Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 10/30/2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Crockett's Victory GardenAs I usually do each month, I read through the monthly overview for October in the late Jim Crockett's Crockett's Victory Garden last night. I've read the entire book from cover to cover and by section many times, but it often jogs my memory of something that needs to be done each month. He introduces the section thusly:

Many people have long since folded their gardens for the winter by the time October comes along, but the Victory Garden is still flourishing with peas, edible pea pods, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, regular and winter radishes, kale, pumpkins, celery, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, winter squash, collards, leeks, broccoli, peppers, lima beans, and beets. I'll be harvesting vegetables until the ground freezes hard, and any home gardener can do the same.

This time around, reading his intro made me a little sad, as the summer drought pretty well eliminated any chance for a fall garden this year. But I did take heart that we still are harvesting tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, possibly butternut squash, and peppers. We also will harvest pole beans for seed.

spent melon vinesBut October is mainly a month in the Senior Garden, especially this year, for getting things cleaned up in the garden and ready for the next gardening season. Our main, raised garden bed is almost fully mulched for the winter, but still has peppers producing at one end and tomatoes at the other. There's also one, lone kale plant that germinated that might make a very small batch of Portuguese Kale Soup for us. I'm already pulling up melon vines in our large East Garden plot and adding them to our winter compost heap. And I have a new, mechanical rototiller to mount on my lawn tractor to ease tilling chores in the East Garden. I'm still trying to figure out how to mount the beast from some incredibly bad directions from John Deere! (Note: Our local John Deere dealer was supposed to install the tiller at my home with me watching, but welshed on the deal at the last moment!)

Besides cleaning up our garden plots, late October or even November is the time to plant garlic sets. We had a good harvest of garlic last year and will sort out the best for planting this month. Of course, I have to get our caged pepper plants out of the area where the garlic for next year will go.

October is when I start to prepare some of our hanging plants to come inside to spend the winter under our plant lights. Several wax begonias, two pots of ivy leaf geraniums, and a wandering jew will all get trimmed back, blasted with the hose to dislodge bugs, and have their soil treated with systemic insecticide. Then I'll let them sit a week or so for the systemic to take effect before hosing them off again and bringing them indoors. This year I'm trying the granular version of a Bonide systemic insecticide. The liquid version has a terrible odor, and the bottle always seems to leak in my chemical tub. The granular version is reported not to give off an offensive (and possibly toxic) odor. Sometime during the winter, all the hanging plants will get repotted in fresh growing medium.

We'll also inventory seed this month in preparation of placing the first of our seed orders in November (for onion and geranium seed). Along with inventory, we'll evaluate what worked and what didn't, although in a droughty growing season, new varieties that didn't perform well may get another chance. We'll also begin to pull together our list of trusted seed suppliers for the year. We order the majority of our seed online from companies that have proved the worth of both their seeds and customer service. The current listing is on our Suppliers page.

And just think, in three short months we'll be starting onions and geraniums for the 2013 garden!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hanging baskets on stepsI began preparing our hanging basket plants that we'll overwinter inside on Monday. I first hosed them down to try and dislodge any insects or insect eggs before working Bonide Systemic Granules into the soil. In the middle of the process, I reached for the jug of insecticide granules and was a bit startled at a visitor who had alighted there. We occasionally see walking sticks around our property, but it was nice to have one pose for a closeup.

Walking stickThe hanging basket plants went back on their hooks on our back porch after a thorough watering. I'll cut them back and hose them down again before bringing them inside. The timing on their coming in may get a bit dicey, as we may have a frost this weekend.

I'm still working my way through treating all of our gloxinias with systemic. We've had some minor bug problems under our plant lights with insects that probably came in as eggs in our potting soil. Of course, once you treat potting mix with a systemic insecticide, dump soil from dead plants no longer can go into the regular compost least for several months.

Another Grandchild

OliviaAustin and JuliaTuesday started early for us with a 5 A.M. call from our youngest daughter, Julia, whose contractions were about nine minutes apart! The rest of the day was obviously devoted to keeping track of how things were going in Baton Rouge, where she lives, and getting her mom on a plane. The baby, Julia and Austin's first, didn't wait for grandma to get there, but arrived mid-afternoon. Olivia Rosalie Bachman weighted in at a healthy 9 lbs. 1 oz.. Olivia, Mom and Dad (pictured at right at the Indianapolis Zoo last summer), and Grandma are all doing well.

Tiller Resolution

I received a phone call from our John Deere dealership after having written Deere's CEO about our tiller situation. It appears the wrong model was ordered and shipped to us! We also were able to work out something on installation. So, when the right model comes in, we'll see how it goes.

Looking About

compost heapI stripped out our center row of melon vines this week, adding considerably to our working compost heap. The row was the second one planted, but didn't get as much mulch as the first row that went in a week or so ahead of it. Our watermelon plants in the first row planted are still growing vigorously, setting and ripening melons. But almost all of our cantaloupe vines have collapsed. Our hill of Passport honeydew melons had bug damage on the bottom of every melon ripening on it. So, it sadly went into the rapidly growing fall compost pile. Note that I left several loads of grass clippings around the compost heap to layer into the pile as I continue taking spent plants out of our garden plots.

East Garden

Howden pumpkinsThe foreground of the image above shows our hill of butternut squash. The plants went in late and got caught in the drought. They survived and are now struggling to make a crop before the first frost. Our hill of pumpkins at the right in the image above, have already produced three good pumpkins and are now ripening three more much larger pumpkins. I've been pleased with the results of our trail of the old Howden open pollinated variety of pumpkins. Of course, with lots of squash plants nearby, we won't be saving seed from these pumpkins, as they may well have crossed with the butternuts or summer squash in the East Garden.

ERSWhile the season is almost gone, we still have lots of other plants producing, and others like the butternuts, that really need just a few days or weeks more to produce. Not pictured here is a Quinte tomato plant that I put in by the barn, well away from our other garden plots. I hope to save seed from any fruit that ripens from it. So far, it has ripened three tomatoes, but all were seriously damaged by bugs and cracking. Our Quinte tomato seed, developed at the same research station as our favorite canning tomato, Moire, came from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Germplasm Resources Information Network.

Almost all of our Earliest Red Sweet peppers in the East Garden produced dwarfed fruit due to the drought, but I did end up putting two ERS plants in our main garden this year. I'd planned on putting one there for size comparison to our hybrid peppers, but ended up substituting a second plant for a hybrid that died shortly after transplanting. The plants are now loaded with ripe and ripening peppers about half to two-thirds the size of our hybrid bell peppers. Their flavor is excellent, and in a normal growing season would be one of the first peppers producing in our garden plots. There are no commercial vendors in the U.S. that I'm aware of currently offering the Earliest Red Sweet variety, although a number of Seed Savers Exchange members offer it in the SSE Annual Yearbook.

kaleOur single kale plant that survived the drought may by itself make one nice mess of boiled kale with onions, garlic, and bacon for seasoning. This is the first year in memory that we haven't had a bumper crop of kale.

Brussels sprouts plantAt the far end of the "kale row" is a brussels sprouts plant that came up from a root I didn't get out of the ground completely when I pulled our two plants. I'm letting it grow, as brussels sprouts can tolerate mild frost. If we have a late season as we did last year, we might just harvest a few brussels sprouts.

The flowers in the kale photo are part of the edging of our main raised garden bed. Most of them have done far better than the vegetables they surround. So while our garden hasn't been as productive as we might have liked, the fall rains have revived the flowers edging the garden bed into a beautiful display of blooms.

I'll also really hate it when the frost finally takes our snapdragons that have shared their trellis with first peas and then cucumbers. Again, the snapdragons have fared far better than either the peas or cukes. Held back by the drought and competition with the peas and cukes, the snapdragons have really come on strong with the trellis all to themselves and some timely rains. We don't have the incredible display we had last year from our snaps, but they sure are pretty.


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Sunday, October 7, 2012


Not surprisingly, there's a good chance for a freeze tonight. It's time. We've had several nights recently with temperatures in the mid-30's that have left frost on windshields. But tonight's forecast is for 32 which could put down any tender plants left unprotected. And as frequently happens in such situations, after we get through a couple of frosty nights, the next ten days on the long-term forecast have considerably less chance for a freeze, making it worthwhile to protect any plants that need just a few more days to ripen their fruit.

PeppersI looked for and picked ripe and near-ripe tomatoes this afternoon, although there weren't many. The tomatoes are ripening very slowly in our now cool conditions. On the other hand, our peppers filled and overflowed the 12 quart pot I took to the garden to put them in.

Other than our caged peppers and tomatoes, a volunteer brussels sprout plant and our one kale plant, our main raised bed is just about done.

I had to take a couple shots of the main bed today, as it may look pretty shabby by tomorrow if it frosts. The bed is pretty well mulched for winter. I will be pulling back the mulch and tilling the area where the caged peppers currently are, as our garlic will go in that spot for next year.

Main bed from south
Main bed from west

Covered potato rowI decided just this morning to go ahead and try to cover our Kennebec potatoes and Waltham butternut squash with floating row cover material from last year. The potatoes have responded nicely to recent rains and may make good use of an extra 7-10 days of growing season. Our butternuts got off to a late start and are just ripening their first squash. Since butternut "yams" have become a traditional favorite at our annual Thanksgiving feast, I tried to cover them as well, although I ran a bit short of material to cover them all.

Last watermelon of the seasonI cut a few eggplant and a couple cantaloupes in our East Garden. As I was walking out of that area, I noticed a good sized, supposedly seedless watermelon that "thunked" well but hadn't yellowed on the bottom as yet. I cut it in half right in the field. If it wasn't ripe, the frost would probably get it and it would end up in the compost pile anyway. And if it was ripe... Well, it was ripe and turned out to have fairly good flavor for a melon picked this time of year.

I've tried to mentally check off everything that needed doing before the frost and think we're in pretty good shape. Our hanging basket plants should be high enough off the ground to weather the cold night, especially with the heat leaks from our hundred plus year old house. I forgot to pick yellow squash this afternoon, but our new puppy has developed a taste for squash leaves and squash, along with almost anything else left lying around. So, I think we're ready.

A Commercial Message About Our Web Host

An email informing us of a commission earned from a clickthrough and purchase from our web host, Hostmonster, this week was a pleasant surprise. Thanks to the good soul who used our link.

We've been with Hostmonster for over three years now and have been immensely satisfied with their hosting service. There have been few outtages and the few times I've had questions, their tech support has been quite helpful.

If you're shopping for a web host, I can heartily recommend Hostmonster. I will suggest that if you're new to Hostmonster, you lock in the longest contract you can with your initial signup (doesn't increase our commission any). They often offer new customer specials, occasionally as low as $3.95/month, but more often $4.95/month. We got in on such a deal three years ago, but also note that they play hardball on renewal pricing, only slightly discounting longer term renewals from their regular, $6.95/month pricing, and certainly not anywhere near their new customer prices. At our current $5.95/month rate (paid in advance), I am still happy with the service and their rates.

Monday, October 8, 2012 - First Frost

The thermometer bottomed out at 31.3o F at around 8:30 this morning, certainly low enough to cause some damage to tender plants left unprotected in the garden. While we're within our normal first frost period, I looked at last year's October entries and found we didn't have a light frost until October 22 (32.5o F) and didn't dip below 32o until November 5!

Oct. 7, 2012 Oct. 8, 2012

The contrast between the banner photos that appear at the top of this page for yesterday and today is stark. Of course, when I grabbed today's shot, the sun hadn't come up over the garden as yet. I wanted the shot to show the morning frost. But it still looks pretty dreary compared to yesterday.

We still have a slight chance of frost in our forecast for tonight and Wednesday, but after that a period of lows in the low 40's. And the high temperatures may get back to the 70's by the weekend!

Frost Damage

frosted melon vinesWhen I finally got outside and working this morning, I saw that the frost damage wasn't all that severe. Our caged tomatoes still looked pretty good. The leaves on our caged peppers looked okay, but most of the small peppers I'd left on the plants felt leathery and old, so I pulled the pepper plants in the main garden...partially to make way for our planting of garlic.

I hadn't even considered trying to cover our pumpkins, as the leaves are tall and their stalks fairly brittle. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the frost hadn't damaged the pumpkin vines or leaves, so the three big green pumpkins remaining on the vines may yet ripen in time for Halloween.

Our watermelon vines that had become quite lush with recent rains showed fairly severe frost damage. Since I'd cut what I thought to be our last watermelon last night, I wasn't disappointed. It's time for the vines to come out, as we need to get the area tilled as soon as possible.

Good Garlic Planting Video

In a mailing from Burpee Gardens, one of our Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers, I saw a link to a video on How to Plant Garlicicon. I followed the link and was impressed enough with Burpee's Chelsey Fields' excellent instructions on planting garlic to include the video at right. I even learned something new and reassuring when she said, "Don't worry if your garlic develops a little green growth before winter sets in. They'll be just fine."

Burpee Seed Company iconBurpee, of course, will gladly sell you all the garlic icon(and other gardening stuff) you need. Although you may run into crop failure or out of stock notices on some varieties, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and the Territorial Seed Company also offer garlic bulbs for sale for fall planting. Do note that garlic bulbs can be pretty pricey, but once you start growing garlic, you'll produce your own.

Call me a sucker, but I fell for Chelsey's pitch and ordered the Dibbler/Bulb Planter iconshe used in the video and another variety of garlic. My trowels work just fine for planting garlic, but the "dibbler" just looked cool to me. (And how many gardeners do you know that really know what a "dibble" is? grin)

While still functioning in extravagant mode, I ordered yet one more, new to me, variety of garlic from Annie's Heirloom Seeds. I haven't been terribly pleased with our standard garlic for several years, so I guess it was time to try something new alongside our standard.

BTW: I used a promo code from RetailMeNot, CAT5, for a 5% discount on the order from Annie's. For Burpee, use the GR279 promo code for $4.95 flat rate shipping through midnight tonight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

frost burnt vinesI gave up this morning and switched out the fan for the electric heater in my office. I guess that's just one more sign that summer is really over.

pumpkinNot really happy with the image I used Monday of our frosted watermelon vines, I grabbed a couple more shots yesterday. If the nippy morning temperatures didn't get the idea of fall/winter arriving into my mind, the blackened leaves and vines certainly did.

The image below shows the blackened watermelon vines with our pumpkin hill, still fairly green, in the background. The image at left shows that the pumpkin vines did suffer some frost damage, but also still have good leaves remaining. A few large yellow blooms opened yesterday!

East Garden

Late tomatoTreelineThe increasing fall colors visible out my office window help ease the pain of another growing season drawing to an end. And actually, I'm really sorta glad this season is just about over. I'm hoping the mini-drought we experienced in 2011 and this year's full out drought aren't becoming the new normal.

And while I'm working to put our garden plots to bed for the winter, I still haven't pulled any of our caged tomatoes as yet. Most of the tomatoes that are ripening are cracked or have disease, insect, and/or bird damage. But we're still getting a few good tomatoes. Apparently, their heavy foliage has protected them from the frosty mornings we've had.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Red bloomI put up a page of Gloxinia Photos today dating back to some classroom shots taken in 1996 and winding up with the red bloom at left taken just this morning. When I looked at the mess surrounding the red Empress bloom in the plant room in our basement, I decided to Photoshop out the background. Now, if cleaning up the basement was just as easy...

East GardenThe last of our cantaloupe and watermelon vines from the East Garden went into the compost heap yesterday. When pulling up the watermelon plants, I was amazed at how far their roots extended under the heavy layer of grass clipping mulch we use. Six foot long roots were not uncommon.

Our orders for garlic placed on Monday from Burpee and Annie's Heirloom Seeds both arrived in good shape yesterday. That's pretty quick service.

Having had a bit of a rough go of it with some recent orders for such stuff, I was pleasantly surprised at the apparent quality of the garlic bulbs. One of the bulbs from Annie's had a blemish on it, but otherwise, the garlic looked perfect for planting.


Burpee Free Shipping

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Frost burnt sweet potato vinesSmall sweet potatoesI'd dug up the very end of our short, 8' row of sweet potatoes a week or so ago, finding no mature tubers. So when I dug the rest of the row today, I wasn't expecting much. I saved an awful lot of fattened roots slightly thicker than ones thumb that I normally wouldn't mess with, but was hoping to get enough of something to put in water this winter to start slips for next year's garden.

As I got to the end of the row, I was rewarded with one, full-size sweet potato and several smaller good ones. So we should have our start of Nancy Hall sweet potatoes for next year despite a very late planting and the drought this summer.

East Garden

PuppyTux under wheelbarrowI'd taken our wheelbarrow to the East Garden to hold whatever I dug, as I could just leave it in the garage with the sweet potatoes in it to cure. Curing things on our back porch has become a no-go with the addition of a stray, female puppy to our pack. She tends as puppies do to chew on anything and everything, shown at left enjoying a small, yellow squash I forgot to bring in yesterday.

Our wheelbarrow is a nasty contraption that I picked up for a dollar at a farm auction...and probably spent too much at that. It was already rusted when it came to us. It has heavy, steel handles that are hard on the hands and really hurt when you bump into them and a narrow, heavy rubber front wheel that digs into the ground. But it's also great for mixing cement, hauling dirt when our garden cart is in use elsewhere, curing sweet potatoes where inquisitive puppies can't find them, and for small, tuxedo cats to hide under.

I've included mention of our old wheelbarrow, as it violates almost everything the late Jim Crockett advised about wheelbarrows in his book, Crockett's Tool Shedicon. While just messing around online a week or so ago, I ran across the name of the title and ordered a 1¢ hardbound copy of it that ended up costing $4.23 with tax and shipping.

Crockett's Tool ShedSpear & Jackson Draw HoeThe book is a review of the best gardening tools available in 1979, but also has lots of gems of knowledge about tools and gardening from Jim Crockett. He constantly reminds readers to buy the best tool one can afford, as cheap tools often break with just a few years of use. (I think almost nothing, other than rust, could break our nasty wheelbarrow, though.)

I've told this story here before, but maybe it will bear telling one more time.

Several years ago, after breaking my best garden hoe that had lasted over twenty years, I went through several cheap hoes, breaking either the head or the shaft in less than a year. When one of our daughters, Samantha, asked what I wanted for my birthday, I quickly responded, "A good hoe." Sam didn't quite get that I was talking about a garden instrument, thinking instead that I had used the vernacular for a lady of the night! As a bonus to the quality hoe she delivered on my birthday, I think about one of our wonderful kids and the good laugh we had about "the hoe" every time I pick up that tool.

So I'm enjoying my 1¢ book, even though most of the product information in it is totally outdated.

Out of Drought Classification

Drought Report 10/9/2012As expected, last Thursday's U.S. Drought Monitor report moved our area out of the Moderate Drought classification and into the Abnormally Dry classification. The report reflects recent rainfalls, but also takes into consideration the long dry period we experienced and its effect on crops and the water table. Things definitely are better, but we need a really wet winter to recharge the water table.

Sadly, the relief we've received from the drought hasn't extended to many areas in the plains states with winter wheat crops having a hard time emerging. And for that matter, we're still having to baby our well, limiting washer loads, showers, and such.


Grandson Brady and I worked up until twilight this evening clearing pole bean vines from the trellis. We saved and later shelled mature beans for planting next year. Our start of pole beans this year came from Dennis Mohon, who generously shared a family heirloom with us. While this wasn't a great year for evaluating varieties, we did like the flavor of the pole beans, their absence of strings if picked fairly early (before shellie bean stage), and the sheer toughness of the variety surviving through the drought.

Dennis isn't quite sure of the variety name of the beans, if they have one beyond "greasy pole beans." They're a white seeded bean, although the beans do turn brown at maturity. And as long as I don't offer them on the Seed Savers Exchange, I'm not sure the name matters all that much. We just know that we're excited to have them and have a chance next year to give them a fair trial.

That Time of Year

If you're like Annie and I, your mailbox is filled each day/week with appeals from various politicians and charities. As national elections and the holidays approach, the requests by mail, telephone (call me and you don't get anything), email, and on television are almost non-stop. Some of the charities seem to do good things, while others, especially the tear-jerkers on TV, when checked on Charity Navigator or GiveWell, are little more than scams with much of what they receive going to fundraising and/or administrative costs.

Contributing to a local or known charity often feels like a better alternative, as you may have some idea of where the money is going. I have a niece preparing to go on the mission field. Knowing she and her husband, I know any funds I send their way will be put to good use for the Lord's work, spreading the Good News, establishing clean water supplies, and relieving poverty in third world nations...without discrimination. You can't change the whole world, but Wayne and Libby have chosen to change just a little bit of Cambodia.

In our community, we have a couple of outstanding groups doing exemplary things for the poor and homeless in west central Indiana. The Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank and The Lighthouse Mission work, often in cooperation, to house and feed the poor and homeless in our area. Since Annie knows Tim Fagg, the minister and CEO of Lighthouse, we contribute there.

On one occasion last year when I delivered a large, for us, load of melons to the mission, one of the guys helping unload the truck commented that they'd probably share some of the produce with Catholic Charities and indicated that this practice was a frequent two-way thing. As we moved the melons and other produce into shopping carts, a mission employee came out and asked if she could have a couple of the cantaloupes, commenting that she'd had some from the last load we'd delivered and that she thought they were delicious. The guy helping me unload related after she left with her cantaloupes that she was a previous resident of the mission, now living independently but still working at the mission as she got she and her children's lives back together.

The man helping me unload witnessed that he still lived at the mission but had accepted the Lord and had been "clean and dry" for over a year. As we have several family members successfully in AA, and Annie and I being at times, reminiscent of the line in Die Hard With a Vengeanceicon, "'two steps away from becoming a full blown alcoholic(s),' which McClane jokingly upgrades to only 'one step,'" I was inspired by the homeless man helping me unload. Even homeless and with a possibly tenuous grip on sobriety, his witness seemed to indicate that he had a pretty good idea of what was important in life.

I'm not sure where all this rambling goes, other than I feel pretty small at times looking at the great things others are doing for those around them in actions and witness. There are lots of real heroes and saints all around us. I guess this posting is my attempt at doing my part.

Light House Mission

Monday, October 15, 2012 - Potato Quandary

PotatoesI'm now balancing getting a little more growth out of our potatoes with the need to clear the area for tilling and the chance of tubers rotting in the cool, wet ground. I tentatively dug about three feet of our 30' row of Kennebecs this morning. The potato plants could clearly use another week or so to fatten tubers a bit, but I also dug one very rotten, full sized potato from a plant that had died back early.

potatoes in wheelbarrowPulling the landscape pins and rolling the floating row cover back about four feet once again proved the worth of the covers which we used last fall to protect fall lettuce and a couple rows of late green beans. While the row covers protect the potato plants from frost, they also cut light transmission. So, I wonder each day if I shouldn't just go ahead and dig the whole row, accepting what from this and a previous test dig promises to be a slim harvest. Today's take, other than potatoes for baking for our supper, went into the old wheelbarrow that already contained a few sweet potatoes to cure in the garage.

The baked potatoes at supper were delicious, but the whole exercise brought to mind the original meaning of the words that have become the idiom, "small potatoes."


Pumpkin patch

frost, insect, and disease damage in pumkinsWhen I went to the East Garden early this morning to dig potatoes, I had to smile at our pumpkin patch, which is actually one hill of two pumpkin plants. The pumpkins have sustained a good bit of frost, insect, and disease damage, but still had put out a half dozen large, bright yellow blossoms. And the three, large green pumpkins still on the vines are now beginning to turn orange.

Seed Saving

Something that is an ongoing chore that I often forget to write about is seed saving. We've had three paper plates on shelves in the kitchen with seed drying for one to several days now. We already have saved seed from our favorite, open pollinated canning variety of tomato, Moira. Currently, we're saving Quinte tomato seed, a variety related to Moira. I had a good many seeds drying on a coffee filter on a paper plate until I somehow flipped the paper plate and two-thirds of the seed ended up on the floor! Fortunately, I still have lots of the Quinte seed I received from the USDA's Germplasm Resources Information Network last winter.

dried milkdrying jarThe remaining saved Quinte seed went into a jar with a t-shirt scrap holding some dried milk under the cap to dry the seed down beyond ambient humidity in our kitchen. Since we freeze our seed for storage, it's important to get it as dry as possible. The dried milk step isn't essential for freezing seed, however. It's just another way to possibly increase the viability of the seed for next year...or ten years down the road.

Cheesecloth is usually recommended for holding the dried milk in such drying arrangements. It's probably a better choice, as I suspect the t-shirt scrap wicks some moisture into the jar.

We also have Earliest Red Sweet Pepper seed and the "greasy pole bean" seed I wrote about on Saturday drying on paper plates. I've already started a germination test with a small sample of the Quinte tomato seed and will do so with the pepper and bean seed in the next few days.

Seed drying

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - Portuguese Kale Soup

I canned Portuguese Kale Soup today. With only one kale plant surviving this summer's drought, I really thought we'd have to wait until next year for a batch of the delicious, hearty soup. But I'd forgotten just how much fall growth kale plants can put on.

I had to go to Terre Haute early yesterday to retrieve my pickup truck, which was once again in the shop for a broken brake line. While in the "big city," I stopped by Kroger and bought two small bunches of kale to supplement our single kale plant for a small batch of kale soup. None of our local groceries carry fresh kale greens.

As it turned out, the one plant from our garden contributed far more usable kale than the bunches I bought. Of course, I did use some older kale leaves that I'd normally just leave on the plant in years when I have a full row of kale to choose from. One just has to stem the older leaves more and cook them a bit longer than normal.

Frozen broth Portuguese Kale Soup Canner venting steam Canned kale soup

I followed our standard recipe for the soup, cooking the kale and smoked sausage in chicken broth I'd saved over the last few months. Fresh picked tomatoes, onions and garlic, carrots, and potatoes from this year's garden all went into the pot along with the the last of our frozen green beans from last year's garden. The essential kidney beans came from the grocery, as my one attempt at growing, threshing, and saving dry beans years ago was a disaster. Not quite liking the mix, I threw in a pound of frozen mixed veggies.

I canned eight pints, as Annie likes to take pints of the soup to work with her for lunch. I also froze two quarts, had some for supper last night and again for lunch today, and still have about a quart in the fridge. So I estimate total yield at around 7-8 quarts. That's not bad for a year when I thought we'd get none.

pH Testing

Soil pH testerLuster Leaf Soil Ph Meter Plus Ph Plant GuideI did a few initial soil pH tests today in both the main and East Garden. Our raised beds may only need a light dusting of lime to bring them to an ideal pH of 6.8 for next spring. The East Garden will take a bit more, but wasn't below 6.0 anywhere I tested, other than our potato rows.

I do my pH tests with an electronic soil tester I bought years ago. The image at left is from a few years ago. The unit doesn't look any better today, but still works well. The model shown in the ad photo at right seems to be the closest I can come in today's market to what I use.

A New Tool

tillertiller and tractorOur garden has always been pretty low-tech, with major purchases amortized over a lot of years to make sure it saves us money (or at least breaks even and provides us with top quality produce). Until yesterday, our primary tiller was an eighteen year old MTD rear tine tiller. It cost a little over $400 new, making its per year cost, excluding repair parts, around $25! But...I may have to garden until I'm 120 to similarly justify the new, 30" mechanical tiller we took delivery of yesterday!

I wrote earlier this month about problems we had getting the right tiller ordered and mounted on our lawn tractor. In the end, Debbie Abel and the folks at Vincennes Tractor did a fantastic job of getting the right parts ordered, installed, delivered, and then demonstrating how to use the new tool. The only remaining problem is one that I created by bending the front weight support on the tractor. We found that the required weights for tilling wouldn't fit until we removed the tractor's front cowling.

Of course, once I got the tiller, I couldn't resist turning over the areas in the East Garden where no crops are still growing. It took less than an hour to make two passes over the 80' x 80' plot. The tiller was factory set for a depth of around 4" and did a good job of incorporating weeds and some heavy hay/straw mulch.

East Garden

Today's pH testing was part of getting ready to do a deep, thorough tilling of the East Garden. Of course, it's raining cats and dogs now while I write, so the ground will need to dry out before it's worked again. I still need to get the few remaining crops out of the area to be tilled, lime it, and decide exactly where our potatoes will go next year. The potato area won't get any lime, as I'll need to incorporate sulfur to drop the soil pH below 6.0 to prevent potato scab.

I did go ahead and reset the tiller to its maximum depth today and test it out. The manual says maximum depth is around 6", about what my rear time tiller can do. When I made several test passes today at the lower depth setting, I noticed a lot less machine vibration than I experienced yesterday. It remains to be seen if that was because of the lower depth setting (and the slower wheel speed employed today) or just because the ground had been previously turned.

After just two days use, I'm pleased with the performance of the new tool.

Sunday, October 21, 2012 - Planning

East Garden 2012 planAfter several cool, rainy days, it appears today will be warm and sunny, a nearly perfect fall day. I'm hoping to get some more cleanup of our garden plots done (in between football games on TV).

I took advantage of the cool, wet days to try to finish our garden plans for next year. I like to have these plans tentatively set before I start liming and doing final tillings of our garden plots. It also helps having this chore out of the way before I begin placing seed orders.

Late Friday night, I thought I had the plan for our our large East Garden plot set for 2013. Of course, when I looked at the chart on Saturday morning, the absence of rows for sweet potatoes and broccoli and cauliflower leaped out at me.

After squeezing in the sweet potatoes and brassicas at the expense of a few rows of sweet corn, I started researching spacing between rows for melons. While our vines have totally matted the aisles between our rows of melons when planted 15' apart in the past, they certainly didn't this year. The drought had a lot of effect on that, but I also became better this last year at training our vines to run in the rows. So I ended up cutting the spacing to 10', allowing me to squeeze in one more row of melons. We had 225' of melon row in our garden this year, but didn't use all of it very well due to the dry conditions. For next year, the four row configuration should give us 180' of melon row, probably just about the right amount.

In between showers, I made several trips out to the East Garden to look over, pace off, and make sure the plan "on paper" (actually computerized) matched the real world. To make it all work correctly, I added a 5' strip to the west side of the garden plot and slid the entire plot ten feet to the south to avoid some heavy shading on the north side of the plot. Having messed around with varying configurations for the East Garden over the last few years, I think we're now set on a fairly permanent location that will allow orderly crop rotations. The plan is for half of the 80' x 80' plot to always be rotated out to a cover/green manure crop.

plotBI'm still messing around a bit with our plan for our main, raised garden bed. I've got everything into it, but am not happy with how the successions and rotations for the following year will work out. But that's part of the fun of gardening, figuring out the puzzle of what goes where and when. And sometimes, you end up with a bonus open space to try something new.

I still keep my garden records in the old AppleWorks application, using it on my main Mac (running Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6.8) under Rosetta emulation and on my laptop (running Mountain Lion, Mac OS X 10.8.2) using the excellent Sheepshaver emulator. While I do our East Garden plan on one simple page, our main raised bed with its succession plantings works better with the AppleWorks multiple page master feature. I set up the plot in a master, tell it how many pages to show, and switch to the pages to enter the succession crops. For a garden where one doesn't use successions, such a feature could be useful in keeping different years on the pages so one can plan effective crop rotations.

Sunscreen Recall

Banana Boat Pageicon iconAs many readers of Senior Gardening make use of sunscreens for skin cancer protection, I thought I'd pass on an advisory about a recall of some Banana Boat sun protection products. It appears that if the product is applied and the user is near a spark or flame before the spray dries, the product could ignite on ones skin!

The manufacturer has issued a voluntary recall of 23 of its spray-on products.

I think I'm going to stick with my cheapie, but highly rated, NO-AD SPF 45 Sunscreenicon.

Germination Test Results

Germ test resultsI had started a germination test on a sample of our saved Quinte tomato seed some time ago. I set aside the zip lock baggie holding the seed in a damp paper towel and forgot it until yesterday morning. While the seed had been in the baggie for ten days, no mold had started yet, so it was easy to see that the seed had germinated at a pretty good rate, somewhere in the 80-90% neighborhood. I moved the remaining seed from its drying jar to a foil pouch and froze it, immediately reusing the jar (and some fresh dried milk) for some pepper seed. I also started another germination test, this time on the Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed.

I haven't decided yet whether to include the Quinte variety in our offerings through the Seed Savers Exchange annual yearbook. We don't have a lot of the seed, but there are still three or four good tomatoes ripening on our one Quinte tomato plant that could make an offering possible. The deadline for submitting offerings to SSE is November 2, so I have a bit of time left to decide. We will be offering Moira tomato seed and Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper seed again this year. We grew our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers side-by-side with what I hoped were some plants of the same variety. They weren't the same, and there is a good chance the plants cross-pollinated, so we won't offer JLP seed via SSE this year. We'll need to start our JLP cucumbers for next year from old, saved seed we have stored in the freezer.

Looking Ahead

Weather Channel 10-day forecast

Precipitation (Inches)
  2012 2011 Ave.
Jan. 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 1.19 3.38 4.35
June 0.15 5.53 4.13
July 1.89 3.25 4.42
Aug. 1.99 0.32 3.82
Sept. 4.59 3.76 2.88
Oct. 2.71 2.31 2.76
Nov.   5.63 3.61
Dec.   3.62 3.03

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

Our weather forecast for the rest of the month is sort of a mixed bag. Temperatures should remain well above freezing, but we also may see a good bit of precipitation in the next week or so. Wet ground will prevent tilling, but after the summer drought, I'm not about to begin complaining about it raining too much. We've already received 2.71 inches of precipitation this month, close to the October average of 2.76 inches.

The cool, wet weather does afford a good opportunity to overseed bare patches in our lawn, something I've already done, but need to do more of. I still have a few pounds of good grass seed in the garage. It certainly won't do any good sitting in its bag on a shelf!

We still need to get our garlic planted for next year. I've waited a bit to do so, as there are some nice flowers still blooming in the area where the garlic will go.

I'm not sure at this point whether I'll wait for dry soil to till and fluff the soil a bit or just pull back the mulch and plug our garlic sets into the ground. Tilling would allow incorporating a little lime and bonemeal, but I suspect we may be into a long-term wet spell for now. Fortunately, the garlic area's soil pH is already fairly close to optimal. It's also an area that received a heavy covering of composted manure last spring, so soil fertility should be okay.

Last year I got caught with insufficient mulch to entirely cover our garlic planting. This year, I have two piles of grass clipping mulch sitting beside our raised bed to use over the garlic. While mulching isn't essential to growing good garlic, it holds the soil in place, retains moisture, and helps moderate temperature extremes, besides preventing weed growth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - Indian Summer?

Last night, a couple of local TV anchors were discussing what comprises an "Indian Summer," and if we were having one. I'm not sure if the definition might help the TV guys, but I know I'm certainly enjoying our stretch of days with highs well into the 70s. Apparently, that will all end on Friday as high temperatures drop around 25o to more seasonable conditions.

Seed Savers Exchange Listings

QuinteI wrote on Sunday that I hadn't quite decided on whether to offer Quinte tomato seed in our Seed Savers Exchange listings this year, as I wasn't sure I had enough seed to share. On Monday, I went to the far end of the field where our lone Quinte plant grows (for isolation from other tomatoes) and picked ten, yes TEN, ripe tomatoes. When I checked the plant today, it had still more fruit ripening!

We used one particularly nice Quinte for BLTs, but the others were all cut and seed removed for seed saving. It's too soon to be sure of the seed's viability, as it is still in the fermenting stage of seed saving. Once it's cleaned, I'll do a germination test on a sample just to make sure I have good seed. Although the Seed Savers Exchange has a November 2 cutoff for next year's listings, one can change availability of seed from "Has" (meaning lots for all members), to "Limited Quantity" (which means only listed members, members who offer seed through the yearbook, can order), well into December. The Yearbook comes out sometime in January.

So with lots of Quinte seed in the fermenting container, I went ahead and listed the variety in the SSE yearbook as a "Has," along with Moira tomato seed and Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed.

Moira tomatoes Earliest Red Sweet peppers
Moira tomatoes Earliest Red Sweet peppers

If you're unfamiliar with the Seed Savers Exchange, it's a non-profit organization founded by Kent and Diane Whealy out of their living room in 1975 to help preserve vanishing open pollinated seed varieties. They saw the increasing tendency of seed companies to drop open pollinated varieties of plants in favor of hybrids. While some of the hybrids truly had superior characteristics, the trend placed a lot of the world's germplasm in jeopardy of extinction.

The idea of SSE was that folks would save seed from their open pollinated varieties, often their favorites and sometimes family heirlooms, and share them with others via the SSE network. Seed Savers Exchange members could order small quantities of seed from other members' listings in the Exchange's annual yearbook. Back in the 1970's when I first got involved, you just put several stamps in an envelope, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, to pay for the seed you ordered. Even today, you just pay about what one does for a small, commercial seed packet for a seed sample from other SSE members. As years passed, SSE, other organizations, and government entities began germplasm repositories to protect our heritage in plant diversity.

We originally saved and shared a number of tomato varieties. During our farming years, we saved and offered Reid's Yellow Dent open pollinated field corn which disappeared from commercial seed vendors' offerings for a few years. The varieties we now offer and have offered over the last few years are some of our favorites from the 1970s, although we lost our start on Earliest Red Sweet peppers and had to order them a few years ago from another SSE member. As mentioned elsewhere this month, we also lost our start of Quinte tomatoes, but were fortunate to receive a sample this spring from the USDA's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).

Moira - front Moira - back
JLP -front JLP - back

Our Moira tomato and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed are from plants grown out from commercial seed packets we'd stored in the freezer for years and years. We're not offering the JLP seed this year, as we grew it side-by-side with another cucumber variety with which it may have cross-pollinated. We'll be sure to isolate our JLPs next year.

Each of the varieties we grow and offer is a favorite of ours. All are pretty much unavailable in the U.S. from reputable, commercial vendors. And by the new standards of what some folks call heirlooms, each may qualify for that designation, although I have trouble calling anything offered as recently as the 1980s an heirloom. (Is that geezerspeak?)

Anyway, I'll leave the SSE discussion with the suggestion that it's a good organization you might want to consider joining. The annual membership fee is currently $40, although the seniors' rate is just $25.

Tomatoes Out

Garden from sunroomQuinte closeupAnd if you didn't notice from our usual page topper photo, I got the last of our tomatoes out of our main, raised bed garden plot today. I just had two of the original five plants to remove, but one of them was our Red Candy grape tomato plant. Grape tomatoes shed hundreds of tiny tomatoes, each filled with hundreds of seeds. Cleaning them all up is a real chore, but necessary if one doesn't want tomatoes to become their primary weed problem in the garden!

We're down to two Moira tomato plants left in the East Garden, although I may pull them any time now. They're mostly producing severely cracked fruit at this point, although I do get a good tomato or two from them yet. And the Quinte, while suffering from some late bacterial speck, is finally ripening lots of tomatoes. I had to replace our Quintes twice, so this plant got a very late start.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 - A Little Politics, Sort of

I really didn't plan on posting anything here today. But as I perused a number of news sites online, I ran across Mark Bittman's excellent article about California's Proposition 37, Buying the Vote on G.M.O.’s on the New York Times. The initiative "would require the labeling of most foods containing G.M.O.’s" (genetically modified organisms). Despite the claims of large chemical companies, such labeling would not significantly add to the cost of food, but would give folks some further information about the items they purchase at the grocery. The evolution of "tenacious new superweeds" in roundup ready crops is already well documented, but the bigger problem with GMOs are the unknown health risks they may pose.

Most gardeners know about GMOs from reputable seed houses that are now moving away from carrying any genetically modified seed. While not all of our Recommended Seed Suppliers are listed as signing this year's Safe Seed Pledge, all of them indicate on their web site, catalog, or in the case of Twilley and Stokes Seeds, in response to my phone inquiries this morning, that they do not sell any genetically modified seeds. (Twilley Seeds maintains only a minimal web site, and Stokes' site was down this morning, so I ended up calling both for confirmation.)

Here are a few sources of information about the potential dangers of GMO foods:

I don't want to come off as some wingnut pushing a health scare, but I think folks should be aware when companies like Monsanto (maker of Roundup) claim no further research into the effects of GMO derived foods is necessary while simultaneously pouring millions of dollars (via the horrible Citizens United decision) into advertising against a rather reasonable and tame voter initiative in California.

And hey, if nothing else, you got to see a funny video on this site today!

Saturday, October 27, 2012 - Vote!

Sullivan, IN CourthouseskylightI joked a bit on Wednesday about adding a bit of politics to the site. Without getting into all the stuff currently going on, let me say that Indiana is one of the states that allows early voting. So on Friday, I put on my best flannel shirt and jeans and went to the county courthouse and voted. There was no line, nor did I see anyone waiting to vote after I finished. While they've probably heard it before, after voting I asked the clerks in the office, "Since I've voted, does that mean all the junk mail and crazy TV ads will stop now?"

Built in 1928, our courthouse is one of those grand, old but well kept, government buildings constructed all across the nation during those years. A three story atrium at its center draws ones glance away from the oak bannisters and marble floors to the stained glass skylight.

You can find out where to vote early here.

Still Cleaning Up

Bare porchPorch plantsWe're slowly making progress on getting our garden plots cleaned up and ready for next year. This morning's main job was trimming and bringing in the porch plants we overwinter under our plant lights. I'd treated those plants with systemic insecticide several weeks ago, so after trimming them today, a quick spritz of rotonone-pyrethrin was all they needed before going under the plant lights. A sadder, related task was pitching the hanging basket annuals. We have enjoyed once again having our porch lined with a variety of blooming plants all summer. Although all of our petunias were shot, I left a basket of trailing impatiens that is still in bloom.

With recent rains bringing our monthly total to 3.31", we're waiting for the soil to dry out a bit before doing much more in our garden patches. Our main, raised bed is almost totally cleared other than a few flowers, a kale plant, and a brussels sprout plant that came up from roots I didn't get completely grubbed out of the patch. But we'll soon take out all the plants there, rake off the mulch, and then lime and till the plot. Since the plot is subject to wind erosion, I plan to replace the mulch over as much of the bed as possible for winter.

Main bed
East Garden

The wet weather has changed my plans for our East Garden. I'd originally planned to fall seed alfalfa to the half of the plot we'll be rotating out next year (in foreground above). If things dry out quickly enough, I may still be able to till and plant. But my plans for the far side of the plot, a quick turndown crop of buckwheat, simply won't happen. I have the seed, but buckwheat can't survive frost, which we're sure to have plenty of in the next few weeks.

The entire East Garden will require liming, as its pH has slipped down to around 6.0. Because of the size of the plot, it appears I'm going to need over 300 pounds of lime to raise the pH to an ideal 6.5-6.8. But if I can till, lime, and possibly even seed the alfalfa, we'll have a giant head start for next year's crops.

Moiras and QuintesI still have a row of zinnias, part of a row of potatoes (under a floating row cover), two tomato plants, and two pepper plants in the East Garden. I've been trying to give the potatoes every last day I can to put on decent sized tubers after nearly losing the row during the summer drought. And the other stuff...well, I guess I'm just not willing to admit that our growing season is really over.

The grandkids and I picked about a dozen ripe tomatoes today from the two Moire plants left in the East Garden and a Quinte tomato plant isolated at the far end of the field for seed production. On closer inspection inside, I ended up pitching all but five of what we picked. Even those five had flaws, but for this time of year, were well worth keeping (and trimming out the cracks and bad spots). My seven-year-old granddaughter ate two of the five tomatoes before she went home!

REI Outlet

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 - End of the Month

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

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

NOAA Outlook MapThe end of October marks our second straight month of above average precipitation. When it rains now, the ground stays wet for several days, where before it would be bone dry again in less than 24 hours. We're definitely emerging from the summer's drought, although last fall was fairly wet before monthly precipitation plunged beginning in February. And we're still months away from ground water levels being recharged enough to move worries about our well to the back of our minds.

Area ponds, lakes, and reservoirs are still low, often by feet rather than inches. The recently published Elusive El Niño challenges NOAA’s 2012 U.S. Winter Outlook really doesn't offer a lot of hope for the wet winter that will be needed to refill those bodies of water and recharge water tables. Recovery from our worst drought in nearly 30 years may be a multiple year thing.

Of course, just a few hundred miles to the east of us, what once was Hurricane Sandy has created havoc with storm surges, heavy rain, and even heavy snow. The essential cleanup and recovery will be an overwhelming task. icon

Pumpkins at hitching post plant rack

The three immature pumpkins I cut a week or so ago turned out to have some use. I put them around the hitching post by the mouth of our driveway. That makes one more Halloween decoration than we had last year!

Inside, our plant rack is about as bare as it ever gets as more and more of our gloxinia plants go dormant. Not shown in the image at right is a row of trays at the dark end of the plant room holding lots of "sleeping" gloxinia plants. Despite our best efforts at manipulating "day" lengths under our plant lights, we find that one of the tradeoffs of having older, stronger gloxinia corms is that they somehow sense the seasons and tend to go dormant in the fall. Gloxinias grown from seed in their first year are pretty sure to bloom about six months after germination. So to have lots of winter blooming gloxinias, one should probably start them from seed in June or July (or get better at simulating summer conditions under plant lights). Fortunately, we do have six or seven second and third year corms that are just coming out of dormancy and should give us a few showy plants to brighten things up this winter. (You can fool some of the people gloxinias all of the time, and all of the people gloxinias some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people gloxinias all of the time.)

Alibris iconOctober, 2012 anigifA "new" used book came in the mail yesterday. After bringing in the mail, I immediately started reading Seed Savers Exchange co-founder Diane Whealy's memoir, Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Savericon. It's a fascinating read. I'm a bit of a slow reader, but by midnight, I'd eagerly read almost half of it.

As I frequently do, I opted for a used copy of the book to save a few bucks. Although my copy came via Barnes & Nobleicon, they now appear to have sold out of inexpensive used copies. The image link at left and the banner ad below are to a new affiliate advertiser here on Senior Gardening, Alibrisicon, who still have several fairly inexpensive used copies available.


September, 2012

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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