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One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 12/30/2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

10 Day ForcastI checked our porch thermometer at 9 this morning and was surprised to see it at 50o F. December is usually the month where outside activity in the Senior Garden comes to a halt. It appears we have several "bonus" days coming up that will be warm enough to finish a few garden and flowerbed cleanup chores.

GloxiniasBeyond completing any remaining garden cleanup, December is a month where I have to keep reminding myself to "wait, wait." With a box of fresh seed orders at my side, it's a terrible temptation to get our onions or geraniums started early...actually a bit too early. I may, however, sneak a few petunia seeds into a half egg carton on our already crowded windowsill. Besides the gloxinias perched on coffee cans in the foreground at left, potted sage and parsley compete for space with all of our treasured knickknacks.

We'll also see several more seed catalogs arrive this month that we'll enjoy perusing. The bulk of what new seed we needed for next year has already come in from Stokes Seeds and Twilley Seed. But we always seem to find a few items or varieties we want from Johnny's Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, Shumway, Generic Seeds, and the Seed Savers Exchange. (See our Recommended Seed Suppliers feature for more info on the vendors we recommend and use.)

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Full disclosure: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and Mountain Valley are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. We're also a member of the Fedco Seeds Cooperative. Fedco Seeds

Annie's flowersFlowers and DollyDecember's lull in outdoor activity provides a great opportunity to get stuff cleaned up, organized, and put away for the next gardening season. Seed flats, inserts, and various flower pots that only received a cursory rinse during the busy gardening season will be thoroughly washed and disinfected with bleach. Stuff that just got plopped down whereever in our plant room gets sorted, put away, or pitched. And of course, bags of onions, potatoes, and garlic need to be checked for spoilage (a monthly task if one doesn't want to end up with a bag of rotting stuff).

Yesterday, Annie brought home the Modern Embrace™ Pink Rose & Lily Cube iconI'd sent her at work for her birthday. It was nice to see that the actual bouquet pretty well matched the ad photos from 1-800-Flowers. I grabbed several shots of the flowers, not really noticing in the shot at left the extras that had snuck into the view. Dolly, one of our outdoor cats, had taken up residence on the dining room table. In the shot at right, she appears none too pleased at the intrusion of an electronic flash on her beauty sleep.

And yes, is one of our oldest Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers.

Make it a Truly Original Christmas. Save up to 40% off at! No Promo code needed! (Offer Ends 12/23/2012) - 728x90

Sunday, December 2, 2012 - Evolution of an Image

Gloxinia PhotosThe Cutting Room FloorBack in October, I put up a page of Gloxinia Photos here on Senior Gardening. A new image I'd taken just a couple days earlier of a pretty, red Empress gloxinia bloom under our plant lights took a bit of cleaning up in Photoshop before getting placed towards the end of the feature story. Off and on over the last month or so, I've been playing around with the backgrounds of some of our gloxinia photos, eventually returning to the October shot just this morning. Even though its dimensions weren't ideal for use as a wallpaper or desktop photo (a square image in a widescreen world), I added some blank space left and right of the bloom image and found I liked the end result enough to earn it a place on our Cutting Room Floor page. That's a page I created to hold photos bumped off of our regular, free Desktop Photos page, good shots that just don't fit as a desktop photo, and a few that may get "promoted" to the main page when I have enough good shots to add another row of photos.

The original image is a bit of an ugly duckling due to some dead foliage and the grungy wall behind our basement plant rack.

Ugly Duckling gloxinia

But the lighting was right, and the image was sharp and colorful. With a bit of cropping, selection with Photoshop's Magnetic Lasso Tool, a bit of manual, pixel-by-pixel cleaning up, and a new background, I ended up with a pretty nice, but square shot.

Cropped Magnetic lasso applied Black background

Adding widescreen dimensions to the shot created a lot of black space, not always ideal for a computer desktop. I went ahead and added the shot to my rotation of desktop photos for my main Mac, and of course, to The Cutting Room Floor page.

image with wings

Desktop Photos

...and, The Cutting Room Floor

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Johnny's Selected Seeds cover 2013Seed Savers Exchange cover 2013I awoke this morning to the sound of a warm, steady rain outside. It's not coming down hard, but is the kind of rain that will soak in and definitely do our well some good. The rain also makes it a great day to find a good book or seed catalog to read or look through.

As luck would have it, two more seed catalogs that I peruse cover-to-cover arrived in yesterday's mail, so I'm all set for staying indoors today. We've used Johnny's Selected Seeds for lots of items for over thirty years, but particularly like their extensive listing of lettuce varieties. We also like their Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon. We've not had any problems with their seed viability or quality, although I've bemoaned here before some of the steep price increases they've made. But maybe that means their employee owners are making a living wage there.

The Seed Savers Exchange began publishing a commercial catalog of open pollinated varieties from their extensive seed bank several years ago. Not to be confused with their annual yearbook of rare, open pollinated varieties preserved and offered by and to SSE members only, the catalog contains lots of excellent, older vegetable varieties that may have widespread appeal. Even in a drought year, we were delighted with the Amish Snap and Champion of England tall pea varieties we ordered from them last year.

The Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook of member offerings generally comes out in late January or early February. It is the penultimate collection of open pollinated seed available, other than government germplasm seed banks. We will have three listings again in this year's yearbook, although one of the varieties we offer has changed. SSE members may order Moira and Quinte tomato seed and Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed through our listings. The Quinte tomato seed is a new offering from us, grown out from seed supplied by the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network. We aren't offering Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed this year, as we grew ours side-by-side with another cucumber variety that I had hoped was Japanese Long Pickling. It turned out that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds' Japanese Long Cucumber is a distinctly different variety. My error has put us back to the point where we desperately need to grow out a good, pure seed crop of the unique vegetable again next year, as we're down to a very, very few viable seeds left.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - Another Seed Catalog Arrives

Baker Creek Seed

Turnip shot

Before I could completely devour the two previous seed catalogs that had come in on Monday, Tuesday's mail brought our Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog. The rich imagery in the catalog is a feast for any gardener's eyes. Even though we've had good experiences with Baker Creek seed, including positive customer service, I always have to practice a good bit of restraint while making out an order for them, as I could easily end up with far more desirable seed than I have time, garden space, or the energy to grow!

Over the last two years, we've added several delightful heirloom varieties from their catalog to our garden, including Ali Baba and Picnic watermelons and Tam Dew honeydew melons. We also tried the Boule D'or honeydew variety last year on the strength of their catalog description, but ran into drought problems, losing our vines just before they ripened their first fruit. We're eagerly looking forward to trying it again next year. An experiment with Atomic Red carrots two years ago reminded me once again of why I still grow some hybrid varieties.

A week or so ago, I had a wonderfully long phone conversation with one of our daughters who now lives in California. In the course of the conversation, she inquired if I would like some heirloom vegetable seed for Christmas. As we talked, she mentioned an incredible garden store she'd visited in Petaluma. The name rang a bell somewhere for me, and since I was sitting at the computer while we talked, I clicked on the Baker Creek site and then on the link for their Petaluma Seed Bank. It turned out that she had, indeed, been talking about Baker Creek Seed's Petaluma retail outlet. From her description and the embedded video at left, it's definitely a place I'd like to visit when we're out that way.

T-Posts and Compost

With an absolutely gorgeous day, I got out and pulled the T-posts and trellises from our main garden this afternoon. I was able to leave most of our still blooming snapdragons that were along one trellis in place. A few casualties of the cleanup got trimmed and ended up in a flowerpot on the dining room table.

After a little scraping to remove mud and a good scrubbing, I decided the T-posts were in good enough shape to not require a coat of rust preventative paint before next season. Or possibly, I was just too tired and in too big a hurry. I'll need to inspect the posts again sometime this winter.

Bonnie's asparagusCompost on asparagus patchSince I had the truck out to haul the T-posts back to the garage and our tomato cages to their storage area, I threw some shovels in the truck bed and headed for our finished compost pile after unloading the other stuff. It turned out that I had a lot more good compost left than I thought, but I went ahead and shoveled all of it onto the truck. Loading is always the hard part, and the compost shoveled easily off the truck onto what we call Bonnie's asparagus patch. I'd previously mulched our raised bed of asparagus with grass clippings, but had left the extra asparagus patch we care for uncovered after removing its stalks. I'd been saving the compost for the patch, as it has received little attention over the last twenty years. With just a little care in the last two years, it has become productive again. I'm hoping that the deluxe covering of compost will really make it take off next spring.

Friday, December 7, 2012 - Foggy Morning

Foggy morningCoffee and plantsThere was a thick fog here when I got up this morning. It was actually thicker than the image at left shows, as I took time to make and drink some coffee before recording the image. Not much happens for me each day before morning coffee!

As I grabbed the shot at right several hours later of my WSIU mug, I noticed the fog was giving way to a light rain outside. (And yes, we've seen it "rain" inside at our house, unfortunately.) I scooted stuff around a bit to reveal our tiny sage plant and the slightly larger parsley plant on the windowsill.

As to the coffee consumption, I can now pass it off as skin cancer prevention as I wrote about in a July posting! Note that I did go on in the July posting to write a good bit about protective garments and other ways to lessen ones exposure to harmful UV rays.

Seeking Seed

Sugar Snap descriptorSugar Snap onlineHaving "played" outside on some warm days earlier this week, I've been staying in and letting my aching bones rest the last couple of days, occupying myself with going through the last of the new seed catalogs I have on hand. With the last three catalogs, I've noticed a disconnect between what is shown in the print catalogs and what is offered on the companies' web sites. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has a great price in their catalog for a half pound of Sugar Snap pea seed ($5), but only offers packets online. Since the folks at Baker Creek are pretty good at responding to customer queries, I emailed them and received a prompt response that the matter was referred to their warehouse manager. It seemed to me to be something their webmaster might better address, but checking stock first is probably a sound course of action. (No word yet on the half pound availability...or if the great price was simply a misprint.)

The Seed Savers Exchange catalog had a similar issue with some of their pea seed, noting that folks will have to wait to order anything other than a packet with "Bulk seed available online ± February 2013."

Eclipse unavailableI'm really not worried about getting enough Sugar Snap seed, as a number of vendors still offer the original, tall variety. But I am worried about getting fresh seed for our favorite, supersweet pea variety, Eclipse. R.H. Shumway, the sole supplier of the variety over the last few years hasn't yet sent out their 2013 catalog (although sister companies owned by the Jung conglomerate have) and their web site, still not updated for 2013 at today's writing, shows the variety as "unavailable."

I emailed Shumway about the potential availability of the seed and got an informative, if disappointing, response before I finished writing this posting: "The Eclipse pea will be dropped from the catalog. We ran out last year in April and have not been able to get more."

SS on EclipseWhile I store lots of open pollinated seed in our big freezer, the results of this fall's germination testing on our remaining Eclipse seed weren't promising. And last year's Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook showed no one preserving the variety. While I hadn't planned on growing out the Eclipse pea for seed saving and preservation, it now appears I may need to do so.

On my Soapbox (Oh, no!)

France Moves To Protect Bees By Banning Syngenta Pesticide

By | Jun 3, 2012 |

france_beesCiting concerns over massive decline in bee populations due to Colony Collapse Disorder, the French health and safety agency, ANSES, said it will ban the use of Syngenta’s pesticide, Cruiser OSR, used to coat rapeseed plants. The French ban on the pesticide will take effect before the start of the next rapeseed sowing campaign in late summer, reported Reuters.

Cruiser OSR contains thiamethoxam as one of the active ingredients, a compound which is part of the neonicotinoids family. Neonicotinoids are systemic pesticides used to coat seeds. For years evidence has been mounting about the detrimental impact of systemic pesticides on bees. This year alone, four new studies emerged implicating systemic pesticides in the unprecedented decline in bee populations. These pesticides are of a particular concern because they kill sucking and chewing insects by disrupting their nervous system.

Furthermore, “unlike older pesticides that evaporate or disperse shortly after application, neonicotinoids are systemic poisons. Applied to the soil or doused on seeds, neonicotinoids insecticides incorporate themselves into the plant’s tissues, turning the plant itself into a tiny poison factory emitting toxin from its roots, leaves, stems, pollen, and nectar.” These pesticides also persist in the soil for longer than the older generation pesticides.

While searching online for Eclipse, Amish Snap, and Sugar Snap seed, I ran across something I thought was rather ominous. One of our previous seed suppliers is selling sweet corn and other seed as Insect Guard treated seed that has been coated with Cruiser. The casual customer might assume that Syngenta's Cruiser might only be another fungicide coating such as captan or thiram. But closer inspection revealed that the active ingredient in Cruiser is Thiamethoxam, a systemic insecticide that has been associated with honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. An article based on a Reuters' report, France Moves To Protect Bees By Banning Syngenta Pesticide, makes some pretty disturbing allegations about the effects of neonicotinoids family pesticides on bee populations.

Sadly, I'm not surprised that Cruiser is being used as a sweet corn seed treatment by the vendor. I stopped using the company and dropped them from our Recommended Seed Suppliers several years ago after unsatisfactory exchanges with their vegetable seed manager, a customer service agent, and finally with the company's president. The veggie manager, after identifying one of their offerings as a supersweet corn, also let me know that I wasn't skilled enough to germinate their triploid watermelon seed. The customer service agent and the prez clearly let me know my business with them wasn't important, and that they'd send out their home garden catalog when they were good and ready...well after I usually order my garden seed for the next year.

They simply know far too much to be advised in any way by a simple gardener.

How We Garden

We've long tried to make as little negative impact on our environment as possible with our gardening, and in the past, farming, activities. We've never quite made it to being totally organic growers, as there are things we seem to need to use at times that don't fit that classification. But we do admire those who are able to grow organically.

When I was farming, growing and roadsiding 2-4 acres of supersweet corn each year, we opted for a narrow band of in-the-row herbicide for our sweet corn (field corn and soybeans as well), coming back with an old fashioned four row cultivator to suppress weeds. When ear borers were present, we sprayed mineral oil on ear silks and occasionally used non-persistent rotonone-pyrethrin spray when absolutely necessary. Since our livestock were not raised in confinement, antibiotics were employed only when animals were ill (well, our chicken starter ration came with antibiotics mixed in). My point is that we tried to do the right thing, even though we weren't completely organic then. (And on the other hand, we very nearly went bankrupt, losing the farm after eight years.)

Cutworm collars on broccoliWe continue to grow most of our garden crops pretty much organically. Of course, since I used treated timbers for our raised beds, we'll never really meet the high standards for organic certification. But we grow for our own use and to give away, not to sell anymore. We do use some treated seed because it comes that way (but certainly not treated with "Insect Guard" or "Cruiser"). When the squash bugs emerge at threatening levels each summer, we employ a fairly strong insecticide to knock them down, although I'm exploring organic alternatives for next season. Our melons are never sprayed with insecticides! Organic alternatives such as Milky Spore and homemade cutworm collars cost more in dollars and time than insecticides, but do a good job of keeping cutworms (and the moles that pursue them) in check.

BeesI'm dismayed that a vendor would knowingly sell seed treated with a chemical that may be contributing to colony collapse disorder under a trade name that disguises the offending chemical. I'm disappointed that we may be seeing another good vegetable variety going extinct. But I'm also encouraged that folks are raising the alarm over chemicals that may harm our environment and that reputable seed vendors are working hard to answer customer questions.

And I may be overly sensitive on the Insect Guard/Cruiser issue. When farming, we "kept" two colonies of bees. I put quotes around kept, as one colony kept swarming and had to be repeatedly rehived before they finally totally got away. I like bees.

Where we live, we're seeing less and less honeybees on the abundant blooms in our garden plots. Bumblebees seem as prevalent as ever, but there are almost no Italian honeybees evident, although we see several of the Midnight strain that someone around here must keep (or have escaped into the wild). The exception to that generalization was when our green manure crop of buckwheat came into bloom: We had more bees of every type than we'd ever seen here before.

Buckwheat in bloom

Sunday, December 9, 2012 - Three Guys and a Good Idea

Garden TowerI first became aware of the Garden Tower Project last April. I didn't write about it at that time, as we were still working through a death in the family and getting our own garden in. I was pleased to receive an email this week that let me know founders Colin Cudmore and Joel Grant, and now Thomas Tlusty of nearby Bloomington, Indiana, had survived the startup process and were now offering their innovative vertical garden tower and composter online.

The Garden Tower appears to be a viable solution for land limited city dwellers who would still like to grow veggies and flowers, and especially for seniors who can no longer stand the rigors of traditional gardening. It is designed with a central composting core surrounded by soil with openings for one to insert plants or seeds.

Their site home page has a list of links to articles about the tower, along with lots of great shots of the Garden Tower in use with both flowers and vegetables. I picked the image at right to illustrate this posting, as I liked the brassica (cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi?) growing in the tower along with lots of lettuce and other stuff. If I wind up someday in a senior living facility, I could see having such a device on a patio.


U.S. Drought MonitorAfter several days of occasional light rain and generally gloomy weather, we finally caught a good shower this morning. Even with the previous light showers, our monthly rainfall total had been around a quarter inch for the month, giving some pause after a rather dry November. Since I pulled my rain gauge to protect it from freezing, I'll have to rely on nearby weather reporting sites' updates to see just how much precipitation we received.

While I haven't referenced the U.S. Drought Monitor here for several weeks, we're still in trouble on ground water and soil moisture, continuing to be listed as "Abnormally Dry" by the monitor. We are far better off than we were a few months ago, and certainly glad to be out of the "Drought - Exceptional" classification we experienced over the summer that still lingers throughout many of the western states. I still wonder if droughty conditions are now the new normal, leaving us to figure out how to garden with far less moisture than in the past.

True Story: A Cinnamon Roll "Variation" I Don't Recommend

Cinnamon Rolls

Spice cabinetRed spice jarsThe disorganization of our spice cabinet would drive any neat freak right over the edge. This seemingly random arrangement works for Annie and I only because we keep the most commonly used items on the bottom shelf, and generally stick stuff back in the front of the same shelf, shoving everything else back to make room. We surprisingly, generally, have a fairly good idea where items are, other than the occasional, mad, full flat out cabinet search.

Along with the randomness of our spice storage, manufacturers tend to use very similar labels for very different spices. Note the gang of four shown at right.

When making cinnamon rolls a year or so ago, I unwittingly grabbed the wrong red spice jar. Not until my son-in-law and I had eagerly bit into the finished rolls did we discover an unusual flavor. I don't recommend making red pepper rolls, but we did end up eating the whole batch. It's amazing what things you can save with enough icing!

Monday, December 10, 2012

WChannel 10-day forecastIt's nippy outside today...winter coat, hat and gloves kind of nippy. We're going to have at least a couple more days of wintery weather before things warm up a bit later this week. Areas a bit north of us may see some snow flurries.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

As a young gardener in the early 1970s, I found myself with lots of excess broccoli and kale. I decided to try my hand at using up some of the surplus by making cream of broccoli soup. I didn't have much of a recipe to work with (pre-Internet days) and ended up burying the nasty tasting mess that resulted in a flowerbed! Fortunately, I had better success using up our excess kale, having a simple but effective recipe starter from Crockett's Victory Garden, and Portuguese Kale Soup has become a family favorite.

food processorFast forwarding forty years to yesterday, I took the second try of my lifetime at making a palatable cream of broccoli soup. The effort got started with one of those 97¢/pound, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast sales at Kroger, and the fact that we had a brand new food processor I wanted to try out. We've filleted our own chicken breasts and boiled down the rest for years, providing great chicken fillets and sufficient broth to supply our kale soup, asiago cheese and tortellini soup, and chicken and noodles cravings. Unfortunately, our local grocery got bought out, went Hollywood, and changed their chicken breast offerings to only boneless, skinless a cool $4.59/pound. Until Kroger ran their recent sale, our stock of frozen chicken fillets was beginning to run pretty low. The even more precious broth was simply nonexistent.

After hauling home three large packages of chicken breasts, filleting and freezing the breast meat, saving some for a batch of chicken salad, and boiling and boning the remaining breast and skins, I ended up with a very large pot of chicken and broth. Since I had the celery out for the chicken salad, I went ahead and chopped and added a bit of it to the already aromatic chicken broth. When putting away the celery, I spied some fresh elephant garlic that remained from a pleasant mistake in harvesting last summer. A mole had apparently pushed the mature garlic to the edge of the bed where I didn't notice it until it sprouted in the fall. I chopped one small elephant garlic clove, and for good measure, got out three dried German garlic cloves and added them to the mix. Putting away the fresh garlic, I couldn't help notice our bounty of carrots that somehow survived the summer's drought. Everything, okay, almost everything, tastes better with a bit of chopped carrot added. In they went. Last of all, I added the broccoli florets.

Nasty-looking soupFollowing a number of good cream of broccoli recipes I found online, I pureed the whole mess in the food processor...ending up with a nasty, greenish-brownish concoction. Looking back, I think the chicken pieces in the broth contributed to the ugly color. None of the online recipes included chicken chunks. Having gone this far, I went ahead and added some heavy cream with flour mixed in to thicken the already somewhat thick soup.

Gloxinia budWonder of wonders, the soup tasted pretty good. And when I reheated some today, I added some crumbled asiago cheese and the soup both looked and tasted better. But both Annie and I found it incredibly filling. If we try this one again, I may use milk instead of heavy cream for thickening, and I'll almost certainly leave the boned chicken out.

And all the while I was working on the soup yesterday (and having more of it today), I kept watching a swelling gloxinia bud that is preparing to open.

And why didn't this entry go in our recipes section? Well, I only add stuff there that is tried and tested. Based on appearance (without any melted cheese topping), this stuff deserved to go into a hole in the ground. Taste wise, it was good, but not incredible.

I noticed while unpacking the new food processor that is has a dough blade. I may give the new device another tryout making Grandma's Yeast Rolls with gluten free flour. We now have a couple of family members on gluten free diets, so I may have to make two separate batches of rolls for the Christmas holidays.

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - Look Up Tonight

While definitely not garden related, something you might want to see will occur tonight. The annual Geminid meteor shower should be clearly visible in a moonless, clear southern sky this evening, beginning around 10 P.M. (EST). Meteor showers are usually the result of Earth passing through the dust trail left by comets orbiting the sun. The tiny particles of ice and rock glow as they hit and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. The Geminids are somewhat unique, as they are caused by the dust trail left by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. But either way, it can make an interesting display.

Added to the Geminids tonight is the possibility of a never-before-seen meteor shower produced by the Comet Wirtanen. The comet was just discovered in 1948, and Earth may pass through its dust trail multiple times this week.

Meteor watching doesn't require a telescope, in fact, a telescope would narrow ones field of vision so much that you might miss the action. You just go out, preferably warmly dressed with a hot drink, and stare at the area where the shower should emanate from. For the Geminids, that will be the constellation Gemini. For those who wish to really zero in on the potential location, the free planetarium application, Stellarium, can be adjusted to picture the night sky at various times and directions. I told how to set it up in an Educators' News posting last year.

Geminid source

The image above is a Stellarium representation of the night sky from, well, the middle of our back yard at around 10:30 this evening.

For the non-techie in the Northern Hemisphere, just look up to the south and southeast a bit after 8 P.M. (EST) to look for the Wirtanen produced meteors. They're predicted to appear at a rate that may approach 30 per hour. For the Geminids, look a bit later at the high, southern sky, beginning around 10 P.M. (EST) and drift to the west as the night progresses. The Geminids may peak at around 120 meteors an hour!

And of course, if it clouds up, you fall asleep early, or the dust trail is a bit fickle this year, you may not see much. But it's definitely worth a peak.

Update: I bundled up and went outside at around ten after nine this evening. I noticed that the radiant (where the meteors appear to emanate) was pretty much overhead. In twenty minutes of watching I saw five sure meteors and several of those ones with peripheral vision that you wonder if it was a meteor or just an eyelash.

Friday, December 14, 2012 - Great Holiday Gift Idea

Tomatoes 2013Tomatoes Calendar - JuneLaura Taylor's 2013 Tomatoes calendar could make a really nice holiday gift for almost any gardener you know. It includes twelve gorgeous shots of her gardens, all taken by Laura, information about how to plant, when to feed, how much water to give, and pest control advice for tomatoes. Reminders right on the calendar grid are color and number coded for various geographic regions across the United States, with general gardening reminders displayed down the left side of each month.

While Laura's calendar includes lots of photos of red, ripe tomatoes, I picked her June page to illustrate the calendar here. Sweet Olive grape tomatoes are one of our favorites (and yes, they do ripen red). I also like that the June photo and several others show her using tomato cages quite similar to the ones we make and use. Concrete reinforcing wire has gotten a bit expensive in the last few years, but the cages last a long time and the six inch mesh makes pinching vines and picking tomatoes easy.

Laura is a tomato specialist living in the San Fernando Valley. She grows over 100 varieties of tomatoes and teaches classes on gardening and cooking. She's been featured in various newspapers and radio shows, and is a repeat guest teacher at Los Angeles area cooking schools. Tomato Matters is her year round site about everything tomatoes.

See below for a contest where you might win a free 2013 Tomatoes: A Month by Month Guide to Growing Tomatoes calender by Laura Taylor, or for a sure thing, order one from her site directly.

Cover Art

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog 2013Talking about pretty stuff, my copy of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived yesterday. It's a catalog I requested, so I sorta feel obligated to find an least an item or two to order from it. They have a nearly spotless rating from Dave's Garden Watchdog and in the past have appeared on our Recommended Seed Suppliers listing. Since we haven't ordered anything from them over the last year or so, they're no longer listed.

SSE Yearbook Cover - 2011The cover art on this year's SESE catalog is fantastic. Each year I'm amazed at how attractive (and occasionally how dismal) the cover art is on the seed catalogs we receive. Compared to previous years' catalogs, this year is just sorta so-so so far! Of course, we haven't yet received our catalogs from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Burpee (problems at the printer according to a Burpee source), R.H. Shumway, and Territorial Seeds. (Note: The Territorial catalog request page has an image of their 2013 spring catalog that appears to have some great cover art.)

I just started systematically scanning in every seed catalog I receive in 2011, so I don't have all that much to go on. But my favorite seed catalog cover over the last few years has to be the 2011 Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook cover. Of course, that catalog was only available to SSE members, but I think the cover art was absolutely gorgeous.

Quick Contest - Win a Free Calendar

Laura Taylor was kind enough to send along two of her 2013 Tomatoes: A Month by Month Guide to Growing Tomatoes calenders, so I have one for my office wall and an extra to raffle off. Just containing your mailing address and for the fun of it, the name of the seed catalog with the most attractive cover art you've received this year. (If you haven't gotten any, pick from one of the ten I've received already!) I'll pick a winner at random from the entries on Monday evening (late, probably) and should be able to get the calendar out to you so it might arrive before Christmas.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds Pinetree Seed Company SESE SSE
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds Pinetree Garden Seeds Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Seed Savers Exchange
Stokes Seeds Thompson & Morgan (US) Totally Tomatoes Twilley Seed Vermont Bean Seed Company
Stokes Seeds Thompson & Morgan Totally Tomatoes Twilley Seed Vermont Bean Seed Company

BTW: I got back outside a bit before 1 A.M. for another look at the Geminid meteor shower. As noted in the Washington Post, it really was a spectacular meteor shower.

Tomatoes 2013Monday, December 17, 2012 - Last Day to Enter Calendar Giveaway

It's a quick contest, but as described on Friday, I have an extra Laura Taylor 2013 Tomatoes calendar to give away. Just containing your mailing address and for the fun of it, the name of the seed catalog with the most attractive cover art you've received this year. (If you haven't gotten any, pick from what you think is the most attractive from the ones shown above that I've received.) I'll pick a winner at random from the entries tonight (late, probably) and should be able to get the calendar in the mail tomorrow, so maybe, you'll have it by Christmas.

Changing of the Gloxinias

Cranberry Tiger gloxiniaBlooming gloxiniasI rarely swap out a gloxinia in full bloom in the kitchen for another one, but did so this morning. Our purple blooming Cranberry Tiger gloxinia was loaded with blooms and buds, but also had a rather expansive growth habit. It was threatening to take over the kitchen counter, so it went back under our plant lights in the basement, replaced by a couple of more compact gloxinias in bloom.

Other than swapping out gloxinia plants, I'm still working to complete our garden seed orders for next season before the end of the month.

Rain in the Forecast

It's raining outside as I'm writing this posting. Our local weather forecast for the daylight hours today is "Overcast with a chance of rain, then a chance of rain in the afternoon. Fog early. High of 52F. Winds less than 5 mph. Chance of rain 40%." Tonight's forecast reads, "Overcast with a chance of rain in the evening, then partly cloudy. Fog overnight. Low of 34F. Winds from the WNW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30%."

Since we still have received less than an inch of precipitation so far this month, that forecast sounds pretty good to me.

A Note About Friday

I haven't and won't write anything here about the tragedy that occurred on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. I did share a few words about it in a rare Educators' News posting Friday evening.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - Seed Orders Done

2013 Seed Orders 2012 Seed Orders
Stokes Seeds (15)
Twilley Seed (15)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (5)
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (4)
Heirloom Seeds (4)
Blackridge Trading Post and Gardens (3)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (2)
R.H. Shumway (12)
Twilley Seed (7)
Stokes Seeds (9)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (5)
Seed Savers Exchange (5)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (4)
Thompson & Morgan (2)
Annie's Heirloom Seeds (5)
Burpee Seed (1)

I finished up our seed orders yesterday. Other than a few odds and ends and the occasional impulse item, we try to have seed orders completed in December each year so we can turn our focus to getting stuff started in January.

Late catalogs and poor communication from some good suppliers complicated this order cycle. We ended up relying on our longest and most reliable suppliers for the bulk of our seed for next year, Stokes Seeds and Twilley Seed. The comparison of this year's orders with last year tells the story. The suppliers are listed in terms of dollars spent with the number of items ordered in parentheses.

To all of our suppliers, I'd like to remind them that we seniors didn't receive a Social Security COLA last year and will get only a 1.7% bump in benefits next year.

We still haven't received seed catalogs from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, R.H. Shumway, and the Territorial Seed Company. A frustrated source at Burpee admitted they are having trouble getting their 2013 catalogs out to customers due to "delays on production" that seem to occur "every year." Since we've already locked in most of the new seed we'll need for next year, I don't anticipate ordering much of anything from any of them for next season. That's too bad, as they all are reputable dealers.

Both the Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds took hits for poor customer service. SSE took four business days to respond to a simple request for help and information. By the time I received a response from them, I'd parted out all the items on their order to other vendors who can answer a fairly simple customer service question in less than four business days. As a longtime member and supporter of SSE, I applauded their entry into the retail seed sales market a few years ago. After my recent experience with their customer service, I have to add that if they want to play in the big leagues of seed vendors, they really need to stop acting like bush leaguers.

When Hell Freezes OverBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds gets my When Hell Freezes Over award for their complete failure to respond to my two, longstanding, unanswered requests for information. I've been really positive about Baker Creek's catalog, offerings, and seed viability on this site in the past. Now, I'm asking myself why I even ordered two items from them. It would seem that Jere Gettle may need to stop touring the world and start riding herd on his company.

Kudos go out to Stokes, Twilley, and Johnny's for quick turnaround on seed orders. Of course, it's early in the ordering season for them, but they got my orders accurately filled and promptly shipped. The fastest turnaround this year went to an eBay vendor, Blackridge Trading Post and Gardens. After receiving word from Shumway's that they couldn't get seed for my favorite pea variety, Eclipse, I began searching the Internet for alternate suppliers. I ended up ordering three packets of 50 seeds from Blackridge on a Saturday morning, and the seed arrived in the mail on the following Monday! They appear to still have some of the supersweet Eclipse seed available via eBay and Etsy. And even though my supply of fresh Eclipse seed is limited (150 seeds in the order), I started a germination test with ten of the seeds, as the Eclipse variety is notoriously hard to germinate.

The biggest ripoff I bought into (again) this year was for an incredibly small packet (10 seeds) of Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon from Johnny's. The variety sold for a fairly reasonable $2.95 in 2010, but escalated to $5.95 last year and again this year. But...I also trialed another triploid from Shumway last year, Trillion, and found it performed at least as well as Farmers Wonderful under our growing conditions.

Burpee 2013 Catalog Cover iconI picked up the tidbit about the Burpee catalog problems from a customer service exchange with the company. I sent a source at Burpee a complaint about the poor workmanship of the dibble they sell and Burpee's suppression of my somewhat negative review of the product for their product page. The source passed my complaint along to the right person, and I received an immediate refund of my purchase price and shipping charge! But I also found out that a third party evaluates comments and reviews posted by customers to Burpee's product pages and summarily eliminated my review because it contained a web link to where I tell how to fix and improve the darned defective dibble! (Sorry, I love alliteration.) And yes, a photo of the elusive Burpee catalog does appear on their site. And no, they didn't post my review...and they haven't gotten an order from me, either.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Territorial Seed Company

As has Burpee, Annie's Heirloom Seeds and Territorial Seed Company have managed to post cover images of their 2013 seed catalogs, even though they can't seem to get them out to prospective customers. R.H. Shumway has finally updated their home page to reflect that it's a new gardening season in terms of ordering seeds, although I wonder if the late catalog and site update aren't signs the the Jung conglomerate that now operates Shumway may be getting ready to phase out the venerable supplier.

To Burpee and all the other seed vendors of the world, I keep trying to get across the idea that serious home gardeners need their catalogs in hand by the end of November each year. But unless you're a commercial grower ordering a high volume of seeds, they don't much listen.

As a windup to a fairly negative posting, and I rewrote the first draft that was an absolute flamethrower, folks looking for a troublefree seed ordering experience might be well advised to stay with Stokes and Twilley. Ordering seeds ought to be one of the joys of gardening. Instead, it just wore me out and made me grumpy this year.

Garden Review 2012Sunday, December 23, 2012 - 2012 Garden Review

Keeping track of what went well in ones garden and what didn't is one of those jobs that often gets overlooked in the hustle and bustle of summer activities and gardening. I've always been just so-so at keeping complete records of our garden, although writing this blog certainly helps.

Doing an end-of-year review can add to ones resources for future gardens as well, as there are often things that become more evident as the season passes or after it is over. I was again reminded as I wrote our 2012- A Year in Our Garden review of how important planting times and mulching can be. I wrote briefly about how much better our first row of melons did than a row planted just a week or so later. The second row got a bit less mulch, but I think the earlier start for the first row when growing conditions were a bit better was critical to increased production of the early row over the later row.

So, I offer a new feature story, 2012- A Year in Our Garden, as a look at how we fared in a droughty gardening season. From the image at right, one can tell that I tried to focus on what worked, rather than a review of all the stuff that didn't come up or dried up and died in the drought. And of course, there's a lot more pictures than text in the story, as I know few gardeners that don't enjoy looking at pretty garden photos.

More Seed Catalogs

R.H. Shumway cover 2013 Territorial Seed Company cover 2013

Six more seed catalogs have arrived since my last posting here with five of them coming in yesterday's mail! Two of the catalogs were ones we've been waiting on, R.H. Shumway and the Territorial Seed Company. Both catalogs have great cover art as well as being filled with interesting things one might want for ones garden.

Although I thought I was done with my garden orders for now, I managed to find several items in both catalogs that I really want to order.

Frequent readers of this blog may wonder at me using Shumway, as they're part of the Jung Seed conglomerate. I have decried the consolidation and homogenization of seed companies here in the past.

I have to partially plead sentimentality on using Shumway, as we used to order farm seed from them in our farming years. But even after several buyouts, Shumway has continued to deliver fairly good quality seed at reasonable prices with excellent customer service. And yeah, I like the woodcut illustrations in the catalog.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012 - 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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - Winter Storm

Snow on Senior GardenOut kitchen windowThe winter storm that swept up from the south and across the nation left us with a good bit of snow, but our power still on. I measured 5.5" of snow in front of our house, but that area is a bit windswept. Off to the east of the house, it appeared we had around 8-9" of snow, a good bit less than some nearby towns that have up to a foot of snow on the ground and did experience blizzard conditions.

A few minutes after I checked the snow depth, a snowplow rumbled down the road, opening a path for traffic. Our road usually doesn't get plowed on days when school is out, so someone in county government must think this is a fairly significant storm.

Out kitchen window

Since my wife, Annie, was able to work from home today, neither of us really had to get out and go anywhere. It was nice looking out at the snow, and even nice walking to the barn and back. Hopefully, the wet snow will add a bit to our ground water levels when it melts off.

Friday, December 28, 2012 - More Snow

Weather UndergroundI had wondered earlier today if we would finish 2012 with a snow cover on the ground. Windswept areas of our yard had actually melted down to where we could see wisps of grass this afternoon. Other areas still had six inches or more of wet snow on the ground, making my daily trip to the barn a bit more exercise than usual. But as I'm writing this posting, snow is falling once again with temperatures hovering right around freezing. We're expecting up to a couple of inches overnight, which should make for a pretty view tomorrow morning.

Burpee Seed Catalog

Burpee Catalog - 2013Our Burpee catalog arrived in the mail this week. I was impressed with the cover photo and description of their new SuperSauce Hybridicon tomato. Beyond the size and promised "luscious" flavor of the giant paste tomato, I wondered at their description of "seedless sauce." While I was tempted to try to wedge the new variety into our garden plan, if for no other reason than to see if it really was seedless, the $6.50 price for a packet of 25 seeds brought me back to reality fairly quickly.

I also cast a favorable eye at the description of their new, determinate "2 oz. grape tomato," Mighty Sweet Hybridicon. I seem to switch grape tomato varieties every few years as hybrids come and go. Since our grape tomato plants always outgrow our cages, a determinate plant might prove more manageable. But this one sported a price of $6.50 for just 15 seeds! While I only have space for one grape tomato plant in next year's garden plan, 43¢ per seed seemed a little too dear to me, as I still have lots of Red Candy and Sweet Olive grape tomato seed in the freezer.

BTW: Johnny's still has Sweet Olive tomato seed on sale, now for just 75¢ for a mini-packet of 20 seeds.

Stay tuned, as I might yet weaken. "World's largest sauce tomato," "seedless sauce," "a roma with aroma"...the advertising hype is getting to me.

Burpee Seed Company

Saturday, December 29, 2012 - Even More Snow

Senior Garden in SnowSnow on treesOur predicted "couple of inches" of overnight snow turned out to be another 4-6" of fresh snow over what we already had on the ground. This time around, the snow appears to be sticking to tree branches and powerlines...not a good thing. But we still have power, so we're just staying warm and cozy at home until a snowplow opens up the road.

Despite my best efforts to get up early and get photos of the undisturbed snow, our dogs beat me to it, mucking around a bit in the corner of one of these shots.

The weather forecast for next week includes a good chance of more snow on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. While walking and driving through the snow (and shoveling it) are a hassle, the snow is pretty and may help alleviate the abnormally dry soil conditions that still persist from the summer's drought. I heard somewhere that slowly melting snow does a far better job of recharging a water table than rainfall.

Update on Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Order

I wrote earlier this month when I thought I had our seed orders all done, "Ordering seeds ought to be one of the joys of gardening. Instead, it just wore me out and made me grumpy this year." Our recent experience with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a case in point. And it does have a happy ending.

Baker Creek Seed Page 91

When I rather merrily went through the gorgeous Baker Creek seed catalog this year, I circled the half pound listing for Sugar Snap peas, along with a whole bunch of other items. For a few years, the original, 1979 All-America Selections award winner had become a little difficult to find, so I was happy Baker Creek carried it, and at a great price as well. But when I went to Baker Creek's web site to order my nine or ten marked items, I found that only the packet (100 seeds) size was listed for Sugar Snaps.

Wondering if the half pound listing was simply a misprint, I emailed Baker Creek's customer service and received a prompt reply that my question had been referred to another department that would answer my question. And then nothing happened for five business days.

Towards the end of those five days, I began transferring items from my Baker Creek order to other orders going out. Not wanting to totally cut out Baker Creek (and wanting another beautiful catalog again next year), I went ahead and sent a snail mail order to them for a half pound of the Sugar Snaps and a packet of Charentais canteloupe seed. That was all that was left of the original nine or ten items on my Baker Creek list. And being just a bit miffed at the dropped customer service request, I also wrote and separately mailed a letter to the owner of Baker Creek, Jere Gettle, explaining the print catalog and web site inconsistency, also noting that dropped customer service requests simply shout to prospective customers, "Go away!"

Another week passed with no response from Baker Creek. With holiday mail, I wondered how long it took my letter and order to get to Missouri and just decided to let the whole thing go for the time being. If necessary, lots of other vendors once again carry Sugar Snap pea seed.

To my pleasant surprise, I received a Priority Mail package on Monday from Baker Creek's Kathy McFarland containing both a half and quarter pound package of Sugar Snap seed. Ms. McFarland's nice letter sounded as if she thought what she sent had fulfilled my order. And since I got the approximate value I'd spent, I just added the Charentais canteloupe variety to my list for Annie's Heirloom Seeds, if their catalog ever arrives.

BC - Sugar SnapYesterday, another package arrived from Baker Creek! It contained my original order for a half pound of Sugar Snaps and the Charentais seed packet. Okaaay...

Glancing at the packing slip enclosed made me laugh. The Sugar Snaps were listed at $5.50/half pound instead of $5.00, leaving me shorting them 50¢ on the total order. They didn't quibble about it, so I didn't either. But it definitely seems that there may be a little confusion and disorganization going on at Baker Creek these days.

Packing slip from Baker Creek Seeds

Their heart seems to be in the right place, if just a little bit tardy.

A Little More

It may seem that I've been a little hard on Baker Creek and some of our other seed suppliers this month. I certainly haven't enjoyed the experience of repeatedly having to contact vendors about problems with their web sites, offerings, products, and customer service. But I also think it's not unreasonable to expect an answer to a reasonable customer service question stated in a polite manner. And if a vendor asks customers to review their products, the review should be promptly published without the vendor invoking various unpublished, internal rules for acceptance of reviews. More than anything else this month, I've found that several seed vendors' online sites simply do not reflect what is stated in their print catalogs. I should add at this writing that none of the vendors contacted have corrected the errors on their web sites that I pointed out to them. And these are the good guys I'm dealing with, all trusted seed suppliers for us in the past.

In a near perfect world, one would find the items they want to order in a seed catalog or online, order them, and promptly receive exactly what they ordered. If a problem arose, it would be quickly resolved. In our imperfect world, I found it necessary to write or carbon copy the heads of a couple of companies to move their employees into something resembling acceptable customer service. Once motivated, unrequested refunds and freebies were provided. But it shouldn't have to be that way. And I do wonder if someone else made a similar request without a garden blog letterhead if they'd receive the same consideration. I hope so.

Doing It Right!

In contrast, I received an unsolicited email from the president of Stokes Seeds this month. Mr. Wayne Gale wrote to thank me for my continuing business and the nice things I've written about Stokes here on Senior Gardening. The email sorta blew me away, and in a later exchange, Mr. Gale took the time to answer some questions I've had about the garden seed business.

Over the almost forty years I've done business with Stokes, I've rarely had a problem with an order or their seed. The one time I can remember contacting them over a faulty product, my issue was quickly and politely resolved. The faulty product wasn't their fault, just a quality control error by a manufacturer that only became apparent when I opened the sealed box the product came in.

If it seems that I give a bit of an edge in mentioning Stokes Seeds over other vendors here on Senior Gardening, I think it's something that they've earned over the years. It's not unfair or biased reporting, it's just that they're "doing it right" as they have been for a very long time. They provide top quality seed at an affordable price. They fill orders promptly and accurately. And in my experience, when there is a problem, they fix it.

I think readers of Senior Gardening deserve to know those things.

Thanks for the email and the praise, Wayne. This isn't a quid pro quo: You've earned my respect and praise.

Sunday, December 30, 2012 - Now What Will I Start, and When?

Beautiful winter dayPlant rackIt's an absolutely gorgeous day look at from inside. The temperature dipped just a tad below zero early this morning for the first time this winter. We may get up to the freezing mark later in the day, with a warm-up and more snow due tomorrow.

For me, it's the kind of weather that makes me want to get something started inside for next year's garden. We currently have plenty of space under our plant lights for starting stuff. I currently have our gloxinias spread out to take advantage of the space and light, but can close things up a bit to make room for two or three flats of garden starts.

Gloxinias on counterOur first items started are usually onions, geraniums, and petunias. All need a good bit of time to be ready to transplant into the garden in the spring. We've actually started flats of onions before at the end of December, but will probably wait a few more days this year. Without the growth retardants commercial growers use, geraniums started in December get a bit unmanageable under our plant lights before things warm up enough to break out our outdoor cold frame. I actually pulled a packet of petunia seed out of storage this morning, thinking of starting a dozen seeds in an egg carton, before I drew back a bit and decided to wait just a few days longer. Most of our petunia varieties take around 12 weeks from seeding to be ready to transplant into the garden or go outside in hanging baskets, with a few needing 15 weeks from seeding. So, it won't be long now.

I think I'll need to clear some knickknacks off the windowsill to make room for that egg carton.

Monday, December 31, 2012 - Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Precipitation (Inches)
  2012 2011 Ave.
Jan. 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 1.19 3.38 4.35
June 0.15 5.53 4.13
July 1.89 3.25 4.42
Aug. 1.99 0.32 3.82
Sept. 4.59 3.76 2.88
Oct. 3.31 2.31 2.76
Nov. 1.28 5.63 3.61
Dec. 1.48 3.62 3.03
Totals 25.50 46.22 40.94

2011 & 2012 precipitation data from the Kinmerom2 weather station, Merom, IN
Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN

December, 2012Having used the same New Year's graphic a couple of times, I decided last week to do a new one from scratch for 2013. I'd planned to just use images from our 2012 garden, but the snapdragons on the lower left from last year sorta snuck in there. But all the rest of the images are from 2012, reminding me that even in a season of drought, we had a lot to be thankful for.

With all the snow we've had of late, we're still finishing December and the year dreadfully short on precipitation. But snow melting off does a good job of recharging depleted water tables such as ours, so I'm hopeful we may begin doing laundry again without having to listen for the well pump running dry! Here's to a very wet 2012-2013 winter!

And at left is our animated gif of the December Senior Garden. A year-long animated gif of our garden appears at the end of A Year in Our Garden - 2012.

Starting Petunias in Egg Cartons

All the sunshine yesterday eventually got to me. Even though it was a bit early, I went ahead and seeded an egg carton of petunias. I started messing around planting stuff in egg cartons last year as a sort of nostalgia thing, as my mother used to start seedlings in egg cartons on the kitchen windowsill. I was also trying to get some good stock photos for a still unfinished feature story on starting ones own transplants.

One can use either styrofoam or cardboard egg cartons for seed starting. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I chose a styrofoam egg carton yesterday, as that's what most of our eggs come in.

I cut off and discard the narrow flap on the egg carton before splitting the egg cell section from the top. One of the advantages of styrofoam cartons is that the top can go under the egg cell section as a watertight drip pan. Before putting the halves together, I punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each egg cell.

I fill the egg cartons with sterilized starting mix. We make our own from potting soil and peat moss, heating it in the oven for an hour at 400o F to kill off any damping off fungus that might be (and often is) present in potting soil. I've also tried using peat pellets in egg cartons but didn't have much luck with the pellets in egg cartons or otherwise.

Before seeding, I water the starting mix thoroughly with warm water. Since our hot water has gone through the water softener, I warm a bit of water on the stove that was drawn from the cold water faucet in the kitchen, as it bypasses the water softener. I don't want to water my plants with saltwater.

Cutting egg carton Punching holes Halves assembled Heating unsoftened water
Cutting egg carton Punching drainage holes in cells Halves reassembled Heating unsoftened water
Watering Seeding Temperature probe Under lights
Watering before seeding Seeding Thermostat probe in soil Under lights, on heat pad

Watering before seeding is important with petunias, as the seed is small and needs light to germinate properly. If you seed first and then water, there's a good chance you may cover the seed with starting mix.

The seed I used yesterday was some pelletized Supercascade from Twilley Seed that I had stored in the freezer. Supercascade does pretty well for us in hanging baskets. And pelletized seed allowed me to get just one pellet/seed in most of the cells. Since the starter mix had been watered with warm water, the pelletized material around each seed began melting as I worked. If it didn't, misting with warm water will usually get the pellets to begin breaking down.

I part with Mom's practice of just setting the egg carton on a windowsill to germinate, as it's a bit cold on our available windowsill these days. Petunias also benefit from a bit of bottom heat during germination, so ours went into a planting tray with a clear cover on our heat mat and under our plant lights. Our soil mat thermostat has a probe that goes right into the soil, so we can be pretty exact with our seed starting temperatures.

And just like they do on cooking shows where they show you how to prepare something before presenting a finished product cooked earlier, here is an egg carton of petunias on our windowsill from last February.

Petunias in egg carton on windowsill


To all the readers who've taken the time this year to write and comment, share tips, criticisms, and photos, my sincere thanks. Reader feedback provides valuable insights into the gardening practices of others and often helps me decide on what to write about and what to leave out.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a healthy and successful 2013 gardening season.

November, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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