One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
The winter storm that swept across much of the nation this week manifested itself as freezing rain in our area. The ice storm created beautiful scenes of ice covered trees, but left nasty situations of people without electricity for several days.
We experienced two power outages at our house, the more serious lasting 35 hours. I'd forgotten how nasty kerosene heaters smell! But we stayed fairly warm (a "toasty" 58o F). One of our daughters who called to check in on us was surprised that we had both dogs, six of our eight cats, and our quaker parrot, of course, all inside with us. Generally, the dogs and most of the cats stay outdoors.
While you could hear branches creaking, breaking, and falling to the ground during the ice storm, especially at night, we suffered little damage. That's probably due to the fact that we've already lost most of our grand, old, maple trees to lightning strikes, age, and disease.
A day before the storm began, I noticed that the soil heating mat under our geraniums downstairs under our plant lights had failed and swapped it out for an older one that I rarely use. The interruption in bottom heat couldn't have done the germinating seed any good. Then the power went out, and both the flat downstairs and a half flat we had upstairs of germinating seed lost their bottom heat. Seed that did germinate became a bit leggy as it sought light.
Considering the severity of the three day storm, we got off pretty easy. I have a lot of limbs to pick up out of the yard, but we had no damage to our home or outbuildings. During the last day of the storm when the precipitation was turning to snow, we had to go out to get more kerosene for our heaters. The local Chinese restaurant, China Wok, where one of our now adult daughters had worked in high school, was open. I think their buffet could easily qualify as the highlight of the week for us!
Looking out the same window this morning where I take our elevated shots of the main Senior Garden that appear at the top of this blog, I looked the other direction towards our poor, tumbled down shed, the barn, and the pond. We're having quite a good snow today, on top of the ice that remained in some places on the ground.
While downstairs making sure our old soil heating mat was still doing okay, I noticed that the first of our Cranberry Tiger gloxinia plants was ready to come upstairs and strut its stuff. I'm growing the variety from seed supplied by Senior Gardening reader and fellow gloxinia enthusiast, John Rizzi. John and I swapped seed last August. (Yep, that's a gorgeous plant coming into bloom just six months after seeding!) John's seed/plant source was a Logan's Nursery (not sure where...).
The plant actually looked a lot better than the photo shows. I dropped it on the way upstairs, unpotting the plant, corm, and root system! Considering the wear and tear, it really looks good. The inset shows the fabulous center cluster of blooms developing.
In the process of checking the old soil heating mat, which is doing just fine, thank you, I also ran across the packing slip for the "new" soil heating mat (shown at left). It was dated February 4, 2010. The new mat had a one year guarantee. Let's see...today is February 5, 2011...grrr. But they are really inexpensive.
To be sure we didn't have another disaster with a heat mat failing, I ordered another Gro-mat model (shown at right) this morning from the Greenhouse Megastore. While a good bit more expensive than the Hydrofarm model, our first one lasted several years before beginning to act up last spring. And now, it's back in service doing well!! (Note that when it acted up, it was not on a thermostat, but was always on in a cold basement. We also were using the wire rack it comes with. We no longer bother with it, now.)
Our first planting of geranium seed has germinated so far at 72% (13 plants from 18 seeds). That certainly isn't a bad percentage, considering our recent power outage and resultant loss of bottom heat under the germinating seed. I pulled the humidome off the flat for the photo at left, but am still keeping the clear cover on and the flat over the heat mat for now.
Since one of our indoor/outdoor cats, Middie, was kind enough to identify an excellent "warm shelf" on her visits inside, I put it back to use again today to start a couple more packets of geranium seed. I'd ordered a packet each of Orbit mixed and Summer Showers mixed (10 seeds per packet) on a whim when finishing up my Twilley Seed order. The Orbit seed is fairly inexpensive ($1.45/pkt), while the Summer Showers is a bit more ($4.80/pkt) as it is one of the more expensive trailing varieties of geraniums.
I seeded just four 3" square pots, with the rest of the seed going onto damp paper toweling in freezer bags. All of it then went into a half flat with a "humidome" cover I spray painted flat black last year. I had to touch up the corners today, so the geranium seed should have the total darkness it is said to require for proper germination. My old darkroom thermometer goes through a hole I cut in the cover and its base into the potting soil of one of the pots. And the whole mess then goes onto the shelf over a register that stays at around an ideal 75o F.
If you're interested in growing geraniums from seed, I tell and demonstrate just about everything one can do wrong in the process in our feature stories, Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2009 and Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2010. Actually, growing geraniums from seed shouldn't be too awfully difficult. We've just had some bad luck and done some really dumb stuff, and I leave it all in for the reader's benefit. But I do describe the process(es), such as germinating geranium seed first on damp paper towels, in some detail. After two years of fun and games with the geranium feature stories, I decided to share this year's geranium exploits here in the regular Senior Gardening blog.
I'm not sure it was a super bargain, but I subscribed to Mother Earth News a few months ago. I used to take the magazine when we were on the farm, but sorta lost interest after we left the farm. I'm really enjoying reading it again.
Roger Doiron's Easy Kitchen Garden, Step by Step in the current, February/March edition is a good, starter garden primer. The print version is beautifully illustrated, although few of the gorgeous garden shots make it into the online version. Doiron does about as good a job as anyone I've seen with the difficult task of doing a "first garden how-to." (I've often thought about doing such a column. When I consider all the things one should consider when starting a garden, and how to tell folks all of that in an interesting way, I end up leaving the difficult task to others.)
This month's JSS Advantage has a short article about something I wish would take hold. I guess you could read that as a good idea I wish someone else would do! Growing Vegetable Transplants for Sale suggests that gardeners who grow their own vegetable transplants might consider growing extras for sale at farmers markets and farm stands. I can really agree with their statement, "Customers will be pleased to see unusual varieties not available from the big-box stores, especially those recommended by a local farmer." When I look for something extra at spring transplant sales, I'm always disappointed with the homogenized, commercial offerings. The JSS Advantage page is worth a browser click just to see the aerial photo of the farms at Johnny's Selected Seeds.
An email today from reader Steve Paige brought the pleasant news that there is an online vendor for gloxinia plants! The Violet Barn appears to have a nice selection of colors and types (single and double). I've obviously not ordered from them (yet), but was impressed with their solid vendor rating on the Garden Watchdog on Dave's Garden. Plants run $5-10 each plus priority or express mail shipping.
A year or so ago one of the folks at our local garden shop told me about a product called Milky Spore. She recommended it for help in controlling mole damage. Milky Spore specifically interferes with the life cycle of Japanese Beetles by killing them at the larval stage. I'm hoping it may also kill some of the cutworms that look a lot like Japanese Beetle larva. Of course, moles love earthworms as well and we have lots of earthworms in the Senior Garden, so...
Since Milky Spore is a bit expensive, I put off trying it until now (well, this spring). It takes three treatments a year and really should be used two years in a row for maximum control (according to the label). Having made up my mind to try the product, I popped for a twenty pound bag of the granulated version, enough to treat all of our raised beds this year and next. And this time I didn't hunt for a bargain price on Amazon, but went back to the garden store that gave me the guidance on the product. It seemed only fair.
I try each month to read the appropriate monthly section from Crockett's Victory Garden. While I've read each monthly entry many times, it helps keep me on my toes on things I should be doing in the garden. Somehow, I missed reading the January entry last month and now am paying the price. I forgot to get my petunias started. Crockett clearly admonishes, "The young plants grow very slowly and have to be started in January in order to be large enough for the garden in May."
Stokes Seeds' suggests that petunias "for Mother's Day and Easter pot sales are usually sown Dec. 1st. For May - June bedding plant and container sales, sow between Jan. 30th. - Feb. 28th. Seed sown Mar. 1st should produce flowering plants by June 15th." So, it appears I may be okay on planting time. I've sown petunias this late before and still gotten good plants by spring.
Stokes also recommends not covering petunia seed, as some colors and types require light to germinate. They also suggest a daytime soil temperature of 80o F. Twilley Seeds recommends "70-75o F." Since my heat mat struggles to keep up with the 75o F setting I have it at right now in our cool basement, I'll have to be happy with that temperature.
Of course, when I set about getting things together, I found it took longer to clean up our plant room in the basement than it did to seed a flat of petunias. I filled one of our heavy, Perma-Nest plant trays with fourpacks (8 four-cell packs fill a flat). I actually took the flat outside to fill the cells with sterilized potting mix, as I didn't want to have to mop the kitchen floor when I was done.
I topwatered the flat with warm water (again, outside) before bringing it inside to our well-lit kitchen for seeding. I used a finger to make a slight depression in the soil of each cell to center the seed.
I didn't plan it this way, but it turned out that all five varieties I seeded today were pelleted seed. That made getting just one or two seeds per cell considerably easier. Varieties seeded included Fantasy, Ultra, Prime Time, Supercascade, and Celebrity. The pelleted seed comes in plastic vials, which I save when empty and reuse, often for dustlike gloxinia saved seed.
I put a dribble of warm water on the center of each cell to aid the pellets in dissolving to release their seed. Note again that I did not cover the seed, as it needs light to germinate.
With good germination, I'll probably have some cells with more than one plant that will need to be divided. The total "crop" will be enough for us to make several hanging baskets filled with petunias along with many petunias in the garden proper. Germination can often take up to 10-12 days.
Since our heat mat thermostat was already set at 75o F for our geraniums, the last step in getting the petunias started was putting them on the soil heating mat under the plant lights. I insert the probe from the thermostat through a small hole I cut in the clear, humidome cover and poke it a bit into the potting soil in the nearest cell. One can measure just the air temperature of the humidome environment, but getting the soil temp is a bit more accurate (as long as you don't immerse your probe completely and short out the thermostat).
After doing my daily check of our geranium seed that is germinating, I turned my attention today to transplanting the last of the seedling Cranberry Tiger gloxinias that were still in the pot I'd used for germination. I'd let them get way too large. One of them had even put up a lovely purple bloom.
The process was really pretty simple. I dumped the shallow germinating pot out in a flat. Then I teased away each root ball and corm (when present) with the dull edge of a kitchen knife reserved for gardening use.
Eight plants were large enough to go into the standard 4" square pots I use for many of our gloxinias. I used commercial moisture control potting soil with no amendments for the potting. Three small plants went into 3" square pots. I remember reading something in Crockett's Victory Garden about some of the more vibrant colors germinating later than some less colorful ones. The freshly potted plants conveniently filled a flat.
We get our 5/8" x 4" plastic plant labels from Twilley Seed (200/$9.90). While that's not an unreasonable price, it always seemed that I was running short of them when I most needed them. I started recycling the labels last year. To do so, I wash them in dish detergent to remove any foreign matter and then soak them in chlorine bleach to lighten the previous writing and to sterilize them. The coffee container in the top photo of today's posting is full of bleached plant labels. So far, it has worked pretty well.
After the washing and bleaching, and before the rinsing and drying, I do have to use a kitchen scrubbie a bit on each label to remove most of the old permanent marker on them. That's a bit of a hassle.
Essential to the success of this task (and many of my other garden exploits) is an understanding spouse or significant other, willing to put up with stuff like plant labels drying on the kitchen counter, potting soil baking in the oven, and so on.
My 14 year old grandson passed through the kitchen while I was laying out the labels and asked what I was doing. I could tell from his expression he thought grandpa was a little nuts or a bit too cheap, or possibly a bit of both.
Of course, Amazon carries a good selection of plant and row labels.
As I was shutting down the computer after making the initial upload of this posting, I found myself relaxing looking at my desktop background of alfalfa. I took the shot in the field across the road from our house in 2003. While the alfalfa has long since been turned under, the photo remains available as a free download for use as a desktop photo or wallpaper from our Desktop Photos page.
For several days around Valentine's Day the sign at our local garden shop suggested planting lettuce. (Of course, by the time I got around to snapping a picture, they'd changed the sign!) While I briefly considered following the old adage, I instead planted a few Vinca seeds I had left and a pot of dianthus seed saved from our plants in 2009.
Vinca needs total darkness and bottom heat, if possible, to germinate well. Ours went into our half flat with an opaque cover that sits on a shelf above a furnace register. The dianthus went into a six inch pot downstairs under plant lights (although the seed is covered). While our basement usually is too cool for such stuff, we're in the midst of a warm spell, so the old seed may just get going.
I also made my first application of granular milky spore on our garden plots and around our young apple trees today. The ground is mostly thawed and we have a chance of showers for the next few days to wash it in. I treated the area around our apple trees because the moles seem to love tunneling under them, playing havoc with their developing root systems.
I must have spent an hour today just sitting on the glider on our back porch enjoying the springlike weather.
When you get a warm, sunny day this time of year, it's sometimes hard to decide what to do first. We still have sticks (limbs) in the yard from the ice storm, kale that needed to be pulled from the garden, a cold frame in need of a new plastic cover, and fruit trees to be sprayed. And while it's hard to believe, it's also time to be starting the first of our brassicas for the garden, as we generally transplant broccoli and cauliflower the first week of April (April 7 the last two years).
The fruit trees wound up getting first attention this morning. I mentally chastised myself for mixing a full gallon of dormant oil spray (with a bit of streptomycin mixed in). Since we lost our large, standard Stayman Winesap to fireblight last year, I didn't think I'd need the whole gallon. As it turned out, spraying our new Stayman Winesap that is not much more than a stick in the ground, our dwarf Granny Smith, and a volunteer apple tree used up the gallon. The volunteer tree is severely bent over from pressure from bushes and trees around it that I removed last spring. The tree produces small, red delicious type fruit, but the apples are firm and just a touch spicier than the normal red delicious. It took most of the spray.
Pulling the kale and stripping the old plastic off the cold frame left me hot and sweaty...in mid-February! The kale had put out tiny, new leaves at the base of each plant. But the plants didn't overwinter well and needed to be pulled. They'll go into a hole in the ground back by the barn, rather than our compost pile, as kale (and broccoli and cauliflower and brussels sprouts) stems don't compost well.
I really need to build a new cold frame, as our current one is beginning to come apart. It was built to hold standard seed flats with some rather heavy, treated 2x4 lumber. I still use it to cover seed flats, but often use it in the fall to cover late crops in our our raised garden beds. I need a larger (both longer and wider), lighter weight cold frame to fit our raised beds for late protection of fall broccoli, lettuce, etc.
The area just off our back porch is a bit cluttered now with a cart of broccoli plants to dump, the cold frame drying out and awaiting a new cover, the grill, and various dogs and cats. I actually included the photo at left primarily because of the grill. It was warm enough last evening that I grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats for the grandkids, Annie and I!
The dog and cat shown are big buddies. Mac, the dog, is great with our cats. Buster, a butterscotch tom that showed up last fall, tends to take pretty big liberties with Mac. Buster also seems to prefer hanging out with the dogs, rather than with the rest of our all female cats.
Our Maverick Red geraniums are already showing some zoning on their leaves. Our first round of geraniums, the Maverick Reds, germinated well. Our second round that included some Orbit and Summer Showers (from Twilley Seed), did very poorly despite having ideal conditions. (Some more bad seed from Twilley?)
Our flat of onions, freshened with their second "haircut," are looking good as well. They got a bit leggy (long and falling over) again, so after cutting them back to 1 1/2 - 2" in height, I brought the plantlight down a bit more over them.
And peeking through the shelves and plantlights, one can seed a red, Cranberry Tiger gloxinia bloom and a tiny red bloom on our tuberous rooted begonia (variety unknown). Even with the sun out the last few days, a little color in the plant room goes a long way toward dispelling the winter blues.
I still need to get the brassicas going, but ran out of day before I ran out of things to do.
Shep and I got busy and started the first of our brassicas yesterday. It was a pleasant day outside, so I chose to fill a standard flat of fourpacks with sterilized potting soil on the back porch. Shep watched for awhile, grew disinterested, and wandered off to sunbathe in the yard.
I used a watering can of warm water with a bit of captan mixed in for fungus control to water the flat. While captan is pretty nasty stuff, it adds a measure of protection against damping off fungus and later against mold or moss growing on the damp soil surface.
The sixteen quart cooking pot shown is one I bought for my wife years ago. Unfortunately, it tended to burn stuff on the bottom. When we found better replacements, the large pot found its place as a great utensil in which to bake, sterilize, and store potting soil.
The flat of damp potting soil came inside for seeding the following:
When I got done, I realized I'd left out seeding any Goliath broccoli. It performs for us almost as well as our best variety, Premium Crop. I think I got off track by seeding a new variety for us, Belstar. It is said to have good warm weather producing ability.
The last two items are courtesy Vin Cain, who sent me some of his saved seed a couple of years ago. I successfully grew Choy Sum last year and enjoyed it's flowers in the garden. Our Kai Lan didn't get going very well, so I'm looking forward to trying these Chinese vegetables again.
Last week I mentioned planting a pot with all of our saved dianthus seed. I really didn't think we'd get much from saved seed that hadn't been stored very carefully. The pot shown at left is now bursting with seedlings. I think they're a bit too small to transplant as yet, although I tried moving four of them into a fourpack today. The transplanting of the tiny seedlings was tedious. The baby dianthus teased out of the pot bare rooted, so I'll have to wait and see how they take in the fourpack.
If I transplanted all the dianthus that germinated, I'd be out of room under our plantlights. Currently, I still have room for one or two more seed flats before I have to begin sorting things to sit out from under the lights for a time. I can usually get away with setting our wandering jews and begonias to the side of the plantrack where they still seem to receive just enough light to survive.
Following the directions on a Stokes Seed packet, I took our tiny, tiny petunia seedlings off the heat mat yesterday and also removed their humidome (clear plastic cover). With our heat mat now free, I'll soon need to start another flat of something that requires light and bottom heat for germination.
I was a member of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) when it was in its infancy. I dropped out for several years when I wasn't gardening, and rejoined three or four years ago. SSE members seek to preserve and multiply open pollinated varieties of vegetables. When I lived on a farm, we worked primarily to preserve the old Reid's Yellow Dent field corn. We now work with several of our favorite and somewhat endangered vegetable varieties.
We're offering other SSE members seed for the Moira tomato variety, our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber, and Earliest Red Sweet peppers. Moiras produce fruit with blood red interiors and an excellent flavor. Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers were the focus of our A Cucumber of Distinction feature story. And the Earliest Red Sweet pepper is a blocky, early pepper that we liked, but had our stored seed go bad. Another SSE member was able to supply us with seed a few years ago.
For the Moira tomato, you can see at left that there are several SSE members working to preserve the variety. And of course, that's exactly what we want as SSE members, as several folks growing the variety in different regions of the country provides a good measure of protection for the variety.
At right you can see that I'm the only one making Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed available in this year's SSE yearbook. And of course, if something should happen to me (Remember, the name of this site is Senior Gardening.), and no one else is growing out the variety, the variety could be lost forever!
Now after doing some evangelizing for seed preservation, let me add that it is incredibly cool to just page through the annual yearbook to see what is available. Some years I just look and enjoy without buying anything. Other years I'll try something new or a variety we've had, but used up our seed or had it go bad in storage.
Membership in the Seed Savers Exchange is $40 per year, but they also offer an "optional USA membership for senior citizens, students and others on a reduced/fixed income" at $25 per year. (I remember when the reduced membership was pay what you could!)
Around this time last year, Johnny's Selected Seeds offered a downloadable spreadsheet that was programmed to serve as a seed starting date calculator. What was offered was a dandy tool, but it also required one to download it, have a spreadsheet application on their computer, and it only covered vegetable start dates.
This year Johnny's is offering an expanded, online Seed Starting Calculator. You just go to the page and enter your last frost (frost free) date and hit enter. The calculator then gives you a range of dates for starting transplants inside. While the spreadsheet from last year was just for vegetables, this year's tool covers both veggies and flowers.
Rain, Snow, Tulips, and Daffodils
We had rain Wednesday and Thursday this week, followed by a light snow Friday that melted off by afternoon. The combined precipitation was enough to make things really sloppy, preventing almost all outside work.
During that time, I contented myself with replanting some cells where seed didn't germinate in our brassica planting and transplanting a bunch of dianthus seedlings.
The warm weather we had last week and still relatively warm weather we're now having has brought up our daffodils and tulips.
If we have a really hard freeze before spring really arrives, these plants might get nipped.
I'm hoping to get some more seed starting in the coming days, as gardening season is right around the corner. I've been sorta swamped this week with my other web site covering the teacher and union protests in Wisconsin, here in Indiana, and elsewhere.
I wound up the month of February with a flurry of planting. I got so into it that my camera just sat on the kitchen table, totally forgotten while I planted vinca, snapdragons, impatiens, beets, herbs, more onions, and lettuce. It wasn't until I sat down to write this evening that I discovered I needed to go to our plantracks in the basement and snap a few shots.
I'd planted some old vinca seed a few weeks ago, but didn't get anything from it. In the meantime, I'd placed another order with Stokes Seeds that included fresh vinca seed. I seeded Pacifica XP for garden plants and Mediterranean XP for some hanging baskets. I also seeded some Envoy Impatiens, anther trailing variety for hanging baskets (and planters). Our snapdragons this year will be Madame Butterfly and First Lady.
I spent a lot of time making sure I got right which plants needed light and/or bottom heat (snaps and impatiens) and which ones required covering the seed or even total darkness (vinca). Trying to trim down the number of varieties planted also took some time, although I sorta wimped out on that one and planted 13 varieties of lettuce, 5 varieties of beets, and 3 of onion. I replanted onion because I just don't like the way our current planting looks. I can't really describe it, but the plants are really slow to grow this year.
The onions are sharing a half flat with three rows of beets. I don't do well direct seeding and thinning beets in the garden, but transplanting them often works out well for me. While I started 5 varieties, I just planted a few of each. Even when our kids were here growing up, I was the only one who really liked beets! I'm trying two new hybrids from Twilley, Kestrel and Merlin, along with the red ringed beet, Chioggia, and Burpee's Golden Beet. I also seeded some very old Red Ace, a variety I like but has probably been in the freezer for a bit too long.
A tradeoff for planting so many varieties of lettuce was that I started just two cells of most varieties. With the pleasant problem of crowding currently under our plantlights, planting any more would be a disaster. A lot of the seed was older seed, saved in the freezer from previous years. Part of my reason for planting so many varieties (Sounds like That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It.) was to see if all of the saved seed was still good. It's also a lot of fun at planting time to have so many varieties from which to choose.
Our crowding under the plantlights is an annual problem. For several weeks in late February and March, I end up with more plants than can fit on our rickety plantrack. Some plants, such as the hanging basket plants shown above, have to sit on the floor next to the lighted area and do the best they can. When things warm up enough for plants to begin going under the cold frame outside, the problem eases. While we have six, four foot shoplights, we generally only have three or four of them in use during the rest of the year.
Some "just for the fun of it" stuff I planted included three varieties of parsley, some common sage, oregano, and celery. I grew good celery just one time, years and years ago. I didn't start our basil yet, as it's a quick grower. I generally start it about the same time I start our tomatoes. And I really don't plan to dry basil this year, as we had a bumper crop that we dried and stored last year. But it is nice to have fresh basil for cooking during the summer.
at Senior Gardening