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One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our senior garden - 3/21/2012

Thursday, March 1, 2012 - Getting Started

Crockett's Victory GardenIn his introduction to Crockett's Victory Garden, the late James Underwood Crockett wrote that he started the book "with the March chapter because in the Victory Garden and all but a few favored sections of the South and Southwest, March is the beginning of the gardener's year." But he also added that "the gardener's year is a circle that has no absolute beginning or end."

Our gardening season in the Senior Garden usually begins in March as well, although we already have geraniums, onions, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) well underway under our plant lights in the basement. I got a head start on the season two days ago, planting our first row of spring peas! But after the peas are in and until we transplant our brassicas in early April, most of our gardening work remains indoors, starting flowers and vegetables to transplant later into the garden.

March is also a waiting and watching game in the Senior Garden. There often will be a period of time in the month when the weather warms and the soil dries out enough to permit tilling. While our raised beds were all tilled and prepared in the fall, our large East Garden will need its first tilling this month. The soil in that area is heavy clay, and it usually takes several tillings to get it planting ready.

I didn't realize it until I looked back at the Victory Garden book to copy the previous quote that I use some advice Crockett provided for determining when the soil is ready to be worked:

There's a simple test for soil readiness: if a handful of soil remains in a moist ball after it's squeezed, the soil is still too wet to work; if it crumbles like chocolate cake, it's ready.

When Crockett demonstrated his soil readiness test on the TV show, he dropped the ball of soil on the ground to see if it stayed in a ball or crumbled (oh, chocolate cake sounds good right now). So I'll be watching for the "chocolate cake" stage before I begin tilling the East Garden.


Cold frame closedRototillerMarch is also time to get the rototiller ready for a new season. I have new belts and springs to put on our seventeen-year-old tiller, in hopes that I can make its lifespan match whatever years I have left. Our homemade cold frame will need a new covering of clear plastic before it goes into service later this month. I used some 4 mil plastic on it last year, as that is what I had on hand. It didn't hold up well, so I have a roll of 6 mil clear plastic to use this year. And if time permits, I may try to design and build a slightly larger, but lighter cold frame. Our current cold frame is rugged, but unwieldy to move around. It also is too narrow and short to use to cover late fall crops in our raised beds.

We'll be seeding lettuce starts in the next few days and some flowers. I have some saved dianthus seed that I really should have started in February. I'll also seed more petunias, some vinca, impatiens, and snapdragons. Towards the end of the month, we'll be starting our peppers, tomatoes, and melons. And by the end of the month, both our plant rack in the basement and the cold frame outside will be filled with vegetable and flower transplants.

A Few Serious Words About Starting the Sun Season Right

I've occasionally mentioned over the years I've run this site that I've had skin cancer. Some severe sunburns as a child, coupled with the years I farmed and worked in the sun without proper protection, apparently did incredible damage to my skin. Let me gently suggest that you start early in wearing sunscreen and/or protective clothing when out in the sun.

Now let's go gardening!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wunderground forecastWeather Channel forecastAs March weather is wont to do, the temperature has plunged about 30o today and will remain that way for several days. But both the Weather Underground 5-day and The Weather Channel's 10- day forecast make me wonder if our moderate winter may be followed by an early spring. Of course, I've also shoveled deep, deep snow in this climate zone in mid-March.

But looking back at what we did last year in getting our cold frame set up on March 16, I'm inclined to go ahead and set up the cold frame next week for our hardiest transplants to clear some space under our plant lights in the basement. Of course, setting up the cold frame adds a daily chore that can't be skipped to my schedule: checking and/or opening the cold frame in the morning and closing it in the evening. Leaving a cold frame closed in warm, sunny weather can cook ones transplants in a hurry.

Purple gloxiniasPlant rackA similar chore I neglected yesterday with all the storms passing through was to check our windowsill petunias. They required almost daily watering, as they were growing in an egg carton that didn't give them much soil to retain water. Sure enough, while admiring our purple gloxinias this morning, I saw that the petunias had wilted. A quick watering brought them back, but I took them to the basement and transplanted them to fourpacks anyway. They look pretty ratty right now, but should bounce back pretty quickly.

To make room for the petunias, I transplanted a few I'd moved from another egg carton to fourpacks last week into large hanging basket pots. I was pleased to see that the plants had put out roots to the edge of the fourpack in just a week. But then, there was no room under the lights for the pots of petunias! I need to get that cold frame up, rearrange a bit under the lights, or probably both.

I'd ordered some self-adhesive mailing labels for stuff I'm selling on eBay (to help defray the cost of the dandy "new" computer I'm now using) and filled out the order with a bottle of Clonex Rooting Gel to make the $25 mark for free Super Saver Shipping from Amazon. I have lots of old, powdered rooting hormone on hand, but had begun to suspect that it had gone bad with my last attempt at rooting some gloxinia and geranium cuttings.

Geranium rootingThe rooting gel arrived in today's mail, so I went to work on a wiry, old, dwarf geranium of my wife's that sits in our main kitchen window. When geraniums age (after several years), their stems become woody and don't move moisture and nutrients well to the top of the plant. One ends up with either a dead plant or what we've had for some time, a rather leggy plant with just a bit of healthy growth.

Normally, I would just cut a tip off a geranium to get a cutting, but this plant is my wife's favorite, and it doesn't have any tips to spare. So instead, I made a cut half way through the stem, applied rooting gel to the cut and the surrounding stem, and potted it, still connected to the main plant, in a loose potting mix.

If the rooting takes, I'll cut the plant free from the original plant, leaving it still with a little topgrowth. And if it doesn't take, I'll just have to live with a raggedy geranium in the window. The main plant has been on life support for several years already.

On Egg Cartons

Having now moved all of our petunias out of the cardboard and styrofoam egg cartons I started them in, I can comment from experience about using egg cartons to start seed. Either styrofoam or cardboard egg cartons are good for short term seed starting and growth. I did find it a bit difficult to get the full rootball out of the styrofoam egg cells without disturbing the roots. I even barerooted a couple of the poor petunias today. The cardboard egg cells, after being wet for a few weeks, just peel away from the soil and rootball, making for better transplanting.

Of course, in our area, only the more expensive, brown and/or free range eggs are sold in cardboard. But if I had a steady supply of both kinds, I'd use the egg cell half of a cardboard carton along with an inverted top of a styrofoam carton as a water catcher together for seed starting. And while I'm not going to give up using seed flats and inserts for the bulk of the transplants we grow, I will be using egg cartons from time to time for smaller, slow growing starts.

And in an aside, I made some great chicken salad this week, only it's very yellow! I used several hard boiled free range eggs for the chicken salad. The eggs had the most intense yellow to orange yolks I've ever seen, even when we had our own flock of layers!

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Very Early, Monday Morning, March 5, 2012

Our Educators' News site often gets published, sadly, at around 2-3 in the morning. Despite my best efforts yesterday, I was up late again last night (early this morning) and was able to witness the mixed precipitation falling. There was enough light to see that we'd had a 1-2" accumulation of snow, which had I paid closer attention, was predicted in one of the weather charts I posted on Saturday.

So...I drug out the good tripod, switched to the justifiably much maligned kit lens Canon supplies with their Digital Rebel Cameras (because it is much "faster" than my quality, normal lens), and snapped a time exposure of the snow on our Senior Garden.

Snow on March 5

The glow in the distance is from the Marathon Oil Refinery about ten miles away in Robinson, Illinois.

But I was all set to move into spring and gardening. Old man winter had other ideas.


Snowy morning
Snow melted

plant rackOur overnight blanket of snow didn't last long. You had to look hard to find any left by late afternoon.

With snow on the ground in the morning, I decided to get busy with some planting indoors. I started lettuce, herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, and forgot the thyme), beets, and some flowers (vinca, snapdragons, and dianthus). I just kept planting until I ran out of sterilized starting mix.

I hope to continue starting transplants again tomorrow, as the oven just beeped, letting me know the fresh kettle of potting mix I put in had finished its hour and a half, 400o F sterilization. While I have been using some screened compost in my starting mix, I found even mixed half and half with potting soil, it seemed a bit too heavy for a starting mix. Not having any peat moss on hand, I cut the fresh mix about four parts potting mix to one part compost.

All the seed starting has now totally overloaded our downstairs plant rack. Our overwintered hanging basket plants had to come out from under the lights to make room for all the new starts I added today. Of course, several trays of gloxinias at various stages of growth take up considerable room under our plant lights.

With a pretty good forecast for the next ten days, it appears I can begin moving some of our hardier transplants outside under the cold frame soon. I may even try hanging some of those hanging basket plants we overwintered, as least during the warm, daytime hours.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cold frameAs the sun set this evening, I went out and closed our cold frame over two trays of onion starts I moved outside today. While I've been toying with the idea of building a new cold frame, it only took about half an hour to staple new, clear plastic over the current frame. Maybe the new, bigger and lighter cold frame will get built this fall.

I held off moving some of our more tender plants to the frame, as we have a good chance of freezing weather later this week that just might get by the cold frame's protection. I still need to even out the ground a bit around the base of the cold frame to make a good seal. I also need to trim some of our overwintered hanging basket plants and transplant a few whose pots got cracked somewhere along the line.

A trip to the vet with one of our dogs slowed me down on doing any more planting today. Still wondering why I didn't plant thyme yesterday with the other herbs, I began hunting around for the seed when we got back from the vet. I finally found that the seed was listed as backordered on the packing slip from Shumway. No wonder I couldn't find it! A call to customer service at Shumway produced a promise that the seed would be shipped this week. But backordered for over two months with no notification other than the packing slip? That's pretty strange.

And contrary to today's first version of this posting, Swallowtail Seeds finally did make good on the refund they promised.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Off Merom BluffWe had a good rain yesterday. The weather station about seven miles south of us reported over a half an inch of precipitation. From looking at our very wet raised beds this morning, I'd guess that we may have received a bit more than that. But we also started the week with 2-3" of snow, so a good bit of the moisture may be from the snow melting.

I really appreciate having a Weather Underground reporting station so close to us, as we live in an area whose weather is heavily influenced by a nearby geographic formation, Merom Bluff. While the ground to the west of us gradually slopes down over seven or eight miles to a rather floodprone area along the Wabash River, the terrain south of us only slopes downward a little over the two and a half miles to where the Wabash juts inward. Then at the Wabash, the ground drops away a hundred feet or more at the bluff. It makes for some very strong straightline winds that more distant weather reporting stations don't experience.

Where Are We?

View Larger Map

US Map - Senior GardenA frequent question from folks who write is a query as to where we are located. The description above is good for "locals," but doesn't do folks around the nation much good. I usually answer that we are in west central Indiana, just a few miles from the Wabash River (and the Indiana-Illinois border). The image at left from our About page gives a general idea of our location.

I noticed some time ago that Google Maps allows one to embed locations into web sites, but never got around to adding such a description to our site. When Google updated their maps sometime over the last year, the satellite image pretty clearly shows our main garden plots in our back yard along with our East Garden which is actually in a neighbor's fallow field. It also allows one to back out the zoom a bit to see our proximity to Hutsonville, Illinois, to the west, Merom, Indiana, to the south, Hoosier Energy's Merom Power Generating Station to the southeast, and Sullivan, Indiana, well to our east (about 8 miles).

In other words, we're petty well out in the sticks with a few small towns fairly nearby.

Getting Back to Gardening

Plant rackOur onion plants are still pretty lonely out in the cold frame, as I'm waiting for a predicted overnight freeze to pass tonight before adding more trays and plants outside. Once we get past this freeze, our long term forecast looks pretty good for moving some plants outside. We're still bottlenecked on space under our plant lights, so I'm not doing a lot of planting until I free up some more space by moving stuff to the cold frame.

Planting thymeI did go ahead and plant some thyme today from a packet I picked up at a discount store. (Also got an email from Shumway's today, saying they'd finally shipped the thyme seed I'd ordered in December!) Gauging my available space under the plant lights and over the soil heating mat, I also seeded more Snapdragons, some Envoy impatiens for hanging baskets, and some open pollinated impatiens seed I'd saved a couple of years ago for use in our front, shady flowerbed. I even planted a small fourpack to celery seed, although I have no idea where I may put the celery plants in the garden.

Trying to save a bit of space, while probably making extra work for myself later, I planted the impatiens and snapdragons in round pots. Once they germinate, I'll have to go back and move the plants into individual cells of fourpacks.

Gloxinia breaking dormancy

Tray of gloxinias
Seed pods maturing

Four gloxinias had broken dormancy when I checked them this morning. Only one of the four was already in a six inch round pot, the size I use for fairly mature corms, so in addition to repotting the one already in a six inch pot to give it fresh soil, I uppotted three corms (and some surrounding soil) from four inch square pots to the six inch round pots. Four six inch pots pretty well fill a standard seed flat! (Note that I buy my four inch square and six inch round pots by the case...about once every five years!)

I also brought a really scraggly looking gloxinia plant upstairs to keep an eye on it. It's one that I hand pollinated, and has two gorgeous seed pods almost ready to shed seed. If you miss one going to seed, they burst and shed the seed everywhere but where you want. Having it in my way when I go for the coffee container will help me notice when the first pod breaks open in a day or so.

Note that I'm still waiting for "that dry spell" that will allow me do a first tilling on our East Garden. It's a large garden plot in an old cornfield where we grow our sweet corn, melons, and open pollinated tomatoes and peppers that need isolation to ensure they don't cross pollinate with our other tomatoes and peppers. Since the plot is mostly heavy clay soil, it takes a good bit of time to dry out enough to be turned over. (I had to move this paragraph here, as my photos were crashing into each other and needed a bit of text separation to prevent an online disaster...of web construction.)

A good bit of our lettuce that I seeded on Tuesday is up already. I pulled the humidome (clear plastic cover) off the lettuce half flat to grab a shot of the plants emerging. And our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) that were seeded on February 23 are doing well, although they're getting a bit too tall. I may have to repot some of them a little lower in their fourpack cells to keep them from falling over. The flat of brassicas is one of the hardy items that will be going under the cold frame outside very, very soon.

Lettuce Brassicas

I'm still watching the calendar, counting back about six weeks from our frost free date, to begin planting our really tender transplants. Getting tomatoes, peppers, and especially melons started too early can leave one with terribly oversized plants to transplant, and may even stunt the plants and/or decrease their production. So, I'm being patient (tap, tap, tap goes my foot).

Educators' News and Senior Gardening have both been down several times this week as our web host,, wrestles with a server changeover. I apologize if you tried to access either site and were perplexed with "server not found," "no site at this address," or "404" errors displayed. I wasn't terribly happy about the service outage either, but this is just the second time we've experienced this kind of thing with Hostmonster.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cold frameHanging basketsOur small cold frame is getting quite a bit of use already this year. I initially put just a couple of trays of onion starts and a tray of brassicas under it, as I knew we had some freezing weather predicted for last Friday morning. Once past that freeze, and with a forecast that currently doesn't show any freezing weather in the near future, I began rotating some of our hanging basket plants through it to harden off before moving them to hooks on the back porch. That's actually a pretty short hardening off period, but so far, the plants are doing well on our somewhat sheltered back porch. When we harden off our garden transplants, they'll get at least a week under the cold frame and sometimes on the edge of the porch to toughen up before transplanting.

Everything I've put outside so far can either weather a frost under the cold frame or is portable enough to come inside for a night. Our frost free date in this area is around May 1, so there's still a good possibility of a frost or two (or more) before warm weather sets in for good.

Thinning lettuceLettuceI got carried away when I seeded our lettuce last week and made a tedious job for myself. I added a number of extra, insurance seeds to each fourpack seeded to provide extra plants for cells where no seed germinated. It turned out that for most of the varieties we planted, nearly every seed germinated, so I had to spend a half hour or so carefully pulling the extra plants so that there was just one lettuce plant per cell. The culls didn't quite make enough for a salad, but did make a pretty good pile. But just a day after all the abuse, the lettuce transplants (shown at right) looked really good again.

We had just one variety not germinate well, some year old Skyphos seed. I reseeded some it today, as I really like the variety that was just introduced last year.

While I've seeded our lettuce all at once, we'll get a somewhat prolonged harvest due to differing maturity dates of the varieties. Since our weather tends to get very warm all at once, and often fairly early at that, we try to get in as much lettuce as we can early and enjoy it before the hot weather causes the lettuce to get bitter and bolt. If we had more moderate weather, I'd seed lettuce several times for a succession of plantings and harvests. But with our weather, it's sort of an all at once deal in the spring and then a somewhat longer harvest for our fall lettuce.

Vinca and dianthusThe pots of vinca and dianthus I'd seeded a week or so ago germinated well and were ready to be moved to individual cells in fourpacks yesterday. I'd forgotten to check the vinca, and they'd really gotten way too tall in their warm, dark, germination area on our "warm shelf." I had to set the vinca roots at the very bottom of the cells I transplanted them to. They're still a bit spindly, but hopefully will make it.

Flat seeded to alyssumI haven't used much alyssum in our flowerbeds for several years, mainly due to some cold frame disasters where the small alyssum plants got cooked. So this morning, celebrating that the alyssum seed mix I bought last year from Stokes was pelletized seed, I went sorta nuts and seeded a whole flat (72 cells) of alyssum! I'd waited to start them, as Stokes recommends using soil with a low pH for it. I bought a bale of peat moss over the weekend and cut my usual starting mix half and half with the peat. Now, if I can just remember to regularly water the alyssum and never leave the cold frame closed on a sunny morning, we should have lots of fill for our flowerbeds.

Spotty beetsOur half flat of beets are either being slow to germinate...or we've got a problem. I seeded five short rows of different varieties in the half flat, and all of the varieties germinated poorly. I think that may say something about my plant culture. I reseeded the bare patches in the flat yesterday, and while doing so, noticed some seed I unearthed was beginning to germinate, but not much.

I got the idea of transplanting beets from the old Crockett's Victory Garden TV show years ago. I've had just enough success transplanting a few beets each spring to continue trying growing them that way. Since my wife is a certified, life-long beet hater, beets aren't a critical crop in our garden, although one of my sons-in-law likes them as much as I do.

I managed to find time this afternoon to screen another cartful of compost for our raised bed where we'll grow our onions, carrots, and...probably more onions and carrots. I'd added compost to one end of the bed several weeks ago and hadn't gotten back to doing the rest of it until today. My mature compost pile is shrinking rapidly as I invest the precious soil amendment where I think it will do the most good. Our working compost pile hasn't begun to heat up as yet this spring. I think I need to turn it and give it a boost of fertilizer to get it going.

Fog and moonPurple gloxiniaWith all the many gardening chores that fill my days (along with publishing two web sites), I still find time to just stop and enjoy the beauty around us. This morning started with an unusual view of low fog behind the garden with the moon still in the sky.

When I made a pot of coffee this morning, I had to stop and admire a Cranberry Tiger gloxinia that broke dormancy a month or so ago. It's putting on quite a display, perched atop a coffee can to raise it up to window ledge height.

With the incredibly warm weather we continue to have, I've already begun checking our asparagus bed each day. It's way too early for the delicious shoots to begin appearing, but then again, we did have five or six of them emerge last March!

I'm also checking the pea row daily that I planted at the end of February. I haven't seen any spouts emerge as yet. Being a bit impatient, I gently dug a bit today until I found a germinating pea seed well below the soil surface.

The warm weather has our lawn beginning to grow again in patches. Knowing that mowing season will probably begin early this year, I fired up our lawn mower this afternoon and used our pull behind sweeper to rake up some leaves around the pond lot to add to a long-term compost and leaf mold pile. I did so mainly to warm the engine oil before changing the oil. I'm glad I checked before draining the mower's oil, as the oil filter I was sure was on a garage shelf wasn't there. Then I remembered that I'd used it for an end-of-season oil change!

Asparagus tip emergesAsparagus raised bedHad I looked really, really closely at our asparagus patch yesterday, I might have noticed the tip of an asparagus spear at the soil line. But I didn't look that carefully, so my garden walk this morning contained a pleasant surprise. We have an asparagus spear poking through the soft cover of compost I added to the bed a few weeks ago. It's only an inch or two tall, but closer inspection revealed several other spears emerging nearby and elsewhere in the bed. If the current weather forecast holds true, we should be picking at least a little asparagus soon!

We started our asparagus from seed, transplanting the first of it in 2006. An incredibly dry summer in 2007 slowed the maturing of our asparagus roots. Then I got the wild idea that I wanted to enclose the patch into a raised bed in 2009. Asparagus roots spread quite a ways, and I ended up seriously damaging ours, delaying our first light pickings of asparagus until 2010. That's a long time to wait for asparagus.

I still like that we started our asparagus from seed, but folks should be aware that it's a three year proposition from transplanting in most cases before you'll be enjoying this delicious treat.

Starting from purchased roots cuts the usual time till picking down to two years, although reader Paul Calback was able to pick some after one year from an incredible intensive planting he did. Paul was kind enough to share regular reports on his progress with me in June and October, 2010, and again last May.

Now to the worried part.

10 Day ForecastWhile I love the warm weather and the mild winter we've had, I'm worried about what is to come yet this summer. We're at March 14, and the 10-day forecast is calling for highs in the 70s, with one weather site predicting highs in the 80s today and tomorrow. This weather pattern may just be one of those flukes of nature, but it is awfully early for it to be this warm for such a protracted period.

Over the eighteen years we've lived at our current location, we've noticed increasing winds. Our usual summer drought in July and August seems to be getting longer and dryer. And whether you call it global warming, climate change, or cyclical weather patterns, it appears that our climate is undergoing a dramatic change.

Maybe I'm just tempting fate with my words and we'll have an inch or two of snow in April (not unheard of in this area), but I am worried that we may experience a very, very dry summer this year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 - A "Little" Project

heavy duty receptacleI began what I thought would be a one day project last Thursday, and finally completed it yesterday! While our son-in-law, Hutch, completed the exterior renovation of our garage last spring, I still had a number of interior jobs to do on it. One of them was to extend an electrical circuit, add insulation, and cover a section of wall with plywood before moving our freezer to that area of the garage. And, of course, the freezer needed defrosting as well.

The job shouldn't have taken as long as it did, but after clearing out the area where I wanted to work and drilling holes in the studs to run wiring, I discovered that the heavy duty receptacles I'd bought for the job had grown legs and wandered off somewhere. My second unpleasant discovery of the day was that no one in Sullivan, Indiana, carried heavy duty (20 amp) receptacles, so the rest of the day was occupied with a trip to a building supply store in Terre Haute where I ended up buying a whole lot more than just two wall outlets. I've always said that hardware and building supply stores are really just toy stores for men.

In progress Done!

Messy garageWith this section of wall completed, I now have three walls insulated in case I want to run a new interior wall across the garage to separate the bays from a heated shop area. The project got started years ago with some deluxe, heated accommodations built into the corner of the garage for our many outdoor pets, including a four story cathouse and a "cat door" and "dog door" to the outside. While that last interior wall (and necessary ceiling) may never get built, I'm glad to have the project out of the way so I can move on to some desperately needed general cleanup of the garage.

Peas emergingThe freezer, thankfully, cleaned up well on the outside, as it had been sitting in a spot at the head of a bay where it was all too convenient to set greasy tools and parts while working on vehicles. And the defrosting was really easy, as I had a couple of super styrofoam coolers from Omaha Steak orders to hold the treasures from our freezer while thawing and cleaning the interior of the unit.

And as with most such projects these days, it's going to take a day or two for the soreness in my old body to wear off before I jump into any other major projects. The good news is that while I looked like I'd been Shake-n-baked with sawdust by the end of the day yesterday, I didn't itch from handling the insulation.

Oh yeah, this is a gardening site!

Volunteer asparagusOur row of peas planted on February 28 are coming up nicely. Three of the four varieties planted have emerged already, so we're on our way to an early, spring pea crop. I popped over to Burpee and placed a quick order for some more Mr. Big icon pea seed, the variety that hasn't emerged as yet. The original seed planted came from another outlet, and may yet emerge, but I really want to try this variety this year. If I end up not needing the seed ordered today, I can always freeze it for use next year.

We're also picking just a few spears of asparagus each day, but still don't have enough accumulated to have with a meal. I'm not picking the tiny volunteer asparagus plants I let grow late last fall after cleaning up the mature asparagus stalks. The ends of our asparagus patch still need to fill in a bit, so the volunteer plants have been welcome, and I even transplanted a few last year to fill in bare spots.

Lots of snapdragonsMy tendency to overseed has struck again. I have three pots of flowers like the one of snapdragons shown at right that need to be divided into fourpacks as soon as possible. Sometimes when sprinkling fine seed into a pot, one just can't tell how much is dropping into the pot.

One of our offspring has already inquired if I will have "any extra flowers" this year she might have. I'm tempted to give her the pot, some fourpacks, and a bag of potting soil and let her have at it! But she did take my overplanting of dianthus off my hands last year, and her plants overwintered better than ours!

Lots of beetsI face a similar problem with our half tray of beets which I unnecessarily re-seeded last week. I think most of the old seed along with all of the new seed I added germinated. Beet seeds are also compound seeds, capable of producing several plants from each seed. After thinning a bit, I should have all the beets I need for transplanting. And I really love the colors of baby beet plants in a tray.

The half tray of beets joined our half tray of lettuce under the cold frame today. I also brought up a full tray of geranium plants and another full tray planted to vinca and impatiens to harden off. A ten inch hanging pot of petunias I just transplanted pretty well fills the available space of the cold frame. For the first day or so outside, I keep the cold frame propped partially open, providing some sun along with some protection from both the sun and wind.

To make room for the plants brought outside today, our trays of onions and brassicas moved to the edge of the porch. I generally harden off our transplants under the cold frame for a week or so before moving them to the more exposed position on the porch. They'll get more sun (and wind) on the porch and should be ready to go into the garden soon. I hope to begin transplanting some broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage later this week. I'm even going to try a brussels sprouts plant or two, although I've never had any success at growing good brussels sprouts and keeping the bugs off of them.

Plants on porch and under cold frame

Lots of basket plantsOur back porch is now pretty well filled with hanging basket plants. I still want to get a couple of baskets of trailing impatiens up, and we'll need room for one, two, or possibly even three hummingbird feeders. Some of the baskets will migrate to hooks under our front porch, although plants there never seem to do quite as well as they do under the sunnier back porch.

DaffodilsAnd like most folks in our area who have daffodils, ours are now blooming. Since one of our dogs seems to like to hunker down in this flowerbed, the daffodils and the dianthus that line the edge of the bed have a tough time. But both have come through the winter just fine. This is just the second year for our daffodils, and they haven't thickened up or spread much in the rocky soil along the side of the house.

The dianthus are from seed saved from the Carpet Series several years ago. Dianthus are listed by seed companies as annuals, biennials, and perennials, with the Carpet Series from Stokes being listed with their annual flowers. Our experience with the saved seed has been that the plants perform well for at least three seasons, and we have a few in our front flowerbeds that are beginning their fourth year!

I also have a pot of Chabaud Picotee Fantasy Mix dianthus from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in the basement under our plant lights. While I really like the Carpet Series, I wanted to try another variety this year just for the fun of it. But I really like the colors we get from the Carpet Series, so by fall, I'll again be pinching off and drying mature seed heads to ensure future crops in case our current plantings should fail.

We're supposed to have a couple of sunny days in a row coming up, so I hope to get our grass mowed for the first time this week. (Yes, mowing in mid-March!) I've sorta been shooting around the ugly, clumpy tall grass to get photos for the site, as the yard really looks a mess. And I always dread the first mowing, as that's when I "find" all the "treasures" the dogs have drug into the yard from the nearby woods.

Once I get past the mowing, it's just about time to get our tomatoes, peppers, and melons started.

Friday, March 23, 2012 - Another Project

Gravel on drivewayAnother "little" project got in the way of gardening this week. After recovering from my insulating and siding fun last week, I hauled in several more loads of aggregate to fill around our driveway pipe, more gravel to fill holes in the driveway, and even a load of "topsoil plus" to fill holes in the yard and raise an area in our old garden plot. The "plus" in the topsoil turned out to be composted horse manure, which I'm sure can't hurt our ground's fertility.

With those chores out of the way and with continuing good weather, it was time to spend some bucks and get new gravel on the driveway. The "spread" of the gravel wasn't quite what I wanted, so I had and still have a good bit of shoveling to do. But it was one of those things I had to get out of the way before our spring rains arrive.

Gloxinia Corms Available

Nature Hills NurseryWaldan GardensIn an exchange of emails with "Joyce from Virginia," I learned that Nature Hills Nursery has four varieties of gloxinia corms for sale. This should be really good news for gloxinia lovers, as I had not been able to find any U.S. source of gloxinia corms in my many web searches for them.

Do note that Nature Hills Nursery has just so-so ratings on Dave's Garden Watchdog, but I went ahead and ordered some corms from them.

On the same subject, I ran across a great photo from wholesale plant grower, Waldan Gardens in Wainfleet, Ontario, of a greenhouse full of gloxinias! While florists and greenhouses in our area don't sell gloxinias anymore (used to be you could send gloxinias from almost any florist), it's good to know someone is still growing them commercially. Of course, even if Waldan wasn't wholesale only, import restrictions would make buying corms or plants from them cost prohibitive.

Tip of the Day

No, I'm not starting a tip of the day series, but this gem sent to me by Mike Bryce deserves some special notice. Tiny seeds that are shipped in foil, or worse yet, tiny zip lock bags, often stick to the sides of the bag due to static electricity. Mike rubs the outside of such seed packets with a fabric softener sheet (Bounce, Downy, etc.) to make the seeds easily flow out of the packet!

Mike also suggested a seed house I'd not heard of before, Ohio Heirloom Seeds. They specialize in open pollinated vegetable and herb seed, appear to have very reasonable prices, and have a spotless record on Dave's Garden Watchdog. I also liked that at the very bottom of their Growing Tips page, they have a listing for Vegetable Seed Viability in Years that appears to be based on their experience, rather than copied from some agricultural station publication.

Tomatoes and Peppers

I just got our tomatoes and peppers started today. I like to have our tomato transplants at just about six weeks old when we put them in the ground. With all the hammering, hauling, and shoveling this last week, I'm about a week later planting them than I'd planned.

Hot water treating seedSince we've had problems with bacterial spot and anthracnose in our tomatoes, I was especially careful with this planting, as the diseases can be seed-borne as well as soil-borne. All of the seed we saved from tomatoes and peppers was hot water treated last summer or fall to make sure the seed carried no harmful pathogens. Holding tomato seed at 122o F hot water for 25 minutes is the usual procedure, although I've seen charts with slightly different temperatures and times. (See our Saving Tomato Seed feature for complete instructions and links about hot water treating seeds.) While the photo at left shows a large batch of tomato seed being treated, I just treated the few seeds I planned to plant today that hadn't already been hot water treated (including some commercial seed). When planting hot water treated seed, it's not a bad idea to plant extra seed, as the hot water treatment may decrease germination rates a bit.

Tomatoes and PeppersI sterilized a planting tray with household bleach, washed some new plastic tray inserts and the clear plastic tray cover, and used sterile potting mix for the planting. For tomatoes and peppers, I like the fourpack tray inserts that come 32 in a sheet to fill a standard 1020 seed flat. They run about 80ยข per sheet in lots of ten from the Greenhouse Megastore, and with a bit of care, can last for several seasons.

Planting tomatoes and pepper seeds is a joy compared to dealing with many other tiny seeds or those with special requirements. You just make a dent in the soil, pop in a seed, and cover the seed with a bit of soil. Tomatoes can easily germinate at household room temperatures, but I chose to put our tomatoes and peppers over a heat mat set at 75o F. While neither tomatoes nor peppers require light to germinate, just the opposite I think, I covered the tray with a clear cover to hold in heat and humidity, but also to allow light in for the plants once they germinate.

Our tomatoes planted for this year were Moira, Quinte, Bella Rosa, Better Boy, Red Grape, and Sweet Olive. The Moiras are from our saved seed stock, and the Quinte came from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Germplasm Resources Information Network. There's not a lot of variety there, but it's what we like.

Our peppers were even more limited, partially because I ran out of tray space: Mecate (yellow), Red Ace, Red Knight, and Earliest Red Sweet. The ERS are, of course, a 1970's variety we preserve and offer seed from through the Seed Savers Exchange. I still need to plant some paprika peppers for seed saving this year.

An Experiment

Sweet corn plugsGermination test 7640RHere's one you may never hear about here again (if it doesn't work). I had several peat pellets left where geranium seed in them didn't germinate, along with an extra, unused box of the pellets. I doused the old and new pellets with a limewater and captan solution today before seeding them with sweet corn seed! I've always wondered why one couldn't get a head start, especially with hard to germinate (in cold soil) sh2 types, by transplanting small, already germinated corn plants.

If I'd planned on doing this experiment, I would have ordered a really early sweet corn variety. But I didn't, and ended up using some full season seed from 2010 (that still germination tested well last November). Reusing peat pellets along with old seed probably will doom this experiment, but...I had a good time popping the seeds into the pellets.

And when writing up this section, I did a quick search and found an interesting University of Vermont Extension page on Transplanting Sweet Corn!

Pest Control

Annie and I absolutely love where we live, but every setting has its problems. Deer and raccoons have decimated our corn and melon crops in some years, despite liberal applications of blood meal and other repellents. During the course of last summer, we seemed to be getting some control of the situation (after, of course, the deer had nipped almost all the tops out of our sweet corn). I had strongly considered adding an electric fence around our East Garden, which might have controlled the raccoons, but deer can easily jump fences. Instead of a costly hotwire setup, we ended up using a combination of tactics and devices that ended up working pretty well.

Our first and best control for the raccoons was simply moving our melon patch a bit further from the woods adjoining the field. While the little critters will scratch open a melon and eat it in the garden, they seem to prefer breaking them off the vine and rolling them to the edge of the woods for their midnight snacks.

Nite Guard on tomato cageNite Guard Solar Predator Control LightI also tried a couple of Nite Guard devices last year with limited success. The manufacturer recommends having four of the solar powered units that flash a red light at night that supposedly scares away deer and raccoons. Since we only had two units, two sides of our East Garden were still "unprotected." And actually, the devices are supposed to be at the animal's eye level, so you might need eight of them to control raccoons at ground level and taller deer! I invested in just two more Nite Guards today, as they seemed to help some last year. (And even as I write, a little voice in my head is saying something about a fool and his money.)

Sweeney's Deer Repellent As a bit of a joke, my wife, Annie, gave me a package of Sweeney's Deer Repellent Bait Stations last year for Father's Day. I first put the stations around our sweet corn, and they seemed to deter the deer...who moved on to nearly destroying our row of sweet potatoes. I moved a couple of the bait stations into the sweet potato row and the problems there stopped! Since I left the old deer repellent stations in the field over the winter, I ordered a new package of them today.

The final and possibly most effective part of our pest control "program" came from a son-in-law who grew a certain cash crop in very remote locations in his younger days. (He's now a very effective and well respected addictions counselor!) To protect said cash crop, he spread the contents of his sweeper bag around his remote planting. Apparently, the human smell from the sweeper bag's contents repels deer. Since I'm the one who usually empties our sweeper, it only makes sense to dump the pet fur, dirt, and lint around our East Garden.

Melons for the MissionI'm really not sure which of the items above helped us bring in a fantastic melon crop and a so-so sweet corn crop last year. Maybe the combination of all of them, or maybe just one of them. It could, of course, have been the periodic application of buckshot to several raccoons that had been regularly harassing one of our cats in the barn last summer.

Since we've always planted enough melons for us and for neighbors and family and even allowed for a bit of critter feeding, our success last year overwhelmed us with melons. We thankfully shared that bounty by hauling several small truckloads of produce, mainly melons, to The Lighthouse Mission in Terre Haute, Indiana. We plan on doing the same, if not more, again this year.

Light House Mission

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Picking asparagusWe had a good rain last night, so working our garden soil will be a no-go for the next few days. It's still pretty early in the season, so I'm not really worried. I would like to fluff the soil a bit in the main garden where our broccoli and cauliflower will go.

Other than weeding some flowerbeds around the house, gardening today was limited to showing two of our grandchildren how to pick asparagus. We had asparagus, carrots, yellow squash, green beans, portobella mushrooms, onions, and garlic steamed in olive oil and butter with our supper last night. Having just had asparagus last night, the grandkids loved seeing where it comes from.

I didn't have a shot I liked of our gloxinias currently on our kitchen counter to include with yesterday's discussion of where one can buy gloxinia corms. I grabbed the shot below of a red Avanti hybrid and a purple Cranberry Tiger a few minutes ago. The Avanti had come into full bloom under our plant lights in the basement, but I'd missed it until yesterday.

Avanti and Cranberry Tiger gloxinias

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Clarence and Sarah WoodMy father, who was 98, almost 99 years old, passed away last Sunday morning. He died in his own home, in his favorite chair, and in his own way, after saying goodbye to each of his children over the last few weeks. He went to be with the Lord and my mother, who passed away three years ago. Both lived good, full lives, and were a source of strength and inspiration to all who knew them.

I chose to suspend publishing either of our web sites last week as our family and friends gathered for celebrations of Mom and Dad's lives. I'll be getting back to gardening and writing again sometime next week.


February, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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