Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

The idea for Senior Gardening came about from frequent postings I made about our garden on another web site I maintain. The idea was to create a place where folks could share garden lore via blogs and forums. While I'm still struggling a bit with the software that will eventually make that possible on, I thought I'd at least put up a record of our 2008 garden in part from those postings, loosely edited, from the other site.

August 7, 2008 - A Busy Time

JLP CucumberI guess every time of year could be called a busy time. Of course, there's always time for things you place a priority on. One of those things for me this week was keeping our single cucumber plant picked! It's not just any cucumber plant, but an old canning (and fresh eating, too, I guess) variety called Japanese Long Pickling. I thought I had a good supply of viable seed of the variety, but only one seed germinated this year, so I'm really babying the plant to produce seed to save for future plantings. The variety had disappeared from all of the seed catalogs I get, but I did find one vendor this year who is carrying it. Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are an open pollinated, vining variety that produce a long (16-20") thin fruit that is ideal for bread and butter and sliced dill pickles.

The Japanese Long Pickling variety of cucumbers produces abundant crops of long, thin and often straight fruit when trellised. The fruit easily grow to 16-20" long while remaining thin and tender enough for slicing for pickles or table use.

There's a story on another page here on Senior Gardening with my Japanese Long Pickling cucumber story.

Japanese Long Pickling

August 13, 2008 - Succession

Green BeansEven though our plantings of green beans didn't germinate well this year, we're beginning to have some pickable beans at last. Usually by this time of year we've canned quarts and quarts of beans. But this year, we'll probably only have enough for some steamed vegetables from time to time.

Green PeppersWe have great green peppers and onions this year that go great in those steamed or grilled vegetables. I planted a mix of green, yellow, and red peppers, but we really haven't had any turn color this year. I guess we pick and eat them up a bit too soon before the yellow and red ones fully ripen!

Our sweet onions, Walla Walla's, are about all gone, other than the ones I chopped and froze. They just don't keep very well, but we love the flavor of them, so I grow a row or two each year.

Our first harvest of storage onions, this year Pulsar and Milestone, have dried on the porch, been sorted and bagged, and have gone to a cool, dark room in the basement. We have a second planting of them just getting going. I don't really know if they'll beat the frost or not. If they mature in time, they should store well into the winter for us.

Onions drying

LettuceOh, yeah, I titled this section succession. Succession in the garden is one of those things I really have trouble doing. I get busy (and lazy) taking care of things outside and forget to get plants started inside for fall harvest. This year I was late again, but was gratified this morning to see that some of our lettuce had germinated.

I also started some cauliflower and broccoli, although I've not had much luck with fall plantings of either. Maybe starting the plants under the lights in our cool basement will help this time around.

It was also time to start my all time favorite pot plant, gloxinias. I started one pot of saved seed that my students had produced by hand pollinating the gloxinia plants in our science classroom years ago. I also started a pot some commercial seed of the Empress variety.

I was really happy to see that there is finally a US supplier for the Double Brocade variety of gloxinias again, Pase Seeds. It's my favorite variety of gloxinia to grow under plant lights, but Park Seed quit carrying the variety several years ago.

Gloxinias Gloxinias
Double Brocade and Empress gloxinias in my science classroom (in 1996 or so!).
Gloxinias growing under plant lights (from a couple of winter's ago).

Getting back to succession in the garden, I find it a bit sad when I clear garden sections, renovate the soil, and then begin replanting.

June August
Our intensive garden section in June with onions, beets, carrots, and more onions. And of course, we frequently use flowers as row markers! The same bed after the first harvest and renovation now has a planting of spinach (watered area at top) and room for lettuce when the plants are ready. I also moved our compost heap into this area, as it will be spread over it when it's done "cooking."

While the garden takes a good bit of time, it's a satisfying feeling to look out the office window and see the garden and the cornfield next door.

Aerial Garden View

Thermal Shock for Tomatoes!

Grape tomatoesI really didn't think much about the heat a week or so ago when I was picking some grape tomatoes. I was careful to pitch any split fruit into the cornfield next door as I picked. I brought the tomatoes inside and filled the picking container with cold water to rinse off the fruit. Then I dumped them into a strainer, but noticed many of the fruit were cracked along their longitudinal axis.

With one of those "Ah hah" smacks to the head, I realized that the fruit was quite warm coming in from the garden and the cold rinse water had thermal shocked it, just like glass will do. Since then I've been careful to let the grape tomatoes sit a bit and cool off before rinsing them. Doing so has reduced split fruit to almost zero.

And if you were wondering, yes, the green beans, sugar snap peas, peppers, onions, and carrots from the garden are in the steamer right now, along with some yellow squash and mushrooms from the grocery.

Steamed Veggies

August 20, 2008 - A Very Busy Time (for some...)

School is starting around the country, so even though I do substitute teach a day here and there, I'm pretty happy to be retired and have time to putter around our garden (and write about it here). Even so, I've been busy.

Staymen Winesap Apple

Apple TreesWe have a really nice standard winesap apple tree that produces great amounts of fruit when it's kept sprayed properly. I've done better this year with the spray, but we still have a lot of fruit that shows insect damage. We'll keep the best apples for fresh eating, but will have far more with a bad spot or two that can be cleaned up for applesauce.

The winesap came labeled as a semi-dwarf apple tree. It apparently grew right through its grafts and you can see that I really was brutal pruning it down in height this year. To its right is our third dwarf Granny Smith apple tree. Our first got cut off by a piece of farm equipment. Our second produced fruit its first year...and then languished for three more years before dying. I picked all the blooms off of the new tree this year, but it's still making slow growth.

Lush Asparagus

Our asparagus obviously has responded well to its manuring and mulch. I can't wait until next spring when we'll take our first pickings.

Sugar Snap PeasGrape TomatoesTwo crops that are hard to get to the house without eating are our sugar snap peas and grape tomatoes. Both are tremendously productive and taste great right off the vine. Two years ago we grew two grape tomato plants and found that was one too many. Once they start producing, there's enough fruit for the table, friends, and family!

I guess I'm just bragging, but maybe I can get away with saying I'm thankful for the time and the bountiful harvest this year.

Our extra garden area in the field next to us is showing good fruit. Now, it's a race to see if there's enough rain and growing season left to ripen the fruit and if we beat the squash vine borers. A friend last week wrote that her zucchini had all wilted overnight. She wondered what had caused it.

My guess would be the squash vine borer, which can devastate a plant rather quickly, got her zucchini. Crop rotation helps ward off the pest, but the only sure way is lots of toxic sprays. Having said that, I'm not sprayed our vine crops yet, but watch carefully for the telltale sign of sawdust-like shavings around the stems of the plants. Of course, when you see the shavings, you're already in trouble and need to slit the stem from the hole where the shavings are towards the base of the plant until you find the borer. Removing it and burying the slit stem may save the plant.

The best description I've seen for organic control of the pest is on Tom Clothier's Garden Walk and Talk site, Squash Vine Borer Control.

Watermelon Butternut Squash Canteloupe
Watermelon Butternut squash Cantaloupe

August 21, 2008 - A Few Words About Vining Crops

While our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers on are a trellis in the main garden, crops such as melons and squash can easily take over a garden without careful training of the vines and some occasional pruning. Pruning also leaves open wounds in the vines that allow easy entry for insects and disease, so it's best to just stick with the training, or, if you're lucky, pick a large area for these items.

Vining Crops

Since the farmer who rents the ground around us decided to leave the small field east of us fallow last year and this year, he was kind enough to let us have use of part of it for our vining crops. Originally, I'd planned to plant it to sweet corn, but didn't get it in soon enough. I'd also been cautioned by the farmer that the ground was pretty burnt up.

Since I'd mowed a section of the field, I decided to put it to melons and such. I just tilled a strip about five feet wide and added copious amounts of lime and fertilizer. Since I hadn't grown any transplants for such crops, I made a quick trip to our garden store and picked up a peat pot of watermelon, two of cantaloupe, and a butternut squash. Each large peat pot had about three plants in it. I added a bit more lime and triple 12 fertilizer in a large hole I dug for each plant, poured in a five gallon bucket of water with some starter liquid fertilizer, and set the plants in. I immediately added some dried grass clippings around each plant.

Each time I mowed I'd enlarge the area of grass clippings to hold down weeds. I also cheated a bit and sprayed some of the surrounding area with Roundup, but nipped the butternut with the spray! It survived, but I lost a couple of the butternut vines.

Once the plants became established, it's been a race to keep the mowed area mulched with grass clippings to stay ahead of the ever expanding vines. I left about ten feet between each of the plants, but you can see that they've easily filled the area and are now overlapping.

All of this tender, loving care for this plot may seem a bit excessive, but I plan to use the area next year for sweet corn (if they let it lie fallow again).

August 22, 2008 - A Rainy Day

We are finally getting some much needed rain on the senior garden today. I hurried out onto our porches early this morning to take down some of our hanging plants that are sheltered from the rain and set them on the steps to soak up the precious water.

Baby GloxiniasSince working in the garden was out of the question, I got busy starting some more gloxinia plants, as my Double Brocade Mix seed order finally came in. The ones I started last week are just barely visible now in their pots.

Gloxinias are related to african violets and are just as easy to grow. I've started my gloxinias for years in the old bottoms of soft drink bottles. Bottlers don't use the reinforcing bottoms anymore, but I've saved several just for this purpose. I use sterilized potting soil with a dusting of peat moss across the top of the "pot." Before seeding, I set the pot in a dish and add very hot water and let the soil soak it up.

Gloxinia seedGloxinia potGloxinia seed is dustlike. The hardest part of seeding them is to try to distribute them evenly across the pot.

It will be a seven months or longer before the plants flower, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Below is a collection of gloxinias that I took into my classroom (in 1996!).



Germination testI did a quick germination test on the seed from the first few JLP cucumbers I'd harvested and saved seed from. I'd actually forgotten about the germination test, but was thrilled today to see that I had viable seed. To do the test, I just counted out ten seeds onto a paper towel. I folded the paper towel over the seeds, wet it, and put it in a zip lock freezer bag. Then I set it in a warm space and forgot about it for a week. The warm space was on top of a shoplight, so the seeds picked up some reflected light and show some good green on the shoots. From what I could count, I got eight out of ten seeds to germinate. I'll gladly take 80% germination, especially when this spring I thought I'd lost the variety!

August 27, 2008 - Tomatoes

We had BLTs for supper last night, our first with real tomatoes from the garden. I really think my wife and I could have gotten by with BLTs, holding the bacon and lettuce. There's nothing quite like fresh tomatoes from the garden.

Conestoga & Bellla RosaWith just four caged main season tomato plants this year, I wondered if we might want for tomatoes. Boy, was I wrong. We planted what germinated under lights for us, and that was the Conestoga and Bella Rosa varieties. Conestoga is listed as a novelty variety by Stokes Seeds. It produces lots of large, lobed fruit with excellent flavor. Bella Rosa is actually a determinate variety, but I caged our plants anyway, as caged plants produce cleaner fruit with less ground rot for us. The Bella Rosa plants produce large round fruit in good quantity.

We usually plant some determinate varieties (Rutgers, Moira) as bedding tomatoes and have some Better Boy or similar varieties caged. I had germination problems this year with some old seed I thought I'd kept frozen properly, so we ended up going with what we had plus one purchased Better Boy plant that is caged in our melon area in a separate garden section.

Tomato Cages

tomato cageI've messed over the years with lots of ways of staking and caging tomatoes. Staking and tying the vines up to the stake is a real pain for me, so I've gone to cages exclusively. The most common tomato cages sold are the short V-shaped ones that probably are fine for determinate plants, but totally inadequate for indeterminates.

Years ago, I came across something about using concrete reinforcing wire to make large, tall tomato cages. Once I tried it, I never went back to any other way of caging my tomatoes. The wire usually comes in either 25 or 50 foot rolls, and for most gardeners, the 25' roll will make enough cages. If you shop for this item, be sure to get it with 6"x6" openings so that you can reach through to harvest your fruit.

I'm on my third set of cages made from the wire (called welded wire in some stores), as they do rust. This time around, I also picked up a few cans of rustoleum paint and painted the cages green when I was putting them together. It does seem to make them last a bit longer, although the welds eventually break.

The cages are tall enough to support indeterminate varieties, although from the photos below you can see that the plants eventually swallow up the cages and have to be pruned a bit.

Tomato Cages Tomato Cages

icon iconWhen I have the time (and enough money for a roll of the wire), I hope to do a feature on how to build these cages. For now I'd refer you to a couple of good links I found online.

The drawbacks to cages made from concrete reinforcing wire are that they take up a lot of room to store over the winter, and they do rust out after several seasons. I can't help you with the storage issue, but a bit of Rust-Oleum will prolong the life of homemade cages. If storage space is a problem or you're not into building cages, I've seen several vendors offering foldable, tall, square tomato cagesicon.

July, 2008

From the at Senior Gardening


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