Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

September 30, 2014


Monday, September 1, 2014 - Labor Day (U.S.)

The Senior Garden - September 1, 2014Botannical InterestsThe change from August 31 to September 1 is just one day and a page rolled over on the calendar. While we've already begun to wind down some areas of our garden, the arrival of September alerts us to the need to begin getting areas of our garden ready for winter and the next gardening season. At this point, there's no real hurry, as we have at least a month before the first expected frost of fall. But it's time to get started.

As areas of our garden plots go fallow after crops are harvested, plant remains and most organic surface trash are hauled to the compost pile to deny bugs and plant diseases easy spots to overwinter. Hauling off surface trash and harvesting crops tends to lower the soil level in our raised beds, so it's important for us to add material to the beds. Incorporating peat moss and/or compost usually bring soil levels back up to where we want them (about an inch or so lower than the timbers that surround our raised beds).

Our East Garden often gets a turndown crop of buckwheat incorporated into the soil. And while we remove mulch from our raised beds, we turn such stuff under in the East Garden, as its clay soil needs all the organic matter it can get. A drawback to turning under grass clipping mulch is that grass seed in the mulch gets turned into ones soil as well!

Red bell peppersLettuce transplanted and spinach seededSeptember 1 also lets us know that we should have at least a month more to enjoy the fruits of our gardening efforts. Tomatoes continue to produce throughout the month and our bell peppers usually come into their own at the beginning of the month. Neither our fall carrots nor our fall broccoli and cauliflower will mature this month. We'll be pushing into October near our first frost date for them.

And since I didn't get one of our narrow raised beds cleared of garlic and celery until yesterday, we'll be counting on cold frames and/or floating row covers to extend the season so we can harvest the lettuce and spinach I put in today. (Oh, my!)

And while the change from August 31 to September 1 is just one day, a day in the garden can make a big difference. I really didn't like the ugly, dead cucumber vines or the plywood helping hill our celery in a shot I used yesterday. After cleaning vines yesterday and renovating and planting one of our narrow raised beds this morning, the view (below right) appeals to my eye a bit more.

Garden - August 31, 2014 Garden - September 1, 2014
August 31, 2014 September 1, 2014

And of course, one of the nicest things about the latter parts of the growing season is that all of the flowers we use as row markers and borders in our raised beds just go nuts blooming.

Flowers in bloom around Senior Garden

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rain gauge in garden4.6 inches in rain gaugeWe received a whopping 4.6 inches of rain from overnight thunderstorms. While our power only blinked off and on a few times last night, it went down for three hours this morning.

With the power off, I decided to drive our surplus potatoes and onions to the mission this morning. I had them all ready to go, as I finished bagging the last of the potatoes yesterday and also re-sorted the onions, bagging some for us and some for the mission.

When sorting and bagging the onions that had been hanging in mesh bags in the garage, I culled out a full five gallon bucket of bad onions. I'm not sure the extended curing, hanging from the garage rafters, may have been such a good idea. The heat in the garage, despite running a fan 24/7, may have accelerated the spoilage.

But we have around fifty pounds of potatoes and twenty pounds of onions, with a little garlic, stored in the basement. Any sweet potatoes we may get (doesn't look good at this point) and butternut squash (looks like another bountiful harvest) will also be stored in the basement. The mission's food bank ended up getting about double what we stored. (It's been a very good year for potatoes and onions.)

Light House Mission

Garlic, onions, and potatoes in storageSince we keep our potatoes in the same room as our lighted plant rack, we store them in burlap bags. While the garlic and onions stored in the room don't seem to green up from the small amount of light that escapes from under the plant rack, we've had potatoes green up in the past when stored in mesh bags. The burlap seems to filter out enough light that we don't have greening problems with our stored potatoes while still allowing some air movement around the potatoes.

Almost seedless watermelonI finished cleaning up the last of the melons in our East Garden yesterday. I sorted out five ripe to overripe Moon & Stars watermelons and harvested seed from them. I also had set aside one melon that appeared to be perfectly ripe.

The melon turned out to be from one of our (almost) seedless plants and was indeed perfectly ripe. It turned out to be the best tasting melon we cut from our garden this summer. Watermelons we'd previously cut had ripened before it got really hot and lacked that good watermelon flavor we so like. Apparently this melon had caught just enough hot days to be delicious.

Gloxinias in bloom

While down in the basement photographing our stored garlic, onions, and potatoes, I had to grab a shot of our gloxinias. After losing almost all of our mature plants a year ago, we're starting over from seed. Almost all of the plants shown above are from saved seed. Our Empress from commercial seed and Cranberry Tigers from seed given to me are just coming into bloom.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, September 6, 2014 - Not Much Going On

The Senior Garden - September 6, 2014The Weather Channel 10-Day Garden ForecastA cold front moved through last night dropped another half inch of rain on us. While the rain is still quite welcome and needed, a twenty degree drop in temperatures was even more welcome. Things will warm up a bit next week, but nowhere near the daily 90+ degree highs and 100+ degree heat index readings we had over the last few weeks.

I didn't get a lot of gardening done this week due to the high temperatures and several doctor visits. I mowed our lawn on Thursday with every intention of raking (sweeping) grass clippings and remulching our main raised bed on Friday. But a trip to my skin cancer surgeon early Friday changed my plans, as he ended up removing six places, two of which I was fairly sure were cancers. Laser surgery to remove skin growths usually doesn't bother me, but yesterday, it knocked me on my butt.

Rather than go on about the dangers of sun exposure here, I'll just refer you to Your Annual Nag about UV Exposure that I posted in April.

While the rain will make raking a no-go until things dry and I mow again, I still need to get some mulch on our main raised bed. The heavy mulch I applied in April and refreshed in July has decayed, allowing weeds to begin poking through what remains of the mulch. I noticed that many of the weeds were purslane, a weed we've not seen in our raised beds until this year. I assume seed for it came in with some purchased compost.

Purslane is an edible weed, cultivated in some areas. It also is an aggressive weed that can go to seed in just a few weeks. The seed can survive in the soil for many years. The plant appears to be a able to re-grow from any part of it. So when weeding purslane, I'm careful to get the plant, roots, stems, leaves and all, out of the garden. I'm a bit emphatic about this, as I had real problems with purslane in other garden plots before coming to the Senior Garden.

My other doctor visits this week were to the orthopedic surgeon and my family doctor. The ortho doc said my shoulder is doing great. Sadly, when he examined the x-rays of my bum leg, he found little to no cartilage remains in my left hip. He calmly remarked, "When the pain gets too bad, we'll replace your hip." And he really didn't help the leg any with all the mobility tests he did on the leg.

Oh, my! I really thought my quest to become the bionic man would start with a new knee!

Glox in kitchenThe other doctor visit was for blood pressure medicine. I finally had to give up and go back on the stuff, and it, too, has made me rather lethargic.

While limiting my outside work the last few days, I've gotten some indoor work done. Germination tests on our cucumber seed have been positive, running from 80-100% germination. I now have other germination tests running on saved tomato, pea, and muskmelon seed.

I've also been moving seedling gloxinias from fourpacks to four inch pots. As the plants begin to crowd each other in the fourpacks, I know it's time to uppot them to larger quarters.

And as if I needed any more gloxinias to care for, I ordered seed for Double Brocade gloxinias from several sources last week and will be getting it started once all the seed arrives. I've found the hybrid Double Brocades the most difficult gloxinias to get to germinate well. There aren't many vendors for the seed, and those that do carry it appear to often sell substandard seed. But having lost all of our Double Brocades last year to the INSV virus, we're starting over with them now, as they're too pretty to leave out of our collection.

Fall carrots

Paprika Supreme peppers
Cut Paprika Supreme pepper

Having mentioned purslane earlier in this posting, I grabbed my good camera between showers and ran outside to grab a shot of it. As luck would have it (or possibly some effective weeding), I couldn't find a single purslane plant in our main raised bed to photograph. Fortunately, there are lots of good shots of common purslane online, although I thought one from Michigan State was especially good for identifying the weed.

Of course, with a camera in hand out in the garden, I had to snap a few shots here and there. I blew a shot of an early head of broccoli (out of focus), but got a nice shot of our very healthy, fully mulched and weeded (purslane removed) double row of fall carrots. I haven't noticed any Los Vegas bookies giving odds on the August 1 planted crop beating our first frost, but I'm guessing our chances are pretty good.

While dumping some used cat litter in a wash at the side of the field east of our house, I also picked some Paprika Supreme peppers from one of the three plants in an isolation plot that survived my neglect and assaults from rabbits and/or deer. While chili pepper shaped, Paprika Supremes are a very mild pepper, sweet enough for use like a sweet bell pepper. We use them for dried and ground paprika, sometimes blending them with spicier paprika pepper varieties. I've been known to sneak a few red bell peppers into the blend to intensify its color. And going the other way, I added the Paprika Supreme pepper I cut for the photo to a pan of spaghetti sauce.

Rate Burpee ProductsI went ahead and cut and harvested seed from one of the peppers. As you can see at right, the peppers are filled with hopefully viable seeds. One of the nice things with peppers is that you can use the flesh for eating or drying and still save the seed from the peppers for future crops.

These peppers came from a plant grown from the last of the pure, commercial Paprika Supreme seed we had on hand. Our other two Paprika Supreme plants (there were five before the rabbit/deer damage) are from saved seed that may have crossed with another variety. Since the peppers shown bloomed well ahead of the other plants which bore the worst of the critter damage, the seed they produced is probably a pure strain of Paprika Supreme. I noticed that the peppers on our plants from saved seed, while still green, were a bit huskier than the ones I picked today, but still looked like Paprika Supremes.

I took the time today in response to a Burpee mailing to submit a review of the Saffronicon yellow squash we tried this year (from their seed). Our hill of Saffrons outlasted two, succession planted hills of hybrid Slick Piks, producing good squash throughout the season. I've been looking for a good, open pollinated yellow squash, and I think I've found it in the Saffron variety.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Senior Garden - September 10, 2014East Garden - September 10, 2014We're supposed to get some rain today (90% chance). I got out into our East Garden fairly early this morning to finish up a job I'd been working on for several days. I'd picked our Mohon's pole beans yesterday.

Today, I took out our Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants and our Earlirouge caged tomatoes. Both were suffering from age, bug damage, and a bit of disease. With the beans off the trellis and the tomato cages that were anchored to the T-posts at either end of the trellis removed, I could pull the trellis wires, netting, and T-posts. Other than some flowers here and there and a row of sweet potatoes that just aren't going to make a crop, the East Garden is ready for fall tilling if/when the soil dries a bit.

With rain almost certainly on the way, I grabbed my stash of expensive alfalfa seed and overseeded some bare patches in the section of the East Garden that is currently rotated out of production. Overseeding alfalfa usually isn't terribly successful, but we have a good enough stand in the area that tilling it up and starting over really wasn't necessary. Most of the weeds in that area are annual grass, so the alfalfa I started in April plus any that germinates from today's seeding should have a head start on the weeds next spring.

Pumpkins in foreground, butternuts in background

Howden pumpkins

Paprika peppers
Paprika peppers in food dehydrator

Just outside our East Garden, our separate patches of pumpkins and butternut squash are doing well. The pumpkins survived assaults from cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and vine borers. They've overgrown last year's compost pile and have put on three nice sized pumpkins.

I picked more paprika peppers on Sunday. On Monday, I harvested seed from the Paprika Supreme peppers that were grown in isolation before cutting them up and putting them into our food dehydrator. I also cut and began drying some Hungarian (long, deep red peppers), Alma (round, red peppers), and Feher Ozon (orangish peppers). Sadly, a good many of the Feher Ozon peppers had mold on the inside of them and had to be discarded. But I ended up filling three of the four trays in the dehydrator.

Dehydrator settingsI'm still waiting on the peppers to fully dry. I may have cut the pepper strips a little wide, which slows down the process. I also set the dehydrator to its lowest setting, as I've toasted the edges of our paprika peppers a bit in the past with higher settings. So I'm willing to be patient before I pop the strips into a coffee grinder (reserved for just such purposes) and probably end up with a fourth to half cup of ground paprika. But we have lots more paprika peppers maturing on our plants.

I'm also just about overwhelmed with seed saving right now. We have saved, or are in the process of saving seed from tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, cucumbers, muskmelon, watermelon, lettuce, peas, and pole beans. For some seed, it's just a matter of harvesting, cleaning, and drying the seed. Wet seeds (tomatoes, cucumbers, muskmelons, etc.) have to be fermented for 3-5 days to remove pulp and gel from the seed before drying them. Some of our seed has to be hot water treated to kill off any potential seed borne plant diseases (tomatoes, some peppers, and cucumbers). And all of the various seed varieties saved have to be germination tested before being packaged for storage in our manual defrost freezer.

I wrote a couple of times (1, 2) last month about the process of saving seed from open pollinated cucumbers. I also have a feature story about Saving Tomato Seed that gives the basics for saving wet seed and also hot water treatment, if necessary. There are links in each of the postings that point to good sites for information on saving seed.

With many pounds of potatoes stored in our basement, I tried my hand yesterday at making au gratin potatoes from scratch. I think they turned out just so-so, but Annie thought they were great. Tonight, I'm going to try making garlic mashed potatoes. We've had lots of great baked potatoes from our garden over the last few weeks, as well as boiled and buttered potatoes (sometimes mixed with peas or green beans from the garden) when the potatoes were new. At some point, we'll get absolutely sick of potatoes this way and that, but for now, we're not even close to getting there.

Later

WunderMapJacksonThe house smells of garlic, but the garlic mashed potatoes turned out great. Annie went back for seconds. Even Shep, our sheepdog who is blind in one eye, ate the mashed potatoes (with his eye medicine mixed in).

While Shep wouldn't pose for a picture today, I finally got a good shot of Jackson, a lab/great dane cross who adopted us a little over a year ago. As I was walking back to the house from the East Garden this morning, Jackson for a moment didn't seem to mind having his picture taken. It probably didn't hurt that I had dog treats with me.

Sadly, Jackson usually shies away when you point a camera at him. I suspect he's had something far more threatening pointed at him somewhere in his past.

As I write, a thunderstorm is rumbling outside. While it sprinkled just a bit at times through the day today, it didn't really begin to rain until a few minutes ago. While I'm not running outside to check our rain gauge (which is mounted on a T-post...excellent grounding for a lightning strike), a nearby weather station is reporting an inch of rain in the last half hour!

Thursday, September 11, 2014 - Fall Weather

The Senior Garden - September 11, 2014WTHI-TV Extended ForecastWe received 1.25 inches of rain last night, bringing our monthly total so far to 6.40 inches. A bit more interesting than the rain is the extended forecast for our area which calls for high temperatures in the low 70s with almost no chance of rain for the next week to ten days! If that proves accurate, we should be able to fall till our East Garden early next week.

Our fall lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale should love the coming weather, although we're definitely into decreasing day length, which slows the ripening of crops. Our warm weather crops such as tomatoes and peppers simply won't ripen as quickly as they would during hot weather.

Paprika

The paprika pepper slices I put in our food dehydrator on Monday were finally dry enough today to grind. I wait until the strips snap like a thin pretzel before grinding.

Snapping dried paprika peppers into coffee grinder Paprika pieces in grinder Finished ground paprika

We have accumulated several coffee grinders over the years. One is used only for grinding coffee beans. The one shown above is used for grinding dried paprika, sage, garlic, and similar stuff. The third, over thirty years old, now stays in the basement and is only used for grinding peat moss into milled sphagnum moss (usually for seed starting).

Tone's Spanish Paprika iconI snap the dried paprika into the grinder, thoroughly grind it (takes about 60 seconds), and use a canning funnel to help dump it into an old Parmesan cheese container. I ground four or five loads of paprika this morning, making a little less than a cup of ground paprika. Cleaning the grinder before and after grinding, and cleaning the dehydrator shelves took far more time than grinding the dried paprika peppers.

If our paprika peppers continue to ripen without mold or rot, we should be able to at least half fill our paprika container.

Making our own ground paprika is one of those garden things we do for the joy of doing it and using the product. A quick price check for a large container of Spanish Paprikaicon at Sam's Club reveals that it would be a lot cheaper to just buy our paprika. The price today was $5.98 in Terre Haute for a eighteen ounce container (but $4.22 in Indy??). But there's also a lot to be said for opening ones spice cabinet for homegrown basil, parsley, oregano, sage, and garlic powder (when we can stand the smell of drying garlic for three days). Our paprika actually goes into the refrigerator for storage. We wouldn't have run out this year, except that our paprika got wet when I was defrosting our refrigerator and freezer this spring.

Sam’s Club

Sunday, September 14, 2014 - Peppers

I picked quite a few peppers over the last few days, both paprika and bell types. Since the only frozen peppers we have left in the freezer is the bag I used as an ice pack last month, it was time today to put up some frozen peppers for winter use. The paprika peppers got washed, dried, and bagged before going into the refrigerator.

Freezing sweet bell peppers is really one of the easier food preservations we do. The peppers need to be thoroughly washed, as spiders hide in their crevices and lay their eggs there and by the stem. Surrounded by large pans and our compost bucket, I cored, halved, and seeded the peppers this afternoon while watching football on TV.

Seeded, cored, and washed peppers drying Frozen peppers bagged

Once seeded, the peppers get washed again and set out to dry in a warm (and today, sunny) location. When dry, the peppers are cut into strips, placed on cookie sheets, and frozen. It takes about six hours in our freezer for the peppers to become firm enough to go into zip lock bags for long term storage in our big freezer.

The two gallons of frozen pepper strips put up today are about twice what we'll use over the winter. One of our daughters loves to cook with peppers, though, so we'll send some home with her the next time she visits. I may even put up some more peppers, as who knows when I'll need to ice another joint after a cortisone shot!

Charity: Water

Monday, September 15, 2014

We have a pretty good line of thunderstorms rolling in as I write this afternoon. But I got out and did a little gardening and photography before the rain ran me inside. Despite the cool temperature (65° F), I managed to work up a sweat hauling our compost buckets to the compost pile, transplanting some lettuce, trying to dig some sweet potatoes (that just weren't there), and adding mulch to our main garden beds.

Main garden bed

Fall broccoliKale rowEven as we prepare for fall (note the bales of peat moss along the raised bed above), there's lots still going on in our raised garden beds. Our fall broccoli has put on a couple heads. I'm hoping they won't be too wormy, as we've had a lot of insect damage to the plants' leaves even though I've sprayed fairly regularly.

A good crop of fall broccoli (and possibly cauliflower) is a real treat since we've already frozen a good bit from our spring crop. We can nibble fresh broccoli at will, add it to all sorts of dishes, and of course, enjoy it steamed with cheese sauce. The cool weather we're currently experiencing is ideal for broccoli and other brassicas.

Our row of kale started on July 18 is now ready for a first picking. I'd hoped to be able to start a batch of Portuguese Kale Soup today, but my morning chores ran a bit long, and then the rain set in. But the rain will clean the kale a bit, so tomorrow may be soup day. We'll continue picking kale through October, as it's a frost hardy crop. What usually moves me to take out our row of kale is the need to do fall renovation of the bed it's in.

Fall spinach and lettuceOur late planted bed of fall lettuce and spinach is finally taking hold. The lettuce seemed to just sit and wait for cooler weather, while parts of the spinach area got dug up by one of our dogs a couple of times. I moved four Crispino transplants into the bed this morning before adding more mulch to the bed. Our new cold frame is sized to fit over half of the bed. I have parts for a similar, second cold frame to cover the other half, if I ever get the thing put together.

The lettuce and spinach went in late (September 1), as I was letting some garlic blooms mature in the bed. The garlic seed heads with their tiny bulbils are now drying in the garage. And again, the image at left includes a bale of peat moss, bought on sale, for fall renovation of the bed when the lettuce and spinach come out.

Grape tomatoesSomething almost totally ignored in our main raised bed are our two caged grape tomato plants. Both our Red Pearl (open pollinated, but a PVP variety) and Honey Bunch Red Grape (F-1 hybrid) tomato plants have provided us with all the grape tomatoes we can eat. With our tomato loving granddaughter having moved on to preferring whole, standard tomatoes, we aren't putting the plants to very good use (other than my munching on them as I pass by them in the garden).

Fall carrot rowsOur double row of fall carrots continue to thrive, although I don't see any carrots big enough to harvest yet. I seeded the rows on August 1, cutting it pretty close, as our average first frost date is around October 10-15. The five varieties I seeded (Mokum, Nelson, Laguna, Scarlet Nantesicon, and Bolero) have a range of days-to-maturity of 54-75 days. With fall crops taking a week to ten days longer to mature due to the shorter fall day length, getting a full fall crop will be dependent upon when that first frost really arrives. Last year, it was on October 22! Over the time I've written this blog (2008-present), our first frosts have ranged from October 8 to October 30.

ParsleyAnother late crop I'm rooting for is our planting of parsley. I used the last of our saved parsley a week ago in some spaghetti sauce, so I'm hoping the five plants I popped into the ground on August 7 mature quickly. Although I've seen parsley withstand a light frost, I may employ one of our floating row covers over the plants, if necessary, to extend their season a bit.

As I wrote this afternoon, it rained heavily for just a few minutes. When the sun briefly came out, I checked, emptied, and recorded the 3/8 inch of rain that had fallen, with more apparently on the way. I also turned on a light in my office after a particularly close flash of lightning and clap of thunder. Since my computer is on a backup power supply with its audible alarms turned off, I can't tell if the power has gone off without something like the light that's not on a backup to let me know.

And now at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon, the temperature has dropped down to 61° F, after a high of 67°. Our average high for September 15 is 83°! If I didn't need the cool temperatures to remind me that fall is here, the arrival of the first of our ordered fall garlic in today's mail should have driven the message home. Summer's not quite gone, but it's close.

Oooh, as I was about to upload today's posting, Annie got home from work and said, "Come look at this maple tree." The loud thunder I heard was from a lightning strike far closer than I'd imagined, spliting the last of the old maple trees that once surrounded the house.

Raised Beds

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - Kale Soup

The Senior Garden - September 17, 2014Canned Kale SoupWe started out today with some heavy fog. Although I was up late last night canning Portuguese Kale Soup, I managed to rise just in time to see the fog before it cleared.

This batch of kale soup was unique in that all the garden ingredients for it came from our garden this year. Our first crop of kidney beans in a very long time provided just enough beans for a couple of batches of the kale soup. But we also had our own fresh kale, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes for the soup. The green beans in it were some we froze early this summer. Of course, the smoked sausage came from the store. Part of the broth was store bought, but most of the chicken and broth were from whole chicken breasts I buy on sale, filet and freeze the breast meat, and cook down and bone the rest for chicken and broth (which gets frozen until needed).

Picked over kale rowWorking fertilizer and compost into the kale rowBesides washing and putting away the jars of kale soup today (They get really greasy in the canning process.), my main garden job was to give our now picked over row of kale a boost so that it will produce enough kale for us to make another batch of soup in October. That required a trip to our compost pile where I screened just enough compost to cover most of the kale row. Our pumpkin patch has overgrown our almost finished compost pile, making taking just a little compost a difficult proposition.

I also gave the row of kale a light sprinkle of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer before adding the compost. I then scratched in both the fertilizer and compost around the base of the kale plants.

Our kale varieties this year are the same as last year. Most of our 14' row of planted kale is Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch). It's been our standard kale for years and is a solid producer with very good flavor. We also have a few feet (less then 2' each) of Lacinatoicon and Red Ursaicon. Both are earlier producing varieties, with the Red Ursa producing far more volume of leaves than our other varieties, but possibly at the expense of flavor.

Vates kale Lacinato kale Red Ursa kale
Vates Lacinato Red Ursa

I led our Best Garden Photos of 2013 feature story last year with a much better image of Red Ursa kale, probably the best garden shot I took last year. And yes, I've already started a 2014 sequel to the Best Garden Photos feature story, as articles such as it and our annual garden review take a bit of time to pull together.

I should add a note here that while Lacinato has proved to be the hardest of our three varieties of kale to get to germinate in mid-summer (a lousy time to direct seed any cool weather crop), it's also by far the easiest to clean and stem. The curled leaf edges of Vates and Red Ursa provide great hiding places for cabbage looper and small white cabbage worms. Since we'd sprayed our kale regularly, along with cool temperatures and rain, we didn't have any worms in this picking of kale, something really unusual.

Work never looked so good. See SKECHERS Work Collection!  SKECHERS Work - Made to Last

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Senior Garden - September 19, 2014We're into a stretch of absolutely beautiful fall weather. Our nights are cool and days warm, but not so warm that we have to run our air conditioning. With no pressing chores in our garden plots, as the ground is still to damp to till, I'm having to just enjoy the nice days.

Purchased garlic (and gloxinias)If you haven't ordered garlic for fall planting yet, it's time, actually past time, to do so. Our orders for fall garlic all came in this week, about a month before we'll get the garlic cloves planted. But they'll store just fine beside our harvested garlic, onions, and potatoes in our basement until planting time.

I've mostly used our own saved garlic for planting the last few years. But two so-so crops in a row convinced me this year to start with some fresh, hopefully more vigorous garlic sets. Of course, having our garlic bed dug up by our dogs over the winter severely diminished those crops.

I placed garlic orders with Territorial Seed Company, Sow True Seed, and Botanical Interests. Along with some saved garlic, that may turn out to be more garlic than we can plant. Unlike some orders several years ago from other vendors, all of the garlic we received appears to be in excellent condition.

Frequent readers may have noticed the gloxinia plants returning to our kitchen counter in the garlic shot at right. Having started our gloxinia seed in bunches, our plants are coming into bloom in bunches as well. Gloxinias take between five to seven months to come into bloom from seed. Our first group of bloomers are all from seed we saved over the years. A second group of Empress and Cranberry Tiger gloxinias are beginning to bloom. And, the Double Brocade seed we started about two weeks ago is germinating well, a pleasant surprise after several failures recently with that variety. Our Double Brocade seed this time came from Pase Seeds and Seeds4Change.

Saturday, September 20, 2014 - Folklore Winter Weather Predictions

A local TV station had a feature this week with someone noting that most of "his hummingbirds" had left in the last week, suggesting a normal and not too harsh upcoming winter. Most of "our hummingbirds" left en mass in late August, suggesting...what?

Hummingbird migration, heavy or light livestock fur, woolly worm color, and the interior of persimmon seeds are all common folklore winter weather predictors. The problem with such predictors is, of course, that they're not always accurate. But I did find a prophetic report from last November that showed lots of shovels inside persimmon seeds, indicating a winter with lots of snow. It turned out that we were snowed in for several days last January and had a good snow cover most of January and February and part of March.

I got starting hunting around the web after seeing the TV feature, as I realized I didn't know if hummingbirds migrated singly or in flocks. I found that they make the trip by themselves from a good page about Migration Basics from hummingbirds.net. I also found a suggestion to change to a 3:1 ratio of water to sugar in the feeders (from our normal 4:1 ratio), as the migrating birds need all the energy they can get.

While I was filling three hummingbird feeders twice and occasionally three times a day through most of August, I'm only filling two of our feeders every two or three days for the few transient hummingbirds that stop by.

Pumpkins

Howden pumpkinsI thought we had three good sized pumpkins for our local grandkids. When the grandkids and I cut the pumpkins from the vine today, one turned out to be rotten on the bottom. So for now, the kids will have to do with just two big pumpkins, with several smaller ones still on the vine.

One of our daughters reminded me today that next year we'll have five grandkids in the somewhat immediate area, and that I'll need to grow more pumpkins then. Another of our daughters and her family are returning to Indiana next year when her hubby's hitch in the Air Force is up.

I'll gladly grow more pumpkins!

Peppers and Tomatoes

Peppers and tomatoesAfter cutting the pumpkins, the grandkids and I toured our garden plots picking tomatoes and peppers. Our open pollinated Moira tomatoes are now producing heavily, as are our hybrid Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit tomatoes. We picked our first Kevin's Early Orange peppers, along with a few Alma paprika peppers and a bunch of hybrid peppers from our main raised bed. We nearly filled a four gallon bucket with peppers and tomatoes.

We didn't pick any green peppers for a reason. Our daughter was coming down to pick up the kids. She loves to make stuffed peppers. When she got settled in, I handed her a pair of clippers and told her she got to cut her own green peppers. She cut and I carried a grocery bag that she filled with lovely green peppers.

Part of the fun of gardening for me is sharing our bounty with friends and family.

Kale Soup Feast

The reason for our daughter driving down today was so her husband could measure our dining room for a new ceiling. With their arrival time a bit iffy, Annie wasn't sure what to cook for supper. I suggested we have kale soup, as it can simmer on the stove for hours without losing any quality.

So I grabbed a bunch of jars of Portuguese Kale Soup from our basement pantry. I ended up dumping in a gallon of the canned soup and also added a few more potatoes to the pot, as the soup appeared lacking of them. With fresh bread from a local bakery, we had a feast. With a bit of leftover soup sent home with our daughter, all that was left in the large pot was a bit of broth and scraps for the dogs to lick up.

Gloxinias on plant rackGloxinias

I took time to open up the bottom shelf of our downstairs plant rack today. Our second group of gloxinias that have now burst into full bloom needed more space. So I moved the remaining plants not yet in bloom to the bottom shelf, giving the new bloomers a whole shelf to themselves.

The shot at right shows just how dark it really is in our downstairs plant room. Most of the light from the plant rack is directed at the plants under it, allowing me to store garlic, onions, and potatoes in the darker areas of the room.

Our plant room used to be the coal/wood room when we had an old, octopus style furnace tied into an LP furnace. In those days, we could burn coal and/or wood and keep the house almost uncomfortably hot, even during power outages. Now, we have a high efficiency LP furnace. It's great on the heating budget, but not so good when the power goes out and we have to burn smelly kerosene heaters.

Second shelf of gloxinias

The second shelf of gloxinias that have just come into full bloom are mostly the Empress variety, with a few Cranberry Tigers. We obviously have a whole bunch more plants on the bottom shelf, plus some Double Brocades that are just germinating. We'll need to cut down the collection by gifting gloxinias over the next few months to have room for our garden transplants next spring.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Senior Garden - September 21, 2014The Weather Channel Garden ForecastWe have another gorgeous day today with blue skies, a nice breeze, and temperatures in the low 70s. We also received a quarter inch of rain overnight, but I didn't wake up during the storm. The inside dogs, however, kept waking Annie up by licking her hand or face while she lay in bed! They always get nervous when a storm is coming in.

The Weather Channel's extended Gardener's Local Forecast for our area calls for moderate temperatures with almost no chance of rain for the next week or so. It should be ideal weather to get our East Garden tilled and put to bed for the winter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Senior Garden - September 25, 2014Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgOur fair weather continues with pleasant days and cool nights. With daily high temperatures predicted to get into the 80s in the next several days, I'm hoping some of our tomatoes and peppers will hurry and ripen.

I began yesterday with two critical and four important chores on my job list. I got a broken basement window repaired and re-installed yesterday. Today, I defrosted our self-defrosting refrigerator once again. Every six to twelve months, the freezer begins icing up and dropping loads of water into the refrigerator during its defrost cycle.

The problem is a design error, and fortunately, my darling wife found an online tutorial several years ago on how to get to the problem and fix it (for another few months). We did the process together the first time, but since she still has a full-time job and I'm fully retired, it's fallen to me to defrost the thing when it begins icing up.

I did get a scare at the end of the process. When I plugged in the refrigerator, the interior lights came on, but the compressor didn't start. I waited a few minutes, and then got my laptop and loaded a repair video. As I was watching, the compressor kicked in. Whew!

Duct tape holding deck mounts out of the wayThis was the easy side!I got one other job, one of the important but non-critical ones, done today. I had planned to just drop the mower deck out from under the lawn tractor and install the tiller attachment. Dropping out the mower deck and mounting the tiller are quite a job, as there are lots of little things one learns that John Deere doesn't share in their directions!

Holding the mower mounts up out of the way when attaching the tiller is critical. Otherwise, the tiller frame jams on them. A little duct tape does the job.

I haven't found a fix as yet for pushing in the retainer pin for the tiller frame on one side. The access is too small for a mature hand, and all the edges on the underside of the mower are sharp.

I like my mower and tiller, but switching from one to the other is a real chore.

Mower with deck mounted Deck pulled (Jack not required, but it sure helps!) Tiller mounted

Of course, once I had the tiller mounted, I thought I should really test its depth setting. And so, test I did. I ended up testing it across the entire 40' x 80' section of the East Garden we used this year!

East Garden fall tilled

When done, I left the tiller mounted (after cleaning it). I'll need to till again in a few days...and I still need to clean and service the mower deck. But if the weather changes and I don't get to till again this fall, the East Garden has adequately been put to bed for the season.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - September Wrap-up

Precipitation (Inches)1
  2014 2013 2012 2011 Ave.2
Jan. 2.51 6.33 3.20 0.84 2.48
Feb. 2.05 2.24 1.10 2.28 2.41
March 1.66 2.28 1.52 3.79 3.44
April 8.88 8.75 3.80 11.51 3.61
May 3.67 10.35 1.19 3.38 4.35
June 6.51 12.18 0.15 5.53 4.13
July 3.69 6.40 1.89 3.25 4.42
August 4.03 3.12 1.99 0.32 3.82
Sept. 7.23 1.70 4.59 3.76 2.88
Totals3 40.23 53.35 19.43 34.66 31.54

1Data from Kinmerom2 and MSULI3 weather stations, and our own rain gauge during non-freezing weather
2 Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
3 to date for 2014, 2011-2013. and average

September, 2014, animated GIFWe've had some unusual weather over the last month, not to mention the last few years. This September proved to be far cooler than most Septembers. The cool temperatures slowed the maturation of our tomatoes and peppers, but was good for our cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and lettuce, not to mention our electric bill for air conditioning.

The 7.23 inches of rainfall we received this month is an impressive figure, but almost all of it came in the first three days of the month. The drydown did allow us to get our East Garden tilled twice, which could give us a jump on the season next spring. At the very least, we won't have any well established, overwintered weeds in the patch next spring.

We ground paprika this month, froze bell peppers, picked pumpkins, and made a batch of Portuguese Kale Soup. We also gave away a lot of extra tomatoes and bell peppers. We even cut some broccoli, although warmer temperatures towards the end of the month produced some bitter heads.

And we saved lots and lots of seed: tomato; bell and paprika pepper; cucumber; summer squash; muskmelon; watermelon; lettuce; peas; and pole beans.

The saved watermelon seed deserves some special mention. Our hill of Moon & Stars watermelon was surrounded by other watermelon varieties. When I cut five overripe melons for seed, I treated the seed as "wet seed" (not really necessary), and fermented the seed, melon flesh, and gel for several days. When I cleaned and rinsed the seed, I was surprised to find typical, very large black seed and very small watermelon seed. There was no in between in seed size. It was all either large or small. Both sizes produced acceptable results in germination tests, so we may have some interesting watermelons next year.

Our replacement gloxinias, seeded in February and May, started to bloom in July and August, but came into heavy bloom in the last few weeks.

Gloxinias on plant rack

Both our Gloxinias blog and Gloxinia Photos feature story got updates this month.

I even made some good progress on my job list this month. I defrosted both our refrigerator/freezer and our big freezer. Defrosting the big, manual defrost freezer wasn't a hard job, as I already had all of our coolers out from defrosting our refrigerator/freezer in the house last Thursday. After moving all of our frozen food to the coolers, I unplugged the freezer and drug it to the edge of the garage's concrete apron, a sunny spot during the afternoon. The frost buildup in the freezer was gone in an hour or so, allowing me to clean the freezer and get it back online in just a few hours. By evening, it was cold enough to return our precious frozen vegetables and saved seed to it.

Frozen chicken breastsFreezing chicken breastsWhen emptying out a freezer, it seems that I always find a few "treasures" I'd forgotten were there. This time around, I found a little over ten pounds of frozen, whole, skin on, bone in, chicken breasts. I'd bought them on sale in May, but simply pitched the packages in the big freezer, as May is a very busy time in the Senior Garden.

So on Saturday, I got busy partially thawing the chicken before filleting the breast meat and boiling and boning the rest for chicken and broth. Part of the broth with some big chunks of chicken thrown in was separated out for a dinner of chicken and noodles. But the bulk of the boned chicken and broth went into the freezer for our next batch of Portuguese Kale Soup.

Nasturtiums in bloomThe chicken breast fillets get spread on a cookie sheet to refreeze before going into gallon Ziploc freezer bagsicon for long term storage in the big freezer.

One job I didn't get done, simply because I couldn't bear to do so, was to pull our forty foot row of nasturtiums that edge the west side of our East Garden. Like most nasturtiums, ours hide a lot of their blooms under their canopy of leaves for much of the season. But when I walk by them now, the blooms peek out with some actually above the leaf canopy. The array of bloom colors contrasting with their deep green leaves makes them just too pretty to do away with before the frost finally takes them.

And yes, leaving the nasturtiums in place made tilling our East Garden considerably more difficult. But having their beauty around for another week or so is definitely worth the effort.

Nasturtium row

August, 2014

October, 2014

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