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The Old Guy's Garden Record

February 15, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014 - Making a Posting "Out of Nothing at All"

I usually try to have some upbeat, forward looking insights to share on the first of the month, but I'm pretty much coming up empty this morning. Like the old Air Supply hit, Making Love Out of Nothing At All, I'll attempt to share something of value "out of nothing at all."

February is often a month that tests my patience. I've already started petunias, onions, and geraniums for our garden and am in the spirit to get things going. Unfortunately, most of the rest of what we'll need in transplants for our 2014 garden shouldn't be started quite this early.

One group of plants I will get to start this month are our brassicas (or cole crops). While I usually seed a whole flat of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and occasionally kohlrabi at one time in February, I'm going to give our cauliflower a two week head start. The longer seasoned cauliflower varieties often get caught by warm weather before we can harvest them. Building in a week or two will make for some big transplants, but may help us harvest more of the delicious vegetable before the heat of summer makes their heads turn yellow and go bitter.

Texas NachosWith the Super Bowl being played tomorrow, I guess a mention of our recipe for Texas Nachos might be in order here. I put up our simple recipe in a posting last month. When doing so, I also found when I Googled "Texas Nachos," there were lots of other recipes and images of the dish. Any of them should add a delicious and colorful tray for a Super Bowl party.

Seminis Eclipse PVP CertificateWe're still waiting for our Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook to arrive. Over the years, its arrival time has varied from January to late February. One listing that probably will be missing from the yearbook is our offering of the supersweet pea variety, Eclipse. I wrote about Eclipse in a feature story last fall, Working to Save a Pea Variety. It turns out that Eclipse is a patented variety, and the SSE threw out my listing (for valid legal reasons, I would guess). I think plant patents were intended to protect the rights of breeders of open pollinated varieties. In this case where no commercial vendors are offering the variety, the law works to help extinguish a pretty good pea variety. Seminis/Monsanto strike again!

Earlirouge tomato seed entryOur other listings, including the one shown at left for the Earlirouge tomato, are all still available. They include:

   • Moira (tomato)
   • Quinte (tomato)
   • Earliest Red Sweet (bell pepper)
   • Alma (paprika pepper)
   • Feher Ozon (paprika pepper)
   • Japanese Long Pickling (cucumber)

The Seed Savers Exchange online Annual Yearbook is in its first year, so there are still some bugs on the site. Images and text often overlap, images don't reliably load, and the current online ordering process is an absolute disaster. But it's a good first attempt that the SSE will hopefully refine in time.

Okay, there's 494 words of "nothing at all" to begin the month.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Senior Garden - February 2, 2014Sam's Club Membership OfferWe received about a half inch of rain overnight. As the temperature dropped, the rain turned to sleet and then snow, so we now have a thin layer of ice covered with an even thinner layer of snow. I wouldn't know about the outside conditions, except that I had to make a trip to the garage freezer to fetch some beet and celery seed.

I wrote yesterday that we'd not be planting much until we started our brassicas later this month. But our mail yesterday contained our backordered Patterson onion seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds. At one point last month, Johnny's had pushed back the shipping date for the yellow storage onion seed to March 1. They obviously hurried things up somehow, shipping the seed at the originally stated backorder date. But...I also noticed the seed tested out last October at 82% germination, so they may have had to dip into some seed heldover from last year to make things work. As long as the seed comes up fairly well, I'll be happy with it.

So today I seeded more onions even though we have several flats of them started already. I really do want to try the Patterson variety.

Since I didn't want or need another full flat of onions, I pulled out one of our very old half flats to do the planting this morning. Even using a half flat, I was going to have more space in it than I needed for the onions, hence the trip to the garage for celery and beet seed. I already had some leek seed in the kitchen freezer along with our onion seed.

Seeding half flat

I ended up starting two rows of Patterson onions, a half row each of Blue Solaise leeks and Conquistador celery, and a row of Pacemaker III beets.

Evenly spaced beet seedHalf flat with humidomeI learned long ago from an episode of the old Crockett's Victory Garden TV show that one can transplant beets. At that time, he recommended Pacemaker hybrid beets for transplanting, and I've mostly stayed with successors of that variety over the years. I was also careful to evenly space the beet seed, as it's a compound seed with each one being capable of producing several plants.

Note that there's a long forum page on the Garden Web of folks who wish PBS and/or WGBH would release a DVD or Blu-ray of the original, Jim Crockett Victory Garden episodes.

The leeks and celery were just extras. I grew some last year, but didn't get either hilled properly, so I'd like to try them again. One of my grandfathers used to grow celery in an old, bottomless wash tub, adding soil to the tub to hill the celery as it grew.

News Flash from the Washington Post: Groundhog Day 2014: Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow, 6 more weeks of winter


Around 5:30 pm I looked out our back window and saw the field next to us was filled with Canadian Geese. That's not all that uncommon, as the geese winter over in this area, possibly because of the warm waters of Turtle Creek Reservoir. There just seemed to be a lot more geese than usual gleaning the field this afternoon.

Canadian Geese Just Beyond the Senior Garden

Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - Starting Some Herbs

The Senior Garden - February 4, 2014
Snowing hard

Seeding herbsWe've got a pretty good snowstorm going on this evening. It was snowing hard enough to obscure the woods that lie beyond the field beside our main garden plot. Looking a different direction, the barn that lies a hundred yards or so behind our house was almost obscured as well. And then it got dark, but it kept on snowing.

The weather bureau is predicting 3-8" of accumulation...over a thin sheet of ice. Annie and I both slipped, but didn't fall while hauling stuff in from the car this afternoon.

Before the snow got started today, I turned my attention to getting some herbs started for this spring. I'd started a couple of small pots of thyme yesterday and seeded parsley, sage, rosemary, oregano, and dill today.

The plantings did require a little planning, as thyme requires light to germinate, but likes rather cool temperatures (50-75o F). So the pots of thyme got covered with Glad Wrap (held onto the pot with a rubber band) and just went into a flat with other plants on our plant rack, as our basement currently runs around 65o.

Plant rackBoth the sage and oregano also need light to germinate. Since they also could use a bit of bottom heat, they just went under the humidome over a soil heating mat with the other herbs I started. The parsley, rosemary, and dill seed got covered with a thin layer of planting medium to give them the darkness they need to germinate.

At the very bottom of the plant rack photo at right are two sage plants from cuttings that I moved to pots yesterday. The sage was very slow to root, but it appears that the two (out of four cuttings I took) will make nice plants.

Although it doesn't show very well in the photo at right, all of our flats of onions got a haircut yesterday. When our onions begin to get floppy and fall over, I trim them to about 3" tall with scissors. I also trim onions that didn't quite get their seed head out of the soil. And we still have the half flat of Patterson onions I started Sunday on the top heat mat of our plant rack.

A couple of herbs (or spices) I didn't start this week are basil and paprika. I start our basil about the same time as our tomatoes (in March). Paprika comes from dried paprika peppers, and our peppers also get started sometime in March.

With all the snow outside, I thought it might be comforting to share a few parsley and basil photos.

Several varieties of parsley Dwarf basil

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - More Snow

The Senior Garden - February 5, 2014Free Shipping on Orders over $35We got off easy this time around, receiving around 4-5" of snow overnight. Areas slightly north of us received up to ten inches of snow. It's still snowing this morning, but the bulk of the storm has passed and is now inundating the northeast. Temperatures are holding in the twenties, but will drop to around zero tonight and tomorrow night. Indianapolis weather expert Paul Poteet compared this snowfall to the one that paralyzed much of the midwest in January, noting, "This time the really, really cold air holds off longer - which should give road crews a better head start on cleaning up." But the cold is coming with the possibility of more snow this weekend.

I found it interesting and disappointing last night that only CBS and NBC news had stories about the snowstorm. ABC, CNN, Fox, the New York Times, and the Washington Post apparently didn't have a clue, or didn't care, about a major snowstorm covering much of the midwest until the snowflakes began falling on them.

2000 GMC SierraAnnie and I made a somewhat harrowing trip last night to get my truck from the shop. Annie missed a turn in the heavy snow, got stuck, but finally freed up the car without assistance. The truck had died at a local service station on Monday, but within sight of Cox Automotive, a good, local repair shop. It only took 24 hours (and just shy of $500) to get a new fuel pump installed in our 2000 GMC Sierra. It didn't hurt that the mechanic drove a 2001 Sierra and had experienced similar problems. He also had experienced the current auto dealer fun-and-games of not carrying any regular cab, standard bed, 4x4 new pickups on their lots that I wrote about last week in GM Doesn't Want My Business.

Having started down the treacherous path of putting money into a very old vehicle, it appears that I'll be putting new tires on the usually dependable truck and getting the welds fixed on one side of the bed. It should serve for hauling chores for several more years.

And while I'm ranting, I did send GM the URL for the story linked above. What I learned from that was really disappointing. It would seem that no one at GM, from CEO Mary Barra's office on down, knows how to read! At least, their reading comprehension skills seem limited, as all of their responses to me never addressed the issues I presented them.

Note that GM's sales were down 12% in January. GM blamed bad weather, but a mechanic I know and I think something else may have had an effect.

I'll get back to gardening stuff tomorrow. When I went out to start and defrost our car and truck this morning, I also brought in cauliflower seed from our garage freezer.

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - Starting Cauliflower (a bit early)

The Senior Garden - February 6, 2014Cauliflower - AmazingLooking out our windows at the snow cover, it's hard to believe that in just two months we'll be gardening again. Since brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) can withstand light frosts but can't handle the heat of summer, they are usually the first transplants to go into our garden in the spring. So getting them started on time is a priority for us.

I'm starting cauliflower a bit earlier this year than usual. Our cauliflower always seems to mature one or two weeks after our main heads of broccoli, and I'd like to have them come in at about the same time. Getting the crop to come in a couple of weeks earlier may also avoid some of the disappointments we've had with bitter yellow heads of cauliflower when the weather really gets hot.

For today's planting, I used another half flat with four fourpack inserts (#804 four-cell inserts, 32 cells/standard 1020 seed flat), giving me room for sixteen plants. While we usually put seven or eight cauliflower in our main garden planting, we often use extras in a row in our large East Garden plot.

Kettle of sterilized potting mixI'd sterilized some potting mix this morning and had set it outside to cool, so I just filled the flat of inserts outside today. Even having sat outside in 9o F weather for an hour, the potting mix was still pretty warm from its hour in the oven at 400o F.

Seed in insertsAfter watering the half flat with warm water, I made depressions in the center of each cell, and a few extra depressions in the corners of a couple cells for extra seed, as not every seed will germinate. Then I placed my seed in the depressions and covered it with an eighth to a quarter of an inch of soil.

Please note that in seeding processes when I refer to potting soil, potting medium or mix, I'm talking about a planting medium that has been sterilized to prevent damping off fungus.

I ended up seeding eight cells of Amazing, six cells of Fremont, and just two cells of a new (to us) variety we're trying for the first time this year, Violet of Sicily. All three varieties ripen about the same time (65-75 days after transplanting). Amazing has been, well, amazing for us in producing good, early heads of cauliflower. We tried some Fremont a few years ago and found that it produced almost equally well. The Violet of Sicily is a purple cauliflower that I'm trying just for the fun of it.

Covered half flat of cauliflower

The half flat got covered with a clear humidome (after some serious patching) and went onto a soil heating mat in the basement under our plant lights. Brassicas really don't need bottom heat or light to germinate. There just happened to be space available over half of one of the soil heating mats.

We won't be seeding the rest of our brassicas and possibly even a few more cells of cauliflower until later this month, usually around February 20.

Friday, February 7, 2014 - Brrr...

Minus 10 F!Patterson onions upWhen I checked Weather Underground this morning, one of the Sullivan, Indiana, sites was reporting a temperature of -10o F. Fortunately, the sun warmed things up a bit in the afternoon, if one can call 15o F warm. With not much wind and all the bundling up I did, I was actually fairly warm when I walked to the barn this afternoon.

The Patterson onions that I started on Sunday appear to be germinating at a good rate. A few beet plants (not shown) have poked their way through the soil as well. The leeks and celery aren't showing anything yet and may not, as I used five year old seed for those two plantings.

Our Tuesday planting of herbs isn't showing any growth unless you count the mold or moss I quickly dispatched this morning with a spray of captan. I've taken to keeping an old spray bottle filled with a mixture of pyrethrin and captan at the end of one of the plant rack's shelves. Much like Gus Portokalos's use of Windex in the 2002 movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, anything that looks a bit strange gets a shot of the mixture.

Plant rackFor any photo buffs reading this posting, the image at right required an aperture of f/29 with a 4/10 second exposure time (on a tripod) to keep most of the onion row in focus. The image at left was handheld at 1/20 second at f/11. For most shots in the plant room, I almost always switch to manual exposure. And yes, the bottom row did require some dodging in Photoshop.

The Senior Garden - February 7, 2014Staying with the photography theme, the lens that had an electronics failure last month came back from Canon service yesterday in good shape. Rather than hang onto a lens much like the one that replaced it, the old EF-S 17-85mm zoom lens is on its way to a daughter in California who also uses a Canon XSi. She'll make good use of it, and I'll probably get a lot more great pictures of grandkids!

With all the snow this winter and the truck breaking down this week, I'm back to shopping for a 4x4 truck. I've switched brands, but am still having trouble finding a basic regular cab, long bed, 4X4 pickup truck I want and can afford. All the auto makers show them on their sites, but they're pretty scarce on the lots of auto dealers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014 - Thyme is Up

Pot covered with clear plastic wrapThyme upThe two small pots of thyme that I seeded on Monday have germinated. Since thyme needs light and somewhat cool temperatures to germinate, I'd covered the pots with clear plastic wrap and placed them in a flat under our plant lights, but not over a soil heating mat. With our current cold spell, our basement is running around 60o F, pretty much an ideal temperature for germinating thyme.

It appears that I was a bit too generous with the thyme seed. I'm not very experienced at growing herbs and haven't had a lot of luck getting some of them to germinate well. Obviously, the 2012 dated seed from both Shumway and Ferry-Morse (via a Walmart seed rack) is quite viable.

In a few days, I'll have to harden my heart and thin the plants to only a few in each pot. As soon as possible, I'll move one or two plants from each pot to other 3" square plastic pots, as that size pot should be ideal for the thyme until I transplant them into the garden.

And yes, I had to work really hard until now not to go for the bad joke of stuff like "thyme's up" and "thyme to transplant."

Save up to 40% on Valentine's Flowers & Gifts at (Offer Ends 02/12/14)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

September 26, 2008 February 11, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Senior Garden - February 12, 2014
Weather Channel 10-Day Forecast

While the southeast is getting another winter storm, we continue having cold, clear days. But the 10-day forecast for our area shows promise of some warmer weather soon.

I've kept busy watering, re-seeding where necessary (I dropped a half tray of herb plants!), transplanting, and generally babying the transplants we have started under plant lights, but haven't posted much here. That's because I got serious last Friday about replacing our fourteen year old truck.

New 2014 SilveradoFinding a regular cab, long bed, 4-wheel drive truck, whether Ford, Chevy, or GMC, in our area was quite a challenge. I finally found a Silverado on the north side of Indianapolis that had what I wanted without breaking the bank.

I got home from my buying trip well after dark last night. My wife naturally wanted to see the new truck. So, I slipped it into the low 4-wheel drive setting, and we drove through the snow back to the barn to feed a cat who lives there. Driving to the barn in heavy snow or in muddy conditions used to be an invitation for an expensive extraction from a tow truck and/or winch. The new truck handled the short trip like a champ.

While it's always tough to dirty up a new truck, the Chevy designation for this model is a "work truck," and that's how we'll use it. Hauling lumber, compost, topsoil, gravel, and manure are all in its near future.

We did some unusual financing on the truck, so I still have to sign the auto loan papers today. Then there will be the necessary title and license plates to do. Possibly one of the nicest surprises of the experience was that my truck insurance only went up $41 semi-annually.

So when I'm done joyriding, I'll get back to garden writing again. I recently learned of a really promising new way to propagate gloxinias from a reader in Australia.

Burpee Seed Company

Thursday, February 13, 2014 - Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook

2014 Seed Savers Exchange YearbookSpanish Skyscraper peasOur copy of the 2014 Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook arrived in the mail yesterday. As always, the cover art on the yearbook is gorgeous. This year's yearbook contains over 13,000 variety listings, serving to help maintain our heritage of genetic diversity in garden crops.

I usually find a variety or two in the yearbook to order each year. This time around I'm looking to re-supply with Spanish Skyscraper pea seed. Another SSE member sent a small, free sample of the pea seed with my order for other stuff last year. I liked the quality of the peas produced but will have to figure out a place for a very tall trellis. Spanish Skyscraper peas can vine well over eight feet high. Our planting last year, shown at right, outgrew our trellis before a strong wind storm bent them over and effectively ended their growing season.

The yearbook, sans the great cover art, is also available online for the first time this year. I wrote about our listings in the yearbook the first of this month, so I won't repeat that here.

Statement from SSE Yearbook Guidelines (pg x)
Do not list patented varieties. Although it is legal for gardeners to grow and save patented varieties, it is illegal to distribute them. Reference the USDA website for a list of patented varieties.

I should add a few words of thanks here to the Seed Savers Exchange. While I was a bit miffed at first when I saw that they'd bumped my listing for the Eclipse pea from the online and later, print yearbook, they actually did me a favor. Eclipse is a patent protected variety (PVP) owned by the Seminis/Monsanto conglomerate. Without SSE's wise intervention, I might have received some nasty news from Monsanto's legal department.

Note that one needs to be a Seed Savers Exchange member to order from the yearbook (but not from their online store). Membership runs $40 per year with a "Fixed Income" membership also available at $30 per year. To order "Limited Quantity" varieties from the yearbook, one needs to be a "listed member." Listed members are folks who offer their saved seed through the yearbook. That provision is to protect endangered varieties that need to go into the hands of experienced seed savers so they can grow out and re-offer the variety in future years.

Seed Savers Exchange

Brown Owl Hugging a Heart

Valentine's Day Clip Art from MyCuteGraphics

Valentine Reminder

free clip art If Valentine's Day is important in any of your relationships, let me add a quick reminder here that you're almost out of time to shop for a card, flowers, or whatever. I'm lucky in that Annie isn't a big fan of Valentine's Day, so our pact is for a card only.

While I suspect you might still get flowers delivered by tomorrow from, it's definitely too late to order anything else online.

If all else fails and you have a good printer, let me suggest visiting Laura Strickland's My Cute Graphics site for some Valentine clip art for a do it yourself card. I like her Brown Owl Hugging a Heart graphic.

Sam’s Club

Friday, February 14, 2014 - Valentine's Day

Roses for AnnieI mentioned yesterday that my wife, Annie, and I have a pact for Valentine's Day to only buy a card for each other. We've both broken the pact at times, often with a small box of conversation hearts or something similar. Yesterday, our local Walmart was offering a baker's dozen roses for $16, and I couldn't resist. Of course, Annie helped me buy a new truck this week, so I think I still have some catching up to do.

Propagating Gloxinias with Flower Stem Cuttings

Kevin Maciunas, a lecturer at the University of Adelaide, recently wrote me and shared the really interesting way he propagates gloxinia plants. Rather than relate my second hand impression of what he does, I'm going to be lazy and quote parts of his emails.

Way back in the 70's - I vegetatively propagated my Gloxinias by cuttings. Not leaf cuttings, but the spent flower stems.

My SOP for this is cooled, boiled (hence pseudo-sterile) water from the kettle. I make a small slit in the bottom of each stem and put the stems through some aluminium (or aluminum in the US :) ). The foil keeps the top of the flower stem out of the water and the foil is kind of scrunched over the glass - which keeps it dark. The split stems absorb water and separate a bit. In a fortnight there are roots from each end of the split stem. In a month there is usually small leaves and the embryonic corm forming.

So each stem gives me two plants. I have NEVER had this fail. 100% (or 200%, if you count just the flower stems!). It seems to me a real freebie because you tend to cut the spent stems off anyway...

Anyhow, since it wasn't one of your listed propagation techniques - I thought I'd pass it on. If you are in the business of mass production - I don't see why you couldn't split the stem end into quarters or even eighths - but I've never done that :)

I found his technique intriguing, and even searched (in vain) through the coffee grounds in our compost bucket for our last, and only trimmed gloxinia stem. I didn't find it, and since we're currently bloom challenged, I'll need to wait until another one of our gloxinias blooms again to try flower stem propagation.

Kevin sent along a couple of photos of his technique:

Gloxinia flower stems rooting View with flower stem tops showing

I found it interesting that Kevin noted, "But the dormancy thing is the Gloxinia lottery, in so far as I can remember anyway!" I have to agree with him, as we seem to lose far too many plants during dormancy.

I pestered Kevin with questions for several days, and he, obligingly answered them all.

SG (Senior Gardener): Am I right that you leave the flower bud on the top of the stem (above the foil)?
Kevin: Indeed. And just looking at the "plant" - it looks very much to me like the calyx continues to photosynthesise thus supporting the "plant".

SG: And do the new plants (corms) form above the water or in the water?
Kevin: New plantlets form at the cut tips of the stems. I must admit - I have tried slicing one stem into quarters (so two cuts on the end) and it did form 4 plants. Hence my comment about fine slice-n-dice for more plants. The only thing is that those plants looked smaller than the others where the stem was only split. The stems with NO splits looked about the same as the ones I split in two. So my un-controlled experiment told me the optimum split ratio is one split :)

Again - in the non-scientific way this gets done :) - the next structure to form after the roots are perfectly formed tiny plants. The corm structure seems to start after the leaves, but I admit I haven't done daily observations. The tiny plants will have 3 or 4 fully formed leaves and be 6mm or so across after about a month to 6 weeks in the water.

Gloxinia from flower stem cuttingIn a later email, Kevin shared a photo of a gloxinia he'd cloned with his flower stem method about a year ago. The plant appears to be nearing or at the end of a blooming cycle, but shows a real, for true gloxinia plant from a flower stem cutting.

The attached photo is one I just took - this plant was done last year. Took the cuttings in about April, potted them in July (mid winter!) and it has been slowly flowering on the window in the office here since before christmas. You can see the "linear" growth pattern that all that batch (! - it was two flower stems = 4 plants!) has. Might just be that lot though. I need more data :)

My thanks go out to Kevin for sharing his propagation method and photos with me and our Senior Gardening readers. For now, I'm just going to link to this posting from the propagation section of our gloxinia feature story. I want to try the method myself, photographing it at various stages of rooting, corm formation, and eventually getting the plant into soil before adding it to the article so that I can describe it from firsthand knowledge.

But my current reaction is to be simply blown away by what appears to be a much easier way to propagate gloxinias when compared to leaf cuttings.

It's interesting to me that it was just a bit over a year ago that another gloxinia grower from Australia, Robyn Wood, shared some gorgeous photos of his gloxinias that grow outside year round in Sidney, Australia. From what Kevin wrote, he's in a region where outside, year round growing isn't possible.


Plant formingI finished writing and uploading this posting around one this morning (yeah, that's 1 am). I sent Kevin (Maciunas) an email letting him know that the posting was up before retiring for the night.

When I checked my email this morning, there was a new message from Kevin with a great shot (through heavy glass and water, no less) of a tiny gloxinia plant forming in the water at the base of one of his cuttings.

I did massage the image a in Photoshop to bring up the plant leaves a bit. I used its default (auto) setting under "Image>Adjustments>Levels" with what I think are good results. That tool can also put some strange color casts on images at times, though.

One More Thing

We're supposed to get another 3 inches of fresh snow today with 2-3 more inches coming later this weekend!

Charity: Water

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Senior Garden - February 15, 2014Weather Channel 10-day forecastWe have another bright, cold day today with a fresh cover of about four inches of new snow. We started out with an overnight low of zero, but that looks to be the last of that for a while. The Weather Channel's 10-day forecast calls for highs in the 40s to 50s by next week. So we may trade our long-lasting snow cover for cold mud.

The title of a gardening article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times proclaimed, All that snow might force gardeners to wait a little longer to get growing. This winter's heavy snow accumulations could "prolong the drying process necessary to begin spring planting," according to Loyola University Chicago Urban Agriculture Coordinator, Kevin Erickson. One tip in the article noted that "Mulch, typically a tool for healthy growing, may lock in too much moisture as well," with Erickson recommending "raking it away to dry out soil more quickly after the snow melts and mulch thaws."

A phone conversation yesterday with my sister who lives outside Merrifield, Minnesota, reminded me that lots of folks in northern climes won't see the ground again until spring. Like Merrifield, many places remain snow covered from the first snowfall of winter until a spring thaw comes.

And in a news flash that could be headlined, Stay Out of the Garage, winter cold and snow cover pushed a skunk to enter our garage Thursday night in search of food. Dogfood dishes were moved around and emptied, with the skunk leaving its scent in the garage and on several of our dogs who hang out there.

I need to build a new, slightly larger (and hopefully lighter) cold frame soon. Such projects are usually started in the garage, but I'll have to wait a bit until the odor clears to begin. I may try using 2x2's for the new frame instead of the 2x4's used in our old cold frame to make it a bit easier to move around. I've also toyed with the idea of using PVC pipe for the cold frame, but attaching the clear plastic to such a frame could be a problem, as the necessary clamps are rather expensive.

Part of the reason for the early interest in a new cold frame is that we've seeded far more onions this year than usual. Flats of onions take up a lot of precious space under our plant lights, but they can go outside pretty early with a good cold frame over them. The last couple of years, I've set up our cold frame around March 1, although I had to bring trays of plants inside several nights each year.

Half flat of beets, leeks, celery, and onionsHalf flat of cauliflowerOur half flat of beets, leeks, celery, and Patterson onions started on February 2 is finally looking pretty good. The leeks and celery were a little slow to germinate, but are up now and going strong. The half flat of cauliflower started on the sixth isn't doing as well. I had to go back and reseed many of the cells, but we're getting some germination now. One packet of suspect cauliflower seed was dated as 2013 seed, but I suspect this is another example of seed vendors selling old seed that just barely meets minimum federal germination requirements.

The herbs I started this month have come up well. I'm still waiting on some parsley and other stuff to germinate, but those were the pots I let flop off a bench and had to reseed a few days ago.

Tray of herbs

I'm going to be very busy very soon splitting up the community pots and getting our herbs into individual pots or fourpack cells. Some of the petunias I started in early January in egg cartons are also ready to be moved to larger quarters.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Sunday, February 16, 2014 - Uppotting Petunias

Egg carton petunias ready for uppottingReady to transplantOne of the drawbacks of starting plants, including petunias, in egg cartons instead of fourpack inserts or 3" pots is that they have to be transplanted to larger quarters just a month or so after seeding. Such "uppotting," as I call it, really isn't difficult, but it adds one step to the growing process.

I'd previously trimmed most of our egg cartons to ten cells long so they would fit in a standard 1020 flat. When I pulled the flat of petunias out from under our plant lights today, the egg cartons were barely discernible in many places. These were some healthy petunias.

I started with a a standard 1020 flat with a #804 sheet insert. It has eight four-cell divisions, providing space for 32 plants. Since these plants were well past germination stage, I used an unsterilized mix of peat moss and potting soil for the transplanting.

Plant removed with soil from egg cartonHole in soilRemoving each plant with as much of its surrounding soil (and root system) from its egg carton cell is a rather slow process. I use a now dull paring knife to go around and under each cell. And when I get careless or in a hurry, I'm often rewarded with the top of a plant with a bare root hanging underneath it.

Once the plant and root system is freed from the egg carton, I make a hole in the soil in the fourpack cell with my fingers, push the plant into the hole, and move and firm the surrounding soil around it.

Transplanting (uppotting) petuniasTwo flats of petuniasWhile somewhat tedious work, it actually goes rather quickly. Before I knew it, I'd filled the 32 cells of the tray and had to go to the basement for more fourpack inserts. Since I'd moved a few extra plants to fourpacks when I'd thinned the petunias to one plant per egg cell. we ended up with almost two full trays (flats) of petunias, 61 plants in all from the original 48 egg carton cells I seeded.

Some of the petunias are already fairly large. As soon as they begin to fill their fourpacks with roots, I'll begin moving some of them into ten inch hanging basket pots, three or four plants per pot. I love having our back porch surrounded with baskets of petunias, and the hummingbirds that visit our feeders seem to appreciate them as well.

I ended up spending a very pleasant hour to an hour and a half uppotting the petunias. Processing the photos and writing up the activity took an equal amount of time! (And I still enjoy processing images and writing and coding web pages.)

While I've invested a good bit of time in growing our own petunias, our cash outlay for them is rather small. I buy some fresh seed each year, but use old seed as well that we keep in frozen storage. The egg cartons don't add any cost to the project, but I did use a brand new insert today (around 80¢ to a dollar) and some potting mix. And of course, there is the cost of running our plant lights, something I'd be doing anyway, though, for our other plants.

Compared to buying plants at a garden center, we will at least break even on growing our own Supercascade, Double Cascade, Celebrity, and Carpet petunias this year. The seed for the varieties planted this year came from Twilley Seed (who sadly, are not a Senior Gardening affiliated advertiser).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - A Few Nice Days

The Senior Garden - February 18, 2014After a day of rain yesterday that had been forecast to be snow and sleet, today's bright sunshine and warm temperatures seem like a bonus. We're looking ahead to three or four more days with predicted highs in the 40s and 50s.

We still have a heavy blanket of snow on the ground, and of course, the ground remains frozen. As all of the snow melts off, folks downstream are going to face some serious flooding. But ponds and reservoirs in our area will have their depleted levels improved a bit from the runoff.

Saving Paper Cups for Cutworm Collars

Brassicas transplantedEven though we make good use of Milky Spore in our garden plots, we still have to provide cutworm protection for our broccoli, cauliflower, and pepper transplants. Months ago, I began rinsing out and saving used travel coffee cups for use as cutworm collars. Twelve ounce, waxed paper cups, when cut down to about 3 1/2 inches with their bottoms removed, make an excellent barrier that cutworms have difficulty crossing.

We've experimented with using old gallon milk jugs, flat cardboard with a hole cut in the middle for the plant stem, and homemade paper cutworm collars over the years, but settled on the used coffee cups because of their effectiveness and availability. (I almost always have a cup of coffee with me when I go to town.)

hot cups and lidsOur supply of coffee cups comes from two sources. When I can find them on sale, I stock up on Dixie Grab N' Go Hot Cups & Lids, more for the lids which we wash and reuse than the cups. Our Dixie 12 oz PerfecTouch Hot Cupsicon come from Sam's Club in bulk.

I'm mentioning this idea now, well before planting time, as there's still plenty of time to begin saving cutworm collars for this spring. We start saving early, as we put out a lot of broccoli, cauliflower, and pepper plants in our various garden plots.

Since our tomato plants are pretty robust when we transplant them, we've not found cutworm collars necessary for them. Some gardeners find cutworm protection for tomatoes essential, though. Most of our tomato plants don't go into our main, raised garden bed where we seem to have the most trouble with cutworms.


Note that our use of Milky Spore mentioned earlier has been more for control of moles than cutworms in our garden plots. The product does cut down on the number of cutworms present, but doesn't give us the total control we need to prevent the remaining cutworms from mowing down freshly transplanted crops. It does a great job of discouraging the moles.

LeslieAnnie and MingoWhen Annie and I got married and moved here twenty years ago, we each brought our dog. My last farm dog, Leslie, was a large, yellow lab cross. Annie's dog, Mingo, was an incredibly strong and loyal German Shepherd/Huskie cross.

Leslie was absolute death on critters. I used to despair at the holes she dug in the yard going after moles. She also kept our property clear of raccoons, skunks, and rabbits. When Leslie passed away at seventeen years of age, we went through a number of years with an exploding mole population. Milky Spore helped keep the moles out of the garden plots, but was too expensive to use over our entire property.

We tried a variety of mole control products, including mole traps, poison peanuts, and gas bombs with limited success.

Petra and DaisyAfter going through a number of years fighting moles and other critters, Annie brought home a stray from the Princeton, Indiana, animal shelter. Petra was due to be euthanized, so even though we already had several dogs, Annie responded to a friend's request and we adopted Petra.

Petra, and later Daisy, a stray who showed up a year ago, have once again pretty well rid our property of moles. As when Leslie patrolled our yard, I again have to tour the property somewhat regularly with a garden cart of soil, filling in holes where they've dug up moles. But I think we're (they're) thinning out the moles.

Of course, I also have to take the same garden cart around the property each spring picking up bones. Area hunters, apparently poaching an extra deer or two out of season (which I don't mind at all if they're taking them to put meat on the table), often field dress their kill, leaving behind the legs and tail of the deer which the dogs drag into the yard to gnaw on. One foolish hunter last fall did a skillful job of skinning a deer and apparently hanging it to dry in the woods, only to have Petra drag it into the yard! Picking up a load of fifty pounds of deer bones isn't all that unusual for us.

We're actually quite lucky and blessed to live out in the country where our dogs can roam free. We occasionally have to pen or chain a dog that gets too aggressive with visitors. It's a pretty good life for them and us as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - Almost Time to Spray Dormant Oil on Apple Trees

The Senior Garden - February 20, 2014
Ice still on pond

We have a warm, rainy, and windy day today. With temperatures slightly over 60o F and intermittent showers, our snow cover is nearly gone. Looking back towards the barn and pond (from the same window where I take our daily garden shot), one can still see some snow in shady areas and ice on the pond.

Amazon - dormant oil sprayWith a thaw coming, I've been keeping an eye on our weather forecast for a warm, dry period where we could make our first application of dormant oil spray on our apple trees. According to web pages from the Illinois and Oregon State universities' extension services, applying dormant oil spray to apple trees in February or March helps control pests that take up residence in cracks and crevices of the trees over the winter. The extension sites relate that the oil kills exposed insects, mites, and even some insect eggs by smothering them or by directly penetrating the outside cuticle and destroying internal cells.

To spray dormant oil on apple trees in winter, one needs a 24 hour window of above freezing weather, no rain, and preferably, little wind. I generally look for daytime temperatures of at least 40o F. I usually get such a day or two in February or March.

While the temperature today would be good for spraying, the rain (which would wash off the dormant oil) and winds howling at a steady 30-40 MPH make spraying inadvisable. The forecast for tomorrow calls for clear skies and a high of 50o F with an overnight low just above freezing. Wind speeds are predicted to still be strong, but I may be able to spray early or late in the day when the wind usually dies down some.

Generally, one can spray a fairly strong solution of dormant oil on apple trees right up until just before blooming. Dilute solutions may also prove effective after bloom drop when the trees have leafed out, but one has to be careful with the strength of the solution to not harm the tree leaves.

Fire Blight SprayWe need to get our first spray of dormant oil on as early as possible, as I'll need to spray at least our Granny Smith apple tree with Fire Blight Spray (streptomycin) before it blooms. The tree almost died from fire blight several years ago when we lost our standard Stayman Winesap tree. Last summer, a strong summer storm (that left a tornado-like path down the corn field across the road from us) tore off about half of the tree. While I pruned the tree and treated the wound with alcohol and pruning seal spray, the area may still have openings that could admit the fire blight bacteria.

The Garden Web has a couple of good forums going on Spray Programs for Apples and Spray Schedules for Fruit Trees.

Update: The dormant oil went on the trees late in the day Friday (21st) when the wind finally died down.


We've had varied results over the years with apple trees. I'm not an expert on apples. For that matter, I have no agricultural or horticultural degrees. I'm just a retired teacher who enjoys gardening who is thrilled when we get a good crop of apples.

Standard Stayman WinesapThe first apple tree we planted on our property was a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap that a good friend gave us as a wedding present. The tree grew right though its dwarfing grafts and became a very productive standard apple tree. It began to suffer from sooty mold, and later succumbed to fire blight. During its most productive years, we dumped its cull apples in a semi-wooded area close to the road (more about that later).

Granny Smith applesWe also have a semi-dwarf Granny Smith apple tree. It's the second one we planted. The first one bore fruit its first year after transplanting and promptly died. The second Granny Smith began bearing gorgeous apples three years after transplanting, but was struck, along with the ill fated standard Stayman Winesap with fire blight. Some ruthless pruning and heavy doses of fire blight spray saved the tree, but it took several years for it to recover and begin to bear fruit again. Then we had the drought of 2012 when we got only a small bowl of good apples. And of course, last year the tree suffered severe wind damage. It did bear some apples, but since I quit spraying it after the storm damage, they were pretty wormy.

Volunteer apple treeWe also have a volunteer apple tree just off our property where we had dumped cull Stayman Winesap apples. It has served as a good pollinator for our other apple trees, but also has produced nice crops of small, tasty, red apples. Its fruit looks like and has the texture of a winesap apple, but has the sweetness of a red delicious. The tree bore little fruit in the drought year, and I cut it back last year because it was showing signs of sooty mold. I'm hoping it will bounce back this year with a good crop.

New stayman winesapI replaced the standard Stayman Winesap in the fall of 2010 with a semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap. It has been very slow to grow, but I'm hopeful it will have a good year this year. It's still too small to carry fruit, but with good growth this year, it may be ready to bear fruit in 2015.

So while I write this blog with some confidence when discussing carrots and tomatoes and melons, my experience with apple trees has been spotty at best.

Chick Days at Tractor Supply

I don't typically write about advertising promotions on this site, but I received an interesting special offer from our Tractor Supply Company affiliate program last week. I signed up for it because the subject of the offer brought back pleasant memories.

TSC is now advertising its Chick Days promotion where they sell all sorts of supplies for raising chickens. They also, of course, will have baby chicks for sale in their stores in a few weeks (dates vary by region). It's always fun to see baby chicks in farm stores in the area and even more fun to watch little kids watching the chicks.

With many city dwellers now keeping a few laying hens in the back yard, I thought a mention of Chick Days might be in order.

The Family Poultry FlockAmazon - The Backyard Chicken BookFor years, I'd hoped to raze the crumbling shed at the back of our property and replace it with a chicken house. When I was farming, we kept a flock of about 30 laying hens and put 50-100 fryers in the freezer each year. A few years ago, I had to admit that the arthritis in my thumbs was too severe for me to even contemplate plucking a single chicken, so my dream will have to remain just that. But...maybe just a few Rhode Island Red hens...

Anyway, the best book I've found on getting into raising chickens is still The Family Poultry Flock by Lee Schwanz. Long out of print, the small guide is still available used from Alibrisicon and Amazon. Schwanz has a new guide coming out on April 1, The Backyard Chicken Book: A Beginner's Guide. And despite my poor, arthritic thumbs, I have a copy pre-ordered.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cauliflower seedlingsFull plant rackI thinned out our seeding of cauliflower last night to one plant per fourpack cell. Instead of dumping the extra plants, I moved them to fourpacks, yielding almost a full flat (28 plants) of cauliflower. I'd heavily reseeded the cauliflower because the first seeding didn't take all that well. Normally, it's better to snip off extra plants in a cell or pot with scissors, as transplanting can damage roots and set back or kill the plant moved and the plant remaining in the cell. But cauliflower is pretty tough, transplants well, and I obviously have far more plants than I'll need for transplanting. When transplanting, I also set the small cauliflower plants lower in the soil than they had been, as it's a plant that tends to get leggy (too tall and spindly) quite easily.

Moving the cauliflower to a full flat made a problem I knew was coming apparent. I'm out of space under our plant lights, and I still need to start lots of other transplants in the next few weeks. I brought this problem on myself by starting way too many onions. I was unsure of the viability of some old onion seed I had on hand and started a test flat of it last December. It grew. Then in January I started our regular seeding of onions, but added another flat of new varieties we're trying this year. And finally, some backordered onion seed came in late but just barely in time to use, so I seeded some of it in a half flat. So now, I have almost three and a half flats of onion seedlings when just over one flat is what I usually put out in our garden and no space left under our plant lights.

Sunroom shelfOnions in sunroomBut...I happen to have a sunroom. When a bedroom was added long ago to our hundred-plus year old house, the builder added a room with wrap around windows above the "new" bedroom. It has a gorgeous view, but curiously, no provision for heating. It's cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. What heat it receives is radiated up through the bedroom ceiling or through the door to my office. But the room doesn't freeze and has bookshelves along the south wall that come just up to the windows.

Our three full flats of onions all got a haircut today before being moved to the sunroom. I have some very large geraniums that need to be repotted that will probably join the onions on the sunroom shelf.

Mower washedThawing potting soilWith a bright sun out today and strong winds preventing my spraying our apple trees with dormant oil, I got our mower out and washed it. Some birds had gotten into our garage and made a mess of a lot of stuff. Today was the first day where the weather has been good enough to wash the bird droppings off the mower.

While I was in town today, I picked up another bag of potting soil. I'd gotten a bag last week to use for seeding, but wanted a different kind for our geraniums and other flowers. For direct seeding, I want potting soil without any fertilizer pellets in it, as they can burn germinating seed. But for our hanging baskets, and especially for the geraniums that desperately need repotting, I like the stuff with fertilizer pellets in it. Since the bags of potting soil had been stored outside at the stores where I bought them, both got to thaw out a bit on our back porch this afternoon.

Broccoli Seeded

With space available on our plant rack after moving the onions upstairs, I seeded a flat of brassicas this afternoon. I started twelve cells each of Premium Crop and Goliathicon broccoli, two each of Alcosa savoy, Tendersweet, and Super Red 80 cabbage, and a couple of Churchill brussels sprouts.


Just at sunset, wind speeds dropped to about 4 MPH. I was able to get a good coating of dormant oil spray on our apple trees.

Raised Beds

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Moving geraniums to larger potsGarlic upWith our porch thermometer reading 65o F, Annie and I sat on our back porch for an hour today. I'd earlier taken advantage of the warm temperatures to move our December 2 planting of geraniums from their 3" pots into 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots, working from the back porch.

Since I'd just watered the geraniums yesterday, I was able to put a bit of potting soil in the bottom of each new pot, squish the plant's roots across the pot, and add a bit more soil so the geraniums were lower in their new pots than in the old ones. The only problem I encountered with the transplanting was that the bottom half of the bag of potting soil was still somewhat frozen.

While outside, I noticed that some of our garlic had tips emerging. A month or so ago, I thought I saw a garlic tip up. I didn't get a picture of it then, and when I returned the next day when it was much colder, the tip was gone. I suspect garlic may be able to pull its tips back down a bit at times, although I've not read that anywhere. But I could definitely "row" our row of elephant garlic.

Had I been a bit more patient yesterday, I could have had a perfect day today for spraying our apple trees with dormant oil. As it was, I got the spray on last evening at dusk. But today's warm temperatures with no wind would have been perfect. Of course, temperatures are predicted to crash this evening with tomorrow's high temperature being 25-30o less than today.

Frozen pond

And if I'd forgotten, the sight of the pond behind our house still frozen was a quick reminder it's still winter, and will be for a month or more.

I also remembered this morning to move our new snapdragon seed from its dark, cool, basement storage area to the freezer. Most seed packets suggest freezing snapdragon seed for at least 48 hours before seeding it. Since our snapdragon seed saved from previous years is already in the freezer, that job is done.

We still have several weeks to go before it will be time to start our tomatoes, peppers, and melons. In the intervening weeks, I'll be getting some more flowers started.

I finished off my gardening chores for the day by applying a coat of Rust-Oleum to some T-posts that have been sitting out all winter on our old cold frame. I'd put them there to wire brush and paint last fall. I got them brushed, but the weather turned cold before I could get them painted, so they got one side painted today. It may be weeks before I can get the other side of them painted.

Sunday, February 23, 2014 - Winter Weather Returns

The Senior Garden - February 23, 2014
Weather Channel 10-Day Forecast

After almost a week of moderate temperatures, we're back to winter weather today. From the Weather Channel's 10-Day Forecast, it appears we're in for a lot of cold, gray days before winter gives way to spring.

Plants in sunroomWhen I got to my upstairs office this morning, it was cold. I'd left the door to our unheated sunroom open and had also moved my electric oil heater into the sunroom last night to give the plants on the bookshelves a bit more heat. After a few minutes of shivering at my computer, the heater came back into the office and the door got shut. The geraniums and onions in the sunroom will have to do with what heat leaks into the room.

I did move an extra thermometer to the area, just to make sure I wasn't freezing our precious plants. It read 61o F a few minutes ago, so we're okay for now. But I may have to move the flats to a warmer space early this week with an overnight low of 8o F predicted for Tuesday morning.

Thinking of Peas

It's a bit too early to plant peas here. Two years ago in the warm winter that preceded the drought of 2012, we planted peas on February 28! Last year under more normal conditions, our peas didn't go into the ground until March 10. And the way the weather is currently going, we may plant our peas much later this spring. But I'm already thinking about planting peas.

What got me going on this subject is that I realized last week that I hadn't yet ordered any Spanish Skyscraper peas for this season. We received a free sample of them last year along with some other peas we'd ordered from a fellow Seed Savers Exchange member. I had just a little space for them at the end of our pea trellis, and the peas grew well until they got blown over and off the trellis in a wind storm. But the few peas we got from the vines were excellent.

Doing a little research on the pea, I found that the Spanish Skyscraper pea variety was refined by Ken Allen in Ontario, Canada. Various blog and forum postings relate that the vines can grow quite tall, with six feet being fairly normal and one forum writer telling of vines seventeen feet tall. Our small planting last year reached a foot or two above our five foot high trellis before they got blown over.

Jennifer Sanders, who blogs under the moniker of "Ferdzy" on Seasonal Ontario Food has a posting about growing peas that includes her experience with the variety and an email about the variety from Ken Allen.

Earlirouge Seed PacketWhat all of the above gets around to is that I ordered some Spanish Skyscraper seed this weekend from a listing in the Seed Savers Exchange 2014 Yearbook. I plan to put up a special, extra tall trellis somewhere on the property and see just how high they grow. But that depends on the weather breaking early enough to get the seed into the ground. Spanish Skyscrapers are an 80 days to maturity variety, meaning that I'll have to get them started early to beat the summer's heat.

I also included with my order a freebie packet of the Earlirouge tomato variety we saved seed from last season for the first time since 1988. Maybe next year I'll need to make a packet template for Spanish Skyscraper pea seed.

Our main planting of peas this year will include Champion of England, Mr. Bigicon, and Maxigolt peas. All are tall varieties that produce long pods of delicious peas (in a good year). I really don't like bending over or working on my knees to pick peas. But I'll also have a planting of the supersweet Eclipse variety we worked so hard to save last year, only to find it's a patented variety and we can't share our seed, and another short PVP variety, Encore. Despite the patent restrictions and their dwarf growth habit, Eclipse and Encore produce excellent peas for the table and freezer.

Technical Note

Mouseover mouseoverMouseover mouseoverI began adding code to all of the non-ad images on Senior Gardening last fall so that descriptive text would appear when one hovers their mouse over a photo. The photo at the top left of today's posting adds the text, "Plants in sunroom" when one hovers their mouse over the image for several seconds. Or the image of a bunch of paper cups in our main raised bed from earlier this month adds the helpful text, "Transplants with cutworm collars." The larger images linked to each photo do not carry the hover or mouseover text.

Sometimes I find that I'm just sticking in words to be consistent in having a mouseover for each photo. Other times, the text can be quite helpful in describing a photo.

My current web editor, Adobe Dreamweaver 11.5, doesn't support such additions (that I can find, anyway), so I have to drop under the standard design mode (WYSIWYG) into the html code to add the image title. It's not hard. It just takes a little time...and care. One incorrect character can really do strange things to a web page.

Mouseover code

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - A Seed Swap

The Senior Garden - February 25, 2014Trib-Star, February 24, 2014When I looked at our local newspaper yesterday morning, it was hard to miss the front page article about an upcoming seed swap scheduled for that night in Terre Haute. Looking more to chatting with local gardeners than acquiring any more seed, I set aside my plans for the day and got ready to attend the event sponsored by the Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Association.

I printed up seed packets for some of our favorite varieties of saved, open pollinated vegetable seed to share with other area gardeners. I even included a few packets of our precious, saved gloxinia flower seed. Printing and filling the packets took a good bit of the afternoon, mainly because my main computer was tied up with an all disk virus check from something dumb I'd done over the weekend. It takes a while to scan fourteen million files!

The swap turned out to be more of a long lecture about beginning gardening, which seemed somewhat appropriate for many of the attendees. I sat beside a grizzled, veteran gardener who had lost his start of yellow Brandywine tomatoes and was attending in hope of finding some seed for them. It turned out that most of the seed available was commercial seed packets donated by local businesses. I did see one attendee with some interesting seed samples, but lost track of her once the swap part of the meeting began. (The swap sorta reminded me of my one and only foray into Black Friday shopping!)

I did suggest to my new gardening buddy to check for the wanted seed on the Seed Savers Exchange online sales catalog. When I got home, I checked, but found the variety not listed. But a later check this morning revealed that lots of SSE members were offering various strains of yellow Brandywine tomato seed via the annual yearbook.

While I didn't come away with any new seed, I had a nice time talking to fellow Wabash Valley gardeners, which is pretty much why I went to the swap in the first place. I also noticed the county agent tucking a packet of our seed into his briefcase. Wink

Odds 'n' Ends

I sorta cringed last night when the speaker recommended expensive, fluorescent grolux bulbs for nurturing indoor plants, stating she often let the plant leaves touch the bulbs. While the special grow lights do run a bit cooler than standard fluorescent tubes, they can still burn and/or bleach plant leaves. And, at almost double the cost of 6500K fluorescent tubes that work quite well (even better when paired with a 5000K natural daylight bulb), they're really not necessary for growing plants indoors. And from experience, I can say that one should always allow at least an inch or two of clearance between fluorescent tubes and the top leaves of the plants growing under them.

What got me going on this is that I stopped at a hardware chain store last evening after the seed swap to pick up a case of replacement fluorescent tubes. I couldn't find a case of them, but finally found a two-pack of 6500K bulbs.

Our annual order from the Greenhouse Megastore came in today. I'd run myself a bit short on four inch pots when I transplanted our geraniums, so I ordered some more of them along with some slotted 1020 standard seed flats. I still use the rather flimsy slotted flats, either paired with a solid flat to hold water and make them sturdier or with a Perma-nest tray. I also got two new Perma-nest trays in the order, a relative extravagance at $12/tray. But the expensive trays last a long time and by ordering just a few each year, I finally have enough of them for our purposes (as long as I don't step on and crack another one Sad).

I was induced to order the two Perma-nest trays because Amazon of late has listed the trays first as "discontinued by manufacturer," and now as "unavailable." The Megastore seems to still have a good stock of them.

Herb plants ready for transplanting

Getting back to gardening a bit, our various herb plants are almost all ready to be transplanted from their communal pots into individual pots or fourpacks. The lone exception is the rosemary I seeded. Rosemary's poor germination rates are well documented, and we've just had a couple of plants emerge so far.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - Transplanting Herbs

Transplanting herbs
Herbs under plant lights

Plant rackI spent a pleasant hour or so this morning transplanting most of our herb starts from their communal pots into fourpacks. I'm not very experienced with growing herbs, so I planted lots of each herb variety in single 3" and 4" pots. Other than the rosemary, all of the herbs have germinated well, so today's chore was as much thinning the excess as it was transplanting.

Since many of the herbs were still fairly small and had tender stems, I used sterilized potting mix for the transplanting. Although I transplanted just one fourpack of each herb variety other than the sage, which got three fourpacks, I also left one herb plant in what had been the communal pot for seeding. Since there were multiple varieties of some herbs, I ended up with a lot of pots and fourpacks to go back under our plant lights.

I transplanted thyme (common), sage (common), dill (Bouquet, Dukat, and Long Island Mammoth), and oregano (Greek and Italian). While I had the sterilized soil out, I started some gloxinia seed and a pot of catnip.

Compost bucketThe three varieties of parsley I started are germinating well, but I thought they were all a bit too small to transplant today. I still grow some Moss Curled parsley, simply because I like the traditional parsley look of it, especially as a windowsill plant. I also have pots going of the more productive Dark Green Italian and Giant of Italy varieties.

Herb InventorySince I'd seeded each communal pot fairly heavily, there were a lot of extra plants to dispose of. While sad, they all get recycled eventually in our compost pile. For now, they add a little green (other than mold) to our kitchen compost bucket.

Readers might wonder at the cost of the number of varieties of herbs (and vegetables and flowers) we plant each year. We cut our seed costs by saving our old garden seed as long as possible. All of our herb seed is currently in the freezer of our refrigerator, but will be moved soon to our manual defrost freezer in the garage. As one can see from the image at right of the herb section of our current seed inventory, we use a lot of old seed that is still viable. Doing so saves us a lot of money over ordering seed each year, but also can lead to occasional disappointments when seed from frozen storage goes bad. With our herb seed this year, all of the seed proved to be good, even the packets dating back to 2007.

Sunroom Plants

The Weather Channel 10-Day ForecastPlants in sunroomSo far, we're doing okay housing some flats of geraniums and onions in our poorly heated sunroom. I moved the flats to the sunroom several days ago, as we'd run out of space under our plant lights in the basement.

Our overnight low last night was around 10-11o F. The plants came through that in good shape, but we still face some very cold nights in the next ten days. Soon, I'll need to watch daytime temperatures in the room, as it can get quite hot with the sun on the windows and warmer temperatures outside.

Because all their light comes from one direction, I find it necessary to turn the flats of plants every day or so. I also have one flat of onions that I got too much peat moss in the soil mix that dries out rather quickly.

But all in all, moving the plants to the sunroom is working out well.

Thursday, February 27, 2014 - Cold, Followed by More Ice and Snow

The Senior Garden - February 27, 2014Weather Underground ForecastThe clear blue skies pictured at left belie what is a really nasty day outside. While temperatures have almost reached today's predicted high of 22o F, winds gusting over 30 MPH chill one to the bone when outside. Everywhere I go, people are talking about the harsh winter and hoping the weather will break soon. Our current forecast, however, includes more cold temperatures and "5 to 8 inches of snow and ice expected" on Sunday night after snow and ice through the day.

If nothing else, I'm tired of having to be careful typing the month "February" and getting it spelled correctly!

More Repotting

I noticed this morning two geraniums from our December planting that hadn't gotten a larger pot last Saturday when I uppotted the rest of the bunch. I'd run out of pots then and was simply too lazy to run to the basement for more. So I took the geraniums downstairs to move them from their 3" pots to the 4" pots that should do until they're ready to go into the garden.

What I'd forgotten was that on Saturday, I'd left the bag of potting soil for such repotting on the back porch. While it was a balmy 65o F on Saturday, the soil was frozen solid today. So I broke off a few chunks of the potting soil with my garden spade, put them in a kettle, and warmed it for an hour in the oven. Even then, there were still some frozen pieces of potting soil, but most of it was loose enough to repot the two geraniums.

Geraniums before transplanting Geraniums after transplanting

Of the 21 geraniums that germinated last December in what was meant to only be a germination test, most of them are Mulitbloom Mixed. A very few Maverick Reds germinated, something we dealt with last year when a once trusted vendor sold us some hard seed. When I saw in December that well over half of the Multibloom seed had germinated (on brown coffee filters), I decided to pot up the germinated seed in potting soil in individual 3" square pots.

More geraniums

We have about 30 more geranium plants growing in the basement under our plant lights. They're mostly Maverick Reds and Orbit Mixed (from a different vendor than the one we used last year). When they are ready to be uppotted, I'll be running short on 4" pots once again. I guess that's a good thing. I probably need to just bite the bullet and order a whole case of pots.

While we should have more than enough geranium plants for our and a daughter's garden this year, it's sort of sad that we lost a previously good seed vendor over a packet of bad geranium seed. The company's Multibloom seed ended up germinating at an excellent 90% for us last December. But the large packet of Maverick Red seed which apparently contained a goodly percentage of hard seed germinated at only 20% and 40% in two separate tests. Had the company simply admitted they had a problem with the seed (link to the clue that tipped me off to the problem) and made good on it, they'd still have our business and the many free links to their products that used to populate this site. Instead, when I challenged them on the bad seed, they invited me to take my business elsewhere.

I did.

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Senior Garden - February, 2014

We've had lots of snow this month. Interestingly, when melted down, all that snow produced a little less than average precipitation for February.

Indoors, we've had a very productive gardening month. We successfully seeded Patterson onions (that were backordered), celery, leeks, beets, lots of herbs, cauliflower (2 weeks earlier than usual), broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.

The geraniums we started in early December required repotting into 4 and 4 1/2 inch pots. The petunias we started in egg cartons in early January were moved to fourpacks. The flats of onions planted in January required haircuts to keep them from toppling over. And most of the herbs we seeded this month got transplanted to fourpacks.

A reader from Australia shared his unique way of propagating gloxinias from their flower stems.

And, we got our first spray of dormant oil on our apple trees.

Not bad for one of the coldest, snowiest months on record.

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January, 2014

March, 2014

From Steve, the at Senior Gardening


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