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. 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.

November 7, 2008

Fall is definitely here, so it's time to begin preparations for next year's garden while still finishing up some things from this year. Of course, it's also a great time just to stop and appreciate the fall colors. Our "neighbor" who owns the farmground around us keeps an asparagus patch just behind our yard. The golden asparagus, green grass, brown corn stalks, and multi-colored trees in the distance are a feast for the eyes.

Fall colors

Compost pileOf course, just a few yards to the foreground of the photo above is my sometimes stinky garbage heap, otherwise known as my compost pile. I had so much organic matter to add to the pile, I had to move it to the center of my raised garden bed. Bruised apples that wouldn't store, immature fruit caught in the frosts, all the vines from the melon patch, and lots and lots of nasturtium plants swelled the pile to three and a half feet tall.

I chopped some of the heavier material as I added it to the pile. Things like tomato plant stems, butternut squash that didn't quite make it won't decompose as quickly as grass clipping and household scraps. So I use a corn knife to chop the heavier stuff into chunks that I hope will rot a bit more quickly. I also mixed the old compost pile in layers into the new material with liberal doses of lime and fertilizer.

And of course, the reason my pile had gotten stinky was that I hadn't turned it often enough, nor had I added enough lime to it. A good rain a day or so after the picture above was taken helped the pile compress downward almost a full foot.

wateringWe still have hanging plants outside, as we brought them in for the previous frosty days. I'm not sure how long we'll be able to do that, but one of our granddaughters loved watering them last weekend!

gloxinia bloomI also got a surprise this week while transplanting some gloxinias for our Gloxinia page. The update to the continuing series has been posted.

When I finished transplanting some of them to four and six inch pots and bottom watering them, I started to snap a picture to document the event. Through the viewfinder I saw, dead center of the plant, a bloom bud! That's not unheard of, but it is unusual for plants just two months old. And, it's definitely not good for a plant still growing to size. So, I hardened my heart and pinched off the bloom. And yes, I really wanted to leave it to see what color of flowers the plant will someday produce.

Gloxinias in bloom

Gloxinias are a great house plant to brighten things up through the winter. The ones above were grown from seed under plant lights and then went into my classroom (circa 1996!). If you can successfully grow African violets, you can probably grow gloxinias without much trouble.

November 11, 2008 - Fall Broccoli

Fall broccoliI cut our first head of fall broccoli today! I really didn't think the broccoli and cauliflower I seeded in August and transplanted to the garden in early September were going to make a crop. And to be honest, I was really lucky to get any, as we've had an incredibly mild fall up until now.

5We ended up with four broccoli and two cauliflower plants surviving a variety of issues. We've been plagued by moles this year, and they destroyed the root systems of a couple of my transplants. The broccoli head I cut today was about 5" across, not nearly the size of our main season crop, but possibly firmer than the main season crop. The cauliflower isn't showing much of a head as yet. If we get something, it will be a bonus.

Even with several hard frosts, we are still able to pick brassicas (broccoli and kale, and waiting on the cauliflower), lettuce, spinach, and some onions that haven't quite bulbed. For our area and climate, that's remarkable.

Fall Garden Prep on Hold

I'd written in the last posting that it was time to get started getting the garden ready for next season. While I had good intentions, a perfect storm of my immune system being on a roller coaster from Efudex treatments, a day of subbing in a special ed room with lots of sick kids, and then working outside too much in the changing weather has put me in bed with a the flu that morphed into bronchitis. Quite honestly, cutting that head of broccoli wore me out. Over the last week, just sitting at the computer has been too much for me.

I've not written about health issues here as yet, as we're all getting older and we all face some senior health challenges. The long and short of it is that my garden prep will have to wait until I'm able to do it. I have areas to clean up and till yet, although our main flower bed in the garden still has snapdragons blooming in it that refuse to be seriously damaged by the frost! I hate to pull them up. It's also time, almost past time, to be planting garlic in the garden and tulips in the flower beds.

But as with much of living long enough to be a senior citizen, a lot of life at this point is enjoying the moment and learning (having learned?) to roll with life's ups and downs.

November 18, 2008 - Seed Catalogs and Vendors

Seed catalogsOur Twilley Seed catalog arrived on Saturday, so I'm back into seed catalog heaven, looking at all the great flowers and vegetables available. Since it's already time to start seed geraniums, I dug out the Thompson & Morgan seed catalog that came in a week or so ago and ordered a nice seed geranium mix I'd noticed. If you get their paper catalog, it has a $10 off code that is good for any order of $10 or more, even if you then order online.

I looked around a bit on the Internet for a good narrative history of seed catalogs. I didn't find one, so there's a subject for some enterprising writer that needs to be covered. I did find that the Smithsonian has a large collection of old seed catalogs, but I can't show a graphic of one here, as the Smithsonian charges for image use! (Don't the taxpayers own the Smithsonian?)

I got started ordering from seed catalogs sometime in the 70's when a neighbor loaned me his Burpee Seed Catalog. It wasn't long until I began to discover other vendors that matched and exceeded the Burpee catalog.

Our main seed suppliers for years for the garden have been Stokes Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds. Both carry a good selection of both flower and vegetable seeds. Johnny's specializes in hardy varieties for northern latitudes.

When we were growing sweet corn commercially (20 years ago!), we were pioneers in our area growing sh2 supersweets from Otis Twilley Seed. While we don't grow 2-4 acres of sweet corn each year anymore, we still order our sweet corn seed and a few other items from them each year. All three suppliers (Stokes, Johnnys, & Twilley) are excellent for both home and market gardeners.

I'll not add my whole list again here of recommended suppliers, as I posted it in October.

GGrandma's yeast rollsrandma's Yeast Rolls

I added another recipe to the site today that might prove useful over the upcoming holidays. My mother's yeast rolls were always one of the highlights of our family gatherings. She passed the recipe along to me, and I've passed it along to our kids.

I hope you enjoy it.

November 22, 2008 - More Seed Orders

Stokes CatalogAs I worked up my seed orders for next year's garden, I was struck by how expensive seed prices are becoming. Part of that feeling may be that I tend to order some fairly expensive flower varieties from Stokes Seeds, whose catalog arrived this week.

I also noticed that Johnny's Selected Seeds listed my favorite pea variety, Eclipse, as out of stock. While they may change that soon, I quickly logged into one of my old, favorite farm suppliers, R.H. Shumway. When Shumway's was located in Illinois years ago, we used to get field corn seed and a great annual hog pasture mix from them.

Shumway did indeed have Eclipse, along with a number of other items I had on my "dream shopping list," the order I make as if I didn't have to consider price and my current checking account balance. I found myself crossing off items from my Stokes and Johnny's orders in favor of cheaper seed from Shumway. Of course, it remains to be seen about seed quality and viability!

Order SpreadsheetIn addition to the quick order for elephant garlic I sent to Johnny's Selected Seeds, I've sent orders to Thompson & Morgan, Twilley Seed, Shumway, and Totally Tomatoes. I'll probably still have a small order for Park Seed and my main orders for Stokes and Johnny's.

Several years ago, I realized that saving the old packing slips from vendors wasn't a very good way to keep track of my garden orders. Since I'm a bit of a computer nerd, I started an Excel spreadsheet of my orders in 2007 and have found that a great way to see what I'd ordered, when, and from whom. It takes a bit of data entry time, but now I wouldn't do it any other way.

One last place I might recommend for finding garden seed is the Seed Savers Exchange. I used to be a member of the exchange when I was farming. We worked to preserve the old open pollinated field corn variety, Reid's Yellow Dent. The Seed Savers Exchange now maintains and online catalog and order system. Back when I started, you traded postage stamps or another variety of seeds with other members!

Once I get all my orders in, I'll begin plotting out my garden as to where and when each variety will grow. As with lots of things like this (builders' blueprints?), when I'm in the dirt next spring, the plan can change rather quickly.

I try to document the main plantings into the Senior Garden, although I get a bit sloppy at times. Our main raised garden diagrams are shown below. I still keep them in the old AppleWorks draw document format, as this still works well for me. At some point, I'm sure I'll have to shift to a new application.

the plan plot b
softbed plan softbed

I also keep a narrative record for future reference. I find that I don't keep it up to date as well as I do the diagrams. It may have something to do with touching my keyboard when I'm hot, sweaty, and covered with dirt!

November 23, 2008 - Lots of Leaves

Agri-Fab 44" Lawn SweeperI spent some time this afternoon gathering leaves with our lawn sweeper and putting them on the garden. Once lightly limed and worked in with the rototiller, the leaves add valuable organic matter to the soil. Left in a pile by themselves, they also rot down to a great soil amendment, leaf mold. And if you're wintering over some plants in a flower bed or in the garden, leaves can add some insulation for the plants.

BTW: No, that's not our lawn sweeper pictured at right. It's an ad photo of a similar model from Sears. Ours is now about 10 years old...and looks it. But it's been a good one.

One year when I lived and gardened in suburban Indianapolis, I worked all of our leaves into one small area of the garden. I limed the area well and transplanted broccoli into it the the next spring. We got 12-14" heads! I've been a big fan of using leaves in the garden every since then.

Leaves in the garden

More leaves

Besides the plots shown above, I also poured leaves onto our extra plot in the farm field to the east of our house. Obviously, we have lots of leaves.

Corn harvestAnd if the Senior Garden looks a bit different to you (besides most of the flowers and vegetables gone), the guys came in last week and harvested the field to the east of us in a couple of days.

Emptying combineOne of the parts of modern harvesting that always intrigues me is when they dump the combine's hopper into a grain wagon while on the move. When I was farming, it was all I could do just to stay on row without trying to empty the hopper at the same time.

Let me leave you with something that might bring a grin to the faces of some old rock 'n roll fans. While looking through the onion seed in the Stokes Seed catalog, I ran across two uniquely named varieties of red onion, "Red Zeppelin" and "Grateful Red!" I'll probably try both just based on the cool names.

November 25, 2008

Nion Coolpix P60Nikon Coolpix P60I noticed in the site statistics that I had a number of hits from searches for "Nikon Coolpix P60." I had written in October about my switchover to the P60 as my primary camera. For those folks looking for info on the camera, here's a link to a column review I did for another site: A Day Off & A New Camera. The short version of the review is that "I like it, but I don't love it!"

November 26, 2008 - Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Cinnamon RollsBoth my Thompson & Morgan and my Twilley seed orders are in, and I'm just dying to get the seed geraniums started. But with Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, I needed to make a batch of Grandma's Yeast Rolls for the dinner. Since I made a double batch this time, I had enough dough left over to make some cinnamon rolls. I also grabbed my now trusty Nikon P60 and documented the effort. Cinnamon Rolls is really part 2 of the Grandma's Yeast Rolls recipe, as it begins with the yeast roll dough having raised the first time.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

November 27, 2008 - Thanksgiving Day (US)

Best wishes to you for a happy and safe Thanksgiving day. We'll be spending the day with family, one of the great blessings of our life.

One of our sons, Zach, publishes a weekly online devotional. This week's devotional is Jesus Does Not Exclude: ALL You Who Are Weary And Burdened.

November 30, 2008 - Putting the Garden to Bed

With rain and snow predicted for today, I got busy yesterday afternoon and put much of the Senior Garden to bed for the winter.

Fall soil prep

Fall soil preparation is one of the most important gardening chores one can do. Clearing the final plants from the garden removes places for garden pests to winter over. And in our area, the required dose of lime to the soil has time to work its magic over the winter to bring the soil up to around 6.8 pH.

I picked the last of our fall lettuce that had been growing under a cold frame. I also tilled in some of the leaves I'd collected a week ago and turned them into what will be our "soft bed" for onions, carrots, beets, etc. in an intensive planted bed. I covered that area with more leaves and then stripped off the leaves from our remaining kale and covered the the leaves with them. The kale stalks are far too tough to even go into the compost pile, so they were stacked to go onto the burn pile.

TillerAs I was turning in the leaves in various areas of the garden, I wondered a bit if a front tine rototiller might do the job a bit easier. My first tiller was a front tine model, and I've noticed that my current tiller, a fifteen-year-old 5-HP MTD rear tine model, tends to clog with such jobs. It seemed to be that the front tine models, besides jolting ones body when used, did till deeper and not have as much trouble tilling in organic matter.

Leaves over garlicLate this afternoon, I was able to plant our garlic bulbs. I put in one row of elephant garlic that I'd purchased from Johnny's Selected Seeds and two rows of german garlic from saved sets. I then covered the area with leaves as a bit of insulation for the bulbs.

I still need to get out and cut our asparagus stalks and put them on the compost heap. I've read that borers can overwinter in asparagus trash, so that chore will get done soon. Also, I need to get the stalks off so that I can apply a layer of cow manure to the asparagus patch to give it a boost next spring.

Another chore that didn't get done as yet was finishing enclosing the main Senior Garden with landscape timbers. The 6x6" treated timbers are terribly expensive, so I decided to give our budget a break and wait on that job. Maybe Santa will have some 6"x6"x8', 6"x6"x12', and especially a few of the horrifically expensive 6"x6"x16' timbers on his sleigh this year.

As November winds up, it's hard to believe that just two weeks ago, we still had a few viable crops growing in the Senior Garden. Lettuce under the cold frame, some very hardy spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower, and even a few onions that didn't quite bulb were there for the picking. We've had a lot to be thankful for in the Senior Garden this year.

11/17/2008 11/30/2008
November 17, 2008
November 30, 2008
December 1, 2008 (added 12/1/08)

While I got out late to finish up my fall soil preparation, I noticed last night that the farmer who does the fields around us worked until 10:30 P.M. last night, chisel plowing the field next to us.

Looking ahead a bit, I'll be starting a feature next month on growing geraniums from seed. In January, it will be time to start onions for the 2009 Senior Garden. So even while the winter winds blow and snow falls on the Senior Garden, there will be garden chores to do.

October, 2008

From the at Senior Gardening


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