Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 12/27/2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December is a month of transition in the Senior Garden. We begin the month still picking a few broccoli sideshoots from our East Garden and some lettuce from under our floating row covers in the main garden. We'll also be hustling to finish putting all of our garden plots to bed for the winter before the ground freezes.

Seed catalog clutterKettle of potting soilBut as I write about putting the garden to bed, there's also a large kettle of potting soil sterilizing in the oven in anticipation of getting some plants started for next year's garden. There's also a pleasant clutter of seed catalogs in my office, making me rather inefficient as I frequently interrupt my writing to page through them.

The load of potting soil I have in the oven is a little different than our standard mix. I'd bagged some compost last week and cut it half and half into some of our regular, commercial potting mix. Since a pH test of the compost came up neutral, I didn't have to add any lime to the mix, but did give it a light shot of bone meal to promote root growth.

Speaking of potting soil, I ran across a posting on the Food Allergy Families web site, Miracle-gro potting soil contains peanuts, tree nuts & coconut, that included a response from Scotts that listed some of the ingredients of their mixes. We don't use their potting soil for a number of reasons.

Broccoli sideshoots in DecemberA few sideshootsI did pick a few broccoli sideshoots today. About every four days we get enough for Annie and I to have broccoli with our evening meal or to add to a salad mix. Today's picking was about what we usually get at this time of year...not much, but something.

I have a couple Omaha Steaks iconmy dad sent us marinating in the fridge for supper tonight. The small bit of broccoli, some sweet corn from the garden left over from Thanksgiving, and a couple of baked sweet potatoes should make a pretty nice dinner. Maybe I should break out some lettuce (from the garden, of course) for a salad as well.

And of course, the paragraphs above speak to one of my "gardening" problems. My physical activity out in the garden becomes pretty limited starting in December, but I certainly don't quit eating well over the winter months. I guess it's time to break out the old Richard Simmons Sweatin' to the Oldies DVD again. Grin, Inc.

Saturday, December 3, 2011 - More Seed Catalogs

SSE 2012 catalogAnnie's Heirloom Seeds catalogTwo more seed catalogs came in today. The 2012 Seed Savers Exchange catalog of heirloom and open pollinated seeds arrived via traditional snail mail. This 100 page catalog carries seed offered for sale by SSE to the general public. We didn't order anything from last year's SSE catalog, but did use it in 2010 to get seed for the Alma and Feher Ozon paprika peppers we blended with Paprika Supreme to make an outstanding ground paprika. The SSE 500+ page annual yearbook, availably only to paid members, will come in a bit later, but it carries a far wider variety of open pollinated varieties grown out and shared by SSE members (like me).

The other catalog that "came in" was actually a downloadable one. The December email newsletter from Annie's Heirloom Seeds related that their print catalog would be mailed out between Christmas and New Years, but that the catalog was also available now for download. That involved "ordering" the catalog online to get the download link, but the process was really pretty easy.

The Annie's catalog proved to be a delight to the eye, with lots of wonderful illustrations of the varieties offered. While we grow a good number of hybrid vegetable varieties, I think it's great to see heirloom and open pollinated vendors such as SSE, Annie's, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds succeeding in the marketplace. The resurgence in interest in open pollinated varieties over the last ten years is obviously a big plus for home gardeners, providing a wonderful, sustainable alternative to the seed breeders who at one time nearly monopolized the market with hybrid and genetically modified varieties.

We often try one or two open pollinated varieties each year in our gardens, always looking for quality items that we might be able to add to our regular plantings. We may not ever save seed from them, but it's good to know the varieties won't become unavailable due to the whims and business decisions of hybridizers and mammoth seed companies. During 2011, we tested Atomic Red carrots, Tam Dew honeydew, and Ali Baba watermelon, all from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The Atomic Red carrots proved to be a disappointment, both the Tam Dew and Ali Baba varieties will now become regulars in our planting routine.

I finished up our garden seed inventory yesterday by going through a lot of rather old flower seed, a good bit of which I took off inventory and pitched. Getting the inventory done along with a round of germination tests allowed me to get our first two seed orders sent off to Stokes and Twilley Seeds. We order almost all of our onion and geranium seed from those two vendors. Since we start our onions and geraniums in December and/or January, it's critical to get those orders in early.

A final result from the current round of germination tests was that a good bit of our pea seed needed to be replaced. We had trouble getting a good stand of several varieties of peas this year, probably because some of our seed was old. Our commercial Sugar Snap seed tested as a dismal 40%. I think we finally got a stand by using up all of our saved Sugar Snap seed from past years.

While we'll still grow some of our favorite pea varieties, Encore, Eclipse, and the original, tall, Sugar Snap peas, we'll also be trying three varieties new to us. All are tall growing, open pollinated varieties. I prefer the taller, vining peas over bush varieties, as I find them easier to pick! We'll be ordering Mr. Bigicon peas from Burpee and Amish Snap and Champion of England from SSE. And I think I'm going to need to find space in our garden plan for a second pea trellis next year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog coverAnother of our favorite seed catalogs came in the mail yesterday. The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog is an oversize (9 1/8 x 10 3/4 inch) beauty that must cost a ton to print and mail. I didn't get a hold of ours until afternoon after another trip to the doctor, pharmacy, etc., to deal with a nasty respiratory infection that's pretty well kept me inside of late. The cover art this year is of a Moon & Stars watermelon, one we really like to grow (and eat).

I made two passes through the gorgeous catalog, something that may prove to be a bit expensive when I tally up all that I'd like to order. One watermelon, Picnic, had a rather brief description, so I googled it and found that also carried the variety with a bit more information. It described the melon as "a very rare heirloom variety" that was "originally introduced in 1972!"

"Heirloom" and "1972" didn't seem to go together well in my mind until I thought a bit about some of the open pollinated varieties we work to preserve in our gardens. Moira tomatoes, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, and Earliest Red Sweet peppers were all introduced in the 70s, I think. In the late 70s, many seed houses began dropping many of their open pollinated vegetable varieties in favor of hybrids with better potential, disease resistance, and often far higher prices. If not for gardeners saving and sharing seed through the Seed Savers Exchange and other like enterprises, a lot of them would be lost. The resurgence in interest in open pollinated heirloom varieties has caused many seed houses to return a few heirloom varieties to their listings.

Vilmorin: The Vegetable GardenAnother item that caught my eye in the Baker Creek catalog was the Boule D'or melon. Unlike the more recent Picnic watermelon, the online descriptor for Boule D'or noted that "it was listed in Vilmorin's book, The Vegetable Garden, in 1885, but is very rare now." The print catalog description also included a phrase that made me add the melon to our order spreadsheet, "my all-time favorite honeydew type."

Baker Creek apparently will continue their practice of offering their catalog as a downloadable PDF file (10.1 MB) again this year. While the Downloadable Catalog link on their home page still led to the old 2011 catalog, I replaced the date in the URL and downloaded the new catalog quite easily.

It may seem overkill to offer a print catalog, an online version (usually for ordering), and a downloadable file, I appreciate all three. The PDF file, opened in Photoshop, allowed me to get a good image of the catalog cover without fighting to get it aligned correctly in our scanner. One can also zoom in on catalog items, especially illustrations, with the downloadable versions. Currently, Annie's Heirloom Seeds also has a downloadable catalog. Twilley Seeds has had one as well in the past, but their site hasn't been updated at this writing to include their new catalog. And Twilley's remains unique in having an online catalog, but no online ordering.

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International Rescue CommitteeWednesday, December 7, 2011 - Charity Banners

Several months ago I decided to give over the banner advertising space on my Educators' News web site one day a week to charity ad banners. What may appear to be a philanthropic act may really have started out as me doing penance for being pretty rude to a pushy telephone solicitor! They'd been calling three to four times a day, which we'd ignored when we saw who it was on caller ID. I finally took the call, but ended up threatening to cut off our contributions to the charity if they didn't quit calling.

Like most folks these days, money is tight for us. Our charitable giving is pretty much limited to the charities and the amounts we've pledged. No amount of pestering via unwanted phone calls or the avalanche of junk mail solicitations we receive daily can change that. And the charity involved in the harassment by telephone should know better.

Melons for the MissionIn dealing with the incredibly rude charity and telephone solicitor, I felt a strong wave of righteous, or possibly self-righteous, indignation. I felt that I'd been pretty creative and generous with our plan last summer to grow extra melons in our garden to donate to The Lighthouse Mission in Terre Haute. The dollar value of the three truckloads of watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupes we contributed was for us, rather substantial. It wasn't a hardship or loss, as we just put in extra time, materials, and labor to produce enough to be able to give a good bit away to a good cause.

But after the solicitor's call, I began to think about what I could do to contribute something more without straining our budget. After beginning a column, A Charity Phone Solicitation, that started out pretty nasty, I hit upon contributing banner ad space one day a week, our day with our highest web traffic, on our Educators' News web site. Since mid-September, we've hosted one or two banners each Wednesday to different, highly rated charities.

While some charities have web pages containing ad banners that bloggers and web site operators can use on their site(s). But interestingly, many well known and respected charities do not. Over the last three months, it's been an interesting adventure trying to track down banners for charities I've screened via the Charity Navigator and/or GiveWell. I've begun adding links at the end of the column linked above to the charity banner ad pages I've found.

A column last weekend on The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, Gifts That Say You Care, added several more good charities for me to check out. While I found two good charities' banners to use this week on Educators' News, there were also several more where no banners appeared to be available. In the past, I've just muttered under my breath and moved on when banners weren't available, but this time around, I sent out a couple of polite emails to charities asking if I'd just missed their banner page with the suggestion that if none existed, it might be a good area to explore.

This evening to my complete surprise and delight, I received an email from Jamie Kelso, the Digital Marketing Officer for the International Rescue Committee, that contained a banner of subject and size I'd written them about. Since they often provide flocks of chickens for families in third world countries, and I'd raised chickens for a number of years on the farm, the idea of such a charitable contribution made sense to me, as chickens can provide a lot of protein and meat for a family. While the IRC didn't have a stock banner for what I wanted, Jamie had their designer make one for me! (See banner at the beginning of this posting.)


So, I thought I'd go ahead and run the chicken flock banner today on Senior Gardening, as I'd been considering using charity banners occasionally on this site. I'll probably run banner ads to other charities here from time to time. And...

Please don't feel like you're getting dunned by the charity ads on the site. I all too well realize that many, maybe most, of my readers are retired like me and living on fixed pensions and/or Social Security. (Of course, I just got my notification in the mail today that we're finally getting a cost-of-living increase in Social Security next month. Woohoo!) If nothing else, running the charity ad banners makes me feel a little better about myself.

Light House Mission

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finally winterWe've begun to have a few days where the temperature isn't getting above freezing all day. Even the best of row covers can't create heat, they can only hold in what is already in the ground. So today, basking in the high temperature of 39o, I pulled our floating row covers. All of the remaining lettuce was frost damaged or worse, but one savoy cabbage plant yielded a good head. I also could have picked some spinach, but I would have spent forever sorting out damaged leaves, so I just left the spinach to be turned under.

I also pulled our broccoli plants in the East Garden last week. They were still producing sideshoots, but the small heads showed a bit of frost/freeze damage and probably wouldn't have been good to eat.

I did get a good picking of spinach last Wednesday. I'd been to the grocery hunting something for dinner and got disgusted with the price of the store's "baggie dinners." We've come to like the taste and convenience of some of the pasta and chicken quick dinners, but this time round I just bought fresh cheese ravioli and alfredo sauce and made our own. I started with celery, carrots, onion, and garlic sauteed in olive oil. Once the starter was browned just a bit, I added chicken breast chunks with seasoned salt and our own, slightly spicy paprika. Next came some chicken broth, a pinch of basil and oregano, more chicken broth, and finally alfredo sauce. As it all simmered, I broke lots and lots of fresh spinach into it. I think the purchased ingredients approached the cost of the baggie dinners, but what we had for supper was far superior in taste.

I also noticed today that we're down to about a pound of carrots in storage. We dug over fifteen pounds of them this year, sharing about a third of them with one of our daughters. Last year's crop of carrots, far less than we dug this year, lasted until spring. With our increased consumption of carrots, I think I'll need to add another row of carrots to our garden plan for next year, or possibly grow both a spring and fall crop of them.

I'll share one last comment here on floating row covers that didn't fit in anywhere above. Although the vendor suggests the row covers can be reused, ours were pretty battered after one fall use. Geranium stalks had poked holes in some places and one of our dogs had damaged the covers trying to hunker down on them. I'd added a number of small holes and tears from the landscape fabric pins I used to hold down the covers. When pulling the pins, the cover often tore. While I saved our used covers, they'll only be good as patches in the future. I thought I might order another roll of the cover with my spring seed order to Johnny's, but found they were no longer on sale. So I'll wait until next fall when I need them.

Burpee Seed Company

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I had the most incredible email exchange imaginable today with Harris Seeds' President, Dick Chamberlin. I'd written Harris's contact page a week ago noting that I probably wouldn't order much from them due to the late delivery of their print catalog. I received a response from Harris's Cristina Mech, telling me the catalogs were to be mailed out at the end of last week.

Having not received the needed catalog today, and thinking I'd just run into the odd, cheeky "customer service" representative, I emailed the president of Harris Seeds. Expecting some kind of email of apology or something to soothe a disgruntled customer, I was amazed when I received an incredibly arrogant response from Chamberlin letting me know that I'd receive a catalog when Harris was good and ready to send it!

He enumerated that Harris had no copies of the catalog on hand, as it is sent directly from the printer. I wondered at sending a catalog without bound proofs having been delivered to the source, but Dick was pretty emphatic that they had none. (And yeah, he was probably lying through his teeth on that one.)

Having an obviously upset customer, one might think Harris would have gotten out an apology and a copy of one of their commercial catalogs that have some overlap with their home gardeners' catalogs. Instead, Chamberlin chose to send out an insulting email letting me know just how unimportant my business was to him and Harris Seeds.

So...I poured myself a really big scotch on the rocks last night and began removing all links to Harris Seeds on this site.

When one gets to be president of a corporation, there is a tendency to believe that what you say or believe is absolutely true. One forgets to listen to timely comments/complaints from customers. Dick Chamberlin is an excellent example of this phenomena. He appeared more than willing to insult and drive away good customers to preserve his enormous ego. Or, maybe he was just having a really bad day and decided to share the pain with me.

As I wrote him, being arrogant and unresponsive in light of valid customer concerns and complaints will only hurt Harris Seeds.

How's that for plain spoken?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Seed packetsOur first round of seed orders for next year's garden all arrived promptly and in good shape. Stokes Seeds, Twilley Seed, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds apparently aren't swamped with orders yet, or really have their act together. I'd guess at this point, it's a bit of both.

I turned my attention today to finishing up our remaining orders. With print catalogs from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, the Territorial Seed Company, and of course, Harris, still MIA, Johnny's Selected Seeds, R.H. Shumway, and the Seed Savers Exchange all shared in my "final" orders. While I begin with a pretty grand plan for seed orders, I really begin to pare down to just what I think we'll need, as the Christmas shopping season constrains our seed shopping budget. Several items I would have ordered from Burpee ended up going on the list to Shumway, solely based on price. The absent or tardy catalog didn't help Burpee's case much either. Annie's, Burpee, and Territorial may all still get late, "clean-up" orders of items I've missed or decide later that I need.

When Hell Freezes OverAnd Harris Seeds? The old saying is that one never should say never, but I'm thinking of the Don Henley line that later named an Eagles' live album and their most successful tour! Of course, at the beginning of the concert recorded for the album, Glenn Frey joked to the audience: "For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation." So Mr. Chamberlin, maybe in fourteen years, if I'm still around, but for now, you're cast out of the garden.

As I leafed through the Johnny's catalog over the last few weeks, I was really disappointed with their prices. Although they consistently provide excellent seed, good online tutorials, and great customer service, I ended up ordering only four items from them. Their shipping charge of $7.00 also seemed inordinately high for four small seed packets, but I was able to find a free shipping code on RetailMeNot that worked.

R.H. Shumway 2012 catalog coverIn terms of dollars spent, Shumway came out the big winner. Ranked from the most spent down to the least, with the number of items ordered in parentheses, are:

R.H. Shumway (12)
Twilley Seed (7)
Stokes Seeds (9)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (5)
Seed Savers Exchange (5)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (4)

Bean illustrations from ShumwayA lot of Shumway's seed packets are considerably cheaper than other vendors, but I pushed the dollar value of our order up considerably by ordering half pounds of green beans and a double packet of peas. While I like the lower priced packets, I really think I'm a bit of a sucker for Shumway's oldtime woodcut illustrations in their catalog.

The "Duh" Department

Generic SeedsMissing from our orders so far this year is anything from Generic Seeds. I simply forgot to take a look at the online only vendor! They're one of our Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers, and I noticed today, proudly have "non-GMO" on their web page banner.

Also in today's "Duh" department, I was looking at our now unprotected spinach in our main garden this week, wondering just how hardy spinach is. While there's a good bit of disease or insect damage apparent, the spinach leaves really aren't showing any frost damage. Even the plants I cut to the ground last week are beginning to produce new leaves.

When I searched online about the hardiness of spinach, I came up with a 1999 Purdue Extension page by B. Rosie Lerner. The Fall Vegetable Garden has a great Cold Temperature Tolerance of Vegetables chart that lists spinach in the Hardy vegetables (tolerates hard frost) column. As I wrote months ago here on Senior Gardening, I'm not all that great at growing spinach, and I'm obviously still learning the craft of gardening.

I'll need to remember to link to the page again next summer when folks are planning their fall gardens.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Soil InoculantHaving wound up our main garden seed orders yesterday, I immediately discovered that I'd forgotten to order some granular soil inoculant for our peas and beans. When I looked around for the stuff, I found the price on it had gone nuts at our usual suppliers. I finally found one place that had it for $10.

I transferred all of our orders from my seed order spreadsheet (which runs back through 2007 for reference) to our recent garden seed inventory. I'd made a comment last month that I really needed to add a "days to maturity" column to the inventory, as it seems during the gardening season that I'm frequently into old seed catalogs or online hunting for such information. While I made a good start at it, it's going to take a while to enter all that information. And of course, you find things such as one seed catalog saying Contender green beans mature in 40 days, while another says 50. Arrrh, not a lot of fun.

Lots of peasI did find my lack of restraint in ordering sorta interesting. I really prefer taller growing peas than the dwarf varieties, although I ordered more Encore and Eclipse pea seed. Both are dwarf pea varieties, but they're just too good not to grow. I like the taller pea varieties simply because they are lots easier to pick. So besides a replenishment order for the original, tall Sugar Snapicon pea, I found I'd added three tall vining varieties new to us: Amish Snap, Champion of England, and Mr. Bigicon. The first two are open pollinated heirloom varieties, and Mr. Big was a 2000 All-America Winner. I think I may need to work more trellis areas into our garden plan!

I ran into my in-between-marriages roommate and buddy at the grocery this week. Like a couple of retired old farts, we talked for an hour in the aisles. During the conversation, he related that he only froze sweet corn from his garden, as he thought anything else really wasn't worth the time. I related that we freeze a lot of peas...when we have them. He seemed surprised, as peas take an awful lot of work for not many pounds in the freezer. But I also thought, he's never had sweet peas in February that were frozen the day they were picked!

Another unusual purchase for us was some Howden Pumpkin seed. We didn't grow any pumpkins this year, much to the dismay of our grandchildren. Since the only seed we have in stock is some Atlantic Giant from 2003, I decided to try a different variety. While Howden is new to us, it's an old, tried and true carving pumpkin variety.

I've grown lots of pumpkin varieties over the years. When farming, I once grew a quarter acre test plot of pumpkins. It was a long time ago, but I think we tried eight or ten pumpkin varieties and found that we were better off sticking to corn, beans, hogs, and cattle. But we were a big hit in the neighborhood that year with free pumpkins for all.

CarrotsWith Baby Sweet and Sweet Baby Jane carrot seed apparently going off the market, I also hunted for a new carrot variety. I settled on Laguna, a medium length 65 day hybrid from Johnny's Selected Seeds. We still have some Baby Sweet and Sweet Baby Jane seed on hand, and were quite pleased with the new Mokum variety we tried for the first time this year.

I also ordered a packet of Fremont cauliflower from Stokes Seeds to go along with our usual variety, Amazing from Johnny's.

Having been delighted with the Tam Dew honeydew from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds this year, I found another honeydew from them to try next year, Boule D'or. As I wrote earlier this month, the phrase "my all-time favorite honeydew type" sucked me in on this one, as such a recommendation is hard to resist. I also picked up a packet of our standard honeydew variety from Stokes, Passport. Passport is a dependable hybrid melon, but if the Boule D'or works out, I may be able to get away from another hybrid.

A "find" in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog reinforced my belief that having a print catalog in hand before ordering is essential. As I got towards the back of the SSE catalog, I was surprised to find America spinach offered. Years ago, we grew Melody Hybrid and America spinach, and were quite pleased when we could get a crop. (Remember, I'm pretty lousy most years at growing spinach.) As more expensive hybrids crowded open pollinated varieties out of most seed catalogs, the 1952 All-America Selections winner disappeared from the market (at least from the vendors we use). So we'll be growing the open pollinated America variety again next year along with the hybrids, Regal and Melodyicon.

I've already mentioned this month that we'll be trying Picnic watermelon next year.

Sweet CornSweet corn and melonsThe new items I spent the most time deciding upon were a couple of sh2 sweet corns. Since our old bicolor flunked its germination test, I ordered some Accentuate MRBC, an 82 day bicolor from Twilley Seed. And as yet another proof that looking in seed catalogs is expensive, I also picked up some Bountiful, a 77 day yellow supersweet. I told myself that I needed a shorter season yellow than our usual full season, 84 day, Summer Sweet 7640R.

Even with a few problems along the way, I've pretty much stayed with Twilley Seed for our sweet corn over the years. Occasionally, I'll try some from Stokes. But I seem to always come back to the Twilley supersweets.

When we were farming in the 80s, we grew two acres or so of sweet corn each year. Selling the then new sh2 supersweet corn was one of the most successful things we did on the farm. My sons handled most of the sales right from our driveway. They also got to pick one day a week that was "theirs." On their days, they got to keep the proceeds of the day as pay for picking and manning our sweet corn venture. And other than a few tests (that never proved to be as good as the corn from Twilley), all of our seed came from Twilley.

We usually sold out of corn each day during picking season. On the few days we didn't, our cattle and hogs ate well! Even with supersweets, we picked fresh each day.

Gift Suggestion

If you're looking for a special, yet unusual holiday gift for a gardening friend, let me suggest James Underwood Crockett's excellent gardening books. They're interesting, colorful, and easy to read. Although long since out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still the best reference volumes I have on gardening. While the occasional "new" version of the books show up on Amazon from time to time, they're collectors items and priced accordingly. Used copies are actually quite cheap.

Crockett's Victory Garden Crockett's Indoor Garden Crockett's Flower Garden

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spinach on Dec. 18, 2011I really hadn't planned on doing a posting here today. But then again, I also hadn't planned on picking spinach on December 18!

While outside doing some chore or another, I walked to the garden to take a look at the spinach I'd deemed too damaged to pick last week. I was surprised at how well the spinach was doing, as it's been uncovered for a week now, subject to rain and frost. While a lot of topsoil had been splashed onto the spinach leaves during recent rains, there wasn't nearly as much disease and insect damage as I'd earlier thought.

Spinach saladThen again, maybe I was just hungry and dreaming of spinach salad with poppyseed dressing one more time before winter truly sets in. Or maybe it was the relatively balmy, 52o afternoon that got me going. But whatever the reason, instead of turning under the spinach as a green manure as I'd previously planned, I ended up picking about six quarts of spinach leaves today.

Cleaning the spinach was considerably more time consuming than our previous pickings. Those pickings had been protected from debris by our floating row covers. This picking had soil, grass clippings, and leaves splashed and blown on it. I had to soak and rinse the spinach three times before individually washing (and stemming) each leaf.

But picking spinach in Indiana a week before Christmas? Amazing!

Spinach drying

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - Totally Off the Subject (of gardening)

Make-A-Wish FoundationI received a promotional email late last evening from Kristie Campbell. She and her husband, Niall, own and run the nationally acclaimed Firefly Grill in Effingham, Illinois. Kristie was writing to promote "Niall's incredible New Year's Eve Tasting Dinner."

Annie and I usually try to eat at the Firefly before heading next door to the Effingham Performance Center to take in a concert on our all too infrequent getaway weekends. We made our first trip to the EPC, then known as the Rosebud Theater, in 2007, to see a Gin Blossoms concert. Both the meal at the Firefly and the concert were excellent. We've been back to the EPC to see Foreigner, Air Supply, and REO Speedwagon.

But this posting isn't about rock 'n' roll, it's about the incredible New Year's Eve menu at the Firefly. Even if you don't live in the immediate area or aren't interested in going, it's worth a click for food lovers to see the mouth watering offerings. I briefly considered whether we could afford the trip before remembering that we get to babysit for two of our grandchildren visiting from California that night.

Let me add that Kristie and Niall are committed to locally grown food, buying locally when possible and growing a good bit of their summer produce in their own gardens! I guess this posting did get around to gardening, after all.

Firefly Grill

I'm not getting much gardening done these days, but I got most of our fall soil prep done last month. I took another try at our chicken, alfredo, and ravioli recipe last night. I wrote about it in detail earlier this month. This time around, I substituted broccoli for spinach in the sauce, serving it over a bed of the last picking of our fresh spinach.

This time around, the dish included onion, garlic (german and elephant), carrots, broccoli, basil, oregano, and paprika from our garden. Annie thought it was a bit better than last time around, but I sorta missed the spinach in the sauce.

Saturday, December 24, 2011 - Surprises

Baby gloxiniasMaybe it's just the season for surprises, but we certainly got a couple recently.

While watering our gloxinia plants this week, I saw what I thought was a bit of moss growing around the base of one of the plants. Reaching to rub out the moss, I quickly drew back in surprise. It turned out that two of our gloxinia plants had lots of baby gloxinias growing around them!

Baby Glox in Six Inch PotI really haven't given our gloxinias the care they need and deserve this fall, having concentrated more on outdoor gardening and home repairs. I recently cut many of the plants back a good bit and also have quite a few entering dormancy.

The cutting back of ragged and dead foliage made possible my "discoveries." Apparently, the plants had somehow self-pollinated (not too many bees in our basement), and I'd been too busy with other stuff to do much more with the plants than their weekly watering. When I finally did get the plants cleaned up, there were lots of spent bloom stems to pick off. I never noticed any seed bearing spent blooms, but I was going pretty fast when I cut and pinched off the spent blooms.

I pinched off a few more leaves today that may be shading the baby gloxinias. It shouldn't hurt the existing, mature gloxinias, as they are pretty well on their way towards their required period of dormancy.

When the tiny gloxinias get just a bit larger, I'll transplant them into fourpacks or 3" square pots.

Not Such a Nice Surprise

Easy access to drives, cards, and RAMSenior Gardening is put together on a seven-year-old Macintosh computer. I knew the machine was beginning to age less than gracefully, but it still did most of what I needed without problems. But last evening as I walked past the foot of the stairway, I heard a strange sound coming from my upstairs office. The fans, apparently all nine of them, on my Macintosh G5 tower were absolutely screaming.

When I attempted to shut down the Mac, I found that the screen (keyboard and mouse) was frozen. So I unplugged the machine, gave it a few minutes to cool down, and tried to restart it. The computer powered up, as I could hear the fan in the power supply, but didn't boot. The screen remained dark and no hard drive sounds were evident.

After a few minutes of troubleshooting, I realized that I had major problems with my main computer.

The officeTucked away in our sunroom/computer workshop has been a spare G5 Mac that I used on my last job before retirement. I'd thought of selling the extra machine, but always backed off of the idea, as it provided a good "insurance policy" against the potential failure of my main computer. I could always harvest parts from it, if needed, and could even substitute it for the main Mac with a few part swaps. Until last night, the extra machine was set up to run Mac OS X Server and a mirrored RAID array for me to play around with.

But at around 7 P.M., I cashed in my "insurance policy," swapping in the hard drives, RAM, and video card from the failed machine and was back up and running by 8 P.M.! While I'm still working on getting everything set up the way I like on the "new" machine, this update was put together while the machine created a new backup of the hard drive.

The "new" machine is only a few months newer than my old G5, so I'm still working on a computer over seven years old, but this one has quite a few less hours on it. And other than a motherboard, I have a whole machine full of spare parts now.

I think I like plant surprises a little better than computer surprises today.

Sunday, December 25, 2011 - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11 (ASV)

The image above is a "scene from a life size nativity at the Luxembourg Christmas market." It was taken in 2006 by graphic artist Debbie Schiel who lives in Far North Queensland, Australia, and shared on the royalty-free stock.xchng site. The scripture was copied from my installation of the free, Macintosh Online Bible. There's also a free version for Windows users. On my iPhone, I currently use the ESV Bible app.

Best wishes from Annie and I to you for a joyous and fulfilling holiday season.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - A Great Year in the Senior Garden

I put together a video yesterday of still images of our main garden throughout this last year. It's just an edited collection of the images I shot of our main garden out our sunroom window, but it is sorta interesting.

It's been quite a year for Annie and I in our Senior Garden. While there were a few disappointments along the way, our gardens were incredibly productive. Realizing that I'd overload this page with my reminiscences of the gardening year, I posted our year end garden review, A Year in Our Garden, as a feature story.

Burpee Seed CompanyThe last of our main garden seed orders came in on Saturday, amidst all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas. Five seed catalogs also arrived, four of which came from the same conglomerate! Two more seed catalogs, ones we'd been looking for and would have ordered from had they arrived earlier, came in yesterday.

Territorial Seed CompanyI noticed that while one can still request a print catalogicon from Burpee, they've joined several other vendors in publishing a digital catalog. The digital catalog is a complete online version of the print catalog. While digital catalogs may be a way to get out the expense of printing and mailing traditional catalogs, I like having that option available as well as the print catalog and the online ordering web site.

Also arriving yesterday was our Territorial Seed Company catalog. We ordered some Belstar broccoli and buckwheat seed from them towards the end of the 2010 gardening season and were happy with both the products and service. Their catalog carries lots of heirlooms, along with many non-GMO hybrids. And late this evening, I saw an email from Territorial announcing their digital catalog.

We had spinach salad from the garden with our Christmas dinner. I finished up the leftover salad for lunch yesterday. Other than part of one head of romaine lettuce, a cabbage, and a few carrots, that's the last of our fresh produce from this year's garden.

Friday, December 30, 2011 - New Feature Stories

A Year in Our GardenFlowers in the Senior GardenAfter completing and posting our year end review of this year's Senior Garden on Wednesday, I rolled right into writing a piece about the flowers that grew around our veggies this year. Flowers in the Senior Garden is a look at some of the gorgeous blooms that lined the edges and sometimes grew in the rows of our vegetable garden.

I hope you enjoy it.

November, 2011

From the at Senior Gardening