One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
Today is one of those days where I think my head may just split, as I'm tackling one of the biggest and most important tasks of the year for our garden. I'm working on laying out our main garden for this year...you know...what goes where and when. As I plant each year's garden and various crops in succession, I do try to keep in mind what may follow the next year in the same spot, but often it gets a bit dicey trying to fit everything in without the same type of plant growing in the same spot or nearby.
Our task in rotating crops has become more difficult by our effort to contract our main gardening area into our large raised bed. The good news is that our space hogs, sweet corn, melons, and such, can now go into our East Garden. It's a fairly new patch in a small field (<1 acre) east of our house that the farmer has let go fallow. But even with those crops removed from the planning, it still takes some thought to fit everything in. And we're still using a bit of space outside the raised bed this year for our garlic, planted in November, and possibly a few other things. But the space that once was our main garden, and the garden for the folks who lived here before us, was reduced in half last year and will be even further reduced this year.
The original garden space wasn't good soil to begin with, having been gardened for years. It was also a bit damp and had a large tree growing close to it. The tree, after several lightening strikes, had to be cut down last year. It's replacement will go in part of the old garden area where our current compost pile sits.
I'm also experimenting this year with mapping my garden a bit differently. In the past, I've just used a draw document for planning and recording our garden crops. It's worked pretty well over the years and does provide a permanent computer record of what grew where and when. But with more intensive gardening and succession plantings over the last few years, I've resorted to using different colored lines and text directly overlaid on the original plantings. It became a real mess last year.
So I'm trying something I used with my lesson plan book, multiple page masters. It's a trick in the old AppleWorks software where one creates a master page that contains permanent elements and then can add less permanent items to any number of succeeding pages. I tell how to do it in A View from the Classroom column, Teacher Tools: AppleWorks.
And just as architects plan a building and then concrete workers, carpenters, and electricians have to try to make those plans work (often not as easy as it sounds), the garden plan on paper often gets seriously revised once I get my hands dirty in the garden. I've already been out to the garden once this morning, notepad and tape measure in hand, and found I had to completely revise what I thought would work.
While this exercise might seem to be a bit premature, if the soil at the north end of our raised bed thaws enough today or tomorrow, I'll be planting our spring peas into it!
After a serious (and expensive) disaster involving a failing soil heating pad and my foolishness of moving sprouted seed from paper towels into non-sterilized soil, I once again am back in the geranium business. Since our basement seems to be a bit colder than usual (Did we spring an air leak somewhere?), I took the new soil heating pad, thermostat, and a tray of seeded geraniums to an upstairs desktop to germinate in warmer regions.
While starting the seed on paper towels allows one to fill every pot or cell with a growing seed, it also adds a step to the process of starting geraniums. With time short, I opted this time around to just directly seed into sterilized potting mix and go from there. Since most of our January planting is lost (3 plants survived), our geraniums will be a bit late this year.
I also started a small pot of tuberous rooted begonias this week. I haven't grown tuberous rooted begonias from seed for years, and hadn't planned to do so this year until I saw some inexpensive Pin-Up seed on the GenericSeeds site. I started them in a shallow pot full of sterile soil mix topped with milled peat moss. I mill the peat moss in an old coffee grinder. Then I sprinkled the seed over the surface, bottom watered, and covered the pot with clear plastic. Since I lacked space over a soil heating mat, I just set the pot on the cover of a flat that was on a heat mat!
That flat was filled with a planting of petunias. Since I generally order a new variety or two of petunias each year and freeze leftover seed, I had a number of varieties to choose from this year. I started some Ultra, Fantasy, Supercascade, and Celebrity.
I'm also trying to clear space under the lights for all the things we will be seeding in the next few weeks. Our gloxinias, other than one dandy, late bloomer, are all pretty much headed for dormancy. The currently dark bottom shelf of our plant rack has served to hold our dormant corms until now, but will have to be cleared soon to make room for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, and melon plants.
We had a tough time last year with our apple trees. Both our young granny smith and our older winesap tree had fire blight, necessitating some drastic mid-season pruning. The granny smith seemed free of the disease at the end of the season last year, but our stayman winesap was also fighting a nasty case of sooty mold. While sooty mold shouldn't kill an apple tree, the layer of mold that remained on the leaves of the weakened tree reduced their ability to process sunlight. The tree appeared to be dying towards late fall, but I still treated it this spring and will hope it will leaf out.
Since both trees were in trouble last year, I sprayed both with a dormant oil and lime-sulfur mix this week. I got a reminder that lime-sulfur can clog a sprayer pretty easily and ended up having to wash out the sprayer with very hot water and strain the mix before finishing the task.
Before buds begin to swell, I'll spray again with a soap spray to try and remove the mold and then come back with another round of lime-sulfur and dormant oil. These are pretty drastic measures, but it's like the time a vet told me to draw four times the maximum dosage of penicillin into a syringe for an ailing sow on our farm. I questioned the dosage and the vet patiently said, "Steve, she's probably going to die anyway." We gave her the shot, and the sow, my eldest son's favorite, survived! So we're throwing everything we have at the old winesap tree in hopes of saving it.
We also have a lot of lichens growing on the tree, a result of not pruning it properly for several years and cutting down the airflow through it.
If I had any doubts that spring was on its way, they should have been erased by a trip to the pond yesterday. I had my camera with me, but didn't have my polarizing filter. But when I looked at the shallows of the pond, there were tadpoles swimming there!
I mentioned last month that I was trying a new seed supplier and would let you know about my experience with them. My order from GenericSeeds.com arrived properly filled, promptly, and well packed. As long as I'm satisfied with their seed vigor, they'll be added to my list of suppliers.
I posted a long list of seed suppliers in January, many of which I hoped to order from. Our final list of suppliers for this year turned out to be a good bit shorter than January's listing. Excessive shipping charges turned us away from several good suppliers. In order of the number of line items ordered, we used:
I also found a supplier for my favorite open pollinated red pepper, Earliest Red Sweet, in the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook (only available to members).
And after years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore. We placed two orders with them this winter. Both arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. I still have trouble with their prices for basic (flimsy) 1020 flats, but they're better than most on that count.
Canadian reader Angel Kirouac sent along a nice email yesterday that told of her excellent results starting geraniums from seed on their heated garage floor. She started her seed in soilless starting mix and covered the flats with black construction paper to provide the required total darkness to germinate geranium seed. She now is caring for 110 geranium seedlings under plant lights!
Angel got her seed from William Dam Seeds. When I checked out the company on the Garden Watchdog section of Dave's Garden, they had twelve positive ratings with no negatives or neutrals! The only comments even close to negative were wistful, previous US buyers who wished they could still order from the company. William Dam Seeds only ships to Canadian buyers because of US import requirements.
Other than our fall planted garlic, our outdoor planting season usually begins with planting peas sometime during the month of March. Doing so allows the peas to mature before hot summer weather sets in and ruins the sweetness of the peas. Our recent mild weather allowed planting yesterday!
Our soil was pretty much ready to plant, requiring only for the ground to thaw and a light raking. We'd tilled the area late last fall. After raking, I put in the T-posts that will later support our string trellis to use as row guides. I hoed and raked a furrow about four to six inches deep and then hoed the base of it to give the peas seed a soft bed in which to sink their roots.
Since the ground had been limed last fall and didn't require any fertilizer at this point, I only added some soil inoculant before scattering a fairly thick layer of pea seed. The inoculant helps the roots of the peas (or beans) fix nitrogen, thus enriching the garden for future crops. But I also noticed later today that the price of inoculant has gone up $3 this year!
I planted half of the row to Tall Telephone (or Alderman), and the other half to original Sugar Snaps. I seem to have better luck harvesting tall varieties of peas, and both of these varieties can vine up to 5-6' tall. We'll also be planting another row of shorter peas later this spring. Varieties such as Encore and Eclipse require a bit warmer soil than we have now for good germination.
After seeding, I drug the soil back over the seed with a rake and used the same tool to tamp down the soil so that the seed would have good soil contact to absorb moisture. I added a center T-post, removed the string, and cleaned up my tools just minutes before we got a gentle shower.
When I got inside and began to process photos and write this posting, I noticed that we planted our peas last year on March 7! I really hope that's a good omen, as we had great peas last year. I just opened our last bag of them from the freezer.
Let me add that I was really counting on the showers coming. I'd watched the weather forecast that predicted rain and went ahead and sprayed our winesap apple tree with a soap mixture to try and remove some of the sooty mold on its branches. The showers, of course, are the rinse cycle.
If you have a spreadsheet program on your computer, Johnny's Selected Seeds is offering a free download of a spreadsheet (xls format) that will tell you "when to start seeds inside and when to safely set them out." You just enter your spring frost-free date and the spreadsheet calculates the values for a number of crops. I cut down the image at right to make it fit here. Note the safe planting date for peas for our planting zone!
What a difference just a month makes! The image at left was taken on February 15, and the image at right this morning (March 16). I've already gotten my hands dirty in the garden today pulling a few early weeds (and some overwintering spinach the rototiller missed).
Our flat of onion plants, started from seed in January, has been out on our back porch for almost a week now. We use the back porch area to harden off plants before transplanting them into the garden. The onions went to the back porch as much to open up space under our plantlights as to harden off. Note that I grew our onion transplants this year in a Perma-Nest tray rather than in a standard plant flat. The Perma-Nest tray is a good deal heavier weight (and more expensive) than standard flats, which have seemed to get more flimsy as the years go by.
Hardening off is the process of gradually exposing plants to outdoor conditions (sunlight, ultraviolet light, cooler temperatures, etc.). Plants started in controlled conditions indoors under plantlights need a week or so to toughen their cell structure to withstand the sun and wind outdoors. Our back porch is partially shaded, making it an ideal spot to harden off plants. We also employ a cold frame, a simple 2x4 structure covered with clear plastic, to harden off plants. It also allows us to get plants outside to harden off when the weather is still cool and there are still overnight frosts. The cold frame also does double duty in the fall, extending our growing season for fall lettuce well into late November.
Thomas Watson has a thorough description about hardening off plants on GardenGuides.com.
Both our garlic and daffodils are beginning to emerge, as they should at this time. I didn't get our garlic sets in until late November, but it appears we're going to have a good stand of the standard German garlic. Our elephant garlic has yet to emerge. This is the first year all of our garlic sets came from cloves of garlic we'd grown ourselves.
Under our plantlights, our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts) are just getting started. I decided not to grow any kohlrabi this year, as what we grew last year just didn't get eaten. Fortunately, brassicas don't require any bottom heat to germinate, as I had to re-seed our petunias (which do require bottom heat for germination) to get a good stand of them. It appears from the photo at left that I need to thin the broccoli today to one plant per cell!
And after all the problems we've had getting our geraniums started, we finally have a nice stand of them under our plantlights.
I wrote last month on Educators' News about happening upon some tree kits that looked like they might make a nice classroom project. The kits I purchased were offered by GenericSeeds.com, although the original source, The Jonsteen Company, offers a Life Cycle of a Tree 24-pack for schools and groups.
I ordered a Red Maple Arbor Day Tree Kit and a Colorado Blue Spruce Tree Kit from GenericSeeds.com to see what I'd get. The kits come as pictured left, right, and above, and do include everything one needs.
I was a little dubious about the blue spruce, as many coniferous tree seeds require stratification and even scarification to germinate. But after four weeks of stratification in our refrigerator and a couple of weeks sitting on a windowsill, our blue spruce seeds germinated this week. I apparently had washed all the seed to one side of the planting tube provided, as I found a tangle of what proved to be 8 blue spruce seedlings against the side of the tube.
Surprisingly (to me, anyway), the red maple seeds haven't yet shown any sign of germination!
It will be interesting to see how the blue spruce grow, and how quickly they may be ready to set in the ground outside.
Full disclosure: GenericSeeds.com is a Senior Gardening affiliated advertiser. The Jonsteen Company is not.
After posting yesterday's update to Senior Gardening, I got outside to enjoy a gorgeous day. Since we had to have our two main shade trees cut down last year, replacements need to be planted this spring.
I haven't purchased any tree seedlings as yet, but I went ahead yesterday and prepared the hole for one of them. I always follow the old Dig a ten dollar hole for a five dollar tree adage when planting trees. And I had a special plan for this hole.
Knowing that we'd have to plant a tree this spring, I kept my compost pile in the general area where I intended to plant the tree. As I turned the pile last summer, it moved around the area, sort of sharing the wealth. It's final position from the last turn was right beside where I wanted to put our new tree.
The pile had really become a nasty mess of decaying plant material and kitchen garbage. When the ground was frozen, preventing proper maintenance of it, I tried to empty our kitchen compost bucket and cover it with anything from the pile that wasn't frozen. I knew something had to be done with it when our senior dog, Susie (now 16 years old), began foraging through it a few weeks ago.
So I dug my hole for the tree beside the nasty smelling compost heap. The hole was around five feet in diameter and I got down about three and a half feet. Then I brought out the post hole digger and made a smaller hole in the center of the hole around two feet deeper. I quit when the gray clay began to wear me out and ground water began rapidly seeping into the hole.
The topsoil I'd dug and a bit of the subsoil went to low areas in the garden. I wouldn't need all of what I'd dug, as I backfilled the hole from the compost pile, giving it a good turning and mixing for the first time this year. I also layered in lime, 12-12-12 fertilizer, and topsoil as I backfilled.
I topped off the mound that was left with the remainder of the subsoil I'd dug, and also gave the old site for the compost heap a healthy dose of lime to hold down the odor it still carried (and shared).
By the time I was done, I was feeling every year of my 60+ years. But having practiced good digging habits of digging and leaning on the shovel handle equal amounts of time, I was only sore for the evening.
Now I get to move on to clearing out the mulch left from the stump grinding of the old tree.
Years ago, you used to be able to send gloxinia plants from local florists. The plants delivered often had masses of six to ten blooms in the center. It made for a fantastic gift.
One of our last gloxinias to come into bloom this blooming period had a number of buds trapped under its leaves. There really was no way to gently guide the buds past some new leaves in the center of the plant, so I just pinched off the leaves, leaving an outer ring of older leaves with the buds and blooms in the center unimpeded in their upward growth.
I think the florist gloxinias of old were probably second year plants, but I'm hoping to achieve the same effect with my first year plants with the creative pinching.
I started a flower pot of tomato seed yesterday. The seed was the very last from a commercial packet of Moira tomatoes dated 1987! While I have lots of saved Moira seed from last year's garden, I wanted to try growing out the last of the commercial seed before it gets too old.
I usually start tomatoes in fourpacks, but since this seed germinated at less than 10% last year, I just spread all the seed left in a four inch square plastic pot.
By starting the tomatoes in a single pot, I've created an extra step in the growing process. I'll have to move what plants I get into fourpacks or some other larger pots in a few weeks. The advantage of planting to a single pot in this instance is that I won't have lots of empty cells as I would have if I'd planted just a seed or two in each cell of a fourpack.
The starting mix was sterilized, of course, and as another precaution against damping off fungus, I covered the seed with milled sphagnum peat moss. Dry peat moss can't carry much of any disease or fungus that I know of, and I mill it myself in an old coffee grinder.
The trick with all of this is the watering. Dry peat moss won't absorb cold water.
I placed the pot in a bowl and added nearly boiling water to bottom water it. After a couple of hours, I could tell by touch that the potting mix had absorbed about all the water it was going to, but the peat moss was still dry. I then dribbled very warm water across the top directly from the teapot I'd heated it in.
We don't water any of our plants with warm water from the tap, as we have a water softener that, of course, adds salt to the water. While it's just a small amount of salt, I'm sure it doesn't help plants any. Our kitchen cold water bypasses the water softener, so when I want warm water for the plants, I heat it in the teapot that's always on our range. For watering our plants in the kitchen, we just keep a full watering pot of water drawn from the cold water tap on hand. When either Annie or I finish watering, we fill the watering pot, and it gradually warms to room temperature.
Lots of Lettuce
Since I frequently mention planting to fourpacks, I thought I should throw in a photo here of a planted flat of fourpacks. The fourpacks come in a sheet of eight fourpacks to fit a standard planting flat. I used two flats to hold the fourpack sheet. Just under the fourpack is a flat with holes in it and under that is a flat with no holes. That allows the flats to hold a bit more water, and the double flat also compensates for the flimsiness of the flats sold today.
Note that I clean and reuse both flats and fourpacks year after year. I had to restock with flats this year, as I'd torn holes in many of my old flats from rough spots on my plant rack. I'd also split and generally worn out most of my old fourpacks.
I ended up planting eight different varieties of lettuce. I planted some iceberg lettuce, some red lollo, and a loosehead variety, and several kinds of romaine cos. I'd gotten a freebie packet of colored romaine with one order, so I'll be interested to see what we get from it.
And for those new to the Senior Gardening site, only three of the varieties planted were from new packets of seed purchased this year. The rest were from older seed that I keep frozen between planting times.
Our wonderful stretch of warm weather continues, and I'm really having to resist the urge to get the rototiller out and get started turning ground. Of course, the ground remains way too wet to work. But I can still pull the few seedling weeds that have emerged in our pea bed to at least get my hands in the dirt. The peas haven't emerged as yet, but I dug up a couple of seeds a few days ago that had germinated. Patience!
Inside, I've finally opened up the bottom shelf of our plant rack. During most of the year, the bottom shelf is a clutter of stored items, but as planting season approaches, I need every square inch possible under the plantlights to accommodate our growing seedlings.
And even though we have more than enough broccoli, cauliflower, and so on in the flat, I couldn't resist moving some of the thinnings into a deep sixpack. Both the plants in the sixpack and some in the flat were reset, much lower in the cell and more sterile potting mix added to counteract the legginess caused by overcrowding. With the deeper sixpack, its plants may end up being the first to be transplanted into the garden in April.
Our homemade cold frame got a new covering of clear plastic this week in anticipation of transplants from the basement. It sits sort of "all dressed up with nowhere to go" right now, but will soon be full. A year ago at this time, it was already in nearly full use.
Our Senior Gardening feature, A Simple Cold Frame, gives directions on how to build one. Each year as I move the unwieldy thing from the garage to the porch area, I wonder if I couldn't have included some kind of handle on it, or at least made it a bit lighter!
The photo below was taken on March 4, 2009. Either we got a good head start last year, or we're way behind this year!
Most seed companies send out some kind of monthly newsletter. Occasionally, I find a tip in one, such as the free planting guide spreadsheet from Johnny's Selected Seeds mentioned earlier this month. More often, the newsletters are pretty advertising oriented and don't impart a lot of tips for gardeners.
A recent newsletter pointed me to a relatively new blog from the folks at Harris Seeds. It's written by Richard Chamberlin, President of Harris Seeds. I've found it to be pretty interesting, but it did cost me a few bucks this morning when I read the A Very Special Seed Corn Program posting about Dr. David McKenzie's Mirai sweet corn variety. Harris offers the Mr. Mini Mirai variety for home growers and several other Mirai strains for commercial growers (in quantities too great for small growers). I'm going to plant a few rows of the Mr. Mini Mirai variety a few weeks after I get our regular planting of sweet corn in as a test crop. The variety is said to be incredibly delicious.
Update and note (12/13/2011): I no longer do any business with Harris Seeds. In an email exchange with company president Dick Chamberlin, I found that customer views aren't well regarded there.
It's rainy and chilly here today in western Indiana. And as I look at the weather forecast, warm, sunny weather is predicted for the days I'm substitute teaching this week, with rain predicted on my days off!
I got our peppers seeded today. I took my time labeling the cells for all the varieties I was going to plant. Plant labels are relatively cheap, but mistakes in varieties cost you a whole year. I carefully isolated what I thought was an Earliest Red Sweet (ERS) pepper last year, but when it produced mature fruit, they were all golden!
Besides the ERS red sweet bell variety, I started Red Ace, Red Knight, and Red Dawn. For our yellow-gold peppers, I went with Labrador, Sunray, and Summer Sweet #8610. And of course, any of the reds or yellows can be harvested at their immature green stage as green bell peppers. But I really like the colors.
I also started three paprika peppers. Our Paprika Supreme came from seed we saved last year. It produces a very mild red-orange ground paprika. I'm also trying some Alma and Feher Ozon paprika peppers that I ordered this year from the Seed Savers Exchange (online, not the yearbook).
I had delayed getting our peppers going because our one good heat mat is currently occupied by various herbs and flowers. Not wanting to wait any longer, I'm trying a trick I've used before, both successfully and unsuccessfully. I used one of my heavy Perma-Nest trays for the peppers and laid it across the ballast units of two of our plantlights. Peppers germinate better with good bottom heat, but they don't require light to germinate. So the warm, dark area above the plantlights now holds our tray of peppers (and one pot of Moira tomatoes) with my old darkroom thermometer to make sure I don't cook the seed.
I mentioned the Harris Seeds blog last week and ordering a packet of their Mr. Mini Mirai sweet corn. I didn't mention that I emailed Harris Seeds on Saturday with a question about isolation required for the variety and another question about why most of their seedless watermelon varieties aren't available in home garden quantities.
Bright and early this morning, I received a polite, informative response from Mark Willis, Harris's vegetable seed manager. Mark noted that Mirai "can be planted with other supersweets." On the seedless watermelon variety availability, he wrote:
That's a pretty good turnaround time on questions!
Update: Sadly, I no longer do any business with Harris Seeds. The response about seedless watermelons was really pretty insulting. Most of us can maintain proper temperature and humidity to germinate seedless varieties. But in March, 2010, I decided to give them a pass on that one. Today (12/13/2011), I had a bit of an email skirmish with Harris Seeds' President Dick Chamberlin. All I wanted was a Harris catalog now so that I could complete my seed orders. Basically, Dick chose to dump on me and inform me that I would receive their catalog when they were good and ready to send it. From afar, my evaluation is that Harris Seeds doesn't want my business and that Mr. Chamberlin truly is a Dick.
Our pea trellis is now ready to go with the addition of some nylon netting yesterday. I was able to reuse our trellis material from last year. I prefer the nylon, string-type netting over the rolls of semi-rigid plastic trellis material often sold these days in garden centers. While the nylon netting is more expensive, it seems to do less damage to tender vines that invariably end up draped across its mesh.
When I checked my handiwork this morning, I was gratified to see a few peas emerging from the soil. It looks as if I got the netting up just in time.
I'm still holding off on planting our second row of peas. Varieties such as Eclipse and Encore need a bit warmer soil than we have now to germinate well.
I had become a bit anxious that our elephant garlic hadn't emerged yet. We planted our garlic late in November using all our own saved garlic cloves. After moving some mulch around a bit yesterday, I found that the elephant garlic is now coming up, just a bit behind our regular garlic. The elephant garlic in the photo (below, right) is the paler, thicker stalk.
Elephant garlic is actually part of the leek family. Fully mature elephant garlic bulbs look just like german garlic, only about twice as big. Elephant garlic has a much milder taste than regular garlic. We often use both types in the same dish when cooking.
I jammed five rows of garlic into our 3' x 15' garlic bed this year, two of elephant garlic and three of regular garlic. The spacing is a good bit tighter than past year's garlic plantings, but it's also on very good soil. I also added a dry sump in the aisle between the garlic bed and another raised bed to help keep the garlic's "feet" dry.
I ran short of mulch after planting our garlic last fall, so I had an opportunity this spring to evaluate the value of such a mulch. The regular garlic came up well, but just a tad better, in the mulched area. Our elephant garlic is up in the mulched area, but none is showing in the unmulched section.
Even our rather sheltered flower beds in front of the house are showing a bit of life now. Our tulips are coming up and some of our dianthus plants appear to have overwintered well. Some of the dianthus were from a transplanting last spring and others were moved with a large bowl of soil surrounding their roots last fall. Moving the perennials in the fall was a bit of a chance, but the plants probably would have died in the open garden over the winter anyway.
And while it may sound like we're in full gear for spring gardening, the reality is that we're actually just doing what we can get done at this time. It's still too cool and the ground too wet for us to do any serious gardening as. We have a freeze predicted for Thursday night (around 29o F), so Friday may be our moving day to start bringing plants up from the basement plant rack and putting them under our cold frame.
The photo below reveals our garden still in waiting. The heavily mulched raised bed in the foreground is our asparagus patch. At this time last year, I was adding the last two sides of timbers to create our large raised bed, and a bit later, the raised asparagus bed. When I got the job done last spring, I wrote up directions based on my experiences in Building a Raised Garden Bed.
I looked out the window this morning and saw a bunch of dark shapes far back in the field behind our house moving across the field. Two of the shapes were considerably larger than the others, but with the naked eye, I couldn't identify what they were. I mentally ticked off and rejected some of the common possibilities of coyotes and canadian geese.
I hustled to the kitchen and grabbed our handy 8x20 monocular that always sits on the windowsill for just such occasions. When I focused in on the two larger shapes, the answer was easy: Wild turkeys! The two larger shapes were males strutting their stuff for the females in the flock.
I think what fooled me in identifying the birds, beyond the extreme distance, was the number of birds. I counted at least 21 in one of the photos I took. And while not the best of nature shots, the shot above was the best I could do with my Canon Digital Rebel XSi and my "long lens," a Canon 55-250mm. I hoped the turkeys would move my way as they gleaned the field, but alas, they moved towards the woods.
An easier photo, but a more difficult identification had presented itself on our pond over the last few weeks. The group of "ducks" I saw each day turned out to be blue-winged teals. After getting frustrated trying to use web sources to identify the birds, I got smart and just grabbed our old copy of A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America. While our edition is long out of print, the new edition is available on Amazon.
And if you hadn't guessed, it was pouring rain all day today, so not much gardening was possible.
Our geraniums and some of our brassicas went under the cold frame yesterday. They'll remain there until both they and the weather are ready for them to be transplanted into the garden.
While it's sunny this morning, there's also a pretty stiff wind that could damage both the geraniums and brassicas. I partially opened the cold frame so the plants could get some sun and not cook under the closed cold frame position. The plants will get some sun and a bit of wind as their stems harden to their new outdoor growing conditions. My prop is just an old piece of treated 2x4. We're not much on fancy in the Senior Garden. Functional, I guess, is our watchword.
The photo on the left is illustrative of what I need to do over the next few days. When I seed plant packs, I often add an extra seed or two to insure enough seeds germinate to fill the pack. I'll be thinning each cell to just one plant. The thinnings can be used to fill cells where no seed germinated. But it appears that I went overboard with some of the seeding, so I may fill some more plant packs to accommodate all the thinnings. It's a time consuming, tedious process, but having lots of plants on hand later this spring will make it all worthwhile.
About Those $10 Tree Holes
I did a little tree shopping this week at my local and favorite garden center, Colonial Lawn and Garden in Sullivan, Indiana. While talking to a neighbor who works there, I mentioned moving my compost into the hole where I'll plant one of our replacement trees this spring. I described that process earlier this month. Cindy, the neighbor, was horrified at what I'd done. And I should add that Cindy's family lives "around the corner" only in country terms. By that, I mean down our road a mile or so, a right turn and then another mile and a half.
The Dig a ten dollar hole for a five dollar tree adage at one time was the accepted way to plant a tree. If you didn't have any soil amendments on hand, tree experts recommended setting aside the topsoil when you dug your tree hole and moving it to the bottom of the hole before planting a tree and then backfilling with the subsoil around the surface.
Cindy's shock at my actions reflects the current thinking that changing the soil structure around the new tree may shock it and lessen its chances of taking hold and growing. When planting trees, I've tried the newer school of thought with some non-essential trees. And, I'll stay with my practice of giving the tree seedling the best hole I can give it. It works for me.
As we talked, Cindy mentioned that she had lettuce well along and almost ready to pick in a sheltered bed close to the house. I'm envious. She also put me on to Bonide Fire Blight Spray, a streptomycin product, that I'm going to try on our fruit trees. I'd add a link to the product, but it appears no one wants to sell the stuff online!
After a bit of tree shopping, I decided on going with a Shumard Oak for the west side of our house. We've had good luck with red oaks in front of the house, and my wife said she preferred another oak on the west side.
While the hardware store had some red oaks, they were all older, larger (6') trees. I wanted to go with a smaller tree in hopes that its stem might toughen as it grows to withstand the 25-30 MPH winds we frequently experience. They did have some nice, small Shumard Oaks. I left our garden cart in the photo at right for size comparison. It will be a very long time before the tree shades our house.
Planting the tree was pretty easy, since I'd dug the hole for it a few weeks ago, backfilling it from our compost pile. So yesterday, I just dug a hole slightly larger than the pot the tree came in, filled it with water, plopped the tree in, and backfilled around it with a bit of garden soil.
The pot of Moira tomatoes I started mid-month were ready for transplanting into individual cells in fourpacks today. I moved eight of them, setting each a bit deeper in the cell than they were in the original pot to correct just a bit of legginess of the plants.
As you can see at left, our germination rate ran around 10-15%. While a terrible rate for fresh seed, I was actually a little surprised at how many plants we got from the seeding from the last of our commercial seed saved since 1987!
I also got the rest of our tomatoes started today. I'm trying a new grape variety, Red Cherry, in hopes that its fruit won't split as badly as our previous varieties have. (I think some of that problem may be my growing culture.) For our caged tomatoes, I mainly stuck with tried-and-true varieties for this year's garden. They include Better Boy, Bella Rosa, and Fantastic (which we haven't grown in a few years). Since we only have room in the main garden for five or six tomato cages, that about does it. I did seed a pot of another experimental variety Shumway's included with my seed order, but I'm really not sure where the plants will go in the garden.
Starting Vining Crops
And as I finish up this posting, another kettle of potting soil is getting sterilized in the oven, as I ran out while starting the first of our vining crops this morning. Since I'm out of large peat pots, I'm using some old 4" square pots for the melons. I've used this kind of plastic pot before for melons and squash with good results. I really like giving them a bigger pot with two to three plants in each to eventually transplant into hills in the field. And the clear covers that came with our Perma-Nest trays will fit over these pots, where our humidomes for standard 1020 flats are too short.
Of course, used pots and the plant and soil residue they retain aren't ideal for seed starting. I hosed off the pots outside before bringing them inside for a hot water and bleach bath.
Today's effort is just the first round for melons. I try to get my pollinators going a bit earlier than our seedless watermelon varieties. Those include Crimson Sweet, Kleckley Sweet, and Moon & Stars. I'd really like to get to pick one of my favorite watermelons this year, the Kleckley Sweet, instead of finding them torn open by the raccoons a day or so before the melons mature! I also started muskmelons, including Athena, Amish, and an experimental variety (again from Shumway's) along with one pot of yellow squash.
Since I may be just a tad early on getting my melons going, I also ordered a package of Hot Kaps® Domes from Gurney Seeds.
And to close out the month with something pretty, let me share a shot of the gloxinia I pinched back earlier this month.
at Senior Gardening