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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 12/12/2010


Friday, December 3, 2010

Our order for a couple of trees for fall planting was delayed, so I found myself transplanting trees this week in brisk, cold winds and snowflakes. I think that's pushing it for "fall planting," but the trees had to go in.

Fall planting (done right frown ) has the advantage of giving the root system of a new tree a head start. The roots will begin to grow in the unfrozen subsoil and also don't have to immediately begin providing moisture for topgrowth as they would in a spring planting.

While the weather was brisk, our soil only had the slightest frozen crust on it, making digging a good hole for each tree rather easy. I added a touch of peat moss, lime, and bone meal to the soil, but thoroughly drenched each planting hole with water.

Winesap semi-dwarfRed maple whipI transplanted a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap apple tree to replace our standard Stayman Winesap that succumbed to fireblight over the last two years. Since a freebie red maple came with the paid apple tree order, it went in near the house to replace a grand old maple we lost there two years ago. I put an old plastic tree guard around the trunk of the apple tree, as the guard is supposed to deter mice from damaging the bark and also help with winter sunscald on the bark. I'm not sure about either claim, but the guard was just sitting on the workbench, so it can't hurt. More important to both trees' survival are small cages I put around them. The cages had been used for peppers this year, but now serve to make the trees more visible, and in the case of the apple tree, possibly discourage passing deer from nibbling.

Over the last few days, we've had driving snow with 1" diameter snowflakes, lots of wind, and bodies of water just beginning to ice over. The sun was shining brightly today around noon, and it actually felt fairly warm outside (40's). But we're supposed to have a quick snow this evening that may leave a small accumulation.

Ice on the pond

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Winter SnowSnowdriftsAny odd thoughts I'd entertained about turning over a few forkfuls of soil in the garden disappeared this week with the winter storm that swept through the midwest. We didn't get all that much snow, but the cold temperatures and strong winds put an end to our outdoor gardening for a while. The wind pushed up three and four foot drifts in some pretty inconvenient places.

Johnny's Selected SeedsBaker Creek Heirloom SeedsAnd while the weather has been a bit difficult, our postman continues to bring us some gorgeous garden catalogs. The Johnny's catalog for this year has a great cover shot of a community garden in Massachusetts that is part of The Food Project, an organization dedicated to engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture.

At the recommendation of several readers, I added Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds to our list of potential suppliers this year and requested a catalog from them. I'm still on my first pass through the catalog, as the excellent photography tends to slow me down admiring shots of kids, grown-ups, and veggies.

A melon page from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Baker Creek sells only open-pollinated, untreated, non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) seeds. In addition to online sales and the mail order catalog, they also offer a downloadable (10.4 MB PDF document) version of their print catalog.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010 - Grafted Tomato Plants

Territorial Seed CompanyWhen we received our copy of the Territorial Seed Company catalog a few days ago, an item on the back cover surprised me. It was a promo for grafted tomato plants! Having raised fruit trees for years, I was familiar with the advantages of grafted fruit tree stock over natural stock, but had not heard of grafting vegetables. A little online research revealed that tomato grafting has been going on for some time, especially in Asia and Europe, mainly for commercial greenhouse operations. According to Wikipedia:

Currently, 81% of Korean and 54% of Japanese vegetable cultivation uses grafting. The use of this cultural technique is mainly carried out for intensive cropping systems like greenhouse and tunnel production. This method is especially popular for vegetable production in the orient, and the number of vegetables in 1998 was estimated to be 540 million transplants in Korea and 750 million in Japan.

Territorial's grafted tomato plantsFor home gardeners in this country, the advantages of tomato grafting seem to be in preserving the fruit qualities of older varieties while gaining the advantages of a different rootstock's disease resistance and growth vigor. Territorial's first listed offering is the now common heirloom, Brandywine, on grafted rootstock. They also carry other heirloom, paste and beefsteak varieties. I noticed that Territorial also offered plants with multiple grafts, much like the old 3-in-1 apple tree grafts (three apple varieties on one plant) that never seemed to do very well. One that interested me was a Sungold and Sweet Million plant that had both yellow and red cherry tomatoes on the same plant.

I can see grafted tomatoes being a real plus for folks doing patio gardening and others with very limited garden space. For folks with heavily diseased ground, grafted tomatoes with resistant rootstock could also be helpful. Not having tried grafted tomato plants, I wonder if the grafts might be subject to separating, a common problem with the old 3-in-1 apple tree grafts. Territorial's offering is pretty limited in varieties and I thought the plants were rather expensive. I toyed with trying one of their Big Beef grafted plants (at $6.95/plant plus shipping), but then thought the combo, cherry tomato graft might be cool for the grandkids. Then I saw that the double grafted plants were also almost double the price ($11.50 each plus shipping) of the single grafts and decided to wait and see how others fare with them this year and also for the usual reduction in price after an exclusive offering.

For those interested in trying their own tomato grafting, I found a page of interesting directions by Anne Urban online.

Thursday, December 30, 2010 - Starting Onions

flat of onion seedI started our onion transplants today! I'm a week or two early on this task, as I'm purposely breaking one of my rules of "always" using fresh onion seed. While I successfully store a lot of seed from year to year in our freezer, I've not had a lot of luck using old onion seed.

When most of our suppliers last spring appeared not to have Walla Walla onion seed due to a seed crop failure, I resorted to using year old seed out of the freezer and it germinated quite well. All of the rest of our seed last spring was fresh seed. We even had a packet of Walla Walla come in late that we didn't have to use (since the old seed had germinated).

So this year with many of our seed packets bearing the notice, "Sell by 12/10," and remembering our good luck last year with old Walla Walla seed, I thought I'd try using the old seed with an early planting. If it fails to germinate, I can always place a quick order next month and not be too far behind. (I'll also have had a reminder lesson on why I've avoiding using old onion seed for years and years.)

I used a permanest tray for our flat of onions, as those trays are considerably sturdier than even a doubled standard 1020 flat. I had sterilized potting soil for it earlier this week, but I did have to hunt around the basement a bit for my recycled plant labels. They were tucked away in a coffee can where I'd soaked them in bleach to lighten previous writing and to sterilize them. Lacking a ruler in the kitchen, I employed a cheese grater to make shallow dibbles (rows) for the onion seed. Since I was using old seed, I seeded the rows heavily. If the seed germinates well, I'll have a lot to thinning to do. If it germinates just okay, I'm still okay. And if it fails, well...I'll be online filing a quick order for fresh onion seed.

I stayed with the same four varieties of onions we've grown over the last several years. Pulsar and Milestone are both excellent yellow storage onions. Red Zeppelin is a good red onion that stores fairly well. And Walla Walla sweet onions are a hardy, sweet onion that can be chopped and frozen for later use. All grow well in our climate zone...when it rains. Our harvest was a bit light last year due to a late summer drought. And I've noticed that our onions aren't storing as well this winter as they did last winter, but that could be due to my not curing them long enough or properly.

With our onions started and enough geranium seed on hand to get us going on that project, I'm taking my time getting our seed orders together for this year. I'm obviously looking at cutting costs a bit (using old onion seed), but will still be ordering some new varieties to try out next summer.


November, 2010

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