One of the Joys of Maturity
The Old Guy's Garden Record
Best wishes from Annie and I to you for good health and a good gardening season in 2012.
With the ground freezing and snow flurries outside today, I resisted the urge to get started indoors on our 2012 garden by seeding onions and geraniums. I'll seed our onions next week and our geraniums later this month.
Instead, I moved a few of the volunteer baby gloxinias I wrote about last month into their own pots or fourpacks. The baby gloxinias became apparent only when I trimmed back some old growth from our gloxinias in early December. Apparently, one or more blooms had somehow pollinated, matured seed, and shattered without my noticing any of it.
Once I got started, I quickly realized that the baby glox were a bit smaller and/or younger than I thought. They hadn't yet begun setting on a visible corm, something gloxinias do very early in their growth from seed. So instead of trying to transplant all of the volunteer plants, I tried to focus on moving the largest of them to 3" pots.
I used a paring knife to lift the small plants out of the large pot, often bringing along a number of much smaller gloxinias that were attached to the same bit of soil. The tiny plants went into fourpacks, while the slightly larger ones got their own pots. While I was able to move some surrounding soil with a few of the transplants, most were moved bare root, greatly lessening their chances of survival.
I used a little different potting mix for the gloxinias than usual. It was a mixture of screened compost from our garden and commercial "lite" potting mix with a light dusting of bone meal thrown in for good measure. This is our first try with this mix. If it works out well, I'll continue using it for many of our flower and vegetable seedings this winter. And with nothing more invested than a little time and potting mix, any good gloxinias we get from transplanting the volunteers will be a bonus.
While cleaning up our plant room, which is nothing more than the old coal and wood room, I dumped out our bags of onions in storage one at a time. I found at least one onion with green sprouts on it in each bag and a few that had become soft and squishy that needed to be thrown out. Since I've kept up better so far this winter in checking our onions periodically, I didn't find any bags with lots of onions spoiling.
I got around to checking the onions while cleaning the plant room. Onion skins, dust bunnies, and spilled potting soil all have to be swept up every now and then. The cleanup also afforded a good opportunity to organize leftover seed flats and inserts. When we get a warm sunny day, I need to take them outside and wash them.
I also pulled a flat of dormant gloxinias out, watered it, and moved it close to the lights. The flat contained gloxinia plants that haven't broken dormancy after almost six months. While the corms are probably all dead, I thought I'd at least give them a bit of encouragement to sprout before pitching them. (And yes, that's our black, tuxedo cat hovering around the flat on the floor.)
During these cold winter days, I'm at last able to find time to organize our gloxinia plants, moving all those that are in or near bloom to the top shelf. If I don't do that, I often miss a gloxinia that has come into full bloom, and we miss moving it to the kitchen where we can enjoy it each day. We currently have a couple of red, Empress gloxinias in bloom along with a white with pink dots open pollinated one, and a purple Double Brocade. All of the gloxinias on the back row of the top shelf are blooming or setting buds, so we should have a nice show later on this month and next.
We also have two full flats, around 12-15 plants, in dormancy in cool, dark storage. Several other plants on the plant rack are heading towards dormancy.
And our wax begonias, despite being cut back pretty severely last month, are blooming just a bit. Even our pot of trailing, ivy leaf geraniums has a bloom or two on it. Sadly, I just don't have a spot for them upstairs right now.
And that reminds me that I need to get an order in to the Greenhouse Megastore for some new hanging baskets!
Our Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog came in yesterday.
Oops, that's exactly the same thing I wrote back in November. And other than a different cover, the "new" catalog appears to be the same, attractive, expensive to print and mail catalog we received on November 28.
I really have nothing against seed catalogs with lots of attractive illustrations of the vegetables, flowers, and accessories for sale, and Johnny's is one of the best. The lettuce pictured on pp 58-59 of this year's catalog seems to want to jump off the pages, into our garden, and onto our dinner table. I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with all of the lettuce varieties offered by Johnny's, and I've bought a lot of lettuce seed from them over the years. The rest of the catalog is equally well presented, and the quality of Johnny's seeds is always good.
I do have issues with getting multiple copies of the same seed catalog, especially when the vendor has instituted some serious price increases for their seed. I wrote of Johnny's in December after completing our main garden seed orders for 2012 that "I was really disappointed with their prices." It appears that $2.95 per packet was the base price for almost anything from Johnny's last year. That base price climbed 17% this year to an apparent minimum price of $3.45 per packet. While we're only talking a 50¢ price increase per packet, it adds up when one orders lots of packets of seeds. Our initial order to Johnny's in 2009 included 16 packets of seeds, including a mini packet of Dark Lollo Rossa lettuce for $2.30. A packet of Dark Lollo Rossa now runs $3.45 ($3.95 for organic seed)! We ended up ordering only four packets of seed from Johnny's this year. I counted twelve items I could have ordered from Johnny's, but ended up ordering elsewhere, mainly due to Johnny's price.
Shipping costs also appear to have gone up, although that one is a bit harder for me to track. I got free shipping for our December order this year using a code from RetailMeNot, but that kind of gimmickry really shouldn't be necessary.
Shopping out a good many items to vendors other than Johnny's may come back and bite us in the end, as Johnny's has a great record for supplying quality seed. You have to really hunt on Dave's Garden Watchdog to find any negative comments about the quality of seed from Johnny's. But I can only afford so much quality, and so far, I've been able to find other reputable vendors of good seed at considerably lower prices than Johnny's.
I wrote Johnny's this afternoon about the multiple catalogs and rising prices with the suggestion that sending just one catalog to previous customers instead of multiple mailings might help them hold the line a bit on prices. I received a couple of polite responses, the second saying they'd flagged my account to receive only one catalog each year. The sender also added that she'd had her account similarly flagged. While I'm not happy about the multiple catalogs and rising prices, Johnny's remains a class operation.
Even though we've been having some wonderfully warm days, I haven't gotten much done outside lately. I did do a little spraying with Roundup to knock down some persistent weeds in the driveway and East Garden. And I noticed this afternoon that the unseasonably warm weather has allowed some of our garlic to sprout!
We also enjoyed a visit by one of our daughters who drove up over the weekend from Baton Rouge. Julia is now a surgical technician, so Annie dug out an old Halloween photo of her, "appropriate" for her current training and employment.
I've also been spending a good bit of my time tearing down our twin 1.8 GHz G5 Mac tower computer and burning in a replacement twin 2.0 GHz G5 Mac tower that will eventually meld with the old machine to restore my main computer. I lost the motherboard on the old Mac on December 23. The replacement unit has a damaged case, so I've torn down the failed unit, will be cleaning it, and then transferring the "new" unit's motherboard and processors to the original case.
I've been doing my computing on yet a third G5 that had served as a test bed and backup unit until last month. I also used it at my last job before retiring. It turns out that the whole "new" G5 cost about the same as a replacement logic board! And when done, I'll have a slightly faster computer, but with double the RAM as our old one had. The unit I'm currently using will then return to backup status, as it has its own set of issues when in heavy use.
I've also been doing a lot of writing for my other site, Educators' News and even published a new column last weekend, Answer Your Mail, Robert A. Niblock! After posting an image of a mourning dove to the end of a posting on Monday, I marveled a bit about how much enjoyment I get from the rotating desktop pictures that serve as a backdrop to my computer work. When moving between applications or as I shut everything down for the day, the desktop photo of the moment often brings back a pleasant memory.
Just for the fun of it, I threw together the animated gif at right of some of the better shots that are mine that grace my computer screen, minus, of course, shots of wife and family. It only took ten or twelve tries to get it to work right!
I think all of the images in the anigif are available for download and use as wallpapers or backgrounds from our Desktop Photos page on mathdittos2.com. I also added a page of outtakes, shots bumped off the main desktops page, and shots waiting to go the main page a few months ago called The Cutting Room Floor.
Our Desktop Photos page has the distinction of having more advertising per square inch than any other page on our sites. The good news is that the photos are free for use as wallpapers or desktops. All other use requires prior consent, massive royalty payments, your left pinkie finger... (Actually, I'm a pretty soft touch on non-commercial use of my photos. Just , please.)
With snow still on the ground but melting just a bit, I seeded our first plants for our 2012 garden this afternoon. I like to get our onions going early, as we transplant them into softbeds that both go in and come out fairly early in the season.
I haven't changed the way I start our onions in years. I usually seed four rows down the long dimension of a standard seed flat. I did switch to using Perma-Nest trays for heavy stuff such as a flat of onions filled with wet potting soil.
The potting mix I used this time was a half and half mix of screened compost from our compost pile and Baccto Lite Premium Potting Soil. (Note: The link to the potting soil is for reference, as it's currently way overpriced at Amazon! I get a 40 pound bag at our local garden center for around $6-7.) It had sterilized in the oven yesterday at 400o F for about two hours.
I water the tray of potting mix with hot water before going on, using water heated in a teapot that came from our cold water bypass of our water softener. I'm not sure if the salt in the softened water would hurt the onions, but I'd bet it wouldn't help them any.
Once I get plant labels marked and inserted at the ends of the rows, I use a plastic ruler to make shallow furrows down the flat. I try to get the seed spaced about a half inch apart in the row, although I often end up with more, as the seed is generally small and easily overseeds as I pinch it out from between my thumb and forefinger.
Note that seed treated with a brightly colored seed treatment is a whole lot easier to get seeded evenly. While the Pulsar seed shown at the far left was pretty big for onion seed, it quickly disappeared into the background of potting soil when viewed from any distance at all. The row of blue-green seed above is Milestone. All of our onion seed this year arrived as treated seed, but only the Milestone had the colorful, easy to see seed treatment.
After pinching the rows shut (again with thumb and forefinger), I use the ruler again to firm the soil. Getting good soil contact around the seed is important so the seed can absorb moisture and begin to germinate.
I top the tray (or flat) with a clear cover and place the tray on an available shelf on our downstairs plant rack. I don't use bottom heat for onions unless it's especially cold outside (and in our plant room), as onions germinate pretty well at around 60-65o.
We found a great, red storage onion a few years ago, Red Zeppelin. Both the Red Zeppelin and Grateful Red varieties were released in the same year. I liked the names, but chose Red Zeppelin over Grateful Red, as the latter was pretty expensive at the time. I haven't been able to find any Grateful Red onion seed for several years in anything other than commercial growers' quantities. Having noticed that Stokes Seeds' page for Red Zeppelins lists their "Difficulty" to grow as "Challenging," and having had less seed germinate last year than I wanted, I split the row of Red Zeppelins seeded between seed from Stokes and seed from Twilley Seeds as a bit of a test.
Our sweet, non-storage onion this year will again be Walla Walla. They produce large, sweet, white onions and are rather easy to grow. We do chop and freeze some of our Walla Wallas each year, but mainly grow them for fresh use, canning with green beans, Portuguese Kale Soup, bread and butter pickles, and short term storage.
I still have plenty of onion seed left. Since it doesn't carry over well from year to year, I may plant an "insurance tray" of onions in another week or so. Also, it's a bit hard to get quantities of varieties just right with just one tray of transplants.
As I wind down today's posting, let me share a couple of items. I use lots of plant labels each year, and the cost of them and everything else associated with gardening only seems to go up. So the labels I used today were ones I had washed and sterilized last summer, as the "permanent" marker does wash off pretty well with strong detergent and a bit of scrubbing. A final soaking in chlorine bleach both sterilizes the labels and lightens any remaining writing on them. I store the cleaned labels in an old peanut butter jar.
And as I left our basement plant area, I noticed how pretty some of our gloxinias are. I'd terribly neglected them during the gardening season and further abused the plants by pinching them way back in the fall. But the few plants we have that aren't dormant right now are beginning to put on a show. Of course, the dormant plants will probably resume growth in a in a month or so, just when space under our plant lights is getting pretty dear! But that will be a nice problem to have.
After several weeks of winter weather, we're at the end of a very welcome two-day warm spell here. We reached the predicted high for today, 56o F, at ten in the morning, but it was down to 36o in the early afternoon. The tradeoffs for the warmth were some 50 M.P.H. wind gusts and a needed, but still a bit unpleasant, heavy rain. Tomorrow's predicted high temperature is 32o! I spent a good bit of time on the back porch last night enjoying the relative warmth and petting our dogs.
I thought I'd run images of all the seed catalogs we'd requested this year, but I somehow set aside the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog that came in over the holidays. It features a nice selection of flowers and vegetables with a bit of growing information worked in at the beginning of each section. The Kitchen Garden Seeds web site carries a good deal more horticultural information. Both the print catalog and web site effectively use drawings instead of photos for the flowers and vegetables offered. While I really like seed catalogs illustrated with lots of sharp color photos of the varieties offered, especially flowers, the Kitchen Garden's illustrations are also a pleasant change of pace.
I also noticed that Twilley Seeds finally has their 2012 catalog online. They don't do web orders, though, still relying on phone and mail order only.
Having gotten our first tray of onions seeded on Sunday, I've been having to hold myself back from starting a bunch of other stuff way too early. A couple of things got me to go ahead and start some geraniums today.
I received an email from a reader last week, suggesting I try using peat pellets for our geranium plantings. Peat moss doesn't carry damping off fungus which has spoiled some of our geranium plantings in the past (due solely to my foolishness in using unsterilized soil). The writer said she had great success starting geraniums and other flowers in the compressed pellets that expand when soaked in warm water. I thanked her at the time and moved on, as I'd seen the price of pellet and tray starter kits, and found them a bit too expensive for my budget.
While walking through our local Walmart yesterday, I decided to see if amongst all the Valentine and Easter stuff that has taken over the garden center if there might be some peat pellets I could price. To my surprise, I found a box of 36 Jiffy Pellet Refills for only $2.50. They also had the tray starter sets for considerably more, but finding the box of refills was something I wanted to try and could easily afford. When I checked the Walmart site to confirm the price, the refills turned out to be one of those little items they don't post or carry for online sales. I did find Jiffy Plant Pellet Refills on Amazon, but today's price was $7.78!
The second thing that got me going on starting geraniums was a leak around the attic window we had replaced in the fall, causing some water damage to our 2012 garden seed stored in our sunroom. While many of the seed packets are foil and won't be hurt by the leak, a few paper packets did show some moisture. They're now spread out on a towel in a warm location, drying.
The two seed packets showing the most moisture damage were a couple of packets of geranium seed I'd ordered mainly to try out Swallowtail Garden Seeds. I decided to make the best of the situation by planting those seeds today, while also trying out the peat pellets and another old planting trick. I'd been saving egg cartons, both styrofoam and cardboard, to use for photos of windowsill gardening ideas. I still remember egg cartons filled with garden starts sitting in the windowsill at my grandparents' house.
I popped twenty of the peat pellets into my dandy, heavy aluminum Nordic Ware 9" Round Cake Pan and covered them with boiling water. I bought a couple of the high-sided pans about five years ago to make pineapple upside down cake in, and haven't been disappointed.
I then cut the tops and side flaps off of several egg cartons. I punched holes in the bottom of each egg cell of a styrofoam carton for drainage. Using the the tops of two styrofoam egg cartons as drip pans, I put the egg holding section of a styrofoam egg carton in one top and a cardboard egg holding section in the other top. I've read online where one can just cut up the cardboard egg cartons seedlings are grown in and transplant the plant and its cardboard egg carton section. (Note: I have no idea what chemicals might be present in cardboard egg cartons, so I'm not recommending this method for any edible plants.)
The peat pellets expanded to full size in just a few minutes. I used kitchen tongs to move the hot, wet pellets into the egg cartons, as the pellets were still really hot. When they cooled a bit, I squished them down into the egg cavities. I then used a paring knife to make a small hole in the top of each pellet for the geranium seed.
When I opened the damp seed packets, I had to laugh at myself. The seed inside was enclosed in watertight plastic baggies! While the web site and seed packet carried the advisory, " Packet is 10 seeds," Swallowtail had supplied eleven seeds in each packet. Two more peat pellets quickly went into the boiling water.
I dropped a seed into each hole I'd made in the peat pellets and then squeezed some peat moss back over the seed and hole. Geraniums require total darkness to germinate and covering them not only is a first step in providing that darkness, but a gentle push down on the top of each pellet insured good contact between the seed and growing medium so it could easily absorb moisture.
While the egg cartons will eventually go on a sunny windowsill, they went into a Perma-Nest tray with a cover for now to hold in moisture. I covered the tray with a black plastic trash bag to make sure the seed gets the needed darkness and set the whole thing on a shelf that sits over a furnace register. While it's not as precisely regulated as using a heat mat and thermostat, I've had good luck in the past using our warm shelf for bottom heat.
And that's Middie on the shelf at right, sharing her warm shelf with last year's geranium starts.
While I put 22 seeds in peat pellets today, this planting really isn't our main planting of geraniums. I'll be using our paper towel germination method and plain, but sterilized, potting mix later on this month when I get our geranium seed from Stokes and Twilley started.
Our warm spell is over, but it's bright and sunny outside today. It's also just 27o F, so my outdoor work will consist of feeding the cats and dogs, and that's about it. Our high winds of the last few days have moderated, so we're actually pretty well off, considering the snowstorm that is sweeping some of the western states this week.
I had a bit of time on my hands this morning, as our Educators' News site is blacked out for the SOPA Strike today, and our DSL was down all morning. Having time, some leftover egg cartons, and plenty of sterilized potting mix, I started a couple of egg cartons of Supercascade petunias. It's still a bit early to be planting petunias for our area, but they do take a good bit of time to reach blooming size. This planting of Supercascades will probably go into hanging baskets which, if I get them out too early, can always come back inside on a frosty spring evening.
I still had about a dozen pelleted Supercascade seeds from 2007 and almost a full vial of pelleted seed from last year, so I used up the old seed in one egg carton and planted the other with the 2011 seed. Pelleted seed makes planting what would otherwise be tiny petunia seed a bit more precise. I've had lots of times when I planted unpelleted seed that I had seedlings come up terribly crowded together in a pot or fourpack.
The closeup image below shows the petunia pellets resting on top of the potting mix. After carefully seeding each egg carton cell (and moving a few double seeds with tweezers), I tapped or squished each pellet down into the soil a bit. The pellets have to make good soil contact to absorb moisture so the pellet can melt, releasing the enclosed seed.
I didn't order any new petunia seed this year, as we still had several fairly new packets left from last year. I could go broke ordering petunia seed, as the seed catalogs have an incredible variety of types and colors. I'll also be starting some Celebrity and Prime Time petunias in the weeks to come.
On a morning when I didn't have to write (for EdNews) and without internet access (other than dialup), I got around to doing a job I'd been putting off for some time. Our wandering jew plant that hangs in our kitchen window had really dried out and was looking pretty sad. It needed trimming and a good bath.
I took the scissors to the plant, trimming the trailing vines to about eighteen inches before taking the whole pot to the shower. I ran warm water over the pot, leaves, and vines for about fifteen minutes and then let the plant sit for half an hour in the humid environment. More time would have been better, but I needed a shower, too!
Later in the day after I'd brought the plant back out, hung it, and the afternoon sun was getting around on it, I grabbed a closeup of its leaves. It turned out so well that I added it to my rotation of desktop photos for my computer background and uploaded it to our free Desktop Photos page.
I haven't posting anything here for a week as I have been waiting none too patiently for our test planting of geranium seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds to germinate. I seeded twenty-two geranium seeds into peat pellets (in egg cartons, no less) on the 17th and placed them over our "warm shelf." Five seeds germinated in just a couple of days and were promptly moved to a warm tray under our plant lights and over a heating mat. But the rest of the seed just sat and apparently did nothing.
Before filing a claim with Swallowtail for bad seed, I knew I needed to wait a full ten days. So yesterday, I carefully dug up a few of the geranium seeds. The few I dug showed no signs of swelling or germination, but they also hadn't begun to rot. I dug up another seed this morning and was surprised to see that it was germinating. So I'll wait just a few more days to give Swallowtail the benefit of the doubt.
Why do some seeds germinate almost immediately and others from the same packet take almost two weeks?
I read somewhere, but can't find the reference this morning, that improper handling of the seed during drying and storage can cause a hard seed coating that doesn't allow moisture to penetrate the seed to cause germination. And some seed varieties, definitely not geraniums, though, naturally have a thick, hard seed coating that must be scarified (scraped, sanded, frozen and thawed, etc.) before they will germinate.
My best guess in this situation is that we simply got some bad seed from Swallowtail. The seeds in the packets almost certainly come from several plants and may have been processed at different times by whomever Swallowtail gets their seed from. The seed I dug this morning that had a sprout emerging may be the only other geranium I get from the planting. We'll see.
We're doing far better with our initial plantings of onions and petunias. The tray of onions just sat in the basement for a couple days without any sign of germination, so I moved them to our warm shelf for a couple of days. That or just the timing produced a tray full of onion seedlings emerging. I'll be seeding one more tray of onions in a few days to make sure I have enough of each variety we grow.
I wondered if we'd get much of anything from the seeding, as both the 2007 and 2011 seed was pelleted seed, which is said to not store as well as traditional, un-pelleted seed. Without using a magnifying glass, it's really hard to tell how many sprouts we have, but even without magnification, we're at least at 50% germination for this planting.
The petunia seed was also planted in egg cartons, something I'm trying for a feature story that is still under development. I used a sterilized potting mix composed of commercial potting soil with compost, so the petunias should have all the nutrition they need for the time being. The geraniums seeded in peat pellets will either have to be fertilized or transplanted to a potting mix soon, as peat doesn't carry many nutrients.
We're winding up the month of January with yet another round of unseasonably warm weather. I've been hauling gravel and fill and spreading it on our driveway for several days, so not a lot has gotten done in the gardening department. The driveway still looks terrible, but the deep potholes in it have been leveled out a bit, and our previously protruding culvert pipe no longer jars ones teeth as you drive over it. Two chasms in front of the garage took a over a ton of river gravel to fill!
The petunia seed I started in egg cartons a week or so ago has produced a nice bunch of seedlings. The year-old seed germinated well above 80%, and the 2007 seed at around 60%! While the seed germinated under our plant lights in the basement (and over a heat mat set at 75o F), I moved one of the egg cartons to a sunny windowsill this morning. If the plants begin to get a bit leggy (too tall with thin stems), I'll move them back under our plant lights. But I sorta like the old fashioned seedlings-starting-in-an-egg-carton-on-a-windowsill thing. (Never mind the high tech heat mat and thermostat that helped them spring up.)
Sadly, our early, test planting of geranium seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds didn't turn out as well as the petunias. Out of 22 seeds started, only 8 germinated, with one of the eight fizzling after barely emerging from the peat pellet it was started in.
I called Swallowtail and reported the 32% germination rate and was immediately offered either a replacement shipment or a full refund. I had expected nothing less, but that still is pretty good customer service. But after chatting a few minutes about the issue, the customer service representative informed me that all their seed was germination tested at or above 90%. Her obvious implication was that I must have done something wrong. At that point, even though I'd been leaning towards giving the new-to-us vendor another chance, I opted for the refund.
I'm not sure when or on what planet Swallowtail's germination tests occurred, but having used bottom heat, total darkness, sterile planting medium, and daily checks for proper moisture, I have to wonder about their germination numbers. I know they can't run to the warehouse and retest seed every time a gardener calls in about a failed planting. But my words to the customer service rep should have raised a red flag somewhere about the batch of seed my packets came from. Instead, I got a promise of a refund, a brushoff, a minor insult to my gardening prowess (which is suspect at times), and a whole lot of used peat pellets.
I expected better.
The Seven Swallowtail Survivors got transplanted into three inch plastic pots with sterilized potting mix. The pots, which have been used several times, went through a hot bleach bath to make sure no disease organisms were present on their surface. I was also careful to cover the peat pellets with potting mix, as peat moss can wick a lot of moisture out of the soil pretty quickly if left uncovered.
at Senior Gardening