Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

December 15, 2014


Monday, December 1, 2014

Donate Now!Back yard and garden plotsEven inveterate gardeners like myself need a little downtime. The month of December, when garden chores are at a minimum, provides just such a rest.

With our garden plots pretty well cleaned up for the season, we'll turn our attention to cleaning up pots and flats in preparation for starting transplants next year. Tools will be cleaned, oiled, and sharpened where necessary. We'll be ordering seed and supplies for the next gardening season as well. That shouldn't take all that much time, as when we did our annual seed inventory in November, it only indicated that we needed to order seven items!

Picking spinachWe lucked out on the weather yesterday with temperatures in the 60s most of the day. I was able to get several of our garden beds and plots cleaned and prepared for winter. After picking a small bowl of nice spinach leaves, I cleared one of our narrow raised beds of the remaining, frost damaged spinach. Then I raked out both of our narrow raised beds before mulching them with a grass clipping/leaf mixture. The mulch will help keep the beds weed free and ready for planting next spring.

Cutting asparagus stalksI also cleared another raised bed of asparagus stalks, cutting the tough stalks off at the ground with a pair of lopping shears. The asparagus stalks went into a hole I'm slowly filling instead of our compost pile. The fibrous asparagus stalks break down too slowly to include in a regular compost pile.

I've read that the reason for clearing away old asparagus stalks is to prevent insect and disease carryover. I suspect that's true, but I can't imagine trying to pick asparagus next April will all of the previous year's trash in the way.

Two remaining isolation plots also got cleared of dead tomato and pepper plants, along with a lot of fruit that didn't mature. I also finally got around to moving our late pumpkins to the compost pile.

Only Bonnie's Asparagus Patch remains to be cleaned up, and I'll be done with garden cleanup and prep for the year...almost. I still need to move compost from our finished compost pile onto both of our asparagus patches.

Jackson in garlic bedHutch paintingWhile I was working in our main garden, Jackson, our lab/great dane cross endeavoured either to keep our planted garlic cloves from leaping out of the bed or keep himself warm and comfortable.

While I was working outside, son-in-law Hutch finished up the remodeling of our dining room. He replaced the entire ceiling and painted the room. We haven't moved back into the room as yet, as we need to pull the carpet in preparation for new carpet being laid.

Even with the required maintenance and renovations, we're blessed to live in a lovely 100+ year old house that has huge windows and beautiful woodwork. As I've somewhat ungracefully aged, I find that I'm jobbing out a lot of the maintenance these days. And actually, it's better that someone who really knows what they're doing does these jobs.

Gifts for Gardeners Shopping GuideShopping GuideSince some previous postings will drop off this page as we move from November to December, let me add that I've recently added a couple of shopper's guides to our Feature Stories section. The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners is pretty much a Christmas gift suggestion piece, while our Shopping Guide for Gardeners is intended to be a continuing feature on the garden products we like and use and may prove useful to other gardeners.

In the second piece, I suggest that new gardeners might start with just a shovel, garden hoe, rake, and possibly a trowel, with the first three actually being essential for a 10' x 10' initial garden plot.

I got started with just those tools, although I had the advantage of the loan of a neighbor's rototiller to turn over my first, adult garden plot. Of course, I turned way too much ground that first year, and found that I couldn't keep up with the required weeding. Fortunately, our first garden plot, which only yielded a little usable produce, didn't turn me off to the wonderful avocation of gardening.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Twilley Seed 2015 Catalog CoverSSE Store 2015 Catalog CoverGarden seed catalogs for the 2015 gardening season began arriving in the mail last month. While we're still just getting a trickle of them, we'll soon have more than we can go through, cover-to-cover.

So far, two of the catalogs received are from companies with whom we'll definitely place orders. Our Twilley Seed catalog was an early arrival in mid-November, while our Seed Savers Exchange Store catalog just came in today's mail. The SSE store catalog includes offerings from the Seed Savers Exchange seed banks, while their Annual Yearbook of member seed offerings won't arrive until January (but is available online year-round).

Having little to no self control where seed catalogs are involved, I quickly paged through the SSE catalog while simultaneously filling out an online order. The items I order from the SSE store, such as America spinach and Champion of England tall peas, are generally not available from other vendors, so there's no real advantage in waiting to place an order.

From my experience today, it appears that the SSE Online Store has come of age. Previously, only small packets of seed were offered online, although folks at SSE promised updates to the store to include larger quantities of seed. This year, one pound and larger packages of seed are listed. Members who log in before building their order also see seed prices discounted in the listings to reflect their member status, a big improvement. And the online store seemed to function flawlessly, reflecting some improvements in their web programming. I think the site is now on par with any of the other commercial seed vendor sites I visit.

I'll enjoy paging through seed catalogs all this month and next, even though today's order wiped out four of the seven items our November seed inventory indicated I needed to order or re-order. I'll almost certainly add a few more items as I peruse catalogs, but we really don't need all that much new seed this year.

If you're looking for online seed vendors and/or garden seed catalogs, our Recommended Suppliers page lists those we've used and liked. Most links there are to the company's catalog request page. I also include a link to Dave's Garden Watchdog for each vendor, so you can see what other gardeners think of the companies.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Transplanting in kitchenTransplanting gloxiniasI still have a lot of trays, inserts, and flower pots to wash and sanitize before bringing them inside to store for use next season. I've become a bit of a nut about clean pots and sterilized soil after somehow bringing the INSV virus inside and losing our previous collection of gloxinias to it. With temperatures in the 40s, I'm still waiting for a warmer day to turn on the garden hose and get with the cleaning in a big way.

I did, however, bring in a few trays and pots to clean so that I could begin moving some Double Brocade gloxinias from fourpacks to 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots. With my wife at work, I took over the kitchen sterilizing potting mix and cleaning the trays and pots.

I made quite a mess (which I cleaned up before said wife got home), but only got ten Double Brocades and a couple of huge Cranberry Tiger gloxinias moved into bigger quarters. The Double Brocades moved easily enough, but the larger Cranberry Tigers required six inch pots, which quickly exhausted my supply of sterile soil.

The Double Brocades I worked with today were seeded in early September and moved to fourpacks in October. I expect we'll begin seeing our first blooms from them in February, just five months from seeding.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Saturday, December 6, 2014 - Brr, It's Cold

The Senior Garden - December 6, 2014I just turned up our thermostat higher than it's been in years, as it's really cold in my office this morning. Along with the cool temperatures outside, we've received about two inches of rainfall in the last 24 hours, leaving standing water all around us. Things are supposed to dry out over the next week, with the possibility of a nice, sunny day or two when I may be able to get a few outdoor jobs done.

Growing Potatoes in a Bag

AmazonI ran across an interesting posting this week by Foodie Gardener Shirley Bovshow, How To Grow Potatoes in a Bag. Shirley tells how to grow potatoes in Smart Pots or other similar bags. From her excellent instructions, it appears this task should be a fairly easy one for patio gardeners or those who don't want to grow lots of potatoes or experience the "joy" of digging potatoes. While I couldn't find a video of Shirley's instructions which appeared on the Hallmark Channel's Home & Family Show, there are lots of videos on YouTube describing this growing technique.

I liked this idea enough to add Smart Bags to The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners feature story.

First Seed Order Arrives

Lacinato kaleOur seed order to the Seed Savers Exchange Store arrived yesterday. That's pretty good turnaround time, since I only placed the order Tuesday afternoon. It was a small order that included packets of Lacinato kale and Scarlet Nantes carrots, a one ounce packet of America spinach, and a pound of Champion of England tall pea seed.

Last year, I started keeping our fresh seed that arrives during the winter months in a dark cabinet in our basement rather than freezing it. Freezing incoming new seed would involve getting our big bag of stored seed out of the freezer and sorting the different seed types into the smaller bags I use to sort carrots from sweet corn and such.

Speaking of tall peas, I still have a large packet of Spanish Skyscraper pea seed I acquired from Sylvia Davitz through the Seed Savers Exchange member listings last year. I grew out a bunch of them a couple of years ago. They produced a good many tasty peas, but easily outgrew our five foot high trellis and got bent over in the wind.

I'd planned to turn one of our 5' x 30' Dalen Garden Trellis Nettings on end and run it around and up (about 16-20') an old telephone pole last year, planting the peas at its base. I reconsidered when I realized the old poles had probably been treated with creosote, a product that may leach into the soil and cause health problems. So the seed never got planted.

I'm now considering planting the peas on the sunny side of our garage, running a trellis up to the top of the garage, to see just how high the peas might grow. I've read of them reaching 16' or more, in one case going up, over, and down a bit on a walk-through trellis.

Note: I wrote about the varieties we're sharing via the Seed Savers Exchange this year in a November posting.

Comfort Food

Asiago Cheese & Tortellini SoupAnnie and the grandkids were late coming in last night, as there was a performance and dinner for them in Terre Haute. Since I was having one of my all-time bad days with my hip, I stayed home. Getting very hungry on a cold, wet afternoon, I decided to make a batch of our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup, one of those really delicious, but not-so-healthy dishes. (The recipe calls for a pint of heavy whipping cream!)

Annie and the grandkids finally arrived, Annie with leftovers from Olive Garden. So after all the hugs and greetings were done, I had a second bowl of the soup with one of the garlic breadsticks Annie had brought home. Then I went to bed and slept like a baby for ten hours!

Note: I'm going to avoid stepping on the scales this morning and definitely not think about cholesterol. I may even have another bowl of soup for lunch.

Burpee Gardening

Sunday, December 7, 2014 - Another Seed Catalog

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds free catalog The Whole Seed [paid] Catalog

Our Senior Garden - December 7, 2014Our copy of the free Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog came in the mail yesterday. I say free, as they have a larger, paid version, The Whole Seed Catalog, that contains a lot of feature stories and other gardening information in it.

With our reduced ordering this year, Baker Creek probably won't get an order from us, as we're already well stocked with seed. In years past, we've ordered varieties such as Tam Dew honeydew, Sugar Snap peas, and Ali Baba, Picnic, and Kleckley's Sweet watermelon seed. We plan to grow most of those varieties in 2015. We just have plenty of seed for them in frozen storage.

Cut honeydewI actually found the Tam Dew and Ali Baba varieties a few years ago by just paging through the catalog and reading variety descriptions while looking for some good, open pollinated varieties to grow in our garden. Tam Dews have turned out to be our favorite honeydew, even over Passport varieties, for their unique flavor and hardiness. The melon skin turns almost white when ripe.

Ripe Ali Baba watermelonWe didn't put in any Ali Baba watermelons in our initial planting last year in our large, East Garden. When cucumber beetles ravaged some of our transplants, I put in a hill of the dependable Ali Babas in mid-May. It turned out that they produced as many good melons as any of our other varieties of watermelons that were transplanted several weeks before them.

Zinnias, seedless watermelon, and Picnic watermelonWe also skipped growing Picnic watermelons last year due to space restrictions. We'll probably work them back into the East Garden this year, as they produce lots of medium sized, flavorful melons. (A small Picnic melon is pictured at left with zinnias and a couple of larger seedless melons.)

Kleckley's Sweet watermelon used to be my favorite variety, but we'll probably skip growing them again in 2015. They are a thin rinded melon, so you don't see them at vegetable stands, as they don't ship well. The local population of raccoons seem to sense their thin rinds and go for the Kleckley's first in our melon patch. Even with the various raccoon deterrents we use, we almost never get a ripe Kleckley's Sweet due to raccoon damage.

Even though we grow a lot of open pollinated melon varieties, we don't usually save seed from them. Growing melons for seed would require isolating the plants from other melon varieties so that they don't cross pollinate. We're just not set up to do that right now, so places like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Annie's Heirloom Seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Sow True Seed are really important to us for occasional re-supply of our favorite open pollinated varieties.

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Friday, December 12, 2014 - Fedco Seed CatalogFedco

Our Senior Garden - December 12, 2014Our copy of the 2015 Fedco Seed catalog came in this week. The unassuming looking catalog contains lots of what you might expect, good seed at good prices. But it also contains a lot more information than other seed vendors are currently willing to supply.

There's a very frank discussion about whether Fedco should be selling seed produced by Bayer and Syngenta, both makers of neonicotinoids, insecticides linked to honeybee colony collapse disorder (CCD). It also includes a note that no seed from Monsanto/Seminis is included in the catalog.

Beyond that, Fedco tells in general terms where their seed comes from (i.e., from "Small seed farmers including Fedco staff" to "Multinationals who are engaged in genetic engineering.").

I really like their "Your Last Chance in 2015" and "Dropped Varieties for 2015" on page 111 that includes some truly humorous, brief explanations as to why stuff has or will disappear from their catalog. Along with "New Seed Varieties for 2015" on page 3, they also have a list of "Back in 2015."

Fedco page 17Heldover Seed NoticeUnlike any other seed vendor I know of, Fedco is open about their practice of selling old seed that still meets government germination standards. Going a step further, Fedco identifies old seed in catalog listings with their most recent germination rates!

Greencrop beans heldover

When I got to the final sections of the catalog, I hit upon a real find. Fedco Seeds' Organic Growers Supply division is offering 83" x 50' packages of Agribon-AG-19 floating row covers in the 83" x 50' size for just $13 plus shipping. For comparison, Johnny's Selected Seeds, a usually good, but expensive vendor, is currently charging $25.95 for exactly the same product! Johnny's prices on larger rolls are coemptive, but their price on smaller rolls is way out of line. I've ordered floating row covers in this size from Johnny's in the past, usually on sale, but feel a bit betrayed by an employee owned company that is constantly raising prices well beyond consumer price indexes, and especially what we retired folks receive in Social Security COLAs.

There are many more nuggets of golden gardening info in the Fedco catalog. It's one that really deserves paging through from front to back.

You can order a Fedco catalog here, or download their catalog (in pieces for the various divisions) here.

Apologies

Our web host, Hostmonster, informed me just minutes before they brought down our site Tuesday night that they were going to do some serious site maintenance. Such updates are important, but a little more notice would have been nice. If you had trouble accessing our site during the evening outage, my apologies.

Weather

Our weather forecast for today was for clear skies, bright sun, and a bit warmer. The weather folks went oh-for-three on that one! Our next chance at seeing the sun appears to be the middle of next week, with the possibility of snow by the end of the week.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

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Monday, December 15, 2014 - 2014 Garden Review

Our annual review of the Senior Garden, A Year in Our Garden - 2014, is now posted. It's mostly a cut and paste from postings over the year in chronological order with the added perspective of how things turned out. It includes lots and lots of garden photos, some pretty good and some, well, just illustrative of the topic being discussed. By dumb luck, one has to get a few good shots when taking well over 5,000 photos in a year!

Broccoli row in East Garden Onions and carrots Potatoes
Sweet corn patch on June 30

We had some fabulous crops this year (broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes, and sweet corn) and some not-so-fabulous ones (melons, tomatoes, celery, and garlic). But up or down, it's important to keep track of what worked, whether one writes a garden blog or not. Our annual review often reminds me of things I want to try in the future, things that worked and should be done again, and mistakes I don't want to repeat.

Yet Another Good Seed Catalog Arrives

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2015 catalog coverEarliest Red Sweet bell pepper envelopeOur 2015 Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived in Saturday's mail. I've already placed one order with them this fall, as I ran out of the self-seal seed envelopes I get from them. I use the envelopes to make attractive packaging for seed shared via the Seed Savers Exchange, the Grassroots Seed Network, and at seed swaps. Most of the seed we save for our own plantings gets stored in far less glorious, but cheaper homemade aluminum foil packets.

As with most of our trusted seed suppliers this year, SESE probably won't get much business from us. We only need a few items and still have a good supply of the Yellow of Parma onion, Kevin's Early Orange Bell Pepper, Hungarian Paprika Pepper, and Rosemary seed we got from them last season. But this is another seed catalog I enjoy paging through each year, cover-to-cover.

I sorta lost track of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for several years. We'd ordered from them and been satisfied with their seed. But somewhere along the line, we didn't order and eventually fell off their mailing list. I rediscovered them a few years ago, and am glad I did. All of the varieties we ordered from them last year germinated well and were true to variety (important for open pollinated seed).

Yellow of ParmaHaving mentioned the Yellow of Parma onion variety we grew for the first time this year, I wrote of it in our Onions We Grew in 2014 feature story:

If our Yellow of Parma onions store well, they will almost certainly be included in our future plantings. They produced beautiful, large yellow onions with golden skins, showed some resistance to early toppling over in the winds that buffet our garden plots, and generally were the star of our yellow, open pollinated onions this year.

Hungarian paprika pepperI was also quite pleased with the Hungarian Paprika Peppers we grew this summer from their seed. The plants went in late, but still produced good numbers of long paprika peppers that ripen to a deep red. Mixed with our Paprika Supreme, Feher Ozon, and Alma paprika peppers, they produce a nicely colored (red-orange due to the Feher Ozons), slightly spicy ground paprika. While I like having a mix of varieties in most things I put up, I may leave out the Feher Ozons and Almas, more orangish peppers, and just go with the Hungarians and Paprika Supremes to produce a milder, redder Spanish paprika.

Gloxinias

Gloxinias on plant rack Gloxinias on December 14, 2014

Our gloxinia plants that looked so good on our downstairs plant rack in September look pretty sad today. I spent several hours Saturday trimming spent blooms, dead leaves, and large leaves from the plants. The big leaves often hang over the pot into the plant trays we use to bottom water the plants. Leaves touching water is an invitation for rot, so the big leaves had to go.

Most of the gloxinias seeded in February have completed their first blooming cycle. They may or may not begin to bloom again before heading into their annual, required period of dormancy. The older plants got a very dilute shot of fertilizer before going to the bottom shelf of our plant rack.

White gloxinia on kitchen counterThe middle and especially the top shelf of the rack are filled with plants seeded a good deal later that should begin to bloom soon. Our early plants were all the Empress and Cranberry Tiger varieties, while our most recent planting was of Double Brocades.

So we're down to just a single gloxinia bloom today under our plant lights, plus a blooming plant on our kitchen counter.

Dining Room Remodeling Almost Done

Dining room paintedWe once again can walk through our dining room. The bulk of the remodeling, which included insulation, a whole new ceiling, and a fresh coat of paint for the walls is done.

The carpet got pulled yesterday, revealing some lovely wood flooring in a few places and flooring in horrible condition most everywhere else. Annie and I now have to decide whether to have the old floor restored, cover it with laminate, or carpet the room. We'd originally planned to have new carpet installed in the living room and dining room, but when we both saw the good sections of old flooring along with the beautiful woodwork in the room, we began to wonder. Right now, we're leaning towards restoration or new laminate flooring.

Either way, it's nice once again to be able to walk through our house without dodging the dining room furniture that had been moved out of the room. There's also a good bit of plaster dust yet to be cleaned up that drifted to other areas of the house. Of course, with the job close to being complete, we are mentally moving on to other rooms that need plaster repair and painting.

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Friday, December 19, 2014 - Sunshine at Last

Our Senior Garden - December 19, 2014We have a somewhat sunny day today, our first in weeks and weeks. The sun is streaming in my office window behind my computer display, but I refuse to pull down the blind, something I've done a good bit over the last few weeks to keep the cold out. But for a bit of warm winter sunshine, I'll put up with the glare.

The one outdoor job I thought about doing today can't happen. I'd hoped to screen some finished compost for our asparagus bed, but the compost pile is frozen.

Seed Catalogs

Annie's Heirloom SeedsSeed catalogs for the new gardening season continue to trickle in. Our copy of the 2015 Annie's Heirloom Seeds catalog arrived in the mail on Wednesday. We are still waiting on five other seed catalogs before being able to compare varieties and prices before placing the bulk of our garden seed orders for next season. Since we're going to try to sneak by with old onion seed for next year and have a good supply of geranium seed on hand, both of which we seed in January, we're not in our usual rush to get orders for those items placed.

Violet of Sicily cauliflowerAnnie's is a small, family owned business, now operating off Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan. They specialize in heirloom and open pollinated varieties, growing "the most rare and hard-to-get varieties" themselves. We first found Violet of Sicily cauliflower through their catalog, although a number of other seed houses also carry it under the name Purple of Sicily.

Owner Scott Slezak shared a funny story in one of their newsletters last year about a supplier's cows eating their garlic sets (that were to be sold via Annie's Heirloom Seeds). He also mentioned in an email that they had experienced similar problems, only it was with their pigs rooting up their neighbor's lawn before they moved to the island (and got rid of the pigs). That's just one more reason why I'm glad I now tend vegetables and not livestock anymore. (I do still miss the chickens and their fresh eggs.)

Seed catalogs late coming in include Burpee, Johnny's Selected Seeds, R.H. Shumway, Sow True Seed, and Territorial Seed. Burpee is always late with their catalog mailings. Since I fussed with Johnny's last year about the overkill in how many catalogs they sent me (and a number of other issues), I suspect that they may have scrubbed my name off their mailing list. Despite the Jung Seed parent company having already sent me Vermont Bean Seed and Totally Tomatoes catalogs I won't use, their Shumway catalog is still MIA. I suspect that Jung is trying to consolidate Shumway into one of their other seed groups, as the name is old and the catalog is probably one of their more expensive ones to print and mail. I have no idea why we haven't gotten catalogs yet from Sow True Seed and Territorial, as we've placed orders with both in the last twelve months.

I've got about a week's worth of patience remaining on waiting for the late catalogs. Then I'll go ahead and place our seed orders for next season, and companies that couldn't get a catalog to me in a timely fashion will just lose our business for now. I continue to support vendors who offer print seed catalogs over those with online sales only.

Wow! Even with the sunshine, I'm a tad grumpy today!

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Monday, December 22, 2014 - Warm...Sorta

Our Senior Garden - December 22, 2014Grassroots Seed NetworkWe had a day of gentle rain here today at the Senior Garden. Things could be worse, though, as the temperature topped out at an almost balmy 50° F! The rain, which certainly felt cold enough, should help replenish groundwater. Such relatively warm rains also supply necessary moisture to our evergreens before the ground freezes and cuts off their water supply for most of the winter.

Lots of Mail - Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Exchange

Our mail today took a bit of time to digest. A mailing from the Grassroots Seed Network contained a ballot and short bios of the candidates for the GSN's first board of directors. An appointed steering committee had functioned well as the board over the last year as the fledgling seed saving and sharing group got organized. I spent a couple of hours poring over the board nominees before filling in my ballot.

The Grassroots Seed Network "is a member-governed organization...dedicated to the preservation of open-pollinated seeds." It came into being out of current and former Seed Savers Exchange members' concerns and dissatisfaction with some of the directions the Seed Savers Exchange appeared to be going. One of my pet peeves, recently corrected on the SSE home page, was the de-emphasis of SSE member open pollinated seed offerings (the Annual Yearbook and its online equivalent). Until this week, one had to search through the SSE's menu bar to find the one, obscure "Seed Exchange" link at the bottom of the Join/Give menu bar entry. While it appears that the Seed Savers Exchange may be rediscovering its roots, the organization is still controlled by an appointed board of directors with no voting input from its 13,000 members.

Membership in the Grassroots Seed Network for those sharing open pollinated seeds is just $15. Non-listing memberships run $25. There is also an amount unspecified hardship membership offered, something I suspect is rarely used but really should be part of any grassroots seed saving venture. Of course, at this point, the Grassroots Seed Network has far fewer varieties offered than the Seed Savers Annual Yearbook.

The Heritage Farm CompanionInterestingly, our Winter, 2014, edition of The Heritage Farm Companion from the Seed Savers organization also arrived in today's mail. It included an informative article, Seed Exchange Update, that describes improvements to both the online Exchange and the print version of the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook. I also liked the lead article, Drought Strategies for Vegetable Gardening, by Rosalind Creasy. The new issue hasn't been posted online at this writing, but should appear soon on the SSE blog. (I'll update the link when the publication becomes available online.)

The Seed Savers Exchange does a lot of good things. Foremost amongst its accomplishments are the establishment of a vast seed sharing network of growers across the nation and its seed preservation vault. If you're looking for an open pollinated vegetable variety, an Exchange member will probably have it. Maintaining thousands of open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties in the SSE seed collection includes proper storage of seed and growing the seed out every few years to ensure its viability.

What SSE seems to have forgotten is the Exchange part of their name. Many, if not most, of its members don't live and breathe the Heritage Farm, but work to help preserve potentially endangered open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties. SSE has seemed far more interested in becoming a retail seed company and sponsoring events at the Heritage Farm than in promoting the very thing that got it started: gardeners sharing their seed with each other.

More Mail - 2015 Johnny's Selected Seeds Catalog

Cover - JSS 2015 Seed CatalogOur Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog came in today, three weeks later than last year. As usual, it's an attractive catalog filled with an amazing number of seed types for the garden. In our experience, seed quality from Johnny's over the years has been excellent.

My main gripes with Johnny's over the last few years have been high shipping charges and substantially increased prices. I've taken them to task several times in this blog for price increases far exceeding annual Social Security COLAs. While past price increases have been pretty much across the board, this year the increases varied a good bit. To get a handle on them, I simply priced the order I placed last year at this year's prices. Two of the thirteen items I ordered then had no price increase. But when all were totaled, I would end up paying 4% more this year for the same items I ordered last year.

To be fair to Johnny's, I did a similar price comparison with our 2014 order to Twilley Seeds. Seven of the fifteen items ordered then showed no price increase, with one item no longer available. When I figured the increase to order the same items again at this year's prices, the increase was 2.1%.

Getting positive once again, there are a lot of vegetable variety seeds we really like that we get from Johnny's. Most of our lettuce seed comes from them, although since we successfully saved Crispino seed ourselves last year, they won't see an order for it from us for some time, if ever. Their Slick Pick hybrid yellow squash is an excellent variety. We also get our Bolero, Laguna, Mokum, and Nelson carrot seed from Johnny's. We also tried and liked their Red Pearl grape tomatoes last year, although they and almost all other grape tomato seeds have gotten awfully expensive, no matter where you get them. And Johnny's seems to be the only show in town if you want the excellent Maxigolt medium to tall pea. Likewise, Farmers Wonderful seedless watermelon is apparently only available from Johnny's this year.

So while I may grumble about prices and shipping, Johnny's will almost certainly get another order from us this year. Quality seed often justifies a higher price.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - Shumway Catalog

R.H. Shumway

Roadside Hybrid muskmelon at full slip
Cut Roadside Hybrid

Our copy of the 2015 R.H. Shumway's seed catalog came in today. The oversize catalog (10.5 x 13.5 inches), illustrated mainly with woodcuts, is simply a lot of fun to look through.

Since I only needed a couple of items from them, I went ahead and filed an order this evening. Burpee's Stringless Green Pod bush green beans and Roadside Hybrid muskmelon were the main items I was after. Burpeeicon, of course, carries the bean variety, but at almost twice the price of Shumway's. Roadside Hybrids, shown at right at just about full slip and also cut, are one of our favorite muskmelons, but have been a hit or miss crop for us the last few years. Only Shumway's and other Jung Seed entities seem to offer seed for the delicious melon variety.

Our relationship with Shumway's goes back to the days when we were farming and they were an independent seed house in Illinois. In those days, I used to call them about annual hog pasture and field corn seed. The company moved to South Carolina and ran into financial problems, eventually being bought by Jung Seed. Even though Jung is a conglomerate of various old seed house names, they sell good seed and offer good customer service.

Of course, I didn't get away with ordering just two items. But I only added two impulse items when completing the order.

"New" Affiliate Advertiser

About a month or so ago, our links to GenericSeeds.com started referring to Mountain Valley Seed Company. It appears that Generic got bought out, but no want bothered to inform their affiliates of the change. The company that handles the affiliate program now lists Mountain Valley as one of our affiliates, so...we'll see where it goes. Fortunately, Mountain Valley has a pretty good rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog, so they may be worth a try. They carry seed for both the Avanti and Double Brocade gloxinia varieties at pretty fair prices.

MVSeeds.com

Wednesday-Thursday, December 24-25, 2014 - 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.

Best wishes from Annie and I to you for a joyous and fulfilling holiday season.

Friday, December 26, 2014 - Seed Orders Done

Our Senior Garden - December 26, 2014

2015 Seed Orders

Seed Savers Exchange (4)
R.H. Shumway's (4)
Fedco (3)
Twilley Seeds (3)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (1)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (1)

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)
Number of items ordered in parentheses.

Even though all of our favorite seed catalogs haven't arrived as yet, I went ahead and completed our initial seed orders this morning. With lots of good seed in frozen storage along with plans to cut back some of our plantings next year, only six out of our twelve Recommended Seed Suppliers received orders from us in this cycle. We may file a few spot orders for items missed or new varieties that catch my eye between now and planting time, but the bulk of our ordering is done for the season.

Twilley Seeds, our main supplier of sweet corn seed since our farming years of the 1980's, only got orders for Dianthus, Nasturtiums, and Snapdragons, as we have lots of good sweet corn seed left over from last season. Their order is unique now, as they're about our only vendor who does not support online orders, requiring a good, old fashioned postage stamp to place the order. Twilley's does have an online catalog, however.

We ordered kidney beans, a new bell pepper, and a new honeydew variety from Fedco.

I'd planned to order floating row covers from Fedco's Organic Growers Supply division. Their 83" x 50' size of the Agribon-AG-19 covers are priced significantly less than from Johnny's Selected Seeds. But it turned out that I really needed the long Agribon-AG-19 83" x 250' roll of the row covers, which are a bit less from Johnny's, so they got that order.

We normally use floating row covers to extend our gardening season in the fall. We've covered lettuce, spinach, green beans, and such with them to get by the first early frosts of fall. Next spring, I plan to use the row covers over our rows of melon transplants to keep bugs off of them until the plants begin to bloom. Our melon crop this last season was seriously impacted by insect damage and the diseases such insects can bring in.

If you haven't gotten around to placing seed orders yet for next year, or like me, just like to peruse seed catalogs, the ones shown below are our current favorites.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Burpee Seeds Fedco
Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Burpee Seed Company Fedco
George's Plant Farm Johnny's Selected Seeds Southern Exposure Seed Excahange R.H. Shumway
George's Plant Farm Johnny's Selected Seeds Southern Exposure Seed Exchange R.H. Shumway
Seed Savers Exchange Store Sow True Seeds Territorial Seed Company Twilley Seed
Seed Savers Exchange Sow True Seeds Territorial Seed Company Twilley Seed

I had to take a few liberties with online images of some of the catalogs, as we still haven't received catalogs as yet from Burpee, Sow True Seeds, and the Territorial Seed Company. George's Plant Farm doesn't mail out catalogs, so I made up a cover for them from their web page images, but they do ship good sweet potato slips.

Saturday, December 27, 2014 - More Seed Catalogs

Sow True SeedsI uploaded yesterday's posting around noon, thinking I was pretty well done reviewing garden seed catalogs for this year. When I emptied our rural route box a few minutes later, I found three more attractive seed catalogs. Since I had just finished placing our garden seed orders for next season, looking through these late arriving catalogs was going to be just for the fun of it.

The folks at Sow True Seed take their catalog cover artwork pretty seriously. This year's cover was designed by Beatriz Carmen Mendoza. (My scan at left doesn't do it justice.) I also really liked their cover last year, as I did almost all the covers from last year. Whether artwork or photography, I enjoy catalog covers that remind me of the joy in gardening.

Sow True Seed is a relatively new seed house located in Ashville, North Carolina. They specialize in open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties with an emphasis on helping folks become more self-sustaining. The garlic sets we received from them this fall were of excellent quality. We also got a couple new-to-us onion varieties from them last spring. While the Tropeana Tondas were a gorgeous deep red, they tended to produce split or double bulbs that don't keep well. The short day Red Creoles we grew from their seed got used up pretty well before we harvested our other onions, as they mature a good twenty days before most intermediate and long-day varieties. (See our Onion Trials - 2014 feature story for images of those and the other onions we grew last season.)

2015 Burpee Catalog Cover The Cook's Garden 2015 Catalog Cover

Our Burpee and The Cook's GardenThe Cook's Garden seed catalogs also came in yesterday. That they appeared together isn't much of a surprise, as they're both owned by the same company. (Note that both Burpee and The Cook's GardenThe Cook's Garden are Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertisers. That means that if you click through one of our links to the companies and place and order, we'll get a small commission on the sale.)

Burpee was our first seed catalog back in the 1970's. We still order a few items from them and occasionally make a real find. Last year, we tried their Saffronicon yellow squash seed. While the squash were a little more plump than our usual Slick Pick hybrids, the Saffron hill outlasted three Slick Pick plants transplanted in succession, producing nice squash throughout the season (as long as you picked them small). A pair of Saffron plants planted together in a hill last summer filled out to about six feet in circumference with leaves about three feet tall. The plants survived several onslaughts of squash bugs (with appropriate applications of insecticide) until I got lazy late in the season and the bugs took them.

Note: Burpee is offering free shipping with no minimum purchase required through Tuesday, December 30, 2014. Use code NYFS15 at checkout.

The image below of our East Garden at the end of June shows a Slick Pick and Saffron plant close to each other in the foreground. The Saffron is the larger of the two yellow squash hills (both hills had two plants each in them).

East Garden - June 30, 2014

A New Indiana Seed House

Granny's SeedsWhile poking around the George's Plant Farm site this week, I saw their notice of their daughter and son-in-law starting a new seed house. While George's Plant Farm is located in west Tennessee, the new venture, Granny's Seeds, is located near Elberfeld, Indiana. Owners Eric and Andrea Swedenburg hope to cater to the needs of local growers. If they can do it, they should get off to a good start with the Indiana melon growers just south of the Senior Garden.

Unfortunately, we won't be ordering sweet potato slips from George's this year. They shipped us the best sweet potato slips (young plants) last year we've ever received via mail order or at a garden center. My bad leg simply prevents me now from doing any serious digging, although some corrective surgery scheduled for this winter may improve that situation. George's specializes in only twelve varieties of sweet potatoes, but they include our two favorites, Beauregard, and the hard-to-find, Nancy Hall.

I ordered some Granny's Little Brown Crowder Peas from the new venture, as I like to try folk's family heirloom favorites. I found Granny's Seeds' shipping charges to be pretty friendly, something a bit unusal for seed houses today!

Sunday, December 28, 2014 - Elephant Garlic Up

Elephant garlic up Row of elephant garlic emerging

I noticed yesterday that most of our row of purchased elephant garlic has pushed some green leaf tips through the soil and mulch. None of the rest of our garlic, including a row of elephant garlic planted from heads and cloves we saved, has emerged.

Garlic emerging early in the winter isn't something we normally see, but it also isn't all that unusual. Many gardeners report having garlic come up early in warm winters without damage to the garlic that is underground. The leaf tips that are up may get burned a bit by winter freezes, but the garlic plants, protected by several inches of soil and an inch or so of mulch, should survive.

The only other time we had garlic emerge this early was the warm winter of 2011-2012, which preceded the drought of 2012. I certainly hope the early garlic isn't prophetic of another dry summer.

Purchased garlic (and gloxinias)The garlic that is up came from the Territorial Seed Company and Sow True Seed. The garlic heads and cloves were the best quality I've ever received in such a purchase. We also received some garlic sets from Botanical Interests, which were good, but not of the same quality as those from Territorial and STS.

Another Seed Catalog with an Interesting Surprise

Territorial Seed Company 2015 Catalog CoverHaving mentioned the Territorial Seed Company, their 2015 seed catalog straggled in yesterday, the last of the twelve seed catalogs we rely on for purchasing seed and supplies. The catalog contained a bit of a surprise for me on page 3. Territorial is offering Tom Tato plants this year, something introduced in the UK last year by Thompson and Morgan (UK, not the US one). Calling them Ketchup 'n' Fries plants, the plants are a graft of a cherry tomato top on a potato root system!

Wikipedia gives some background on the unusual grafted plants under the entry, Pomato. While I was a bit skeptical when I first saw Territorial's page about the plants, it appears that the new offering might be something interesting for patio gardeners, possibly with the Smart Pots patio growing bags I wrote about earlier this month.

Of course, you'd really have to want to grow your own cherry tomatoes and potatoes to use this method. The grafted plants run $19.95 each plus shipping, and a 20 gallon Smart Pot is $19.99. Add in a bag of planting medium, and you'd be pushing $50 to try this project!

One of Territorial's more mundane offerings, Milestone onion seed, was nice to see in the catalog. Milestone has been one of our main onion varieties for several years, producing large, rather sweet bulbs that store pretty well. Our other yellow storage onion variety, Pulsar, disappeared from seed catalogs this year, so it was nice to see Territorial still offering Milestones. (We bought a packet in the fall when we ordered our garlic sets.) Fortunately, we trialed a bunch of onion varieties this last season and found several candidates to replace the Pulsar variety.

Milestone onions (July 19, 2014)

Territorial also has a page (pg 5) of suggested container gardening vegetable varieties. Combined with a Garden Tower, one could grow a lot of veggies on a porch or patio (while burning through a ton of money).

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - End of the Year

2014 Senior Garden Animated GIF Samaritan's Purse - Helping In Jesus' NameAs we switch out our old 2014 calendars for new 2015 ones, it's a reminder of another wonderful gardening season completed. Even as seniors, there's the promise of the blessings of new garden seasons to come.

While it's been my practice to wind up each month with an animated GIF of our main garden plots through the month, I decided for December to use an image of each month of 2014 for a year-around animated GIF (at left).

Looking back at the January and February images of our garden, I'm reminded of how snowy it was last winter. As always, the snow and cold finally yielded to spring, but only after one last, late March cold snap and snowfall.

Rather than rehash the events of the year here, I'll repost links to a couple of garden roundup articles already published:

Seed Orders

Having spent most of December reviewing seed catalogs, I'm glad to say that our seed orders for next season have all been placed. Doing so didn't take all that long, as we had ordered heavily for our 2014 garden and have lots of commercial and saved seed in our freezer. I still need to order garden supplies such as Serenade biofungicide and 4 1/2 inch plastic pots. Our first uses of Serenade as a soil drench last season proved quite successful. A new case of pots became essential when the last of a case of 400 pots I ordered almost 30 years ago began to crack and break. We use a lot of that size of pots for our gloxinias, but also use them as starting pots for some of our melons and squash plants.

Note that the Greenhouse Megastore has become our main supplier for pots, seed flats, inserts, and hanging baskets. I'd written the Megastore's president, David George, in early 2013 requesting they carry Perma-Nest heavy-duty seed flats and was quite pleased when he responded and began offering them in their store. I wonder if David may now be sailing on a yacht in the Caribbean financed mainly from all the PVC parts I bought last year from the Megastore while constructing our first PVC cold frame.

New Year's Eve Fun, Vincennes Style

If you live close to Vincennes (Knox County, Indiana) and are looking for something unusual to do this New Year's Eve, you might want to check out the annual Watermelon Drop. Watermelons are dropped from an eighteen foot man made watermelon suspended in the sky by a crane. The melons, of course, make quite a mess when they hit, but kids seem to love it. Those attending may want to bundle up, though, as temperatures here dropped to the low teens last night and this morning.

Winding Up 2014

It's been a good year working in our Senior Garden plots and in maintaining this site. Unique visitors to the site are up about 10% over the previous year. Content delivered (in terms of gigabytes) is up well over 30%, as I use more and more images to illustrate the site.

Emails from readers continue to be a source of knowledge and encouragement in publishing this site. I receive more questions and comments from our gloxinia pages than all of our other content combined. The fact that many of the readers of this site who write are accomplished gardeners themselves helps me feel like it is still worthwhile to publish the site. Like the public radio and television line, "Powered by you," this site is driven by readers. My sincere thanks go out to you.

Here's wishing you a Happy New Year and a great 2015 gardening season.

Happy New Year - 2015 - from Senior Gardening

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