Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - February 27, 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Our Senior Garden - February 1, 2015Texas NachosFebruary is the last of the "slow" winter months for us at the Senior Garden. We have some flower starts and onions that will need care, along with our renewed collection of gloxinia plants. But we'll probably only be starting brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) and possibly some herbs this month. Crops such as tomatoes and peppers need to be started just six to eight weeks before transplanting, so they'll have to wait until next month.

If we catch a few warm days this month as we did last February, we'll make our first application of dormant oil spray to our apple trees. Getting a good coating of the organic product on the trees this month or next helps smother insects and insect eggs overwintering on the trees.

For today, I have all the ingredients laid in for a big batch of Texas Nachos that Annie and I will enjoy while watching the Super Bowl this evening.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Our Senior Garden - February 3, 2015Petunias in gardenWe're enjoying some sunny, but cold days so far this month. The sunshine is certainly a lot better than our usual, gray winter skies, but the cold is still...well, cold!

I was disappointed this morning to find that some of our baby petunias on the kitchen windowsill hadn't made it. I'd forgotten how quickly the small egg cells dry out in sunny weather. I lost about a quarter of the plants but fortunately had seeded a few extras. I also put a bit more fresh seed on the surface of the soil that might germinate. I'll have to remember to water the egg cartons every day, or at least, every sunny day.

When I sat down at the computer this afternoon, the screen background was of some glorious petunias that edged our main raised bed in 2013. That helped ease my petunia pain. I'll be seeding some regular petunias, as opposed to the trailing ones I've already started, a bit later this month.


During halftime of the big game on Sunday, Annie called me to the window to see some birds we'd not seen here before.

Field of plovers?

My best guess is that the birds are some kind of plover, but I'm really not sure. I didn't get a very good shot of them, as it was getting dark outside. I also made things more difficult by using a long lens that is nearly impossible to keep steady without a tripod.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Our Senior Garden - February 5, 2015We've joined the rest of the midwest and east with some snow on the ground. We didn't get much, but it came as sleet first with snow over it, making driving pretty hazardous. Even folks in northern Japan are experiencing heavy snow!

When I checked our Summer Showers trailing geranium seed today, I found that every seed had germinated. The bad news was that I should have checked the seed yesterday, as the sprouts were all tangled with each other on the coffee filter I'd germinated them on. Fortunately, I was able to gently separate the roots and move them to individual three inch pots.

I missed checking the geranium seed yesterday, as I was back into the hospital for another heart catheterization to place two more stents in nearly blocked arteries. The doctor's office had called late Tuesday afternoon, wanting to move the procedure up a day. The change was a little unsettling, as we weren't quite ready for it, but went ahead with it anyway. All went well, and I'm back home taking it very, very easy again...other than moving tiny, sprouted geraniums to pots.

Hopefully, I'm now done with medical issues for several months. All the heart stuff got started when I flunked a stress test that was supposed to clear me for hip surgery. The hip replacement can't go forward for another three to six months, depending on how quickly I heal from the last two weeks' fun and games.

Burpee Gardening

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Friday, February 6, 2015 - A Request

I received a request this week from a childhood friend who is now working with students with disabilities in Florida. The kids are starting a school garden and had a rough go of it with their first planting. The friend asked if I could spare some seed for the student project, and if any of my gardening friends could do the same.

I sent her several packets of our best saved seed varieties along with some still sealed commercial freebie packets that come my way via this web site. Of course, preparing the packets for saved seed we share via seed swaps, the Seed Savers Exchange, and the Grassroots Seed Network involved printing some classy seed envelopes.

Earlirouge tomato seed packet Crispino lettuce seed packet Moira tomato seed packet Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed packet

What I didn't have to send her were any unopened packets of green bean, sweet corn, squash, pea, or melon seed. All of our seed for those vegetables is older, saved seed that may or may not be viable (at germination rates of 80% or better). So I thought I'd ask if any online gardening friends might share a packet or two of seed for a good cause. If so, the friend's mailing address is:

Linda Stanton
9212 N.W. 25th Lane
Gainesville, FL 32606


Getting Ready

While digging through our saved seed in the garage freezer for Linda, I pulled our baggies of brassica and herb seed. I started our cauliflower transplants last year on February 6, but am not quite up to it today. But when you count ahead six to eight weeks, it's about time to get broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts transplants started.

Cook's Garden Gourmet Herbs

Saturday, February 7, 2015 - Starting Brassicas

Our Senior Garden - February 7, 2015Filling fourpacks with soil outsideWe're into a beautiful winter weekend with temperatures approaching 50° F each day. Taking advantage of the warm weather, I set a kettle of hot, sterilized potting mix on the back porch to cool a bit. Not wanting to make a mess in the kitchen, I filled a seed flat of fourpack inserts (32 cells) with sterile potting mix for our brassicas. Once filled, the tray came inside for planting.

Even though the potting mix was rather moist, I began my planting by giving each cell a bit of warm water. The total amount of water for the whole tray was less than a quart, though.

Our seeding of broccoli, cauliflower, etc., this year is a bit less than in other years. We usually seed lots of transplants, about two seed flats worth, and put the extras in our East Garden. Since we're letting the East Garden plot lie fallow this season, I only needed about eight plants each of broccoli and cauliflower. Even providing for a few extra cells in case some seed doesn't germinate, I had space in the flat for some cabbage, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts.

Cauliflower seed on soil
Tray of seeded brassicas

I use 4 1/2 inch plastic plant labels to map out the planting in the flat, first making my labels and placing them in the cells where the varieties are to go. Then I seed the cells, usually with just one seed in the center lightly covered with potting mix, but with an extra seed here and there at the edges of the cells.

I ended up seeding the following, with the number of cells seeded:

  • Broccoli - Premium Crop - 6
  • Broccoli - Goliath - 6
  • Broccoli - Green Comet - 2
  • Cauliflower - Amazing - 4
  • Cauliflower - Fremont - 4
  • Cauliflower - Violet of Sicily - 4
  • Cabbage - Alcosa -1
  • Cabbage - Tendersweet - 1
  • Cabbage - Super Red 80 -1
  • Kohlrabi - Grand Duke - 1
  • Brussels Sprouts - Churchill - 2

With the seeding accomplished, the tray got covered with a clear humidome and went on a shelf on our plant rack. While the seed doesn't need light to germinate, it does need lots of light as soon as it emerges, as brassicas can often get rather spindly early on. Keeping our plant lights close (about 2-3") to the tops of the plants helps, although I sometimes have to lift the plants and set them deeper into their cells.

We don't have to give our brassicas any bottom heat to germinate in our basement, as it runs about 65° F in the winter. Their soil, however, needs to be moist but not drenched. I used a slotted tray for the inserts with a solid tray underneath to catch any excess water.

The brassicas should emerge within a week. I've timed the seeding so I should have transplants about 6-8 weeks old when I set them into the garden in early April.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - Potting Wandering Jew Cuttings

Getting startedPotted Wandering Jew CuttingsThe Wandering Jew cuttings I took last month needed some attention today. The ones I put in a glass of water on our kitchen windowsill had some nice roots started, and the ones I put in potting soil appeared to have rooted well. So I sterilized a batch of standard potting mix (the kind that does have fertilizer pellets, perlite, etc. in it) and filled a couple of 10-inch hanging basket pots.

Although the plants in 3" pots had obviously rooted, I wet their stems just above soil level and sprinkled a little Rootone rooting compound on them. As I transplanted them, I put the plants considerably lower in the soil in the hanging basket pot than they'd been in the 3" pots, hoping for some more rooting along the upper stem. I was careful, however, to not let any of the plants' leaves touch the soil surface, which could induce rot.

The cuttings that rooted in a glass of water on our kitchen windowsill got dipped into the jar of Rootone and then inserted into the sterile potting mix. I was pretty liberal in my use of the Rootone, sprinkling it in the holes I made in the soil to insert the roots.

Having watered the soil in the hanging basket pots before I began transplanting, I made sure to tip the pots a bit and drain off excess water retained in the pots' internal water reservoir. While one needs moist soil for rooting, overly wet soil can cause the roots to rot. And instead of trying to wedge the large pots under lights on our now crowded plant rack, I placed them by a sunny window on our dining room table. I also took just a few more cuttings from our Wandering Jew plant, just in case some of the ones I potted today don't take.

Onions, gereaniums, and brassicas under plant lights

When I was downstairs putting away supplies, I grabbed a shot of our shelf of new onion, geranium, and brassica seedlings. I've recently mentioned the importance of getting ones plant lights close to such seedlings to produce sturdier plants. While we don't get our lights over our gloxinias anywhere this close, the image shows our lights just over the tops of the seedlings. The onions and brassicas especially need all the light they can get at this point.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Our Senior Garden - February 12, 2015
Violet Double Brocade Bloom
Plant rack
Egg carton petunias

We had an arctic clipper sweep in last night, pretty well ending the nice stretch of relatively mild weather we'd been enjoying. It may be a week or more before the mercury creeps above freezing again. While not horrible weather, I do now have to remember to take fresh water out to the dogs twice a day, as the water in their bowl freezes pretty rapidly.

While watering the plants under our plant lights today, I found a violet Double Brocade in bloom at the back of the top shelf, almost totally hidden from sight. The violet Double Brocades seem to usually be the last to bloom for us. And while the one shown at left suffered a bit from being crowded before I moved it to the front of the rack, I expect several more such lovely blooms from our current planting of the variety.

Our egg carton petunias on our kitchen windowsill are doing well now that I remember to water them daily. I wiped out almost half of our Supercascades by letting them dry out, but have the empty cells reseeded. Our Double Cascades shown at right are thriving.

Saving the best until last, I swapped out our previous kitchen gloxinias for a pink Double Brocade over the weekend. Part of the fun of growing gloxinias from seed is seeing the variety of blooms one gets from a packet of mixed seed.

Pink Double Brocade Gloxinia

Most of our Double Brocades are putting up just one or two blooms at a time, as this is their first blooming cycle. As they get older and form stronger corms, they'll put out more blooms at once. And I did notice one of our standard gloxinias had come back into bloom today. Even in their first year, Empress and Cranberry Tiger gloxinias can often put up a half dozen blooms at once.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, February 13, 2014 - Another Four Dog Night

Mac, Jackson, and Petra (front to back)Daisy DukeIt's cold here tonight, but certainly not as cold as it is in a lot of the rest of the country. Blessed with a Friday evening where I'm feeling really good, but with no one else home and no real gardening stuff to write about, I'm just winging it a bit.

Last night was another four dog night, as all of our precious canines were inside and sound asleep when I arose this morning. They were spread out a bit, preventing one photo of all four at once. Mac, Jackson, and Petra were in the living room. Petra had claimed the hassock, the one piece of furniture they're allowed to get up on. Daisy, who also gets the hassock at times, had the dining room area rug all to herself.

And of course, once they awoke and all got together, there was no way to get a focused picture, as they all required a bit of petting and there was lots of motion and tail wagging.

The Mail

SS NurseryI'd hoped our mail today would have our copy of the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook of seed varieties offered by SSE members (as opposed to the SSE Store, which is seed from the Exchange). Alas, even though Seed Savers announced yearbooks were being mailed out this week, our mailbox only contained a nursery catalog whose cover practically screamed, "Beware!"

Poor recent ratingsI wrote last month about using Dave's Garden Watchdog to screen out reputable vendors from the chaff, but thought it worth the time to mention the Watchdog again here. The Watchdog record of recent reviews for the company that sent the catalog is shown at right. Their full feedback history contains 22 positive ratings, 17 neutrals, and 172 negatives. They also apparently compiled a similarly bad rating of 48 positives, 27 neutrals, and 252 negatives while operating under a different company name until 2010.

So before ordering from any new vendor, I'd suggest checking the company's rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog, as many of the negatives from the outfit shown above noted that they'd wished they'd checked before ordering. Accessing the Watchdog ratings is free, as is membership (which allows posting to the site)., Inc.

Saturday, February 14, 2014 - Valentine's Day

2015 Seed Savers Exchange YearbookAnother clipper system swept in this morning with sustained winds over 30 MPH and even stronger gusts. A just plain nasty day to be outside was considerably improved with the arrival of our copy of the 2015 Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook. The annual yearbook contains listings for all the open pollinated seed grown, saved, and offered for sale by SSE members. The print yearbook mirrors the relatively new online exchange of the SSE.

Yearbook page 495One of the goals of most seed savers is to see others helping preserve the varieties of seed they save. I was gratified this year to see several other listings for the Moira tomato variety we've worked to preserve for years. If something should happen to me (i.e., my recent heart problems), it would be sad if that caused a good variety disappear because no one else had any saved seed for it. Fortunately, Upper Canada Seeds now carries both the Moira and Quinte tomato varieties.

On the other hand, we're still on our own in saving the Earlirouge tomato variety and the Japanese Long Pickling cucumber variety. Again, we are backed up a bit, as I think the Seed Savers Exchange has Earlirouge seed in their seed bank, and Reimer Seeds offers a strain of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. But I'd feel a whole lot better if I saw some fellow seed savers picking up the varieties. If you're interested in growing, saving, and offering either the Earlirouge tomato or the Japanese Long Pickling cucumber variety (even if you're not a current SSE member), , and I'll try to get some seed to you.

While we saved a lot of different kinds of seed last summer, our listings in the Seed Savers Exchange yearbook are limited to the the same seven varieties we offered the previous year. A lot of the other seed we saved may have crossed with nearby plants and needs to be grown out to make sure it is true to variety. A big change in the SSE yearbook this year is that they now carry landrace, or crossed, varieties as folks work to improve their vegetable strains by allowing them to cross-pollinate with compatible varieties.

Below is what we are offering (edited and reposted from a November, 2014 posting). Clicking on the images below will open a larger version of the image in a new window or tab. Clicking on the variety name will take you to the variety listing on the Seed Savers Exchange. And as always, hovering your mouse over an image should reveal its labeling.

Moira tomatoes Quinte tomatoes Earlirouge plant and tomatoes
Moira Quinte Earlirouge

Our tomato offerings were all developed by Jack Metcalf at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm, in Trenton, Ontario. Moira has been our favorite canning and slicing tomato variety for years. Quintes are another of our old favorites, although our saved seed went bad in frozen storage years ago. A refresh via the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) got us going with them again. Our Earlirouge seed came from our own archival seed storage after I'd searched high and low for seed on the web. All three related varieties are semi-determinates, producing medium sized tomatoes with great flavor and deep red interior coloring.

We also are offering three pepper varieties. I'd hoped to offer four, but things just didn't work out with our Paprika Supreme peppers. We've offered the Earliest Red Sweet variety since we got a new seed start from fellow SSE member, Paul Hagan, after our saved seed went bad in frozen storage. We're again offering saved seed from our Alma and Feher Ozon paprika pepper plants. Unlike most of our other offerings, both of the latter varieties are readily available from several commercial seed houses.

Earlliest Red Sweet peppers Alma pepper plant Feher Ozon Japanese Long Pickling cucumber
Earliest Red Sweet Alma Paprika Pepper Feher Ozon Paprika Pepper

Japanese Long Pickling

A final offering is an improved version of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumber. Our strain of the excellent bread and butter pickle and slicing cucumber came from one lone seed that germinated from a long frozen packet of 1994 seed. The strain began showing the effects of inbreeding depression several years ago, but after a bit of hunting, I was able to find some JLP seed not directly related to ours. Over the last two years, I've bred it into our strain, restoring its vigor and disease resistance.

One I Just Missed

Crispino lettuce bloomingI let a Crispino head lettuce plant go to seed last summer in an area of our raised bed that I didn't need to immediately replant after clearing the rest of the lettuce. It matured good seed, as we used it to start some fall, Crispino lettuce plants. When I checked today, I was pleased to see that the Seed Savers Exchange offers the variety from their Heritage Farm Collection, so my omission wasn't so bad. Crispino lettuce is also still sold by Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Earliroouge tomatoesSomething I didn't have available when I made my SSE listings for this year was a good product shot of Earlirouge tomatoes. I used an old shot of them still on the vine for the listing, which actually shows the size they can achieve on good ground. I still don't have the product shot I want, as the photo at right is a bit too wide for such a purpose, But it gives you an idea of what Earlirouge tomatoes look like. Our Earlirouges in 2014 were grown on considerably worse soil than in 2013, and the size of the tomatoes was negatively affected.

Grassroots Seed Network

I've not mentioned the new Grassroots Seed Network up to now in this discussion, even though we currently offer the same seed varieties through that organization. My membership in GSN will be up for renewal next month, and I still haven't decided whether to renew or not. In the course of an election to establish a board of directors, several members and even one member of the initial steering committee began sending some really nasty emails disparaging members of the steering committee. GSN lost some steering committee members and some other members due to the unprofessional exchanges that occurred. At this point, I'm still waiting to see if the organization may work through their troubles.

Samaritan's Purse - Helping In Jesus' Name

Sunday, February 15, 2015 - Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower

Our Senior Garden - February 15, 2015Brassicas seeded just a week agoWith our spring brassicas seeded just a week ago germinated and looking really good, I decided it was time to finish and publish a story I've been working on for a month. Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower is a how-to feature story for those unfamiliar with growing brassicas.

While the title may sound a bit grandiose, broccoli was probably the first garden crop I "mastered" growing. And of course, "mastered" is a relative term, as there are always successes to celebrate and failures to learn from in the garden. But this story tells step-by-step how we produce great broccoli and cauliflower, spring and fall, year after year. What works for us may (or may not!) work for you.

Broccoli and Cauliflower, Inc.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our Senior Garden - February 21, 2015Weather Underground 10-day ForecastThere's not been much to write here this week other than to talk about snow and sub-zero temperatures. Things have finally warmed up for a day or so, but we also awoke to find several inches of new snow that fell overnight. Our forecast calls for another round of sub-zero nights with more snow this time next week.

With the current weather, it seems hard to believe that in a month we'll be looking for a warm day to seed our early peas. A little after that, we'll begin moving transplants out from under our plant lights to our cold frame.

Seed Catalogs

Pinetree Garden SeedsPark SeedWe received two seed catalogs this week that deserve a mention. Pinetree Garden Seeds offers a good selection of small packets of garden seeds at good prices with fair shipping rates. There are also lots of garden supplies and some unusual items, such as soapmaking supplies, that add a bit of interest to the catalog. Feedback on Dave's Garden Watchdog is mostly positive. I never found an index for the catalog, something any seed catalog really needs. I also just happened to catch a discrepancy between their print catalog and web site. The catalog listing for Galaxy alfalfa states, "If alfalfa hasn't been grown on your soil in the past, an inoculant is required and this seed is pre-treated with inoculant." The online listing says, " inoculant is recommended and this seed is not treated with inoculant."

Park Seed is an old name that has had a tough go of it after the Park family sold the business in 2005. They have a very attractive catalog, but have been hammered of late for poor seed quality on Dave's Garden Watchdog. I wouldn't mention them here, but a reader has written about having good experiences with Park. And I'm sorta rooting for them to once again become a dependable seed house.

Raised Beds

Saturday, February 28, 2015 - Monthly Wrap-up

February, 2015, animated GIFAnother view out our sunroom windowFebruary turned out to be a very cold and snowy month here. The views out our windows have been pretty, but getting out into the weather has been pretty chilly. The snow cover we've had the last half of the month probably has served as pretty good protection against the sub-zero weather for the few perennials we have.

The cold weather probably was good for me, as I've been on "reduced duty" much of the month while recovering from three heart catheterizations in less than thirty days. I'm finally off any lifting restrictions, but I can still feel the stents they put in my heart to open up nearly blocked arteries. I seem to be gaining strength daily, although the physician's assistant did make a point of reminding me of my age at my last checkup, suggesting I not try to be a gardening superman any time soon.

Off to a Good Start

Egg carton petuniasWandering Jew, petunias, and gloxinias in kitchen windowWe're off to a very good start with our transplants for the coming gardening season. Our petunias for hanging baskets started in mid-January in recycled egg cartons are doing quite well. I forgot how often one has to water the tiny egg cells (daily) and lost six plants early on. Since then, the plants have done quite well, despite being on a rather cold windowsill.

In another week or two, the petunias will outgrow their egg carton cells. I'll move them to fourpacks and put them under our plant lights in the basement. I'll also be starting some regular petunias for the garden at that time, probably in egg cartons as well.

Under our Plant Lights

Flat of onion transplantsThe shelf of garden transplants we have growing under our plant lights are all doing marvelously. Our flat of onions is approaching the point where they'll need their first haircut to keep them from getting spindly and toppling over. Trimming the plants to 2-3" in height makes for much sturdier plants.

I did have to go back and reseed a couple of spots in the onion flat. I wasn't terribly disappointed having to do so, as I used all old seed this year that had been stored in our freezer. About one year is the maximum for storing onion seed.

Our flat of brassicas have now put on their first true leaves. Having been very careful about keeping our plant lights just above the tops of the plants, they haven't gotten leggy this year. I often mess up on that one and end up having to repot the broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kohlrabi deeper into their fourpack cells to correct for the weak stems. Doing so makes for sturdy transplants, but it's a step I'm glad to skip this year.

Healthy flat of brassicas

Unlike our onions, I didn't have to do any reseeding for our brassicas. Indeed, just the opposite, I had to thin many of the cells to one plant where I'd dropped an extra seed or two. We again used old brassica seed for this planting. Brassica seed can stay viable for years in frozen storage.

Maverick and Orbit geraniumsTrailing (Ivy leaf) geraniumsOur geraniums, both regular and trailing, are doing well, also. We have more than enough Maverick Reds and Orbit mixed to use at the corners of our raised garden beds. They were seeded on January 19.

The packet of eleven Summer Showersicon trailing geranium seeds I planted January 29 has produced seven good plants, with a couple more weak starts than may or may not make it. That should give us at least two hanging baskets of the ivy leaf geraniums for our back porch.

Cuttings Taking Root

New Wandering Jew PlantsPlant rack and lightsThe Wandering Jew cuttings I took in January and potted earlier this month didn't seem to be doing much...until I looked closely at them yesterday morning. They've not only taken root in their ten inch hanging basket pots, but have begun to grow in height and put on some new leaves. While Wandering Jew cuttings root easily, I usually lose one or two cuttings out of every eight to ten I transplant. We got lucky this year, although I did catch one of our cats trying to eat the leaves! The plants seem quite happy growing on our dining room table in front of our bay windows.

Free Seed Offer

Several readers took me up on my Valentine's Day offer of free Japanese Long Pickling cucumber and Earlirouge tomato seed. One wrote that he'd had some pickles made with JLPs several years ago and really liked them, so he was happy to find seed for them.

The offer for free seed still stands, although I do ask that folks requesting seed grow it out, save some seed, and offer it to others through whatever venue they may prefer (seed swaps, school gardens, Seed Savers Exchange, Grassroots Seed Network, etc.).


I'll wind up the month of February with a bit of welcome color. Our Double Brocade gloxinias seeded last September are now coming into full bloom. As a bit of a bonus, some of our Empress and Cranberry Tiger gloxinias are also entering a second round of blooming. All the lovely blooms under our plant lights makes it a little difficult to decide which one or two to bring up to enjoy in our kitchen window. That's a nice problem to have.

Gloxinias in bloom

Light House Mission

January, 2015

March, 2015

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening