can be as big a shock to your brassica plants as transplanting was.

I should add that after pulling the cutworm collars but before watering them, I took the opportunity to make a quick pass over the bed with my scuffle hoe. While there were only a few tiny weeds visible, scuffling the bed now will hold back most weeds until I can get it mulched with grass clippings. While I had the tool out, I also scuffled all the unplanted areas in our main raised bed and especially along the edges of our early pea planting.

Frost Damage

Severe frost damage under floating row cover
Minimal frost damage under hotcop

I mentioned Wednesday that I thought we'd gotten through our two nights of freezing temperatures "with little or no damage to our plants." It turned out that some of our geraniums did indeed get a bit burnt by the freeze. Interestingly, the worst frost damage was to the geraniums under a floating row cover, while the ones around our garlic bed that were covered with individual hotkaps only suffered minimal leaf loss.

We may end up having to replace one of the geraniums, but I knew it was a risk when I transplanted them. Since we have lots of geranium transplants this year, we should still have some outstandingly colorful corner plants for our raised beds.

Klein Kitchen Shears taken apartLet me add another plug here for the Klein Kitchen Shears I use. I got tired of cheap shears breaking a couple of years ago and bought two pairs of quality shears. They hold their edge and also come apart for thorough cleaning and drying. Although a lot more expensive than the cheapie scissors available at discount stores, these scissors last for years, possibly making them cheaper in the long run...unless you misplace them. That's how I got my second pair after burying the first pair in a junk drawer and thinking they were lost!

Our plants under our new cold frame came through the frosty night just fine. The petunias there are putting on quite a display of blooms. I really should pinch them back, as I'll want them to work on roots and growth when I transplant them. But it is nice to see something in bloom.

Plants under cold frame

Onions, Petra, and cold frameWhen I edited one shot of the cold frame, I noticed that I'd included Petra, one of our five dogs, in the shot along with a flat of onions now out of the cold frame. There's often a dog in our garden shots.

Petra...enjoying a dog's lifeAs to the onions, plants that can handle full sun and cool nighttime temperatures line the edge of our back porch. At the other end of the porch are flats of brassicas and onions. The brassicas left over from our main planting will eventually go into our large East Garden. The onions, well, I just didn't have the heart to pitch them yet. I may find room for them somewhere.

Petra is the dog my lovely wife drove many miles to adopt from a shelter. Petra was due to be euthanized, and a friend who works at the shelter prevailed on Annie to adopt the dog. With so many strays who have adopted us, we certainly didn't need another dog, but Petra is loving and great with the grandkids. She also is completely housetrained, as she does like to come inside on cold nights.

Funny thing...all of our strays seemed at least somewhat housetrained when they came to us. We had a few "five dog nights" during the coldest nights this winter. Why folks dump good dogs in the country is still beyond me.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back porch plants and cold frameCelebrate Easter with a smile & save 15% on flowers & gifts at 1800flowers.com. Use Promo Code ESTR15 at checkout. (Offer Ends 04/20/2014)I didn't get upstairs to the office to fire up my main computer until late this morning. I had been busy carrying trays and hanging basket plants back outside after our two nights of freezing temperatures. I also had to clear the hotkaps and floating row cover I'd used to protect plants already in our garden. The floating row cover is shown drying in the breeze.

We got through the chilly nights with little or no damage to our plants. Several of the tall geraniums looked a little scrunched from the hotkaps being pushed down over them.

And carrying two flats of herbs to the cold frame this morning proved to be a delight of aromas. While the cold frame is shown opened above, I closed it to the propped open position to protect the flats of herbs I'd added today. During the first day out in full sun and wind, transplants need a little protection as they acclimate to their new environment.

Pea blossom desktop photo

When I started my Mac Mini, I was greeted with an appropriate desktop photo from the rotation of files I've saved over the years. I'd just checked our peas out in the garden, finding no frost damage at all (as expected...peas are pretty hardy). The desktop photo was of pea vines in bloom.

Earliest Red Sweet peppers Pretty sky Trailing geranium blooms

While I worked at other things, the computer rotated through three more of my favorite desktops: a somewhat fuzzy shot of a couple of Earliest Red Sweet peppers; a blue sky with clouds; and some ivy leaf geranium blooms. I'm glad I recorded the trailing geranium, as neither the plant nor the cuttings I took from it survived! The pea and geranium photos are available for download from our Desktop Photos page.

I've fooled around long enough with this early posting for things to warm up a bit outside. I think I'll try transplanting onions and direct seeding carrots.

Later - Planting Onions and Carrots

Plot B Onions & CarrotsThe carrots are seeded and at least some of our onions have been transplanted. Both are crops that can go into the garden early, as a late frost really won't do them any harm.

I plant our onions and carrots together each year in an intensive planting. Usually, they go at one end or the other of our large raised bed or in a narrow raised bed. Because of crop rotations, they had to go in the middle of our large raised bed today.

I put in two double rows of onions with a double row of carrots in between. I allow just four inches between the doubled rows and a foot between each set of double rows, making a 36" wide bed that can be easily accessed from either side (using walking boards).

Once I've marked my planting rows with stakes and string, I spread a little 10-20-20 fertilizer between the carrot and onion rows and work it into the soil with a hoe. I then level the planting area for the carrots with a garden rake and use a 1" thick board to make very shallow (1/2 inch or less) planting rows for the carrots. I start with the carrots in the middle, so I don't have to worry about messing up the onions which will lie outside the carrot rows.

Marking the rows Seeding carrots Stakes pulled and done

Carrots should be seeded a half to an inch apart. With the tiny seed that sticks to ones fingers, it's tough to do that. So I do the best I can seeding them and then get to thin them a good bit when they come up. Before covering the carrot seed with soil, I also thinly seed radish seed in the row to help break the soil and mark the row until the carrots emerge. Jim Crockett in Crockett's Victory Garden suggests one can let the radishes grow and harvest them without injuring the carrots. I've found that I usually have to pull the radishes before they're mature to make room for the carrots. After seeding the radishes, I pinch the soil closed over the carrot and radish seed and pat it firm with my hand. Sometimes, I lay a walking board over the row to hold in soil moisture and hold back weeds. I didn't this year, as I used some freebie, heavy duty plastic row labels I was given at our local garden center as dividers between the carrot varieties.

I seeded about a foot each (double row, though, so it counts as two feet) of Baby Sweet, Sweet Baby Jane, Bolero, and Laguna. The first two are obviously baby carrot varieties for which new seed is no longer available. Bolero is a storage carrot we're trying this year. If this planting does well, I'll plant a lot more of them with our fall carrot crop. And I only planted a little of the Laguna, a very good variety for us, because I only had a little seed for it. I somehow missed ordering more last winter.

The bulk of the carrot rows were seeded to Mokum and Sugarsnax. Mokum is another variety that has done really well in our garden. Sugarsnax is a highly rated new-to-us variety.

And having mentioned a fall carrot crop, we never grew fall carrots until last year. Last spring, our dogs dug up half of our spring carrots and the rest were damaged by standing water. So we grew our first fall crop of carrots that did quite well.

Onions in holeWhen I move the planting strings to the first onion rows, I start at one end transplanting onion plants we've grown from seed two at a time. Keeping the plants in row and making sure I leave around 3-4" between plants is the hardest part of the planting for me. I dig a deep, wide hole, press the onion transplants into the wall of soil on one side, and pull soil up to them with my trowel, making the next planting hole. Every few plants, I go back and firm the soil around each onion plant.

For this transplanting of onions, I pretty much stayed with some favorite varieties: Pulsar; Milestone; Red Zeppelin; and Walla Walla. I did transplant a few Pattersons, a new hybrid storage onion we hope will replace the apparently discontinued Pulsar variety. Pulsar and Milestone are both excellent yellow storage onions. Red Zeppelin is the best storing red onion I've ever grown. And Walla Wallas are a dependable sweet onion. (Note: One seed vendor still has Pulsar seed. We just don't do business with them.)

I have a full flat of new-to-us onion varieties still to transplant, but need to decide just where to put them. I really overdid ordering and starting onions this year.

When I was done transplanting, I replaced our row marker stakes with flowers as row markers (great unless they die) and then watered the onions with a bit of dilute starter fertilizer. I'll begin watering the carrot rows with the hose tomorrow and every other day if we don't have rain until they emerge.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Senior Garden - April 15, 2014We got through the first of two predicted freezing nights with no damage. Our peas and garlic in the garden looked fine this afternoon. Our brassicas transplanted last week are still under a floating row cover, but I assume they're okay. The cover will come off tomorrow after what I hope will be our last frost/freeze.

When I propped our cold frame open this morning, the outer max-min thermometer registered a low of 32o F. The thermometer inside the cold frame recorded a low of 39o F, considerably increasing my confidence in the new cold frame. With a predicted overnight low of 28o F for tonight, we'll need all the protection we can get.

All of our hanging basket plants and trays of transplants that had been on the back porch remained on the dining room table today.

Flowers needing larger potsWith the cool weather outdoors, I transplanted some flowers that needed larger growing quarters. I've never grown daisies before and enjoyed moving the rather tall, sturdy plants to larger pots today. They're destined for the flowerbed along the east side of our house, as are some open pollinated dianthus I also transplanted. It was a good thing I'd started the saved dianthus seed, as one of our cats destroyed the pot of dianthus last week that I'd grown from commercial seed. That dianthus had the misfortune to be placed beside a pot of catnip the cat was after. Surprisingly, the catnip survived the assault! I also moved some rosemary, something I've had trouble getting started, to fourpacks.

Monday, April 14, 2014 - Getting Ready for a Late Frost

The Senior Garden - April 14, 2014Plants on dining room tableI had my outdoor chores done this morning by eleven. It wasn't because I was terribly industrious, but because the weather today is only going to get worse as the day wears on. While our freshly tilled main raised bed looks good, and our lawn is now a deep green after a mowing on Saturday and rain last night, our new raised bed is sporting a floating row cover to protect the broccoli, cauliflower, and geraniums under it from the frosts predicted for the next two nights. The brassicas would probably be okay through the frost without being covered, but the geraniums might not make it.

Our cold frame is closed and sealed for the day. All of our hanging basket plants and trays that lined our back porch are now on our dining room table. I hope we're ready now for the frost.

Asparagus drying in the sink

Daffodils
Daffodil

When I went outside this morning to work, it was around 64o F. In the three hours since then, the temperature has dropped 10 degrees.

One might wonder how I get away with regularly taking over our dining room table in the early spring. The easy answer is that I buy off my beautiful and incredibly tolerant wife with treats from the garden such as fresh asparagus. We got our first heavy picking this morning. I have it rinsed and drying in the kitchen sink.

And like many (most) gardeners with flowers, we're enjoying the few daffodils that grow along the east side of our house. Our dogs like to dig and lay in that flower bed, making growing much of anything there a challenge.

When I went outside to snap a couple of shots of the daffodils, I took some Hotkaps with me to cover the geraniums around our garlic and the one geranium a granddaughter put in a planter on our cistern cover.

Now I think we're ready for the frost.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wundermap - April 13, 2014 9:39pmThe Senior Garden - April 13, 2014After several great days for getting outside and getting things done, we have rain and a cold front on the way in tonight. A rookie Terre Haute TV weathercaster got my attention this evening by predicting an overnight low of 24o F for Tuesday night, which later got corrected to a more reasonable 28o F. Even our local (a few miles further south) forecast suggests a freeze of 30o F. While just a few degrees in difference, we can probably get by with leaving our transplants under the cold frame, where at 24o, we'd have to bring all of our transplants inside and cover our recently transplanted brassicas. As it is, we'll need to bring in all of our hanging basket planters from the back porch and put Hotkaps over the geraniums I somewhat foolishly transplanted last week.

Knowing we had rain on the way, I got our first round of mowing done on Saturday and Sunday. The grass in our yard was pretty thin, but the field next to us was fairly high. I raked part of the field after mowing, planning to use the fresh green clippings to help heat up our compost pile.

I also rototilled our large, main raised garden bed, getting it ready for transplanting onions and direct seeding carrots sometime this week.

Thinking about planting carrots last night, I checked our written and photo records to see when we've seeded our carrots in the past few years. The earliest we got them (and our onions) in was April 12 in 2010. The latest was May 12 in 2009, so I guess we're not in too bad of shape if I get them in this week.

While looking through photos of the main garden over the years, I pulled together a small collection of shots from approximately this time of year. The main shot that heads this page only became possible several years ago when repeated lightning strikes took out a magnificent, old, maple tree (and our afternoon shade) that partially obscured the view of our garden from our sunroom windows. The early photos were taken with some now primitive digital cameras, but also show what our garden plots looked like before we began putting in terraces and raised beds.

The Senior Garden - March 27, 2002 Rainy May 20, 2002 The Senior Garden 2003
March 27, 2002 Tree branches partially obscure view of garden The Senior Garden - 2003
Plots A, B, C, & D in 2005 Plot B - April 10, 2006 Plot B before and after terracing
Plots A, B, C, & D in 2005 Plot B in 2006 Plot B before and after terracing in 2008
Standing water in plot A - 2009 The Senior Garden - April 13, 2010 The Senior Garden - April 13, 2011
Standing water in plot A - 2009 April 13, 2010 April 13, 2011
The Senior Garden - April 14, 2014 The Senior Garden - April 13, 2013 The Senior Garden - April 13, 2014
April 14, 2012 April 13, 2013 April 13, 2014

Wow! It's almost midnight! I can just squeeze this posting in for Sunday, April 13, 2014.

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Friday, April 11, 2014 - Double Trellis for Tall Peas

Double Pea TrellisPeas between trellisesWe've had problems with our tall, early peas getting blown off their trellis just about the time the pea pods begin to fill out. When blown off the trellis, the vines bend, cutting off water and nutrient flow to the vine, pretty well ending their growing season. Part of this problem is that we plant our peas in wide rows (around 8-12" wide) and not all the pea vines reach the trellis. But the strong winds that sweep across the open field next to our main garden seem to be the chief culprit.

The easy solution for our wind problem would be to grow our tall peas in a less windy, more protected area. Unfortunately, our large East Garden, which is somewhat protected from the wind by our house, garage, and some bushes, is at best marginal soil. Peas do best in rich, well drained soil (What veggie doesn't?).

This year I'm trying a double trellis, one on each side of our wide row of peas. Hopefully, the peas that only anchor to other pea vines will still be supported enough that they won't blow over inside the double trellis. Of course, the double trellis will make picking peas inside the trellises difficult, but that's better than having our growing season for the delicious vegetable cut short by vine damage.

The trellises I put up today are just twelve feet long. I reserved space at either end of the pea row for caged tomato plants. Last year, I tried anchoring our tomato cages to the T-posts of our trellises to keep the tomato cages from blowing over when they get top heavy with fruit and vines. That worked out quite well. I put the cages in place today just to make sure I left enough room for them. The tomato plants won't get transplanted until May 1 or later.

I use seven foot T-postsicon, plastic coated steel clothesline wire, and Dalen Garden Trellis Netting for our five foot high trellises. While all can be saved and reused season after season, I used new trellis netting today because all of our old, saved netting was in pretty bad shape. When the peas are done and cleared off the trellis, I'll tighten its wires and transplant Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers to vine on the trellis.

A Little Cautious

Wunderground 10-day forecastWe're having some wonderfully warm days now, but I'm being a bit cautious about transplanting any tender plants into our garden. Well, I did risk some geraniums, but we have lots of geranium plants on hand this year. But the Weather Underground 10-day forecast has one cold morning in it that keeps me from going ahead and transplanting more into the garden right now.

Asparagus!

Location of asparagus patchesOur asparagus patches have finally awakened from their winter rest and are producing edible shoots. I've been eagerly watching the two patches for several weeks for signs of life, but saw nothing until Tuesday. Then I spied a thin, but fairly tall shoot in the corner of our raised asparagus bed. It was from a plant I'd moved to fill in the bare corner of the patch a couple of years ago. Upon further inspection, I saw the fat tips of a good bit more asparagus sticking up a quarter to a half inch in not only our raised bed but also in what we call Bonnie's Asparagus Patch.

We started our asparagus from seed, transplanting the first of it in 2006. An incredibly dry summer in 2007 slowed the maturing of our asparagus roots. Then I got the wild idea that I wanted to enclose the patch into a raised bed in 2009. Asparagus roots spread quite a ways, and I ended up seriously damaging ours, delaying our first light pickings of asparagus until 2010. That's a long time to wait for asparagus. And having now started two different asparagus patches from seed over the years, next time I'll just buy roots!

Asparagus 2014!Bonnie's Asparagus Patch is named for the landowner of the farm ground around our property, Bonnie Huff. She used to come in once or twice each spring and pick asparagus from her patch. We've always had a good relationship with Bonnie, keeping an eye on her barn, pond, and property for her and keeping parts of it mowed. In return, she's been generous in allowing us to use the barn and pond pretty much as our own.

Her asparagus patch was originally part of some ground the farm renter kept mowed. The asparagus usually got mowed down once or twice each summer and had no fertilizer or manure applied to it. We took over mowing that area a few years ago when Bonnie suggested we make use of the asparagus patch. To my amazement, with just a little fertilizer, weeding, and, well, a whole lot of compost, the patch has become a major producer after almost twenty years of neglect.

While I'd picked a spear or two of asparagus through the week, I picked enough today that we may be able to have some for supper tonight or lunch tomorrow. The first asparagus of the year is always a treat. By the end of May, we actually get sorta sick of it...and then find ourselves wishing we had more by July.

Mowing

Along with all the joy of working in the garden the return of spring brings, it also signals the beginning of another season of mowing. I had the John Deere truck out a week ago to do our annual mower service, so we should be ready to go. Some of our grass is ready to be mowed any day now.

The top brands are at Tractor Supply

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - Transplanting Brassicas

Starting to transplant broccoliTransplanting cauliflowerI transplanted a row each of broccoli and cauliflower into one of our narrow raised beds this morning. The ground around the newly constructed bed was sticky mud, so I had to bring in my "walking boards" to get to the bed. The walking boards are usually used for walking inside our large, main raised bed to prevent soil compaction.

The damp soil in the bed was ready for planting, as I'd raked it out a few days ago before our days of rain started. I'd also checked the soil pH and found it to be an ideal 6.8 for brassicas.

I worked a little 12-12-12 solid fertilizer and lime into each plant hole I dug before watering the hole with a very dilute solution of Quick Start and Maxicrop fertilizers. The extra lime is to help fend off clubroot. Once the water soaked in a bit, I back filled most of the hole, plopped a cut off coffee cup/cutworm collar in the hole and placed the transplant in the cup. Then I firmed the ground around the cutworm collar, leaving its lip about an inch or so above the surrounding soil surface which provides a barrier the cutworms can't climb. I also pushed soil into the cup around the transplant before watering it just a bit more.

I spaced the plants eighteen inches apart in the row with nineteen inches between rows. By staggering the rows, the plants should have plenty of growing room.

Brassica plot diagram

Once done with the brassicas, I transplanted a Maverick Red geranium at each corner of the bed. While the brassicas should be able to weather a frost, the geraniums are a bit of a gamble.

I've been saving my used waxed paper coffee cups all winter in anticipation of using them as cutworm collars. While our new bed didn't seem to have any cutworms in it when I built the bed and worked to soil, we've had some real disasters in the past with cutworm damage.

We purposely have lots of transplants left. They will serve as replacements in case what I planted today doesn't take. Once I'm sure we have a good stand of brassicas in the raised bed, the extra transplants will go into our large East Garden plot. The soil there isn't nearly as rich as in our main garden, but using the extra transplants there does produce a little more broccoli and cauliflower for us.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Plants in cold frameKatherine and geraniumOur overnight low last night was 32o F, but our max-min thermometer under the cold frame reported a low of 38o F. Obviously, our transplants didn't suffer any frost/freeze damage. Our hanging basket plants were all still on our dining room table, so they were okay as well. I moved them back to their hooks on the back porch this morning.

Other than raking out the new raised bed and turning part of our compost pile, I really didn't do much gardening today. The truckload of compost I bought last week was composted leaves and had a lot of foreign material in it (wires, pieces of plastic and styrofoam, rocks, etc.). Other than the junk in it, the compost looks to be pretty good stuff. And our overwintered compost pile won't be ready until mid- to late summer.

To make up for my lack of diligence in gardening, granddaughter Katherine and I, mostly Katherine, transplanted a huge Maverick Red geranium into the planter that sits on our old cistern cover. I'll probably have to cover that plant with something several more nights this month to protect it from frost. But Kat enjoyed getting her hands dirty and putting a plant in the soil.

Transplanting the geranium into the planter reminded me that I still had a flat of geraniums in fourpacks and three inch pots that needed to be moved to larger pots. So Katherine and I worked on the back porch and transplanted twenty-three geraniums to four and a half inch pots.

Geraniums to uppot

Your Annual Nag about UV Exposure

Once or twice a year, I feel compelled to nag my readers to protect themselves from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. I'm acutely aware of the dangers of sun exposure, as I've had quite a few skin cancers removed over the last twelve years and regularly have to use a rather expensive fluorouracil cream product on potential cancers. Being fair skinned, having gotten several severe sunburns during my childhood, and then riding a tractor for eight years with a thin T-shirt on when I was farming, I'm probably experiencing just what I deserve.

Beyond getting appropriate medical care, protecting oneself from UV radiation while still being able to do the outdoor things we love is a major concern. The CDC notes that the hours between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. (Daylight Saving Time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors, with UV rays being greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America. Heavy clouds do filter out some UV, but not as much as you'd think.

The Weather Channel UV 10-Day ForecastSo the trick for we senior gardeners prone to actinic keratoses and/or skin cancers is to find ways to garden without exposing ourselves to too much UV radiation. Keeping in mind the CDC recommendations and checking UV scales often posted on weather sites can guide one on when it is safest to work outside. But not all jobs can be done in the early or late hours of the day. For me, mowing is one of those jobs where I have to be out in the sun at peak UV hours.

Steve's sun gearI've come to rely on sun protective clothing, and, to a lesser extent, sunscreenicon for protection from the sun when working outside, even in low UV hours. Even in the early spring, I start wearing one of several sun protective bucket hats when I'm outside, even when going shopping! Since we live in a windy area, I appreciate the chin strap to keep me from having to chase my hat across the yard. My "sun gear" hangs just inside the back door to remind me to put it on.

When I get into serious gardening in warm weather, I generally wear a T-shirt with a sun protective shirt over it along with a hat. And since I've had cancers on and in my hands, I wear gloves almost all the time when working outside.

At one time, Coolibar was the only show in town for sun protective garments. With more emphasis on skin cancer in recent years, other entities such as Columbia have entered the market. Hopefully, such competition will eventually reduce the prices on sun protective gear which until recently has been quite expensive.

Here are some related links about UV radiation and protective clothing:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Senior Garden - April 5, 2014Peas upWe have what looks to be a beautiful spring weekend. Temperatures are predicted to be in the mid- to upper 50s with winds mostly under 10 MPH. Overnight lows will remain close to, but not quite freezing. In other words, we're getting into some good gardening weather.

The row of peas I seeded at one end of our main raised garden bed on March 12 are up about a half inch. They'll need to fill in a bit more before I put up a trellis for them to climb. I also need to push in a few more Champion of England seeds, as I found a packet of them I'd missed in March.

With clear skies this morning, I fully opened our cold frame to finish hardening off our brassica transplants. By noon, I had to close the frame to its propped open position, as a flat of lettuce I had moved to the cold frame yesterday was already showing some stress from the full sun.

Starting Melons

Seeding melonsMelon seed on soil heating padI started a tray of cantaloupe and watermelon today. Since I cut down the number of rows we have for melons in the East Garden this year, I had to do some serious picking and choosing of which varieties to seed. Although we've successfully trialed several new-to-us, good varieties the last several years, I ended up seeding mostly tried and true favorites we've grown for years.

I start our melons in 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots so that I don't have to move them to larger pots before transplanting. If I could fit them in the tray and under the humidome, I'd use even larger pots! I lightly cover three or four seeds per pot with sterile potting mix. I'll go back and thin the pots where necessary to just two plants per pot.

The flat of seeded pots is covered with a clear humidome and rests on a thermostatically controlled soil heating mat. While the image at right shows a temperature of 74.6o F, that's only because I just turned the heat mat on. The thermostat is set at 80o F, and actually could go as high as 85o F, as seedless watermelons take a lot of bottom heat to germinate well.

For cantaloupe, I started two pots of Sugar Cube, a wonderful personal sized melon that we really like. I started one pot each of Athena, Avatar, and Roadside Hybrid. For watermelon, I seeded two pots of Crimson Sweet, a standard that serves as a pollinator for our triploid (seedless) varieties and also produces great melons. I also started a pot of Moon & Stars, an old favorite that can produce huge, tasty melons, although they're pretty seedy. Moon & Stars also serves as a pollinator. Our triploid varieties started are Trillion and Farmers Wonderful. Both produce melons similar, although a bit smaller, to Crimson Sweet with only small, immature seeds.

East Garden - 2012Left out of today's planting were some very good varieties that I just won't have space to grow this year. Both Ali Baba and Picnic watermelons have been good producers for us in the past. Sarah's Choice fell prey to a second pot of Sugar Cubes in our cantaloupe seeding. And I finally gave up on growing good Kleckley's Sweet watermelons again. We haven't had a good crop of the thin rinded melons for years, partly because they seem to be area raccoons' absolute favorite.

I allotted less space to melons this year for several reasons. I found last year that we needed to allow more space between our melon rows. During the drought of 2012, we couldn't water the melons we had planted enough (225 foot row), and had to pick and choose which vines would get watered and survive. And our new rotation plan for our East Garden dictates less space for melons (80 foot row) unless we want to give up space for sweet corn and potatoes.

Later in the day, I had just enough sterile potting mix left to fill five pots, so I started some Boule d'Or, Passport, and Tam Dew honeydew melons and Saffronicon and Slick Pik yellow squash.

Curcurbits still to be started include butternut squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. All for one reason or another need to be started a bit later.

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Friday, April 4, 2014 - April Showers Bring...

The Senior Garden - April 4, 2014

Precipitation (Inches)1
  2014 2013 2012 2011 Ave.2
Jan. 2.51 6.33 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 2.05 2.24 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.66 2.28 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 6.00 8.75 3.80 11.51 3.61
Totals3 12.22 19.60 9.62 18.42 11.94
1Data from Kinmerom2 and MSULI3 weather stations, and our own rain gauge during non-freezing weather
2 Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
3 current for 2014, through complete months, 2011-2013 and average

April showers may bring May flowers, but they also produce a lot of standing water and flooding problems for folks living, gardening, or farming in low lying areas. We're on high ground, but still have a good bit of standing water from the approximate six inches of rain that has fallen already this month.

Weather conditions such as we're having aren't all that unusual for this time of year in this area. We needed the rain, but getting so much at once will set back some of our gardening plans. Fortunately, we'll be able to work from the edges of our raised beds as soon as the rain stops and the cold front following the rain passes through.

Cat Attack

Cat damageAt one point last night, the weather forecast predicted an overnight low of 32o F for tonight. That change in forecast quickly had me hunting for clean trays to set on our dining room table to hold our hanging basket plants that would have to come inside overnight. But when I got to the plant room, I found that one or more of our indoor cats had been up to evil deeds.

CatnipI'd been transplanting flowers yesterday from the communal pots they were started in to a flat filled with small inserts. Tiring of the task, I cleaned up the mess I'd made in the kitchen and placed the flat of communal pots still needing transplanting on an open shelf at the bottom of our plant rack. What I hadn't considered was that the flat contained a small pot of catnip I'd started just for the fun of it.

I found the pot of catnip halfway across the plant room floor in rather sad shape, but I think some of the plants may recover. The cat(s) totally destroyed a pot of dianthus plants grown from expensive commercial seed. Since I have other dianthus grown from our own saved seed and was dumb enough to leave catnip where the cats could get to it, I couldn't get too mad about the whole affair.

Flat of impatiens and snapdragonsIf the catnip plants survive, they'll be transplanted somewhere in the yard...far, far away from any of our valuable flowers and vegetables.

The flat of impatiens and snapdragons transplanted yesterday had gone to a higher shelf and didn't suffer any damage.

As I wind up writing this Friday morning posting, the rain has finally stopped. It's been replaced by steady winds of 40-50 MPH! It's spring "hold onto your hat" weather!

Burpee Gardening

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Yard sloping down from main raised bedThe Senior Garden - April 2, 2014With a predicted three day rainy period upon us, outside work is now on hold. We really need the rain, though.

With the addition of one more raised garden bed, I thought I might relate here what got us into using raised beds. While I'd always envied the raised beds shown and used on the old Victory Garden TV show, our first raised bed got started as a terrace to prevent soil erosion. The image at right shows how our back yard slopes steeply down from our current main raised bed. After terracing two sides of the bed in 2008, I went ahead and enclosed the bed in 2009, making a rather large, 16' x 24' raised bed.

Since that time, I've added three much more sensible narrow raised beds, the last two measuring 4' x16' on the outside with approximately 3' x 15' of usable space inside. Our first narrow raised bed was a bit wider, as I was building it around an established asparagus bed.

Raised beds have the advantage of drying out more quickly in the spring than surrounding ground. They can be worked from the edges in almost any weather, possibly the biggest reason for me to build the raised beds. Keeping the garden soil contained is also an advantage for us, as our precious topsoil used to run down the yard in heavy rains before I terraced our main garden bed.

Raised beds carry some significant disadvantages as well. The way I build them, they're quite expensive. Timbers, rebar (for anchoring the timbers), peat moss and compost for the latest raised bed came close to $200! During extreme dry spells, even with lots of organic matter added to the soil, they can become very dry, requiring lots of irrigation (which our deep well won't support from July through September). Getting a rototiller into the two, newer raised beds requires a couple of wood blocks for the tiller to climb. But one doesn't have to do a lot of tilling in these beds.

2010 Narrow Raised Bed 2014 Narrow Raised Bed

Our two newest narrow raised beds are a joy to work. Each has had lots of peat moss and compost added to the native soil. And simply by being a raised structure, weeds seem more obvious in them and get pulled with greater regularity than in our traditional garden plots.

The bed on the near right with garlic tips showing was constructed in 2010. The one at right just constructed this week has the same dimensions as the 2010 bed, but was far easier to build since I'd done it before. However, in just four short years, I find that I have far more sore muscles from the experience of heaving around 85 pound landscape timbers than I remember having previously.

From the photo below, one might think I'm done constructing raised beds on our property, but I have one more to go. When I save up enough pennies to afford red cedar landscape timbers (which cost almost triple standard, treated landscape timbers), I plan to enclose three sides around our shallow well with a raised herb bed. I decided on cedar timbers because they would be around a water source. While the current, pressure treated timbers no longer contain any arsenic, I'm a bit shy about using chemically treated wood around a water source, even a backup source such as our shallow well.

Raised beds

Peas upPlants under cold frameIn more normal gardening stuff, the rain last night along with some irregular watering I did has popped up some peas. You do have to look carefully to see the few pea leaves that have broken the surface of the soil. In a few days, the row should fill with peas and I'll need to put up a trellis for the tall pea varieties to climb.

And as I write, I can hear the sound of rain outside. I purposely left our cold frame fully open this morning to allow the plants under it to experience their first rainfall, part of the hardening off process. I'll need to partially close the cold frame soon so that the rain doesn't beat down the tender young transplants.

The tray of sad looking onions on the left are the ones I started in early December as a germination test of sorts. They've suffered from being in the tray too long. And then when I first carried the tray out to the cold frame, I dropped the tray! Considering everything, the onions are really doing pretty well.

If you can't tell, the rain, warm weather, and raised bed building has given me gardening fever. I'm eager to get started!

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Laying base of raised bed

Full load of compost
Layering peat moss and compost

I usually try to start each month with a posting previewing what I hope will occur during the month. But this time around, I've simply been too busy to write, or possibly too sore to write until this evening.

Blessed with a couple of beautiful spring days, I decided to add another narrow raised bed in a spot we've gardened for years. I'd planned to plant broccoli and cauliflower in the area, but also remembered our standing water problems there last spring. So I bought a truckload of very heavy landscape timbers and got to work.

I spent most of Monday leveling ground and getting the base layer of timbers anchored. Since these were 6" x 6" x 8' timbers, that was most of the heavy work. Today, I laid the second layer of timbers using 4" x 6" x 8' lumber. Since I didn't do anything different from what I describe in our feature story, Building a Raised Garden Bed, I won't repeat the details again here.

Once I had the bed framed, I added a couple of bales of peat moss and a whole lot of compost to fill it nearly to the top. Part of the truckload of compost went to raise the soil level in our main raised garden bed, with the rest used to fill holes in the yard.

Weather Channel 10-Day ForecastI built and filled the new raised bed in a bit of a rush, as I knew we had rain in the forecast. As it turned out, it's raining as I'm writing this posting (at around 9:30 pm). But beyond the rain, which we really need, our 10-day gardening forecast from The Weather Channel looks pretty good temperature wise for getting started gardening. We still have a few mornings predicted that flirt with the freezing point, but it really is beginning to look and feel like spring.

With any luck, I may be able to begin transplanting broccoli and cauliflower into the new bed early next week. Since I fall tilled our large East Garden, I may be able to transplant leftover brassica transplants there soon, too.

Raised Beds

Possibly a whole lot cheaper and easier than what I did!

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