Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - 5/23/2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dead cauliflowerI started our May gardening early this morning with a bit of garden maintenance. One of our Fremont cauliflower plants didn't take and needed to be replaced. When I checked my flat of leftovers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very healthy fourpack of Fremonts. We'd also lost one geranium plant to the late frost in April which was easy to replace.

We're starting the month of May with the ground still too wet for tilling, but possibly dry enough to walk over for transplanting. Having written yesterday that my gardening would "probably be limited to picking (and eating) asparagus and possibly mowing and raking grass clippings," I later realized I had a few chores that could be done from the edges of our garden beds and plots.

Tomato cages wired to t-postsRed Candy tomatoSince we're going to be growing a lot of open pollinated tomatoes isolated around the property for seed production (along with canning and table use), I only allotted room for two tomato plants in our main garden area. I transplanted a Red Candy grape tomato and a Bella Rosa at the ends of our pea trellis in our narrow raised garden bed. The grape tomato plant went on the end of the row closest to the house and most accessible to the little hands of grandchildren who have free rein to pick and eat them right off the vine.

One possible advantage of putting tomato cages at either end of the trellis is that I was able to wire them to the T-posts supporting the trellis. We've had lots of trouble over the years with the high winds we frequently experience blowing over top heavy tomato cages.

The transplanting was pretty straightforward. I dug a hole with my trowel, added just a touch of lime to help fend off blossom end rot and also a bit of 12-12-12 fertilizer and worked them into the hole as deeply as possible. I watered the hole with very dilute starter fertilizer, popped in the tomato transplants a bit lower in the soil than they were growing in the fourpacks, and firmed up the soil. The tomato cages went in the ground last, wired to the T-posts with the same coated clothesline wire we use to support our trellis.

Nasturtium rowAfter transplanting the tomatoes, I headed out to our large East Garden patch to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. I hoed down the entire eighty foot east edge of the plot, where we have a gorgeous stand of alfalfa coming up, and direct seeded nasturtiums down the entire row. I've always thought a long nasturtium border would look cool. This year I should find out. I'm also hoping the raccoons and deer find the nasturtiums a bit of a barrier. (Yeah, right!)

Planting that long a row of nasturtiums is a fairly expensive proposition. I'd been building up my supply of nasturtium seed for a couple of years with this kind of planting in mind. I used an off-the-rack packet of Alaska, Empress of India and Milkmaid from Annie's Heirloom Seeds, some Jewel from David's Seeds, and a couple of packets of Whirlybird from Twilley Seed. When I do this kind of planting, I often plant varieties by name in alphabetical order to help me keep track of what went where. So I started with Alaska and ended with Whirlybird.

I ended the task by running our mower down the row (with the blades off). You can see the tread tracks in the photo at left. I was trying to firm the soil around the seeds for better seed/soil contact and germination.

By the time I got done with the nasties, I was pooped. Any plans for mowing were put off a day. I was thrilled this morning to be able to lift my arms without pain after all the hoeing yesterday!

BTW: I didn't add any fertilizer to the row of nasturtiums. Years ago, I made the mistake of planting nasturtiums among our melons and rows of green beans. The plot of ground was fairly good soil, but I also sprinkled a little fertilizer in the row. The nasties totally took over the area, leaving us only a few melons and beans. As the late Jim Crockett used to say, "Treat nasties nasty."

Our asparagus patchAsparagus on scaleI did recover enough by late afternoon to go out and pick asparagus. It was a good thing I did, as I ended up with a little over three pounds of fresh asparagus spears from the picking. "Our patch" is beginning to fill in and come on strong. The second patch we pick, Bonnie's Asparagus, is still producing lots of thick spears as well.

I had wondered earlier this season about how well our thick asparagus spears would cook up. I checked a couple of Garden Web postings (1, 2) on the subject and also ran across one funny, but almost off color forum thread of guys talking about their thick spears.

The consistent answer, borne out by our experience with tender, tasty, thick asparagus spears, is to count your blessings if your asparagus comes up thick. It's a healthy sign for the roots, and makes for very good eating.

As I wearily drug myself inside from my gardening fun and games yesterday, I had to stop and spend a few minutes admiring and photographing our Granny Smith apple tree. This is a tree that survived a fire blight infection that killed our standard Stayman Winesap apple tree a few years ago. It's in glorious full bloom now. While our replacement, semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap isn't old enough to bloom yet, a nearby volunteer apple tree should provide sufficient cross pollination for both trees. The Granny Smith produces great, full-sized apples, while the volunteer puts on small red apples that taste like Red Delicious, but with a bit of spice to them.

Granny Smith in bloom

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Transplanting broccoliI transplanted a long row of brassicas into our East Garden plot this morning. The East Garden is still pretty wet in places, but was dry enough to support my weight. I used a shovel instead of a trowel for the transplanting, as I mixed in peat moss, lime, and 12-12-12 fertilizer in each transplant hole. Our first planting of brassicas went into our main raised garden bed in early April. If we're fortunate, this second planting will give us an extended harvest of broccoli and cauliflower.

I had quite a variety of brassicas ready for transplanting, but went mainly with broccoli and cauliflower today. On paper, I had room for twenty plants, but ended up only getting in a total of eighteen plants. Premium Crop, Goliath, and Belstar broccoli, Amazing and Fremont cauliflower, and a couple of Churchill brussels sprouts plants filled the 30' row. I did squeeze in a geranium as a row marker at the end of the row, but geraniums really haven't done well for us in the East Garden.

A bit later in the day I put in a few vincas and petunias along the edge of our narrow raised bed before mulching in the flowers, tomato plants and peas with grass clipping mulch.

At this time of year, there are always more jobs to be done than I have time or energy to complete. But it certainly is nice to see stuff growing in the garden once again.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rooted sweet potato slipsA wide band of slow moving rain that dropped a good bit of precipitation on Missouri and Illinois has finally gotten to us this morning. I'd sorta been racing the last few days to get things done before the showers, originally predicted to arrive on Wednesday, got here. At the top of my "didn't get done" list are beginning to transplant melons into the East Garden, transplanting peppers into our main raised garden bed, mulching several areas of that bed, transplanting our Moira tomatoes into the East Garden... In other words, there still remains lots to get done once things dry out again.

Cut slips rootingI wrote last month about getting some sweet potato slips started for the garden. Fourteen of the sixteen slips I cut off a sweet potato growing in a drinking glass have now rooted and today came out from under the humidome that was holding in moisture for them while they rooted. In the meantime, I've still been snipping slips off the sweet potato, but this time dropped the slips into a glass of water for them to begin rooting until I could move them into a soil mix. I've often heard such roots referred to as water roots that really won't sustain a plant if transplanted directly into the garden.

Rooting sweet potato slipsWhen I take or cut such a slip, I trim off all but the very top growth of leaves. This allows the slip to put its energy into creating new roots while not having to maintain a bunch of leaves along its stem.

This morning, I took our jar of slips with water roots and dipped each one in powdered rooting compound before placing them in sterilized planting medium to begin putting on regular soil roots. The fourpacks of slips, of course, went under a humidome to hold in moisture while the sips form new roots.

I'll continue cutting slips as our sweet potato plant produces them until I'm sure I have enough to fill a row in our East Garden with healthy, new sweet potato plants. I'd rather have too many than not enough.

Burpee Gardening

Sunday, May 5, 2013

We're into another rainy period. I've collected and dumped and inch and a half of rain from our weather gauge so far this month with nearby weather stations reporting about the same amount. It appears that off and on showers will continue today and tomorrow before we get a couple of clear days on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, there's more rain in the forecast.

The broccoli and cauliflower I transplanted into our East Garden plot on Friday appear to be doing well in the wet weather, but it's a little tough to tell. One can only observe from the edge of the plot, as the ground is so wet it would swallow up ones shoe or boot if stepped on. The grass clipping mulch around the brassicas seems to be helping to hold the gently sloping soil in place.

East Garden

The shot above may give some idea of just how wet things are here now. The brownish cast over the East Garden is from the burndown sprays of Roundup I applied, hoping to be able to get into the patch and transplant melons without another round of rototilling. Other than getting the row of brassicas in, that strategy may have backfired, as seedling weeds will cover the plot when it begins to dry out.

East Garden with alfalfa
East Garden Rotation

Alfalfa upA positive of all the rain (and I'm really not complaining about too much rain...yet) is that the half of the plot seeded to alfalfa is doing great. There are some small low spots where the alfalfa appears to have drowned out, but on the whole, we're going to get a good stand.

Our plan for the future is to rotate the area used for vegetables in the East Garden counterclockwise each year. The new ground opened up each year will have been in ground cover for two years, and the part retired each year will have been in production for only two years before being rested.

I grumble in print here about the soil quality of the East Garden, but it has shown some minor improvement over the last few years. Turndown crops of buckwheat and cover crops of alfalfa, later turned under, along with grass clipping mulch residue turned in have improved the organic matter content of the soil and lessened the plow pan under the soil somewhat. It just takes time.


Moving snapdragonsI was a bit late this year in seeding our snapdragons. When I did start them, I used plenty of seed to avoid germination problems and having to possibly reseed them. As it turned out, I used way too much seed and found myself with hundreds of tiny, leggy snapdragon plants in pots needing to be moved to larger quarters.

We like to use snapdragons along our trellises in the Senior Garden. The snaps benefit from the support of the trellis with the high winds we often have here. They seem to coexist fairly well with peas and even better with vining cucumbers. And as light fall frosts kill off other crops and flowers, the snapdragons continue to bloom right up until we get a really hard frost or freeze, giving us some welcome color right up to the end of the growing season.

So having seeded four pots of snapdragons in mid-April, I began teasing apart the leaves, stems, and roots today, moving them to small fourpacks. It's a tedious job I'd been avoiding, made harder by my letting it go so long. The snaps were leggy and had to be moved carefully into the fourpacks and firmed in.

Flat of snapdragonsWhen I finished moving the first pot of Madame Butterfly snapdragons, I felt pretty good about the job, as I'd used up all the snapdragons for the fourpacks I'd planned for them. But when I went on to a pot of First Ladies and another of Burpee Tall, I found that I'd badly overdone the seeding and had hundreds of plants left. I didn't even get to a pot of open pollinated snaps I'd grown from saved seed.

But on a cool, rainy day, moving the snaps turned out to be a pretty good and somewhat enjoyable activity. I ended up filling 72 cells with snapdragons, far more than we'll need in the garden unless I figure out a good place for a flowerbed exclusively devoted to snapdragons.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - Planting Sweet Peppers

Transplanting peppersBotannical InterestsI transplanted six sweet bell pepper plants into our main raised garden bed today. Even though it had rained last night and this morning, the center of the raised bed was dry enough to access by a little after noon. Planting just six plants along a fifteen foot row seems to work well for us in having healthy, productive plants that when caged receive plenty of sunlight and aren't crowded.

Since the area to be planted hadn't been worked for a while, I had to scuffle hoe a bit to remove seedling weeds before getting started. And of course, I also noticed and took care of a few weeds with the hoe in our lettuce rows and in the aisles around our brassicas while I had the hoe out.

The soil in the center of our main raised garden bed is a fairly heavy loam from the addition of lots of compost, composted manure, peat moss, and whatever else I could find to help break up the heavy clay. The garden bed was originally a sloping and somewhat erosion prone area that we terraced on two sides a number of years ago to stop the erosion. Later, I went ahead and enclosed the other two sides of the 16' x 24' bed, making a rather large raised bed that may not have been one of my best decisions. But it does allow one to build up quality soil over the years.

I dug holes about eight inches deep with a standard garden trowel for the plants, adding and working in a bit of lime and 12-12-12 fertilizer around the outside of the hole and deep into the hole. While I watered the holes with our usual dilute starter fertilizer, it also had a bit of soluble seaweed powder added in. Our pepper plants used to bloom and then die each year until we began adding a bit of soluble seaweed around them. There must be some trace element in Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed that our soil was lacking. Now, it's just become part of our planting routine.

Since cutworms seem to love our peppers as much as we do, I employed cut off used paper coffee cups as cutworm collars. The pepper plants are really pretty well hardened off and possibly could go without the collars, but we really had a bad experience one year when I didn't use them. The collars will come off in a week or so, and I'll add cages around the peppers at that time.

Red peppers planted included Ace, two of them, and Red Knight, both excellent producers for us in the past. For yellow/gold peppers, I planted Mecate and Sunray. I also put in one Sweet Chocolate pepper, something we've not tried until now. Of course, all of the varieties can be harvested and used green for green bell peppers.

We're not done planting peppers as yet, as I have our old favorite, Earliest Red Sweet, to transplant into the East Garden and some Alma and Feher Ozone paprika peppers that will go in various remote spots around the property for isolation and seed production.

Mulched lettuceOnce I finished transplanting the peppers, I mulched the peppers, the rest of our brassicas which had only partially been mulched, and our lettuce rows. When mulching the peppers, I had to leave a bit of open space around each cutworm collar, as the mulch against the paper cups could actually provide an avenue for cutworms right up to one of their favorite treats.

Main raised bed, May 8, 2013We're just about done with our initial plantings in our main raised garden bed. One big job remains. I still need to spread out the onions I'd heeled in several weeks ago and also transplant our remaining flat of onions into the bed. Once that is done, and the companion planting of radishes are pulled from the carrot rows, I'll weed and mulch the carrot and onion rows and the remaining aisles in the bed.

While working in our main garden bed today, I couldn't help but notice that we're very close to picking our first home grown lettuce of the year with some baby spinach not far behind.

BT Time

One other timely item I should mention is that we've started spraying our brassicas (and evergreens) with Thuricide. Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis) is an effective biological control for cabbage loopers and small white cabbage worms on cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and especially for kale. I also use BT to help control bagworms on our blue spruce trees.


Weather Channel 10-day ForecastIt appears we may get a significant break in our rainy weather towards the end of the week and well into next week. If the forecast is accurate, things might just dry out enough for us to till and plant sweet corn next week! If not, we should still be able to transplant melons and squash, and also get our potatoes planted.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Senior Garden at 7pm
Senior Garden around 8:30pm

Other than rooting a few sweet potato slips and picking asparagus for supper, I didn't do any gardening today. As soon as the morning dew dried, I was out mowing grass under threatening skies.

I managed to get our front and back yards mowed and raked, but got rained out from doing any more. It rained for an hour and then the sun came out and dried things out a bit, but certainly not enough to resume mowing.

I did a quick posting at around 6:30 P.M using the photo at top left as our banner as it began to rain once again. This time around, it was a gullywasher! When it let up a bit at round 8:30 P.M., there was just enough light for me to catch a photo of all the standing water in and around our garden. While the water will drain fairly quickly from our raised beds, it will take some time for the yard to dry out. I was still mowing through a bit of standing water here and there earlier today. With this rain and more predicted for tomorrow, it's not going to be much fun mowing the remaining yard and field. And of course, any serious gardening other than working from the edges of the raised beds will have to wait until the ground dries out a bit.

A Sad Part of Country Living

Jackson, a strayAt right is a photo of Jackson, a stray who started hanging around earlier this year. He's a big, thin dog, but really still a bit of a playful puppy. He's good with kids and people and generally gets along well with our other dogs, even our two somewhat grumpy senior citizen dogs. He doesn't do well with cats, or we just might keep him. Unfortunately, he already has been implicated in the death of one of our cats. There were witnesses to the slaying, but they were all canine and aren't talking.

Jackson appears to have been neutered already, so he probably has had his shots, too. We've treated him with Frontline for ticks and fleas and also gave him a dose of heartworm medicine. He's in good health, although quite thin.

Annie and I have tried without success to find Jackson's owner. We finally decided this evening that she would post a photo of Jackson on her electronic bulletin board at work to see if anyone wants him. If not, he will have to go to an area shelter. We simply can't keep him, as we had just adopted another stray, Daisy, before Jackson showed up. Training one puppy at a time is about the best we can do.

If you live in the general area (Terre Haute, IN is the nearest big city.) and are interested in a big, lovable puppy, .

Saturday, May 11, 2013 - Not Much Going On

Precipitation (Inches)1
  2013 2012 2011 Ave.
Jan. 6.33 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 2.24 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 2.10 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 8.75 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 3.55 1.19 3.38 4.35
Totals2 22.97 10.81 21.80 16.29
1 2011 & 2012 precipitation data from the Kinmerom2 weather station, Merom, IN. Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
2 to date (Jan. - April)

We're pretty much at a dead stop on gardening due to wet soil conditions. Yesterday, it was about as wet as I've seen it in the nineteen years we've lived here. After some overnight showers that brought our May precipitation total to 3.55", the sun came out this afternoon and dried things out a bit. But as the afternoon wore on, showers returned.

Nasturtiums emergingOur rainfall totals are considerably more than some surrounding Weather Underground reporting stations. The two near Merom, Indiana, are showing just 1.93" and 2.54" of rainfall so far this month. That shows how spotty the showers can be at times, as we're around 3-6 miles from the stations. When rain forced me to stop mowing on Thursday, I observed very heavy rain for over a half hour out our front door (to the north), but when I checked our rain gauge later (in back and to the south), it showed little more rain than the morning dew would produce. Apparently, it poured on the front yard but just sprinkled on the back.

The row of nasturtiums I direct seeded 10 days ago are now coming up. There are some good sized breaks in the 80' row that I'll need to reseed, but with what is up so far, they should make a nice border row along the edge of our alfalfa cover crop.

I fall planted a couple of trees in December, 2010, that I got from the Arbor Day Foundation. I was a bit worried that the freebie red maple included with my order wasn't going to make it this spring. The top growth all showed severe winter damage, but the tree has put out a bunch of shoots just above its base. We had this happen with a pin oak we planted when we first moved here. It died to the ground, but came back up the next year and has become a gorgeous tree. So we're going to give the red maple another year or so and see what happens with it.

The paid tree in the Arbor Day order was a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap. I was really sorta glad to see that it didn't bloom this spring, as I would have had to pick all the blooms off of it. It's still too small to support the weight of apples, and I'd rather it put it's energy into healthy growth. Note that our last "semi-dwarf" Stayman Winesap grew right through its dwarfing grafts into a very productive standard apple tree before we lost it to fire blight a few years ago.

Red Maple Winesap Native Silver Maple
Red maple showing growth at base Semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap Native Silver Maple

We lost a grand old maple tree on the west side of our house several years ago to repeated lightning strikes. I first tried to replace it with an oak tree I picked up at Lowes. When that tree died, I transplanted an oak seedling that had emerged in our garden, but it didn't make it either. Last spring, I moved a native Silver Maple from our front flowerbed to the general area where the oaks had failed. It put on so much growth last year, it almost worried me. But the tree has leafed out well this spring and should provide good shade for the house and whomever lives about twenty years. smile

SageAs I was snapping pictures of trees this afternoon, I grabbed a shot of our sage plant. It grew in our narrow raised bed for the 2011 gardening season before being relocated that fall to an area around our shallow well that I hope will become a permanent herb garden. I have another sage plant to pair with the existing plant and a bunch of other herb starts to go along the sides of the well cover. I've been surprised at how hardy the existing sage plant has been. Our dogs have laid on it, peed on it, and even dug a bit, until I caught them, at its base. Having recently read an extension article that said sage helps deter deer, I wish I had a whole tray of sage to plant around our sweet corn patch!

With our warm, moist weather of late, the black fly have returned, making outdoor work a good deal less pleasurable. I seem to remember that we didn't have black fly here when we first moved in, but around ten years ago they began to become a problem. But we've sure got'um now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - Melons Finally Going In

Melon areaAfter all sorts of delays, I'm finally getting our melons transplanted. I put in one row of six plants yesterday and another similar row today. The way I plant our melons takes a bit of time, but allows us to grow good cantaloupe and watermelon on heavy clay soil. I won't reproduce how I do it here, as I gave step-by-step directions last year. About the only difference this year is that I didn't have to add as much water to each planting hole as I did in last year's near desert conditions.

First melon rowsWe lost a few of our melon transplants on the porch to natural causes and a couple more to shenanigans by puppies. With the in row spacing I've been using (5' between cantaloupes and 8' between watermelons), I'll actually have a bit more space than I have transplants remaining. I may do a little direct seeding to fill out the last row. Doing so may spread out our harvest a bit and even extend it into the fall.

Yesterday's transplanting was a miserable experience because of all the black flies present. I tried using some spray insect repellent, which only worked for about five minutes.

Amazon - Off Clip OnBefore starting transplanting today, I grabbed an Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent dispenser that I'd picked up but not used last year. It had just sat atop our microwave oven, along with all the other papers, rubber bands, nuts and bolts, and other stuff that lands there. While it was a different day with different weather conditions, the clip on thingie actually kept the black flies out of my face while working!

Perma-Nest Trays Now Available from Greenhouse Megastore

I received a welcome email this week from David George, CEO of the Greenhouse Megastore. I'd written the Megastore last winter to suggest they carry the heavy duty Perma-Nest type flats. Mr. George didn't promise anything more than looking into carrying the trays at that time, but sent an email Monday morning informing me they now carry the basic 11" x 22" Perma-Nest tray.

Perma-Nest trays are sturdy enough that one can completely fill them with moist soil mix without them twisting, bending, or breaking, making moving flats a much easier process. Because the trays have no holes, I sometimes add a slotted 1020 tray in them to provide a bit of drainage for whatever I have in them. Of course, that adds a little cost to the trays.

This and That

Our peppers that had gotten off to such a great start after transplanting have almost all died! One pepper fell prey to puppy damage. When I replaced that plant, I also pulled the cutworm collars from the other plants and added cages around them to support the plants' growth. But in the next few days, I noticed that all the peppers other than the one replacement died. I can tell that it wasn't cutworms, but don't know if I harmed the plants pulling the cutworm collars, or...if the dogs got into pee wars around the newly added cages, or if there's something else going on. With two new and one other relatively new dog this year, we're having problems with the dogs playing with potted transplants on the porch and digging in the garden. I even caught our oldest dog rolling in the mulch in our main raised bed this morning. Fortunately, he was rolling around in the aisle between the lettuce and dead peppers.

I have enough pepper plants left to replace the failed plants, but I won't have all of our favorite varieties. And I still need to figure out what killed the plants!

Radishes over carrotsI have another job waiting to be done that won't hold much longer. I almost always overseed our carrots with radish seed. The early emerging radishes help break any crust in the soil that might impede germination of the tender carrots. The idea came from the late James Underwood Crockett and in theory, the radishes should ripen before they impede the carrots too much. In practice, I usually have to pull the radishes well before most of them are table ready, although this year many appear to be pretty well along.

Once I get the radishes out of the way, I can begin thinning and weeding the carrots before mulching them. Since it may rain yet today, I may have ideal conditions for pulling the radishes tomorrow without hurting the carrots. (Note that our carrot row is at the side of a raised bed that can be worked without stepping into the bed, a big plus in wet weather.)

Overplanting, thinning, and mulching always seem like a lot of trouble in the spring. But the carrots we grow, harvest, and often store well into the winter are usually of far better quality than what is available at our local grocery!

Amish Snap pea blossoming

As I came in with the camera today, I had to stop and grab a shot of one of the blossoms on our Amish Snap peas.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sage in bloomI've been busy with lots of little odds and ends for several days that generally don't show up here on this page. Pulling the last of the radishes from the carrot rows and beginning to mulch that area, replacing a dead pepper plant, bringing more transplants outside to harden off, and mowing and raking have taken up a good bit of my time. Add to that a restrain of the pulled leg muscle I've been fighting for some time, a trip to the laser surgeon to remove several potential skin cancers, and a nasty chest infection, and there hasn't been much time to write.

Even a bit gimpy these days, a few jobs do get done each day. I cut our first head of green romaine lettuce today. I'd cut an immature red romaine last week to color some salad.

Mac's head in bucketWhile working our lettuce, onion, and carrot areas in the raised bed recently, I noticed that something had eaten a couple of our celery plants to the ground. The plants have bounced back, putting on new growth, but I wonder what is doing the eating. No deer tracks were evident, so my guess is that a very brave (or foolish) rabbit has found our main garden plot. But our lettuce remained untouched!

At the urging of my wife, Annie, I grabbed a few shots of our sage plant that has burst into full bloom. When I began editing the photos, I realized that one of our dogs, Mac, had slipped into the edge of some of the pictures. He has his head buried in a bucket as he got a drink of water. We keep a more standard dog bowl of water out at all times, but for some reason, the dogs prefer water out of the bucket.

Having had his drink, Mac posed amongst the many trays of transplants on our porch and steps. I moved stuff out from the cold frame (which had remained open for days) to the steps when I mowed on Saturday.

Plants on porch and steps (and Mac)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Senior Garden, May 23, 2013Lettuce patchThings are about as green as you'll ever see them around here. With all the rain we've had of late, the grass is a lush green and the trees along the fields around us have leafed out.

The rain has slowed down much of our gardening, but has also greatly benefitted our early plantings. We have a lovely patch of spring lettuce that we're now enjoying in daily salads, on sandwiches, and in dishes such as Texas Nachos. (I need to write down and add Texas Nachos to our online recipes, as it's really an easy dish to prepare.) We even had a small, early maturing head of broccoli in our salad last night. The rest of our early planted broccoli is putting on heads, although they appear to be a good bit smaller than what we've produced in years past. One variety of our early planted peas is in full bloom and is putting on pods.

Dog damageI had great plans to work in the garden yesterday. When I went out to pick lettuce and asparagus, I was appalled to find the dogs had dug up nearly half of our onions and carrots. The two dogs that are our diggers got to spend the day and night locked up in the garage. I spent most of my gardening time yesterday attempting to repair as much of the dog damage as possible.

I did end up picking some great lettuce. I also put replacement lettuce seedlings in the open areas created by the picking. The transplants may not have time to mature, but it's worth a try. Our spring lettuce harvest is always a short one, terminated by late May or early June's heat that turns the lettuce bitter and causes it to bolt. So we'll enjoy fresh lettuce as long as it lasts, knowing that we'll probably have a much longer harvest with our fall planted lettuce.

Our ground is still quite wet, as we're having rain about every other day. After a year of drought, it's a lot easier to be patient this year for the ground to dry out enough to till for planting our sweet corn. Area farmers are way behind in their plantings. The last day things were dry enough for them to work some fields, Sunday, one could see farmers working late into the evening trying to catch up.

Friday, May 24, 2013

It was an absolutely perfect spring day for gardening today. I got out early this morning when it was still quite cool (upper 40's) to finish up transplanting melons into our East Garden. By mid-afternoon, things had warmed up a bit, the black flies had found me, and it was time to quit. But I got the last two rows in our melon area pretty well planted. In all, we now have 8 cantaloupe, 10 watermelon, 2 yellow squash, and 2+ honeydew planted. The "2+" on the honeydew is because my Boule D'or transplants died once again, so I just direct seeded a hill of them. Our melon varieties for this year include (links are to the seed supplier's page for the variety):

Cantaloupe Watermelon Honeydew
Pride of Wisconsin
Roadside Hybrid
Sarah's Choice
Sugar Cube (2)
Ali Baba
Crimson Sweet (2)
Farmers Wonderful (2) (seedless)
Kleckley Sweets
Moon & Stars (2)
Trillion (seedless)
Boule D'or
Tam Dew

Avatar, Charentais, and Pride of Wisconsin are varieties we've not grown before. Almost all of the others are old favorites for us. The lone exception is the Boule D'or honeydew. We tried it last year, but lost the plant in the drought just as it was ripening fruit. This year, our transplants to puppy abuse and another for unknown reasons. Since this variety was highly recommended by the seed supplier, I'm trying direct seeding a hill.

Melon patch in East Garden

I always get excited about planting a variety of melons. Some do better some years than others, but we've found a number of good varieties that we really like and for the most part, grow well in our garden. The small Sugar Cube cantaloupes have become a favorite with us, family, and neighbors. In good years, it's also hard to beat an Athena melon for flavor. The Roadside Hybrid variety also can produce excellent melons. The last two years, ours have had problems: vines dying two years ago and bacterial rind necrosis last year. But the heavily ribbed melon is quite flavorful in good years.

Our watermelons are all old open pollinated varieties, except for two hybrid, seedless varieties that taste and look much like Crimson Sweets. After laying off a year growing them, I decided to try one of our old favorites again, Kleckley Sweets. They're a late ripening melon with exceptional flavor. Their thin rinds make them iffy for market growers, so you won't see much of them at market garden stores. I left them out last year, as they seem to be a favorite of our neighborhood raccoons!

Having lost several of our melon transplants under the cold frame, I had room in the melon section for a couple of yellow squash. Slick Pik is a hybrid we really like. We're also trying the Yellow Crockneck open pollinated variety this year. I need to dig out our squash seed and start a couple more plants. Yellow squash are extremely productive for a time, but when they're done, they're done. Making timely succession plantings can assure one of a steady supply of delicious yellow squash for the summer.

Sadly, yellow squash (and all squash) is one vegetable that I haven't yet mastered growing organically. In a few weeks, we'll have an onslaught of squash bugs. Pyrethrin will knock them down for a while, but it seems I can only get lasting control from rather nasty insecticides such as Sevin. Since I really like yellow squash and have a full bottle of liquid Sevin, I may just have to burn in organic gardeners' hell for my non-organic growing techniques with squash.

Amazon - Clan Macgregor Scotch WhiskeyBTW: If this posting seems a little "off," I once again twisted whatever is wrong with my left leg while working in the melon patch. A hot bath and a couple aspirin didn't give me much relief, so I'm well into a bottle of cheap scotch, which has relieved the pain, but probably has done nothing good for my writing abilities.

Saturday, May 25, 2013 - Tomatoes

Tomato cages and plantsMoira tomato plantSomething that got left out of yesterday's posting is that I finished transplanting our open pollinated Moira tomato plants. We grow our Moiras at the ends of our melon rows with Earliest Red Sweet Peppers at the opposite row ends. The soil in our East Garden isn't conducive to growing great tomatoes and peppers, but the plot's distance from our main garden is enough to isolate the plants and use their fruit for saving seed. We also use Moiras as our main canning and slicing tomato.

To compensate for the poor soil in our East Garden, I work a lot of peat moss into the native clay soil in each hole for the tomatoes and peppers. The peat moss is acid, so a bit of lime goes in the hole as well. For the tomatoes, the calcium in the lime also helps prevent blossom end rot. While I use very dilute starter fertilizer (about half the recommended dilution) for transplanting, each hole also got a good sprinkle of low nitrogen 5-24-24 commercial fertilizer. Feeding tomatoes a high nitrogen fertilizer tends to produce lush vine growth at the expense of fruit production.

Nite Guard Solar Predator Control LightThe black and red boxes hanging from the tomato cage pictured above left are Nite Guard Solar Predator Control Lights. We have four of them, the oldest still working now in their third season. They charge by day and blink a red light at night. The blinking light is supposed to spook deer, raccoons, and all manner of woodland creatures. The catch is that the units need to be set at the animals' eye level, making one choose to protect from either deer or raccoons, unless you have some very short deer or tall raccoons.

I think the lights do some good, and they get some good reviews on Amazon. Like anything short of sitting out in the sweet corn patch all night with a 12 gauge, their protection is a bit spotty. They do seem to spook the raccoons away from our melons pretty effectively. But the best review I read, Works on 2 legged Weasels Too, was from a city dweller who reported several different pizza delivery people and neighbors had commented on their "laser security system" and "security sensors." Grin

I still need to work up a couple of small plots at the back of the property to isolate two related varieties, Quinte and Earlirouge. Moira, Quinte, and Earlirouge were all developed by Jack Metcalf in the 1970's at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm in Trenton, Ottawa. While Canadian gardeners can still get Moira and Quinte seed from Upper Canada Seeds, all three varieties have long since disappeared from seed catalogs in the United States. We've been preserving the Moira variety for several years.

Our saved Quinte seed didn't store well over the years, but I got a sample of it last year from the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). After searching the web in vain for some Earlirouge seed, I found last fall that I still had a packet of Earlirouge seed saved since 1988 in our freezer. Wonder of wonders, it germinated this spring at around 50%!

I'm pretty sure the Moira variety will remain our favorite canning tomato, but the Quinte and Earlirouge varieties seem well worth preserving. Our Quinte plants last summer got a very late start, so evaluation of the variety wasn't really possible, other than observing that they're a lot like Moiras. I wanted to try the Earlirouge variety again, as it was probably Metcalf's most commercially successful release from the Smithfield Experimental Farm. Seed for it also seems to have become quite rare with it not even appearing on the Seed Savers Exchange or GRIN.

Peppers and Cages

Earliest Red Sweet pepper plantPepper at end of melon rowWhen I ran out of water (and patience) the second time yesterday, I quit transplanting before getting in the rest of our Earliest Red Sweet peppers. I'd previously planted one at the end of our first row of melons, but the thought of hauling a third load of water to the East Garden while "feeding the black flies" was just too much for me.

Earliest Red Sweets aren't the most spectacular red pepper one can grow. Their fruit is about half to two-thirds the size of big, hybrid red peppers. The variety's appeal is its earliness and that it is an open pollinated variety. The flavor of ERS peppers is every bit as good as that of the big hybrids.

Since the branches of pepper plants can become brittle when heavy with fruit, I went to caging all of our pepper plants several years ago. I use whatever cages we have available. The cage shown here is an old, cut-down tomato cage made of concrete reinforcing wire with 6" square holes that make picking easy. It previously attempted to protect a seedling red maple I transplanted a year ago close to our driveway. It didn't fare too well when my wife backed over it!

I also use a bunch of the short, cone shaped tomato cages the previous owner of this property left behind for us. I find those cages to be pretty useless for tomatoes, but just about the right size for pepper plants. I've noticed that Rural King now sells cone shaped tomato cages about twice the size of the cages I have. They have a nice rubberized coating on them to prevent rust, but are still small and short enough to make a gardener really mad when indeterminate tomatoes quickly outgrow them!

I haven't had to build new tomato cages for several years, so I haven't done a feature story on how to build the kind of cages I use. For those who might be interested, let me share a couple of links on building tomato cages from concrete reinforcing wire:

Managing Weeds in the East Garden

Melon patch in East Garden

As is obvious from the photo(s) above, we're well into our annual race against seedling weeds. The aisles between our mulched melons are now filled with grass and weed seedlings. As I mow and rake grass clippings, I'll mulch over the young weeds. The wet grass clippings pretty well burn down the weeds under them. If I can't stay ahead of the weeds with scuffle hoeing and/or mulch, I sometimes till for weed control and occasionally resort to using Roundup to knock them down. Using a spray herbicide in such close quarters is difficult. When I do it, I pick a day with little or no breeze and use a sheet of cut down plywood (around 3' x 8') to set at the edge of the mulch where I'm spraying to prevent the herbicide from drifting onto our melon vines.

More Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet potato slips rootingWater roots on sweet potato slipsSince we're not anywhere close to being able to get our potatoes and sweet potatoes into the wet ground, I'm still clipping and rooting sweet potato slips. Continuing taking cuttings became necessary when one of our naughty puppies developed a craving for sweet potato plants, or at least enjoyed playing with them! I also found this year that the cuttings I let form water roots first in a glass and then rooted in starting mix with rooting gel did better than slips I just snipped off the plant, applied powdered rooting compound to, and put in starting mix. I'm not sure if the difference was letting the slips form water roots first or if the rooting gel is better than the rooting powder.

Note that a 100ml bottle of Clonex Rooting Gel now runs about $19 from Amazon while a 2 ounce jar of Green Light Rooting Hormone runs just $3.89!

Gloxinia Question

More than anything else from this site, I regularly get interesting questions and comments from readers about growing gloxinias. An email this morning from a West Virginia reader posed an interesting question that stumped me. Vicki wrote, "The gloxinia I have now will be blooming before too long. I was wondering if I could get pollen from it on a Q-tip and save it to pollinate some of my others when they bloom?"

My first thought was that saving pollen probably wouldn't work. But I also wondered, and suggested, trying freezing some of the collected pollen. She might also just save a pollen impregnated Q-tip in a baggie, in case freezing might harm the pollen. But I really have no idea as to whether one can save viable pollen, and if so, for how long and under what conditions.

If you know the answer, please , and I'll pass along your expertise to Vicki.

Just Killing Time

WundermapWhile I really should be totally hung over today from last night's experiment with 80 proof pain relief, I actually feel pretty good (other than the bum leg). I really think I wrote most of today's posting as an exercise in procrastination because I didn't want to fight the black flies today. They already made me miserable early this morning when I was outside cleaning cat litter boxes. And when my wife and grandkids went outside later, they quickly came back in, waving and swatting at the insect pests.

But I think my procrastination has now paid off. As I took an outgoing letter to our rural route box, I felt the first drops of what looks on radar like a pretty good storm. I really, really didn't want to mow and rake today, although I desperately need a whole lot more mulch for the melons I transplanted yesterday. But my leg probably needs a day of rest, as riding the mower is one of the things that really sets it off. (Using a shovel, as in transplanting melons, also can make me limp for days.)

If the grandkids weren't here, I might be tempted to visit Clan MacGregor again, which let me sleep for 12 hours straight last night! I suspect aspirin might be a healthier choice, anyway.

Sunday, May 26, 2013 - Thinking About Fall Planting!!

Fresh Lettuce for ThanksgivingIt may seem a little premature, but it's getting close to time to start thinking about getting transplants started for the fall garden! A gardener gets used to starting plants such as cauliflower and broccoli in late winter or early spring, but it's easy to get lost in all the planting and harvesting in June and not get things started for the fall in a timely fashion. But with a little planning and some good luck, one can extend their harvest through October and sometimes well into November.

Broccoli on November 10
Cauliflower on

If this all sounds a little crazy, verging on the impossible, let me refer you to our October and November blog archives for 2010 and 2011. We had fresh lettuce with our Thanksgiving meal in 2011 (albeit grown under a floating row cover) and good broccoli and cauliflower well into November in 2010.

And then of course, there was the drought of 2012. We didn't even try for a fall garden last year. But that was last year...

Johnny's Fall-planting calculatorTiming ones transplants for a fall garden isn't all that hard, but it often has me counting backward on the calendar and referring to various crops' days to maturity. I did just that this morning to determine that I needed to start our fall cauliflower sometime next week, with our broccoli needing to be seeded a week or so later. I counted back starting ten days before our approximate first frost date, counted the days to maturity from transplanting, and then added about six more weeks for transplants to germinate and develop.

But the folks at Johnny's Selected Seeds made the process a whole lot easier a few years ago when they added a free page of Interactive Tools for the garden to their site. One of the tools is their Fall-planting Calculator (358K), a downloadable spreadsheet that suggests hardy fall crops and uses ones first frost date to calculate when to direct seed or transplant various fall crops. You still have to count back how long your transplants will take to develop from germination to transplanting size, but the calculator saves a lot of finger counting and paging through calendars.

I narrowed the spreadsheet a bit to make it fit conveniently on this page, but didn't mess with its listings. Our first frost date is entered in the upper right. The spreadsheet has calculated that we need to transplant our fall brassicas around July 18 or 19. Counting back six weeks from that time would suggest a seeding time for our cauliflower, at least, of sometime during the first week of June.

One has to adjust a bit for their own varieties and experience. The cauliflower varieties we grow always mature a week or more later than our broccoli. They probably should be seeded earlier than the broccoli, but for practicality, I'll probably just seed both at the same time.

If you lack a spreadsheet program on your computer to open and use the calculator, you really don't need to run out and buy Office or Excel. The free, open source OpenOffice suite will open and run the spreadsheet nicely.

Looking down the list of vegetables in the spreadsheet may give you ideas of some things to try in a fall garden that you hadn't thought of previously. We've not grown fall carrots in the past, as our spring crops have almost always done well and provided us with carrots for a good bit of the winter. The puppy damage we recently had in our main raised bed may have me reworking my garden plan to make room for some fall carrots. Fall celery also sounds interesting, but I still need to figure out what is eating the celery we currently have in our garden. And while the puppies also damaged our onions, I'll leave that one alone. Some of our onion varieties mature partly according to day length, and I really don't want to mess with that. And while the spreadsheet gives dates for direct seeding lettuce, we'll once again start our fall lettuce inside. Direct seeding in July and August is usually difficult where we live, as we always seem to have an extended dry spell during that time.

A Rainy Race Day

Having been raised in Indianapolis, I'm acutely aware that today is race day, the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500. When growing up, we used to wash down the breezeway on Memorial Day while listening to the race. It was sort of a family tradition. As I write this posting some 90 miles southwest of Indy, rain has begun to fall once again. The showers will probably reach Indianapolis in an hour or so, just about starting time for the race.

Update: Well, the rain stayed here. We got another quarter of an inch, and Indy got in the whole race without a rain delay. And since it was raining here, I could sit without guilt and watch the race on TV.

Odds 'n' Ends

Small broccoliI noticed yesterday that grass seedlings are emerging all around our garlic. The grass clipping mulch on the ground has decayed and worn thin, allowing the breakthrough. If I had a lot of extra grass clippings, I'd just mulch over the weeds. But since I don't, I may need to hand weed the area.

I'd used a soil scratcher to work the very top soil in our asparagus patch last week. That took care of many of the weeds in it, although I still need to hand weed it, too, as many of the weeds re-rooted in the moist ground. The good news is that with rainy weather, the weeds should pull easily.

I cut a large head of Defender lettuce yesterday and a rather small head of broccoli. I grabbed a shot of the broccoli on the same cutting board as shown in the cauliflower photo above for size comparison. While small, the broccoli is tasty. The lettuce got washed, dried, tasted, and popped into the fridge to chill. We're now having salad with almost every meal!

Monday, May 27, 2013 - Memorial Day (U.S.)

I usually don't reproduce our top photo of the day that heads this blog, but today's image may tell the story. The guys who farm the ground around us made a valiant try to get done yesterday, actually coming back to work the ground in between light showers. A heavier rain put an end to their workday and continued showers today have their equipment still in place.

Our Senior Garden - 5/27/2013

I like this photo, even though I didn't get around to taking it until about 8:30 in the evening. Having a good camera that one can adjust makes a big difference in such photos. This one was taken at 1/6 second at f/8. The warm colors are due to the time of day. The tall, lush grass is due to all the rain and me not getting out to get the yard mowed. And one can pretty clearly see parts of the field have been worked and others not.

It was a pretty lazy day here. I did pick one good head of broccoli and another that had gone from ripening to overripe overnight. I did what probably was our last picking of asparagus for the year. It's time to let the asparagus grow and gain strength for another spring of delicious shoots. I also picked our row of spinach.

Supper tonight consisted of thick pork chops barbecued on the grill, a red bean and rice box mix, fresh baked asparagus, and spinach salad. The asparagus and spinach were, of course, from our garden.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Precipitation (Inches)1
  2013 2012 2011 Ave.
Jan. 6.33 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 2.24 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 2.10 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 8.75 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 10.35 1.19 3.38 4.35
Totals2 25.77 10.81 21.80 16.29
1 2011 & 2012 precipitation data from the Kinmerom2 weather station, Merom, IN. Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
2 to date (Jan. - May)

May animated gifI emptied another inch and a quarter rainfall from our rain gauge this morning, pushing our monthly total to over ten inches of rain. Nearby Weather Underground reporting stations are showing about half as much rain for the month. We obviously caught some heavy showers they missed. All the rain has made it hard to get stuff planted this year, especially in our large East Garden. But it's a much, much better situation than a year ago when we were planting into bone dry soil.

The guys who farm the ground around us barely got the 90 acre field to the west and south of us planted to corn yesterday before the rain began. I was mowing, raking, and spreading grass clipping mulch while they worked, and I walked inside mid-afternoon just as it began to rain. Even though I had to set the mower's blades much higher than normal to cut our tall grass, I did get a good bit of mulch raked and spread to hold down weeds in our melon patch.

Melon rowMost of our melon transplants are looking pretty good so far. We did lose our hill of Roadside Hybrid cantaloupe this week to dog damage. I was pretty steamed when I saw the dogs had dug up the hill, killing the transplants in it. I quickly cooled down when I found another hill they'd dug at without killing the melons with a dead mole present.

Melons mulchedWhile I don't do a lot of direct seeding of melons, I did reseed the Roadside Hybrid hill. It's too good a variety not to have. I also noticed yesterday that the hill of Boule D'or I'd direct seeded had germinated. I'm hoping the hill will make it, as we've had lousy luck transplanting the variety.

Our East Garden is still only about half planted. The melons are all in, although I have a spot left where I may direct seed some pumpkins later. But I still need to get our potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sweet corn planted. Had the rain held off a little longer yesterday, I might have gotten those areas tilled and ready, didn't. Even so, the East Garden is taking shape nicely. Our cover crop of alfalfa on the left in the image below has taken pretty well with just a few spots where we didn't get good germination.

East Garden - May 31, 2013

Brassica row in East GardenBroccoliOur row of late brassicas is coming along nicely, although whether we get much from it will depend on the weather. With a large patch of ground available, it's certainly worth taking a chance planting broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage there, but I also know it may all go to seed and/or turn bitter before we can harvest it if things get really hot early in June. I'm hopeful, as we're winding up cutting main heads of broccoli (shown at right) from our main garden.

With a heavy cloud cover today, working in the garden was quite pleasant this morning. I transplanted our three last Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants at the ends of melon rows in the East Garden. I also added a geranium at the end of each row to replace the row marker stake.

While progress in our garden plots has been pretty slow due to the wet weather at times and a gimpy senior gardener at others, we've already had nice harvests of asparagus, spinach, lettuce, radishes, and broccoli.

One of the disadvantages of growing spring lettuce the way we do is that it seems to all ripen at once, despite the different varieties having differing days to maturity. So we generally have a whole lot of fresh lettuce ready all at once. And then the weather warms, and our spring lettuce season is over. But while it lasts, the lettuce is not only delicious, but also quite attractive in the garden.

Lettuce patch Nancy Barbados
Skyphos Red Lollo

So we're winding up May in excellent shape in our garden. Not everything we wanted got planted, but things are oh, so much better than a year ago!

Main garden

April, 2013

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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