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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - December 15, 2015


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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Our Senior Garden - Decembeer 1, 2015December is a great month for gardeners to catch up, rest up, and prepare for the new gardening season. Some of our catching up will involve finding a sunny, windless day to finish washing pots, inserts, and trays outdoors and getting them dried and stored in our plant room. Our preparations for the new gardening season are well underway, with several seed orders already placed and our garden plan roughed out. The resting up part shouldn't require any description, although I still have to stay up with my hip rehab exercises.

I'll almost certainly get an itch to plant something this month. Most of the transplants we'll need for next year shouldn't be started until January or later. But we've had some success starting petunias for hanging baskets in December. Such plants bloom early and are lovely in the spring, but are pretty well burnt out by August. So if I do start some early petunias (usually in egg cartons), I'll also need to start more sometime in February.

Two years ago, I started a tray of onions in early December. At the time, I was just messing around with some old seed and really didn't expect to get much of anything out of it. The old seed that had been in frozen storage for a couple of years did well, giving us more onion transplants, along with our traditional January started onions, than we could effectively use. I may again start some old seed saved from our onion variety trials in 2014, but we'll be starting our four main onion types with fresh seed in January.

Egg Shells

If you've ever wondered about using egg shells in the garden, doing a web search should give you lots of ideas and a few dissenting opinions. Until recently, we've put all of our egg shells in our compost pile where they very slowly decay. But I recently started saving, washing, and drying our used egg shells for future garden use. Yesterday, I ground our first batch of them in an old coffee grinder reserved for garden use only (no edibles!). We've previously used it to powder peat moss to cover tiny seeds.

Our ground egg shells will eventually go under our tomato and pepper plants next year. I've added calcitic limestone under previous plantings to ward off blossom end rot, but still have experienced some of that problem. Using more lime would shift the soil pH to a level not ideal for tomatoes, so I decided to begin saving egg shells that will yield lots of the calcium that helps prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes and peppers.

The ancient coffee grinder mentioned above was once used to grind egg shells, minus the thin outer membrane, to supply calcium to our laying flock when I was farming. We served up the ground egg shells mixed in the hens' feed, separate in a feeder at times, or mixed in with their feeder of oyster shell to add thickness to our hens' egg shells. Sometimes the hens wouldn't ingest enough oyster shell to produce thick egg shells, resulting in cracked or crushed eggs. Adding a bit of egg shell helped alleviate this problem. (Note that oyster shell for hens serves two purposes. The oyster shell does provide calcium, but it also can serve as grit, necessary in a chicken's digestive system to help grind up whole grain...which we often fed our hens.)

I ground about a third of a quart freezer bag of egg shells yesterday, about half filling a small, saved peanut butter jar with ground egg shell. Note that I crumple and freeze the dried egg shells while accumulating enough of them to make grinding worthwhile. By planting time next spring, we should have more than enough ground egg shell to provide all the calcium our tomato and pepper plants need.

Weather

Our current extended weather forecast looks pretty benign for next ten days. While weather conditions and predictions can change pretty quickly at this time of year, it would appear that we may be able to get some outdoor work done early this month.

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast

Soil moisture conditions change very slowly at this time of year, so I'm not going to hold my breath hoping to till our East Garden. But it would appear that our main raised bed just might have time to dry out enough for a pass or two with our senior tiller.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - Gloxinias

Most of our collection of gloxinia plants are headed towards their required annual period of dormancy. To help them along a bit, I cut back the length of time our plant lights are on by a few minutes yesterday. I'll continue cutting it down until I get to about ten hours of light each day. I've also reduced watering the plants to encourage dormancy.

This part of a gloxinia's growth cycle isn't pretty. Many of the plants have put out weak, lateral branches. Some leaves have waterspots from careless watering, while others are browning out and withering. There are also signs of insect damage, something I corrected by using flea bug bombs in the basement!

Declining gloxinia plants Gloxinia bud filled with seed Tiny gloxinia seed drying on paper plate

Of course, even with the current decline of the gloxinia plants, there are some bright spots. I'm still harvesting an occasional mature bloom filled with gloxinia seed. The blooms conveniently break open when they are mature, letting one know when to pick them. If you wait just a few days too long, the seed spills all over the place.

When our gloxinias begin to break dormancy and put on a few tiny clumps of green on their corms, they'll go to our cool, upstairs sunroom, as space under our plant lights in the spring is at a premium with all the garden transplants we grow. While the unheated sunroom gets close to freezing at night, the gloxinias seem to tolerate such conditions pretty well.

What Did People Read Here on Senior Gardening This Year?

Gloxinia blog Growing Geraniums from Seed Buidling a Raised Garden Bed

Other than our basic pages (this page, the about page, etc.), here are the ten most read feature stories, how-to's, and recipes on this site for 2015:

  1. Gloxinias (blog)
  2. Growing Geraniums from Seed
  3. Building a Raised Garden Bed
  4. Portuguese Kale Soup (recipe and story)
  5. Gloxinia Photos
  6. Saving Tomato Seed
  7. Recommended Seed Suppliers
  8. A Cucumber of Distinction
  9. Saving Gloxinia Seed
  10. Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup (recipe)

Obviously, the hits on our site run a little heavy to the gloxinia pages.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, December 4, 2015

Our Senior Garden - December 4, 2015Rolls rising and chicken broth heatingAccording to the weather forecast I referenced on Tuesday, it was supposed to be sunny and in the lower 50s today. Instead, we had fog all day with a high of only 33° F. Local weather folks kept saying the fog should burn off, first by noon, later by afternoon, before finally realizing that we were in for an unusual whole day of fog.

Refusing to be dismayed by the weather, I warmed some chicken and broth I'd made yesterday from on sale (99¢/lb), bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and then made a batch of Grandma's Yeast Rolls. The menu was specifically selected for two grandchildren visiting for the weekend who love chicken and noodles and rolls. Besides some mashed potatoes and gravy, we rounded out the meal with canned fruit and a carrot and pea mix from our garden.

When granddaughter Katherine looked out the kitchen window in the fading light of evening, she remarked that we needed to cut asparagus stalks. I'd forgotten that the grandkids had helped me cut them last year. If it's nice tomorrow, they may get another shot at helping with that job, one of the few outdoor garden chores we have remaining to be done.

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015 - Clearing Asparagus Patches

Our Senior Garden - December 5, 2015
Truck filling up with asparagus stalks
Cutting asparagus stalks
Raised bed cleared

It's only been two or three days, but this fog bit is getting old. I'd never make it living in San Francisco. Each day lately, weather forecasters have predicted clear skies and high temperatures around 50. And each day we have heavy fog, actually icy fog, with highs just above freezing.

When the sun briefly peeked through the clouds this afternoon and the fog cleared enough that I wouldn't get lost in my own back yard, I got out and cut all the foliage on our two asparagus patches. Clearing the asparagus stalks is said to help prevent disease carryover. From the amount of small asparagus trash left in and around the beds, I suspect we're not getting much protection. But I can't imagine trying to pick asparagus next spring through the remains of this year's growth. And clearing the bed facilitates adding soil amendments yet this fall or next spring.

I use a pair of lopping shears to cut the stalks as close to the soil line as possible. Then I gather up the light, but bulky stalks, throw them into the back of my truck, and dump them in a wash we're filling. Asparagus stalks take a bit too long to break down to go onto our regular compost pile. The fluffy, but scratchy stalks filled the truck bed twice!

When I started cutting the asparagus, I quickly realized that I'd forgotten my kneeling pad. While the soil was still soft, my knees quickly got wet and very cold. Such pads make a nice gift for gardeners. Mine came from my sweetie two years ago at Christmas. A quick trip to the house for the pad protected my knees from frostbite.

While clearing our asparagus beds in cold, wet weather isn't one of my favorite garden tasks, it also reminds me that it will soon be time to start cutting fresh asparagus. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, December 6, 2015 - Sunshine at Last!

Our Senior Garden, with Dogs - December 6, 2015Water CharityI hadn't planned to do a posting here today, as there's just not much going on in our garden right now. But after grumping for several days about all day fog, today's sunshine compelled me to write something cheerier. My wife relates that we still started the day with icy fog. I wouldn't know, as after yesterday's fun and games cutting asparagus stalks, I slept in this morning. By the time I was up and around, the sun had burnt off the fog and the thermometer was approaching 50° F.

Our dogs seem to be thoroughly enjoying the sunshine. Both Daisy (lower left in photo) and Jackson (by the nearest raised bed) were sunning themselves when I took our splash shot for today.

"Why Aren't There Any Gloxinia Bulbs for Sale?"

When I checked my site statistics this morning, I noticed the question above among the phrases searched for on this site. It has become quite rare to find gloxinia corms for sale and even rarer to see or hear of gloxinia plants for sale.

I don't have an answer to the question, although I suspect that growing gloxinias has become unprofitable for growers. Import restrictions may also have had an effect. Fortunately, gloxinia seed is still readily available from several sources.

OmahaSteaks.com, Inc.

Monday, December 7, 2015

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Fedco Seeds 2015 Catalog CoverIt's wet, cloudy, and cold again here today, an altogether dreary day. So much for that pleasant weather forecast I wrote about last week. But the contents of our mailbox considerably brightened my spirits. It contained print copies of the Seed Savers Exchange store catalog , the Fedco Seeds catalog, part of our order from Twilley Seeds, and no bills!

I wrote about the SSE catalog in November after downloading the PDF version of it. Missing from this year's SSE catalog was the Empress variety of green beans. I'd read rave reviews of the variety over the past year and planned to order seed either from the SSE store or an SSE member. It turned out that neither were offering seed this year. So after a quick web search, I found two sources of the seed, White Harvest Seed Company out of Missouri and Uprising Seeds in Washington state. I ordered from Uprising because they offered half pound packets of the seed at a good price with reasonable shipping.

Fedco is a cooperative located in Waterville, Maine. They offer untreated seed from both regional and national sources at possibly the best prices around for reputable vendors. Their seed catalog is available for download in both low and high resolution versions. I'm saving the Fedco catalog to look through later today and tomorrow.

Full Disclosure: We're consumer members of the Fedco cooperative.

Our Twilley order arrived in good shape, as usual. The new sweet corn we ordered from them was backordered, though. But getting the order now will allow us to get our trailing geraniums and onions started on time in January.

David's Cookies

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - Washing Trays

Our Senior Garden - December 9, 2015Washing TraysWe finally got the day in weather I was waiting for. It's sunny and almost 60° F outside. Until a few minutes ago, the wind was fairly calm.

I needed a day (or two) like today to begin washing our plant trays, seed flats, pots, and inserts. I'd kept up with that job through part of the summer, but the last few months had let the dirty trays and pots build up. A five gallon bucket of bleach water had held several green hanging basket pots for a month. They now look a bit faded!

I ended up washing the trays in our garden cart. I filled the cart with water and added some bleach to help kill off any disease organisms that might be on the the trays.

By the time I was done washing all the hanging basket pots and trays, the wind began to pick up and move the lighter items drying on the lawn. So all the tray inserts I need to wash got dumped in the cart full of bleach water to soak until I can get to them. Hopefully, the wind tomorrow morning will be calm, and I can get the job done.

Sage plants in sunroomCommon (purple) sage in bloomI'd been kidding myself for a month that I could somehow transplant a bunch of sage plants to our East Garden for use as corner markers. Sage is a perennial that I've previously used to mark the corners of the large garden plot, but the previous plants all got mowed to death this summer. So I'd started a bunch more, but didn't get the East Garden plot tilled so I could transplant the sage. Instead, I'm hoping to overwinter the plants in our sunroom. Other than heat that leaks up from our bedroom and in from my adjacent office, the sunroom is unheated, but it usually stays above freezing. My biggest concern with the plants is that they will outgrow their pots. They're currently in four inch pots and need to be transplanted to six inch pots soon.

My choice of sage to use as markers in our East Garden was driven by sage being a perennial and that deer are said to not like the odor of it. I'm not sure how much deer deterrence the sage will add, but we really like the look of sage plants in full bloom. It's also great on sausage and in stuffing. Our jar of ground sage is just about empty, so it's obviously time to grow, pick, dry, and grind some more sage. If we run out of ground sage before winter is over, we can always pick fresh sage leaves in the sunroom.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Saturday, December 12, 2015 - Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Catalog

Yellow of Parma
Hungarian paprika pepper

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange 2016 Catalog CoverOur print copy of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived in the mail yesterday. Like most major seed vendors, their catalog is also available as a downloadable PDF document (13.4 MB).

Two years ago, we ordered Rosemary, Yellow of Parma onion, Hungarian Paprika Pepper, and Kevin's Early Orange bell pepper seed from them. All of the varieties had been accurately described in the SESE catalog, and the seed grew well for us. Some Yellow of Parma onions and a Hungarian Paprika Pepper are shown at right from 2014. In our 2014 onion trials, the Yellow of Parma variety proved to be a good open pollinated alternative to some of the hybrid, yellow storage onions we've grown in the past.

We also get our small, blank, seed envelopes from the exchange, as they sell them in small batches (50-200). We print on the envelopes to dress up the saved seed we share with others.

I'm still working my way through some of the seed catalogs we've already received. I'm currently halfway through the Fedco Seeds catalog, compiling my "wish list" before returning to reality and cutting it down to match our needs and budget. I found an interesting onion variety from Fedco that I'd like to try, Clear Dawn. It was bred out of the Copra hybrid line, so it may provide us another open pollinated, yellow storage type of onion.

Sugar Snap Pea Seed Alert

If you're planning on ordering seed for the original Sugar Snap Pea variety, you'd probably better do so soon. From the seed catalogs I've seen so far, it appears supply of the seed may be very limited this year due to a seed crop failure. Since seed houses often freeze seed and sell it over several years (as long as it meets federal germination standards), there is seed available, but generally in small seed packets. Currently, I've found Sugar Snap pea seed offered by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, BurpeeBurpee Seed Company, and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Warm

We have one of those unusually warm days here today that occasionally occur at this time of year. I just shut off our furnace, as it's nearly 70° F outside at just a few minutes after noon. After all the crappy cold, foggy days we've had of late, we deserve a nice day.

The Firefly Grill in Effingham, Illinois

Styx Concert at Effingham Performance Center - December 10, 2015Chef Niall in Firefly GardensAnnie and I did one of our dinner/concert overnights in Effingham, Illinois, again Thursday and Friday. The concert was good, loud rock and roll (although they left out our favorite song), but the highlight of the trip once again was dinner at the Firefly Grill. Annie had their Firefly Montana Mignon ("Allen Brothers tenderloin, bbq, boursin, bacon, wrapped in a puff pastry, whipped potatoes, garlic sauteed green beans"), while I had their small ribeye steak. Both dishes were incredible, as Annie and I frequently trade bites from our plates through our meals out.

I shared photos of the Firefly's gardens just outside the restaurant in a September posting. I hope to go back to the Firefly at the height of the growing season to visit and photograph their gardens. A lot of what they serve comes from these gardens. They're opening up a huge new garden plot next year that should be gorgeous to see. The Firefly also locally sources as much of their offerings as possible.

We were honored to be featured in the Firefly's September Newsletter.

We drove home yesterday in a dense fog that didn't clear until mid-afternoon. Then we picked up a granddaughter and ate out again, this time at the MCL Cafeteria in Terre Haute. They serve great food and cater to the over-60 crowd. I may have to run laps today to work off all the fine dining I've done over the last 48 hours!

Firefly Grill

Note: The Firefly Grill is not a Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertiser. We just love eating there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - Garlic's Up!

Garlic Up - walking boards still on bedGarlic Bed with Boards RemovedWhen I first got up this morning, the sun was shining across our garden plots. Even from the house, I could clearly see that we had garlic shoots up in one of our narrow raised garden beds. By the time I'd pulled some clothes on and fortified myself with a cup of coffee, it had begun to rain.

Taking advantage of a short break in the rain a little later, I got out and removed the walking boards I'd put on the bed to keep our dogs from digging in it. There were already some bent garlic shoots that had emerged under the walking boards.

It's not all that unusual for fall planted garlic to put up some leaf shoots before winter really sets in. Considering how warm it's been here since we planted the garlic on October 26, I shouldn't have been surprised to see the garlic up.

What has emerged so far is mostly elephant garlic. It's usually the first garlic to come up most years. The last time our garlic emerged in December, though, was in the warm winter of 2011-2012, preceding the drought of 2012! Let's hope the garlic coming up early isn't a harbinger of another drought.

Not only is garlic up in the narrow raised bed we planted it to, there's one volunteer garlic up in the other narrow raised bed from our 2014 garlic crop. And several more garlics are up in our main raised garden bed where we grew our garlic this year.

Single garlic up from two years ago Volunteer garlic up in main raised bed Gloves added for size perspective

Pots drying in kitchen sinkFlowers and Gifts Starting at $29.99 only at 1800flowers.comLacking anything better, I set my gloves down beside some of the emerging garlic for some size perspective. The garlic is up a good bit. And the two garlics so close together are the result of one of our dogs digging in the bed after I got it planted. I usually space our garlic sets around seven inches apart in the row.

On my way back to the house, I looked over our garden cart filled with some very cold bleach water and lots of flower pots. Knowing that we have some overnight freezing weather in the forecast, I scrubbed a few of the best pots and brought them inside for a rinse and to dry. One side of our kitchen sink is now filled with 4, 4 1/2, and 6 inch pots.

I don't do mass washing of trays, pots, and inserts inside because they often have lots of organic matter still left in them. Washing all of that down the drain into our septic tank could cause us some real trouble in the future.

What We're Trying New in 2016

Some years we seem to stay with our tried and true vegetable varieties. And other years, like this year, we end up trying several new vegetable varieties. At this point, I should define my use of the word "new" here as "new to us." Many of the new varieties we try are actually old, sometimes heirloom varieties that have been around for years. Hybrids, other than ones like the always excellent Better Boyicon tomato, seem to come and go every few years. Open pollinated options have been around for years and seed for them should remain available far into the future.

In 2014, we grew nine new onion varieties along with the four varieties we'd been growing for years. With a couple of the hybrids we'd been growing disappearing from seed catalogs, our onion trials showed us several promising varieties that should easily replace the hybrids once they're gone. We still try some hybrids, as we found the Copraicon hybrid onion variety could easily replace our previous favorite hybrid yellow storage onion variety, Pulsar.

This year, we'll be trying a brand new open pollinated onion variety called Clear Dawn from Fedco Seeds. It's a bit unique, as it was bred and standardized out of the hybrid Copra variety. Standardizing an open pollinated variety out of hybrid parentage takes years and years of work. Clear Dawn onions are said to be slightly smaller than Copras, with thicker necks, darker bronze skins, and the same excellent storage capability as Copras.

Our longtime favorite broccoli variety seems to be going the way of many other dropped hybrids. We picked up a couple of packets of Premium Crop hybrid broccoli seed from Reimer Seeds this year, but I suspect we'll not find more in the future. So we're trying two new hybrid broccolis this year, Destiny and Green Magic. Both varieties come from Twilley Seeds, who used to supply our Premium Crop seed.

Destiny is supposed to have good heat tolerance and fall cropping potential. It also is said to produce abundant sideshoots after the central head has been cut, something we really like. Green Magic is described as being widely adapted, so it hopefully will grow well in our west central Indiana climate.

Most of the watermelons we grow, other than a couple of seedless varieties, are open pollinated varieties. Several years ago, we added Ali Baba and Picnic to our other favorite open pollinated varieties of Crimson Sweeticon and Moon & Starsicon. We're actually still working on the Moon & Stars variety, as we lost our seed start of Moon & Stars that had crossed with something that ended up producing whopping forty-plus pound watermelons! And we had to quit growing our all-time favorite watermelon variety, Kleckley's Sweets, as we simply couldn't keep the raccoons away from the delicious, but thin skinned variety.

So along with our four favorite open pollinated varieties and two hybrid seedless varieties, we're going to try Blacktail Mountain and Congo watermelons. I've read great things over the past year or so about both varieties and am eager to try them. Blacktail Mountain is a shorter season melon adapted to cooler climates. That's good, as our last crop of melons in 2014 never had enough summer heat to produce that great, sweet watermelon flavor we all crave. Congos are a southern variety that can produce huge, 35 pound, oblong melons. Whether we have the heat and growing season for them is still a question, but trying such things is part of the fun of gardening.

I'd read on the Garden Web, now Houz, great things about the Empress variety of green beans. I was confident that I could get seed for them this year, as the Seed Savers Exchange had offered them in their online store last year, plus a couple of SSE members offered seed for the variety. Alas, when SSE updated their store and catalog for this year, Empress was gone. And... the members offering seed weren't re-offering it this year! It appears there may have been a seed crop failure for this variety.

Fortunately, I was able to find Empress seed at a very fair price from Uprising Organics and have a half pound of it tucked away in our seed storage cabinet. (We don't freeze new, incoming seed until after planting. When it arrives, it goes into a cool, dark cabinet in our basement.) The catalog description from Uprising reflects what I've read on many message boards and forums: "Empress is simply our best bush green bean for both eating quality and yield." I absolutely love good green beans boiled in onion and bacon drippings.

Along with the previously mentioned Premium Crop broccoli seed, we were also able to get some Melody hybrid spinach seed this year, again from Reimer Seeds. Spinach is one of those vegetable varieties that are going more and more towards hybrids. Fortunately, the Seed Savers Exchange still sells the excellent, All-America award winning, open pollinated variety, America. But with our supply of hybrid Regal spinach running out, the hybrid Melody variety also on its way out, I have been on the hunt for another good spinach variety to go along with our plantings of America.

Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange may just be that needed variety. It's an OSSI OP variety, meaning that plant breeders using it in their program can't patent any new varieties resulting from it, ensuring you and I can grow, save seed, and sell or share it with others in the future. Although I was never a fan of the old Bloomsdale Spinach, this new variety is described as being sweet, tender, and bolt resistant. That last one is a biggie for us, as our window for growing good spring spinach is pretty narrow. We usually get one or two, if we're lucky, good pickings in the spring before hot weather turns the spinach bitter and it bolts.

I found in 2014 that Twilley Seeds had dropped our favorite sh2 hybrid sweet corn variety in favor of a new sh2. That worked out okay for us, as the replacement variety produced one of our best sweet corn harvests since our farming years in the 1980's when we used to grow and roadside 2-4 acres of the stuff each year! Fast forwarding past this year when we didn't grow any sweet corn (successfully), I again found Twilley, or their supplier, had dropped our new favorite variety for something new. Since we still have a lot of viable sweet corn seed in frozen storage, I was unfazed by the change, but still ordered a packet of their new Summer SWeet HiGlow SS3880MR. It apparently isn't an sh2, so I'm going to have to change our East Garden plan for next year a bit to provide the necessary isolation for the new type, along with our old sh2's and the following sugary enhanced variety.

Since the deer got all of our Who Gets Kissed? in our first try with it last year, I'll include it with our new varieties. Bred for organic growers and currently offered only by High Mowing Organic Seeds, it's an open pollinated, sugary enhanced bi-color. It produces, if the deer don't eat it first, ears with 14-16 rows of kernels low on the plant with good tip fill and husk coverage. It also has some limited resistance to corn smut. We transplanted all of our Who Gets Kissed last year, and it looked great, right up to the rainy night when all of our dogs were inside and the deer found our sweet corn planting. They ate every, and I mean every single developing ear of corn.

We'll also be trying a couple of landrace varieties this year. I let our Moon & Stars watermelon pollinate with whatever the bees brought, hoping to recreate our old strain of the variety. But most of the melon vines near our planting of Moon & Stars were triploids (seedless), so the results may be interesting.

More promising is some landrace Saffron yellow squash seed I saved. I planted the open pollinated Saffron variety for the first time in 2014 close to our favorite hybrid yellow squash, Slick Pik. The Saffron hill of squash outlasted three plantings of the more fragile Slick Pik, but also produced a more unrefined yellow squash. By letting the varieties cross, we might get a thinner, straighter Saffron squash. Of course, we could also get a Frankenstein squash. I'll also be planting hills of the original Saffron and Slick Pik, as we really like to have yellow squash all summer long for stir fries and grilling.

More to Come?

Since all of our 2016 seed catalogs haven't yet arrived, there may be some late additions to this listing of new varieties. But we're very close to locking in our initial seed orders for next year, and I've actually just about exhausted my seed budget for this year. We're still waiting for Burpee (always late) and Johnny's Selected Seeds to get their heads out of their butts and get our catalog to us. They somehow fail to realize that seed sales are a bit of an "early bird gets the worm" kind of deal. It also seems that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has dropped us off their catalog mailing list. They stand out as a company offering lots of great varieties of heirloom seeds, but with a real attitude if you have a problem. And our Shumway catalog is still missing, as Jung Seeds seems to want to kill that seed outlet. Sad. When I was farming, I used to call the then independent Shumway and talk to them about what I wanted in open pollinated field corn seed and annual hog pasture.

Guess I'm just getting old. But the whiz kids who now run the seed houses really should listen to we old geezers if they want our business.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Friday, December 18, 2015 - More Free Seed

Our Senior Garden - December 18, 2015I started five germination tests on some old seed several days ago. I was testing Earliest Red Sweet pepper, Moira tomato, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed saved from our 2014 garden, as our current seed giveaway to various seed libraries has been moderately successful.

Completed germination test of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seedAfter just two plus days in a warm environment, three batches of JLP seed produced germination results of 85%, 90%, and 100%. The Moira tomato and Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed began germinating on day three of the test, but it's still too early to tell if that seed will reach the standard 80% minimum germination rate I require for shared seed.

Initial results from the cucumber seed tests showed that I had a whole lot of very good, but slightly old seed to do something with. With newer seed already set aside for our seed library giveaway and planting, I decided to once again offer free Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed to readers of this site.

The terms of the offer are the same as with our still running free ERS seed offer. Just of request with your mailing address included. When you've grown out the seed, save seed from some of the cucumbers for your future use and also try to share some of the seed via seed swaps, gifts to fellow gardeners, any of the seed saving organizations, donations to seed libraries, or any other way you can think of to spread the seed (hopefully for free, of course) to other gardeners.

Note: Offer expired 3/18/2016.

Growing Japanese Long Pickling Cucumbers

Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers are the same to start as any other cucumber. You seed them in clean soil six to eight weeks before you plan to transplant, covering the seed with enough soil that light won't reach the seed, and place them in a fairly warm area (70-80° F). The seedlings will emerge in just a few days and need to be moved to a slightly cooler, well lighted area, such as under fluorescent lights. About ten days before transplanting, the plants need to be gradually hardened off by moving them to a somewhat protected area outside and slowly increasing the amount of full sunlight and wind they receive.

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plantWhen I transplant JLPs into the garden, I give the planting hole a good shot of liquid starter fertilizer to get them going. And of course, the planting area has been prepared by tilling and the addition of lime, if necessary, and some fertilizer (compost is best, but a 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer will do). Cucumbers do like rich soil, but most of us have to garden with the soil we have.

Maverick Red geraniums, Merit tomatoes, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vinesJapanese Long Pickling cucumbers need a trellis, fence, tomato cage, or something similar to climb as they grow. If grown on the ground, the cukes will seriously curl and are prone to rot. Grown on a trellis, many of the cucumbers will be thin and straight, growing to twelve to sixteen inches long or more.

Note that for seed saving, the Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants need to be isolated from any other cucumber varieties. Rob Johnston, Jr., founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds, wrote in Growing Garden Seeds to "Isolate two varieties by 1/2 mile to assure purity; for home use 200' or separation by another tall crop is sufficient."

During the growing season, one needs to be vigilant in detecting infestations of bad bugs, cucumber beetles (both spotted and striped) for us, and powdery mildew. A good insecticide, organic or not, will control the cucumber beetles. Powdery mildew is best prevented by growing the cukes in a sunny area. Periodic sprays of a fungicide will help prevent powdery mildew. I prefer Serenade biofungicide, as is is an organic product.

Japanese Long Pickling Cucumbers

The cucumbers should be ready to pick when they're about a foot long, although some can grow to over double that length! For table use and bread and butter pickles, I usually take them at around 12-14 inches long.

Saving Cucumber Seed

Cucumbers for seed saving should be left on the vine until they're yellow (definitely overripe for table use). After picking, some sources suggest letting the cukes sit several weeks before harvesting seed from them. Cucumbers should be picked from as many different plants as possible to preserve some genetic diversity and avoid eventual inbreeding depression.

Harvesting JLP cucumber seed for seed savingTo harvest the seed, I cut the cucumbers into six to eight inch sections and slice them lightly down the sides. Then I split open the cucumber sections and use a tablespoon to scrape the seed and surrounding goo into a glass jar. I only harvest the seeds that are somewhat fat. Flat seeds probably aren't going to be viable. Note that this is a somewhat messy process best done outside or in a kitchen sink.

Purple Blooming Gloxinia on Kitchen CounterThe seed could be washed and dried after being harvested. I prefer to let the seed seed sit in its juices and ferment for about four days. A tight fitting lid on the seed jar should hold in most offensive odors produced. The fermentation process helps kill off any harmful bacteria that might be present on the surface of the seed. Shake or stir the jar a couple of times a day during the fermentation process.

Then I fill the jar with water, letting the fermented goo and any floaters (light seed that probably isn't viable) wash off. I dump the jar of seed into a strainer and rinse it with our sink sprayer to help dislodge any clinging organic matter. Then I repeat the process several times until only the seed remains.

Once cleaned, I dry the seed on a paper towel first, later scraping it off the paper towel onto a paper plate where I let it air dry for another week or two.

Storing the Seed

I prefer to keep our saved seed in a manual defrost freezer. If completely dried, it stores well there for years. One can also successfully store the seed in packets in a jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dark area. All of our saved seed currently goes into commercial self-seal seed packets, although I used to store saved seed in aluminum foil packets that I made myself.

How Did This Happen?

I cut off our previous offer for Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed when a request from a major seed house pretty well wiped out my shareable supply of seed. They needed a fairly large quantity of the seed to use in their cucumber breeding program.

When I was checking our old seed over the weekend, I found that I had a huge packet of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed that hadn't germination tested well enough to share, along with two smaller packets I'd saved as my reserve. Vaguely remembering the previous test, I decided to retest the seed at a warmer temperature. The new test on the big packet was the one that came in at 85%, so I suddenly had a lot more cucumber seed to share.

Burpee Gardening

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Saturday, December 19, 2015 - Garden Seed Orders

2016 Seed Orders

Twilley Seeds (6)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (5)
Fedco Seeds (4)
Reimer Seeds (4)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (3)
High Mowing Organic Seeds (2)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (2)
Burpee (1)
Mountain Valley Seed Company (1)
Uprising Seeds (1)

numbers in parentheses are the number of items ordered

Our Senior Garden - December 19, 2015Our garden seed orders for the 2016 gardening season are done. I guess I really should say that I've completed placing our initial garden seed orders for next year. There always seems to be an item or two that I miss ordering the first time around. Several days each week over the last two weeks, a small envelope of seeds has arrived from one of the seed vendors we use.

What got me going finishing up our orders even before all of our seed catalogs had arrived was BurpeeBurpee Seed Company's free shipping offer yesterday. Burpee is always late getting their print catalog out, but they were participating in an online order free shipping day pushed by Walmart and other vendors. The offer allowed me to order one packet of seed that I wanted without paying their minimum shipping fee.

Then I got a call last night from Mountain Valley Seed Company telling me they were out of untreated Sugar Snap pea seed, but still had plenty of the treated version of the seed. Since this was my first order with them, I was pretty impressed with their level of customer service. Mountain Valley bought out, inherited, or somehow otherwise took over the old Generic Seed business once operated by Wheatgrass Kits. The change in ownership appears to be a definite improvement for customers.

This morning, I saw that the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange had pushed back the expected date of availability of their new Abundant Bloomsdale spinach from December 20 to December 31. Since the item isn't orderable on their site while it is backordered or unavailable, I filled out a mail order form this morning for the spinach and more printable, blank seed envelopes. Only after getting the order ready to go into the mail did I see their online note below:

Our supplier recently switched to this packet size [3' x4 3/4'] from 2¾ x 41⁄8 in. ones, and we forgot to update the description in our paper catalog, sorry!

REI OutletI'll need to change all of our seed packet templates once I run out of the smaller, older packets, but will appreciate the larger size for printing information on them. I've not had any problems fitting seed into the old packets, though, as most of the seed we share is pretty small (gloxinia, tomato, pepper).

As to the new spinach, it was developed in cooperation with the Open Source Seed Initiative. A posting on the Seed Broadcast Blog, Heirlooms of Tomorrow: Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach, tells a bit more about the spinach and its development.

No, we're not getting into the seed selling business. We do sell seed via the Seed Savers Exchange, but pretty much at cost. Our offers for free Earliest Red Sweet pepper and Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed still stand for readers willing to "pinkie swear" they'll try to share seed from the varieties when they grow them out. And, I'm having a ball receiving delighted emails and thank you notes from librarians running seed libraries with whom we've shared seed!

Sam’s Club

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog cover 2016Another seed catalog arrived in the mail yesterday. I'd been bumped off the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog mailing list since I hadn't ordered since January, 2014. That's a pretty short cutoff for updating a mailing list, but their catalog is probably the most expensive to produce of any we receive. When contacted, they got one to me in just three days. I really wish some other seed houses would better police their catalog mailing lists. Receiving four or five catalogs over a gardening season from one company has to increase the cost of seeds.

Each vegetable and flower variety offered in The Rare Seed Catalog is accompanied by a photo of it. Even though we have plenty of our favorite varieties from Baker Creek, Ali Baba and Picnic watermelon, and Tam Dew honeydew, I still found a couple of items to order from it. The flower photos can be especially dangerous to gardeners working on a budget!

Starting Onions (a bit early)

Tray of onions startedI'd brought our onion seed in from our garage freezer last week. I finally got around during time outs and halftimes of football games today to start some of our old onion seed leftover from our 2014 Onion Trials. This planting isn't our main onion planting. It will be done in January with all fresh seed. Today's planting was just for the fun of it. I'm not even sure where in the garden I'll put these onions, if they germinate. Onion seed is notorious for not storing well much over a year.

All of the onions seeded today were open pollinated varieties, sure to be around for years to come. For yellows, I started some Jaune Paille des Vertus, Stuttgarter, and Yellow of Parma. For reds, I started Red Creole, Rossa Di Milano, Southport Red Globe, and Tropeana Tonda.

Since I had seven varieties to go into four rows in my tray, the Yellow of Parma variety got the odd full row, as it was the best, open pollinated, storage onion we tested in 2014 and again this year. While Red Creoles are actually a short day onion better suited for growing in the south, we like their earliness, as they give us some fresh, red onions well before most of our other varieties have begun to bulb.

After cleaning up our garden plots and washing and storing trays and such, it was fun today to get back to putting some seed into soil to grow something.

If you're new to growing onions, our how-to story, How We Grow Our Onions, tells how we do it, start to finish.

Cook's Garden Gourmet Herbs

Monday, December 21, 2015 - Long Night

Our Senior Garden - December 21, 2015Today, or rather tonight, marks the winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere. It will produce the shortest day length of the year, and tonight, the longest night of the year. But the good news for sun lovers and gardeners is that each day from now on through the summer solstice will be slightly longer.

Length of DayFrom our Weather Underground forecast page, I found confirmation of the solstice in their astronomy section that notes the end of days getting shorter.

Onions

None of the onion seed I started yesterday has emerged as yet, but I should have noted yesterday that I did put the tray of onions over a thermostatically controlled heat mat. I did it not so much to add bottom heat, but to stabilize the heat through day and night. Our plant room, our old coal and wood room, leaks a bit of air and does get cold at night through the winter. The heating mat is holding the temperature at around 71° F. Normally, we germinate onion seed at around 65° F, but since I used all old seed for this planting, I decided to give it a few extra degrees to possibly enhance germination rates. I also seeded the onion seed at about twice to three time the normal rate. Even with all that, old seed is old seed. We could quite possibly get almost nothing up from the planting. But in the past, I've had some limited success at growing onions from two year old seed.

Back to Weather

The same forecast page linked above also carried the following advisory.

Record Warmth

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - Winter?

Our Senior Garden - December 23, 2015 - 6:30 P.M. ESTIt's just after 8 A.M. this morning, and it's still pretty dark outside. When I let one of the dogs inside, I realized that it was really warm (and wet) outside. Temperature: 62° F...on the second full day of winter!

Note: Image at right was taken in the early evening in between storms.

2016 Garden Review

Without a lot to do in our garden (I did empty compost buckets yesterday.), I finished and posted our Garden Review for 2015. Our annual garden reviews are usually some of the least read feature stories on this site. I don't mind that too much, as they're written more for me than for readers of this site. Going over the entire year brings back to mind and records successes and failures one needs to remember.

The annual garden review also takes longer to write than any other feature story I do. I spread out the work, though, usually starting the file in late spring, adding content to it as the months pass. That makes for some strange uses of verb tense that have to be corrected eventually in the final editing. And it's always interesting to find that good links used over the past twelve months have gone bad. The real shocker this year was that my orthopedic surgeon has apparently retired. When I saw him last August, I teased him a bit about retiring, as he's my age (but looks ten years younger). He uncharacteristically giggled a bit at my words, but said nothing.

Other than posting a Christmas greeting, I'll be taking the next couple of days off. I have lots of wrapping to do, as we are blessed with nine wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday-Friday, December 24-25, 2015 - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

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

Luke 2:10-11 (ASV)

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

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

Saturday, December 26, 2015 - Apple Tree Care

Our Senior Garden - December 26, 2015Granny Smith apple tree with dwarf Stayman Winesap in foregroundOver the years, our Granny Smith apple tree has survived a fire blight infection and a wind storm that ripped a major limb off of it. This year it produced a good many apples, but since I wasn't able to regularly spray the tree after my hip surgery in May, insects and birds feasted on them. The sight of the brown, black, and a few green wizened apples remaining on the tree had bothered me for weeks. So on Christmas Eve day, I took advantage of an unseasonably warm day and picked about five gallons of old apples from the tree. It was a job that had to be done, as the old apples can harbor disease and most certainly insect eggs.

While the tree looks much better, it is still in desperate need of a good pruning. That will have to happen on another nice day, as will subsequent sprays of dormant oil to smother insect eggs overwintering on the tree's surface. There are still a few small, stubborn apples I'll have to use a ladder to pull off the tree by hand.

I found it interesting that there were bees visiting the rotting apples in the warm weather. They seemed a bit upset at my cleanup, although I'm petty sure they'll find the apples again on our compost heap.

Garlic

Mulched garlic bedStandard garlic revealed with mulch raked offThe leaf and grass clipping mulch that was supposed to protect our garlic from the ravages of winter had become a liability to the crop. In our warm fall and early winter weather, the garlic is emerging, but the mulch has matted, with only the stronger elephant garlic able to push through the matted mulch. Knowing from experience that our standard garlic would be trying to emerge, I raked most of the mulch off the bed in and between rain showers this morning.

Clearing the mulch revealed many bent and yellowed garlic shoots that had been trapped under the mulch. The plants should bounce back, stand erect, and green up a bit in the next few days, although we have some real winter weather on the way by New Year's. But for now, we're enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures. (Our youngest son who lives in Minnesota reports they have seven inches of new snow on the ground today...and it's still snowing there.)

Bent and yellowed garlic shoots

The raking process, done down the rows with a standard garden rake, did take the tops off of a couple of garlic shoots. But had I left the mulch in place, we would have lost far more garlics that expended their stored strength trying to push through to some light. The mulch didn't go far away, although I would have liked to add it to our compost pile. It went onto a low spot in our main raised garden bed. I can till it under next spring, or may bring some of it back to mulch between rows in the garlic bed later on.

Onions

The old onion seed I started on Sunday is coming up nicely. Only one of the seven varieties of onion seed I planted appears to have gone bad in storage, although another is noticeably weaker in germination than the other varieties.

Onion plants emerging

Covered onion flat and thermostatI'd wondered if the bit of extra bottom heat I'd given the onion seed would help or hinder germination. I generally start our onion flats at around 65° F. I'd set our heat mat thermostat at around 72° F for the old seed, which hasn't seemed to hurt the rate of germination. You can see at right that the thermostat allows the seed flat to get a bit warmer (and sometimes cooler) that the setting temperature.

With the last of our gloxinia collection heading for dormancy, it's nice to have something else actively growing under our plant lights. I can tell already that I'm going to need to start some petunias in egg cartons soon. I'm like a little kid waiting for Christmas. I can hardly wait to get things planted. But early planted petunias may begin blooming in hanging baskets for us in March...when we have to move the plants inside on cold nights and back outside during warmer days.

Christmas Gifts

Gardening ScrabbleAnnie and I are known to give some unusual gifts. One of my Christmas gifts from her this year was the Gardening Scrabble game. We haven't tried it yet, but it gets good reviews and looks to be a lot of fun.

For my part, I ran across a T-shirt site with a "Buy 3, Get 9 Free" offer. I got sucked in, thinking of what fun it would be to get a bunch of funny T-shirts for Annie and our girls. Since the site isn't one of our affiliate advertisers, and my readers are probably sharp enough not to get sucked into such an offer (which cost a good penny), I'll offer a sampling from Amazon of the dozen T-shirts folks at our Christmas gathering took home. The girls had a good time divvying up the funny T-shirts.

Every day, thousands of innocent plants The Original Computer Sarcastic Comment Loading I like cooking my family I never run with scissors

While our daughters and other guests broke out their guitars for a jam session, I sat talking with two of my sons-in-law. One is a neurosurgeon and the other an addictions counselor, but more than anything else, both are incredibly caring and loving fathers. Annie and I are truly blessed that our kids have found such wonderful partners.

Burpee Gardening

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Sunday, December 27, 2015 - Seed Orders and Seed Catalogs

It rained most of the day yesterday. When the mail came, it also seemed to be raining seed orders and seed catalogs. Three small seed orders and four seed catalogs arrived.

Burpee Johnny's Selected Seeds 2016 Catalog Cover Shumway 2016 Catalog Cover Sow True Seed 2016 Catalog Cover

I now have print seed catalogs to peruse at my leisure from Burpee, Johnny's Selected Seeds, R.H. Shumway, and Sow True Seed. We've already placed and received orders with Burpee and Johnny's, but still enjoy looking through the print catalogs.

Inside the cover of our Burpee seed catalog was an insert that stated that they're offering free shipping on any size order until February 29, 2016. That's considerably longer than the note published yesterday under our banner ad, but still with promo code B1FA.

Monday, December 28, 2015 - Rain

Our Senior Garden - December 28, 2015Tree blocking roadIt's really, really wet here. But we got off easy so far this time around, as lots of folks in Texas, Oklahoma, and other areas lost loved ones and property to tornadoes and flooding, followed in some areas by deep snow.

When I started to drive into town, a dead tree fell across the road. I couldn't move it by myself, so I headed back home for a log chain to drag it off the road. By the time I got back, a good samaritan had already drug the tree mostly off the road. Together, we got it into the ditch and completely off the road.

Had I not messed around with our dogs in the garage before leaving, the tree could have fallen on my fairly new truck!

Garlic and Onions

Garlic bedI had my good camera with me in the truck to take the shot above right, as I'd snapped a shot of our garlic bed as I left the house. The camera was protected from the rain with a plastic grocery bag.

Onion plant startsThe garlic is greening up some, and some of the bent garlic shoots are beginning to stand erect. With freezing weather on the way, the garlics' growth should slow until next spring.

With family visiting over the weekend, I'd forgotten about the onions I'd started last week. So this morning, I took the flat of onions off our soil heating mat and removed the clear humidome that had worked to hold in moisture and warmth. I also lowered a plant light above the onions to just two to three inches above the tops of the tallest onions. Young onion plants can get leggy and fall over very easily if they don't get enough light.

One More Seed Catalog

Territorial Seed Company 2016 Catalog CoverOur Territorial Seed Company catalog arrived in today's mail. A bit worn out by going through the four seed catalogs that arrived in the mail on Saturday, I just set this one aside for the time being.

We don't order a lot from Territorial, partially because of their shipping charges and also because their catalog arrives a bit late for us each year. They appear to have abandoned their previous flat rate shipping charge for a base handling fee of $7.95 for orders up to three pounds. Over that, they tack on another $7.35 up to five pounds, and more beyond that. Maybe they have to do that to ship to the midwest and east coast, as Territorial is located in Oregon, but it drives away most of our business. While Burpee is offering free shipping (with promo code B1FA) on all orders through February 29, 2016, and High Mowing Organic Seeds includes shipping charges in the price of their seed packets, Territorial's shipping charges seem to border on being exorbitant.

I should add here that we received the best garlic sets we've ever gotten from them a couple of years ago. They also still carry seed for one of our favorite storage onions, Milestone, although they for some reason list it as a sweet onion.

Annual Precipitation

Precipitation (Inches)1
 
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
Ave.2
Jan.
1.29
2.51
6.33
3.20
0.84
2.48
Feb.
1.03
2.05
2.24
1.10
2.28
2.41
March
4.22
1.66
2.28
1.52
3.79
3.44
April
4.03
8.88
8.75
3.80
11.51
3.61
May
3.56
3.67
10.35
1.19
3.38
4.35
June
10.35
6.51
12.18
0.15
5.53
4.13
July
3.32
3.69
6.40
1.89
3.25
4.42
August
1.75
4.03
3.12
1.99
0.32
3.82
Sept.
3.66
7.23 1.70 4.59 3.76 2.88
Oct.
1.82
6.88
5.67
3.31
2.31
2.76
Nov.
7.20
3.00 2.01 1.28 5.63 3.61
Dec.
4.95
3.92 4.14 1.48 3.62 3.03
Totals3 47.58 54.03 65.17 25.50 46.22 40.94

1Data averaged from Kinmerom2 and Kinmerom3 weather stations, or from our own rain gauge during non-freezing weather
2 Average precipitation for Indianapolis, IN
3 to date for 2015

Since I've already used the heading, "Rain," I'll just call this part annual precipitation.

It's still raining steadily outside as I write this section late on a Monday afternoon. We've already received and inch and a half of rain today, and it appears that we're headed for two or more.

The rain we've received this month has pushed us past our annual average for rainfall, but it is welcome after a year when we had several very dry months. January, February, May, July, August, most of September, and October were all dryer than normal or average. We ran our well dry only once this year, but that was because it was just Annie and I here, and we were both being very careful about water use.

With the predicted El Niño this winter, I'm worried about another potential drought next summer. A recent Weather Underground blog posting, Punishing Four-Season Storm Grips U.S. during the Holiday Week, Killing Over 40, noted similar storms in the winter of 1982-83 with its El Niño. That weather cycle helped produce the drought of 1983 which devastated our crops on the farm that year.

See the National Weather Service Drought Prediction Center for more information about what may be coming up next season.

Thanks again for the link, Don Smith!

Double Cascades in two closest potsPetunias

I brought in one of our bags of flower seed from the garage freezer this afternoon. With our soil heating mat now free, I can start some very early trailing petunias (in egg cartons, no less) for hanging baskets. Starting them this early ensures blooms sometime in April, but also makes for worn out plants by late July or early August. I'm planning to start some petunias for the hanging baskets this week and then start more when I seed our regular petunias that will eventually edge our raised garden beds. I'll also start some Vinca, as I often get them going late and don't have nice, full, blooming plants until late summer.

We usually use Supercascades in our hanging baskets, but tried some Double Cascade a couple of years ago and really liked them. The double plants clearly outshone and outlasted the singles in our hanging baskets last summer. Our seed came from Twilley Seed (pg. 97 in their 2016 catalog).

Interesting Sky

When I popped downstairs to refill my coffee cup, I noticed an interesting evening sky. I grabbed my backup camera and stepped out into the wind and rain to snap the shot. The color cast was actually more orange than red, but camera sensors interpret colors their own way, sometimes.

Evening Sky - December 28, 2015


Wednesday, December 30, 2015 - Free Seed Update

One would think giving away good garden seed would be easy. Sometimes it is, but overall, I've found sharing free seed with readers of Senior Gardening and seed libraries to be a bit disappointing, if not frustrating.

My initial offer of free Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed, and later, Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed only produced three requests. To assist fledgling seed libraries and also help preserve those varieties plus the Earlirouge tomato variety, I began writing seed libraries in Indiana and surrounding states, offering a donation of free seed packets to them. Most of my emails went unanswered, but we have sent seed to five seed libraries:

I attribute the lack of response from many seed libraries to our offerings being lesser known varieties bred for northern climes, but adapted to our growing conditions here in Indiana. It's also the off season for seed libraries, and librarians, like most workers, are busy folks. But the folks who did respond and receive seed seemed truly pleased with the offering and packaging of the seed.

One response widened my view of seed libraries a bit. An apparently well established seed library in Wisconsin found fifteen packets (retail value $60-75) of seed not to be enough to mess with. "Our policy at the La Cross Seed Library is that unless we can get a rather large quantity of a particular seed we would not add it to our catalog collection but would offer it in our 'give away basket' (no requirement to [save or] return seeds)."

I chose in that case to hang on to my seed. But I also appreciate that seed libraries would rather get 50 packets of something like the tried and true Provider green bean variety than a few packets of rather obscure seed varieties.

A Bright Spot in All of This

I received a request to purchase some volume of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed in June from an employee of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Since I was already giving away free JLP seed to Senior Gardening readers at that time, I donated about seven packets of seed via expedited shipping at my own expense. And then...I heard absolutely nothing from Baker Creek until I contacted them this month about the shipment.

It turned out that somebody goofed and didn't send an email of thanks for the seed. They'd grown out the variety, saved seed, and were somewhat impressed with it. Whether they use the variety in a breeding program or even commercially develop and offer it is up to them, as a gift is a gift.

But Seed Warehouse Manager Martin Walsh wrote that they'd added the Japanese Long Pickling variety to their seed bank at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds! Since that endangered variety apparently isn't in the Seed Savers Exchange seed bank, or any other seed bank that I know of, this aging seed saver is a happy camper.

Starting Petunias for Hanging Baskets

Seeding petunias and vinca in egg cartonsI started some Double Cascade and Supercascade petunias today. As usual at this time of year, I seeded them into egg cartons, so once they germinate, we can enjoy them on our kitchen windowsill. Since they require the same starting temperature (around 80° F) as petunias, I also seeded a few vincas.

I've told about starting Egg Carton Petunias before, so I won't repeat it all here. One change from our usual practice was to plug the thermostatically controlled soil heating mat into our timer controlled outlet block. I recently read that while petunias should have 80° F through the day, they also should be allowed to cool down to around 65° F at night. I'm hoping that by running the thermostat through the timer that controls our plant lights, we may achieve the two different temperatures. And I have no idea how that may affect the vincas.

Another challenge was that petunias require light to germinate while vincas require total darkness. I solved that one by wrapping the egg cartons of vinca in a black trash bag, but still in the same heated flat as the petunias.

Vinca in black plastic, petunias in egg cartons

The petunias should germinate in just a few days. The vinca can take two or three weeks to germinate, although I've had them come up pretty quickly in the past. In about a week, I'll have to check the vinca every other day or so to see if they're coming up.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Changing calendars2015 animated GIF of our Senior GardenAnother calendar and gardening year are over. I find that I'm still putting away tools and such, things I had down to do during October and November. But this time of year is a nice respite from our pleasant, but somewhat hectic pace of gardening through the spring, summer, and fall.

Instead of our usual, end-of-the-month animated GIF of our garden, I did one for the whole year this time.

2015 was a challenging year for Annie and I. She stayed healthy all year, but I had to have several heart procedures in January so that I could have a hip replaced in May. Annie took over all of the mowing and most of the gardening chores for months as I rehabbed. I'm almost back to full strength now, greatly appreciating the absence of pain I lived with the last few years. I'm also still doing my rehab exercises, as I hope to get back to where I was physically two or three years ago.

End and Beginning of Year Columns

I've put up a couple of end of year columns and one that may prove helpful to some for the new growing season.

Thanks!

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

A special thanks goes out to those of you who have used our Affiliated Advertiser links when making online purchases. Senior Gardening isn't a profit producing site, but the small stream of income it provides helps.

Happy New Year - 2016!

Happy New Year and best wishes from Annie and I for a healthy and successful 2016 gardening season.

Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC

November, 2015

January, 2016

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening

 
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