One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
Even with its deteriorating weather conditions, November is an incredibly important month in the Senior Garden. While we try to finish up our gardening tasks from the current season, we also have to get the soil ready for a new season.
We still have some sweet potatoes to dig and pepper and tomato plants to pull and compost. Our kale always presents a delicious problem during November, as it still has an incredible amount of tasty leaves, but also needs to be pulled to make room for soil renovation and next year's crops. Our current kale crop sits on the ground where our garlic needs to be planted in the next few days or weeks.
We have great lettuce and fair-to-good spinach growing under floating row covers that we'll continue to harvest this month. The lettuce and spinach in our main raised bed can remain there until the ground freezes or a really hard frost takes them, but one row of lettuce outside the raised bed is on the ground we need to prepare for our spring peas. Fall preparation of that ground allows us to just push early spring pea seed into the simi-frozen, muddy soil in early March.
Soil preparation, when the ground dries out enough to be worked, will involve adding lime where indicated by soil testing and a good tilling to suppress weeds and loosen the soil. We usually try to add organic matter to the soil at this time. Since we hit a great deal last fall on closeout peat moss, we may not have to work so hard at that. But if I can find some good, rotted cow manure, that would really help our soil. And of course, November weather conditions can wipe out any chance of working the soil if a rainy period sets in.
While outside work will keep us busy early in the month, we also are beginning to make "final" decisions on where crops will go in the garden next year. As you can see below, preliminary planning is well under way, but once you get a rake, planting stakes, and seed in hand, things in the garden can quickly change from what was planned on paper.
Part of our garden planning will include reviewing how things went in the garden this year. What varieties did well? Which ones need to be planted sooner or later, or more or less of...lots of things to consider. And what supplies will we need?
We'll begin receiving seed catalogs this month, which is a good reminder to inventory seed on hand. Then we'll begin putting together seed orders for what we'll need next year.
With a light frost each morning for the last few days, our efforts in the garden have wound down to getting things cleaned up and ready for next summer's garden and harvesting protected and frost hardy plants. I did, however, run to the garden yesterday afternoon to snip some fresh oregano and parsley for spaghetti sauce for supper. Sadly, the last of our fresh basil got zapped by frost last weekend. A few late, fresh tomatoes also made their way into the sauce.
I dug the last of our sweet potatoes early in the week, a job that slowed me down for several days afterward. I spread digging in the heavy clay soil over several days, but still felt its effects afterward.
The last of the sweet potatoes I dug were of the Nancy Hall variety, shown in the foreground of the photo at left. They have a much lighter skin and flesh than the Centennial sweet potatoes shown further back. Both varieties produced an excellent crop of tubers, with me hauling well over a hundred pounds of sweet potatoes to our basement storage area.
I also took out our row of caged pepper plants in the main garden. The plants weren't totally dead from frost, but showed a lot of damage. I was able to find quite a few green bell peppers that had not been damaged by the frost. The peppers went to friends and family, and the pepper plant remains and cull peppers went to the compost pile. I didn't take out the Paprika Supreme pepper plants I'd transplanted into our herb bed in July. Two of the three plants I'd originally transplanted have survived the light frosts so far and are still ripening some of their long, red fruit. While we're not drying and grinding paprika this year, I do save the seed from the peppers, as seed for Paprika Supremes is getting hard to find. Because there was only about 25 feet of separation between our caged peppers in the main garden and the paprika peppers in the herb bed, I won't be offering seed for the variety via the Seed Savers Exchange this year. I'll need to grow out the seed next year to make sure it didn't cross pollinate with the other peppers.
The guys who farm the ground around us finished picking corn on Tuesday, considerably changing the view from our main garden. The tall corn had provided a bit of a wind buffer for our garden, so we'll feel the strong gusts we get here a bit more now. Over the seventeen years we've lived here, the biggest changes I've noticed in our weather are the increased sustained winds and the now regular summer droughts. Whether man made or simply a weather/climate cycle, climate change is clearly evident here. On the upside, we do seem to be able to garden a bit later in the fall than we did years ago.
Our daytime highs have been getting up into the mid-60s on some days, providing some incredibly nice fall weather. We did have one full day of heavy rain this week, delaying my plans for tilling. The rain was welcome, however, as the water table around here is still pretty iffy.
I still need to mow and rake our lawn one more time this fall to knock down some weeds in the grass and clean up the leaves that don't blow away into the woods.
I pulled the floating row covers back this morning to expose our spinach and lettuce. As I pulled the landscape fabric pins that held the row covers in place, I noted that there was still frost and ice on the outside of the covers!
The main event for today was supposed to be cutting lettuce with a young grandson who loves salad. Unfortunately, before we got to cutting lettuce, he and his sister decided to go wading in the kiddie pool that still had rainwater in it. I was upset with them for getting their feet, socks and shoes wet in the cold water, but nothing compared to their grandmother! So we'll have to cut lettuce tomorrow.
While the grandkids were getting into trouble, I was snipping spinach leaves (and obviously not keeping a very good eye on the kids). The spinach had regrown a good many baby spinach sized leaves that got rinsed, air dried, and popped into a green bag in the refrigerator. We've almost used up all of the first picking of spinach I did about ten days ago, but the leaves remaining in the fridge are still good. We'll be able to enjoy spinach salad several more times next week with today's picking.
Our other row of lettuce, planted a bit after the lettuce in the raised bed, is also doing quite well. I'd originally transplanted cabbage into the row, but only one plant survived critter and mole damage and the summer drought. I went back and transplanted lettuce into the open areas of the bed several times and now have a nice assortment of lettuce varieties in various stages of growth.
I almost wish the lettuce hadn't taken in this bed, as I 'd like to renovate it before the ground freezes. It served as our garlic bed this year, followed by the failed cabbage and then the successful lettuce, and will be used for peas next spring. Fortunately, I did give the area a light liming and a thorough tilling before planting the cabbage, so if I don't get to till it this fall, I'll still be able to pull the mulch back and poke pea seed into the soil next March.
We generally lean towards romaine lettuce for our salads, so that's what we usually grow in our garden. Since I was testing all of our lettuce seed when I started our transplants for fall, we have a bit more variety this time around. Of course, our Skyphos seed, a new variety we tried this year, was good. Skyphos (pictured at right) is a Red Boston type lettuce, whatever that means. It produces small, soft heads. We found it pretty easy to grow both in the spring and fall, attractive, and a lettuce with excellent flavor. It's one we'll definitely include in our plantings next year.
When I looked at my screen of lettuce photos I wanted to show today, I found that our bounty of lettuce was probably more than I could easily fit in on this page. Rather than fuss with how to fit in seven images (six or eight go great in a table, but seven?), I just snapped a screenshot of the photos tiled in Photoshop.
While Winter Density and Defender from Johnny's Selected Seeds have been our main types of lettuce for years, we also have a colored blend we tried for the first time two years ago. It produces some deep red plants, along with some really ugly spotted plants...that still taste great.
Our other varieties include Barbados, Nancy, Nevada, Crispino, Red Lollo, and Baby Star. Had I taken time to chart what I was planting, I could have labeled the image above with varieties, but...I was in a hurry.
Note: The variety links above are to the various vendors' seed catalogs. And nope, not a one of them is a Senior Gardening affiliated advertiser. The links are there in case you might want to try one of the lettuce varieties.
I think I'm going to go have a spinach salad now! Yum!
And that turned into the motivation for a column, What's That in my Salad?
I'm writing today's posting in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. As I write, it's raining hard outside, and the temperature is already dropping rapidly from "yesterday's" high of 70o F. I'm tired and a bit sore, but it's a good tired and sore. And with the heavy rain, I can sleep in in the morning without any guilt.
I hustled yesterday to get several jobs done in the garden that I fear I might not squeeze in before things get too wet and cold to complete them. I took out our row of kale and most of the flowers that edge our main raised bed garden plot. The kale leaves and flowers got composted. I don't try to compost kale or broccoli stalks, as they take forever to decompose and actually make pretty good filler for holes around the barn.
With all of our raised bed cleared except for the spinach and lettuce at one end, I spread lime, 11-23-20 fertilizer, bone meal, and Milky Spore on the ground before thoroughly tilling the area. I had to heavily lime the rows I'd used for potatoes, as I'd used sulfur this spring to drop the soil pH into a range that prevents potato scab but isn't very friendly for other crops. The bone meal was reserved for just one area.
When I had my tilling done, I brought all of our garlic bulbs up from the basement and selected the best of them for planting. Surprisingly, marking rows, digging holes, setting garlic cloves, and refilling the holes took less than an hour.
The bone meal mentioned above only went on the garlic area, along with an especially heavy dose of the commercial fertilizer. By tilling in the bone meal before planting, I avoided having to sprinkle some in each hole. I often overdo that and end up with a sticky, white mess of unused bone meal in the roots of the garlic when I dig it the next summer.
My choice of commercial fertilizer was just what was available at the garden store. If they'd had a 0-10-10, or something similar, I would have gone with that. While the nitrogen (the "11" in 11-23-20) I applied today might help digest some of the organic matter I turned under today, most of it will probably leach out of the soil before spring.
I tried to get the garlic cloves in so that the tops of the cloves were at least four inches under the soil surface, with some as much as six inches to protect them from winter freezes and thaws. My sister, who lives outside Merrifield, Minnesota, says they don't even try to fall plant garlic in their gardens. The ground freezes way too deep there for the garlic to survive!
I'm hoping to mow the lawn one more time this fall. If I get that done, I'll use the grass clippings and leaves I rake as mulch to protect the garlic a bit.
Being able to rototill today was another proof of why I like a raised bed. All of the soil in our non-raised garden areas was still way too wet for tilling. But with it's high organic matter content and the improved drainage of a raised bed, the plot I turned was perfect for tilling. After tilling hard, dry soil most of the summer, I'm surprised today's tilling made me sore!
While I have several other areas that could use a fall tilling, the main raised bed was the one area that absolutely, positively had to be tilled this fall. With rain setting in, the ground may stay too wet to rototill until it freezes.
Dolly, one of our outdoor cats, snoozed in the lettuce bed while I tilled and planted. She didn't even offer to help. You may also notice some small lettuce plants around her. I moved four or five plants from our other area of lettuce outside the raised bed into the main garden to fill in spots where I'd harvested lettuce.
When I was done with my outside tasks today, I went ahead and covered the lettuce rows with their floating row covers in anticipation of the hard freeze predicted for Thursday morning.
The temperature dipped to 28.5o F this morning according to a nearby weather station. While we've had other mornings where the mercury hovered just at freezing, today's frost is the kind that takes any tender, low-growing plants left unprotected in the garden. Our parsley at right showed frost damage at its base, but actually looked pretty good otherwise.
We were ready for this frost, as our fall lettuce and spinach were snug under their floating row covers. Our only other current crop of any consequence, broccoli in the East Garden, came through the frost fairly well, although one smaller plant appeared a bit droopy this morning. As is often the case, after two straight mornings of frost, our long range weather forecast shows no danger of frost for the next 10 days. I'll be able to pull the floating row covers off our lettuce rows later today, and we should be able to enjoy fresh spinach and lettuce almost right up to Thanksgiving Day!
On Wednesday evening, I'd run out to the garden and picked the last dozen Paprika Supreme peppers that were mature. The image at right doesn't show the count quite right, as I took seed from several of the peppers yesterday, using the flesh to complement some potatoes and carrots I was reheating for supper. While Paprika Supremes dry and grind to a nice, mild powdered paprika, the fresh flesh tastes like a mature bell pepper.
The paprika pepper plants got pulled and composted this morning, as they definitely got zapped by the frost. I also took out all our remaining pepper and tomato plants in the East Garden. The plants there had long since stopped producing good fruit, but I just hadn't gotten around to pulling them and cleaning up all the rotting, groundfall tomatoes until today.
I cut back our wax begonias today, getting them ready for a dose of systemic insecticide before I bring them indoors for the winter. We now have three pots of them, all from a single plant I bought back in 2007. I split the single pot this spring after a windstorm blew down the hanging pot. The pot had cracked, and the tubers had begun to split as well.
I trim the plant(s) down to about an inch and a half of top growth each fall. I also try to remove dead stems, leaves, and any other organic matter that might carry over insect eggs or disease. Such a trimming is quite a shock to the plants. That's good, as I don't really have room for a full wax begonia under our plantlights in the basement. The plants slowly recover, putting on minimal growth under the lights. I repot them in the spring and usually have gorgeous plants by mid-summer.
I also cut down our asparagus today. Cutting and removing the canes makes for much easier picking the following spring. If there had been any disease in the foliage, I suppose removing it would help there, too.
I started a new compost pile with the foliage and canes from the asparagus. The hole I put last year's asparagus trash in is now full...with a few volunteer asparagus plants growing around it. I'll also add our broccoli plants to the new compost pile, as both asparagus and broccoli stalks take some time to break down.
With the asparagus out of the way, our main garden area is well on its way to being ready for next spring. I still need to move the oregano and sage out of the raised bed where they're currently growing to a permanent location. And once our lettuce is done for the year, I'll need to clean up those areas. One current lettuce row will serve as our pea bed next spring, so it would be good, but not absolutely necessary, if I could till it a bit. If I can mow and rake again this fall, the clippings and leaves will make a good mulch covering for several garden areas.
After a very busy day in the garden yesterday, I'm sorta taking it easy today. I did get out and treat the begonias and wandering jew I'd cut back yesterday with systemic insecticide. The product I used really stinks, so the plants will need to stay outside for several more days. I also treated our trailing geranium pot, but haven't cut it back as yet. I'm considering taking cuttings from it instead of bringing the whole plant inside to overwinter. And, maybe I'll end up doing both, as one of the plants in the pot produces some of the most gorgeous, delicate blooms I've ever seen!
Our first garden catalog for the 2012 gardening season came in today. It was from Pinetree Garden Seeds. They're not a seed vendor we've used in recent years and have some issues listed with germination rates of their seeds on Dave's Garden Watchdog. But since their catalog was first, it will get a look. I'll have our listing of recommended seed suppliers and catalog request links posted sometime later this month.
In yesterday's discussion of cutting back our asparagus, I used a photo of our asparagus partially cut with a patch of golden asparagus in the background. That patch, shown at left, belongs to the lady who owns the land around us. When I'd run into she and her son at the grocery a month or so ago, she asked if we'd picked asparagus from the patch this year. We hadn't, as it isn't ours, but she suggested we make use of it in the future.
So this morning, I fired up our John Deere X500 Multi-Terrain Tractor, hoping it would indeed handle the rough ground in the area behind our yard to clean up the other asparagus patch. I'd sorta avoided getting into the area, as it has lots of poison ivy. Recent frosts appear to have knocked down much of the poison ivy, so I'm hoping I won't be itching tomorrow.
I initially set the mower deck at its highest setting and mowed a path into the area and around the asparagus patch, only clogging the chute and killing the engine once. After that, I was able to mow down the asparagus, lower the deck a bit, and get a pretty clean cutting of the area without scalping the asparagus ground. When done mowing, the area got a heavy dose of 11-23-20 and lime.
We may never harvest any asparagus spears from this "new" patch, but we've enjoyed the contrast of its golden foliage against the green grass around it each fall for years. With a little care, it may continue to grow well into the future.
I also failed to mention yesterday that I didn't cut back every asparagus plant in our patch. Since we have both male and female asparagus plants, some seed tries to germinate and get going each year. We try to move the volunteers to bare spots in our asparagus bed, but the established plants often shade out the new plants. So at the end of the season when I cut back our asparagus, I spare the seedling asparagus plants, giving them a few days or weeks of weak, but unobstructed sunlight.
When I came in from grabbing the shot at left, I snapped a shot of the lone gloxinia currently in our kitchen window. During the hustle and bustle of gardening season, I'd really let our gloxinias go in the basement. I recently cut them all back and removed old and dead leaves and blooms, but it didn't leave us with much to display in the kitchen. The bloom shown at right is the only one open on a small plant, but there are lots more buds under it that should make a good display for the rest of this month and next.
Little things add up, and that's certainly true when talking about broccoli sideshoots. While soccerball sized main heads of broccoli can draw oohs and ahhs of gardening friends, family, and neighbors, you only get one of them per plant. But after the main heads are cut, many broccoli varieties will continue to produce smaller, secondary heads around the perimeter of the plant for some time.
I cleared away some leaves in the photo at left to show both a broccoli sideshoot and the cut stem where the main head was harvested long ago.
Harvesting sideshoots is definitely a bit more work than harvesting main heads. You get a lot less broccoli per cut with sideshoots, and the secondary heads take a bit of hunting to find. But if your broccoli planting has been well fertilized and isn't being stressed by hot weather, sideshoot production can help fill up ones freezer or dinner table with delicious, nutritious produce.
Our main variety of broccoli is Premium Crop. It's a dependable producer, although our second favorite, Goliath, often produces larger main heads. But Premium Crop will continue to produce lots of sideshoots over a long period of time. Goliath will also, but not as many.
To be sure, picking pinkie finger sized heads of broccoli can be tiring, but they're also the perfect size for adding to salads. We generally get sideshoots ranging from tiny heads to tennis ball sized and occasionally one approaching the size of a main broccoli head. And picking fresh broccoli on November 13...well, that's just good luck with the weather.
Speaking of weather...
Mentioning good weather above really should be a qualified statement. It was warm today, warm enough that I got part of our lawn mowed in the afternoon. But it was windy today, windy enough to blow a rather heavy chaise lounge off the back porch. Our nearest weather station, several miles south of us, recorded a wind gust at 50 MPH.
It won't be long until seed catalogs for the 2012 gardening season begin to arrive in the mail. If you haven't requested catalogs or ordered from a vendor recently (ordering pretty well assures you'll get a new catalog), now is the time to do so. Our first seed orders will go out this month, as we try to get a really early start on things such as seed geraniums and onions grown from seed.
I've done something a little different for our list of recommended seed suppliers this year by including a link to the Dave's Garden Watchdog rating ("DGW rating") for each vendor. The ratings there are simply the totals of positive, neutral, and negative feedback site members' post. Researching the links also pushed me to remove some longtime vendors from our regular listing due to many customer complaints recorded on the Watchdog. And rather than try to list our absolute favorites in order (which I've done in the past), the Recommended Suppliers listing is in alphabetical order. We've used each of them in the past twelve months with good experiences. Note that links, where possible, are to the vendor's catalog request page.
Recommended Seed Suppliers
Here are a few other outlets you might wish to consider. Some are new ones we want to try and others are ones we've used in the past, but not in the last year. They're offered without recommendation.
Canadian Only Vendors
I obviously have no experience in buying from the folks listed below, as they only ship to Canadian addresses. But each one comes with one or more positive recommendations from Senior Gardening readers. Some of our recommended suppliers, Johnny's and Stokes come immediately to mind, also ship seed into Canada. The Seeds of Diversity site has a great resource list of seed providers, including sources in Canada (Seeds of Diversity is a Canadian outfit.), the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
After years of hunting a good supplier for pots, flats, inserts, hanging baskets and such, I've finally settled on the Greenhouse Megastore. We have placed several orders with them over the last few years. Each order arrived promptly, properly filled, and well packed. I still have trouble with their prices for basic (flimsy) 1020 flats, but I'm slowly switching over to the sturdier but more expensive Perma-Nest trays. The Megastore doesn't carry them, but Amazon carries them. (Oops, Amazon is also an affiliate advertiser!)
I'm always on the hunt for reliable vendors of quality seed, especially those that offer open pollinated varieties. If you know of one we should consider, .
While I'm posting this list in our November blog for Senior Gardening, I've also started a permanent new page of recommended suppliers that I'll be updating from time to time.
I got a little lazy this week and put off some outdoor jobs until today, as it was supposed to be close to 60o this afternoon. As I write this morning, it's not quite 50o outside with a cold, light rain and strong winds! The outdoor chores will have to wait.
I cut broccoli sideshoots again yesterday. I got enough to use them last night in a chicken, broccoli, potato, and pepper dish seasoned with garlic, paprika, seasoned salt, and steamed in chicken broth. I used the flesh from our last picking of Paprika Supreme peppers in the dish. Again, they proved quite tasty when used like bell peppers.
And as if on cue from my posting about seed catalogs on Tuesday, a couple more seed catalogs came in the mail this week. The catalogs were two I really need early, as I order onion and geranium seed from both Stokes and Twilley Seeds. I'm hoping our Harris and Johnny's Selected Seeds catalogs will arrive soon, as with them I'll be able to get my early seed orders done.
When ordering geranium seed, I find Stokes to consistently be the most expensive seed, but it also seems to have the best germination rates. Twilley and Harris both offer geranium seed packets that contain smaller quantities of seed than Stokes, cutting the price, although the cost per seed is often about the same.
Last year, I started scanning in the covers of the garden seed catalogs we receive. After wrestling around with some software issues, I got our old HP Scanjet G3010 working with my main computer again and scanned in what has come in so far this fall. In our changeover from satellite internet to DSL, I moved our all-in-one scanner/printer downstairs to a newer computer I rebuilt this year. I actually prefer to scan with the G3010, as it can handle negatives and slides, and also has a bit better resolution than the newer printer/scanner. But because of software conflicts with the newer printer, I'd had the older scanner hooked up to my old QuickSilver Mac and had to fire it up, scan, and transfer photos over our home network.
When I was done, I noticed that the cover art on the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog I'd already set aside was a much bolder, brighter color representation than the two others I'd received this week. Possibly not better, but certainly bolder.
I'm sure a lot of thought and dollars go into cover art for some catalogs. Stokes runs an annual contest amongst customers who send in photos for their cover, but I haven't as yet found a credit for their cover photo on this year's catalog.
I decided to look back at our main catalogs from last year for comparison and ended up making the animated gif of our 2011 catalog covers. While I've created animated gifs before in the Mac-only GraphicConverter, I didn't like the image quality I got with it today, so I used a MediaCollege.com tutorial to help me get one done using Adobe ImageReady (part of Creative Suite). I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of our 2012 seed catalogs, as they truly are a delight for the eyes.
While I'd like to be outside today, I've picked up a nasty respiratory bug that is keeping me indoors. In between long naps, I took some cuttings from our pot of trailing geraniums and some gloxinias. The pot of geraniums had been sitting on a spare bucket next to our plant rack since I brought it inside last week, as it wouldn't fit on the shelf under the lights.
I cut the end growth tips of seven geranium stems and three medium sized gloxinia leaves. When taking cuttings, it's important to pick healthy growth and leaves with no imperfections. With the geraniums, I stripped the leaves from the base of the stem, leaving one or two leaves atop each stem. The gloxinias were single leaves with about 3/4" of stem.
After taking the cuttings from the geraniums, I cut them back to just above the soil line, leaving just and inch or so of growth. They should regrow in time, if the stems haven't become too woody to support new growth. The pot now fits under our plant lights.
I dipped each stem in water and then into a jar of rooting compound to get some of the white rooting powder to stick. Each stem went into its own pot with the leaves above the soil line. I mixed a bit of the rooting compound in water in a watering can and top watered each pot, along with some bottom watering with warm water.
I used sterilized potting soil for this rooting, but sometimes a soilless mixture or sand is better for rooting. I never have much luck with sand, so...the sterile mix.
The flat of transplants in pots will still need light, so they went under the plant lights with a clear humidome cover to hold in moisture and heat. To speed rooting, I also put our heat mat under them with a 75o F setting. Note that the temperature reading in the photo at right (86.9o F) is due to the hot water I used to bottom water the cuttings. The thermostat has the gro-mat turned off until it's needed. I actually melted the bottom of a standard flat once before I began using a thermostat with my heating mat!
One of the things we've tried to do for several years in our garden is to have fresh, homegrown lettuce for Thanksgiving. We've come close several years in the past, only to have a hard frost take our lettuce in mid-November. So it was with some apprehension that I opened up the floating row covers on our lettuce today to see what we had. I'd left the row covers in place for almost a week since our last picking.
We experienced some minor frost damage where leaf tips touched the row covers, and one red plant had totally been taken by the frost. Another red had a bit more tip damage than the rest, but I'd guess that was due to those plants growing a bit taller than the others and having more contact with the row covers. Our green plants, also a rather tall lettuce, had minor leaf tip damage, but still had excellent heads. We also had several soft heads mature, along with a couple of the extremely colorful Skyphos Boston head variety.
I'd also hoped we might get a third picking from our row of fall spinach, but the leaves are beginning to show some yellow spots on them, possibly a type of leaf fungus. So...the spinach was a wash this time around. But all in all, it was a very satisfying harvest.
I also checked our row of fall brassicas in the East Garden today, cutting the one cauliflower plant that had survived. It produced a nice, white head slightly larger than a tennis ball. Our broccoli produced just a few, tiny sideshoots in the last few days, as I'd cut it over the weekend. Both should go well in the lettuce salad for tomorrow.
Like many of you, we will be with our family on Thanksgiving Day and will be celebrating the many blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us. We continue to be in reasonably good health, and our children are all healthy and doing well.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The arrival of some really nasty, wet, cold weather this week has put outdoor work in the garden on hold for now. But it also has given me the time to dig all of our stored seed out of the freezer for inventory, a necessary but dreary task that must be done before assembling seed orders for next year.
I switched to using a spreadsheet last year to keep track of what garden seed I had in storage. Being just a bit geeky, I should have switched long ago. My previous system was recording what seed we carried over from year to year by hand on looseleaf notebook paper...when I thought I had the time. Such a hit and miss system left me ordering seed at the last minute, using older seed than I would have liked, and occasionally ordering a variety I thought I was out of when we still had plenty of it in stock.
Starting the inventory spreadsheet last year took a good bit of time, but was made easier by using much the same format as is employed on a spreadsheet record of seed orders we've kept since 2007. Over the years, I've been able to refine what information I want to record for seed ordered, and now, for inventory purposes. Other gardeners obviously may need more or less information, but these are the columns I'm currently using on my seed order and inventory spreadsheets for (examples in parentheses):
I'm really impressed this year with how quickly I'm getting through the necessary, but rather unexciting job of inventorying our seed. I could have had it done in one afternoon, but I also made notes, checked availability and prices of varieties online, and listed items for re-order on another spreadsheet where I've recorded our seed orders since 2007.
A Few Words About Spreadsheet Programs
I use Microsoft Excel for my inventory and seed order spreadsheets. I don't hook up any of the formula bells and whistles that total dollar values, but like the way the application works. (BTW: My copy of Excel is from Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac!)
There are other choices of spreadsheets available, some of them free, open source applications. Another paid application is the Numbers spreadsheet program from Apple's iWorks, shown below displaying what I've got down so far for next year. (Click image for larger image with 2011 seed orders and the 2012 start.) I don't regularly use Numbers for any of our garden spreadsheets, but it can easily open our Excel files.
By this point, you may be impatiently asking, "Hey, where's the free one?"
The free OpenOffice suite of productivity software includes an excellent spreadsheet application. It's available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh in several versions. For most folks, OpenOffice for Windows is what you'll want. But if you share your computer with kids, you might want to go with the OpenOffice derivative, OOo4Kids (pronounced "OpenOffice For Kids") shown at right. It also features larger default font sizes, something sorta nice for kids and seniors! And for Macintosh users, there's NeoOffice that preserves a bit of the Mac OS look and feel in its applications.
Having used Excel, Numbers, OpenOffice, OOo4Kids, and NeoOffice, I can easily recommend any of them for gardening spreadsheets. And those last three, well, free is really hard to beat.
I also slowed down the whole process of inventorying our seed by taking time to start germination tests with some seed that has been in frozen storage for a number of years. Will I trust sweet corn seed I've had in storage since 2003? If it tests 75% or above, I just might use it, if for nothing else than to fill in bare spots in rows of later maturing sweet corn. And if it tests poorly, I can pitch the seed without feeling too wasteful.
Pictured above is a test of a nice bicolor variety from Stokes, 277A, that I've had in the freezer since 2003, some 2010 and 2011 main season 7640R corn from Twilley Seeds, and the novelty miniature sweet corn introduced by Harris Seeds last year, Mr. Mini Mirai. You might wonder if the time spent in doing germination tests is worth it, but with Stokes wanting $7.45 for 250 seeds of their Gourmet Sweet Brand 277A bicolor, it pays me to test.
Also, many garden experts recommend not using sweet corn seed that is more than a year old. Saving seed by freezing it is also a point of contention among some garden writers, but it's worked well for us over the years.
I also noticed today that Twilley has held the price line on my favorite main season corn, their Summer Sweet Extra #7640R, an 84 day corn with husky ears, excellent tip wrap, and incredible flavor. It runs $5.30 for 500 seeds, the same as last year. Of course, if my old seed is still good, I won't have to order any.
Getting back to germination testing, it's really a pretty simple process. While seed houses test lots of seed, a random sample of ten seeds of each variety laid out on a labeled, wet paper towel should give me a pretty good idea of the seed's viability. I fold the wet paper towel in half, down over the seed and put it either in a zip lock bag, or as I did yesterday, in a seed flat topped with a dome to hold in moisture. The seed flat went onto our warm shelf over a furnace register, covered by a black trash bag to keep out light. I'll check the flat for proper moisture (not soggy, but moist is ideal) and germination every other day for a week to ten days.
Besides the sweet corn pictured above, I'm testing some green bean and pea seed that may be a bit iffy from storage. Some of it is commercial seed and some is open pollinated seed I saved in 2009. I also am giving our Moon & Stars open pollinated watermelon seed, which we have lots of in storage, one more chance before pitching it. None of the excellent variety germinated for us this spring, indicating that I probably hadn't processed the seed very well when I harvested it in 2009. I really hate to lose the strain, as it produces giant flavorful melons with the typical Moon & Stars yellow splotches on its rind. The Moon & Stars shown here weighed in at a little over 37 pounds, and it wasn't our all time largest Moon & Stars!
I focused yesterday on inventorying our large seed, so I could get it back in the freezer. Our corn, beans, peas, melons, and such are now tucked back in their place in our small, chest type, manual defrosting freezer in the garage. Not all seed preserves well by freezing. Onion seed is one that is really iffy after a year's storage. But I've also had flower seed turn out to be good after ten to fifteen years of frozen storage!
The trick to keeping seed over from year to year is to keep it cool and dry. Keeping seed packets in mason jars with tight fitting lids in a cellar or basement is a pretty time honored practice amongst gardeners. With relatively warm basements and lots of seed to store, we got into freezing our seed between seasons long ago.
We assume that commercial seed we purchase has been dried to the required 5-8% humidity for storage. The seed we save from various open pollinated vegetables is dried on paper towels and paper plates, often for a week before packaging and storage. Rob Johnston, Jr., founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds, recommends in Growing Garden Seeds:
That's a bit of good advice I should have heeded with the Moon & Stars seed mentioned above!
Besides paper towel drying, one site I found recommended drying seed to 8% moisture using a food dehydrator set at 85o F. I've never tried that method, as applying any heat to our seed sorta scares me. During really humid weather in the summer, I sometimes follow up our standard drying practice by putting saved seed to be stored in a jar with some powdered milk to draw off moisture.
Once dried, our saved seed is packaged in a variety of small manila envelopes, glassines, old plastic seed vials, and my favorite, homemade aluminum foil pouches. The seed packets then go into good quality freezer bags, sorted by vegetable type (bean, brassica, corn, etc.). The various bags of seed, with as much air squeezed out of them as is possible, then go into a couple of those giant Ziploc Big Bags to keep them together and to provide just a bit of extra protection from moisture.
At that point, the seed could be stored in any cool, dark, dry location we might have. Since we really lack such an ideal place, our seed goes into a small, chest type, manual defrosting freezer in our garage. Note that we use a manual defrosting freezer, as the warming of self-defrost cycles really degrade seed. We do keep frozen seed for short periods of time during planting season in our refrigerator freezer.
We've had exceptionally good luck saving old seed in our freezer. Your mileage may vary, of course, but freezing seed has saved us a lot of dollars over the years. I grew out samples of all of our saved Moira tomato seed last spring, with seed dating back to the 1980's still germinating! Note that the germination rate for some of the older tomato seed was pretty poor.
A Colorado State University Extension posting, Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds by J.E. Ells, L.N. Bass and D. Whiting, has a good chart detailing how long on average one might be able to save viable garden seed. I find that we can extend the numbers on that chart and others a few years by freezing seed, but you do pay a price in seed viability the longer seed is stored.
Our lettuce is a good example of how freezing can extend the shelf life of seed. I grew out samples of all of the lettuce varieties we had in storage this summer when getting our fall lettuce started. That may not sound like much until you look at the inventory section below for lettuce.
Of the 14 varieties of lettuce we had on hand, 13 germinated! That helps account for the incredible variety of lettuce types we've been harvesting this month. While lettuce is rated at one year viability in regular storage, we obviously have beat that number considerably by freezing our seed.
Some other helpful online sources of information on storing garden seed include:
Now that our vegetable inventory is done, we're almost ready to begin assembling our early garden orders. (I cheated just a bit with this posting, as I still have three bags of flower seed to inventory.) Once the germination tests are done and the rest of our seed catalogs arrive, we'll begin ordering.
Our Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog came in yesterday. With several of our main catalogs in now, I'm having a ball just paging through them. But after completing the vegetable seed inventory today, I know I won't have to order a whole lot of seed for next year.
I checked the germination tests today that I began on Monday. I was surprised to find that we already had some answers on the viability of some of our stored seed. Two days is a little quicker than normal for a germination test to produce results, but our testing tray was in a very warm area.
The test on our main season sweet corn seed, the Twilley 7640R variety, is done. The 2011 sample had 100% germination, and the 2010 seed sample produced 70% germinated seeds. We won't have to order any main season sweet corn this year!
The Mr. Mirai test showed just 50% germination. While I pitched the 7640R test seed, I left the Mr. Mirai sample to see if we get a bit more germination in the next couple of days. But as it stands now, I won't be using that seed.
The 2003 sample of Stokes 277A sweet corn showed no germination at all. Again, I left the sample in the tray to check again on Friday, but it appears that seed will go in the trash along with the Mr. Mirai seed.
I'll check the remaining seed in the tray again on Friday before making final decisions, as the 277A and the Jade could just be slow to germinate. But in all likelihood, they're just bad seed now.
I did have one Moon & Stars seed germinate. While 10% germination would usually be considered a failure, the chance that just a bit of our seed is still good is great news, as this is a strain of the watermelon variety I really like. While I could order new seed from any number of vendors, I'd much rather stay with what we have if it proves viable.
After making yesterday's posting here, I drove into town to grab a few supplies. When I came out of the store to come home, it was snowing quite heavily. While it was warm enough and it didn't snow long enough for the snow to stick, it was still quite a sight. Folks in the northern part of Indiana ended up with 5-10" of accumulation.
I hustled home with giant, wet snowflakes spattering noisily on the windshield and ran upstairs to grab a photo of the snow (shown at left). And of course, by this morning, it was blue skies once again.
I guess that's a wrap for November.
at Senior Gardening