Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

February 3, 2009

Crockett's Victory GardenNear the beginning of each month I usually read over the monthly advice in my copy of Crockett's Victory Garden. Crockett began his monthly chapters with a short summary of what he was going to do in the Victory Garden, and then followed up with short how-to articles about each major item to be planted or tended to in some way. I find that it is a good way for me to stay on track getting things planted around the correct time and is a bit easier than looking at the back of seed packets and catalog listings (which I guess I do, also!).

Because James Underwood Crockett was such an all-around plant expert, I often find items covered that I haven't tried before and am encouraged to experiment with them. Over the years, I've tried growing cyclamen, kohlrabi, parsnips, asters, seed geraniums, and many other flowers and vegetables after reading about them in Crockett's Victory Garden. Although all are long out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still the best volumes I have on gardening. Fortunately for others, they're still available used at a very reasonable prices on Amazon.

More Onions

My backordered Walla Walla sweet onion seed came in yesterday from Twilley Seeds, so I got busy and started another flat of onions today. I planted two rows each of Walla Walla sweets and Red Zeppelin, a large red onion that may store better than most reds.

Onion flatAs I did a month ago with our storage onions, I used two full-sized seed flats for strength and drainage. The inner flat has holes, while the outer one doesn't. The plastic seed flats sold today all seem too flimsy to handle the weight of a full load of moist starting mix.

I water the soil in the flat with hot water from a teapot before seeding and then let it cool a bit. The teapot routine is because our bypass for the water softener is the kitchen cold tap.

More onionsI make rows about a quarter inch deep (or a bit less) in the potting mix with an old, sturdy plastic ruler. I try to space the seeds about a half inch apart - and always fail miserably to maintain that spacing! Then I pinch the sides of the rows to cover the seed and firm the soil by pressing down with the ruler. The doubled flat gets a humidome cover and goes under the plant lights downstairs.

ParsleyHiding behind the new flat of onions is some of the parsley I started in December. I really overdid things and ended up with a number of nice pots of parsley that I'll need to ship out to family members. A simple pot of parsley can thrive on a sunny countertop or windowsill. It's also great to be able to grab the scissors and snip off some fresh parsley for spaghetti sauce and the like.

I'd hoped to get some annuals started today as well, but the onion flat took all of my sterilized starting mix. I have another batch of it sterilizing in the oven at around 400o F. I generally "cook" the mix in an old stainless steel pot for an hour before turning the oven off. I leave the covered pot in the oven as it cools.

Potting Soil PotBefore the stainless steel pot was taken out of kitchen use (for burning sauces and soups on the bottom), I used an old water bath canner to sterilize potting soil. It eventually developed a few pinholes in it, so I guess I'm glad the current pot flunked its kitchen use.

If you've never sterilized potting mix in the oven before, do be aware that the heated mix will give off an odor when hot. Depending on what you have in the mix, you may find the odor offensive. Today's batch smelled only of clean soil, although my wife finds even that odor a bit too much. If you add compost to your starting mix to be sterilized, you might want to consider doing it over a charcoal grill outside! I've also poured boiling water over starting mix to sterilize it, but I think that doesn't do quite as good a job as the oven does in destroying damping off fungus.

February 7, 2009

We ate the last of our sugar snap peas this week. Our sweet peas have been gone since Christmas. As we use up the bounty from last year's garden, it helps us plan for what we want to grow more or less of in the next garden. Of course, for us, we never seem to have enough peas.

We also rather quickly exhausted our supply of canned green beans. We still have several packages of frozen green beans, but we seem to like them better canned. I chose to freeze the first few light pickings, as I rationalized at the time that there weren't enough beans to justify getting the pressure canner out and cleaned up.

We still have a few quarts of Portuguese Kale Soup left in the downstairs pantry. We tend to save it for extremely cold winter days. We put up around 18-20 quarts of the hearty soup last year.

Starting Petunias

Petunias in gardenPetunia basketWe use lots of petunias in our garden and in hanging baskets for our porches. They add a lot of color to the garden, and often do well when some of our veggies aren't doing so well. And while living in in a hundred year old house can be a mixed blessing, our large porches are ideal for hanging plant baskets. Our south facing back porch usually has four or five hanging baskets of flowers all summer long.

So it's probably not a surprise that when I start petunias, I try to grow a lot of varieties. Since I keep my extra seed frozen from year to year, I'm able to plant, as I did today, seven varieties of petunias (without going broke).

flat of petuniasThe flat of petunias I started today included Supercascade, Fantasy Mix, Prism Sunshine, Celebrity, and Primetime left over from last year and the year before. Our new varieties for this year are Color Parade and a trailing type, Ramblin' Mix.

I used sixpacks in the flat, which yields 72 planting cells. I filled the cells with sterilized potting mix, pressed it in, and then topped it with vermiculite. Since petunias require light for germination, I just dropped the seed on the vermiculite, bottom watered the flat, and then used a spray bottle to mist the soil surface. I added a loose fitting humidome to the flat and placed it on my soil heating mat under our grow lights.

Most of the seed I used today was of the pelletized type. It makes seeding petunias a lot easier, as I can control getting just one seed per cell. The Color Parade, Fantasy, and Prism Sunshine varieties weren't pelletized. With the tiny petunia seed, I may have empty cells and others with up to ten seeds in them, so I'll probably have some transplanting to do later on.

And while wooden stakes are a bit more durable, I find flowers to make really great row markers at the ends of my planting rows. I generally just pop in a flower transplant at the ends of each row when I pull my planting stakes.

Plants as row markers

February 12, 2009 - Pruning Apple Trees and Sooty Mold

Pruned apple treeI took advantage of some wonderfully warm weather this week to get out and work on a rather neglected apple tree. Our Stayman Winesap apple tree really needed a good pruning last year, but only got topped to keep it out of the power wires. So on Monday, I set about giving it a good pruning.

The old adage is that you can throw a basketball through the crown of a well-pruned apple tree in winter without hitting anything. I didn't do that good a job of pruning, but I did open up the tree a good bit.

I wrote a bit last October about our problems with having sooty mold on the tree. Pruning the tree opens it up for better air circulation and sun penetration which should help discourage the mold. Sooty mold is the common name for several species of fungi that grow on honeydew secreted by insects feeding on tree sap (aphids, etc.). Full control of the fungi will have to be archived this spring and summer through pest management.

Beyond the pruning, washing the existing sooty mold from the branches was one of my goals for this week. To do so, I used a mixture of Spic and Span with a few drops of dish detergent. (Safer Insecticidal Soap was my first choice for a cleaner, but our local garden supply store didn't have any of the concentrate.) I sprayed the mixture heavily over the tree's branches and trunk. I did not have to rinse it off, as I picked a day to spray when a heavy storm was supposed to come through. (It certainly did!)

When the wind finally died down a bit at sunset today, I applied a lime sulfur and dormant oil mixture. The lime sulfur will help with the mold, and the dormant oil smothers overwintering insects.

Gloxinia Update

Our gloxinias from an August sowing are coming along nicely. Three of them that are currently in bloom are sharing kitchen counter space with all the other items there. From left to right are an Empress, a Double Brocade, and a speckled blooming gloxinia from saved (and crossed) seed.

Gloxinias in the kitchen

It appears the gloxinias are putting up one or two early blooms before returning to growing leaves and adding to their corm.

One of our pots of parsley and a hanging planter of wandering jew (tradescantia pallida) also share the west kitchen window. When the sun fades, the gloxinias are moved onto the stove (when clear) under a fluorescent light.

Yellowed gloxiniasOur gloxinias under our plant lights in the basement were showing a good bit of yellowing of the leaves, so I began giving them a bit of fertilizer with extra iron in it. I also switched out one of the bulbs in the fixture over them to a new 6500K (daylight) fluorescent tube. The remaining tube is 4100K, which should give a nice balance. The image at right shows some remaining yellowing, but the improvement was almost immediate when I added the fertilizer and daylight bulb.

Plant Rack Traffic Jam

Plant rackI'm getting very close to running out of space under my plant lights! I guess that's a good thing, as our second planting of onions are now up and appear quite healthy. OnionsBut it also pushes the space I have available for all the other things that need to be started early. Fortunately, the onions can probably go under the cold frame outside sometime in early March.

Tomorrow, I'm going shopping for two more shop lights to go above the bottom shelf of the plant rack. I haven't used that shelf for years, and the light fixtures for it have long ago been used for other purposes.

Petunias germinatingSeed Savers 2009 YearbookOur recent planting of petunias began to show evidence of seed germination today. At left is a cell of the standard seed with at least two plants up. The cells with pelletized seed are also getting going, although just one tiny plant doesn't photograph all that well. As soon as I'm sure the petunias are well on there way and can take them off the soil heating mat, I have a bunch of other stuff to seed that needs bottom heat to germinate well.

SSE Yearbook

And if I wasn't into full gardening mode yet, my copy of the Seed Savers 2009 Yearbook came in today's mail. It's filled with open pollinated plant varieties preserved and offered by Seed Savers Exchange members.

February 14, 2009 - Happy Valentine's Day

TulipsAnnie and I have a pact to only buy each other cards for Valentine's Day. It's not one of her favorite holidays. I often violate this pact by picking up some kind of flowers for her, or just for the house. This year, I saw a nice pot of forced tulips on the markdown rack at a discount store and couldn't resist. It's the wrong time of year to talk about forcing tulip bulbs, but all it takes is some big (forcing grade or #1) tulip bulbs, a pot and some soil, a plastic bag, and refrigerator space. For now, I'll simply refer you to Crockett's Victory Garden if you're interested in how to do it.

Plant rack with six fixturesAs I mentioned earlier this week, I was running short of space under the plant lights on my plant rack. I purchased and installed two new shoplights yesterday which brings the rack up to six 4' fluorescent fixtures. The rack can now accommodate 12 full size (1020) seed flats. I haven't used the bottom shelf of the plant rack for lights for over 15 years!

While I was at the hardware store, I picked up a case (10) of 6500K fluorescent tubes, as I can use the extras in our garage. I try to use one daylight bulb and one warmer bulb (3500K to 4100K) in each fixture to give some light color balance. I also succumbed to the temptation to try one of those plant light tubes specifically labeled for aquariums and plants.

Now having more space under the lights for varieties that require light for germination, I seeded two full flats to alyssum. I used Navy Blue, Snow Crown, Carpet of Snow, and Rosie O'Day. I hope to use the alyssum with dusty miller and impatiens in our shady flower beds at the front (north) of our house.

I have a lot more seeding to do, but currently am waiting on potting soil sterilizing in the oven. I'm also on hold for varieties that need light and bottom heat to germinate, as I only have one soil heating mat. It currently is under the petunias I started a week ago.

The February list of things to get started is a bit long. I need to get most of my annuals going, including impatiens, dianthus, dusty miller, vinca, and snapdragons. I also can start my spring brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and maybe a kohlrabi or two) and some beets. I may also try starting some celery and celeriac this year. (Gosh, I'm glad the spellchecker knows how to spell "celeriac!" Smile) I'll also probably go ahead and get some lettuce started that should flourish under the cold frame.

Late, late last night, I was uploading some pictures to Pics4Learning. I'd run across the site from a listserve posting about teachers needing free, stock photos. I like the site, so I uploaded several pictures. Seeing that they lacked any photos of gloxinias, I uploaded the one below. It's a shot taken in the classroom when I was still teaching. I did Photoshop it a little, removing the old background of a white sheet that looked rather gray and replaced it with solid white. The Double Brocade gloxinia shown is part of why I love growing that variety of flowers so much.

Double Brocade Gloxinia

February 16, 2009 - President's Day

Now I feel like I'm really gardening. Yesterday, I seeded a whole flat of brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi). Broccoli and cauliflower are often the first things I transplant into the garden. I shoot for transplanting in late March or early May, although last year, ours went in a little later than I'd like, April 22. Heavy rains and the raised bed/terracing project for the garden delayed transplanting.

I'd experimented with one new variety of broccoli last year, Imperial, and wasn't happy with it. So this year I stayed with Premium Crop, Goliath, and Green Goliath. Amazing is the only variety of cauliflower I seeded. We have great sucsess with it, as the leaves protect the crowns from yellowing quite well. For cabbage I used a savoy variety, Alcosa, and a red hybrid, Super Red. Both came from Johnny's selected seeds. The kohlrabi, Grand Duke, came from an unopened packet of 2007 seed that I'd kept frozen. We'll have to wait and see on germination from the old seed.

Since brassicas don't require either light or bottom heat to germinate, I just seeded a flat with fourpacks in it, lightly covering the seed. I topped the seed flat with a clear humidome and put it under the plant lights, but not on the soil heating mat (currently occupied by a flat of petunias).

The petunias I seeded on February 7 were a little spotty on germination, so I went back this morning and added seed to some of the cells. Interestingly, the pelletized seed didn't germinate as well as the non-pelletized. Of course, with the non-pelletized seed, one ends up getting far more seed into each cell than with the pelletized. (And my three year old granddaughter was helping me place the seed.) The best germinating varieties of petunias turned out to be from two old seed packets of Fantasy (2007, Stokes Seeds) and Prism Sunshine (2008, Stokes Seeds). I obviously will need to split the plants up into separate cells soon!

Baby Petunias

I recently had several late seed orders come in, all with excellent turnaround times. I've listed my full list of recommended seed suppliers elsewhere, but will add a plug here for the Seeds Trust, the Seed Savers Exchange, and Henry Fields Seed and Nursery. And if you haven't placed a seed order yet, let me also recommend my three most reliable suppliers, Otis Twilley Seed, Stokes Seeds, and Johnny's Selected Seeds.

And while one supplier may acceptably meet my needs, your results may vary. Dave's Garden Garden Watchdog has reviews and customer ratings for over 3,000 plant and seed companies. I find the reviewers there to be pretty tough on companies, but it certainly is a great source of information.

And while I'm on the topic of advertising, if you appreciate the content on Senior Gardening, why not come back and click through one of our ads the next time you plan to buy something online. Our full list of Senior Gardening/Educators' News advertisers is here.

February 18, 2009

I wrote about seeding a couple of flats of alyssum on Saturday. My granddaughter, Katherine, "helped" me scatter the tiny seeds in the flats. Boy, are we going to have a lot of alyssum!


Plant rackMini Greenhouses


When I start most of my seed, I usually cover the seed flat with one of the many commercially available humidomes. But when doing cuttings or other things where a humidome isn't large enough, there still is a really easy way to hold in plant moisture without spending a lot of money on it.

You may notice a couple of pots covered with plastic in the image at right of my plant rack. When I need something a whole lot taller than even the Tall Propagation Dome shown in the ad at left, I use a homemade mini greenhouse made from a six inch pot, a clothes hanger, and one of the clear plastic bags my UPS driver puts over our deliveries on rainy days!

Pot Tent

Closed pot tentThe pot tent or mini greenhouse shown above sports a custom crafted clothes hanger cut open with pliers and bent to an irregular "U" shape to add a little more space to the tent. I have cuttings from a volunteer apple tree in the pot that I'm hoping to root. The tree sits amidst a bunch of trees and bramble at the edge of a field and won't make it there for too many more years. It produces some of the best, small red delicious apples I've ever eaten.

Getting back to tent construction, I push the clothes hanger all the way to the bottom of the flower pot, here a 6" round plastic one, before covering it with a plastic bag. In this case, I also added a plastic ice cream carton to catch extra moisture from the pot.

Rose cuttingsI also have another pot tent holding rose cuttings that I'm trying to root. I don't have a moisture catcher or tray under the pot on this one, but the plastic bag takes care of that job. Also note the low tech Glad Wrap covering my latest seeding of gloxinias (orange mini pot).

Total cost: $0! Oh yeah, I did use a twist tie to close up the mini greenhouse.

While I'm at it, let me add my own ode of praise to those fantastic, and now rather expensive, plastic flat covers. I'm not sure what I'd do without them. I vaguely remember putting trash bags and clear cleaners bags around seed flats years and years ago. I think I may have even tried the clothes hanger trick above with some of them.

flat with humidome

This covered flat holds the brassicas I seeded on Monday. They're already emerging with the help of the moisture held in by the humidome.

Hot house Light system

Hot House w/ Heat Mat, tray, 72 cell pack

6" dome for growing bigger and taller starts Increase germination success Better humidity control for optimum growth

Product Dimensions: 22 x 12 x 7 inches ; 2.5 pounds

Hydrofarm 4-Foot Grow Light System

The Green Thumb Light System is great for growing seedlings, cuttings, flowers and houseplants. The metal support frame features a one-hand height adjustment system that raises or lowers the grow light fixture easily. Includes 4' fluorescent light fixture and two full-spectrum AgroBrite 48" light tubes. They provide the strongest full-spectrum fluorescent light - up to 20% brighter than other brands.

February 19, 2009

Cauliflower startsIt's always gratifying when you've put seed in the ground or in potting soil to see positive results. I have my share of embarrassing failures, most recently my attempt this year to germinate geranium seed on paper towels.

Although it was bright and sunny much of the day today, there also was a cold wind that kept me indoors most of the day. My one indoor gardening chore today was to get the humidomes off our alyssum and brassica starts and move the plant lights down over them. A fourpack of cauliflower (Amazing) is shown at right. Both plantings are obviously doing extremely well. The two flats of alyssum are shown below.

Alyssum under lights

Lonely asparagus sproutThe half-flat of saved asparagus seed I started early in January continues to pop up a plant every now and then. I'm extending our asparagus bed a few feet this year and decided to transplant new starts rather than just letting the asparagus expand naturally to fill the bed. In a week or so, I'll transplant the new sprout into a 6" round pot to give it lots of room to grow.

Quaker parrotAnd since it's on the same "roll of film" (We're pretty much digital these days.), I'll add this photo of our Quaker parrot, Gizmo. My wife, Annie, had him out of his cage, sitting on her shoulder today when I got home from the grocery.

February 21, 2009

Geraniums in fourpackWhile I really wanted to get some more seeding done today, a look at some of my seed geraniums crowding in their fourpacks dictated that I would be transplanting them today. These are mostly plants that were started in soil (rather than my ill-fated paper towel experiment) in fourpacks.

I moved the plants to a several different sizes of flower pots. The largest went into four inch square pots, but they take a lot of room under the plant lights. The rest went into a variety of saved commercial pots from previous years.

Ready to repotI used a soil mix of half and half commercial potting mix and peat moss, with a liberal dose of perlite and a touch of lime and bonemeal. Since these plants are well beyond danger from damping off fungus, there was no need to sterilize the soil mix.

When I pop a plant out of its cell in the fourpack, I generally break off the potting mix on the sides and bottom until I just begin to see roots. I want the plant to be able to spread immediately into the new potting mix, but also don't want to excessively shock it by getting too far into the roots. For some of the smaller plants, that meant breaking off most of the soil from the fourpack, while for the larger ones, just breaking off a bit of soil at the bottom.

Once repotted, the plants go into a doubled seed tray (the top one with holes and the bottom without holes) and under the plant lights. I bottom water with warm water, as the peat moss in the mix won't readily absorb cold water. Since I use a potting mix light on soil, I'll need to begin fertilizing these plants in a few weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

The plants will remain in these pots as they go out to the cold frame until they're transplanted into the garden, hanging baskets, or a planter.

Repotted geraniums

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January, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening


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