Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

January 2, 2009

I started off the new gardening season today by planting a flat of onions. I went with a couple of hybrids from Stokes Seeds, Pulsar and Milestone, that did very well in the garden last year. Both are hard yellow storage onions. Later, I'll either plant some Walla Walla sweet whites or pick up some sweet white onion plants.


I used a sterilized mix of commercial potting soil and peat moss (about half and half) and a sprinkle of lime and a bit of perlite for my planting medium. I make rows with a plastic ruler, put in the seed by hand, cover the soil, and top water with warm water. The flat then went under my plant lights with a humidome over it to hold the moisture.

I tried the turquoise hand seeder shown in the photo above, but really wasn't comfortable with it. It was a freebie with a seed order, and I will try it again, probably out in the garden for direct seeding small seed such as kale.

Speaking of seed orders, I think I've finally finished mine for next year. I was waiting on the print catalog from Johnny's Selected Seeds to submit my last order. It apparently got lost in the Christmas mail. An email to Johnny's produced a prompt response from their Jeff McClellan, who got a catalog into my hands in just a few days.

When I finished my Johnny's order, I found that there were still a few items I wanted. While Johnny's listed the Paprika Supreme chili pepper in their print catalog, it was nowhere to be found in the online catalog. I'd also backed off on a number of things from Johnny's and Stokes because of price creep (upwards, of course), less seed per packet, and replacement of some of my favorite varieties with new, more expensive hybrids.

I looked around on the web for Paprika Supreme seed and found it on an eBay listing. The vendor, Mountain Meadow Seeds, has a nice selection of reasonably priced garden and flower seeds and very fair shipping rates. I ended up going directly to their site (to save them the eBay commission) and ordered four packets of seed. I later found a couple of other paprika peppers listed on the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

The suppliers I've used so far this year are:

  • Stokes Seeds - offers an incredible variety of vegetable and flower seeds
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern latitudes
  • Twilley Seed - our main supplier of sweet corn seed when we were farming and roadsiding vegetables (no online sales, but offers both a print and downloadable catalog)
  • R.H. Shumway's - offers many heirloom seeds in a unique, old fashioned looking catalog
  • Mountain Meadow Seeds - a family owned seed company that has a nice selection and fair shipping rates
  • Thompson & Morgan Seeds - a British vendor that can ship into the US - their print catalog is gorgeous
  • Henry Field's Seed and Nursery - a long time supplier
  • Seed Savers Exchange - I was an early member of SSE, helping preserve the old Reid's Yellow Dent field corn, but dropped out for years after we quit farming. I joined again this year, as SSE has some varieties you won't find anywhere else.
  • Pase Seeds - still carries the Double Brocade Mix variety of gloxinia, but with just so-so seed vigor
  • Seeds Trust - I found my old, favorite red pepper (Earliest Red Sweet) from them.

Some other good suppliers are:

  • Park Seed - provide a beautiful catalog - lots of gorgeous flowers and some nice accessories - we still use an electric grow mat we bought years ago from them
  • Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. - a good lineup of items - we used to order seed potatoes from them
  • Burpee Seed - Burpee was my first seed catalog. It was another one that just didn't arrive this year, but I rarely order much of anything from them. They're pretty much a shadow of the outstanding supplier they once were.

  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Starting moira tomatoMy seeding of one of my favorite tomato varieties, Moira, failed last year. Moira is a deep red determinate developed at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm in Trenton, Ottawa, by Jack Metcalf. I like it for whole canning tomatoes.

So even though it's way too early to start tomato plants, I started a couple of pots of the variety from some old commercial and saved seed. I used the same, light soil mix I used for the onions, and planted about half of each of four packets of seed I have saved. That's way too much seed normally, but I'm just hoping something will come up. I covered the seed with milled sphagnum peat moss. Since hardly anyone sells milled sphagnum peat moss anymore, I used an old coffee grinder to mill the peat moss into a near powder. Peat moss doesn't carry disease and provides a nice, opaque covering for the seed to push up through. The "pots" are the old reinforcing bottoms that used to be on one and two liter bottles of soft drinks. They went into a flat over the heat mat in the basement.

Asparagus berriesSeeding asparagusI also seeded the asparagus "berries" I'd collected when cleaning up our asparagus patch in November. I let them dry out for a week or so before crushing the berries by hand to release the seed. I then winnowed as much of the hull trash off of them as possible. When I buy commercial asparagus seed, I often try to use sandpaper or an emery board on it, as cracking the tough seed coating is essential for good germination. This time I soaked the seed in water for a week or so and then froze and thawed it a few times. If anything comes up from the seeding, I'll use the plants to fill in bare spots and a small expansion of our current asparagus patch. I sowed the seed in a half flat, covered it lightly with my potting mix, and watered it before covering it with a humidome. I really like the square, half flats, but haven't been able to find any online this year.

Gloxinia in bloomOne plant came up from the basement last week. The Empress gloxinia that managed to avoid my early bloom pinching efforts now splits its time between a spot on the stove under a fluorescent light and on a sunny countertop in the kitchen. My wife, Annie, says its one of the prettiest gloxinias we've had.

GloxiniasOur gloxinias from an August seeding are all now in four or six inch pots. I'll probably try to start another round of them from seed sometime this spring for late fall potted plants. That's a very busy time under my plant lights, so it can be tough to find space for them.

ParsleyParsley in 4Our pot of parsley planted a few weeks ago now really looks like parsley. I've moved one plant to a four inch pot that will soon come up to the kitchen and also moved four others to a four pack.

I also got out on one of the warm days last week and broke the compost pile down, turned it, and spread it across a low spot in the garden. While it looks pretty desolate in winter, the garden is getting closer to being ready for next spring. I still need to add some more soil to the raised bed and enclose the other two sides of it.

Senior Garden in Winter

January 16, 2009

One of my Christmas presents this year from my sweetie was a Brinno GardenWatchCam from Stokes Seeds. Brinno GardenWatchCamThe GardenWatchCam is a "weather resistant, 1.3 megapixel time lapse camera." I decided to try it out by recording the germination of the onion seeds I planted on January 2. The images were recorded at five minute intervals January 5-12, 2009. While my first try won't win any awards for cinematography, it showed me that the camera does have some real possibilities.

When I uploaded the video of the onion seed germinating to YouTube, I quickly found that others have discovered the GardenWatchCam and are using it to record hyacinths and gloxinias blooming. I also put up a quick video of the sunset last night, but really want to try again soon, as we often have gorgeous sunsets here.

Amazon is now carrying the GardenWatchCam. Here's some info on it from their product page:

  • Low cost, easy to use, weather resistant, 1.3 megapixel time lapse camera
  • Photos are stored as JPEG images on any USB flash drive (not included) for easy playback as an AVI (movie) file on computer using the included Windows program for playback, or any AVI video player
  • Lens adjusts from 20 inches for close ups (like a flower blooming) to infinity
  • Seven different time interval setting options (1 minute, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours, 24 hours, or user-defined)
  • Includes custom designed flexible mounting stake for insertion into the ground (tripod can also be used)

Frozen senior garden

Above, the GardenWatchCam overlooks a frozen Senior Garden while mounted on an old tripod sitting on our shallow well cover. I anchored the legs later with a bag of composted manure to keep it steady in the wind. The GardenWatchCam performed well in zero degree temperatures this week.

HummingbirdBrinno BirdWatchCamThe GardenWatchCam has a sister product, the motion activated Brinno BirdWatchCam. I'm already drooling over the ad info, but it's a bit more expensive at around $180. You can't imagine (well, maybe you can) the hoops I jumped through to get the photo at right of a hummingbird a couple of summers ago. The BirdWatchCam sounds like a product that could ease such efforts. Of course, the image at right was taken with a 4.1 megapixel camera, while Brinno's offerings use a rather puny (by today's standards) 1.3 megapixel camera.

Anyway, here's a bit of the product description (excuse the drool marks) on the BirdWatchCam:

The Brinno BirdWatchCam is a low cost, easy to use, motion activated 1.3 megapixel birding camera. It's designed to sense the heat and motion of birds entering the camera's field of view. Once the sensor is activated, BirdWatchCam wakes up for 10 seconds to take an average of 15 high quality, time stamped still photos that store on the included 2GB SD Card. After taking the photos the BirdWatchCam goes back to sleep until another bird activates the camera again.

Manure on asparagus

Before the snow and zero degree temperatures set in this week, I got out and finally added some protection to our asparagus patch. I used eight, forty pound bags of commercial composted manure. It should help prevent heaving of the roots from the winter's freeze and thaw cycles and add a bit of nutrition for the asparagus next spring.

January 19, 2009 - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Snow on the Senior GardenThere's a thin blanket of new snow covering the Senior Garden this morning. It makes for a quiet, serene time where one can pause and look out the window, drinking in the beauty of the new day.

I'd written last summer about almost losing my start of our favorite bread and butter pickle cucumber, the Japanese Long Pickling variety, in A Cucumber of Distinction. Just one seed from my saved seed germinated last year, but one seed is enough. The feature story shows and tells of the bountiful harvest and the saving of the seed.

A giant disappointment last spring was the total failure of our seeding of the Moira tomato variety. I wrote about seeding about half of my remaining saved seed of the variety early this month. Since it appeared my saved Moira seed (and some original seed from a vendor) was all bad, I threw caution to the wind when starting a couple of "pots" of the seed for germination, putting around a hundred seeds in each pot! I ended up using about half of my saved seed for the planting, reserving some for a more timely April seeding if a small miracle happened and some seed germinated.

MoiraTowards the end of last week, the developing miracle of life from very old seed became apparent. The commercial seed packet was stamped 1982, with my saved seed packets carrying the years 1984, 1988, and 1992! As you can see from the photo at left, the germination rate was around 2-5%, but it only takes one tomato plant to save seed from.

Moira in fourpackEven though it is way too early to be starting tomatoes in our growing zone, I transplanted the four best looking seedlings into a four pack. I'll try to hold these plants back as best as possible without harming them too much. They'll probably be stunted if they make it to go into the ground, but even then should produce viable seed. I plan to transplant them (or some from an April sowing) into the field east of us, approximately a hundred yards from the Senior Garden proper, to insure the purity of any saved seed.

Rose greenhouseAnother pleasant surprise under the plant lights became apparent in the last few days. I'd given my wife, Annie, a bouquet of flowers some weeks ago that included some pretty yellow roses. When they began to droop, I cut the blooms and leaves from the stems, used some rooting compound, and set them in a pot of sand to root. I used a six inch round plastic pot with a clothes hanger fashioned as a "roof support," and covered the pot with a clear plastic bread bag.

Mom's red roseWhile one or two of the yellow rose shoots put out leaves, the surprise came in the form of shoots on one of two red rose stems I'd started a few days later. The red roses came from the casket flowers from my mother's funeral. I marked the red rose stems with a loosely attached twist tie at the base of the stem.

I'm not sure if starting new rose bushes from these cuttings violates some plant protection act. Since I'm obviously not going to be selling the plants if they make it, I think I'll be okay legally.

I also omitted a photo last week of our tray of onion plants. I guess with fussing with the time-lapse camera and getting the video up on YouTube, I just spaced on it. But our storage onions for this summer are well on their way now.

Onions under grow lights

We'll be starting at least one more tray of onions soon. I have a packet of Red Zeppelin onions from Twilley's on hand, but my Walla Walla sweet white onion seed is still on backorder. We often use Walla Wallas with the Japanese Long Pickling cucumber in bread and butter pickles. We also chop and freeze a lot of the onions, as the Walla Walla variety doesn't keep well, but freezes quite well.

I also wanted to try out the Grateful Red variety of onion (paired with the Red Zeppelins), but couldn't find it anywhere in packet quantities. Stokes minimum order was a thousand seeds for $8.24, so I let that one pass. Onion seed doesn't carry over well from year to year, even if frozen.

Fruit Bouquets 

January 28, 2009

The Senior Garden is now covered with 8-12" of snow, and I finally have a day off to catch up a bit.

Snow on the Senior Garden

I recently accepted an extended substitute teaching assignment that has occupied my daytime hours in the classroom and evenings with preparations for the next teaching day. A "snow day" in the middle of the week has proved to be a welcome respite from the daily rigors of teaching. Unfortunately, there's snow to be shoveled. So a decent posting will have to wait for another day!

January 31, 2009

Plant rackWith a foot of snow on the ground right now, those of us who love sunlight and green growing things begin to go through what I've always called the Dr. Zhivago syndrome. Zhivago in the movie would practically go nuts inside through the Russian winter.

When I lived in Indianapolis, I used to visit a local greenhouse that was open all winter for a quick cure of Zhivago syndrome. The greenhouse has long since closed, and since I lack a home greenhouse, my plant rack in the basement has to do.

I moved extra geranium plants out of fourpacks that had more than one plant per cell today and transplanted the last of my test planting of Moira tomatoes. I'm practically overrun with Moira tomato seedlings now, but won't pitch them for fear that the seed I reserved just might not germinate at the appropriate planting time.

Moira seedlings

It appears that Walla Walla onion seed may be in short supply this year, as my original order for it was cancelled due to a seed crop failure. Several sources have the plants listed in their online catalogs, and at least one has the seed still listed. I've placed and order and am waiting for the vendor to ship. I'll post a note here later as to whether I get the seed or not.

And of course, next month I'll get started in earnest getting flowers and early vegetable starts going under lights.

December, 2008

From the at Senior Gardening


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