Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - October 16, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Our Senior Garden - October 1, 2015There's still lots going on in our Senior Garden during the month of October. We look forward to picking lots of kale for Portuguese Kale Soup and getting our garlic planted for next season well before the end of the month. I planted our garlic last year on October 28, and we had the best crop of garlic we've ever grown. Of course, we were using almost all newly purchased garlic sets that seemed to have a lot more plant vigor than our previously saved garlic. Weather conditions also could have had a lot to do with the excellent crop. At any rate, I'll still try to get our garlic planted around mid-month, if possible.

While many home gardens are done for the year by October, we may be harvesting a few tomatoes and bell peppers right up to the first frost. We're hoping for good second and third pickings of green beans yet, but will gladly settle for just one more good picking. Our fall carrots still remain a question mark at this point. With a recent rain, we might get baby carrots or even a normal harvest from them. But we could also get zip!

Spinach and fall lettuce may run past some mild frosts with frost protection (probably floating row covers). We should also get at least some Sugar Snap peas and possibly a couple of heads of cauliflower. Our frost hardy kale and broccoli could continue producing, within reason, as long as we're willing to leave them in the ground.

And that brings us to one of the tough choices with fall gardens. How long do you let hardy crops go, balanced against the need to prepare ones soil for the following gardening season? Once we get a good batch of kale soup canned, I'll probably take out our fall brassicas so that I can till our main raised bed. We already have lots of broccoli in the freezer, although fresh fall broccoli and cauliflower are certainly a treat. We had fresh broccoli with cheese sauce with our supper yesterday.

Once the crops are cleared from our main raised garden bed, other than the fall lettuce, I'll do pH soil testing, lime where necessary, and rototill the bed. If there are low spots in the bed and my budget allows, I'll add peat moss to raise the soil level a bit and improve the soil structure. (Note that our source of bulk compost went out of business this year. Good compost would normally be my first choice as a soil amendment.)

Since I've seen a few Japanese Beetle larva lately in the soil, we'll sprinkle Milky Spore over the garden bed once it's tilled to discourage the pests and the moles that go after them. And depending on the volume of grass clippings we're able to rake (sweep), I hope to mulch the main raised bed with grass clippings. The clippings break down a little to enhance the soil, but mostly help prevent wind erosion of the soil over the winter.

It's very rare to have an October without frost. First frosts are usually mild events that many plants can survive. But we could also see a killing frost that pretty well takes everything. In most years, I fight to garden as long as possible into the fall. This year, I'm a bit worn out with the combined efforts of recovering from hip replacement surgery and gardening. Don't be surprised if I pull everything a bit early, till and mulch our garden beds, and call it a season.


Temperatures didn't exactly plummet overnight, they just haven't increased much this morning. Apparently, things won't warm up much for several more days. Our predicted high for today is just 70° F. Fortunately, overnight lows are staying in the upper 40s and low 50s, well above the first frost range.

Sleepy Upgrade

El Capitan on Macbook ProI stayed up late last night writing the first part of this posting while watching a glacially slow progress bar that showed my download of Apple's free, new operating system upgrade. I gave up well after midnight, knowing the El Capitan (Mac OS X 10.11) upgrade should be ready to install by morning.

I was awakened very early this morning either by my wife bustling around, or possibly by the cheap bottom shelf scotch I'd foolishly substituted for a prescription painkiller last night. Either way, after a shot of Alka-Seltzericon, installation of the upgrade on my "new" Macbook Pro went well. Aftercare so far has only required free updates of Java and Carbon Copy Cloner.

The upgrade went onto the Macbook Pro, as it is still my secondary computer, even though it's my newest. I do most of my writing on a highly upgraded, 2010 Mac Mini in my office that still runs the Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8) operating system. After several less than wonderful tries at getting a good install of Apple's last upgrade, Yosemite, on the Mini's external drive, I've become less trusting of their upgrades once again.

The MacBook Pro does get a lot more use than its predecessor that died unceremoniously last May in an iced tea bath. In setting up the newer laptop, I popped for what to me is a huge, 2TB laptop hard drive. The larger drive allows me to do a lot more with the computer, including downloading images from my cameras before I upload them on our home network to another, to me, massive 4TB external hard drive attached to the Mac Mini. While I occasionally write entire postings on the laptop, it more often is used for editing and correcting mistakes I find, usually well after I've uploaded the update to this site.


Writing about gardening and computer upgrades sorta pales in the light of a senseless shooting incident on one coast with the opposite coast preparing for almost certain flooding and a possible hurricane. Here nearer the center of the nation, one can only pray for comfort for victims and families in Oregon and for those threatened along the east coast.

Web buddy Don Smith sent me a link for an excellent weather blog, Hal's Hurricane Storm Surge Blog, that has very readable information about upcoming storms. Don lives in the possible path of Hurricane Joaquin.

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Our Senior Garden - October 3, 2015Red pea blossomIf I had any false illusions about a late fall this year, our weather today has put them out of my mind. It's cloudy, relatively cold (50° F), and wet, the very definition of blustery. It's the kind of weather that makes a warm weather gardener's heart sink. With a chest cold coming on, I've determined to stay healthy and inside today. I've got a good book set aside to read and a full pot of coffee.

When out in our garden yesterday, I did a quick double take when I looked at our Sugar Snap pea vines. In the center and at the very top of the tallest vines were three red blossoms. Sugar Snaps have white blossoms...normally.

The simplest explanation for the out-of-place blooms is that a stray seed from another pea variety made its way into our packet of pea seed. But it also could be from the Sugar Snap's open pollinated heritage, a throwback to one of its ancestors. Or, the red bloom could be a rare sport, a true mutation of the variety, although one usually associates the term, "sport," with apple mutations.

Sweet peas for flowersicon often have lovely, colored blooms, but the table pea varieties we grow all bloom white. From Karen's Garden Delights, I was able to identify that the blooms may be related to Sugar Snaps, as she has a lovely photo of some red Dwarf Gray Sugar pea blossoms, a snow pea variety. Since these blooms were five feet up on the vines, they're definitely not dwarfs.

Red pea blossoms amongst white Sugar Snap blooms

Red Pea Blossoms on my DesktopI tagged the vines with the red blooms so that I can identify them later if they put on pea pods. I also added a cropped version of the shot above to our Cutting Room Floor page. It's where photos bumped from our main Desktop Photos page go and where images like this one wait until I have time to edit the main page. I liked the shot enough to add it to our Best Garden Photos of 2015 page, which is still under development and my own rotation of desktop photos on my main computer. The optimized images shown here don't do the full resolution image justice.

Some nasty looking JLP cucumbers ready for seed harvesting
Harvesting seed from cucumbers

I've had the last three Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers from our vines sitting on the back porch for a couple of weeks. They've been curing, as I've read that letting them sit a bit after picing increases germination rates for saved seed. But with two of the three showing signs of rot on the ends, it was time today to harvest seed.

I may have gotten viable seed from all three of the cucumbers, although some of it was rather small. One of the cucumbers was sorta special, as I'd hand pollinated its bloom to ensure it had genes from a couple of strains of the JLP variety that we're currently growing.

A Personal and Very Political Statement

I found it difficult today to sit down at a keyboard and write about gardening. The senseless slaughter of people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, on Thursday still weighs heavily on me. I'm still praying for the survivors and families of the victims.

While I rarely cross post between my web sites, I'm going to share the final posting that appears on my now defunct Educators' News site. I made the posting about four months after the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, saying, "We seem to be engulfed in repeated acts of senseless violence in our country."

Since that time, we've seen repeated mass shootings and acts of violence against innocents in our nation. While blame can be laid many places, when I wrote the EdNews posting, forty-six United States senators had just voted down a simple measure that might improve the situation without really infringing on gun owners' rights. The majority party now in Congress opposes universal background checks on gun buyers, not to mention the ban of the sale of assault rifles and weapons with huge ammunition magazines not needed for hunting.

Educators' News

...dedicated to...hmmm, we're still figuring that one out...


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I first saw this posting today on Mrs. Chili's non-education blog, The Blue Door. It appears to have originated on the Occupy Democrats Facebook page.

We seem to be engulfed in repeated acts of senseless violence in our country. There's nothing I can do about the horror in Boston yesterday, and I think many feel the impotent rage I feel at events such as the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown. But I can repost this image and the names of the cowardly, bought and paid for senators who opposed universal background checks for gun buyers today.

Shameless Senators

Alexander (R-TN) Enzi (R-WY) Murkowski (R-AK)
Ayotte (R-NH) Fischer (R-NE) Paul (R-KY)
Barrasso (R-WY) Flake (R-AZ) Portman (R-OH)
Baucus (D-MT) Graham (R-SC) Pryor (D-AR)
Begich (D-AK) Grassley (R-IA) Reid (D-NV) - changed vote from yes to no for procedural reasons only so he can file motion to reconsider
Blunt (R-MO) Hatch (R-UT)
Boozman (R-AR) Heitkamp (D-ND)
Burr (R-NC) Heller (R-NV) Risch (R-ID)
Chambliss (R-GA) Hoeven (R-ND) Roberts (R-KS)
Coats (R-IN) Inhofe (R-OK) Rubio (R-FL)
Coburn (R-OK) Isakson (R-GA) Scott (R-SC)
Cochran (R-MS) Johanns (R-NE) Sessions (R-AL)
Corker (R-TN) Johnson (R-WI) Shelby (R-AL)
Cornyn (R-TX) Lee (R-UT) Thune (R-SD)
Crapo (R-ID) McConnell (R-KY) Vitter (R-LA)
Cruz (R-TX) Moran (R-KS) Wicker (R-MS)

I wrote our Senator Coats about this issue some months ago. He declined to even respond.



Universal background checks and limits on over-the-top weaponry probably aren't the only or total answers to our nation's problem with gun violence. But right now, our leaders aren't even seriously considering addressing the issue.

I really don't think everyone walking around with a gun on their hip or in their purse is the answer, and I write that as a gun owner. But I don't think an answer to this problem will emerge or improvement begin until our leaders begin to consider the issue.

Hopefully, I'm done venting here. I'm certainly not done asking the Lord for answers.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Our Senior Garden - October 5, 2015Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgWe've returned to some really nice weather again with only more of the same in our extended forecast. High temperatures should range from 69-82° F, with overnight lows well above any chance of frost.

I spent a good bit of today being upset with myself for not getting much of anything done. There was grass to mow and green beans to be picked. I finally realized when I carried a heavy basket of laundry upstairs that my apparent laziness was due to a very sore back...probably from two sessions of picking green beans yesterday. I'm definitely struggling to get the beans picked, but may try again this evening around sundown.

The nice bunch of Earliest Red Sweet peppers we picked on September 29 produced a quart of pepper strips for our freezer. Possibly even better, the seed I saved from the three best peppers tested at 100% germination. I only tested ten seeds, but the sample tells me we should be above 90% germination with any of the seed we use or share from the batch.

Something Really Nice

While trying all day to avoid any real work, I did have to drive into town to mail a few bills I didn't get in our rural route box before the mailman came and went. While in town, I stopped by our local Walmart to pick up a few things. The store is being remodeled, and things are a mess. Fortunately, Walmart brought in lots of extra people to move stuff around, help customers find things, and get checked out promptly.

When I checked out, I went through a line where a tall, ruggedly built young man was working. He looked a little familiar to me, and when I looked at his nametag, I realized that he had been one of my favorite students years ago when teaching special education. Kudos to Walmart for hiring folks with mild disabilities!

A Quick Reminder

Burpee Fall in Love with Gardening SweepstakesGarden Tower 2 50-Plant Composting Container GardenBurpee's Fall in Love with Gardening Sweepstakesicon runs through October 26, 2015. Since Burpee is one of our affiliate advertisers, I'm not eligible to enter the contest. But they have some really cool prizes for the winners, including one grand prize of a Garden Tower 2. Other prizes include five Leaf Eater Mulcher/Shreddersicon and ten $50 Burpee Gift Cardsicon.

Well before The Garden Tower Project became a Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertiser, I dropped several heavy hints on the boys from Bloomington (Indiana) that I'd love to test and review a freebie Garden Tower. While Colin, Tom, and Joel all seem to be pretty sharp cookies, they never picked up on my hints. That may have been a good thing for Senior Gardening. With my hip replacement in May, the only Senior Garden that might have existed here this year might have been a garden tower!

Wednesday - October 7, 2015 - National Kale Day

Our Senior Garden - October 7, 2015Crockett's Victory GardenI'm celebrating National Kale Day today by making Portuguese Kale Soup. When we make the soup is actually determined by when our kale is ready for a heavy picking. In years when we grow spring seeded kale, that means soup making in July or August. But for the last few years, we've grown our kale in the fall, which allows us to use lots more fresh ingredients from the garden in the soup.

Our recipe for the delicious soup came from a single paragraph in Crockett's Victory Garden (1977):

Kale is an all but unknown vegetable these days, so let me do my part to publicize its cause by passing along the bare outlines of a delicious recipe for Portuguese kale soup. There are dozens of variations of this recipe, but my favorite includes kale (or collards), garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage, chopped onions and garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and freshly cooked kidney beans in a chicken stock. Short of making the soup for you myself, I can do no more.

We've personalized the recipe just a bit, but not much. Our version of the soup includes lots of bits of chicken, as we freeze chicken and broth each time we buy skin on, bone in chicken breasts, filleting and freezing the breast meat and boiling and boning the rest. We also add more vegetables than Crockett suggests, depending on what we have available at the time. Carrots, peas, and green beans are often included.

Today's batch of kale started with three containers of frozen chicken broth, one of which had lots of bits of chicken breast in it. Eight seemed to be my magic number today, as I added about eight each of tomatoes from the garden, onions, and garlic cloves. Two of the garlics were elephant garlic.

Our fourteen foot row of kale yielded two, five-gallon buckets of fresh kale for the soup. While most of the kale was the Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch) variety, we also grew a little each of Tuscan Baby Leaf, Lacinato, and Red Ursa. The last three had lots of large leaves, while the longer season Vates produced lots of smaller leaves. Left unpicked, the Vates can produce huge leaves, but the smaller ones are more tender for cooking.

The picking only took about fifteen minutes, but after soaking the kale for a half hour (to prevent grittiness), stemming it took a couple of hours. I alternated between stemming and adding kale to the pot with adding the smoked sausage and other vegetables needed. Since our kale is growing next to our row of Sugar Snap peas, a few of them went into the pot. After thoroughly rinsing the last of our canned kidney beans from last year, they too went into the pot.

Kale soaking Feeding kale to the pot Full pot of finished kale soup

After adding fresh carrots and green beans, some store bought potatoes completed the soup. The potatoes always go in last, as they tend to get mushy if added too soon. As usual, the finished batch of soup filled our twelve quart kettle.

At this writing (at about suppertime), I'm almost through canning a load of seven quarts of the soup. Canning anything with meat pushes canning times to 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts! I'll can some pints next which my wife likes to take to work with her. Any left over at that point gets eaten fresh and/or frozen.

BTW: The Kale Day folks also have an interesting Facebook page. And yes, while making the soup, I was wearing one of the Eat More Kale shirts Annie got me for Christmas last year.

Green Beans

I canned green beans yesterday. Rather than bending over or picking while on my knees I just pulled clumps of green bean plants and then picked the mature beans off the plants while sitting on the edge of our raised bed. I took out our first row of beans only, as our second row is still maturing lots of beans and still has many blooms on the plants. For our first row of green beans planted in thirds to the Contender, Provider, and Stringless Green Pod varieties, this was its third picking.

I ended up with about four gallons of picked beans yesterday. With three gallons I'd picked and saved previous days, I knew I would have at least one full canner load. I decided to can the beans in pint jars rather than quarts, as with just Annie and I home most of the time, a pint is about all we need for a meal. I ended up running two full loads of regular pint jars of green beans, yielding eighteen pints. Of course, one jar didn't seal, but that gave me a vegetable for tonight.

We pressure can our green beans for the near universally recommended 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts at 10 PSI (for our altitude). We season the beans with a bit of onion and a bit of canning salt. I'd love to can them with bacon or ham, but adding meat to them would increase canning times incredibly, as mentioned above. As it is, that twenty minutes for pints is actually ten minutes venting live steam from the canner, plus the five minutes or so it takes for the canner to reach pressure once the pressure cap is on, the recommended twenty minutes at 10 PSI, and then about another twenty minutes for the canner to cool and depressurize. So one canner load of green beans actually takes almost an hour total to do.

See LSU: Canning Green Beans or the Ball Blue Book for more information on canning green beans.

Saturday, October 10, 2015 - Seed Saving and Sharing

We have saved seed from our crops for many years for our own future use and to share with others. We planned to save seed this year from just four vegetable varieties. Since our garden was limited to just our raised beds in our back yard, there wasn't room to provide proper separation between more crops to ensure proper isolation and purity of seed. While we were successful saving seed from three of the four target crops, some hungry deer ate every emerging ear on a new sweet corn variety from which we had planned to save seed.

Fortunately, we saved lots of seed from our Earliest Red Sweet peppers, Earlirouge tomatoes, and Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. We'll have plenty of seed from these three varieties to start our own transplants next year, with enough left over to share with others via the Seed Savers Exchange.

With our seed saving completed for the season, I updated our listings on the Exchange yesterday to reflect our current offerings. At some point in time, Seed Savers raised the base price for members' seed offerings to at least $4 per seed packet. I took the time today to reduce our price to $3 (postpaid), as we really don't intend for our seed sharing to be a money making proposition. A special discount for "listed members," those who also offer seed via SSE, cuts the price for them to $2 per packet, just enough to cover postage and envelopes. In addition, I'd like to encourage other gardeners to join me and other SSE members in helping preserve some rare and sometimes endangered vegetable varieties.

Below are links for the three varieties we saved seed from this year. Clicking on the images 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.

Earliest Red Sweet Pepper Plant Earlirouge Tomatoes Japanese Long Pickling cucumber
Earliest Red Sweet Earlirouge Japanese Long Pickling

Besides the price reduction and adding some new images to our listings, I also added information to each of our listings telling when the seed was produced. Obviously for the three varieties above, that was "Seed produced in 2015." But I also kept our listings active for several varieties we saved seed from in 2013 and 2014. The seed is good, as it's been in frozen storage since it was collected, but it's only fair to let folks know that they are receiving seed that is over a year old. I wish all seed houses would so inform their customers when selling old seed.

Moira tomatoes Quinte tomatoes Alma pepper plant Feher Ozon
Moira Quinte Alma
Paprika Pepper

Feher Ozon
Paprika Pepper

Earliest Red Sweet peppersWhen researching our listings yesterday, it was good to see that there were other sources offering seed for all but one of the varieties we're offering. The Earliest Red Sweet pepper is the only one where we're the sole source right now. That's a little scary, as we lost our start of ERS seed a number of years ago, but were able to get a new start from a fellow SSE member...who no longer offers the variety. Growing the variety on good soil this year for the first time in years produced lots of excellent, rather small red peppers for table use, freezing, and seed saving.

We are the only source for Earlirouge tomatoes via SSE, although the organization does have that variety preserved in their seed bank. While we're the only ones offering Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed this year via SSE (to date), Reimer Seeds sells a strain of the variety very close to ours. When our strain began to show inbreeding depression, we crossed in some of the Reimer strain to restore the vitality of our strain. A major seed house also requested seed from us to cross into their long pickling cucumbers this year. And we shared a lot of free seed with Senior Gardening readers earlier this year with the request that they share seed if everything went well with growing the variety. So the JLP line of cukes should be well preserved for several years to come.

I was thrilled to see six listings for the Moira tomato variety on the Exchange this year. When we began offering the variety, we were the only ones helping preserve Moira and some other varieties developed by Jack Metcalf at the Agriculture Canada Smithfield Experimental Farm, in Trenton, Ontario, during the 1970s and 80s. While there are only two of us offering Metcalf's Quinte (Easy Peel) tomato on SSE, the variety is also available from the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). That's where we renewed our start of the seed when we lost our old seed in frozen storage a number of years ago. The Alma and Feher Ozon paprika pepper varieties are available from lots of SSE members and also from quite a few commercial seed houses.

Our seed offerings are also cross posted to the Grassroots Seed Network. It's a new seed saving group that opened in March, 2014.

For those just getting started with seed saving, the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook has a nice page, Why Save Seeds, and offers basic seed saving information for a lot of vegetables. For just three bucks (plus shipping), Growing Garden Seeds: A Manual for Gardeners and Small Farmers by Johnny's Selected Seeds founder, Rob Johnston, Jr., is an excellent reference to have on ones shelf. The Seed Savers Exchange has a good search engine on their Resources page that points to planting and seed saving information for both vegetables and flowers.

If you're into growing heirloom vegetables, or are just looking for a hard-to-find open pollinated variety, the Seed Savers annual yearbook contains thousands of listings from members who preserve some of their hard-to-find favorites. The yearbook is now available online, although you must be a member of SSE to order through it.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015 - Nice Weather Continues

Two combines picking the field adjacent to our Senior GardenOur Senior Garden - October 11, 2015We continue to have fair weather here in southwest, central Indiana. It's quite dry, which helps farmers hustling to complete their harvest. It took a day and a half with two combines, but the guys got the ninety acre field adjacent to our garden finished yesterday. As I write this evening, they're chisel plowing the field. The warm temperatures are also great for gardening and getting outdoor chores done. And we still don't have any frost in our extended weather forecast!

I filled a five gallon bucket yesterday with broccoli heads and large sideshoots. Of course, uncut broccoli takes up a lot of space. Once soaked and cut up a bit, we ended up with about two gallons of broccoli, one of which went home with one of our daughters. While the kale I picked on Wednesday had very few worms on it, the broccoli was lousy with cabbage worms. I'd backed off on our alternating sprays of insecticidal soap and Thuricide (BT) on our brassicas before picking, and the invasion of the worms in the heads seemed to be recent from the lack of damage done.

I find with all that broccoli in the fridge, I'm craving some cream of broccoli soup. Our recipe for Asiago Cheese and Tortellini Soup has a section I added to it last year that adapts the recipe for a very tasty cream of broccoli soup.

Earliest Red Sweet bell peppersPeppers culledThere were lots of jobs that could have been done today in our garden, but I limited myself to just picking some really nice peppers. I had some mowing to do which killed a good bit of time, and I decided to leave our maturing Sugar Snap peas alone for today. We have grandkids coming tomorrow, and they love to eat the peas right off the vine.

I ended up pitching more peppers than I brought inside. That's pretty normal for this time of year, as some peppers still rot on the bottom and bugs get to some others. Just three Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants have supplied all the fresh peppers we could want this year. We froze some for winter use and have shared some with friends and family. With the price of our favorite hybrid peppers reaching $4-5 per packet, I'm again glad we've been able to continue to grow the open pollinated ERS variety and successfully save seed from it.

Short (6') Double Row of Fall CarrotsIt's beginning to look as if all of our fall crops may mature before we have our first frost. The most iffy crop of late, our fall carrots, have benefitted greatly from some unusual watering. With our small harvest of spring carrots almost all used, it's important to us to get a fall crop from our six foot double row of fall carrots. Every time I rinsed green beans, kale, broccoli, and whatever else the last few weeks, the rinse water got saved and poured along the sides of the carrot rows. They've responded nicely to the extra moisture and one can now see orange shoulders on the tops of the carrot roots.

Maverick Red Geranium in Full Bloom in OctoberThe flowers around our garden plots continue to bloom, giving us great pleasure. The Maverick Red geranium at the end of our tomato/pepper row is bursting with blooms. Because of its central position, I've done a better job picking spent blooms from it, which spurs it to put on yet more blooms.

Let me add a note here about our geraniums that I should have included when I wrote about renovating one of our narrow raised beds. Since I like to have geraniums at the corners of our raised beds year after year, I use a garden fork to dig out the soil from the corners of the beds each year. While diseases might persist in what soil gets left in the corners, moving out the soil the geraniums grew in and backfilling the corners after the beds are tilled with fresh soil seems to work for us.

Honeybee on MarigoldsMore redish pea blossoms amongst Sugar Snap peasThe marigolds that I added fairly late in the season in open spots around the borders of our raised beds are now just about taking over those areas, to the point of crowding out adjacent flowers. An added bonus is that the marigolds seem to be drawing more honeybees and bumblebees to our garden, always good for pollination of crops such as peas, beans, and peppers. It's good to see that the local population of bees hasn't been totally decimated.

The unusual reddish blooms on our Sugar Snap peas continue as the vines are now outgrowing our trellis. Since none of the red blooms have yet set a pea pod, I still don't have a clue as to whether the red blooms where there should be white are from a stray seed from another variety or something else. Even if they don't set peas, they've been pretty to observe.

And speaking of pretty, the evening sky just after sunset tonight was gorgeous.

Evening sky - Octobere 11, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015 - Columbus Day

Our Senior Garden - October 12, 2015I'd written here yesterday, "And we still don't have any frost in our extended weather forecast!" And of course, late last night I noticed that our extended weather forecast had changed. It now appears that we'll have an overnight low temperature Saturday around 33-34° F, which may allow the formation of some frost here and there.

As frequently happens, things will probably warm up after that first mild frost for at least a week or so, making protecting tender plants a worthwhile precaution to extend the gardening season a bit. For us, that will pretty much be limited to covering our fall lettuce with a floating row cover which adds about 4° F of frost protection. We'll also try to get our remaining row of green beans harvested before the possible frost, but will probably leave the plants in the ground in case we get by without a frost. If there's time (and energy), our fall carrots will get dug, whether they're truly mature or not.

Spent tomato plantsAfter picking peppers yesterday, I had to accept the fact that our open pollinated tomatoes in the same row as the peppers, are done for and need to be cleared and composted. The plants have pretty well succumbed to old age, dry weather, and disease. With a potential frost coming, it's time to get them out of the ground anyway. I'll probably pull the caged pepper plants as well.

Our narrow raised bed that first grew early peas and later cucumbers with caged tomatoes on either end will also have to come out. I need to get the soil there tilled this week to be ready to plant garlic this month. But I'll definitely miss being able to walk out to the garden and pick the now rare, good ripe tomato for a sandwich or salad. I'll also miss the mix of geraniums, snapdragons, marigolds, vinca, and impatiens growing around the edge of the bed.

It's going to be a busy week.

Narrow bed to be renovated

If all of the above sounds a bit glum, there are some frost hardy crops I'll be leaving in the ground this week. Our Sugar Snap peas are just now coming in with fat, sweet pods. Pea vines have some resistance to light frost. I'm hoping that our row of kale will bounce back from the heavy picking I gave it last week. Kale can stand a pretty hard frost, but seems most susceptible to freeze damage after a heavy picking. Some gardeners, however, are able to overwinter kale. And while most of the main heads have been picked from our few broccoli plants, we should see sideshoots forming almost immediately. The plant that produced our first head of fall broccoli late last month had four sideshoots on it that I cut, all slightly larger than a baseball. I'm wondering if the broccoli which has produced huge main heads is still benefitting from the 0-0-60 Muriate of Potash I put down last fall for our garlic.

Our cauliflower plants at either end of our row of broccoli still haven't produced heads. Cauliflower, although a brassica, isn't nearly as frost hardy as are broccoli and kale. And our row of spinach really needs to be picked again soon. Spinach can also weather a light frost fairly well.

While I wrote somewhat worriedly last month in The Race is On about our fall garden, it appears now that all of our fall crops with the possible exception of the cauliflower will produce something for us.

Water Charity

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our Senior Garden - October 13, 2015I'm taking it easy today, as I took out our tomato plants and one spent pepper plant yesterday. Bending over cleaning up the mess made my back sore, and I'm walking around bent over a bit. Actually, I'm lots better than I was last night but still need to let my back rest a bit. Of course, in the back of my mind, I can hear my mother saying, "If your back hurts, you need to work on strengthening your stomach muscles.

Last homegrown tomatoes of the seasonAs I cleared the tomato plants, I saved about twenty ripe or nearly ripe tomatoes that I found, as they'll be the last ones out of our garden this year. The tomato plants got cut up a bit with some hand pruners and went onto our compost pile.

With the tomato plants, their cages, and the double trellis from one of our narrow beds out of the way, our garden really looks a lot nicer than it did. I didn't have the heart to pull all the flowers around the edges of the narrow raised bed, even though they'll have to go soon so that I can renovate the bed before planting garlic.

Main raised bed
Narrow raised bed with flowers

I did leave two pepper plants in our tomato/pepper row in our main raised bed. They are still ripening several nice peppers.

And despite the fact that I previously wrote here that I was done saving seed for this year, I ended up saving a little more yesterday. One of the peppers I'd picked on Saturday showed a small, overripe spot that disqualified it from sharing with friends or family. But the soft, wrinkly spot certainly didn't hurt the pepper's seeds. So I ended up harvesting Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed from one more pepper. Of course, that also involved starting yet one more germination test for that seed.

Sam's Club Tailgating Supplies

Thursday, October 15, 2015 - Frost on the Way

WTHI-TV ForecastWhile I'd like to wish it away, it looks as if we're going to be in for two straight nights of frost this weekend. Saturday and Sunday nights are now predicted to have overnight lows of 31° and 30° F.

Protecting ones garden plants from frost involves covering them with something (cold frame, floating row cover, blankets, etc.) that helps hold in what heat is in the ground and around the plants. With two consecutive cold nights with a cool day in between, the ground may not absorb enough heat through the day to protect ones plants the second night, even when covered.

We'll be protecting our lettuce patch with a light, floating row cover. Floating row covers come in various strengths, with the trade-off being increased temperature protection resulting in less light transmission through the cover (and...expense). Our row covers are the Agribon+ AG-19 that provide protection down to about 28° F.

We'll see if that's enough protection! Botannical Interest's Frost Tolerance of Vegetables has a good listing of crops that can withstand various levels of frost.

Sugar Snap Peas - A Disappointment

I had planned to do our first heavy picking of Sugar Snap peas today. When I got out to our trellised row of the tall, 1979 AAS Awardiconwinning peas, I was aghast to find they were infected with powdery mildew. Not only were many leaves whitened with the fungal infection, but so were some of the pods, with others showing what appeared to be a bit of black mold.

Sugar Snap peas in shade Lots of pea pods Severe powdery mildew infection

Powdery mildew is caused by a variety of fungi that flourish in shady areas. I'd not realized how much shade our mulberry tree cast over the south end of our main raised bed until this year. While prevention with resistant varieties is the best defense against powdery mildew, I went ahead and sprayed the vines with Serenade biofungicide after picking a couple of quarts of peas. (The picked peas weren't fit to eat and had to be pitched.) I've had fair to good results treating powdery mildew with Serenade on melon and squash plants. Had I been more vigilant, I might have caught this infection earlier and stopped it.

In the course of writing this section, I ran across a nice page from the Osborne Seed Company, a seed supplier mainly for market gardeners. Their page has some interesting information about such pea varieties. While their smallest packets of seed are a bit large for most home gardeners, Osborne does have a very good rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Friday, October 16, 2015

Floating row cover over lettuce patchAlibris: Books, Music, & MoviesI'd already planned to cover our lettuce patch with a floating row cover today, as the row cover certainly won't hurt the lettuce by being in place too soon. So this afternoon, I harvested a couple of lettuce, transplanted four more into the bed, and covered the whole north end of our main raised bed with a floating row cover.

It didn't hurt any that I'd carefully put away a long, slightly used cover from last year, so I didn't have to open a new roll that I've been saving for melon rows. While I had to pull some of our border plants at the ends of where the cover was to go to facilitate anchoring it, I didn't have to pull our row of spinach. The cover was long enough to cover our carrots, spinach, and the lettuce.

Usually, working with floating row covers in the wind is a nightmare. But today's 20-25 MPH winds were all from the west, so I simply worked with my back to the wind, letting it unfurl the row cover. I anchored the cover with landscape fabric pins and added my walking boards with soil hilled up on them to reinforce the anchors on the southern, more exposed side of the area. When I trimmed and folded the extra part of the cover, I found that I had enough left to cover yet another sixteen foot row.

Picking bean row, row cover over lettuce

Lovely green beansWith the row cover in place with less than an hour's work, I turned my attention to picking our last row of green beans. Despite the wind, it was a gorgeous day to be working outside. With frost almost certainly coming, I went ahead and pulled the bean plants, once again sitting on the edge of the raised bed to pick the bean pods off the plants. I'd lightly picked this row once, but with frost on the way, this was certainly going to be our last picking of the year, unless I wanted to cover the bean row. (I didn't.)

It turned out that the row of Strike, Maxibel, and Bush Blue Lake green beans produced some great beans. Both the Strike and Maxibel varieties produce a thin, long bean, while the Blue Lakes are plump and usually curved a bit. I stole a few of the long beans from our picking bucket to steam with carrots and garlic in olive oil and chicken broth for our supper.

With most of our tomato/pepper row cleared, and both rows of green beans out, there's a good bit of open space in our main raised bed. With the corn in the adjacent field picked, I was able to back up into the field to get a shot of the raised bed from the west.

If you look carefully in the background of the image below, you'll see that I didn't lack for canine supervision today. Like most supervisors, they didn't offer to help. And the lump at the far end of the row cover is where our marigolds are. The bumblebees working the blooms weren't very happy with me for cutting off their supply of pollen and nectar.

Main raised bed viewed from west

Mountain Valley Seeds

Saturday, October 17, 2015 - No Frost...yet!

Our Senior Garden - October 17, 2015It appears that we escaped last night without a frost. Some areas around us saw temperatures as low as freezing, but here it got no lower than a toasty 35° F. We have gorgeous, clear blue skies today which will contribute to a predicted overnight low of 29° F for tonight. Weather folks say cloudy night skies help hold in heat.

Our spinach, carrots, lettuce, and a few odd flowers will remain under a floating row cover until all danger of frost is past. One of the advantages of using a floating row cover instead of a cold frame in these situations is that heat levels don't build up to dangerous levels for the plants under a row cover. A sealed cold frame's clear plastic seems to intensify the sunlight, sometimes producing daytime temperatures over 100° F on fairly cool, but sunny days. The flip side of that coin is that a good cold frame may hold in more heat than the type of row cover we use.

3 Quarts frozen green beansThe green beans I picked yesterday produced three quarts of beans for the freezer. Anything less than four quarts, I choose to freeze, as hauling the canning equipment up and downstairs, plus the time involved, don't make canning worth the trouble. Since I froze the beans, I was able to season them with a bit of bacon and some ham chunks we had saved and frozen. When we use the frozen green beans, we'll have to heat them far longer than we would canned beans, as the canning process helps tenderize the beans.

Kale slow to regrowAfter inspecting our row of Sugar Snap peas today, I decided my efforts to save the crop from powdery mildew and black mold hadn't been effective. The black spots on the pea pods, which I assume are black mold, really scare me.

Pea vines pulled, kale still in shadePulling the pea vines may allow a bit more sun to reach our row of kale, although the area is pretty heavily shaded a good bit of the day at this time of year. The kale has not put on much new growth since I picked it ten days ago. Shade plus extremely dry soil conditions have really hurt this crop.

I forgot to mention here earlier this month that we saw our last hummingbird at our feeder on October 3. I think that's the latest in the fall we've seen a hummingbird. What reminded me was finally storing the thoroughly cleaned feeders yesterday.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015 - First Frost of the Fall

Our Senior Garden - October 18, 2015Frost damaged pepper plantWe can now record our first frost this fall. It got down to 31° F early this morning. That's not really what I'd call a hard frost, but it was enough to finish off the last two Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants I'd left in the garden. The rest of our remaining crops sustained no damage, although some of our flowers got nipped pretty good.

I'm leaving a floating row cover over our spinach, lettuce, and carrots for one more night. Our extended weather forecast currently doesn't show any chance of frost for the next week or so. In fact, it appears we're going to have some really delightful fall weather for the next week with daily highs in the 70s and pleasantly cool nights.

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast

As I've mentioned before, it's not uncommon to have a night or two of frost, followed by a sometimes extended period of frost free weather in October. That's what makes protecting tender crops from those early frosts worthwhile. Our growing and harvesting season can now continue for possibly several weeks. Of course, we'll also have to begin to focus on getting our garden beds ready for winter and next spring's crops.

I'd written last Tuesday that I'd saved seed from one last Earliest Red Sweet pepper and then started the necessary germination test of its seed. When I checked the germination test last night, I was pleased to see that all ten of the seeds tested germinated.

Succesful germination test

Since this batch of seed was from one pepper and obviously from one plant, it will get blended with other saved ERS seed from a wider sample of plants if we use it for seed sharing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lettuce patch with row cover removedFall lettuceAfter a cool night that got down to 35° F, it was time today to remove the floating row cover that had protected our spinach, lettuce, and carrots from frost. Unfortunately, row covers are always attractive to our dogs, so our carrots and some of the lettuce were a bit smashed down.

Since spinach, lettuce, and carrots can all withstand a light frost, I wasn't surprised to find the plants all looking pretty good. But I had wanted to play it safe with these crops in case temperatures on our recent frosty nights dipped a bit lower than predicted.

Looking around our garden, it appears that the only geraniums that survived the frosts were the two I stuck in our spinach row and were covered through the frosts. They lost all their blooms, but the plants are still healthy.

Now past our first frosts, my gardening attention will turn to clearing and renovating a narrow raised bed before planting it to garlic. My goal had been to get our garlic planted by October 15 this year, but the pretty flowers remaining in the narrow raised bed, mostly snapdragons, seduced me into leaving them alone for a bit longer.

Alert for Seed Savers Exchange Listers

2015 Seed Savers Exchange YearbookA rather fat letter arrived in today's mail from the Seed Savers Exchange. In the past, I've been guilty of just setting aside such mailings at this time of year, as they usually contain the paper forms for listing seed in the SSE Annual Yearbook. I switched to doing my listings online when SSE enabled that feature.

When I'd done my updates earlier this month for the print Yearbook and online Exchange, I'd wondered how SSE was going to deal with listings already online. Members' seed saving changes from year to year, and I'd seen no provision, other than members going online to update their listings, on how SSE was going to deal with listings already on the online Exchange.

Today's letter contained the information that SSE members need to mail in their information or by November 15 for their current listings to be published in the upcoming 2016 Yearbook. Failure to do so will result in members' listings not appearing in the next print Yearbook.

So, if you're a listed member of the Seed Savers Exchange and/or plan to list seed to share this year, you'll need to let the folks at SSE know either by mail or email what you want published in the print Yearbook.

Garlic Bulbs Still Available from Burpee

Garlic from BurpeeBurpee Fall in Love with Gardening SweepstakesIf you haven't gotten around to buying garlic to plant this fall, you're just about out of luck. Most vendors begin to sell out of garlic in September. Burpee Seedicon still has several varieties of garlic bulbs in stock, and they're discounted just a bit.

Burpee also has a page on How to Grow Garliciconicon and and an excellent video, How to Plant Garlic. Of course, our Growing Garlic how-to is always available.

Time has also almost run out to enter Burpee's Fall in Love with Gardening Sweepstakesicon. The deadline for entries is next Monday, October 26, 2015.

As I've gushed about here before, there are some pretty cool prizes for winners of the sweepstakes. A Garden Tower 2, five Leaf Eater Mulcher/Shreddersicon and ten $50 Burpee Gift Cardsicon are up for grabs.

Entering is free, although you do have to share your email address with Burpee and agree to receive marketing emails from them (which of course, can be easily cancelled after the contest). Since Burpee doesn't ask for a mailing address on their entry form, I'd guess you'll need to go to their catalog request page to ensure receiving their 2016 garden catalog, probably sometime in January.

Burpee Gardening

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - Renovating a Narrow Raised Bed

I prepared our newest narrow raised bed today for planting garlic later this month. I'd put off this task, as I was enjoying the flowers I left when I pulled the tomato plants, cages, and our double trellis. But with October moving on, it was time to give up the pretty blooms, pull and compost the flower plants, and get the bed ready for garlic planting.

Narrow raised bed with flowers before renovation
Narrow raised bed after renovation

TillerAfter removing the flowers, I spread Muriate of Potash (0-0-60) and 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, a bit of dry Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder to help provide trace elements that I've found are sometimes missing in our soil, and a bit of ground limestone over the ground. Then I thoroughly tilled them them into the existing soil with our twenty-one year old senior rototiller. Next came two 3.8 cubic foot bales of sphagnum peat moss over the bed, topped with a heavy sprinkle of ground limestone to help neutralize the acid peat moss. As I was tilling in the peat moss, I wondered at the cost of the soil amendments I was adding. Our Senior Garden is definitely a hobby!

The soil in this narrow raised bed is bone dry, just about the same as all of our raised beds right now. I'm going to wait a few days to plant our garlic in hope that we'll get some rain yet this week...or maybe I'll press our puny well a bit and actually water the bed.

Thursday, October 22, 2015 - Digging Carrots

Our Senior Garden - October 22, 2015AmazonAdapting a famous line from the movie, Forrest Gump, digging carrots is "like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get" until you actually dig them. When we dug our spring carrots in July, I found that some late over-fertilization had caused many of the carrot roots to put on lots of hairy roots and some strange, bulbous, white growths. We ended up getting just enough good carrots to last us over the summer.

Two years ago, our dogs dug up almost half of our carrot rows when going after a mole. Heavy rains then caused most of the rest of that crop to rot in the ground, even though the carrot tops looked great. That disaster pushed us to grow our first crop of fall carrots ever.

On the other hand, in July, 2014, we got a bumper crop of carrots. I'd planted just a few Sugarsnaxicon carrots that produced roots up to fifteen inches long! Digging them out of our heavy clay subsoil just about killed my back.

Sugarsnax carrots and ruler

Lifting carrots with garden fork

6' Double row of carrots
Carrots soaking in garden cart

So with a bit of trepidation, I set out to dig, or actually lift, our carrots out of the ground today. With just a dozen or so carrots left in the refrigerator from our miserable spring crop, I really hoped for big doings from just a six foot double row of carrots.

Our continuing dry soil conditions made lifting the carrots with a heavy garden fork fairly easy. I just pushed the fork completely into the soil, pulled back a little, and then grasped the carrots by their tops and lifted them out of the soil. I didn't break a single carrot.

Although our dry soil allowed the carrots to come out of the ground fairly clean, the dug carrots first went into a bucket of cold water to rinse off any loose dirt on them. Then they went into our garden cart, which was later filled with water to soak the carrots before they got cleaned, trimmed and stored.

Freshly dug Bolero carrotsWe didn't have any huge carrots this time, but got some really nice Bolero storage carrots. Our Laguna, Nelson, and Scarlet Nantesicon varieties produced an awful lot of baby carrots along with some full sized ones. I think the dry soil contributed to the many small carrots.

I spent a good bit of my afternoon trimming, doing a final cleaning, sorting, and storing the carrots. We have had good success storing carrots in the refrigerator in Debbie Meyer Green Bags. We often still have a few fall carrots left in the fridge when we dig our spring carrots each July. With our smaller planting and diminished harvest this year, I suspect the six pounds plus of carrots I dug today will all be used by mid-winter.

If you're new to growing carrots, you might want to take a look at our how-to story, How We Grow Our Carrots. It tells how we do it, start to finish.


Friday, October 23, 2015 - Dry

It's been a while since I've posted the graphics shown below from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center drought page. And sadly, the U.S. Drought Monitor report released yesterday shows that our area is into the "Abnormally Dry" to "Moderate Drought" classifications.

Drought Information
U.S. Drought Monitor
United States Weekly Drought Monitor
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook
United States Monthly Drought Outlook
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Weekly Drought Monitor

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader

Indiana Drought Monitor - October 22, 2015While we're far better off here than the western part of the U.S., our soil conditions are incredibly dry. Since we're close to the end of our growing season, the dry weather has only impacted our fall crops. But such dry weather also impacts the local water table, which has to do with essentials such as doing laundry, showers, baths, and drinking water. The Drought Outlook panel above shows the dry weather may continue well into winter, although it appears that we may get a little rain over the weekend. With the moisture deficit we now have, it will take a good bit of rain/snow to recharge the water table.

Other links:

Saving Gloxinia Seed Again

Gloxinia seed and flower stemWith some of the ups and downs we've had the last few years with our gloxinias, I'd failed to hand pollinate blooms and save any seed. I didn't, however, stop sharing seed with other gloxinia enthusiasts, seriously reducing my stock of the seed on hand. So when our gloxinias were in full bloom late this summer, I took a Q-tip and got busy moving pollen from one gloxinia bloom to other blooms on other plants. It's actually a pretty easy process that I fully describe in our feature story, Saving Gloxinia Seed.

Our first seed bearing bloom matured this week, producing hundreds of dustlike gloxinia seeds. That's not unusual, as most fertilized gloxinia blooms typically bear a lot of seeds. With several more fertilized gloxinia blooms looking as if they will mature seed, we should be restocked with seed very soon.

Most of our gloxinias have taken a break from blooming, and some are going dormant after a couple of blooming cycles. But as some plants begin to bloom again, they'll get moved to a single tray of blooming plants for future pollination and seed saving.

Once the gloxinia seed has dried on a paper plate (on a high shelf) for a week to ten days, I'll dump it into a plastic seed vial that once held some kind of flower seed or another. The vial will get bagged and go into our big, manual defrost freezer for long term storage.


Spinach row getting pickedI've been ignoring our row of spinach recently as I worked with other crops. Now the spinach is well past the baby spinach stage, but also hasn't bolted in the warm weather. So I set out this afternoon to pull and pick the row of spinach as best as I could. There were far more bad leaves that had suffered from bug damage and lack of moisture, but there were also a lot of big, healthy leaves, and even some baby spinach leaves at the core of some of the plants.

I pretty well filled a five gallon bucket with good spinach leaves. I also filled our four cubic foot garden cart with bad spinach leaves and their stems and roots.

Spinach oiled and salted on dehydrator trayWith such mature spinach, one might think their only option would be to stem and boil the spinach. That will probably happen to some of this picking. But with a granddaughter who loves kale chips coming for the weekend, I thought spinach chips might also be a hit.

I was silly enough to think my idea for making spinach chips might be original! When I checked online, I found lots of enthusiastic recipes for spinach chips. They're not all that different than recipes for kale chips, although the writers do show some real creativity with the herbs and spices they add to their chips. Most of the online recipes show using an oven to dry the spinach into chips. I've found with kale chips and the many herbs and spices we dry, we get better results using our food dehydrator. It takes a little longer, but there is little to no chance of burning the items being dried.

Stay tuned. We'll see how well the spinach chips are received. Update: They were a big hit!

Nesco FD-61 at Walmarticon The Nesco FD-61 500W Food Dehydrator icon is an efficient solution for creating your own dried fruit snacks. A top-mounted fan and 500w heater quickly remove the moisture from fruit slices so you get results in hours rather than days. This Nesco dehydrator includes four trays, but you can expand it to up to 12 trays for maximum volume with the LT-2SG Add-a-Tray accessory (sold separately). The Converga-flow system ensures that the fruit dries evenly so you can just set the slices in without the need to rotate. Adjust the thermostat from 95 degrees Fahrenheit to 155 degrees to ensure that you have the correct temperature for every food. This Snackmaster dehydrator includes a fruit roll sheet to make fruit leather. It also includes a 52-page guide that shows you how to maintain this machine and to get the best results for all your snacks. Make tasty, nutritious bites for children's lunches, trail mix or fruit-and-nut bars.

Saturday, October 24, 2015 - Pulling Brassicas

Bug battered broccoli plantsOne of the surest signs our gardening season is about over is when we finally pull our fall broccoli plants from the garden. Long after the plants' main heads have been cut, frozen, or consumed, we continue to harvest sideshoots from the plants. We had broccoli with cheese sauce with our supper Thursday night, and my wife remarked that she thought it was the best broccoli we'd had this season. I had to agree, as we've been fortunate to have sweet broccoli all through our warmer and dryer than normal fall.

Healthy cauliflower plant trying to mature headOur plants' production of the golf to tennis ball sized sideshoots dropped off precipitously in the last week. I think there just wasn't enough soil moisture left in the ground for the plants to keep on producing, and they've taken a real beating from insects. Giving in to the weather conditions (and the calendar), I started taking out our brassica plants today. I pulled our five broccoli plants, one of which never produced a main head. Still hoping for a bit of luck, I left the cauliflower plants at either end of the broccoli/cauliflower row. For some reason, the bugs which attack our brassica plants prefer broccoli to either kale or cauliflower.

Tough broccoli stem and rootI cut the leaves off the broccoli plants and added them to our compost pile. The root and base of the broccoli plants, which don't break down very quickly, go into a wash we're filling with all manner of stuff (broccoli stems, used cat litter, diseased plants, etc.).

Compost pileOur compost pile for the last week looked pretty colorful, with rotting red peppers and spent flower blooms all over it. I covered all that up today with broccoli leaves and cull spinach leaves. Since I already had some concentrate mixed, the pile got a good shot of Jerry Baker Compost Tonic. Since Baker has changed his original recipe for the stuff, I'll give the old recipe that I use here. You make the concentrate with a cup of household ammonia, a 12 ounce Coke (regular, not diet), and a quarter cup of dish detergent. Baker recommends using a hose end applicator at a 15:1 water-concentrate ratio, but I just mix a bit of the concentrate with water in a 2 gallon plastic watering can that I reserve for this task.

Our main raised garden bed is now looking pretty bare. We have some lettuce, several snapdragons, the two cauliflower plants, and a row of kale still growing. While the (red) lettuce and the snaps add some variety in color, ones eye is drawn to the treeline that is beginning to start its fall display of color.

Pink and white snapdragons Main raised garden bed - October 24, 2015 Pink and white snaps on the other side. How'd I do that!

As I finished writing this posting, it began to rain outside...for just a few minutes. It's the first rain we've had in a while. A local Weather Underground reporting station showed just 0.04 inches of precipitation. I didn't even bother to go out and check our rain gauge. Maybe we'll get a bit more later, and I can plant our garlic tomorrow or Monday.

David's Cookies

Monday, October 26, 2015 - Planting Garlic

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Our Senior Garden - October 26, 2015I planted one of our narrow raised beds to garlic today. Garlic is one of the easiest and most dependable garden crops one can grow in our area. We plant it in fall, keep the weeds down with grass clipping mulch after it emerges in the early spring, and dig it in July. And to me, it's simply very cool to get our 2016 garden started in October, 2015.

I prepared a bed for the garlic last week, adding peat moss, fertilizer, powdered seaweed, and lime to it. The bed was thoroughly tilled to a depth of at least 7" and then raked smooth. I didn't plant the bed at that time, as I hoped it would catch a rain to settle the soil a bit and wet the peat moss. We did get a little rain (0.30 inches), and I used all the rinse water I created while cleaning vegetables over the last few days to water the bed, but the soil is still pretty dry. We do have rain in our weather forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday.

Having planted our garlic in the middle of our main raised bed last year due to crop rotation requirements, I was a bit perplexed last week as I considered this year's planting. Somehow, the rows and spacing from last year just didn't work out. Doing a hand to the forehead "Duh," I realized that last year's outer rows were on the very borders of the 36" wide bed of garlic. Planting in a narrow raised bed, I didn't have the option of using its full 36" width unless I wanted the outside rows of garlic cloves planted directly against the landscape timbers of the raised bed! Having had parts of an outer row of garlic freeze out in the past when planted too close to its edge, I backed down from the six rows of garlic we grew last year to just four rows for next year. Four rows should provide us with all the garlic we'll need in the kitchen and for planting the following year.

2014-2015 Garlic 2015-2016 Garlic
2015 Garlic Bed 2016 Garlic Bed

The image above right shows some space left at each corner of the garlic bed. In my old age, I've come to think I must have a bright red blooming geranium at each corner of my raised beds. So, I left space in the diagram and when planting the garlic for the flowers. They add quite a bit of color to an otherwise green planting.

Once I'd got my thinking right on the number of rows of garlic I could grow and the spacing between individual garlic cloves, I got busy sorting out the best of our garlic cloves yesterday to use for planting. Sorting the elephant garlic was pretty easy, as the best cloves were from plants we'd grown from purchased garlic bulbs. Our old elephant garlic from cloves we'd saved did well, but it had lost a good bit of its size in comparison to the new garlic.

Burpee Seed Company
Dibbler - bulb planter repair

Sorting our regular garlic was a mess. When digging it last July, just weeks after total hip replacement surgery, I really didn't care much about keeping the different varieties separate. My hip hurt so bad that I just wanted the stuff out of the ground and stored. So when I selected garlic cloves for planting, it was tough to tell what kinds I was choosing. So I just picked an adequate number and variety of the best looking cloves I had to plant. I'm not sure once chopped and in a pot that I'll be able to taste the difference anyway. Picking what grew well for us sorta makes sense, too.

Different sources will give you different figures, but I like to plant my garlic rows at least six inches apart and the individual garlic cloves six to eight inches apart in the row. After staking and stringing my rows, I use a garlic dibble I got from Burpee a few years ago to make the holes for my garlic. The dibble did require some repair and improvement before it was an ideal tool, but with loose, dry soil, it makes planting far easier and quicker than using a garden trowel.

Planting garlicI make five or six holes in the row at a time for garlic cloves and give each hole a very light sprinkle of bone meal. Adding too much bone meal will leave one with a sticky, white, wet, pasty mess under mature garlic harvested the next summer. If you have time, working in the bone meal with the dibble or a garden trowel into the bottom of each hole dug for garlic is a good practice.

I plant my garlic a little deeper than most folks. The standard recommendation is to have the top of the garlic clove two inches under the soil surface. Mine usually go in at least three inches below the soil surface to protect them from heaving in the soil from winter freezes and thaws. That means the holes I make with my dibble need to be around 4-6" deep. I've added inch graduations to the side of my dibble with a permanent magic marker to help with making my holes the right depth and measuring the distance between holes.

Garlic cloves - up, downPossibly the most important part of planting garlic is to get the small, flat, root area down when planting, with the more pointed end up. After adding a bit of bone meal and popping in a garlic cove, I just scoop or sweep soil over the hole and firm it a little with my hand. I started my planting with the middle rows, so that I wouldn't mess up the outer rows while doing the inner ones.

It actually took longer assembling my supplies and then putting them away when done than it did to plant our four rows of garlic. The planting took less than an hour. But it was a sunny, cool day, and I enjoyed every minute out in the garden.

Garlic seems to overwinter better when the soil surface is mulched. Since our lawn has really thinned out this fall, I'm going to have to work pretty hard to rake up enough grass clippings to cover the bed. Mulching the bed holds in moisture and also somewhat insulates the garlic cloves from winter heaving. Equally important as covering the bed with mulch in the fall is getting the mulch off the bed in early spring. Grass clippings can form a nearly impenetrable mat as they sit and rot over the winter, blocking garlic shoots from emerging. I've found that leaves mixed with grass clipping help stop the grass clippings from matting quite so much, but we still have to get such mulch raked (or rolled) off the bed here in early March.

If you haven't planted garlic yet for next season, there may yet still be time to do so, depending on your climate zone. Here in west, central Indiana, I've successfully planted garlic as late as November 30. And for folks who live in the far north where the ground freezes too deep to allow fall planting of garlic, it is possible to grow a crop planted in the spring as soon as the ground thaws. Our How-to feature story, Growing Garlic, may prove helpful.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - Seed Lending Libraries

Web buddy Don Smith sent me a couple of links yesterday that opened my eyes to an incredible service that has started in libraries across the nation. Libraries, or possibly more properly, Seed Libraries, are now lending seed at no charge to members of their community. Gardeners pick up the seed under various rules and guidelines in the spring with the promise to return a similar number of seeds saved from the variety(s) they grew out the following fall or winter.

One library close to Don's heart, the Sturgis Library, requires that folks sign out a book on seed saving or heirloom gardening when "borrowing" seed. I really think that might be a good idea, as it may help new seed savers avoid some of the common mistakes in seed saving.

The idea of seed libraries also may help with passing along knowledge and passion for seed saving to a new generation. That's a subject that often comes up when I correspond with fellow senior seed savers.

I've saved the best to last in this posting. An online page from the Libraries Build Community site, Lending seeds at the library, has a list of 34 libraries across the nation that share seeds.


This posting so far is getting written very early Wednesday morning (1:15 am or so). As I'm writing, I can hear rain splattering on the roof and against the windows of the sunroom that adjoins my office. We had light rain most of the day yesterday, and it isn't supposed to slack off until midday today. So far, I think the two day total is still less than an inch of precipitation, but any rain is welcome when our ground is so dry.

Afternoon Update

Rain Gauge

Tight leaf wrapping around cauliflower head

A photo of an old rain gauge isn't a real grabber, but it illustrates our big news of the afternoon. By 1 P.M., we had received 1.25 inches of rain, more than we've had in a very, very long time.

Running a close second in welcome garden news is a nice, but rather small head of cauliflower that I cut today. Rather than go for a little more size, I cut the head while it still had a fairly tight wrapper of leaves protecting it from the yellowing effect of the sun. The head may never even make the refrigerator, as I've already begun breaking off chunks of it to snack on.

Our extended weather forecast looks really good for the next week or so. It would appear that there is no danger of frost during the period, although there is a rather chilly, 38° F night predicted. But there are lots of sunny, warm days coming up that should make getting our garden plots ready for next year pleasant work.

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Saturday, October 31, 2015 - October Wrap-up

October, 2015, animated GIF of our Senior GardenHelp NepalI had a vague goal in mind early this month to have our garden plots ready for winter by the end of October. I got part way to the goal, having tilled both of our narrow raised beds, planted one to garlic, and having mulched the other to be ready to plant early peas in March. Our rows of green beans, our row of tomatoes and peppers, and even our fall broccoli have all been pulled and composted. But without a killing frost as yet (had a mild one on the 18th), we still have lettuce and kale actively growing in our main raised garden bed, causing me to hold off on completely clearing the bed before tilling it.

During October, we froze peppers, canned and froze green beans, made kale soup, harvested lots of delicious fall broccoli and a bit of cauliflower, picked lettuce and spinach and tried our hand at making spinach chips, dug carrots, and saved a little gloxinia seed. The only real disappointment this month was losing our Sugar Snap peas to powdery mildew and black mold on the pods just as they matured.

Not bad for a fall garden in droughty weather.

Lettuce Fail

Skyphos lettuce eaten down to coreDecimated lettuce patchAs of yesterday, we had several lettuce plants ready to cut. When I checked them this afternoon, I found that rabbits or some other critter had taken care of the job for me. A couple of Skyphos lettuce plants were eaten down to their stem, while other plants had been nibbled or partially eaten. Two mature plants had the sides eaten out of them, allowing the invaders to feast on the tender cores of the plants. Both young and old plants were damaged or ruined, but the critters did seem to show a preference for red lettuce over green.

While we lost over half of our lettuce, it wasn't a total disaster. Several plants were left untouched, and I was able to harvest one small Skyphos butterhead and a Crispino softhead iceberg. Some of the untouched plants should be ready to cut next week.

Restored lettuce patchLumber to prevent diggingSince I still had healthy lettuce transplants in a tray on our back porch, I transplanted all of them into the garden, despite the late date. I figured they might just yield something, and that it was better they die in the garden from frost than on the compost pile.

And in a case of locking the barn door after the horses got out, I spread blood meal around the lettuce patch to discourage the rabbits.

We'd also had one of our dogs dig a bit in our narrow bed of garlic. It unearthed at least two garlic sets, which I returned to their places. But to prevent any more damage there, I moved all of the lumber we use in and around our garden plots to the bed. That always seems to discourage the dogs from digging. I also applied the last of our Shot-Gun Repels-All Animal Repellent to the bed, along with a bit of blood meal for good measure. Even if the repellents don't work, the blood meal will supply the beds some organic nitrogen.

While rabbit damage or the dogs digging might discourage me at times, I find that I'm ready to be done gardening for the year. I briefly considered just turning down the lettuce patch, but quickly thought better of it. So we may yet pick a little more lettuce, get another harvest of kale, and possibly get one last head of cauliflower from our garden before we're done for the year.

Cook's Garden Gourmet Herbs

September, 2015

November, 2015

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening


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