Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 10/7/2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

With the arrival of October, our gardening changes from our summer planting, growing, and harvesting to protecting late crops from early frosts and cleaning up the garden for next year. We've been spoiled in having a long growing season here for the last two years with first killing frosts (not light frosts) of October 19 (2009) and October 30 (2008).

Our average frost date in this region is around October 5-10, but we have "patchy frost" in the forecast for tomorrow night. So I'll be covering some newly transplanted lettuce and a row of very late green beans tomorrow night with...whatever I can find to protect them. Our fall brassicas won't be covered, as they can usually stand a light frost. And the rest of the garden just faces the normal end of its growing season.

First killing frost map (US)

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

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

As effectively as any frost could, the dry weather here over the last two months has already curtailed a lot of our gardening. Most of our pepper plants, which should have lots of large, mature, sweet bell peppers are producing fruit slightly larger than golf balls! And while we can usually find a ripe, red tomato for BLTs, our tomato production this year has been miserable due to the dry conditions and some problems with tomato plant diseases.

Damaged bean podsOur Kentucky Wonder pole beans didn't have enough moisture to fill their pods for a long time last month. When they did begin to fill, we experienced insect damage to the pods at a level I've not seen before. I did finally pick one nice mess of beans, getting one good bean pod out of every ten picked. Then after cooking up the beans, I remembered why I haven't grown the variety in the last 20 years: I don't like them!

Growing late green beans next to a field of soybeans can really be a bad idea, anyway. While the soybeans can handle the insect pressure, they provide a never ending supply of bugs to attack our green beans. Early green beans seem to do better, as the pests from the soybeans don't seem to get going until later in the summer. Interestingly, our late, late row of bush beans aren't experiencing much insect pressure.

Along with the Kentucky Wonder vines, our melon vines are now composting in a new compost heap I started last week. Removing the vines and tilling under any remaining residue helps prevent insect and disease carryover. We used up the last of the finished compost from our previous pile with its black richness going into our new raised garden bed. I also started to rototill the East Garden where the melons had grown, but broke another cable on the tiller. While Jack's Small Engines did their usual good job of getting the right parts out to me promptly, and I got the new clutch cable (reverse) installed promptly, I still haven't finished the tilling.

East Garden

BuckwheatI did manage to get our green manure crop of buckwheat in the East Garden turned under before the breakdown. I'd seeded the area in August where our sweet corn had grown with buckwheat, but got a very irregular germination due to the dry soil conditions. We still had buckwheat germinating in the area alongside buckwheat that was in full bloom.

LettuceWith the incredibly dry conditions here, I'd held off moving our lettuce transplants into the garden, hoping for a good rain. I obviously waited way too long, but went ahead and transplanted the lettuce into one end of our new raised bed yesterday. I purposely kept the planting to the center of the bed to accommodate our rather narrow cold frame. And of course, with frost coming, it's now raining outside, effectively ending our drought.

Paprika Supreme plantWhile our bell peppers have suffered from the drought, our paprika peppers, growing in a different area of our main garden, have thrived. We've dried and ground enough paprika to last us for years. We grew three different varieties of paprika peppers this year, Alma, Feher Ozon, and Paprika Supreme, and were happy with all of them. The Paprika Supreme, which may have crossed with some bell peppers last year, produced the heaviest harvest, but the Alma and Feher Ozon add a spicier flavor to the mix. We'll probably grow all three varieties again next year.

I attribute the vast difference in production between or bell peppers and our paprika peppers this year to where we are growing them. The bell peppers are in a raised bed that also has a dry sump drain at its center. Raised beds dry out faster than other ground. With the dry growing conditions this year and our well unable to support irrigation, our raised bed sorta worked against us. The paprikas are also on a rather boggy, low patch of ground. I did mound the soil before putting them in, but they've obviously had a bit more moisture that our bell peppers. Both plantings have been heavily mulched with grass clippings all season for weed control and moisture retention.

Basil going to seed

At both ends of our paprika pepper row are our basil plants. I've kept them picked back, not allowing them to bloom until recently. You wouldn't want to pick fresh basil from the plant shown above, as basil gets bitter when it blooms. I've been surprised at how full the plant shown above has grown. And...the red fruit on the plant behind the basil isn't a small tomato. It's a ripe, Alma paprika pepper!


Fall brassicasWith cooling temperatures, our petunias at the ends of our fall planting of brassicas are putting on quite a show. When the vegetable plants in the garden are pretty well spent, our flowers around the perimeter of the garden add a very welcome splash of color to the end of the growing season.

The smaller photo of our fall brassicas, flowers, and bell peppers and tomatoes in the background also shows why we went to a raised bed in this area. You can see that there is about an 8" drop in ground level along the 16' length of the end of the bed. Before we first terraced and later fully enclosed the bed, wind and rain would sweep across the field to the west (left), producing serious erosion of the garden plot. The raised bed has put an end to the soil loss.

Overripe cucumbersThe photo at left is one of those "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" shots. Our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are clearly overripe for table use or pickling. And that is exactly what I wanted!

The crop of yellowing cucumbers are almost ready for harvest for seed production. When they are really yellow and almost ready to rot, I'll pick them and core out the seed and its surrounding jell. I let the mess ferment in a tightly closed plastic container for 3-5 days. Then I rinse off off the extraneous plant material that should have separated from the seed during fermentation before drying the seed for future use.

PumpkinsOn a whim in mid-July, I dug a couple of holes next to our East Garden where our compost pile had been and planted a few Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds. I didn't till or do any special soil preparation, other than burning down the surrounding grass with some Roundup. I heavily mulched the young pumpkin plants with grass clippings and even broke out some of our nasty, heavy-duty chemical sprays to fend off an attack from squash bugs and spotted cucumber beetles.

So, I really have no right to expect to get a pumpkin crop from such a poorly conceived pumpkin patch. Despite my lack of serious care for the plants, it appears they may just produce several nice pumpkins for our grandkids.

GarageJust barely in an inset in the pumpkin photo is our garage. I've worked around the rapidly decaying building for our garden photos the last couple of years. It had become an eyesore with a leaky roof and siding peeling off.

Over the last few weekends, one of my sons-in-law has been repairing the decking on the roof in preparation for a new roof. Other than the ridge cap, we got the roof on yesterday. When done, the garage will have a new roof, new doors, and vinyl siding.

I'm thrilled to have the building rebuilt. Even though my son-in-law has done most of the heavy work, I find that I spend my weekdays "healing up" from each weekend's exertion instead of gardening. But it felt really good yesterday to have my nail belt back on and be running rows of heavy, new shingles! And despite the rain and my roofing fun yesterday, the Lord has granted me one of my increasingly rare days without disabling arthritis pain today.

It's a good day.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

ZinniasWith the soybeans cut in the field next to our main garden, everything looks a bit brown today when looking down from our sunroom window. Our trellises are pulled and stored and grass clipping mulch has been raked aside to facilitate tilling, exposing yet more brown earth.

While it's time to do so, I still don't have the heart to pull our row of zinnias that have added so much welcome color to our yard and garden. They came through a couple of light frosts earlier this week without damage. Unfortunately, they sit on the edge of the area where I'll be planting garlic later this month.

Green beansFrost damageI picked a gallon or so of green beans today. Some of the leaves on the plants had been nipped by frost, but the beans were beautiful. We had some of them earlier this week. I'd picked a few from the ends of the row for steamed, gourmet green beans and carrots. If we go another week without a frost, we'll get a second picking.

Saturday, October 9, 2010 - A Bit of Garden Humor

Dolly claims our cart

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our drought broke yesterday, and like much of the midwest, it was with a vengeance. A section of our bay window that was "on my list" of things to repair blew out, so I spent a good bit of time yesterday getting outside between showers, cleaning out the frame and reseating the sheet of plexiglas in its curved window frame. Considering how hard some areas got hit with storms, I count us lucky. The new roof on our garage did just fine through the high winds. We start siding the building this weekend. (We're still waiting on our order for new overhead garage doors.)

PumpkinsEast GardenThe frost finally got our pumpkin vines, so they got added to the compost heap. We got two pumpkins, but as you can see at left, I should have turned them better to even their ripening. With the pumpkin vines out, all that remains in our East Garden are three tomato plants, a pepper plant, and one eggplant.

Main gardenOur main garden in our back yard is also beginning to look a bit sparse. Fall broccoliWe still have kale, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower growing, although I doubt the cauliflower is going to make it. I need to pick whatever good peppers I can find this week and pull the plants, as we'll certainly have a killing frost soon.

Fall lettuceOur lettuce is doing well despite either one of our dogs laying on the floating cover that protected it from frost or deer browsing on it. We've enjoyed several good pickings of green beans this fall, made butternut squash yams, had boiled kale, and hope to have lettuce salad from the garden for our family Thanksgiving dinner.

Late crops are always a bonus. We're now well beyond our first frost, but are still enjoying some things from the garden.

HP Garden Dreams Notebook Here's an ad that caught my eye when it came in yesterday. It's an HP Garden Dreams notebook computer. It reminds me a bit of the old flower power iMacs. It's specs are:

  • AMD 2.40GHz Turion II P540 processor
  • 4GB DDR3 system memory
  • 500GB SATA hard drive
  • 8X double-layer DVD burner
  • 14.5" widescreen display

Postings to this site have been irregular of late. I do apologize, but I find that our weekends are filled with family and construction, and I seem to need the weekdays to "heal up" from the weekends! I've also made a concerted effort since the beginning of the new school year to have a post up each weekday on our Educators' News site.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lettuce coveredFive day forecastOur fall lettuce is snuggled under an improvised floating row cover of an old paper and plastic dropcloth in anticipation of a really hard frost tonight. As is often the case this time of year, we have a couple of cold nights predicted with considerably warmer temperatures afterward. Covering up tender plants for just a night or two can extend their growing season for days or weeks. Whether the old dropcloth will hold in enough heat is questionable, however. Our coldframe is buried at the back of our garage behind a bunch of siding, lumber, and assorted construction materials and tools.

Main garden

broccoli and peppersEach day the garden looks a little more bare. I picked a nice bucket of peppers today while taking out the plants. I also cut one nice head of broccoli, leaving two slightly smaller heads in the garden. I also cut back a trailing geranium, a wandering jew, and a begonia plant before moving them to the basement for the winter.

I've held off on getting the last of our flowers out of the main garden, as the zinnias and two petunia plants are still in bloom. I'd guess the frost tonight will nip them all. I really need to get the zinnias out, as they are where our garlic will be planted (late again).

AsparagusI also haven't cut our asparagus stalks yet, but will be doing so soon. Normally, I would be thinking at this time of getting some cow manure to cover the asparagus bed. Since it got the lion's share of our last compost pile, it should be in good shape for next spring one the stalks are removed.

Paul's asparagusSpeaking of asparagus, Paul Calback sent along some images last month of the raised asparagus bed he planted this spring. I wrote about his raised bed construction here in June.

Paul rents community garden space from the city of Toronto, Ontario. He used 2" lumber for his raised beds, creating stackable sections that really should be somewhat portable. We traded several emails and research each of us had done on how densely one should plant asparagus.

Paul planted one-year-old crowns about a foot apart in the row with 14 to 16 inches between rows. He went with a variety acclimated to his area, Guelph Millennium, from and was quite satisfied with the quality of the crowns.

Thanks to Paul for following up on his new asparagus bed and sharing his garden images with us.

asparagus asparagus closeup
Sunflowers sunflower closeup

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sweet potatoesI had a pleasant surprise this afternoon. While cleaning up the few plants left in our East Garden, I decided to dig our sweet potatoes as well. They were at the shaded end of a row of regular potatoes that produced mostly golf ball sized tubers. At one point I had thought I might just cut and compost the vines. I'm glad I didn't.

Even though there was a hard plow pan around six inches down, the two hills of sweet potatoes that had survived the drought produced an abundance of tubers. The Nancy Hall variety we'd ordered from Shumways is known to produce irregular tubers, and we certainly got a variety of sizes and shapes. But we were amazed that we got a number of very large sweet potatoes, considering our growing conditions this summer.

ZinniasHaving finally had a killing frost this week, I took out what had been an absolutely gorgeous row of zinnias that stayed in bloom right up to the frost. The zinnias, pepper plants, kale stalks, and a very woody stemmed eggplant all went into a hole I've been filling in close to the barn. Chipper shredderNone of the above break down very well in a standard compost pile, so I just use them as filler where needed. If I had one of those fancy, chipper shredders, I guess I could grind those heavy stalks right into the compost heap. But buying an $800 machine when I have holes to be filled doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe when I win the lottery...

While sorting a stack of mail this morning, one letter reminded me that I hadn't gotten my saved seed listed as yet for the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. It only took a few moments to complete the listings for Moira tomatoes, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, and Earliest Red Sweet peppers. What did take a little time was poring over all my previous listings back to 1987. I think I first joined SSE shortly after they were founded in 1975. I'm not sure if 1987 was my first listing, but it obviously is as far back as their computer records go.

SSE Listing History

If you're into growing heirloom vegetables, or are just looking for a hard-to-find open pollinated variety, the Seed Savers annual yearbook contains thousands of listings from members like me who preserve some of their hard-to-find favorites. The yearbook is available only through annual membership in the exchange ($40/yr), but SSE also offers varieties to non-members via their website that have been grown out from the SSE seed collection.

And while the frost ended the season for our tender plants, some others continue to grow and produce for us at least for a little while longer. An Alcosa savoy cabbage, two petunias shown earlier this month in their full glory, and some kale that weathered the frost well are shown below.

Alcosa savoy cabbage Petunias Kale

September, 2010

From the at Senior Gardening