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The Old Guy's Garden Record

The Senior Garden - October 24, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009 - Getting Ready for Winter

Early October marks a time of gardening activity in the Senior Garden close in intensity to spring planting season. We're still harvesting lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and peppers and may yet get a fall crop of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.


Most of our drying, canning, and freezing is done for this year. The peppers above were sliced and frozen, giving us now five gallons of frozen peppers. That's about four gallons more than Annie and I will use over the winter, but the colorful frozen peppers make great gifts to friends and family.

I've always thought that if I ever taught a photography course (talk about the blind leading the blind...), I'd make an assignment for students to photograph ripe peppers. The colors are incredible, although I could use some work on my lighting. I also forgot to reset the ISO (film speed to those of us old timers) on my camera down from its maximum of 1600 that I was using to photograph one of our daughters singing with her blues band, so the shot above is a bit grainier than I'd like.

We're also still transplanting lettuce that should produce well into the fall with cold frame protection. We'll also be planting garlic this month that will overwinter and produce a crop for harvest next July.

Old melonsAs other activities in the garden wind down, our attention turns to getting the garden ready for winter, and more importantly, ready for next year's garden. One task yesterday was to gather up all the remaining melons and vines from our East Garden and pile them onto the compost heap. What should have been a relatively easy job was complicated by the many yellow jackets that were feasting on the melons remaining in the patch.

The area we used for melons this year will probably lie fallow next year, as it was just too close to the woods. I think the raccoons got as many melons as we did! Incidentally, the compost pile for our East Garden will not be an area where we grow any vining crops next year...just in case there might be some disease carryover from any undigested old vines.

Collecting and Saving Seed

It's sorta weird getting back to writing this blog after being off for so long. I was wondering what all I'd done besides spend five days (almost non-stop) working to move our web sites to a new host after the server that hosted Senior Gardening went down over a week ago.

Seeds dryingI realized that I hadn't really documented a lot of my gardening, as I was busy collecting seed here and there. We've saved seed from tomatoes (Moira), paprika peppers, peas, watermelon, marigolds, dianthus, and impatiens. I realized last week that I had taken over our dining room table with flower seeds drying. Since we had almost a whole week of rain, all of our seed drying had to come indoors.

Yellow marigolds

One of the seed varieties I saved was a yellow marigold that produced wonderfully full, round plants. I've already done a successful germination test on the saved seed. I'd love to be able to recommend the specific variety, but quite honestly, I don't know. We had a tough time getting our marigolds started last spring, and I finally overseeded some pots and flats with cheapo seed from a discount store (without saving the seed packet).

I've added the marigold shot above to our free Desktop Photos page.

A Reliable Vendor for Double Brocade Gloxinia Seed

Double BrocadeThompson & Morgan Seeds has added Double Brocade Gloxinias to their offGeranium - Top 6 Mixerings for 2010! I'm really thrilled by this move, as after Park Seed dropped the variety, there wasn't a reliable source for the seed in the United States.

When I order a couple of packets of the gloxinias, I'll also be ordering their World's Top Six Mix geranium seed assortment again. I didn't have much luck with it last year, but I think it was more my growing conditions than their seed, and six varieties for $11.95 is a great deal.

Site News

Yes, Senior Gardening is back up and running well once more. There's a long and irritating story about our previous web host's handling of the failure of the server that carried this site. But for now, I think I'd rather just get on with something more enjoyable than tell that tale.

Our new hosting service does open up a number of new features we may try, but this site will remain dedicated to providing an informative and visually rich garden experience for our readers.

Friday, October 2, 2009 - Digging Potatoes

Potato rowI had just one row of potatoes left to dig today, but that was more than enough to wear me out! I'd dug our row of Red Pontiac potatoes several weeks ago, but had waited on the second row, as the vines were still green and actively growing. When the vines did die back, a week of rain prevented digging.

Digging potatoes isn't one of my favorite garden tasks, and I made the job a bit harder today by also digging deep to break the plow pan under the row. Doing so improves drainage and the overall health of the soil. I also like to dig under the potatoes a bit to let them drop down from the plant to a soft bed of soil.

Red and brown potatoesWhile I expected to have lots of light brown Kennebec potatoes, I'd forgotten that I'd filled in open spots in the row with leftover Red Pontiacs. We've ended up with lots of red potatoes and just a few Kennebecs for storage.

As you can see from the photos, I had lots of moral support from our dogs as I dug. We have three dogs with one more visiting and giving every indication he'd like to stay on a while.

I also turned up a couple of toads while digging. I'm not really sure if they were on top of the soil when I dug or burrowed into the mulch and soil.


Given the amount of effort I put into our potato planting (negligible), I'm pleased with what we got. This is the first year we've been able to make a good crop of potatoes at this location.

With the harvest of the last of our potatoes, our East Garden is just about done for this year.

East Garden - July East Garden - October
July 12 October 2

Considering that the East Garden is planted on an old, spent cornfield, we've done pretty well with it. We've made nice crops of melons for two years running and even got some sweet corn from it this year. Our inputs to the garden section have been minimal. We did apply lots and lots of lime, but we also live next door to a coal fired power plant. We mainly just gave our melon transplants a million dollar hole filled with peat moss mixed with topsoil and fertilizer.

Yellow squash plantBesides our flowers and some now sad looking tomato plants, the only planting still trying to produce fruit is our yellow squash. I transplanted two pots of two or three plants each on September 2 into the area vacated by our sweet corn, hoping to sneak in another crop of the delicious vegetable.

We lost our spring planting of yellow squash to powdery mildew, but only after we'd harvested lots and lots of squash. While I like to use open pollinated plants whenever possible, I'll probably stick with this hybrid variety, Slick Pik™ YS 26, for next year. It has been an excellent producer, has a nice, compact growth habit, and if planted in a sunny area, shouldn't be as susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew.

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Monday, October 5, 2009 - Frost Dates

Knowing the first frost date for an area can help gardeners extend their growing season a few weeks. It can also help gardeners evaluate whether it's worth taking a chance on a fall planting of a tender crop such as our fling at fall yellow squash. It's really disappointing to get caught unprepared for the first killing frost of fall and then have several weeks of mild weather where crops could have continued producing if they'd been protected from that first frost.

First killing frost map (US)

Senior Garden frost mapIn the United States, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide free guides and climatic data on first frost (and last frost for spring) information. Maps such as the one above (NOAA Satellite and Information Service) can give you a general idea of your first frost date. But even with such maps, you may, like us, garden in an area that straddles two frost regions.

Our NWS office supplies a nice web page about frost dates in Indiana. When I searched (Googled), I found other states that do the same, but didn't find a page that linked to the various NWS or state data pages. I did, however, find a NOAA page where one can download information for any state that includes first and last frost date averages with recorded earliest and latest frosts.

Fall lettuce and cold frameI really don't do a lot of covering of crops in the fall, as we've gotten most of what we want put up from the garden by that time. Last year we did use a cold frame to extend our lettuce harvest well into November! In previous years we've covered flowers in the garden with old blankets to extend their flowering season past the first frost. I find that extending our gardening season by covering plants for frost protection to be a bit of a hassle, and it also interferes with efforts to get the garden ready for the next spring. Even so, I'll probably keep our lettuce covered up on frosty nights again this year. Hardier crops such as our kale, broccoli, and cauliflower are on their own with the frost and are too tall for our cold frame to protect anyway.

Lettuce & Stuff

Fall lettuceLettuce transplantsWe've been enjoying some tasty, crisp fall lettuce. I started putting in lettuce transplants for the fall in mid-August and again two times in September. Today, I had to pull a few plants from the first planting that were getting ready to go to seed. I replaced them with, what else, more lettuce. For this planting, I spaced the plants very close to each other (8-12"), as I'll probably be covering them with our 3' x 6' cold frame. Interestingly, our Red Lollo lettuce went to seed much more quickly than our Cos/Romaine variety did.

Small broccoli headSavoy cabbageI was pleased to see small heads forming when I peeked past the leaves of our fall broccoli. Our cauliflower appears to be a bit behind the broccoli, but has leaves curled over what I hope are heads of cauliflower.

I still struggle with the timing of starting fall brassica transplants and again with when to put them in the soil. It appears so far that putting the fall brassicas in the garden on August 10 was about right. We'll almost certainly beat the frost with the broccoli, and the savoy cabbage planted then is just about ready to pick. I'm still not sure about the cauliflower.

Fall brassicas are a bit tricky, as if you get them in too early, they'll bolt from the heat in August and early September. Get them in too late, and even as hardy as they are, frost may nip them before you get a crop. And of course, each growing season's fall weather can be dramatically different from previous years.

KaleOur broccoli looked really sad a few days ago. It had withstood several days of 30-40 MPH winds and was also riddled with insect damage. I hit all the brassicas pretty hard a few days ago with a rotenon-pyretherin combo spray to clean them up. The plants have righted themselves from the list the wind had given them. Later today, I'll go back and treat them all with Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis). While cabbage looper worms aren't too hard to wash off broccoli, they're nasty when the get into the cabbage and kale.

Penny LaneI had one of those proud, gardening papa moments this week when my wife, Annie, told me that one of our adult daughters, Samantha, had asked if we had some kale to spare. Sam told Annie that she hoped to try making one of our family favorites, Portuguese Kale Soup. Sam (and Todd) are also the parents of our most recently born grandchild, Penny Lane.

As fall takes hold more and more, I miss the wall to wall vibrant colors of our flowers in the garden. But today, I got a pleasant surprise on the back side of our raised garden bed that's not visible from the house. Hiding behind our lush pepper plants was a beautiful display of pastel petunia blooms!

Petunias in October

Amazon Wish List 10th Anniversary Sweepstakes

" customers will be wishing big this fall as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the much-loved Amazon Wish List with 10 lavish sweepstakes." Starting today and for the next ten weeks, Amazon customers will have a chance to enter one of the themed Wish List sweepstakes. Just create, add to, or share a Wish List, and you'll be invited to enter.

Dream Kitchen

Since Amazon is a Senior Gardening affiliate advertiser, I'm ineligible to enter. But if I could enter the Amazon Wish List 10th Anniversary Sweepstakes, I'd shoot for the week 2 Dream Kitchen sweepstakes.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - Seed Catalogs

Like the old Carly Simon hit, Anticipation, perusing seed catalogs can be one of the most enjoyable gardening activities there is. When you're cooped up inside, bordering on Dr. Zhivago syndrome (needing to see something green and growing), a pleasant look at the green vegetables and vibrant flower colors in a seed catalog can raise ones spirits. (It can also lighten your checkbook considerably!)

Seed Catalogs

Any day now, the first of our 2010 seed catalogs should arrive. The rest will dribble in through December, as some companies wait on plant trials to wind up before publishing their spring catalog. Even though we order almost all of our seed online now, I still like to spread the seed catalogs out on the kitchen table and spend evenings looking through them. I mark the varieties I'd like to order and then do the winnowing process to make my wishes fit my means.

If you've placed an order in the last year or so with a seed house, they'll obviously send you a catalog without any action on your part. But if you haven't placed an order or ordered your seed catalogs for next year's garden, now is the time to get on seed supplier's mailing lists.

Below is a commented list of vendors we use for seed for the Senior Garden. They are tiered by our main suppliers, other trusted suppliers, and some we've used in the past or want to try for the first time. The last group is offered without recommendation or endorsement. Also check our affiliate advertiser page for other vendors for gardening supplies (that don't supply free catalogs).

We order over half of our seed from just two longtime suppliers:

  • Stokes Seeds - offers an incredible variety of vegetable and flower seeds - respond promptly to customer inquiries and complaints - carries the excellent Empress variety of gloxinia seed - our favorite supplier
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - good customer service - another favorite supplier

Most of the rest of our seed orders are spread across a variety of old and trusted suppliers:

  • Thompson & Morgan - a British company with a US outlet - their print catalog is gorgeous - carries seed for the hard to find Double Brocade F1 Hybrid Gloxinia - excellent customer service
  • R.H. Shumway's - offers many heirloom seeds in a unique, old fashioned looking catalog
  • 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 last year, as SSE has some varieties you won't find anywhere else. They offer a free catalog of seed along with their paid annual Yearbook of listings from members (membership is $35/year)
  • Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. - a good lineup of items - we used to order seed potatoes from them

Others we may use:

  • Harris Seeds - no longer a recommended supplier due solely to the arrogance and unresponsiveness of company president, Dick Chamberlin. If you order from this company and have a problem, expect to be disappointed. (12/13/2011)
  • Seeds Trust - I found my old, favorite red pepper (Earliest Red Sweet) from them last year.
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
  • Seeds of Change - Suppliers of organic seed - we've not used them before, but may try them this year
  • Bunton's Seed - an old seed company (not a grower) based in Louisville (KY) that I want to try this year
  • Mountain Valley Seed - a family owned seed company that has a nice selection and fair shipping rates
  • Pase Seeds - still carries the Double Brocade Mix variety of gloxinia, but with just so-so seed vigor
  • The Rocky Mountain Seed Company - their first year of online ordering - another new one to try for us
  • Burpee Seeds - Burpee was my first seed catalog. They're pretty much a shadow of the outstanding supplier they once were.
  • 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) - we did have some customer service issues with them this year
  • Park Seed - provide a beautiful catalog - lots of gorgeous flowers and some nice accessories - recently stopped listing items on Amazon and dropped all of their affiliate advertising (in financial trouble?) - extremely poor response to customer requests for previously listed seed varieties

Full disclosure: Burpee is a Senior Gardening affiliate advertiser.

We're always trying new suppliers, so if you know of one we should consider, . I'm still looking for a good, economical supplier of pots, flats, and inserts.

Saturday, October 10, 2009 - Saving Gloxinia Seed

Bursting bloomThe update on saving seed from gloxinia plants had so many new images in it that I decided to post it as a separate feature, Saving Gloxinia Seed. Even with a high speed internet connection, there are limits to how many images one wants in one page!

The gloxinia ovary at right is one I let get away from me. By the time I harvested it, it was "leaking" seed all over my plant area. One gloxinia bloom produces hundreds of seeds.

Having pretty well exhausted my saved gloxinia seed (from 1991!) with a foolish spill of hundreds, if not thousands of seeds into one pot, I've now replenished my supply. That can be important if one for some reason loses all their gloxinia plants. We had a bit of a disaster several years ago and had to start over again. Of course, with proper care, gloxinias will bloom, go through dormancy, and then repeat the processes for years and years.

Gloxinia bloom

We've had lots and lots of rain lately. That has pretty well stopped any outdoor efforts at harvesting our few remaining crops or getting the garden ready for next spring. But the rainy weather did give me an opportunity to haul out all the photo gear and get the macro shots I needed to finish up the saving gloxinia seed feature.

One sad note today is that we haven't seen any hummingbirds at our feeders for almost a week. That's probably a good thing, or they might have needed overcoats. And some of the last hummingbirds to leave actually looked rotund!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 - Saving Tomato Seed

Since I seem to be in seed saving mode, I put up a quick pictorial "how-to" on Saving Tomato Seed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Frost nipped squash plantAfter days and days of rain, we had our first frost of the season on Sunday. It was the kind of frost that nips tender plants, but not hard enough to bother most of our remaining vegetable crops in the Senior Garden. And as often happens, our weather forecast for the next few days doesn't include any frost warnings.

Last peppers of the seasonKnowing the frost was coming, I'd spent a good bit of time pulling our tomato and pepper plants from the main garden. Our tomatoes were pretty well spent, but I ended up with several buckets of nice peppers. I miss the fresh tomatoes already!

Our flowerbeds by our front porch and a begonia I forgot and left out on the back porch weren't damaged at all. We are pretty well down to frost hardy crops in our garden, although our lettuce will need some protection from future, harder frosts.

broccoliOur first head of fall broccoli is ready to pick anytime now. And our kale, now improved by a touch of frost, will go into our second batch of Portuguese Kale Soup of the season. We also have plenty of cabbage, spinach, and lettuce still producing.

Getting past the first frost is really sort of a good thing, as it allows one to concentrate on getting ready for next year. I'm beginning to mentally lay out where I want to plant things for next year's garden. Garlic, both German and elephant garlic (really a type of leek), will go into the ground sometime this month. There are lots of spent flower and vegetable plants to go into our compost piles. We're also going to have to change the configuration of our East Garden. When I expanded that plot this spring, I got too close to the adjoining woods. We lost a lot of melons this year to hungry and industrious raccoons! If things dry out enough this fall, we'll lime and fall till some new ground a bit further from the woods. If not, that chore will have to wait until spring.

Saturday, October 24, 2009 - More Kale Soup

Portuguese Kale SoupWe're making another large pot of Portuguese Kale Soup today. This last batch of the season may come out just a bit better than the kale soup we made in early September. Our kale this time has been through a light frost, which is said to improve its flavor.

We generally take all day to make the soup, as it takes a lot of time just to get everything boiled down in the chicken stock. The kale greatly reduces in volume while cooking.

For the first time since last May, we have some fairly large, unplanted areas in our main garden. There are a couple of rows of green beans drying down for seed saving. Beyond that, our current crops are our brassicas, two leeks, and lots of lettuce and spinach.

Great fall lettuce and spinach

Fall broccoliWe cut our first head of fall broccoli for supper tonight. It measured 8-9" across, which is considerably larger than any of the heads of fall broccoli we cut last year. I put a quarter in front of the head for size comparison. We have one more comparable head to cut. The rest of the fall broccoli is still a good bit behind, but with no killing frost in sight, we may enjoy broccoli for a few more weeks. Our fall cauliflower is lagging way behind and probably won't beat the frost.

Ornamental KaleOne brassica that won't go in the kale soup or on the table is our ornamental kale. I'd never tried growing it before and got ours into the garden pretty late this summer. The plants are near the corners of our raised bed and are now adding some welcome color to the garden. Our first frost pretty well took out most of the flowers at the edges of our raised bed.

Monday, October 26, 2009

We continue putting parts of the garden "to bed" for the winter. Our East Garden plot, which this year measured 30' x 120', is now ready for winter. I raked up much of the grass clipping mulch we'd used for weed control around melons and added it to the compost heap.

East Garden ready for winter

The mulch has, of course, shed a good bit of grass seed and should help reseed the area closest to the woods that we plan not to garden next year. We'll be tilling a bit more towards the barn for next year's melons and corn.

Asparagus cleaned upBurn pileI cut most of the asparagus from its raised bed today. I did leave a few actively growing shoots that I'll need to cut in a few weeks. I'll still need to add a bit of cow manure to the bed before mulching it for the winter. The asparagus branches went into the burn pile, as I've found asparagus stems to be slow decomposers in the compost heap. Living in the country, we can still burn off rough garden residue, branches, and such.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October has proved to be a fairly difficult month for gardening this year. During October, I always have an eye out for frost, but this year frequent, heavy rains have slowed progress in getting the garden ready for next year. The good news is that we haven't yet had a killing frost that takes our hardy vegetables, although one may come tonight. Enjoying the extended growing season, I picked some spinach this week to serve with garlic-lemon chicken. Picking fresh spinach at the end of October is a real treat.

I got my yearbook listings completed today for the 2010 Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook. We'll be offering Moira tomato seed and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed. Both come from plants grown from old, old seed packets long stored in our freezer.

Moira Japanese Long Pickling
Moira - front Moira - back JLP -front JLP - back
Moira tomato Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers

I'd planned to also offer Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed this year, but the one plant I isolated in our East Garden produced bright yellow fruit! We had two ERS plants in with our other peppers, and they produced abundant red peppers. I guess I'll need to watch my plant labeling a bit more closely next year.

September, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening


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