Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

The Senior Garden - 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - Portuguese Kale Soup

Portuguese Kale SoupWe usually make several batches of Portuguese Kale Soup each year. Our recipe for the hearty soup originally came from the late Jim Crockett's excellent gardening guide, Crockett's Victory Garden.

Canning soupWhile I usually make our first batch of the soup in late July or early August, I waited this year until I could use our own potatoes for the soup. Other than the chicken broth, kidney beans, salt and pepper, and smoked sausage, everything that went into the soup this year came from our garden: kale, green beans, carrots, corn, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and garlic.

We've totally run out of quart canning jars, so I canned the soup last night and this morning in pint jars. We pressure can pints of the soup for 75 minutes and quarts for 90 minutes, as the soup has both chicken and sausage in it. Portuguese Kale Soup also freezes well, but our freezer is small and filling up quickly.

More Yellow Squash?

Corn patchYellow squash plantsI mowed and then rototilled our corn patch on Monday. I had to stop at the end of each row while mowing the weeds that had sprung up in it to let the dust pass. Things are really dry here now.

I'd started a couple of pots of yellow squash seed several weeks ago, so with the corn ground open and tilled, I decided to transplant the squash last evening. I dug a large hole for each pot about sixteen inches deep, sprinkled lime and 12-12-12 fertilizer on the soil, and then filled the hole with a bucket of water. I then drew the soil and a bit more back into the hole to make a hill for each pot. The plants went into the hill and received a good watering with a bit of starter fertilizer mixed in.

Mulched squashRenovated corn patchSince the soil is so dry, I mulched my new planting with grass clippings to hold in as much moisture as possible. The clippings were really green (and hot in the pile), so I mulched very lightly close to the tender transplants and more heavily as I moved out from them. I'd also mulched the row of nasturtiums and marigolds next to the squash on Monday.

Transplanting a 48 day squash variety on September 1 in this area is really a shot in the dark. But I had the seed and the space and just hope we'll harvest some yellow squash before frost sets in.

A Seedless Watermelon

When I brought in two watermelon last Wednesday, I cut the larger of the two, a Moon & Stars melon. The other melon, which looked to be a small Crimson Sweet just sat on the back porch since then. As the last of the melon I'd cut almost a week ago was heading toward watermelon wine, I pitched it today and brought in the other melon.

SsuperSweet Variety #5244

When I cut the melon, I knew it wasn't a Crimson Sweet, as it was almost totally without seeds. It was a Twilley Supersweet Brand Variety #5244. I thought our one hill of seedless watermelon had been overgrown by the more vigorous seeded varieties. I was pleasantly surprised by the rich color of the flesh and that it was ripe almost to the rind with no hollow areas in the middle.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009 - Freezing Peppers

Peppers dryingThey say repeating yourself is a sign of advancing age, and I guess I'm guilty of that one. When I started to write today about freezing sweet bell peppers, I searched the Senior Gardening site and found I'd made such an entry almost a year ago to the day. But this task is so easy and rewarding that it bears repeating.

Frozen Peppers on Cookie SheetPeppers in freezer bagWe preserve our peppers by washing them, coring and removing the seeds, and cutting them into long strips. We place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and then freeze them. After about 2-3 hours, we move the frozen pepper strips into a Ziploc freezer bag.

When I began writing this posting, I did a search on "freezing peppers," as I had some concern about the safety of freezing peppers without first blanching them. It's worked well for us for years, but...

Freezing Sweet or Bell and Hot Peppers from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln extension office gave me some "official" relief that blanching wasn't really necessary for this process. Things to Do with Chile Peppers - Freezing from Mike's Pepper Garden also confirmed my method of freezing peppers, along with a lot of cool information on peppers.

Drying Paprika PeppersBefore I get away from talking about peppers, our Paprika Supreme plant is now producing mature fruit. I didn't get a shot of the red paprika pepper before I cored, seeded, washed, and began drying them in the sun. One of our daughters has a food dehydrator she's offered to loan us, so these may be the last paprikas we sun dry. After drying, the peppers will go into a coffee grinder to produce powdered paprika for storage and cooking. Some web sites recommend freezing paprika even though you've dried it, and some don't. We'll probably do a little of each since this is the first year we've grown paprika.

I also carefully separated out any extraneous matter from the seeds, put them on a paper towel, and am drying them. We'll try some of the saved seed next year and see if they grow out true to variety. Our Paprika Supreme plant is not isolated from our other pepper varieties and could have cross-pollinated.

More Green Beans

Green beansCanned green beans coolingNow resupplied with more quart canning jars, we put up five more quarts of green beans today. Our picking was a bit light, as I'd picked a bit earlier this week for our Portuguese Kale Soup.

I'm also finding that the crops in our main raised bed really need a good rain despite being mulched fairly heavily with grass clippings. I've resorted to watering in that area by the bucketful from our granddaughter's wading pool! It usually needs to be cleaned out each week, and the water goes to good use in our garden.

New Header Photo

Garden - full frameCloudy skyI changed the photo at the top of the page today to reflect the current state of our main garden. I grabbed the shot from an upstairs window using my new, "normal" lens, a Canon EF-S 17-85mm Zoom Lens. Until a few weeks ago, I had to work around a limb from our old maple tree when taking photos from the window. As you can see in the full frame version of the shot at left, the tree isn't a problem for shooting photos from that window anymore, but I sure wish the tree trimmer would come pick up the trunk!

I also grabbed a sky shot of some clouds I hoped (in vain) would produce a good rain.

Back porchOne of the challenges I threw at the new lens today was recording our cluttered back porch that serves as a storage and staging area for our garden. At midday, it is brightly lit along the edge with shadows beside the house. I did have to do a few adjustments to the shot, mainly brightening up the tomatoes a bit, but got a reasonably good shot despite the lighting differences involved.

If you're looking into the Canon Digital Rebel camera lineup, I'd really recommend not buying the Canon EF-S 18-55mm "kit lens" that is usually bundled with their digital SLRs. Buying the camera body plus a better lens such as the 17-85mm will give you a lot more flexibility in a "walking around" lens. Of course, the better lenses are a bit more expensive as well, but I can already tell my new one was well worth the cost. A good hint from Canon is that their "D" series cameras, a step up from the Digital Rebel line, often come bundled with the 17-85mm lens. And I saw today that along with the newly announced EOS 7D (18 MP), Canon is updating the 17-85mm lens to a new and slightly faster EF-S 15-85mm zoom lens.

Friday, September 11, 2009 - Gloxinia Seed

We had a heavy fog on Wednesday morning that lasted until about 11 o'clock, making it a good morning for working inside. I'd noticed the day before that one of our gloxinia plants was bearing seed, so I pulled out the heavy duty camera gear and got started on an update to our Gloxinias feature.

Gloxinia shedding pollen

StigmaOne of our better gloxinia plants has been shedding pollen freely each day around noon. I use a Q-tip to gather the pollen and move it to another plant's bloom, applying it to the stigma (pistil) of the flower.

If the pollination takes, the petals of the bloom will wither, the the stem of the bloom will not wither, staying large as it feeds the maturing seeds.

Ovary splitting openThe blooms will let you know when they're ready, as the ovary (the base of the flower that holds the seeds) will begin to split open and shed seed.

As long as your gloxinia is in an area where it won't get bumped (and shed and lose seed), you can leave it alone until it opens up a bit.

Ovary openOnce the ovary opens, trim the bloom from the plant and hold it over something to catch the seed. I use white paper plates and paper bowls to gather the seed. You should get a good bit of seed by just tapping and gently squeezing the ovary. I also let the ovary sit a day or so and squeeze it again. That generally makes it shed a bit more seed.

Gloxinia seedAs with lots of plants in nature, the amount of seed produced by one or two flowers is amazing. We're talking hundreds if not a thousand or more seeds!

I let the seed sit and dry out a day or so before storing it. I use some leftover, clear seed vials for my gloxinia seed now, but also have used homemade aluminum foil pouches with good success in the past.

Photography Reality Check

Recording the pollinating and seed shedding processes was a good news-bad news sorta deal. As I took photos and got them on my computer to see them at full size, I was disappointed a bit that I couldn't get a really, really sharp image of the seeds in the ovary. I pretty well maxed out the macro capabilities of my lenses and realized I'd need either a true macro lens or some close-up filters.

With true macro lenses weighing in between $400-700, I opted for a set of macro close-up filters. They're on the way. The update to the gloxinia feature will have to wait until I try getting some sharp images of the seed and ovaries.

Slik tripodThe good news was that I found my new SLIK 615-315 tripod to be rock solid and very easy to use. It's not a travel tripod by any means, but it can handle my Canon XSi with its relatively heavy EF-S 17-85mm lens without difficulty. I chose it for stability and also with an eye to mounting a heavier video camera on it at some point.

My thirty-plus-year-old Vivitar tripod that once supported a Mamiya RB-67 has its legs duct tapped open with my Brinno GardenWatchCam semi-permanently mounted on it. It's seen better days, but I think I got my money's worth out of it.

Drying Paprikas

Paprika peppers growingPaprika peppersI picked a few more paprika peppers today and decided to try drying them in our borrowed food dehydrator. Our previous attempt at air drying is just going so-so, as one of the pepper halves began to mold and had to be discarded.

I started with around eight paprika peppers. Halved, they filled just over one dehydrator tray. I'm trying them at 115-120o F. I found that temperature recommendation on Mike's Pepper Garden.

Tray of paprika peppersIf nothing else, the paprikas made a pretty sight in the dehydrator tray.

More Potatoes

red potatoesI dug the last half row of our Red Pontiac potatoes this week. The digging just about did me in, as the heat and humidity made for hot work. I was glad I had our garden cart to hang onto on the way back to the house!

The potato digging was prompted by the vines dying down and a plan to make another round of kale soup from some turkey broth I'd frozen last winter. The soup never made it as I opted for turkey and noodles instead.

We've not had much luck in the past growing potatoes in the Senior Garden. When I planted them in trenches, heavy rains would rot the seed potatoes. In years where we got our potatoes started, bugs often decimated our vines.

With plenty of space in our East Garden, I decided to try again this year. The soil in that garden patch is heavy clay with little organic matter. When I planted the potatoes, I didn't use a trench as I had in the past, but just tilled the ground, added sulfur to make sure it was acid enough for potatoes (pH 6.0), and added a bunch of 5-10-5 fertilizer. After tilling, I just used a garden trowel to plant the seed potatoes. Since I had more than enough seed potatoes for the area available, I planted most of them whole, rather than cutting them.

I've hilled the potatoes just a bit with loose soil and grass clipping mulch through the growing season, but really haven't truly hilled the potatoes as most folks do. So, with the absence of good soil and very, very minimal care, we've lucked out into a very nice potato crop.

Our Kennebec potato vines are still green and actively growing, so while digging the reds, I used a bit of soil to hill them up and hold back weeds a bit.

Sunday, September 13, 2009 - Paprika!

Our experiment with growing, drying, and grinding paprika has at long last yielded some ground paprika for storage. I'd started several Paprika Supreme seeds last winter, only to be frustrated by poor germination. By the time I was ready to transplant peppers in the spring, only one paprika pepper plant was in good enough shape to transplant.

Despite the slow start, our one plant has begun producing some lovely, red, paprika peppers. I washed, cored, and seeded several of them last week and put them in a food dehydrator for...well, it seemed like forever. The actual drying time was within the dehydrator manual's recommendation of 5-12 hours.

Dehyrated paprika peppers Grinding paprikas Ground paprika

When most of the peppers snapped somewhat easily, I broke them into an extra coffee grinder. I'd cleaned it with a damp paper towel, followed by a cleansing grinding of some Cheerios, and another damp towel cleaning.

Our ground paprika's orange color surprised me a bit, as did its pungent scent. The finished paprika powder went into a Ziploc bag for storage in the freezer. I plan to store our next round of paprika in a glass jar, as both dry storage and freezing are recommended storage methods for the spice.

Of the paprika pepper halves I'd attempted to sundry, two molded and had to be discarded. The other two still weren't dry enough to grind after 5 days of drying. I popped them into the dehydrator with the other peppers towards the end of the drying process to finish them up.

Thursday, September 17, 2009 - Flowerbeds

MayFlowerbeds in SeptemberOur front flowerbeds that were planted in May have produced a troublefree mix of dusty miller and impatiens. They were supposed to have lots of alyssum and a row of dianthus, but those plants got overwhelmed by the the taller growing plants. You can just barely see some of the alyssum and dianthus in the photo below.

Front flowerbed

Until this year, these north-facing flowerbeds have been in the shade most of each day. We had an old maple tree just east of the beds cut down, and that has allowed a good deal more sunlight on the beds. It hasn't seemed to bother the shadeloving varieties.

Impatiens seed podsImpatiens seed and podsI've been harvesting seed from the impatiens plants this week. One day I was picking and sometimes popping the seed pods into a paper bowl. I had quite a few seeds when I noticed a pleasant breeze had sprung up. When I looked back at my bowl of impatiens seed, it was nearly empty! I've made up for the wind loss in the days since and may not need to buy any impatiens seed when I place my seed orders for next year. We're also saving seed from the dianthus plants that are still rather healthy in spite of living under the canopy of dusty miller and impatiens.

Seed Catalogs

In this day and age of online access to nearly everything, seed catalogs are a pleasant anachronism. While I often place my seed orders online, I always want to have the physical catalog to peruse as I contemplate new varieties for the garden.

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

We order over half of our seed from just two 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
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern latitudes - good customer service

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

  • 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 this year, as SSE has some varieties you won't find anywhere else.
  • Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. - a good lineup of items - we used to order seed potatoes from them

We're going to try ordering a few things next year from Harris Seeds. We used to order a lot of stuff from them before the family owned business was sold to a large corporation in 1979. I noticed just this week that the company is now run by some "long time Harris employees," according to their About page.

Wrong!!! (12/13/2011)

We did business with Harris Seeds for several years. I had a question about triploid watermelon seeds that drew an arrogant response from one of their employees. I guess I'm way too dumb to be trusted to hold an 85-90o F temperature to germinate their precious seed. Today, I questioned their president, Dick Chamberlin, about the tardiness of their seed catalogs for 2012. Chamberlin arrogantly informed me that I was out of line for such a request and my catalog would come when they were ready to send it.

I don't often post nasty, negative posts about suppliers, but beware of Harris Seeds. If your order goes through okay and the seeds are good, no problem. But if you have to write them about something slightly unusual that might cause them to do something slightly extra to satisfy a customer, prepare to be disappointed. Harris Seeds is a definite no-go!

We're always trying new suppliers, so if you know of one we should consider, . Do note that we have really trimmed our list of trusted suppliers from last January's list, as we had a tough spring with some really inferior seed we received from several suppliers. We also dropped several others for poor communication with customers!


Our hummingbirds have pretty well left us for their long migration south. We still see some transients at our feeder, but just one or two at a time. At the height of the summer, we'd often see four to six birds competing for a spot at each of our feeders.

blue heronThe heron (both blue and white) that nest around here haven't left as yet. I almost always take my good camera with me when I drive into town (around 8 miles one way) and cross the Turtle Creek Reservoir causeway on the way. I was rewarded today as several white (white egrets) and one blue (great blue heron) heron were feeding in the shallows. The blue heron shown was at a distance where they usually spook and fly away before I can get a good shot of them, leaving me with nothing more than a good story. But this time, it didn't. I was able to mount my 55-250mm zoom lens on my Canon XSi and grab the shot.

Blue heronIt even gave me time to remount my "standard" 17-85mm lens and grab a shot that gives a bit more of an idea how far away it was. (Note that the lens was zoomed out to its 85 mm maximum even for the shot at right.)

I'm very slowly learning how to use the new camera's many features. The shot of the heron above was taken on aperture preferred mode with a setting of f/16. I also used spot focusing, as using manual focus on the viewfinder in bright light just doesn't work for me and standard auto-focusing is a disaster for such shots. Note that I did employ manual focusing on the viewfinder for the gloxinia shots I ran last Friday. It allows you to focus on the viewfinder and even zoom in just on the viewfinder to pinpoint your manual focus.

And to complete my day with the birds, I heard a familiar call, actually a scolding cry, from our apple trees when I came in from our East Garden. When I looked, there were the male and female red-bellied woodpeckers that had helped themselves to dogfood on our front porch and in our back yard a good bit of the summer. Maybe they were just saying goodbye before leaving for the south.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 - Back Online

Senior Gardening was offline for over a week due to server problems. Our apologies if you visited and found a blank page. We've switched web hosts to get back online as quickly as possible and also to insure we don't have another similar failure in the future.

I'm uploading the site today just as quickly as possible. Please bear with us as we get set up once again.

In the meantime, you might want to check out the October newsletter from Johnny's Selected Seeds. They have some good fall gardening tips.

August, 2009

From the at Senior Gardening


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