Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

April 6, 2009

ForecastPlant roomWith a hard freeze predicted for the next couple of nights, all of our tender transplants under the cold frame had to come inside the house. I'd gambled with the last hard frost and had a couple of tomato plants get nipped by the frost. So this time, just the brassicas and onions will remain under the cold frame until the weather moderates a bit.

We have asparagus, garlic, brassicas, and peas up in the garden. They'll have to weather the cold without any extra protection...and should do so.

Terry & JuliaSpringtime is funny. It's hard to believe that on Saturday, Annie and I attended our youngest daughter's wedding in relatively warm weather (60o). I guess we should be, and are, thankful the kids had such a nice day to begin their married life together.

April 8, 2009 - Apple Blossoms

Apple BlossomsLast April, I finally got a shot I liked of the apple blossoms on our stayman winesap apple tree. I had tried to get such a shot for several years, but always was unhappy with my composition, lighting, or focus. Yesterday, I was out by the apple tree and noticed the abundance of unopened red apple blossoms. Since I had my camera with me, I grabbed a few shots of them. I liked the shots so well that I put one of them into my rotation of desktop images (wallpapers) on my computer and also added it to the my Desktop Photos page for others to use.

Apple Blossoms

With our cold weather abating just a bit, I began bringing some of my transplants back upstairs from our downstairs plantlights and back out under the cold frame. I'm going a bit slow on it, as we still have some near freezing temperatures in the forecast.

Transplanting onionsI transplanted a row of broccoli and another of cauliflower today. I risked some petunias as row end markers. While I'm confident the brassicas transplanted can take any upcoming cold snaps, the petunias are probably just wishful thinking.

I also had enough time to get in a double row, half and half, of Red Zeppelin and Walla Walla onions. I plugged in a Super Red cabbage on each end of the onion row.

The onions pull apart pretty easily once out of the flat. I just put them in with as much soil sticking to their roots as possible, which often ends up pretty much bare root. Before transplanting, I did work in about an inch of peat moss and a sprinkle of bone meal and lime. After they were in, I watered them with some weak starter fertilizer.

April 10, 2009 - Heavy Rain

Our first really heavy rain of the season arrived with a vengeance last night. Looking out our upstairs window at our garden plots, I could immediately see some of the benefits of my earlier raised bed efforts. Our original garden patch had lots of standing water around the raised rows I'd created for our tomatoes (not transplanted yet), brassicas, and peas.

Flooded garden

Our main, large raised bed had no standing water, due to the raised bed construction and the dry sump drain near its center.

Crowded impatiensI made a major mess for myself by getting too many flower seeds in each cell of my seed flats. I'd already thinned out and transplanted our crowded alyssum and dusty miller over the last few days and weeks. Today, I had to thin out our impatiens.

I'd originally ordered some high priced, pelletized impatiens seed from a couple of my usual seed suppliers. The plantings failed completely, and considerably upset, I just bought a couple of packets of Ferry-Morris impatiens seed at a discount store. I liberally spread the seed over the same flat and cells that the high priced seed had failed to germinate in. I was rewarded with many cells with three or four plants competing for space.

I moved outside to the back porch to save a bit on cleanup, and split up the tender plants in the same cells to some new fourpacks I picked up at the local garden store. The job took well over an hour, but I guess that's my reward for spreading so much seed.

Separating impatiens

Getting the alyssum, dusty miller, and impatiens spread out into individual cells, and getting lots of plants for my trouble, were really important to me. I'd planned on planting our small flower beds at the front of our house with a mix of the three plants. The area is shaded most of the day, making it an ideal spot for such shade loving plants.

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April 12, 2009

I'd planned to spray the apple trees this morning, but it turned out to be windy all day. So, I decided to work on our garlic planting. I hadn't cultivated around the garlic this spring, only gently raking away the winter leaf cover a month or so ago.

Cultivating garlic

Since one corner of the raised bed where the garlic is growing is a bit low, I decided to work in a little peat moss while I cultivated. I didn't add any lime to counteract the acidic peat this time, as this area was heavily limed last fall. I did sprinkle a bit of 5-10-5 fertilizer around each garlic plant. I used my old, nearly rotten walking board to access the inside of the garlic to avoid stepping in the bed too much.

The organic matter you see above near the garlic is mostly nasturtium vines from last year. I'd put them into the compost heap last fall, hoping they'd decompose over the winter. They didn't. So I decided just to spread and work in the remains of our rather large compost heap over our raised bed. Now that the weather is warming a bit, the vines finally are breaking down a bit. And, our level of organic matter in the raised bed is excellent. As long as I'm just putting transplants into the area, I don't think the surface litter will be much of a problem. But when I get ready to direct seed carrots and beets, I suspect I'll have a fine time of trying to get the decaying vines out of the way.

hanging potI also started transplanting flowers into some of our hanging baskets. I grew a trailing variety of petunia this year, Ramblin' Mix. I transplanted some of them, along with a favorite, Supercascade, and some geraniums into several hanging pots. The geranium in the pot shown at right seemed to be suffering a bit from the strong winds today, so I left it on the ground, sheltered a bit by our poor, crumbling steps.

RadarSeveral hanging pots are already in place under the edge of our back porch. I'm gambling a bit with them that there won't be another killing frost this spring. Of course, I still have lots of geraniums and petunias under our plantlights inside and outside under the cold frame, so I can afford to gamble just a bit.

At that point, I had to break off gardening for the day and get in some mowing. It's supposed to rain for the next couple of days here, and I really don't want our grass getting away from me, especially this early in the season.

As I write this posting (at around 9 pm on Sunday evening), I can already hear thunder in the distance. It's always a bit dicey as to whether I can make a posting in such weather or not, as we use satellite internet and are subject to rain fade outages.

Click for Sullivan, Indiana Forecast

April 14, 2009

Gloxinia in kitchenWith the rainy, cool weather, my attention has turned to our plants under our plantlights. I rotated the gloxinia that had occupied our west kitchen window back downstairs under the lights and brought up our first gloxinia with purple blooms.

I've been moving our gloxinias to steadily larger pots for some time now. There are plantings from August and again in January, so the plants are a variety of sizes. I generally move the gloxinias from the seeding pot to fourpacks, and from there into four inch square pots. For years I just left the gloxinias in the four inch pots, but this year have been moving the larger specimens to six inch rounds.

I noticed that while I'd kept up with the repotting, I'd neglected to update the Gloxinia feature. I corrected that omission today.

Baby gloxinias gloxinias in fourpack happy glox Glox in 4

Brassicas & garlicI took time today for a rather wet stroll around the garden. Our second planting of broccoli and cauliflower are doing great. The garlic beside the brassicas appear to be benefiting already from the application of peat moss and fertilizer just a few days ago.

Asparagus shootsOur asparagus is beginning to fill in with lots of shoots, many thick enough to be snapped off soon. There are still some bare patches of ground that I'm watching, but invariably when I rough up the soil, I find a shoot or two that hasn't emerged as yet. After three years of waiting on asparagus from seed, I find it hard to be patient. It's still pretty early for asparagus.

cold frame plantsThe plants that are outside on the porch and under the cold frame change regularly as I move those that appear to be suffering from the wet and cold back indoors and transplant others. I brought some alyssum back inside today and filled its spot under the cold frame with lettuce. I'll begin transplanting the lettuce just as soon as the weather clears and the tender plants have had a few days to harden off.

brassicas & peas

Our first planting of brassicas is still doing well, despite the occasional flooding around them. The hilled rows I transplanted our broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi into are eroding away a bit with the heavy rains, but they probably have saved the plants from damage.

And of course, our peas are doing splendidly. I still need to drive in my T-posts and string the trellis material for them to climb. I like to trellis even the short varieties of peas, as they're easier to pick that way.

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April 17, 2009

I sat down on our back porch with a glass of iced tea this afternoon thinking I was done with my gardening chores for the day. I'd added some bagged cow manure and peat moss to one area of the garden to raise its level a bit. I also put a geranium and some petunias in a large, outdoor planter, along with plopping a couple other geraniums at the corners of our raised bed, and added some dianthus at the ends of two rows of brassicas to replace my row marker planting stakes. While working near the brassicas, I noticed some seedling weeds beginning to grow, so I got out my trusty scuffle hoe (also known as an action or stirrup hoe) and scratched around all of the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi, undercutting the tender roots of the new weeds.

That should have pretty well done it for the day, other than making sure to sprinkle our growing collection of transplants on the back porch and under the cold frame.

Plants on porch

cabbage looper wormAs I sipped my tea, I noticed a white flutter near the brassicas. When I looked closely, sure enough, there was the first small white cabbage worm of the year fluttering around my precious plants! If you let them or the cabbage looper worm go, you end up with lots of holes in your leaves from the larva, and a really nasty mess cleaning up leaf crops such as kale. The worms are great at hiding in the heads of broccoli and cauliflower, too.

So out came the sprayer and the biological, Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis). If you can get a good coating of Thuricide on your brassicas and stay ahead of the cabbage loopers and small white cabbage moths, you can keep your crops of brassicas pretty clean.

When I finished spraying in the garden, I turned my attention to our evergreen trees in the yard. When the systemic, Cygon, was taken off the market, I wondered what I would use to keep the bag worms from damaging the trees. Then I read that BT or Thuricide was effective for controlling bag worms, too. Last year was our first try at using Thuricide for bag worm control on our evergreens, but it seemed quite effective. I ended up emptying the sprayer tank and mixing another tankful to take care of our first treatment of the trees.

April 19, 2009

Ready for plantingWith steady rain predicted for the next three days, I'm not going to be doing a lot of outdoor gardening until mid-week or later. Part of our raised bed had dried out enough yesterday that I was able to do a final rototilling of the area where I'll be planting lettuce, carrots, beets, and some more onions. When the rain abates, I should be able to get in on walking boards after a couple of days and do the planting. Our non-raised gardening areas were all still days away from being dry enough to work, making me feel much better about investing so much time, effort, and money into our raised beds.

Trellis NettingI'd planned to start my gardening day yesterday getting some trellis netting up for our peas to climb. When I rolled out my trellising material left over from last year, I realized that I was going to have to make a trip to town for more netting. I'd had my eye out for trellis netting all week at visits to Wal-Mart, TSC, Rural King, and the Apple House in Terre Haute. Not one had any of the netting! So I guess the rain gives me a good excuse for the delay in getting the netting up while I wait for some to come in from an Amazon order. While I was "there," I ordered some Rotenone Pyrethrin Spray, as that's another item I frequently use in the garden and can't seem to find locally.

April 23, 2009

Planting lettuceWe have a nice stretch of sunny days predicted, so I haven't really gotten in a hurry to get things into the garden. We're still a week or so from our "last frost" date, although I really suspect we've already seen our last frost for this year.

I transplanted a row of 9 lettuce plants today, using 7 different varieties. I'd dug into my old seed and planted a fourpack of everything I had, so we should have a nice variety this year of lettuce. Our new varieties this year are a small crisp, Barbados, a Boston butterhead, Nancy, and a new romaine/cos, Defender. All come from Johnny's Selected Seeds. We also planted some Winter Density romaine/cos, a couple of Red Lollos, and one each of Summertime, Crispino, and Baby Star.

Marigold row markerI stretched out string for a row of lettuce and another that I haven't used as yet for another row of onions. (I still have to mow grass today!)I worked off of the old "walking board" to keep from compressing the soil too much.

When I transplant lettuce, I use a garden trowel to dig a bit deeper than needed, say a four inch deep and wide hole, and then fill it with dilute transplanting solution. Then I fill in the hole a bit, put in the transplant, add more fertilizer solution if the other has soaked in (which it had today) and fill in around the new plant.

Once done, I pull my stakes and string and replace the stake row markers with a flower to serve as the row end marker. For the lettuce, I put in marigolds at the ends of the row.

And for the sharp-eyed readers, yes, I'm using a different camera for this site right now. My Nikon Coolpix P60 developed a serious problem last month, vignetting the right side of each photo. I've dropped back to my old Coolpix 4300 until I get the camera back from Nikon.

Vignetted image

As I walked downstairs after making the posting above, I heard the rumble of thunder. So much for for the nice, five-day forecast, mowing and gardening today.

Rain Coming

Where's my fishing pole? I can fish in the rain, can't I?

Late Update (9:08 P.M. EDT)

I fished in the rain, caught nothing, but enjoyed being outside a bit more. The thunderstorms returned this evening, but before they got going in earnest, I got outside and snapped the sunset below.

Sunset 090423

Mountain Valley Seeds

April 26, 2009

Soil prep doneI told my wife, Annie, over dinner tonight that I think I finally have our soil preparation done in our main garden plots for this spring. Things had dried out enough today that I got into the raised bed big time and planted another double row of onions, mulched in our first rows of onions, scuffle hoed and tilled between the rows of broccoli, and then tilled in three bales of peat moss to the remaining unplanted areas of the plot.

I'd really not planned to add a lot more peat to the area, but ran into a half price, busted bale deal last week on peat moss at our local Rural King that I couldn't pass up. I did not add any lime to counteract the acidity of the peat, as this area test pretty "sweet" the last time I checked it (around 6.9). We're supposed to have rain tomorrow and Tuesday. Once the peat get wet, I'll get the pH tester out again before I plant or transplant anything into the area.

As you might have noticed in the background of the shot above, I finally got my trellis netting up for our spring peas. I'd come up empty on finding any netting locally and ordered some from a vendor on Amazon. It came in on Saturday, so I planned to get it up first today. Of course, then I realized that I needed to scuffle hoe the seedling weeds around the peas...and the brassicas, and so on. But eventually, I got around to hammering in the T-posts and stringing the netting on some plastic covered wire.

Trellis netting

Stressed clothesline wireThe wire is some that I picked up at the hardware store, and I really don't know the brand. It's just plastic covered clothesline wire. It's plenty strong enough for peas, although last year, our bumper crop of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers stressed it considerably.

OnionsGetting back to the onions a bit, we had some real disasters this winter when we were germinating our transplants. I'd run out of my usual potting mix that I enhance a bit to suit our needs. I bought another brand that was much denser, almost mucky. The onions I transplanted today were the first ones we seeded, but are still way behind a later seeding (other varieties) that went into our regular potting mix.

In the image at left, the far left rows of barely visible onions are our storage onions, Pulsars and Milestones, that were planted first in a mix including Baccto brand potting soil. The onions in the right rows, Walla Wallas and Red Zeppelin, were started a month later in our usual potting mix that includes Miracle-Gro potting mix.

Our usual potting mix for starting seed includes potting soil and peat moss in nearly equal amounts by volume (not by weight), with a sprinkle of lime, a bit of perlite if it appears to be lacking in the commercial mix, and occasionally a dusting of bone meal. For seed starting, we always wet the mix, move it into a big stainless steel pot, and heat it at 400o F for at least an hour in the oven to kill any damping off fungus that might have been present in the mix.

While I'm on a mini-rant here about gardening products, let me warn you off of the humus and cow manure sold at Wal-Mart. I bought ten bags of it and dumped it into my raised bed, only to realize that it was filled with tiny stones. I don't know how stones can be called either humus or cow manure, but I guess you get what you pay for.

Farm fieldI'm really happy to have our soil preparation done in the main garden beds for this year, but we still have some ground east of us that a farmer lets us use for sweet corn and melons that needs attention soon. I limed and had done a rough turn of the soil in late March, but it now has some pretty good weed growth on it. I didn't get the tiller in very deep with the first turn, so I'll have some serious work to do on the melon rows and the whole sweet corn area. I also plan to put out single varieties of tomatoes and peppers from which I plan to save seed.

While I've been cutting down our main gardening area the last few years, the opportunity to play around with part of an old farm field was more than I could resist last year. I jumped at the opportunity to use the land while I'm still agile enough to do so. Our long-term gardening plans actually include the option of cutting our big raised bed into two, long, narrow raised beds at some point. I really hope that I can manhandle a tiller over large plots into my eighties, but... Smile

GloxiniasLet me wind up today's posting with a couple of our gardening success stories. Our gloxinias started last August have been regularly coming into bloom and then resting and growing more foliage and adding to their corms. That's pretty much normal for them. Our first gloxinia with robust foliage and multiple blooms is beginning to put on a show for us in our kitchen. With two pink and white blooms open, it's showing at least five more buds growing in its leaf cover. And I'm sorta proud of these plants, as the pink and white bloom plants are ones from saved seed and that color of bloom was not present in the original seed mix years ago. I think we just got a very lucky cross.

The purple blooming gloxinia is the Double Brocade variety. It has a more compact growth habit than many of the non-double varieties. Also pictured is part of my wife's wandering jew vine and a parsley plant that went last week to a friend at school.

Our second apparent big success is with our raised bed for our asparagus plants. I installed the raised bed around our existing asparagus bed this spring. I'd really worried a bit, as I got into the roots of the asparagus a bit when I dug the trenches for the treated timbers. But the bed is now filling in nicely with healthy, heavy asparagus shoots. We snapped a couple early on for a snack, but are allowing the bed one more year to mature before really harvesting from it in earnest.

Asparagus raised bed

April 28, 2009

I mentioned in the last posting that I'd soon need to turn my attention to the garden plot we started using last year in the farm field east of us. "Soon" turned out to be yesterday, as I was caught up on our main garden and knew I had just the one day to work the field, as we have several days of rain predicted. (It's pouring outside now as I'm composing this posting.)

East garden plotHaving missed planting corn in the field last year, I got a little carried away when I tilled the north end of the field during a dry spell in late March. I tilled an area big enough for melons and corn, and even more room for tomatoes and peppers we want to isolate for seed production. Like a kid piling more on his plate than he can eat at a pitch-in dinner, I tilled far more ground than I'll really need. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I really didn't even measure the size of the plot, although I'd guess it's around 30' x 120'.

With a month for weeds to grow until the second tilling yesterday, I still didn't get very deep in most areas of the plot. But for the squash and melon crops, I went back and made repeated passes with the tiller until I had worked a number of 5' wide rows about 6" deep. I didn't have to mess with liming the plot, as I'd limed it when I tilled in March.

Once I got the plot worked up, I went ahead and planted a single hill of Waltham Butternut squash, two of yellow squash, two rows of cantaloupe (five hills), and one row of watermelon (two hills). I'd planned on another row of watermelon, but my seedless variety plants were just too spindly to put out.

Vining crops

transplant holeI purposely consigned the butternut to the far edge of the planting, as our butternuts last year overgrew our cantaloupe, cutting the production of my favorite melon. I spaced my rows about 12' apart, pacing the distance rather than messing with a tape measure.

Since I hadn't been able to till as deeply as I wanted, I dug a hole about a foot and a half deep for each hill, backfilling with soil mixed with a shovelful of peat moss, a handful of 5-10-5 solid fertilizer, and a bit of lime. I drenched each hole with transplanting fertilizer before gently tucking each peat pot into place and drawing the soil around it. The water-filled hills sort of look like miniature volcanoes with lakes in the craters!

Vining crops inI hope to mow between the rows and use grass clipping mulch in the rows for weed control. This practice worked splendidly last year for our melons, but this year's planting is far larger, and I've tilled the area between the rows.

Our squash varieties planted are Waltham Butternut and Slick Pik YS 26 hybrid. Our cantaloupe are Athena Hybrid, Amish, and Roadside Hybrid. The watermelon varieties are Kleckley Sweets (also called Monte Cristo) and Crimson Sweet. Kleckley's are the sweetest watermelon I've ever grown or eaten. Since the rind is tender, they're not a big variety for commercial growers, as they don't ship well (if at all). And Crimson Sweet is a variety we've had lots of success with in the past.

With a week or so of on and off again rain predicted, we won't get our sweet corn in until the first or second week of May. That's okay, as I grow all SH2 super sweet corn that requires fairly warm soil for germination.

Once that's done, I'll have to decide what to do with all the extra ground I tilled up!

April 30, 2009

I hate to end such a busy gardening month without a posting for today. Since it's raining bucketfuls outside today, let me offer an interesting article from The New York Times, Envisioning the End of ‘Don’t Cluck, Don’t Tell’. Peter Applebome relates that New Haven is considering changing its zoning code to "allow residents to raise up to six hens" within the city limits. Most municipalities have codes prohibiting the raising of livestock within city limits, but New Haven has practiced a humorously named informal enforcement program, “don’t cluck, don’t tell,” that mostly looks the other way when folks keep hens for eggs. Applebome writes:

But some combination of the locavore craze, the growth of immigrant communities with traditions of raising hens and the recession making the idea of free eggs or milk in the backyard attractive, cities and suburbs around the country are reviewing all manner of critter ordinances.

The article has some good links for city dwellers considering raising poultry within the city limits.

When we had a farm, we generally kept a flock of around 25 hens for egg production. Chickens aren't terribly difficult to keep, and fresh eggs are great. Home raised poultry has a much better flavor than store-bought chicken, if you have the grit to get past slaughtering 14 week old chicks. We used to put up about 50 chickens in a day our the farming years. Afterward, I couldn't eat chicken for a few weeks!

We have an old shed on our property here that has nearly fallen down. I haven't done much to save it, as it's well past its useful life, and I'd really like to put up a chicken coop in that area. But that project is pretty far down on my "to do" list.

If you're considering getting into raising chickens, you might want to first check your local zoning codes. Of course, if you're out in the country like we are, your next step is to find some good information on raising chickens. When we were raising chickens, our best two sources of information were a book edited by Lee Schwanz, the Family Poultry Flock and some circulars from our county extension office.

March, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening


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