Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - January 21, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Onions germinatingOur planting of old onion seed last week appears to be doing well. Each of the four varieties has at least a few spouts pushing up.

I didn't use any bottom heat, so the seed is germinating at our basement ambient temperature of around 65o. I did note a bit of white mold (or poorly distributed lime in the potting mix) and sprayed the soil surface with captan. The flat of seed is germinating under a clear, plastic humidome cover, which retains moisture but also allows light in on the seedlings as soon as they germinate.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Assembling seed ordersSnowy roadsI finished up our first round of garden seed orders today. It seemed a perfect day to do so, as it was a day of steady, blowing snow. When I made a quick trip to town for a few supplies and found even the state highway snow covered and slick, I was only too happy to get safely home, out of the weather, and snugly working on garden stuff and this update.

Of course, the snow made placing our online orders a bit dicey, as our satellite internet connection kept blinking off and on due to rain fade. But that also gave me time for one of the more enjoyable parts of the job. Once I have decided what I want to order, I generally take a peek at the print catalog or web site of the supplier to see if there is something I may have missed that I will end up ordering later (and grumbling about the shipping charge on one item).

Nancy Hall variety sweet potatoes"Treasures" found included Sweet Olive grape tomato seed for only a dollar on Johnny's Internet Only Sale! I'd grown that variety a year or so ago, but didn't reorder it, as I wasn't totally thrilled with the variety and the seed was rather expensive (as most hybrid grape tomato seed is). I also remembered that I wanted to try another variety of sweet potatoes this year. I can get starts of the Nancy Hall variety we grew last year from what we have in storage, but I also wanted a more traditional sweet potato, so I ordered some Centennial from R.H. Shumway. Nancy Hall is to sweet potatoes what Kennebec is to regular potatoes (good grower, but irregular, lumpy tubers).

Another "treasure" discovered on a final sweep through a catalog was the Ali-Baba watermelon from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This is our first order with Baker Creek, but they come highly recommended by Senior Gardening readers. Ali-Baba is one of their favorites. I also ordered an extra packet of one of our all time favorites, Kleckley Sweet watermelon, in hopes that Baker Creek's seed source might be a bit different than the seed I have on hand. I also ordered some open pollinated (Baker Creek only sells open pollinated, non-genetically modified seed) honeydew seed, as we exhausted our supply last year of a packet that lasted almost ten years!

Our only paper, snail mail order, went in yesterday's mail to Twilley Seed, who still don't do online orders. All of our orders were significantly smaller than a year ago. We're watching our pennies (like everyone else I know) and also have a considerable supply of good seed in frozen storage.

Of the sites I visited today, R.H. Shumway's gets my vote for ease of use. Listed in descending order of dollars spent are our suppliers so far this year:

Full disclosure: Absolutely none of the vendors listed above are Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers! Go figure!

There are lots of other quality seed and garden supply vendors. Our listing or recommended seed vendors last appeared here in a November posting. Our list of affiliated advertisers, who do pay a small commission on sales generated via click-throughs from this site, also includes a number of seed and garden tool suppliers along with a bunch of other vendors.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - Starting Geraniums

I started a few geranium seeds today, which, taken along with a couple of seed orders arriving in the mail, made me feel like quite the gardener. The feature articles Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2009 and Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2010 tell of our geranium exploits over the last two years. Considering that we had some spectacular failures in that time, I'll just quietly record our geranium experiences here this year.

I started two fourpacks of geraniums along with ten more seeds on damp paper towel. All were from a year-old packet of Mustang Red geranium seed I had left from last year.

Starting geranium seedThe fourpacks were filled with sterilized potting mix and drenched with hot water before I made a small depression in each cell for the seed. Using hot water helps the peat moss in our potting mix pick up the moisture quickly. After the soil was thoroughly soaked, one seed went into each cell. I don't add extras, as good geranium seed should germinate at 80% or better, leaving few empty cells. I covered the seed with peat moss, which doesn't carry the dreaded damping off fungus that can devastate newly started plants. I then spooned a bit more hot water onto the peat moss.

Note: I keep a sandwich bag full of ground peat moss to use when covering seeds. I grind the moss to a powder in an old coffee grinder that we reserve just for this purpose (part of its on-off switch is broken). The ground material is a bit easier to spread over seed or seed rows than potting mix or regular, unground peat moss.

Our two fourpacks, along with a freezer bag with ten Maverick Red seeds on paper toweling, went into a half flat with an opaque cover, as geraniums require darkness for germination. The flat went on a warm shelf, just above a furnace register. In the past, I've used fancy heating mats and thermostats for starting geraniums, but I think just keeping them at around 75o F or above should do the trick.

Ah...Lunch and Seed Orders

Seed orders and saladLunch today was a real treat. I had a delicious salad topped with seasoned chicken bites while I went through seed orders that had just arrived in the mail. So far, we've gotten three of our orders back already. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds had the quickest turnaround, with both the Stokes and Harris orders coming in today.

The salad was just the commercial iceberg salad blend with a lot of romaine leaves thrown in. I miss our fresh romaine from the garden, especially the colored romaine leaves.

The chicken was a breast filet cut up, seasoned with seasoned salt, garlic powder, paprika (from our garden, of course), and lemon juice, and browned in olive oil. While I am eating salad to help with weight loss, I blew that by covering the salad with Newman's Own Creamy Caesar dressing. It was delicious, but definitely not my usual tangy Italian light diet salad dressing.

Going through the newly arrived garden seed orders, I noticed one vendor had for the second straight year sent me a freebie seed packet I'd use. Their colored romaine lettuce was a big hit with us last year, so much so that I ordered a half ounce of the seed mix this year. The freebie included this year was a dwarf basil, which we'll grow along with our usual variety, Sweet Large Leaf Italian, which comes from Twilley Seed (sorry, no link - Twilley still doesn't offer online ordering).

Saturday, January 29, 2011 - More on Geraniums

Middie on shelfThe geraniums I started on damp paper towel on Wednesday were ready to transplant to potting soil this morning. I found yesterday that one of our indoor/outdoor cats, Middie, was sharing the warm shelf with our half flat of germinating geraniums.

Geranium seed germinated on paper towelAll ten of the seeds I'd put on the paper towel germinated, although I think I tore the root on one when opening up the folded paper towel. Some of the seeds had leaves and a stem clearly visible, while others had just barely pushed open the seed covering. Those that had leaves and a root visible were transplanted with the leaves above the soil line and the root buried. The others just went into a depression in the soil and were covered with peat moss.

I transplanted into fourpacks filled with freshly sterilized potting mix. Each cell also received a touch of captan powder. We proved last year how devastating an attack of damping off fungus can be to seed at this stage of growth.

Geraniums in fourpacks

plants on heat matThe fourpacks went downstairs under the plant lights and on our thermostatically controlled heat mat. Bottom heat or a warm spot (75-80o F) is still critical at this point. Cutting the heat would seriously reduced the number of plants that would successfully germinate. The seed started in fourpacks that hasn't yet emerged went back on the shelf (with the cat).

Our Twilley and Johnny's seed orders came in yesterday. The Twilley order included a packet of Red Zeppelin onion seed. Even though I've already planted a flat of onions, I knew I was sorta short on the Red Zeppelin, so I ordered another packet just to be sure (at only $1.45). I used the packet to fill in bare spots in the Red Zeppelin row of our onion flat.

While doing the re-seeding, I noticed that I'd let our onion seedlings get leggy. It's not uncommon for onions to put up more vertical growth than they can hold up, necessitating frequent "haircuts" to the plants to keep the flat nice and tidy. But the spindly growth I saw was caused by too little light. I realized I needed to get the plants closer to my plant lights. The light unit over them was already fully extended on its chains, so I just inverted an empty flat and put the onion flat on it. And...the emerged onions got their first haircut of the season, a task I'll repeat several time before transplanting.

Onion flat

Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat

Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat

The Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat provides even heat distribution with its intricate pattern of fine wire throughout its waterproof, fray-proof material. The unit fits under one common seed flat to warm the rooting area 10 to 20 degrees over ambient temperature. Waterproof construction means optimal safety from electrical shock. The purchase includes the 17-watt mat, instructions printed on the mat. UL listed, the kit also comes complete with a 6-foot power cord.

HydroFarm Heat Mat Thermostat

Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat For Heat Mats  

This handy accessory to the Hydrofarm heating mats ensures that plants are kept at the optimum temperature for healthy, prolonged life. The thermostat is usable with all Hydrofarm mats and is accurate within 2 degrees F, plus or minus. The controllable temperature ranges from 68 to 95 degrees. Submerging the controller or the probe into the water is not recommended, and the thermostat will automatically shut off when the probe temperature reaches 110 degrees. With its suction-cup mounting device, the thermostat can also be used in a terrarium for air-temperature control and measurements. Gardeners who love their work to pay off quickly will be glad to know that using a thermostat and heating pad with the hydrogarden will assure faster sprouting.

December, 2010

From the at Senior Gardening