One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
February is usually a month where we do a good bit of indoor planting, but get little to nothing done outside. We'll definitely be getting many of our garden transplants started this month, but other than heavy fog the last few mornings, our weather has been glorious for several days. Yesterday, I gathered and burned limbs from the yard and screened compost and added it to one of our raised beds. The day before, I pulled some vining weeds from the same raised bed. And of course, there was the fun and games I described in my last posting about adding several tons of needed gravel and fill to our driveway. It's really been a treat to be able to get some outdoor chores done at this time of year and to simply stand at times and enjoy the unseasonable warmth.
While I hate to waste good weather days, I took it a bit easier today, as I had an early morning appointment with the laser surgeon. While it's great that cancers and pre-cancers can be easily lasered off, it's also a reminder that as we age, taking adequate precautions when working in the sun is essential.
I started another tray of onions today with the same method and varieties as I did last month. I had just enough sterile potting mix left over from geranium transplanting earlier in the week to fill the tray. I even remembered to fill our twelve quart pot with mix and pop it in the oven so I'd have sterile mix on hand for our next planting adventure. And I guess I did make one change in our method today, as I put this tray of onions over our heating mat to speed the onions' germination just a bit.
Any further gardening fun and games for the day were cut short by a phone call from my wife, saying she was on her way home to pick up "the boys" to take them to the vet for their annual shots and heart worm testing. While Mac (in the foreground) and Shep (on porch) are both pretty well behaved dogs, wrestling both of them into a small, Honda Civic and getting them to and from the vet is a job for two. Actually, Mac loves to go for a ride and will often jump, unbidden, into our car or truck if a door is left open. Shep is a bit more reluctant about going for a ride. (Maybe he remembers the trip when he went to the vet to get "tutored.") But other than Mac insisting he supervise my use of the floor shift by laying on the console, the trip was actually pretty pleasant, and both "boys" got their shots and a good report on their heart worm tests.
One of the joys of living in the country is being able to let our dogs run free. They follow us wherever we go on the property and try to accompany us on walks and bike rides. Over the seventeen years we've lived at this location, we've had lots of dogs. They've all lived pretty good lives. Sadly, folks don't seem to have any feelings about dumping the previous family pet in the country to fend for itself.
With yet another warm winter day, I transplanted our sage and oregano plants today to what I hope will work out as a permanent location for them. I'd put them in one of our raised beds last summer knowing full well that I'd have to eventually move the perennials. Their old location will be filled with onions and carrots next spring.
I started out my gardening tasks for the day by screening another cartful of compost. Our two sage plants and our single oregano plant got a good trimming before being moved to an area behind our shallow well. I used a shovelful of compost in the hole for each transplanting and another around each plant before mulching them thoroughly with some used grass clipping mulch from other areas of our garden. I also transplanted a miniature rose bush that had bloomed and gone dormant in the pot I purchased it in. It went into a flowerbed along the east side of our house. All of the transplants then got a good watering, as things are beginning to really dry out here.
The rest of the compost went into the raised bed where I'd dug the herbs. With the compost I added to the bed yesterday, the entire bed has been top-dressed with one to two inches of the precious black gold. If the warm weather holds a bit, I'll begin screening more compost for our asparagus bed.
While I love being able to get some gardening done in the middle of winter, there's also a price to be paid for the mild winter (so far). I mentioned last month that our garlic, which should have remained dormant until spring, has already sprouted. I noticed after transplanting the rose bush today that some of our daffodils are already up. Some of them are around four to six inches tall, certainly way too tall to survive a really hard freeze.
At this time last year, much of the nation was reeling from a major winter storm. Our power was out for a couple of days, and we huddled around our kerosene heaters to stay warm. Today, I worked outside with a light sweatshirt over my flannel shirt...and worked up quite a sweat.
Our warm and dry weather broke overnight with a cool, but needed rain. Daily highs are supposed to be down 10-20o over the next week with some freezing temperatures in the early morning hours. The contrast in weather over what we had a year ago is amazing. At this time last February, we were recovering from a winter storm that had shut off our power for a couple of days and pretty well immobilized our area, if not a good bit of the nation. So even with the cooler temperatures, we're doing pretty well for early February.
I've mentioned working our compost pile(s) several times this month without offering an image of what I was talking about. We currently have three compost heaps. The one in the foreground of the image at left is a pile that is pretty well mature. Using a piece of half inch hardware cloth, I've been screening out undigested organic material from the first pile, throwing it on the second, and using the screened, mature compost to add a bit of fill and nutrients to one of our raised beds.
The second pile had begun to look like a garbage heap a few weeks ago, as I kept adding kitchen scraps to it with no covering. The partially digested material from the first pile has now covered the sprouting onions, bad potatoes, coffee grounds, and vegetable peelings that had been previously exposed. We'd never get away with such a mess in the city, but living in the country with our nearest neighbors far downwind, I can cheat on care of the pile at times.
The second pile also needs to be turned, but with the rain and cooling temperatures, that will have to wait for better weather. Mixing a pile regularly and adding a bit of lime and fertilizer helps it break down a bit more quickly. During the winter, however, things are usually just too cold to permit much decomposition, but having the pile ready when warm weather arrives saves having to mix the pile then when other garden chores mount.
The smaller, third compost pile at the back of the photo is one that contains asparagus, broccoli, and kale stalks, along with some other slow-to-digest materials such as leaves from the yard and grounds. Without a chipper/shredder, I find it difficult to get some materials to break down in the four to six months other materials need to compost, so I simply started a "slow pile." It's still pretty small, as I also used many of our kale and broccoli stalks to fill holes around the Senior Garden grounds.
Let me add what may be a good tip we've found on composting our coffee grounds. We used to use the standard, white coffee filters most folks use. I noticed that while the coffee grounds digested, the white filters took much longer to break down. In a moment of clarity, I realized that those filters probably had been bleached to achieve their whiteness, with some of the bleach residue slowing decomposition, not to mention what it might have been doing to us as we drank the coffee that had flowed through the filters. So we switched to brown, unbleached coffee filters that break down fairly quickly in the compost pile and also gained a bit of peace of mind.
I wrote yesterday about putting some used, grass clipping mulch around our newly transplanted sage and oregano (just barely visible to the right of the concrete well cover in the back of the photo at left). Most of those clippings came from an area of the garden (foreground of photo) where we'd had some of our fall lettuce. It's also the bed that will get our first planting of peas sometime next month.
I usually try to prepare a bed for spring peas sometime in the late fall. This year that meant just getting the last of the lettuce out of the way, as I'd thoroughly tilled the area before putting in the late lettuce. The now removed mulch held back most weeds, although I did pull a few stray weeds yesterday.
Sometime early next month when the soil is at least partially thawed, I'll just scatter my early pea seed in a 6" wide row down the center of the bed. Then I'll poke the seeds into the cold soil one at a time. It's a little hard on the fingers, but is an easy way to get ones peas planted really early. The pea seed will just sit until conditions are suitable for it to germinate. Note that I don't use this method for some pea varieties such as Eclipse, and to a lesser extent, Encore, that require fairly warm soil to germinate.
Since we just used up the last of our peas frozen from last year's garden (along with the last of our sweet corn and our carrots ), I can hardly wait to get planting.
I traded several emails with Stuart Pollack last October about early tomato varieties. In the course of the discussion, I shared that I'd lost my start of the Quinte Easy Peel variety, one developed at the Smithfield Experimental Farm in Canada that also developed and released my favorite tomato variety, Moira.
Stuart directed me to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Germplasm Resources Information Network (How's that for a mouthful!), as he'd done a search and found they had "material...available for distribution" for "educational, agricultural research or breeding purposes."
While I wasn't sure I'd meet their criteria for distribution, I went ahead and located their Quinte page and requested a seed sample. I quickly received a confirmation of my request. Then I forgot all about it until yesterday.
When I brought in the mail, there was a small, well padded mailer containing an envelope of 50 Quinte seed! Of course, had I been a little more careful in my perusal of the 2011 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, I would have found that growers in Illinois and Iowa are preserving and offering (for sale to other SSE members) Quinte seed. But I'm still excited to have a start of a variety I'd grown back in the 70s.
There's not a lot of good information available about the Quinte variety. The Canadian Tomato Cultivars page on the Seeds of Diversity site has a listing of the varieties developed at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm. They include: Trent (1967); Trimson (1972); Moira (1972); Quinte (1975); Earlirouge (1977); Earlibright (1980); Bellestar (Bellstar) (1981); and Smithbright (1993). The Long Island Seed Project's Tomato Descriptive Information page carries the following description, although I think I got my seed in the 70s from Stokes Seeds:
Their description of the Moira variety adds a bit more information about the line and its breeding:
And members' comment pages for both Quinte and Moira on Seeds of Diversity confirmed something I'd noticed about Moiras. Although both are usually listed as determinates, they seem to tend towards being "somewhat indeterminate" at times.
Like many gardeners, I hate it when a variety I like slips from commercial seed catalogs. If the variety is a hybrid, one is just out of luck. But fortunately, folks have been saving and sharing open pollinated varieties for years, whether through Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Diversity, handing them down through generations, or one of the government seed banks (both Canada and the U.S. have them).
With interest in heirloom varieties of vegetables on the rise, we're seeing more and more commercial operations devoted to selling heirlooms only, and some of the mainline commercial seed houses are carrying far more heirlooms than they once did.
While the Moira and Quinte tomato varieties aren't available in the U.S. from any commercial vendors (that I know of), Canadian gardeners are in luck. Upper Canada Seeds carries both varieties!
Our copy of the 2012 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook came in yesterday. The yearbook is the penultimate collection of open pollinated seed available anywhere. Seed Savers' members who are "listed" (offer something through the yearbook) can order any of the seed, scions, etc., listed in the yearbook. Non-listed members may also order items as long as they are not in "limited quantity."
We have the same three listings we've had for several years: Moira tomatoes, Earliest Red Sweet peppers, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. While I plan to continue to offer these varieties in the future, I hope to also offer Paprika Supreme peppers and possibly Quinte tomatoes next year.
Somehow, I didn't get our listings properly updated, so they all show as "limited quantities." I generally get less than five requests for seeds via SSE per year, so my oversight in making my listing "has" (which means any member can order) really isn't a biggie.
Interesting Planting Technique
In an email exchange with fellow senior gardener, Joe Bonner of Germantown, Tennessee, I learned about a seed starting technique that sounds interesting. Joe plans to try something he saw on Wintersown.org that involves using recyclable materials to start seeds outdoors. He plans to split open plastic, gallon milk jugs, add soil and seed, and reseal them with duct tape. The idea of the technique is to set the containers outside, depending on the seed to recognize proper germinating conditions.
While I'm pretty satisfied with our current seed starting setup, I can see how the method above might be really useful in starting seeds that require stratification and/or scarification. Asparagus seed, daffodils, and almost all conifer tree seeds need to either go through some freeze and thaw periods to germinate well. Planting them in inexpensive containers and then setting them out in an unheated environment (porch, garage, ??) might give them the conditions they need to germinate.
Our second tray of onions has produced pretty spotty germination so far. It's the same seed and soil as our first tray of onions, but I do have it over our heating mat, which may not be as warm as our "warm shelf" was for the previous tray, or, maybe it's too warm in the middle. At any rate, it's not a major problem. I'd like to get the onions off the heating mat so I can get on with starting our geraniums.
I've not been working very hard at gardening this week, as it's cold outside, and I've been otherwise occupied inside. After my main computer toasted its motherboard in December, I picked up a good replacement unit for nearly the cost of just a used motherboard! But even then, I was still working with a very old computer.
A new-to-me Mac Mini (mid-2010 version) arrived in the mail on Wednesday. Since then, I've been working on hardware upgrades (RAM and hard drive), followed by software migrations, installations, updates and upgrades, and endless hours of configuration.
While my office is a disaster of boxes, tools, software, cables, and so on, I've already moved one of the three towers off my computer table. My old HP Pavilion that I rarely used was obsoleted by the Mini's ability to run Windows 7 under Parallels 7 for Mac!.
The original plan was to get all the towers out of the office, but I can already tell that I'll still need the seven-year-old G5 tower for a few tasks here and there for a while. But even just cutting down to one very large tower computer plus the tiny Mac Mini and a couple of external drives will free up a lot of space and also ease the cable tangle of cords running to and from the KVM box that allows the computers to share one keyboard, monitor, and mouse.
I don't have anything against vintage computers. Years ago, I wrote a column about using vintage computers in the classroom for the Low End Mac site. But things had gotten to the point that there were very few new software programs that I could run on any of my computers, and I still need to test and review software from time to time for my other web site, Educators' News. It's tough to review stuff when the software or the web site won't even load onto your computer!
Once the Mac Mini is completely settled in, my backup dual 1.8 GHz G5 tower will be surplus and sold. I'm not quite sure what I want to do with our eleven-year-old G4 QuickSilver Mac (shown in the corner of the photo above). It still boots to Classic OS 9 or Mac OS X (well, Tiger or Leopard). It's a noisy beast, but I like it. It may find a place on a table in our computer workshop along with my 1998 G3 tower and a still internet capable, twenty-one year old Mac IIfx!
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - Valentine's Day
We awoke on Valentine's Day to a fresh, thin layer of snow over the Senior Garden. The snow started late yesterday afternoon, but it was getting too dark by then to do anything with the camera in the waning light. And we were busy walking my wife's latest "rescue," Petra. Petra is a cute 8-12 month old dog that was just a day or so from being euthanized after being unclaimed and unadopted at a shelter for over a month. My wife's heart is so big...for animals and people. That's just a small part of why she's my valentine.
I gave up waiting on seed to germinate in our second tray of onions today and poked in a bit more seed in each of the rows. I also pulled the onion tray off the heat mat to make way for a new seeding of geraniums later this week.
In our kitchen window, our egg carton of petunias continues to thrive despite some very cool temperatures from sitting on the windowsill. I turn the egg carton each day, so the young plants won't end up growing totally towards the light. Because of the small capacity of each egg carton cell, I also have to water the petunias daily. In a week or two, they'll have outgrown their egg carton starter and will need to be moved to fourpacks or individual 3" pots.
Why 3" pots?
I goofed a couple of years ago and ordered a bunch of them that I really didn't need!
Perched on coffee "cans" next to the petunias are two gloxinias. One of them has a couple of nice, small, purple blooms and the other has lots of blooms on it. (The plant label says "purple," so we may have a whole lot of purple blooms soon.)
Moving downstairs under our plant lights, we have just two more gloxinias in bloom, with another maturing seed pods from some hand pollinating I did last month. We have lots and lots of baby gloxinias, several three and four-year-old plants that are just putting on leaves after several months of dormancy, a number of others winding down towards dormancy, and a whole bunch dormant in a dark area of the plant room.
The hand pollinated pods are on an Empress gloxinia, but the pollen came from a purple Double Brocade. I've read that the hybrid Double Brocades are sterile, but it appears their pollen got the job done on the Empress. Of course, I could have shaken some pollen off the Empress onto its own stigma. It will be fun to see if the seed is viable, and if it is, what colors and types of blooms we get.
I wrote last month about a test planting I did of geranium seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds. It was my first time ordering from them, and I was disappointed that the seed only germinated at 32% under what I felt were ideal conditions.
I finally called Swallowtail at the end of January and requested a full refund, rather than the offered full seed replacement. I really didn't want any more bad seed! But I noticed today that no refund had been posted to my credit card. I also remembered that I'd written Swallowtail's owners, Lynn and Don McCulley, about the poor seed, including control numbers from the packets in case they wanted to further investigate. The letter did no more good than the phone call to customer service.
Not being able to get the situation resolved via phone support or a snail mail letter, I posted an incredibly negative review of my experience on their review page on Dave's Garden Watchdog. I then emailed Swallowtail a protest of the non-existent refund, including a cut and past from the posting that said, "Bad seed. Snotty customer service. No refund. I think I'm done with Swallowtail Garden Seeds." They usually respond to negative reviews there.
Sure enough, within a few hours, I received a call from Lynn McCulley, informing me the refund had been posted and apologizing for the bad experience with their seed and customer service. We talked for fifteen minutes or so, and I was impressed with her personal attention to my complaint. But Lynn never did say they were going to check their seed.
It would be great if in a few days, I received an email from Lynn with the results of a germination test they conducted with the batches of seed I questioned. It might also be cool if pigs had wings, and Annie and I won the lottery. All have about the same chance of happening.
Getting seed that supposedly germinated at 80-90% in tests, only to have it effectively fail for the user, is becoming an increasing problem for home gardeners. While Lynn stated that Swallowtail does test some of the seed they sell, it's probably impractical to impossible for them or any other vendor to test every batch of seed from every variety of flower and vegetable they sell. They rely on the germination numbers from their suppliers, and then simply make almost automatic refunds to the few folks who take the time to file a claim for small quantities of bad seed. But there seems to be something very, very wrong with the industry's current germination ratings.
The Valentine Graphic
The valentine graphic at the beginning of today's posting is one I used on a Looking Ahead section for teachers on my Educators' News site towards the end of last month. My Cute Graphics isn't a Senior Gardening affiliated advertiser. I just like the free, original clip art created by Laura Strickland there for teachers, blogs, web pages, scrapbooking, and such.
I'm finally getting settled in to using a nearly new computer to compose our Senior Gardening and Educators' News web sites. Since I seem to only change my main computer every six or seven years, it's always quite a shock getting used to an updated operating system, new hardware, and new software.
The "new box" is exceedingly quiet compared to my old G5, that when under a load sounded like a small jet turbine. And my office, while still not tidy, isn't a cluttered mess anymore. I'm keeping the G5 tower in the office, but retired an HP Pavilion and a G4 Quicksilver Mac, leaving lots more working space.
The seven-year-old G5 functions as a sort of security blanket for times when I must run a piece of old software that won't go on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8) and also fills my gaming addiction to a really old Mac classic game, Risk II. An even better security blanket, however, is the G-Raid 2TB external hard drive that receives hourly backups via the Mac's Time Machine backup program.
So hopefully, we're set on computers for another seven years.
A packet of Thompson & Morgan's World's Top Six geranium mix coming in the mail today got me started. The packet contains at least five seeds of six different varieties of geraniums in individual subpackets. And when I started out, I showed great restraint in planting only two seeds of each variety in the mix.
And then there was part of a packet of Maverick mixed I picked up from Stokes Seeds last year. Since the seed was getting old, I decided to just plant all of it. It turned out that there were over twenty seeds left! And yes, if you're keeping count, that's a little over 50 potential geranium plants!
I used all the peat pellets I had on hand for the geraniums along with three 3" square plastic pots. To organize the planting a bit, I put the Thompson & Morgan seed in one egg carton, the Orbit mix in another and the Maverick Red and Maverick mix scattered around the rest of the tray.
The tray went on our heat mat with its thermostat set at 78o F. Of course, the heat mat is under our plant lights, and geraniums require darkness for germination. So...even though I had been careful to cover each seed, I also triple-folded a large, black, plastic trash bag loosely over the humidome covering the tray to hold out light.
Note that I did a little more photo work of peat pellets and such in our geranium planting last month. And even though one can't consider that planting a success (32% germination), there are a few plants that did make it, so....we may have a whole lot of geraniums this year.
Something I forgot to mention last month, or at least didn't illustrate, is that when one uses egg cartons for starting seeds, you do need to punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each cell. A sharpened pencil is my tool of choice for the job. The top of the egg carton goes under the egg cells and serves as a drip pan...if you're using styrofoam egg cartons. If you're using cardboard egg cartons, which I really prefer for eggs, you'll need a watertight tray of some sort.
I generally get our main planting of geraniums started sometime in January. I waited a bit this year, as I had stuff on the heat mat, and at the last minute, decided I wanted to try the Top Six mix again. It shouldn't hurt too much, as we started our geraniums towards the end of January last year, and some of our plants got very large before we got them transplanted in the spring.
If you live in a climate similar to ours and plan to seed geraniums, it's definitely time to do so. If you still need to order seed, Stokes Seeds ships fairly promptly, and I find I get consistently better germination with their geranium seed.
The first tray of onions I started last month was ready for its first "haircut" this morning. Growing onions under plant lights always seems to produce rather tall, thin plants that begin to fall over in the tray after about a month. Left untrimmed, the plants form a tangled mess to pull apart at transplanting.
I've forgotten where I learned it, but a quick trimming with scissors to about two inches tall corrects the problem for a while. The onions will come back strong with somewhat sturdier topgrowth, although I'll continue to trim them to keep the plants tidy for transplanting and to make them fit under our plant lights.
The stack of cuttings might look somewhat alluring for use as chives, but one has to remember that this planting came from treated seed. As I cut, some of the tops still had seed casings coated with thiram attached. Wikipedia notes that thiram "is moderately toxic by ingestion."
After the trimming, the tray of onions got a good watering before going back under the plant lights. The trimmings went to the compost bucket.
I received a brief email yesterday from Juli Upton, letting me know that SeniorSell is repeating their Free Seeds for Seniors Giveaway again this year, offering seniors (over 50) two packets of vegetable or flower seeds absolutely free. The project is "an effort to help Seniors and to relieve hunger," and, I might add, a very nice way to introduce folks to SeniorSell, an online auction site for we seniors. Juli and her husband, Dave, created the site to streamline listing things for sale by seniors. Only folks over 50 may sell on the site, but people of any age may bid and buy.
The giveaway will continue while supplies last. It's also limited to seniors in the continental U.S. with one request per family. The request page also carries the welcome notice, "SeniorSell follows a strict policy of NOT sharing personal information with any solicitors, to respect your privacy."
Juli also wrote about SeniorSell's Green Plate Project. It's their effort to help launch senior community gardens around the country. "SeniorSell will pay for garden seeds to get your group started in developing your own community gardens. We will sponsor at least ten Green Plate Projects in 2012, so get your applications in early."
I poked around a bit online and couldn't find anything negative written about SeniorSell, so I'm guessing the offer is legit. I did track down a column reposted on SeniorSell from the Grand Rapids Herald-Review that tells a bit more about the site, Simplifying online selling for seniors: Seniorsell.com.
Just Messing Around
Jumping from a seven-year-old Macintosh running Mac OS X 10.4.11 to a year-old Mac running Mac OS X 10.6.8 and Mac OS X 10.7.2 was relatively easy. Things got tough yesterday when I replaced my ancient copies of Photoshop (from Creative Suite 1) and Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004 with Adobe's latest and greatest, Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium. I've been able to find most of the controls fairly easily in Photoshop, as I've used it forever: Photoshop is Photoshop. But Dreamweaver, now an Adobe product, has thrown me more than a few curves. There's lots to like in the newer version, but there's also a learning curve I'm going to have to climb.
I think I started this section just to have space to try inserting a photo of Annie's latest rescue, Petra. That's Shep on the right showing Petra (on the left) where the "community restroom" is located on our property. Our other dog, Mac, is still ignoring Petra, apparently hoping that if he does, she will just disappear.
It was warm and sunny for a good while this afternoon, so I took two of our grandkids out for a walk to the barn and pond and then let them play in the back yard for an hour or so. They had a great time discovering all the fun things one can do at Grandma and Grandpa's house: tightrope walking on the timbers of the raised beds; playing with the dogs; throwing sticks into the pond; rediscovering yard toys from last summer; and favorite places like the old, old maple tree at the back of our yard. It's all part of why we live where we do, despite some obvious drawbacks (8 miles to the grocery, frequent 40 M.P.H. winds, roads that don't get plowed when school is cancelled....).
While just walking around watching the kids, I discovered something I'd not noticed before in the yard. Towards the middle of the yard in a spot that appears not to have been a flowerbed at any recent time, were crocuses in full bloom!
With all the traffic our yard gets from us, grandkids, cats, and dogs, the crocuses could have been there for years, and somehow this year didn't get trampled. Of course, one of our kids may have popped a couple of bulbs in the spot when growing up. But however they got there, the early crocus blooms were a pleasant surprise on a sunny, February afternoon.
The nice day wasn't lost on the dogs. Shep, at right, chose to lay around in the sun when he wasn't rubbing up against me, hoping to be petted.
Petra, the puppy my wife drove 140 miles a week ago to pick up (as if there were no strays in Sullivan County or adoptable dogs at our local shelter), did puppy stuff. She ran around constantly, found a bunch of bones which she tried first to bury in my raised garden bed, tried to play ball with the grandkids, and generally exuded her youthful enthusiasm for life. Had Annie not driven down to pick her up last Saturday, Petra would have been put down this week. As it turns out, the dog is pretty well housetrained already (no "accidents" for 5 straight days). She's beginning to respond to commands, and definitely loves being with us and around all our other dogs and cats.
In true garden news (with no pictures), two of the fifty plus geraniums I seeded on Wednesday were up today. Since the tray is being held in total darkness during germination, the two were transplanted to 3" square pots and moved to another tray under our plant lights.
It's still February, and although we are still having some wonderfully warm days, it's really not outdoor gardening season yet.
I took advantage of one of those warm days yesterday to screen a couple of cartfuls of compost and spread it over our asparagus bed. Other than trimming and removing most of the stalks (canes?) last fall, I hadn't done much of anything with the bed this winter, other than pulling a few weeds. I had added a bit of commercial fertilizer to the patch last summer after the plants had begun to flourish, but after that, zip. So after snipping and removing a few stalks from a few young plants I'd let grow late into fall, the entire 3' x 15' growing area got an inch or so of our precious compost to keep it producing well. With the warm weather we've been having, I may have gotten the compost on just in time. Last year we had a few spears of asparagus emerge in late March!
Our semi-mature compost pile is shrinking rapidly, and I'm beginning to really prioritize where the last of the excellent soil amendment will go. When I get another warm, sunny day , the last of it will probably go to our newest raised bed that needs a bit more fill and will be used for onions, carrots, and possibly a few beets. I'd planned to get back to screening compost again today, but my back is still a bit too sore from yesterday's fun and games. I guess it's time to get back in shape for gardening season!
Another chore completed in the nice weather was pruning our apple trees and spraying them with dormant oil. The pruning went okay, but the hose on my sprayer had sprung a leak, so the spraying was a messy job even with a quick patch job. Dormant oil is a good way to smother overwintering insects and insect eggs without resorting to a pesticide.
We lost our standard apple tree to fireblight a couple of years ago, so I'm fairly vigilant about inspecting our apple trees for problems. The semi-dwarf Granny Smith apple tree pictured at left also was afflicted with fireblight, but I was able to cut out the diseased growth and save that tree. Just out of the photo is a very small, replacement semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap. The tree we lost was also a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap that apparently grew right through its dwarfing grafts and became a beautiful standard size apple tree that bore great quantities of good fruit. In the background of the photo, hardly discernible, is a volunteer apple tree just off our property that aids in pollination. I'm hoping the Granny Smith will bear its first fruit this year since the fireblight infection. And...the volunteer apple tree bears incredible, small apples that seem related to red delicious, but are firmer and have a bit of spicy flavor to them.
A pleasant surprise today was finding that one of the leaf cuttings I'd taken from a gloxinia in November has produced a small gloxinia plant. I'd almost given up on the leaf cuttings, but as the leaf began to brown at the edges, the new plant became apparent. I'll be adding a section about propagating gloxinias from leaf cuttings to our Gloxinias feature soon. I also described how to take cuttings in the November posting linked above. For now, I'll add that it's important to only take cuttings from your best plants, as you're producing a clone of the original plant with the cutting. And for the life of me, I can't remember which excellent gloxinia I took the cutting from! Guess I need to label things better.
Since serious outdoor work was a no-go today, I got our brassicas started today. I generally try to start our broccoli and such about six or seven weeks before the expected transplant date. Starting the plants today should produce transplants of an ideal size in early April.
After washing a bunch of fourpacks and flats, I filled them (outside) with my own sterilized starting mix. The mix is nothing fancy, just a good, light commercial potting mix with some compost mixed in. I bake the starting mix in the oven at 400o F for an hour or so to kill off harmful organisms such as damping off fungus.
Before starting to plant, I get my labels made and water the flat with warm, non-softened water. I'm pretty liberal in my use of plastic plant labels, as I wash and bleach them each winter so I can reuse them. Once the flat is watered, I begin inserting the labels and seeding the individual cells of the fourpacks.
Brassicas are really fairly easy to get started, as they don't require bottom heat or light. I just make a small depression in the potting mix with a knife or my finger, drop in a seed, and scoot some wet soil over the seed before gently pressing it down (to insure good seed/soil contact). Depending on the age of the seed I'm using, I add extra seed at the corners of the cells so I'll have enough plants to fill each fourpack even if every seed doesn't germinate. The flat gets topped by a clear humidome (clear plastic cover) to hold in moisture and goes onto our downstairs plant rack.
I probably planted far more brassicas today than I will be able to use, but since we save seed from year to year in the freezer, I had a lot of seed to play with. Note that for our really important stuff, I used all new seed even though I still had some in frozen storage. I planted:
Note: The variety links above are to the suppliers from whom we purchased the seed. None are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers, but they do sell good seed. While the link to Tendersweet cabbage is good, the destination page shows a crop failure, and no seed is available this year.
Our brassica seed is already back in the freezer for storage, but will come back out mid-summer when we start our fall brassica transplants. We have very good luck growing fall broccoli and cabbage, but not so much with fall cauliflower.
In the next week or so, I'll need to start some of our slower developing flowers and our spring lettuce.
After two straight days with high temperatures around 60, we're back to typical February weather here today. It's wet, cold, and quite windy outside, making today a good day to stay inside and write about a dandy, free gardening tool from Johnny's Selected Seeds.
Several years ago, Johnny's offered a downloadable spreadsheet to calculate when to start various vegetables inside to have them ready to transplant at just the right time. Since then, they've improved their calculator, adding flowers to it, and made it an online calculator.
The Seed-starting Date Calculator is a totally free to use web page that requires only that you know the last frost date for your area. A call to your county extension service can provide that information, or one can access it in either map or chart (more accurate) form from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Once supplied with a frost free date, you just enter that date on Johnny's Seed-starting Date Calculator page and it lists when to seed your transplants and also when it's safe to direct seed or transplant outside. The tool is a nice way to see all your starting dates in one place without having to consult seed packets, seed catalogs, or online listings.
Having said that, I just looked to see Johnny's recommendation for when to plant vinca (periwinkle). It's not listed, as Johnny's doesn't sell vinca flower seed!
Suffering from an uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm for gardening today, I turned to making a batch of Grandma's Yeast Rolls. We will have grandkids here over the weekend, and they love the rolls from a recipe my mother passed down. Making the rolls isn't hard, but with time for the dough and rolls to rise, it takes about five hours.
An interesting extension of the basic recipe is using the dough to make cinnamon rolls.
Since I'm on a roll here with recipes, and with due apologies for the pun, let me highlight the few other recipes that appear on our Recipes Index.
The story and recipe for Portuguese Kale Soup has consistently been one of the most visited pages on this site. We make and can or freeze several batches of the hearty soup each year. It starts with a chicken stock, with whole tomatoes from the garden, smoked sausage, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, and of course, lots and lots of delicious, healthful kale.
Our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup recipe was developed when a local grocery that sold the soup in their deli suddenly stopped carrying it. We looked forward to days when the soup was on their menu, so Annie and I undertook decoding the recipe. Ours is good, but I still wish the grocery made and sold theirs.
One last recipe, still under development, is one spurred by another local grocery jacking the price of their deli Chicken Salad well beyond our modest means. It's a combination of several chicken salad recipes I found online with some major and minor adjustments to suit our tastes. And...it doesn't cost $7/pound to make!
Now I'm hungry. I need to upload this posting and go have some kale soup for lunch.
Just a week ago, I wrote about watching the grandkids play in the back yard on a warm, sunny afternoon. After two days this week with highs in the 60s, we have snow flurries today (and the grandkids cooped up inside, acting like heathens ).
Following up on the petunias I seeded in egg cartons in January, I moved the plants that were in a cardboard egg carton to fourpacks this week. The wet cardboard easily stripped away from the potting mix, making the transplanting quite easy.
The petunias planted in a styrofoam egg carton on the same day are still doing well in our kitchen window, but will need to be transplanted very soon. They've nearly outgrown the small confines of the egg cells.
Interestingly, both egg cartons of Supercascade petunias germinated at about the same rate, even though one carton was planted with 2007 seed and the other with 2011 seed! I ended up with eleven good plants from each carton. While I'll want some other varieties of petunias for the garden, the planting of Supercascades will be more than enough for our hanging baskets.
Planting seed to egg cartons has turned out to be an enjoyable experiment. The cardboard carton could actually be cut or torn apart and transplanted with its plants. However, I'm not sure I'd want to do that with vegetable transplants, as I have no idea what chemicals might be present in the cardboard or the inks used to label it.
Ah, the snow has stopped and the sun is out! Yea!
Have a great weekend!
It's happened a week or so earlier than usual, but I began our gardening season today by planting a row of spring peas. I generally try to get the first of our peas planted in early March, but with the warm weather we continue to have, I went ahead and started them today.
Planting peas this early is all about good soil preparation in the fall...and being lucky with the weather. I'd thoroughly tilled the area to be planted in the fall before using it for fall lettuce, and then made sure I kept it free of weeds until today. Had the ground been wet, I would have merely run my row marker string, scattered the pea seed along it, and pushed the seeds in, one at a time, with a finger.
Since the ground was too wet to till, but not so wet that I couldn't hoe, I hoed a 6-8" wide trench about 3" deep for the peas. When I was satisfied with the trench, I spread granular soil inoculant, which helps legumes like peas fix free nitrogen on their roots, and lightly hoed it into the bottom of the trench.
I sow my pea seed fairly heavily in the row. Lots of seed means lots of peas! And I actually would have put just a bit more seed in the row, but I ended up emptying all four seed packets I had for planting today. I'd like to be a bit miffed at the seed supplier for putting so few seeds in a packet, but the seed came from three different suppliers, who all supplied about the same amount of seed per packet.
This planting is an unusual one for us, as three of the four varieties planted are new to us. So I'd not lose track, I planted them alphabetically according to variety name:
After covering the seed and tamping down the soil to ensure good seed contact with the surrounding soil, I used a couple of treated 4x4s to shore up the low side of the pea row. This area of our garden is soggy and usually has standing water during spring rains. I hope to keep this planting of peas a bit above the water with the timbers holding the soil in place.
All four pea varieties planted today are tall, open pollinated varieties. I prefer to pick my peas standing up, as much as possible, and the taller varieties help with that. Since the peas are open pollinated, I could save seed if they bloom at different times. That probably won't be the case, and the peas will cross-pollinate as bees move from vine to vine. And at this point, I have no idea of the quality of three of the four varieties planted.
"The boys" were less than impressed with my early gardening today, snoozing throughout my efforts on a lovely, 58o afternoon. And I can say that after a bit of hoeing, I could use a nap as well. As the years go by, simple stuff like opening a trench with a hoe does get a bit harder.
Their newest friend and my wife, Annie's, latest rescue, Petra, was off at the vet yesterday and today getting "tutored." (Link is to a funny Far Side cartoon about going to the vet to get "tutored.")
Our garden looks pretty barren right now, but it is actually is in great shape for early planting. Our spring brassicas are germinating well in the basement, so we should have transplants ready just about the time the weather is ready for us to seriously go gardening in early April.
Since I have a little space here I need to fill so the photo at left doesn't crash into the previous posting, I'll tell a true story to fill up some space.
Several years ago, one of our adult, middle daughters, Samantha, asked what I wanted for my birthday. Having only a week or so before broken yet another cheap garden hoe, I replied, "A good hoe."
Sammy looked at me in astonishment, thinking I'd requested a "woman of the night" instead of a quality gardening implement! Every time I pick up that hoe, I have to grin a bit.
We're winding up February with another gorgeous, unseasonably warm day. At 11:30 in the morning, it was 64o already!
It stormed last night, but we got more wind than rain. But it rained enough that the peas we planted yesterday should be in good shape on soil moisture. When I looked this morning, none of the peas had washed to the surface, so I think I got them in at the right depth. And something I should have mentioned yesterday, the T-posts and string trellis for the tall peas will go in once I see a bit of germination.
Planting and recording our first row of peas made me get out the tape measure this morning to locate exactly where our second row of peas will go. While everything I planted yesterday can handle cold soil temperatures, our late pea varieties, Eclipse and Encore, need warmer soil to germinate well. The spot they're going into is also poorly drained, so they'll need to go in after the spring rains. I'm cheating just a bit on crop rotation, as the peas will go in what was the aisle between our peas and caged tomatoes last year. But since I'm eliminating a row in our Plot A, they should have plenty of room.
I published a column yesterday, A Mini Takes Over, about the "new" computer I'm now using for most of my writing and other computing needs. One thing I didn't mention in the article was that by using Apple's Snow Leopard operating system instead of their latest and greatest, Lion, I can still use AppleWorks 6 on the new machine.
I've done all my garden planning in AppleWorks for years. While it and all other PowerPC code programs won't run under Lion, Snow Leopard's Rosetta emulation allows the application to run quite well on my new machine. I also got the Windows version of AppleWorks 6 to install and run well on our HP Slimline, which runs a 64 bit version of Windows 7.
I've mentioned several times here that a lot of our garlic has been up for some time. Even though I've tried several times, I still haven't been able to get a good photo of it. The image at left that I took today is okay, and if you click on it, a much better, larger view will load in a new tab or window. When the garlic first began to emerge in December, I feared it would freeze out and we'd lose the crop. I'm holding my breath now, as with the warm, warm winter, we may just sneak by without a prolonged, killing freeze, and we may yet make a good crop of garlic this year.
Our spring brassicas that I started last week are almost all up and looking good. I did have to reseed a couple of cells of Premium Crop broccoli today, but everything else came up as it should have. I did have to do a bit of moving plants around yesterday, as some cells had no plants and others where I'd planted "insurance" seed had two or three.
As it will be March 1 tomorrow, I'll really need to get busy with starting transplants over the next few weeks. And at the same time, I'll have to hold myself back a bit on starting some of the warm weather loving plants we start inside. Getting stuff started too soon can lead to stunted and/or leggy plants that may not produce as well as ideally timed transplants.
But oh, my, 66o at noon on February 29, heading for a predicted high of 68o!
at Senior Gardening