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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 11/15/2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - Seed Inventory

The JSS Advantage for November, the monthly newsletter of Johnny's Selected Seeds, suggests:

Autumn is a good time to sit down with your records and analyze your successes and failures, while the past season is fresh in your mind. Then, when the new seed catalogs begin to arrive, you'll be better prepared to analyze new varieties and crops in the context of what worked and what didn't on your farm [garden].

Seed Inventory SpreadsheetThey also suggest using a spreadsheet to record your crop records, seed on hand, and comments. I felt pretty good when I read their suggestion, as I'd just completed my first garden seed inventory recorded on a spreadsheet. (Well, I still have a big bag of flower seed to record, but the veggies are all done.)

I haven't yet done a complete review of our 2010 garden, however, and still need to make a few notes about what worked well, what didn't, and ideas I'd like to try next year.

If you notice a bit of difference in the appearance of the spreadsheets, it's because one (above, left) was opened in OOo4Kids (pronounced "OpenOffice For Kids") while I was writing a review of the latest update to the OpenOffice derivative for our Educators' News site. And while the name says it's for kids, OOo4Kids employs larger page displays, large default fonts, and simplified toolbars that are great for we seniors, too. Note that OOo4Kids and OpenOffice are free, open source alternatives to commercial office suite software.

Seed order recordI began recording our seed orders on a spreadsheet in 2007. I've found it to be a good reference as I plan and review our gardens. It's certainly much better than my previous method of hunting through old invoices and packing sheets.

I keep our seed sorted by general vegetable type (bean, corn, etc.) in Ziplock freezer bags. During planting season, the bags are kept in our refrigerator freezer. But once inventory is done, all of our seed goes into our manual defrost chest type freezer in the garage. Stored seed doesn't do well with the warming and cooling involved in the self-defrost cycles of most refrigerator freezers.

The various seed bags go into two Ziploc Big Bags in the big freezer. Large seed such as peas, beans, and corn only leave the chest type freezer for planting and inventory. We've had exceptionally good luck saving old seed in our freezer, with some viable seed there dating back to the 1980's.

Getting back to the article on JSS Advantage, the following are suggested as possible fields for ones garden inventory spreadsheet:

  • Variety name
  • Seed source
  • Amount of seed purchased
  • Amount of seed used
  • Date of first harvest
  • Date of last harvest
  • Amount harvested
  • Amount unmarketable
  • Amount sold and unsold
  • Revenue from sale of the crop

Broccoli, Lettuce, and the Garage Project

Broccoli and cabbageTo regular readers of this blog, I do apologize for not posting more often. I've been fighting a respiratory infection for weeks and just haven't gotten much done. When I was beginning to feel better this week, I tore a gash in my index finger while putting seed into our big freezer, so I'm still semi out of action (with stitches and a big bandage on my finger).

Broccoli in NovemberI did get out this morning a pick our last two, main heads of broccoli and some tiny sideshoot buds. We have one red and one savoy cabbage still growing and five cauliflower plants beginning to head.

Normally, I'd just pull the broccoli plants at this point. Since they are putting on sideshoots, and there's no telling when a freeze will kill them, I left the plants. I'm absolutely thrilled to be cutting fresh broccoli in November!

Lettuce and cold frameI finally gave up on using a floating row cover to protect our lettuce from frost. The floating row cover should have worked well, but one of our dogs thought it was bedding for him and kept tearing up our lettuce patch and breaking off plants. We pulled our cold frame out of the garage clutter of building supplies, added a new plastic cover, and are using it now on frosty nights to protect the lettuce.

Our large East Garden is now fully "put to bed" for the winter. I turned over most of it with the tiller, but still need to find a place to store our various tomato and pepper cages. With our shed in bad shape (falling down) and our garage still under refurbishment, they'll just have to sit in the field for now.

But I can finally stop having to shoot around our garage when taking pictures, which had become a bit of an eyesore with its leaky roof and decaying siding. It appears we'll get it sided and the new overhead doors installed before really bad weather sets in.

East Garden and Garage

And if you're wondering at the little roofed porch on the back of the garage, it's where our dog and cat doors are. Our dogs and cats have some rather deluxe, heated accommodations inside the garage.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gloxinia feature storyGeranium feature storyI updated our Gloxinia and Seed Geranium feature stories this morning to include accurate links to seed sources. Gardens Alive bought out Thompson & Morgan's U.S. operations last year, and our affiliate advertiser links to the Double Brocade Gloxinia and the World's Top 6 Geranium Mix both broke. The links here and in the features both work now.

Seed Catalog Requests

It won't be long until garden seed catalogs for the 2011 season begin to come in. If you haven't requested catalogs (or ordered from a vendor which insures you'll get a catalog), now is the time to do so.

The following are our favorite seed vendors. Links, where possible, are to the vendor's catalog request page.

  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - good customer service
  • 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
  • Harris Seeds - I don't often go back an edit blog archives, but I received emails today so arrogant and unresponsive from Harris Seeds President Dick Chamberlin as to incense me enough to eradicate any positive statement I'd made about the company. (11/13/2011)
  • R.H. Shumway - lots of heirloom (and other) seed presented in a catalog with lots of woodcut illustrations
  • Twilley Seed - our main supplier of sweet corn seed during our farming years - no online sales, but offers both a print and downloadable catalog
  • Territorial Seed Company - good variety of seeds - flat rate shipping for seeds (great for a bunch of packets but expensive for just one or two packets)
  • Seed Savers Exchange - offers many heirloom seeds through their print and online catalog - offers far more in open pollinated seed through their members-only annual yearbook

Here are a few other outlets you might wish to consider. We either didn't use them this year or have had minor issues with them, so they're offered without recommendation.

We also ordered seed from, but they're an online only outfit that doesn't have a mail order catalog. William Dam Seeds has been recommended by several readers. They only ship to Canadian addresses, though, and don't appear to have a print catalog request page.

Full disclosure: Generic Seeds is a Senior Gardening affiliate advertiser.

Perma-nest trayAnd after years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore. We placed several orders with them that have arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. I still have trouble with their prices for basic (flimsy) 1020 flats, but I'm slowly switching over to the sturdier and more expensive Perma-Nest trays. The Megastore doesn't carry them, but Amazon does.

I'm always on the hunt for reliable vendors of quality seed, especially those that offer open pollinated varieties. If you know of one we should consider, .

Planting Garlic

Garlic mulched inI tilled up an area of our main garden today and got our garlic planted. For the second year in a row, we were able to use all our own regular and elephant garlic sets saved from this summer's harvest.

I added a small bale of peat to loosen the soil a bit, some lime and bone meal before using a garden fork to turn the soil as deeply as I could. Then I went over it a couple of times with the tiller, and it was planting ready.

I put in three rows with garlic cloves spaced around 8-12" apart in the row in a 3'x16' bed. Since the soil is still very dry here, using a bulb planter was out, so I used a wide garden trowel to dig down about 6" deep for each clove. In the past, I've added bone meal under the garlic, but have found nasty clumps of wet bone meal the during the following summer's harvest. This year I broadcast the bone meal before tilling.

I'd really hoped to get our garlic planted in October, but I couldn't bring myself to cut the zinnias that were growing where the garlic was to go. On the other hand, I got it in about half a month earlier than last year! Note that last year's garlic planting entry is a bit more complete than today's.

Area returned to lawn

The area between the garlic and our new raised bed got a thorough tilling, as I needed to rake down the hills I'd created for our peas and peppers this spring. I'd also not properly backfilled around the edges of the new raised bed until today. After smoothing the soil a bit, I went ahead and broadcast a bit of grass seed over the area to be returned to lawn next year.

Saturday, November 13, 2010 - First Seed Catalog

Twilley SeedOur first seed catalog for the new gardening season came in yesterday. This year Twilley Seeds was the first to come in.

I'm sure a lot of marketing strategy goes into the design of seed catalogs, along with some thought on the timeliness of their delivery. Catalogs sent too early might be forgotten or discarded, and those sent too late may only merit a quick glance if seed orders have been completed already.

Twilley - impatiens But for us, the first seed catalog of the year is a bit of a celebration of the coming gardening season. If from one of our trusted suppliers, it gets a thorough examination cover to cover. I've scanned the Twilley 2011 catalog once already and am now looking at specific items. Each year brings new offerings to be considered along with old favorites we hope are still carried. I was glad to see a favorite red storage onion, Red Zeppelin, still listed at an excellent price! My Dad likes the touch of "zing" in their taste. We do, too.

Sweet cornIn the time we lived on a farm and raised 2-4 acres a year of sweet corn for roadside sales (and to fill our freezer), we ended up using Twilley Supersweet varieties exclusively, as they were a delicious supersweet, and also provided better ear tip wrap, important for roadside sales by folks who didn't spray their corn all that much. (We often sprayed tassels with mineral oil, but only rarely used a pesticide in the sweet corn.) While we don't order our sweet corn seed in 25# bags anymore, we still use several Twilley varieties, along with a few from other vendors that we've tried and liked.

Since Twilley Seed leans toward being a catalog for "farm, fresh market, u-pick, and bedding plant growers," not everything one might want for a home garden appears in it. But the commercial varieties listed for corn, melons, pumpkins and other items are also usually available in garden packets. Their corn runs a bit on the expensive side, but we've found it is worth it. Many of their offerings come in quite a bit cheaper than other vendors, possibly due to smaller amounts of seed, but still useable and a savings. A packet of the Red Zeppelin red onion mentioned earlier costs $1.45 (1/64 oz., or about 130 seeds), where the same item at Stokes runs $2.75 a packet (300 seeds). While Stokes cost per ounce actually comes out less, I don't need that many seeds, especially since onion seed doesn't carry over well in the freezer.

We've had some issues with Twilley in the past, and they tried (not very hard) to resolve them to our liking. They did offer a full refund for the items in question, but failed to answer my question as to how an expensive packet of triploid melon seed would contain crushed seed and my germination tests of other seed came in far lower than what it should have been. I sent the refund check back, as what I'd wanted was an answer to my questions about their seed quality. I know that's being pretty picky, but I contrast that experience to one with Stokes Seeds.

Brinno Garden Watch CamI purchased my Garden Watch Cam from Stokes early in 2009. When it came in, the essential bottom tripod mounting plate was missing. I called Stokes, returned the camera, but also asked that they have someone check the replacement they sent out to make sure all their stock wasn't defective. When the new camera came in, the package had obviously been opened and checked. That's customer service!

Timelapse PlantCamStokes no longer carries the Brinno Garden Watch Camera. They now carry the slightly cheaper Wingscapes Timelapse PlantCam. (Note: Links are to Amazon, as they're a bit cheaper than Stokes!) I like my Garden Watch Cam, but am glad to see that there is now more than one option for low cost time lapse cameras for the garden.

My last project with the Garden Watch Cam turned out to be a bust. I was trying to get a time lapse of praying mantises emerging from their egg case. Since praying mantis emerge, well, when they're ready, it took a long time for them to come out. I forgot to check the batteries in my camera and ended up missing the event. But I plan to try again next year.

We still end up ordering plant pot labels, melon, sweet corn, petunia and other flower seed from Twilley each year, as we like their offerings and price points. I've chalked up the previous bad experience to a bad year for Twilly. And it's nice on a chilly, rainy Saturday to just sit and page through a garden catalog.

Monday, November 15, 2010 - Composting

Composting organic material to create a super soil amendment can be about as complicated or as easy as one wants to make it. Fortunately, Lee Reich's AP column comes to beginning composters' rescue with a common sense article, Compost piles aren't as fussy as some think. Reich doesn't get into fancy, expensive composters, but looks at what is needed to start an effective compost pile. (Also check out his blog, In Lee's garden now, for more gardening common sense.)

Compost pileOur compost pile follows Reich's simple formula of putting in almost all of our garden waste, not worrying about plant diseases or insect pests. I do hold out woody stems such as broccoli, kale, and asparagus, only because they break down so slowly. We also compost almost all of our kitchen garbage with the exception of meat products. Our dogs gladly take care of them, but aren't too fond of vegetables and lettuce trimmings. Meat products can also draw critters out of the woods to feast on ones compost pile.

As I build or turn our pile, I do add a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer and lime. I've also used one of the many variants of a Jerry Baker Compost Tonic at times. The one I use to get a new pile cooking includes a 12 ounce Coke (regular, not diet), one cup of household ammonia, and a quarter cup of dish detergent. I mix about a cup of that mixture into a two gallon watering can and sprinkle it on the pile.

But the main thing with a compost pile is to give it some variety and layer in a bit of dirt here and there. Turning a pile frequently accelerates the decomposition in warm weather.

(See our September 1, 2010 posting to view the end product of composting.)

Aspargus cut in fall

One of my jobs today was to clean up our asparagus patch. I used loping shears to trim the stems slightly below soil level. The stems and fronds all went into a hole I'm working on filling, rather than into the compost heap.

I may add leaves as a winter cover to the patch, but no fertilizer was required at this point. I'd added several inches of compost to the bed this summer which should take care of fertility. A good layer of manure would be nice, if I had it on hand.

Saturday, November 20, 2010 - Another Seed Catalog

Stokes Seeds 2010 CatalogStokes' geranium pageOur catalog from Stokes Seeds came in this week. Getting our Stokes catalog early is important for us, as we often order geranium seed from them that needs to be started in December or January. We're still waiting on catalogs from Johnny's, Harris, and Shumway, but can begin getting some of our flower seed orders planned as most of that seed comes from Stokes and Twilley.

We get a host of unsolicited seed and garden catalogs each year that often don't merit a mention here on Senior Gardening. Seed quality, reliability, price, and customer service are probably the main things we consider when looking at seed vendors. But as I've mentioned before, an attractive catalog always catches our eye and at least gets a perusal.

As I paged through the Stokes catalog the first time, I was struck at their incredible two-page display of impatiens varieties.

Stokes impatiens

And in answer to your possible question, no, Stokes, Johnny's, Twilley, Harris, and Shumway are not Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers, although I wish they were. They just all sell good seed. (See our November 11 posting for a list of seed suppliers.)

Cauliflower and Lettuce

Small cauliflower headsI cut one head of cauliflower for a dish I was making yesterday and cut three more today in the cold, morning fog. None of them would qualify as large enough for sale at a farm market or grocery produce section, but they're definitely useable. And, this is the first time we've been somewhat successful at growing fall cauliflower. Our fall cabbage and broccoli have done well the last few years, but until this year, our cauliflower has always taken too long and gotten nailed by frost.

While I cut the first head of cauliflower this morning, I was thinking (other than about how cold my hands were) about how nice it was that I didn't have to worry about cabbage looper worms in the cold weather. Then I found a cabbage looper worm, alive and well, at the base of each of the next two heads of cauliflower!

Lettuce under cold frameLettuceCutting all the cauliflower but one plant that had just a tiny head leaves only a couple of cabbage plants, some scraggly kale, and our lettuce yet to be harvested. Most of our lettuce was snug under a cold frame last night (note the fog still present at around 11 A.M.). I raised the frame this morning, as we're now supposed to have four or five frost free nights in a row! Our lettuce was planned for our Thanksgiving meal, but it turns out we may not need it with everything else we want to have.

Soft head lettuce Alcosa savoy cabbage Super Red 80 cabbage

Thanksgiving Day Approaches

As our family Thanksgiving feast approaches, it has fallen on me to be our menu maker this year. I get lots of input from family members about their various favorites, but the task of organizing the menu (and getting most of it cooked) is mine.

While our garden suffered terribly from a drought this fall, I was surprised at the bounty of choices I had at hand for our Thanksgiving celebration. No, we don't raise poultry or beef anymore, but in almost every other area I found myself choosing between options from our garden.

Do we have sweet potato yams or butternut squash "yams?" Green bean casserole, peas, sweet corn, broccoli and cauliflower, kale, or glazed carrots for vegetables? Only when it came to mashed potatoes was I a bit disappointed. Our potato crop was truly a failure this year, so they'll get Potato Buds next Thursday (and probably never know the difference).

In a time when many in our country are out of work and/or homeless, and many more in the world are ill, mistreated, and go to bed hungry, it's important to remember the freedoms and bounty we have and be thankful for it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010 - Thanksgiving Day (U.S.)

Like many of you, we will be with our family on Thanksgiving Day and will be celebrating the many blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us. We continue to be in reasonably good health, and our children are all healthy and doing well.

Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing Give Thanks:
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cold, gray dayI've worked to extend our gardening season with cold tolerant plants, cold frames and such, but days like today make one sit back and admit that our growing season is finally over. It's wet, gray, windy, and cold outside today. The only thing still "growing" in our main garden are a few hardy kale plants. Even they are showing the effects of the cold weather and need to be picked and pulled soon.

Plants under lightsWhile I did make a trip outside today to check some of our animals, I really didn't do any work in the inclement weather. Instead, I finished cleaning up our gloxinias and a few other plants that are growing in our basement under plantlights. The gloxinias hadn't had spent leaves or blooms picked off in a few weeks and were looking rather ratty. We also have a few plants under the lights that we winter over indoors. A couple of wandering jew plants, some trailing geraniums, and a begonia all are somewhat hidden in the photo above, as they are in the back on the lower shelf. I should mention that outdoor hanging basket plants we plan to winter over get treated with systemic insecticide (while still outside) a few weeks before coming inside.

And while our previous gardening season is over, we'll need to get our seed geraniums started next month, seed orders completed and sent, and by early January have our onion transplants started.

On my "list" of things I didn't get done this season are preparing a bed for spring peas and a general tilling of our main, raised garden plot. I've been a bit indecisive on where to put our peas next spring, and ended up just not making a decision or getting the bed prepped. Fall preparation of a pea bed allows one to get a really early start with spring peas (think early March) by just hoeing a row if the ground is thawed, or spreading the peas on the surface and either poking them into the soil or covering them with purchased, bagged potting soil. The weather might break enough that I could still get the bed prepped...if my mind thaws a bit and I decide where to put the row.

October, 2010

From the at Senior Gardening