Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 12/31/2013


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Crockett's Victory GardenOutdoor gardening usually comes to a halt for us sometime in December. The ground is wet and often frozen, preventing one from doing much more than pulling a weed or two when the soil surface is thawed. The occasional warm spell can provide an opportunity to do a bit of tilling or gathering of leaves. But that's fairly rare.

Being pushed out of the garden by winter weather does allow one time, as Jim Crockett noted in his December entry in Crockett's Victory Garden, "for tidying up the potting shed, cleaning, sharpening, and oiling our hand tools, and sending the garden machinery out for an annual tune-up."

Late this month, we'll take another look at our garden plans for next season before finalizing and placing our garden seed orders for next year. While we've received seed catalogs from some of our preferred seed suppliers, several others are supposed to arrive around mid-month. It's nice to have them all in hand for variety and price comparisons.

December's lull in outdoor activity also allows us to experiment a bit with early seedings of old onion and geranium seed. If the seed germinates, we'll have some very early onion and/or geranium starts. If not, we'll know to order new seed. And as we've done the last two years, we'll probably start an egg carton or two of petunias to add some color to our kitchen windowsill.

Petunias in egg carton on windowsill

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Monday, December 2, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 2, 2013In between naps through football games yesterday afternoon, I went out and cleared the stalks from our raised asparagus bed. I used lopping shears to cut the stalks at the ground and then moved them to a hole we're using for such stuff. Clearing the old stalks is supposed to help prevent insect and disease carryover. For my purposes, clearing the stalks makes picking next spring a bit easier.

I'd hoped to turn some peat moss into our main raised bed today. When I checked the bed mid-afternoon, it was clearly too wet to even work dry peat moss into. I often work soil that is far more damp in the fall than I would in the spring, as the ground has all winter to freeze and thaw and heal any damage I might do. Also, working in dry material allows one to work wetter soil. But not today.

Seeding

Denied the chance to do more than pull a few weeds outside today, I moved inside and got several things started. I'd ordered a packet of Double Brocade gloxinia seed last week from a new vendor and wanted to test it. So I started a small pot of around 30 Double Brocade seeds today.

Following up on the information Mike Bryce sent me about geranium seed not requiring total darkness to germinate, I started a side-by-side trial with some old geranium seed I had in the freezer. I started both Maverick Red and Multibloom geraniums in clear freezer bags. A bag of each went into a tray over our heat mat with the thermostat set for 73o F under our plant lights. A second set of bags with seed went into an opaque bag and into the same tray. While not really a good test (old seed, some of which I believe is hard seed), it may give me some idea of how much benefit one gets from exposing germinating geranium seed to light.

Another Seed Catalog

Seed Savers Exhange -2014 - Catalog CoverSSE catalog - pp 32-33I mentioned on Sunday that we were still waiting on a few more seed catalogs to come in before filing our garden seed orders for next season. One of those catalogs came in today. The Seed Savers Exchange catalog is a very colorful listing of items offered by the Seed Savers organization, not to be confused with their Seed Savers Annual Yearbook, which lists items offered by seed saving members of the exchange.

The SSE catalog contains "open pollinated and heirloom varieties, or varieties that breed true from seed." This year the catalog also includes "special edition varieties from the Preservation Gardens...at Heritage Farm," which were previously only available to SSE members through the annual yearbook. There's also a good bit of cultural information, growing tips, and some features such as How to Thresh and Winnow Beans.

It appears to me that the Seed Savers organization has attempted to have a photo of each variety listed in the catalog. While it's often tough to match catalog product shots with what one grows in ones own garden, such photos are helpful in making selections. The images, along with the excellent page layout, make it the most attractive catalog we've received this season.

With catalogs on hand now from Twilley Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (the Whole Seed version, not the free one), Johnny's Selected Seeds, and the Seed Savers Exchange, we're close to being able to work up our seed orders. Still supposed to be coming this month are catalogs from R.H. Shumway, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, Territorial Seed Company, and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. We've also requested a few catalogs from some interesting new vendors I wrote about last month. (See our Trusted Suppliers page for links to these and other seed houses.)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - Life, Love & Hope

AmazonLike any rabid Boston (band) fan, I was still up just after midnight when the email announcing that I could download Boston's new album, Life, Love & Hope, came in. So as I write today's early morning posting, the incredible guitar strains of my favorite rock group are playing.

Listening to the new album is a bittersweet experience, as several cuts feature Brad Delp, who committed suicide in 2007, singing the lead. Three of the eleven cuts on the album are from the Corporate America album. Didn't Mean to Fall in Love sounds just the same, while You Gave up on Love (2.0) and Someone (2.0) appear to be rerecordings or rearrangements of the old songs.

As I wrote last month, if you have an aging rocker on your Christmas list, this album might be something they'd like.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Warm, foggy, misty Senior GardenInternational Rescue CommitteeWe're into our second straight day of warm, foggy, misty weather. Yesterday was more fog than mist, with the reverse being true today. Our predicted 66o F high temperature today will give way to below freezing highs, ice, and snow by the weekend.

With no outdoor gardening possible and little ambition to begin some needed indoor chores today, I decided to share a few garden oriented Christmas shopping suggestions here, beyond the tongue in cheek suggestion yesterday for Boston's new album.

When the weather turns bad or when one has a gardening question, there's nothing quite like having a small library of good books on gardening to consult. While our bookshelves are filled with gardening books, there are just a few I keep for frequent reference in a box sitting just behind my chair in the office.

Crockett's Victory Garden Amazon Crocket listing Crockett's Indoor Garden Crockett's Flower Garden

Crockett's Victory Garden has been my go-to gardening book for years. It covers most vegetable gardening issues and is written in an easy to understand way. A used copy of the now out of print book typically runs $4 with shipping from Amazon! Most of the image links above and below are to Amazon, but Alibrisicon, and Books-A-Million also carry many used titles.

Amazon Amazon Current Growing Garden Seeds Amazon

While writing this posting, I discovered that I have two copies of Nancy Bubel's excellent The New Seed Starter's Handbook. One needs to go to Goodwill. I put up two shots of Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds, as the first is a cleaned up product shot I did of my copy a few years ago, with the second being the current version available from Johnny's Selected Seeds for just $2.95! The last image of Digital Plant Photography: For beginners to professionals is a cheat, as I just recently gave the title to Annie as a Christmas gift suggestion for me.

Tools and Such

Amazon Nylon Trellis Netting Walmart - Large Kneeling Pad icon

At $24.95, the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator is possibly a little pricey for small hand tools, but worth every cent of its price when removing established weeds in the garden. After hunting for years for affordable and usable trellis material, I've pretty well settled on using Dalen Garden Trellis Netting. The Large PVC Kneeling Pad iconAnnie gave me last Christmas does double duty, both in the garden and when I'm on my (bad) knees on the hard kitchen and garage floors.

Walmart - Comfortable Kneeler Bench Clonex Rooting Gel Amazon - Brinno HD Time Lapse Camera Stirrup Hoe Amazon - a good hoe

Along with the kneeling pad, Annie also got me a Midwest Kneeler Bench iconlast Christmas. The bench has never made it into my garden, as I keep it in pretty steady use in my plant room. Clonex Rooting Compound Gel is a big improvement over the older rooting powders I used to use. And while I still use the original Brinno GardenWatchCam for time lapse photography in the garden, they've come out with an improved version, the Brinno TLC100 Time Lapse HD Video Camera. I've been fairly happy with my GardenWatchCam, although I would love additional features, pixels, and depth of field, but it is about the first such inexpensive time lapse camera to go on the market. Amazon offers a pretty wide selection of time lapse cameras for outdoor use in the $100-200 price range.

I won't again tell my story about a good hoe here, but offer the advice that a good scuffle or standard hoe with a bow on it makes a dandy Christmas present. One can usually find them at a good hardware store.

And of course, with all the gifting that goes along with this season, it's important to remember those who have little to nothing here at home and around the world.

Light House Mission

Later

Kevin's Forecast

As I watched the six o'clock news and weather, that forecast that included a little snow and ice became a bit more serious. WTHI-TV's Kevin Orpurt is shown at left predicting between three and five inches of snow for our area in the next few days.

When I was teaching, Kevin used to make a trip each year from Terre Haute to McCormick's Creek State Park to give a weather talk to our sixth graders on their annual camping trip.

Looks like it's going to be snow shovel and hot chocolate time soon.

Friday, December 6, 2013 - First Snow of the Season

The Senior Garden - December 5, 2013The Senior Garden - December 6, 2013We ended up with a little over five inches of snow accumulation overnight, with another five inches or so predicted for this afternoon and evening. Yesterday's high temperature was 63o F. Today's predicted high is 26o F, with nothing above freezing predicted for the next seven days. It appears our first snow of the winter will be staying with us for a while.

Five to ten inches of snow isn't all that unusual for west central Indiana, but it's still a bit of a shock when it happens. Area schools are closed, but a snowplow (and our trash service) have been down our road, so I don't think we're snowed in.

I didn't have to use our snow blower at all last winter, so I may have a bit of a chore getting it to fire up today to open up our driveway (if we get that additional 5" of snow predicted). But we don't have any reason to go out right now. Annie is working from home today (VOIP), and I stocked up on groceries yesterday. I also bought a copy of Tom Clancy's last book, Command Authority, so I'll have something to do other than tending our indoor plants and looking at the snow.

Geraniums

It's really a bit early to be starting geraniums from seed in our area, as any plants started now will be quite large before it's warm enough to put them into the ground. But when I got my hands on a growers guide for geraniums that suggested they might germinate better with some limited light than in total darkness, which I'd previously recommended, I had to give it a try.

Seed Samples under lightsI used two varieties of old geranium seed I had in frozen storage for the test, Maverick Red and Multibloom. The Maverick Reds (and a packet of Orbit mixed) had produced disappointing results last January and February that I concluded were due to hard seed. The Multiblooms had germinated pretty well.

I prepared four germination samples for the test, two for each variety. Each sample or germination test had about ten seeds on dampened, unbleached coffee filters that I placed in clear, ziplock freezer bagsicon. One sample of each variety went into a bottom heated tray under our plant lights and one of each went into an opaque bag in the same tray.

Germination Test ResultsHaving started the germination test on Monday, I was able to "read" the initial results yesterday. The Maverick Reds germinated at 20% in total darkness and 40% in light. (Remember, the Maverick Red was fairly poor seed with a high percentage of hard seed in it.) The Multiblooms germinated at 67% (8/12) in total darkness and at 90% (9/10) in light.

The seeds that sprouted under light had a delightful touch of green color to them.

While probably not a definitive result, it would appear that geranium seed does germinate a bit better under light than in darkness. A definite conclusion is that my previous recommendation for germinating the seed only in total darkness was totally wrong.

Again, my thanks to Mike Bryce for guiding me to the correct information.

Now What?

Sprouted geranium seed pottedSprouted geraniumOne reason for reading the test early was so that I could easily move any sprouted seeds to pots and let them grow for our garden next spring. The sprouts can break when moved when they get large, sometimes even sinking roots into the coffee filter (or especially, a paper towel) they were germinated on.

Having seen early on that we were going to have some good results, I washed and disinfected an old tray and a bunch of 3" plastic pots and sterilized a kettle of potting soil Wednesday night. So yesterday morning, besides reading and recording the results, I was busy gently, gently moving the seeds onto sterilized soil in the pots before covering them with just a bit of vermiculite (per the growers guide recommendation). By this morning, a few of the now potted geranium seeds had pushed through the vermiculite.

The unsprouted seeds from the germination tests went back under our plant lights (without the opaque bag) over the heat mat. Knowing that I was using some hard seed when I started the test, I treated each coffee filter with a bit of captan to prevent seed rot and to allow the tests to continue a bit longer. Normally, after five to ten days, a good bit of mold and rot sets into the germination test. So we may have even more geranium sprouts to transplant in the coming days. So far, I have transplanted 23 geranium seeds (out of 42) into pots. That's not a smashing germination rate, but when I remove the hard Maverick seed from the numbers, the Multibloom germinated overall (total darkness and light) at a respectable 77% (for seed that was at least a year old).

Plant rack with heat mats

Gro-mat with wire rack
Gro-mat from the Greenhouse Megastore
Hydrofarm Thermostat
Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat For Heat Mats

The tray of potted geraniums were covered with a clear humidome and went under our plant lights, over our second soil heating mat. The second mat isn't controlled by an external thermostat, but I did use the wire rack that came with the mat to moderate the heat a bit. The mat itself is supposed to have a built-in thermostat, but I once melted the bottom of a standard 1020 seed flat with it when I placed the flat directly on the mat without the wire rack!

I guess I should have included the Gro-Mat soil heating mat and the Hydrofarm Digital Thermostat For Heat Mats in Wednesday's posting of gift suggestions for gardeners.

I got my first Gro-Mat from Park Seed in 2006. Other than a 366 day period when I tried another brand of soil heating mat, which died one day after its 365 day warranty, I've used Gro-Mats exclusively. I bought my second one in 2011. Both obviously are still in service.

The Gro-Mat comes with a wire rack to separate seed flats from the mat and also to protect the surface of whatever is underneath the mat and rack. Its built-in thermostat is set a bit high to use seed flats directly over it, but works quite well with the wire rack installed.

Thermometer in humidomeTo keep an eye on internal temperatures of a covered seed flat, I used my trusty, 40 year-old Weston darkroom thermometer to monitor the temperature under a humidome last January. In our cool basement plant room, it kept the air temperature in the mid- to upper 70s. (I had wondered yesterday why on earth there was a small hole in the end of the humidome!Blush)

The Hydrofarm thermostat has proved to be a dandy. With it, I can place a seed flat directly on the Gro-mat without danger of things overheating. The thermostat has a temperature probe that one can place in the tray being heated or in the potting medium of pots in the tray.

While I'm rambling and, as my wife says, supplying way too much information, I'll add that I really like the heavy plastic Perma-Nest Plant Trays (shown at left) with high humidomes. They're durable and won't bend or break with a full load of damp potting medium in them. They're also quite expensive. I started building up a supply of them, buying two or three a year, several years ago.

Done...Almost

I almost wrote a book on this one, but the geranium seed germination issue seemed to require it. It's snowing like crazy again, so I guess I'll read my book or get some purple sage cuttings I took this week in rooting gel and potting medium.

Monday, December 9, 2013 - Rooting Cuttings

Sage plant in MayWandering Jew LeavesWith cold temperatures and a lot of snow still on the ground, I turned to rooting a few cuttings over the weekend. I'd snipped four cuttings from our common (purple) sage plant before things got nasty outside and just set them in a glass of water on the kitchen counter. When I was moving sprouted geranium seeds to pots, I decided to root the sage and also take cuttings from our wandering jew plant since I already had some sterilized planting medium out.

The cuttings got stripped down to just a leaf or two at the growth tip of each cutting. Then they were dipped in rooting gel (rooting hormone) and placed at an angle in pots and/or fourpacks of sterilized potting medium. To help the cuttings root, they went into a covered plant tray with bottom heat.

Wandering Jew 4" Cutting Stripped cutting Dipped and potted Potted cuttings Under dome, over bottom heat

If they root, the sage cuttings will be used as semi-permanent corner markers for our East Garden. Deer are said to be offended by the odor of sage and other herbs, so the plants may serve a dual purpose. I've not rooted sage before, so I'm eager to see how this experiment turns out. While reading up on rooting sage, I ran across a unique method mentioned in a forum posting. The writer suggested putting a bucket with the bottom removed over an existing sage plant in the garden and filling the bucket with soil up to the growth tips of the sage plant. He noted that after some months, one could split the bucket and harvest lots of sage plants this way.

Wandering jew and gloxiniasWandering Jew PlantOur wandering jew plant rarely gets the attention it deserves, either in photos or in timely waterings. It somehow endures our frequent lapses in care, occasionally having to be rescued by a warm shower. In photos of our kitchen counter, the plant often shows in the edges of photos of other plants, adding a lot of color, but usually not the center of interest in the photo.

One reason the wandering jew doesn't get to "star" in photos is that it is quite difficult to photograph against the bright background of the kitchen window. But the spot has turned out to be ideal for the plant, providing strong light in the afternoons which makes the leaves almost glow.

The plant shown above right is probably a fifth or sixth generation plant from the original that one of our daughters gave us years ago. The kitchen plant usually goes outside for the summer, being replaced by a new plant produced by stem cuttings. If all or most of the cuttings take, we'll have an extra plant for outside next summer or one to give away. I've also successfully started wandering jew cuttings directly in large, hanging basket pots. While that saves a step, you also can end up with too many or not enough plants, depending on how the rooting goes.

One thing I should have worked in along the way but didn't is that while under a humidome, plastic, or whatever one covers their cuttings to hold in moisture while rooting, the cutting leaves must not touch the humidome or plastic. If they do, they pick up moisture and may begin to rot at the point of contact.

I don't do a lot of cuttings, but find it fun to clone plants this way from time to time. I describe the almost identical process for rooting gloxinia leaf cuttings in our feature story about gloxinias.

David's Cookies

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - More Seed Catalogs

As is common this time of year, our mailbox was loaded with catalogs yesterday. Three of them were seed catalogs: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds; Totally Tomatoes; and the Vermont Bean Seed Company.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Totally Tomatoes Vermont Bean Seed Company

Since we'd received a complimentary copy of Baker Creek's (DGW rating) paid The Whole Seed Catalog last month, their regular, free catalog wasn't the usual treat it is most years. That's only because we'd seen the content before, as the catalog is full of open pollinated vegetable varieties with great illustrations.

Both Totally Tomatoes (DGW rating) and the Vermont Bean Seed Company (DGW rating) are part of the Jung Seed (DGW rating) conglomerate. We've ordered from both in the past, but usually do our "Jung business" with their R.H. Shumway (DGW rating) outlet. Possibly a sign of the times in this age of consolidation and conglomerates, the mailing address for the Vermont Bean Seed Company is in Randolph, Wisconsin.

The Who Owns What page of Dave's Garden is quite helpful in sorting out which seed houses are independents and which are part of larger conglomerates.

All three catalogs are also available as online PDFs.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - Another Day, Another Seed Catalog

Sow True Seed45th Parallel SeedsFor a home gardener and connoisseur of seed catalogs, this is a very good time of year. I first learned of Sow True Seed from a Garden Writers Association mailing last month. After reading about the relatively new (founded in 2009) seed house, I was interested enough to request a catalog. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday.

Sow True Seed (DGW rating) offers untreated, open-pollinated seed with an emphasis on helping buyers know how to save their own seed in the future.

An email from Earl Bassett let me know about his seed outlet, 45th Parallel Seeds (no DGW rating yet). He has an incredible and expanding list of open pollinated tomato cultivars in his seed bank. Earl ran across our feature story about the Canadian developed Earlirouge tomato. Since he collects, grows, and sells many such cultivars, he wrote to inquire if I had seed for other such tomatoes.

Since I haven't ordered from Sow True Seeds or Earl Bassett's 45th Parallel Seeds, this posting isn't a recommendation for them. It's just an expression of my positive first impressions of both. But finding more and more small, independent seed sources for open pollinated varieties, often locally grown and regionalized, is a very good thing, I think, for gardeners everywhere.

Odds 'n' Ends

Tomato CalendarLaura Taylor's 2014 Tomato Calendar & Growing Guide is now available. "It contains information about how to plant, when to feed, how much water to give and dealing with pests. It’s color coded for 8 different growing regions so that it can be used whether the tomato enthusiast is in Southern California or South Carolina!" I've enjoyed her 2013 calendar on my office wall this year.

The December newsletter from Johnny's Selected Seeds has a link to an excellent article on growing melons, Melon Growing Basics for the Market Gardener. While obviously aimed at market gardeners, there may be a tip or two in the posting that we home gardeners may find useful. I did. If nothing else, I really appreciated a paragraph in the introduction of the article:

Most of the melon varieties favored by grower-shippers selling to supermarkets have been bred to withstand the rigors of shipping and handling, for good shelf life and, to make matters worse, are often picked before fully ripe to further enhance their shelf life. Flavor is subservient to firmness and shelf life for these melons.

They conclude the article, "While there is a learning curve to growing melons successfully, once you've mastered the techniques, they can be a rewarding and profitable crop." I'd add, "even for the home gardener."

While market gardeners are forced to grow their transplants in rather small pots or inserts, we've had great success with growing 2-3 transplants in 4" plastic square pots. Of course, since we are on heavy clay soil, we also give each of our melon hills a deluxe hole enhanced with peat moss or compost, lime, and fertilizer. When locals visit our garden and marvel at how we grow such great melons on clay soil, I rarely give away our secret that the melons actually are growing in some pretty deluxe medium.

Charity: Water

Thursday, December 12, 2013 - Geminid Meteor Shower

An article on CNN yesterday, Meteor explodes over Arizona; big meteor shower begins, reminded me that we are once again upon the Geminid Meteor Shower. The Geminids are the heaviest meteor shower of the year, sometimes producing up to 120 meteors per hour. While meteor showers are usually the result of Earth passing through the dust trail left by comets orbiting the sun, the Geminids are somewhat unique, as they are caused by the dust trail left by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.

While we had clear, moonless skies for the shower last year, our forecast is a bit iffy for the overnight, December 13-14, peak of the shower. Meteor watchers will also have a tougher time discerning faint meteors, as we're approaching a full moon. I may try watching tonight, as the skies are supposed to be a bit clearer than tomorrow night when we have a chance of snow coming in.

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

Geminid source

The image above is a Stellarium representation of the night sky from, well, the middle of our back yard at around 10:10 tomorrow night. The marked "Radiant" is the area where the meteors will emanate, but of course, you can also see the moon close by in the night sky projection.

For the non-techie in the Northern Hemisphere, just look up to the south and southeast a bit after 10 P.M. (EST) either tonight or tomorrow night.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 12, 2013The Senior Garden - December 13, 2013I went out twice last night and saw a few meteors, but it was too cold to look for long. We have overcast skies today, and the temperature has finally gotten above freezing for the first time in a week. But we'll not be seeing any Geminids this evening in west central Indiana.

Our forecast calls for ice pellets and then more snow this evening and tomorrow. Temperatures dropped below zero overnight, Wednesday-Thursday, which I guess is good for killing off any bugs trying to overwinter in garden trash, bushes, and such.

The contrast between clear blue skies yesterday morning and the depressing gray today made me want to not change the banner, top photo of this page. But I consoled myself by inserting yesterday's blue skies at left...along with the depressing gray at right.

WunderMap - 131213 - 4:43pmSweet potato plant in glassThe current WunderMap looks as if the storm beast is about to devour The Senior Garden. As night falls, the reds and greens in the image will undoubtedly turn to blue, representing snow.

In what little gardening news there is, I did order sweet potato plants for next spring this week. Since the surface of our harvested sweet potatoes look pretty nasty, probably from a disease, I ordered twelve each of Beauregard and Nancy Hall from George's Plant Farm. I probably won't plant more than six of each variety, sharing the extra slips with some local gardener, as we don't need all that many sweet potatoes. And, digging our thirty foot row of them this summer just about killed me!

The poor appearance of our stored sweet potatoes hasn't seemed to affect their flavor. We had baked sweet potatoes with our supper one night this week, and they were excellent. But I suspect taking and rooting slips from the blemished potatoes again this year might cause us some serious disease problems next year. That's too bad, as a glass with a sweet potato plant in it is always a welcome sight during the winter on our kitchen windowsill.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cutting with roots

Cuttings potted
Sage cuttings

Temperatures stayed warm enough on Friday and Saturday that we escaped getting a lot more snow. Instead, we had a nasty mix of rain, sleet, and snow that melted off the roads fairly quickly but left everything else crunchy to walk on. The ten day forecast for our area suggests warmer temperatures, muddy ground, and little chance for a white Christmas.

Indoors, the wandering jew cuttings I started rooting last weekend responded quickly to the rooting gel, putting out roots even above the soil at the leaf joints along the stem. I really shouldn't have been surprised by the quick rooting, as wandering jews are one of those plants you can root well even without rooting hormone. I transplanted one fourpack of the cuttings into a ten inch hanging basket pot. The sage cuttings still look healthy, but one really can't tell if they're rooting without disturbing their lower stems, something I'm not yet ready to do.

Hungry to see something in bloom, I brought our two pots of wax begonias up to the top shelf of our plant rack to get a shot of them. Both were severely cut back before coming inside for the winter. And both need repotting fairly soon, but it was nice to see a few of their bright red blooms. These plants came from a wax begonia I bought on sale at a Walmart in 2007!

Wax begonias

First Seed Orders

While I placed our first seed order back in November during the Seed Savers Exchange 50% Off 2013 Seed Packet sale, I placed our first major seed orders for the new gardening season over the weekend. I would have waited a few weeks longer to place my orders, but need to get fresh geranium, onion, and petunia seed in hand soon to get them started in January.

Twilley Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds will be supplying the majority of our new seed for the 2014 gardening season, as I just about blew through my seed budget with only two orders. Other than an order of mostly green bean seed from Fedco (once I receive their physical catalog), any other orders we place will be for just a packet or two of items we wish to try or new vendors we wish to test. Such test orders may be few and far between, though, as minimum shipping charges of $7 and up seem to be the new norm for many seed houses.

While most of the seed orders were for varieties we've grown before and exhausted our supply of, there were some notable and new things we ordered. Twilley still has some notably great prices on onion seed (Red Zeppelin - 100 seeds/$1.50, Walla Walla - 1/16 oz./$1.45) and pelleted petunia seed (Celebrity - 100 seeds/$1.60). I also found myself ordering some not-so-inexpensive Mountain Merit tomato seed (25 seeds/$6.35) based on disease resistance recommendations from one of our readers. (I now have to figure out where to squeeze another tomato variety into our garden.)

I was a bit more adventurous with our Johnny's order. I ordered two new-to-us romaine lettuce varieties, Ridgeline (500 seeds/$3.95) and Coastal Star (500 seeds/$3.95). Ridgeline is described as being "the best for romaine hearts in spring," and Coastal Star is advertised as a "heat tolerant, full-size romaine." For some reason, almost all of our lettuce seed, new or in our long-term frozen storage, comes from Johnny's!

I also decided to try Patterson (250 seeds/$3.95) onions on the strength of their description as an "extremely long storage yellow onion." Our previous yellow storage onions, Pulsar and Milestone, haven't done well the last two years. Of course, we had the drought of 2012, and our onion/carrot area flooded this year...but only after the dogs and cats had pee wars on our flats of onion transplants and then half of it got dug up by some naughty puppies. Pulsar seems to be disappearing from seed catalogs, and when I started to order a single packet of Milestone from a different vendor, I ran into a minimum shipping and handling charge of $7.50 per order! For a single $2.65 packet of seed, that's too rich for my blood and a clear indicator the vendor doesn't want to mess with my or anyone else's small seed orders.

I also ordered some Bolero carrots (750 seeds/$3.65), Sweet Sunrise yellow bell peppers (25 seeds/$4.95), and a packet of Red Pearl grape tomatoes (15 seeds/$4.95) from Johnny's. The rest of the Johnny's order was for favorites of which we've run out of seed.

Raised Beds

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - Great Gift Idea

Tomato CalendarLaura Taylor May Tomato CalendarAfter I mentioned Laura Taylor's 2014 Tomato Calendar & Growing Guide last week, she surprised me with a couple of copies of her beautiful calendar. It's something that would make a really nice holiday gift for almost any gardener you know. I enjoyed having her 2013 tomato calendar on my office wall all this year.

The calendar includes twelve gorgeous shots of her gardens, all taken by Laura, information about how to plant, when to feed, how much water to give, and pest control advice for tomatoes. Reminders right on the calendar grid are color and number coded for various geographic regions across the United States, with general gardening reminders displayed down the left side of each month. (Click image at right for larger view of the May entry with timely, geographically referenced reminders.)

While Laura's calendar includes lots of photos of red, ripe tomatoes, I picked her May page to illustrate the calendar here. I like the vivid greens in the photo accented by yellow tomato blooms with red, white, and pink flowers in the background. You can also tell that Laura favors using T-posts and tomato cages similar to the ones we make and use. Concrete reinforcing wire has gotten a bit expensive in the last few years, but the cages last a long time and the six inch mesh makes pinching vines and picking tomatoes easy. She may even have a hog panel in there as a tomato support!

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

Contest Time

With two copies of Laura Taylor's 2014 Tomato Calendar & Growing Guide in hand, I obviously have one more than I'm going to use. So once again, I'm going to raffle off my extra copy and mail it to the winner.

To make things interesting, I'm going to collect a little useless data on this one with a totally unscientific poll of what readers' favorite 2014 seed catalogs are. Clicking on a catalog image will open a larger view of the catalog (in most cases) in a new window or tab. The links below the images are to the respective seed companies.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Burpee Gardening Fedco
Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Burpee Seed Company Fedco
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds Southern Exposure Seed Exchange R,H. Shumway
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds Southern Exposure Seed Exchange R.H. Shumway
Seed Savers Exchange Sow True Seeds Territorial Seed Company Totally Tomatoes
Seed Savers Exchange Sow True Seeds Territorial Seed Company Totally Tomatoes
Twilley Seeds Vermont Bean Seed Company West Coast Seeds The Whole Seed Catalog
Twilley Seed Vermont Bean Seed Company West Coast Seeds Baker Creek Whole Seed Catalog

To enter, just choose the catalog cover you think is most attractive, put its name in the body of an email, and . (Limit one entry per email address. If you have five email addresses, feel free to cheat like crazy, as Harry Rex would say, and enter five times.) If your name is drawn out of the hat (probably an old seed box), I'll email you back for your mailing address.

I'm going to cut off entries at midnight, Friday, December 27, 2013.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 20, 2013Petra and DaisyBy yesterday, one had to hunt around treelines and fencelines to find any snow remaining from the snow cover that started around December 6. With a relatively warm, rainy day today, the snow is finally gone. That's about as long for a snow cover to last as I remember in recent years. (Is that wild laughter I hear over the internet from northerners who have snow on the ground from December through March?)

A couple of our dogs, Petra and Daisy, snuck into today's image of our main garden. While often mischievous in dragging things out of the garage, dragging dead stuff into the yard, and digging in our garden plots, they're also responsible for the near absence of moles, raccoons, and to a lesser extent, rabbits in our garden.

I'm still sending off small garden orders, most recently to Generic Seeds and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. One of our main seed orders from Johnny's Selected Seeds came in today, less than a week after I filed the online order. I'm still waiting on several print catalogs to arrive, mainly Fedco and R.H. Shumway, before sending off what should be the last of our main seed orders.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 21, 2013Brady, Katherine, and Jackson (at window)The heavy rains that had been predicted continue, and we're looking out at lots of standing water in our yard and the field beyond. And we sit on high ground!

Our house today is filled with grandchildren, dogs, and cats, with yet more dogs peering hopefully in the windows. With three of our five dogs inside, things are a bit crowded, although all three are good indoor dogs as well as functioning as part of our five-dog security system when they're outside.

While Dolly posed for a shot, our other four indoor cats all made themselves scarce today, due more to the grandkids, I think, than the dogs.

Petra on hassock Shep Mac and Dolly Simon looks on
Petra on hassock Shep Mac and Dolly Simon

Fedco

FedcoFedco catalog, page 14Our Fedco catalog arrived in the mail today, as well as our seed order from Twilley Seed. Fedco is a cooperative that offers untreated seed, trees, bulbs, tubers, and gardening supplies at pretty reasonable prices. Their catalog cover for 2014 was created using artwork from fifth graders at Hall Elementary School in Portland, Maine.

I have found a lot to like about Fedco and their catalog. They're the only seed company I know of that openly states (without being asked) that they carryover old seed that still meets federal germination guidelines. I'm not happy with that practice, but it is common amongst most seed companies. One seed manager of a well respected seed vendor told me that they sell seed that has been in controlled, bulk storage for up to five years! I was naive enough to think that when I ordered seed each year that I was getting fresh seed grown in the previous season or the season before at the very worst. At least Fedco is transparent about "heldover seed."

Fedco Provider ListingFedco also offers some very attractive prices on their seed. Many of the bush green bean varieties they offer run just $3.80 per half pound. I also like their system of labeling each offering as to the seed's origin. In many cases, one can choose between seed grown on contract for Fedco by their local growers, often organic, or seed provided by a larger entity.

Their sourcing codes are as follows:

    1. Small seed farmers including Fedco staff.
    2. Family-owned companies or cooperatives, domestic and foreign.
    3. Domestic and foreign corporations not part of a larger conglomerate.
    4. Multinationals not to our knowledge engaged in genetic engineering.
    5. Multinationals who are engaged in genetic engineering.

Our Twilley order came in with only one item backordered and one slightly opened, unsealed packet of onions. Since onion seed is fairly distinctive, I knew where to look for an unsealed packet, actually a packet that just hadn't completely sealed. The order was logged in, bagged in a heavy ziplock bag, and went to our newly designated dark, cool storage area in our basement pantry.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 22, 2013Santa's Special of the Day! Check out all our great deals on Flowers and Gifts at 1800flowers.com! Order Now (while supplies last)The heavy rain has finally stopped. We ended up getting around four inches of the predicted maximum of five in just a day or so. One reader wrote to remind me that if the rain had all been snow, we'd be up to our eyeballs in it. But the standing water has been quickly absorbed by the soil (and evaporated by some cold, strong winds).

I dropped our Fedco order in a mailbox yesterday in Terre Haute while running a couple of our grandkids home. Our order was mostly for bush green beans, as Fedco has great prices on them. I did order some Sugarsnax hybrid carrots, as the deep growing variety is highly recommended. Since we'll be growing them in one of our raised beds, we may get some nice, long carrots. Of course, we have some pebbles in our soil, so we may also get a bunch of splits and such. I also ordered some old timey zinnia varieties to mix in with our usual long row of zinnias from saved seed.

Christmas (and other) Free Graphics

Earlier this month, I'd pulled some free holiday graphics from Laura Strickland's My Cute Graphics site, but never found a place to work them into a posting on this site. So I'm just going to show a few samples here, in case you want to spice up a web page or email with some of them. Laura is pretty generous with her terms of use, especially for teachers, who always need graphics to enhance teacher made student worksheets. She also offers blackline versions of many of her graphics, great for use as kids' coloring pages. (Coloring for the younger set can be like weightlifting for future handwriting.)

Thank You Mouse Nativity Scene
Dog with Gift Kids singing

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 24, 2013Small Christmas TreeOur gloomy weather has been replaced this morning by clear blue skies and cold temperatures. It was 14o F when I took the photo at left. Our current weather forecast calls for somewhat warmer, average temperatures with no appreciable chance of precipitation through the first of the year.

Our seed orders to Generic Seeds and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange arrived in the mail yesterday along with a bunch of seed catalogs. The orders were in good shape. The Generic Seeds order of a couple packets of geranium seed to go along with the geranium seed we previously received from Twilley Seeds makes us ready to go on starting our geraniums early in January.

Of the four new seed catalogs that came in, three were from companies we don't use. Interestingly, all three of them had truly uninspired cover art!

R.H. Shumway 2014 Catalog CoverThe fourth catalog was from R.H. Shumway Seeds. We've relied on them for a number of seed varieties over the years, but only ordered a couple of items from them this year. One of those items was Dark Red Kidney Beans, something I've had little success growing and drying in the past. I'm trying them again, as kidney beans are the only vegetable ingredient of our Portuguese Kale Soup that we don't grow ourselves.

The Shumway catalog seems to have shrunk a bit over the years, but they still carry a nice variety of seed. Many of their offerings are standard, open pollinated varieties such as Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage and Crimson Sweet watermelon that one doesn't often see in other seed catalogs. Shumway also carries a good selection of field seed, including the Reid's Yellow Dent field corn we grew when farming in the 80s. They also offer hybrid varieties.

Catalog/Calendar Contest

If you haven't entered our raffle for a copy of Laura Taylor's beautiful, 2014 Tomato Calendar & Growing Guide, be sure to do so on or before December 27, 2013. All you need to do to enter is with the name of your favorite, 2014 seed catalog cover in the body of the email. Contest rules and images of 2014 seed catalog covers are in our December 17, 2013, posting.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013 - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11 (ASV)

The image above is a "scene from a life size nativity at the Luxembourg Christmas market." It was taken in 2006 by graphic artist Debbie Schiel who lives in Far North Queensland, Australia, and shared on the royalty-free stock.xchng site. The scripture was copied from my installation of the free, Macintosh Online Bible. There's also a free version for Windows users. On my iPhone, I currently use the ESV Bible app.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Senior Garden - December 27, 2013

Annie's Heirloom Seeds
Burpee Seed Company

Blue skies, a brightly shining sun, and temperatures near 50 might fool one into thinking spring is right around the corner. I guess it is, but that corner is still a good ways off into the future.

Something that always makes me feel springlike is the arrival of pretty seed catalogs, and two more good ones arrived in yesterday's mail. Both Annie's Heirloom Seeds and Burpee usually get their catalogs out far later than most of our primary seed suppliers, and therefore don't get the same consideration as the early birds. That's too bad, as both have lots of good stuff in them that we might choose to order if their catalogs arrived just a few weeks earlier.

Forty years ago, Burpee was the first garden seed catalog we ordered from. I borrowed a neighbor's copy to order from for one of our first gardens. And as a matter of full disclosure, Burpee is one of our Senior Gardening affiliated advertisers (if you click through the Burpee link above or at right and order something, we get a small commission on the sale).

Julie and Scott Slezak might be forgiven for the late arrival of their Annie's Heirloom Seeds catalog, as they just moved their family, farm, and business to Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan in September! The "Annie" in their business name is in honor of Julie's grandmother, the namesake of their business and their daughter.

The Slezaks grow some of their rare and hard-to-get varieties themselves, buying more commonly grown seed from other small farmers around the country (as well as importing a few varieties from Europe). As responsible seed vendors, they "do not get any seeds from the big American agri-businesses that are actively involved in genetic modification of plants."

They also offer a 5% off coupon code for first time customers. Use "TryAnnies" with your first order. (You might also want to try "CAT5" with later orders.)

Speaking of Annies

Shortly after I started writing this posting, our five dog alarm system went off with their "someone's in the driveway" bark. Our UPS routeman had backed into our drive and handed me a box from Amazon when I got out to the truck. As we chatted and he worked his device that records deliveries, he said, "Hey Steve, let me look at that again."

The package was addressed only to "Annie," with a street address we both thought would lie about the middle of Turtle Creek Reservoir, which is just southeast of us. The driver had only noticed the Annie and thought the package was ours. So, he departed to see if it belongs to any of our neighbors to the east (all two of them...we're way out in the sticks).

Should Have Thought of This Earlier

Sam and PennyLiamMy Annie had to work yesterday, but one of our daughters stopped by with her family for an afternoon visit. Grandchildren Penny and Liam had a great time opening a few presents. I did too, as Sam and (and husband) Todd had gotten some Coolibar and Columbia sun protective garments for me. I really should have included sun protective gear in my posting of Christmas shopping suggestions for gardeners earlier this month. If the Lord grants me another year, I'll have to remember that one for next year's posting.

They also provided a copy of Daphne Miller's relatively new book, Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing. Along with the copy of Digital Plant Photography: For beginners to professionals that Annie gave me for Christmas, that should keep me in interesting reading material for a while.

 The Carter Center

Monday, December 30, 2013 - Catalog Cover/Calendar Contest Winners

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds West Coast Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds West Coast Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds

Since we only had three entries in this year's garden catalog rating contest, I changed the rules and made every entrant a winner! I already had two free copies of Laura Taylor's 2014 Tomato Calendar & Growing Guide on hand, and ordering a third was no big deal.

Mike Williams thought the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog cover with the bearded guy looked cool. Randy Simmons liked the West Coast Seeds cover best. And Dennis Mohon thought the Radicchio on the cover of the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog was "gorgeous." All three will be receiving a copy of Laura Taylor's tomato calendar in the next week or so.

I agree with all three of them. Actually, I reveal my favorites in a feature story I'm releasing today.

2013 Garden Review

It's important once all the tools are put away and the garden has been put to bed for the winter to look back at what went right and what didn't do so well in the past year's garden. I mostly look at the positives in A Year in Our Garden - 2013, although I do touch on a couple of oddball failures. There's lots of pretty pictures, and I even reveal my 2014 garden catalog cover favorites...on page 3 of the review.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 Seed Orders
Twilley Seed (15)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (13)
Burpee (7)
Fedco (10)
Seed Savers Exchange (5)
George's Plant Farm (2)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (5)
R.H. Shumway (2)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (5)
Annie's Heirloom Seeds (3)
Generic Seeds (2)
Sow True Seed (3)

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

2013 Animated GIFI placed two small seed orders yesterday that should finish our initial seed orders for the 2014 gardening season. While having carrot, green bean, and sweet corn seed on hand in January certainly isn't critical, I will begin seeding some petunias, parsley, onions, and geraniums in the next week or so.

Our selection of seed vendors is determined by the varieties we want being available, seed quality, price, and customer service. How early we get a seed catalog is also a factor, as I still prefer making my initial selections by paging through seed catalogs, pretty much cover to cover. (See our feature story on Recommended Seed Suppliers for links and ratings of seed vendors.)

We obviously have a few favorite vendors from whom we order each year, but also vary things a bit, trying one or two new vendors each year. The listings at right are ranked in order from where I spent the most to the least over the last three years. The number of items ordered is in parentheses, although that doesn't tell one much, as it includes small packets, far more expensive half pound packets, and the occasional non-seed garden supply.

It's always a relief with the ordering is done and the seed received and stored. Then I can get back to gardening a bit, even if it is starting transplants indoors.

Thanks!

To all the readers who've taken the time this year to write and comment, share tips, criticisms, and photos, my sincere thanks. Reader feedback provides valuable insights into the gardening practices of others and often helps me decide on what to write about and what to leave out. It also nice to just have access to other gardeners to chat a bit.

Happy New Year and best wishes for a healthy and successful 2014 gardening season.

November, 2013

January, 2014

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening

 

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