Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

Our Senior Garden - September 14, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Crockett's Victory GardenI got a good laugh this week when I reread Jim Crockett's introduction to his September entry in Crockett's Victory Garden. He began:

September is a good time to record the year's successes and failures. In the Victory Garden, where we grow several different varieties of the same plant and experiment with various growing procedures and planting times, there's just no way I could keep our track record straight without careful labeling in the garden, along with a yearly log. I keep a record not only of the big winners and losers but of the also-rans.

2015 Garden Plots - finalKeeping good garden records really is important for crop rotations and knowing what works and what doesn't. I record all of our plantings on our computerized garden charts. I used to follow Crockett's advice about a garden log. Then I started writing this blog, which sort of took over that function. Keeping the log was lots easier, but a lot less fulfilling.

Truth be told, my end of the month wrap-up postings and first of the month introductions often get written several days early, frequently on the same day. That's something that just works for me as a writer/blogger. I also get started early on some of our end of the year columns. Our annual review of our garden for 2015 is already complete through July, and I've got a good start on our best garden photos of the year column as well.

Writing ahead can also work against you. I just checked and found that I started a column (document) about growing ones own transplants in 2011, moved it to a newer HTML format in 2014, but still don't have it done. It carries the initial projected publication date of December 11, 2011! I've put in about ten hours trying to finish the story over the last two days...and have a crick in my neck to prove it.

Our Senior Garden in Rain - September 1, 2015We hope to be harvesting a lot through the month of September. I'd planned to pick baby spinach leaves this morning, but awoke to of all things, a honest to goodness thundershower! The spinach can gladly wait, as we really need the rain.

Besides the spinach, we have lettuce almost ready for early pickings. Our green beans are looking good and appear that they may mature a bit early, possibly by mid-month. Our broccoli and cauliflower will have to hustle to make it this month, but we should get a first picking of kale. Likewise, our row of Sugar Snap peas are a somewhat risky late planting that may or may not mature before frost takes the vines. And of course, we hope to continue harvesting peppers and tomatoes from our season long planting of them.

As we do final harvests of crops, we'll turn to getting the soil ready for next year. That job usually gets done in October or even November, as we push the growing season as far as we can into the fall, sometimes using floating row covers and cold frames to get us past light, early frosts.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - Pickles

Several strains of Japanese Long Pickling Cucumbers
Cucumbers sliced, materials ready
Cucumbers brining
Eight pints of canned bread and butter pickles

We received a half inch of rain yesterday. That's definitely not enough to correct our current dry soil conditions, but it sure will help.

With thunderstorms outside yesterday morning, I got busy making a batch of bread and butter pickles. I'd been saving cucumbers for the pickles for a week or so. It's a good thing I did, as many of our cucumber vines have collapsed.

I used the same pickle recipe out of our old (©1969!) Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I've always used. The current BH&G online recipe for Bread and Butter Pickles is just slightly different. I added a red bell pepper to the recipe to give it some color contrast. I also used one Red Zeppelin onion along with the sweet Walla Wallas to add color.

I cut enough cucumber slices to make twelve pints of pickles according to the recipe, but only ended up with eight pints canned. Maybe I squished the pickles into the canning jars a bit more than I should have. Of course, the real test for bread and butter pickles comes when I open a jar and sample some.


Spinach drying in bowlWith no rain this morning, I picked a little of the spinach I'd intended to pick yesterday. I didn't do much damage to the spinach row, picking just five or six feet of the fourteen foot row. There was some moderate bug damage to some of the spinach leaves, but not overwhelming. I don't like using pesticides on leaf crops, so I just have to put up with the bug damage that organic controls can't handle.

Shrimp PortofinoThe now washed and stemmed leaves will serve as a spinach salad with our dinner tonight. I'll add poppyseed dressing, hard boiled egg, mandarin oranges, feta cheese, and croutons to finish the salad. Beyond salads, we like to use fresh spinach in alfredo sauces and the like. One of my absolute favorite dishes is shrimp portofino mixed with fettuccine over fresh spinach leaves. Of course, I have an appointment with my heart surgeon next week who will want to check my cholesterol, so I'll probably be sticking with just spinach salad until then.

Bean Blossoms!

When picking spinach this morning, it was impossible not to notice that one row of our green beans seeded on July 31 are beginning to bloom already. While a week of predicted hot weather with highs at 90o F or above each day may delay the plants setting pods, we're obviously going to beat the first frost with our green beans.

Green beans coming into bloom

Cucumber Vines

Cucumber vinesStill ripening cukesAs mentioned earlier today, our cucumber vines are now in pretty sad shape. Dry weather, an insect infestation, and just plain old age have done in many of the plants. But a few of the Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines are ripening a few cukes and even putting out some blooms.

Since I'm not in any hurry to renovate this raised bed, and especially with tomato plants on either end of the cucumbers still producing, I'm going to let the surviving cucumber plants ripen as many cukes as possible. With a small batch of bread and butter pickles already put up and stored in our basement pantry, I can use any cucumbers we now get for occasional table use, but more for seed saving for next year.

The raised bed the tomato and cucumber plants now occupy will be used for garlic to be planted in October. It may seem premature to have garden plans already under way for next season at this time, but it's essential for us to do so to maintain proper crop rotations.

At this point, the plans are all pretty rough and are all tentative. But I've already mapped out our two narrow raised beds, our main raised bed, and even our East Garden for next season. I still have no idea what we'll be growing in our three outlying isolation plots. There almost certainly will be changes made to the plans along the way, but getting a general plan in place gives me an idea of what I can do with our garden plots the rest of this season.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Friday, September 4, 2015 - Hot and Dry

Our Senior Garden - September 4, 2015Our Senior Garden in the afternoon - September 4, 2015We're still in a stretch of very hot, dry weather here. Daily high temperatures in the 90s (F) with the heat index getting into the 100s in the morning hours make gardening not so much fun. Fortunately, we're pretty well caught up on gardening chores, getting what little needs to be done completed early in the morning before the heat sets in.

Our main raised garden bed is shaded at this time of year until noon. That may work for us in this dry weather, allowing the crops a bit of relief before the scorching afternoon sun sets in.

I sprayed several crops Wednesday morning and again today with the biological, Thuricide (BT). The rain we had on Monday probably washed off any protection remaining on our plants from the last application. While our kale hasn't suffered any significant bug damage recently, our broccoli and cauliflower have a number of holes in their leaves from insects. I even found one worm visible on a broccoli leaf. A few white cabbage moths flitting about the garden triggered the second spray this week, this time including our rows of green beans that the moths seemed attracted to. While I'm not sure it will do anything for them, I also sprayed our lettuce and spinach plants.

Spinach with lettuce behind itSage and lettuce seedlingsBefore spraying, I picked a bit more spinach today. When I got inside with it, I decided to boil it instead of having spinach salad again. But of course, spinach boils down a lot, so when I went to the grocery today, I also picked up a can of Popeye Spinach to supplement what I'd picked. I couldn't pick the rest of our row of spinach, as I'd just sprayed it. Even with biologicals, one needs to leave a day in between spraying and picking.

Behind our row of spinach is a small patch of lettuce, some of which is almost ready to pick. We have a few lettuce transplants in flats on the back porch, and our next seeding of lettuce is doing well under plant lights in the basement. Half of the half flat was seeded to sage, as ours all got mowed down this summer.


After some rough times when I was only minimally able to care for the plants, our gloxinias are coming back into bloom. They didn't get watered as much as they should have during that time, and got really scraggly just as they were about to bloom. So when I was better and able to work the plants, I hardened my heart and pruned them back almost to the corm. We lost a few plants from that treatment, but most are now forming buds or actually starting to bloom. Yippee!

Gloxinias coming into bloom

The pale pink gloxinia in the photo above is a decendant (or sibling) of the plant that produced my current, favorite gloxinia photo.

Tidying Up the Site

Save 20% on this exclusive collection of flowers & gifts and be the reason they...feel special this Grandparent's Day! Order Now at with promo code GRNDPRNT at checkout (Valid 8/24 - 9/13)As I mentioned on Tuesday, I've been trying to finish a feature story about growing ones own transplants this week. Doing so involves visiting a lot of our archived blog pages to select the best images available, as well as scouring my separate hard drive of garden images. As I visited the old web pages, I was reminded that I'd put off correcting a number of issues on those pages on the site. Our Google search engine had ceased to function correctly on some of those pages, although I'd corrected the change in code on our more recent pages. Our links bar at the top and bottom of our pages needed updating, and there were lots of old ads that were no longer valid.

I quickly found that my version of Dreamweaver wasn't capable of doing global site changes for many of the things that needed fixing, so I moved to working by site section. That, of course, allowed me to miss some things that needed fixing. I think I chased down the last pages that needed updating this morning.

The Google search at the top of each page should now work properly, yielding search results from Senior Gardening.

Burpee Gardening

Free shipping on any size order through Monday, September 7, 2015. Use promo code LDAY15.

Saturday, September 5, 2015 - Chicken Broth

Chicken carcass boiling downMain raised garden bedOur house is filled today with the pleasant aroma of chicken broth. I'm taking advantage of a special a local grocery ran this week on bone in, skin on chicken breasts. We fillet and freeze the chicken breasts and tenders. The rest gets boiled and boned to be used in Chicken Salad, Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup, our very special Portuguese Kale Soup, and of course, good old chicken and noodles.

Despite the heat and dry weather, our main raised garden bed is doing well without much watering. It appears that more spinach and some lettuce will be our next pickings. I did bring in seven ripe tomatoes today, a far cry from the days in July and August when we often picked a half to a full bushel of tomatoes in a day. But with our vines wearing down, we're happy to still have fresh tomatoes.


Pale pink gloxinia in kitchen windowGloxinias under lightsToday was watering day for our plants under lights on our plant rack. That also made it rearranging day, as even under lights, the light seems to vary from place to place. The pale pink gloxinia I saw in bloom yesterday turned out to be two such plants. The better of the two came upstairs to brighten our kitchen counter for a few days.

Other than a half flat of sage and lettuce plants, all three shelves of our plant rack now hold gloxinias. When we repopulated our gloxinia collection after losing all of our plants a few years ago to the INSV virus, I went a little overboard in seeding. Then I didn't have the heart to cull the plants as I should have. So we're going to have a lot of pretty plants coming into bloom through the fall. I plan to share a good many of them with some of my wife's co-workers. Since gloxinias have pretty well disappeared from florist shops and plant racks at stores, they seem quite the novelty to folks unfamiliar with them.

Quite frankly, I didn't know what a gloxinia was until we received one when our eldest son was born. That was forty years ago, and I've been growing the plants now for a little over thirty years as a wonderful hobby.

Spinach Salad

Spinach saladsSpinach saladOn Wednesday, I mentioned making one of the treats of the season, spinach salad. But sadly, I botched the photo of the spinach salad, getting it badly out of focus. Granddaughter Katherine and I picked spinach this afternoon and together put the salad together. (She didn't participate in the cleaning and stemming of the spinach leaves, however.)

Spinach plus poppyseed dressing, mandarin oranges, feta cheese, and hard boiled egg slices make the salad. While tonight's salad was good, both Annie and I thought it a little inferior to what we had Wednesday night. I attribute that to the spinach picked today being the last in the row that hadn't been picked. It was also a different variety and had just a touch of bitterness in it, probably from the recent heat we've had. But oh, my, is spinach salad a treat.

Monday, September 7, 2015 - Labor Day (U.S.)

Our Senior Garden - September 7, 2015

Paprika peppers
Paprika peppers in food dehydrator

Labor Day has always seemed to mark the end of summer and the last vacation day of summer. That's probably because of old, traditional school calendars that started school the Tuesday after Labor Day. With many schools now starting in August or even earlier, Labor Day becomes a welcome day off in the school year. The school for our youngest son's children in Minnesota still follows a traditional school calendar. His daughters start school tomorrow!

With our reduced garden area this year and our current dry weather, we're in a holding pattern, just waiting for rain and stuff in our fall garden to mature. About a year ago at this time, we were very busy harvesting, drying, and grinding paprika peppers to make ground paprika. We fortunately put up enough of it that what we have should last us until next season, as we didn't grow any paprika peppers this year.

Cull garlic for garlic powderOur food dehydrator will soon be put to use, though, as we have a lot of cull garlic to clean, dry, and make into garlic powder. Other than garlic powder, we find that we can grow and dry enough herbs and spices such as basil, oregano, paprika, and parsley to last us for several years, making annual crops of those items unnecessary. Even so, I really do hope to get a raised bed built next year around our shallow well to use as an herb garden. It's quite a treat when cooking to just go out and pick fresh herbs and spices.

Green bean plants in bloomOur rows of green beans have lots of blooms on them, but very few bees visiting the blossoms. I've not found any bean pods set on the plants as yet. I suspect the hot afternoon temperatures are having something to do with the beans not shedding pollen and thus, not attracting many bees. Of course, it could be that our local bee population is decimated.

Elsewhere around our main raised bed, our row of kale is looking pretty healthy. Like everything else, it could use a good rain to help it produce some leaf size for our first batch of Portuguese Kale Soup of the year. Some of our snapdragons are now in full bloom. Our snaps always suffer from being co-planted with other crops, only emerging in full bloom after the companion crop is harvested and its plants or vines pulled. We have more snapdragons growing amongst our cucumber vines that should shine once the cukes come out. And I noticed a lovely bloom on our Sugar Snap pea vines this morning. That's a crop I worried wouldn't beat the first frost when I planted it. But with blooms on a few of the vines, we should get a few of the edible podded peas this year, if not a full harvest.

Healthy row of kale Snapdragons in bloom Sugar Snap pea blooms

I really enjoy gardening. I also love taking pictures of pretty things. Publishing Senior Gardening lets me combine two wonderful hobbies.

Hope you're having a great holiday weekend!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - Growing Your Own Transplants

Lettuce transplants

Onion plants

There are lots of good reasons to grow your own garden transplants, and possibly almost as many for purchasing them at your local garden store. Over the years, we've gotten to the point where we grow almost all of the flower and vegetable transplants that go into our flowerbeds and garden plots. (I did buy one marked down, nearly dead Hosta plant at Walmart this summer.)

When all goes well, one may save a few dollars by growing their own transplants. But that isn't the biggest benefit of growing your own. Being able to choose from the amazing array of plant varieties from mail order seed houses opens up a whole new world of varieties that you'll never see at your local greenhouse, garden or discount store. Starting your own transplants also allows having them at an optimal stage for transplanting at just the right time.

When I began the how-to story Growing Your Own Transplants four years ago, I quickly realized that one could write a whole book on the subject. The late Nancy Bubel did (The New Seed-Starter's Handbook)! So I've tried in our new posting to boil the process down to the basics for folks wanting to get started growing their own.


We're finally getting some much needed rain today. So far we've received a bit over a half inch of precipitation with a light rain continuing to fall. The rain is spotty, though, as one nearby area is reporting just a couple of tenths of an inch of rain. About 30 miles south of here, folks got over four inches of rain.

Along with the rain, a frontal system is producing some very pleasant temperatures. We topped out at a high of almost 93o F yesterday, but should be quite comfortable with a predicted high today of 78o F. The forecast for the weekend calls for a taste of fall with highs of just 70 and 72!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

We're enjoying a stretch of cool weather that should last through the weekend. Our high today won't quite reach 70o F, which is about ideal for working in the garden.

Peat Moss for Narrow Raised Bed

Soil level down 3-4 inchesPeat moss tilled inToday's big job was tilling our narrow raised bed that most recently had grown a lovely turndown crop of buckwheat. The soil level in the bed had dropped several inches over the last two years, requiring some new material to get the soil level back up to an acceptable level. When in town yesterday, I'd picked up two 3.8 cubic foot bales of sphagnum peat moss, which I calculated would raise the soil level a little over two inches. What I hadn't accounted for was the fluff value of tilling the bed, and it is now almost overflowing with soil and peat. Over the winter, it will settle a couple of inches.

Besides the peat moss, I worked in some 12-12-12 fertilizer to help the buckwheat break down and a good bit of lime to neutralize the acidic peat moss. After tilling, I topped the bed with a sprinkle of Milky Spore, as I'd found a few Japanese Beetle larva when turning the ends of the bed by hand. Those larva seem to be a favorite food of the local mole population, and Milky Spore is a good, organic control for the grubs.

The next time we mow, I'll rake grass clippings to mulch the bed for winter. In the spring, I should be able to just rake back the clippings to plant an early row of peas down the center of the bed.

Around Our Garden

Bean plants setting bean podsSugar Snap peas setting on vinesWith a bit of rain and cooler temperatures, our rows of green bean plants are now beginning to set on bean pods. And of course, with our extensive use of Milky Spore in our garden plots, I haven't yet seen a Japanese Beetle dining on our bean plants. Eventually, they will fly in from elsewhere.

When I seeded our row of Sugar Snap peas in late July, I really wondered if the crop would make it before our first frost. A few blooms several days ago encouraged me, and today, I found several pea pods on the more mature vines.

It will still be touch and go on getting a full harvest from the vines, as they're a 64-70 day variety. But even getting a few pods for the grandkids to pick and eat raw off the vine will be a minor victory. Having some for table use and freezing would be a smashing success!

JLP cucumber vines about doneOur row of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber plants are just about done for the season. I spent some time this morning clearing dead vines and immature, rotting cukes off the trellis. The one remaining live plant will be allowed to fully ripen the few cucumbers on it for seed saving.

TomatoesOnce the cucumbers are done, the trellis will remain in place for a while, as we have lots of flowers planted there. Some snapdragons are already wound into the trellis netting and should have time yet this season to put on a nice display of blooms.

At either end of the trellis are caged tomato plants that are still producing some good tomatoes. One plant is fairly heavily diseased, but the other is pretty healthy. At this point in the season, there's not much good to come from pulling diseased plants, as they've already spread whatever they're going to spread (in disease). I'll try to not leave any tomato trash on the ground when we finally clear the bed. For now, we'll continue to enjoy what good tomatoes we can get.

Lettuce ready for pickingSome of the lettuce I transplanted into our main raised bed in mid-August is ready for picking already. The romaines can be taken early as baby romaine, and one Crispino has headed and is ready to come out. Our row of spinach that we've picked once is about ready to be picked again.

Sage and lettuceAnticipating picking some lettuce soon, I brought our half flat of sage and lettuce transplants upstairs this morning from their previous spot under our plant lights. The lettuce plants will need a week or so to harden off before being ready to transplant into the garden.

The sage is just a lark for me. If it puts on enough size, I may transplant it at the corners of our East Garden plot to replace the sage plants that got mowed off this summer. (When someone else is kind enough to be doing your mowing for you, you don't quibble over a few mowed down plants.) If it doesn't, I'll try overwintering the plants under our plant lights or on a sunny windowsill.

If you can't tell, I'm absolutely thrilled with how our fall garden is doing. In the spring, I was either in too much pain or totally zoned out on heavy duty pain killers to really enjoy our garden. Now, I'm really on a gardening high.

I missed what was probably a beautiful sunset last night. But I did catch a nice shot of the evening sky, using the night landscape setting of my backup camera (which was handy at the time).

Night sky over our Senior Garden

Happy Cardiologist, Happy Senior Gardener

A visit to the heart surgeon who inserted four stents into my heart last winter went well yesterday. He was very pleased with my progress, as I truthfully answered "no, no, no" to all the questions that might indicate problems with my heart or side effects from the medications I'm on. Since I was eight months past my stents, he did take mercy on me, taking me off the blood thinner, Plavix, possibly against his better judgment. I've always bruised easily, and with the Plavix, I bruised and bled profusely. Note that I had non-coated stents inserted because of my then, upcoming hip surgery. I guess with the coated stents, one has to stay on blood thinners for at least a year after surgery.

And hey, I'm just happy to be alive and gardening. I give thanks to the Lord for each new day, especially now without blinding pain from my previously bad hip.

Raised Beds

Sunday, September 13, 2015 - Fall Lettuce

Cleaned lettuceNew lettuce transplantedI picked the first of our fall lettuce last evening to provide salad to go along with a wonderful spaghetti dinner Annie had prepared. I cut three plants, different varieties, but all romaines. Cleaning the lettuce took far longer than it should have, as we'd blown grass clippings onto and into the plants when mowing. And we ended up with far more finished lettuce than the three of us (Annie, granddaughter Katherine, and I) could consume in one meal. Even with the heat we had a little over a week ago, the lettuce was all crisp and sweet.

Having begun our lettuce harvest last night, I turned this morning to filling in the gaps I'd left in the patch. We still had five fairly healthy lettuce transplants left from our original planting, so I squeezed them all in where I could. We also have two fourpacks of very young lettuce transplants hardening off on the back porch. They'll go into the ground as mature plants are harvested (and devoured).

Bugs on Spinach

When picking the lettuce and a little spinach yesterday, I noticed lots of tiny hopping or flying bugs on the spinach leaves. Whatever the bugs were, the spinach got a good dose of insecticidal soap today.

Cucumber Seed

Harvesting JLP cucumber seed for seed savingLots of germinationI harvested seed today from a big batch of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers I'd let sit and mature on the back porch. I almost let the cukes go too long, as some were drying and beginning to brown. But I'd been less than pleased with germination tests for some of our previous batches this year, and wanted to make sure we got as much mature seed as possible. Eight or nine long JLP cucumbers produced a pint of seed and goo to be fermented before being dried and saved. I did carefully wash the goo (that prevents germination) off a small sample of the seed to start an initial germination test.

Interestingly, a retest of a batch of JLP seed turned out far better than a previous test. I'd inadvertently done the first test on top of our new refrigerator. The old fridge ran hot on top, but I noticed that the new one is cold on top. With disappointing results from the first test, I did a second one, putting the test bag of seed in a dark drawer in our fairly warm sunroom. While it was really hard to count, I think we got 90% germination in the retest.


In a year when many gardeners lost their tomato plants early in the season to damp conditions, we've been fortunate to have a good crop since mid-July. Our four open pollinated Earlirouge plants first gave us all the tomatoes for fresh use, canning, and sharing that we could want. As those semi-determinate plants declined for a while, our hybrid Mountain Fresh and Mountain Merit plants took up the slack. The Mountain Merit plant isn't doing so well now, but the Mountain Fresh tomato plant has been producing lots of large, tasty tomatoes.

Rejuvinated Earlirouge Tomato Plants

Apparently not to be outdone, our Earlirouge plants, revitalized by some good rains, are now ripening a good many more tomatoes. We may be experiencing one of those lucky years where we have fresh, ripe tomatoes right up until the first frost.

Organics from Amazon
Safer Insect Killing Soap Neem Oil Pyrethrin Serenade Thuricide (BT) Dipel Dormant oil spray Diatomaceous Earth

Monday, September 14, 2015 - Making Garlic Powder

Cull garlic cloves"Blessed" with a bumper crop of cull garlic cloves, I worked for days on the sticky, nasty job of converting them to garlic powder. The garlic bulbs in question have bad wrappers or rotting cloves, either of which make the bulbs unsuitable for long term storage. Mind you, I'm not complaining. We had our best crop of garlic this year that we've ever grown. We stored ten pounds of elephant garlic and five pounds of standard garlic in July.

Turning cull garlic into garlic powder first involves breaking the bulbs into individual cloves. One saves the good cloves while discarding damaged or rotting cloves. And that's the easy part.

Peeling garlic clovesThen comes the long job of trimming the ends of the cloves and peeling them. Many of the garlic cloves were still quite sticky, making getting their dry covering off rather difficult, even with a trick I learned years ago from the TV show of Chef Tell, Friedman Paul Erhardt. One lays a clove on a cutting board and smacks it with a wide knife or cleaver. Getting just the right amount of force in the smack is almost an art form. But it also helps release the thin, dry covering from the garlic clove. You can see better directions for the process in How to Peel Garlic Quickly and Easily.

Interesting note from Wikipedia for Muppet Show fans: Chef Tell's "thick German accent reportedly made him the inspiration for the Swedish Chef, a well known Muppet character on The Muppet Show,1 although this is denied by Brian Henson."

After peeling, there is the occasional bad spot to be cut out. But garlic is a pretty healthy crop, with probably over 95% of the cloves being perfect after peeling.

It took me five days to get almost all of our cull garlic peeled. I stored the peeled cloves in a Debbie Meyer Green Bag inside a Ziplock freezer bag in our refrigerator until I was ready to process them. Even so, our refrigerator smelled, and our freezer absolutely stunk of garlic. The veggie bins must somehow vent through the freezer. I also had to move our compost bucket with its tight fitting lid outside, as the garlic smell still escaped the bucket.

Slicing garlicWith almost a quart of garlic cloves peeled and both my wife and my patience worn out with the garlic smell, I ran the cleaned cloves through a food processor using its slicing blade. Some of the cloves actually sliced, mainly the elephant garlic. The smaller cloves were turned into a sticky garlic paste. The few extra, standard, cull garlic bulbs that didn't get processed went into a mesh bag in our kitchen for near term use. I still have six or seven huge cull elephant garlic bulbs in a box on the back porch that I need to find something to do with.

Spreading sliced garlic on food processor traysI began to realize just how big a batch of sliced garlic I had when I saw that the bowl of the food processor was almost filled with garlic. In previous batches, it reached about a quarter full, at best.

The garlic goo got spread as best as I could on the four shelves of our food dehydrator. With much of the garlic being pretty sticky, it was difficult to get it spread in a thin even layer for drying. I had to go back and break some of the thick areas apart after the first day of drying.

Kitchen cleanup after getting the garlic into the dehydrator was like a chemical spill cleanup. Every kitchen utensil I used got washed and scalded. Table and counter tops were washed, with the paper towels going into a trash bag that almost immediately went out to the trash cans outdoors.

Food dehydrator in garageFrom sad experience, I knew not to start the drying process in the kitchen. The dehydrator went on top of our freezer in the garage, where the odor may annoy some of our dogs who sleep there, but may also drive off some bugs. It was set at the recommended 95o F for drying garlic, although I've been known to push it up 10-15o at times. Much more than 115o F in the food dehydrator or 150o F in an oven and you risk burning the garlic.

The freezer space was enabled by a mini-project in 2012 where I insulated the west wall of our garage, covering it with plywood. It made the perfect space for our freezer, and also for the dehydrator on top of the freezer. Previously, the freezer was at the end of a bay on the east end of the garage where it was all too convenient to lay greasy wrenches and such.

The long, round black bag beside the freezer contains a long (250') roll of floating row cover material. I'd bought the row cover last fall when it was on sale, planning to use it last spring to protect our young melon crops from cucumber beetles. Of course, with my hip surgery in May, the East Garden didn't get planted this year. But like the stuff in the freezer, the row cover won't spoil when properly protected, and should be ready for use in spring, 2016.

Dried garlic on dehydrator shelvesFinished ground garlic powder in coffee grinderIt took about two days in our food dehydrator for the garlic to dry enough to be ground. Times for drying can vary a good bit. I've had garlic (and peppers and such) dry down in just a day, and other times take several days.

I scrape the dried garlic off the dehydrator shelves with a metal turner, as most of the garlic was stuck to the shelves. Then I load it by hand into a coffee grinder we use only for grinding herbs and spices. Just a minute of grinding reduces the dried garlic chips to a fine powder.

Garlic containers, grinder, and Cheerios for clean-upAfter letting the garlic dust settle a bit in the grinder, I dump the ground garlic through a funnel into an appropriate container. For us this time, the appropriate containers were an old, commercial garlic powder plastic jar and another that still had just a bit of commercial garlic powder in it. That amount of garlic powder will easily last us until this time next year when it's time to grind garlic into powder again.

Soaking dehydrator traysI included the Cheerios in the photo at left because I use them or some Quaker Oats to run through the coffee grinder to help clean it. After a load or two of oat cleaner, a thorough wiping with a damp paper towel gets most of the garlic dust.

Cleaning out dehydrator trays involves soaking them in hot detergent water for several minutes before scrubbing them with a stiff vegetable brush. The garlic chips bake fast to the trays, making the option of drying garlic on a cookie sheet seem more attractive, although I've never tried that method.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - BLTs

Fall Lettuce (and Spinach)Earlirouge TomatoesCelebrating our fall lettuce harvest and our continued harvest of a few good tomatoes, Annie and I feasted on bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches last night at supper. Lots of crisp, baby romaine lettuce leaves and thick slices of tomato from our garden made these sandwiches stand out from previous, less well endowed ones. Our dinners for at least the next few nights will need to center around salad, as we have lots of great lettuce picked with more coming on in our main raised garden bed. With the use of cold frames and/or floating row covers, I hope we'll have good lettuce into early November!

While out in the garden taking photos this morning, I noticed an awful lot of bugs on our plants. Squash bugs, denied their favorite crops in our garden this year, were on many of our ripening tomatoes. I also spied several moths fluttering about, and more holes in the leaves of our brassica plants than I would like.

So after photo time, I filled up our organic sprayer with a mix of insecticidal soap and Thuricide (BT) and let the plants and bugs have it. I'm not sure if the insecticidal soap will interfere with the BT, but what I really wanted today was a knockdown spray for the bugs I saw.

Note that I keep three hand sprayers available. One is used only for organic and biological products. Another is just for Roundup. And a third is used for non-organic pesticides and fungicides. There's actually a fourth sprayer in the basement. But it's reserved for bleach solution, as our cats sometimes have some bad toileting habits in the basement. As long as I thoroughly wash out the sprayers each fall, they last for years. And keeping separate sprayers relieves me of the worry of possibly having Roundup residue left in a spray I put on our garden plants.

Kale Plants from Burpee

Kale Plants and Seed from Burpee GardeningRed Ursa KaleWe direct seed our kale each year, whether planting in the spring or in the fall. A promotional email from Burpee Seed this morning reminded me that not everyone does kale that way. Burpee is currently offering ten different varieties of kale plantsicon, although they seem a little expensive when compared to a fat packet of Vates (also called Dwarf Blue Curled or Dwarf Blue Scotch) kale seed. But for folks who didn't or possibly couldn't direct seed kale this fall due to droughty conditions, transplanting might be their only option to get a crop.

I didn't plant our kale for this year until July 31, planning on a fall crop to use in our annual batches of Portuguese Kale Soup. With our reduced sized garden this season, there simply wasn't room for a spring or summer crop of the delicious vegetable. Started in hot, dry weather, our kale has grown slowly, only now being ready for a light picking and final thinning of the plants. One of the large leafed varieties, the Red Ursa that supplied our best garden photo of 2013, will probably be used this weekend for a batch of kale chips to please a granddaughter. But it should quickly regrow to contribute to our later soup and boiled kale feasts. Since kale is pretty frost hardy, we usually count on being able to pick it through October and much of November.

Late fall crops such as lettuce and kale can interfere with getting ones soil ready for the next season. Our tentative plan for our main raised bed for next spring doesn't include any of our super early spring plantings (such as early peas). If the weather cooperates and we can fall till the area, that will be great. But if not, we should be able to do our soil preparation in the spring without holding up any of our spring plantings waiting for good weather.

Gearing Up

AmazonAmazonI've been stocking up on a few supplies that I hope to use yet this fall. I picked up a bag of Muriate of Potash for our potatoes and garlic yesterday. A friend at our local garden store put me on to it last year. It's pretty strong stuff (0-0-60), so I like to apply it to our potato area in the fall so that it can mellow out a bit over the winter. Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (potash - K) don't leach out of the soil as badly as nitrogen (N) does, so they can be applied in the fall. (See Wikipedia's description of Labeling of Fertilizer for a more thorough description of NPK fertilizer values.)

Also for our potato patch, I'd previously bought a small bag of garden sulfur to drop the soil's pH in that area of our East Garden plot. While it seems strange, I'm also stocking up on garden lime to apply to the rest of our East Garden. I'll be lowering the soil pH in the potato area to prevent potato scab disease while raising it in the rest of the East Garden. Because we use lots of peat moss in our main garden plots, they'll also get a light dusting of lime when I do our fall soil preparation of those areas.

Next Gloxinia, Please!

Purple Blooming Gloxinia on Kitchen CounterGloxinias on Plant RackWhile they're not the smashing second year, third, and older gloxinias we used to have before the INSV virus took out all of our plants two years ago, our first and second year gloxinia plants are now coming into bloom again. I switched out a pale pink blooming glox this morning in our kitchen for one with deep purple blooms. The gloxinias never seem to mind sharing the counter with vegetables and saved seed that is fermenting. Perching the gloxinias on top of coffee cans seems to get them to just the right height to catch the afternoon sun that streams in through our west facing kitchen window.

Downstairs under our plant lights, all three shelves of our plant rack are almost totally filled with gloxinia plants. Most of them are just coming into bloom, although there are two trays of plants that have finished blooming and are headed into their annual, required period of dormancy.

Our Gloxinia blog and our Gloxinia Photos pages remain two of the most visited pages on this site. While we've lost our gloxinia plants twice in the last ten years, our photos of them remain. More importantly, seed saved from the 1990's and later still remains viable in frozen storage. Every few years, I get busy hand pollinating our plants to replenish our seed supply, as Saving Gloxinia Seed is a pretty easy task.

Gloxinias under lights

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - Hummingbirds

Our Senior Garden - September 16, 2015Hummingbird through windowWe still have five or six humming birds regularly visiting our feeders, but they're all transients. We can tell the birds aren't some of our summer residents, as the summer birds became acclimated to Annie and I sitting on the back porch close to one of the feeders. They'd fly by our heads and sit at the feeder without seeming to notice us.

The birds visiting now are too shy to perch on the feeder when Annie and I are present. And soon, they'll all be gone. We'll miss seeing them, but also will appreciate the savings in our grocery bill from not having to buy so much sugar each month to make nectar for them.

Monarch or Viceroy

I saw either a Monarch or Viceroy butterfly this week in our back yard. I'm not good enough at identification to tell which is which, and was too far away to tell, anyway. But the sight reminded me that I had wanted to plant some milkweed this year to provide food for the endangered butterflies in their migrations. Like a lot of other stuff this year, the planting didn't get done, but the sight this week made me firm my resolve to use one of our outlying isolation patches next summer for milkweed. So I ordered several packets of native milkweed seed late last night.

If you order milkweed seed through Amazon, watch the reviews at the bottom of the product page. It appears there's at least one bad operator out there trying to ship seed into the country without the proper certification. Ordering from them may result in the seed ordered being confiscated in the mail!

Milkweed seed seems to require some stratification to germinate well. Here are a couple of links that describe how to start the seed:

Burpee Contest

Burpee Fall in Love with Gardening SweepstakesGarden Tower 2 50-Plant Composting Container GardenContests come and go, and I usually don't get very excited about them. But the first prize in Burpee's Fall in Love with Gardening Sweepstakesicon had me wanting to enter. They're giving away a Garden Tower 2, a product I've written about here previously. There are other prizes as well for the sixteen winners.

Since Burpee is one of our affiliate advertisers, I'm not eligible to enter per contest rules. Come to think of it, The Garden Tower Project is also one of our advertisers. But it still looks like a pretty cool sweepstakes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015 - Green Beans

Green beans ready to pickWhen I walked out to our garden this morning, I was surprised to find that we had a few green beans that were ready to be picked. Most of them were the Burpee's Stringless Green Pod variety, although some Contender and Provider were also mature. Our second row of Bush Blue Lake, Maxibel, and Strike weren't quite as far along.

Crockett's Victory GardenFollowing the sage advice of the late Jim Crockett, I had seeded our green beans on July 31. Crockett wrote in Crockett's Victory Garden, "Bush beans seem to be at their most tender late in the season, so I always plant a crop in July that will be ready for harvest in September." Actually, our downsized garden, crop rotations, and field corn growing in the field beside our main raised bed dictated growing our beans late this year. There just wasn't room for beans in the spring, and with field corn instead of soybeans growing next door, there wasn't the danger of hordes of bean bugs moving from soybeans onto our more tender and much more favored green bean plants. Of course, I still have had to spray our beans for bugs three times already, but have been able each time to get by using organic products.

Green beans ready to snapHaving lived through a frozen shoulder last summer from picking beans, I had resolved to get help picking beans this year. But with just a few beans ready, I went ahead and picked a small mess of them that will get cooked for supper tonight. I once again regretted having mulched our bean rows with grass clippings, as the clippings stuck to the bean pods and made cleaning them a real chore.

A side benefit from picking the beans quickly became apparent. Our first row of bean plants were overgrowing our carrot rows and some of our lettuce plants. During the picking, I was able to roll the bean plants away from the crops they'd been shading.

While we've cut back many of our plantings in recent years to reflect just Annie and I being home now, I still planted our traditional two rows of bush green beans. I had the space and really wanted to go with the six bean varieties we've used the last few years. I think canned green beans taste better with multiple varieties included.

Bean plants rolled back from lettuce and carrots

With flowers at the ends of the bean rows taking up a little space, the planting comes in at 28 feet of green beans, easily enough over three pickings to produce the 14-21 quarts we hope to can. One downside to our bean harvest this year is that all of our Walla Walla sweet onions that we usually can with the beans have already been used. Our yellow storage onions and several reds should fill in nicely, though.

Sage and Lettuce

Sage ready to be uppottedSage in four inch potThe sage I started indoors on August 18 in fourpacks was ready to be moved to larger, individual pots this morning. Since all of my four inch plastic pots had seemed to have run off somewhere, the sage got the more roomy 4 1/2 inch pots. I'm not sure this planting will come to anything, as I got the sage started too late. I seeded it on a lark when I was starting some more fall lettuce. The intended use for the sage was for corner and half way markers in our East Garden plot.

The lettuce that was seeded the same day as the sage got thinned to one plant per cell of fourpacks or moved to deep sixpack inserts. The Crispino, Skyphos, Winter Density, Defender, and Red Lollo I moved today will probably be our last lettuce planting of the year, as these transplants should mature sometime in October.

Sage and lettuce in larger pots

Cook's Garden Gourmet Herbs


Saturday, September 19, 2015 - Kale Chips

Our row of kale before picking/thinningSamaritlan's PurseI made another attempt at making kale chips yesterday. I'd tried baking kale leaves to make the chips last October with just so-so results (in my opinion). I got too much olive oil and salt on them then, and also burnt the edges of some of the leaves a little. A posting on Oh, She Glows, 6 Tips for Flawless Kale Chips, encouraged me to make another attempt, this time using our food dehydrator to dry the chips.

I began the pleasant task early in the day while it was still cloudy and cool outside. Our row of kale was ready for a light picking and also needed to be thinned. In some areas, I just picked, or rather, snipped the kale stems with a good pair of sharp kitchen shears. In other areas, I took out whole plants, trimming their leaves into a 12 quart kettle. It didn't take long to fill the kettle, and I later went back and half filled it again.

After the picking and thinning, I sprinkled a little 12-12-12 fertilizer along the side of the kale plants and worked it into the soil a bit with a garden scratcher. Kale, like most brassicas, is a heavy feeder and should quickly respond to a little fertilizer.

I was pleased to find only one cabbage moth worm at the bottom of my kettle after soaking, cleaning, and stemming the kale. I did, however, find several small, white egg cases on the bottoms of kale leaves. It would appear that the application of insecticidal soap and the biologic, Thuricide (BT), I made on Tuesday was effective.

Kale drying in colandersThe best of the kale went into a couple of colanders to air dry. Lesser and extra leaves were boiled with a bit of bacon and some onion for supper. After the kale leaves dried, I applied a little olive oil and sea salt/seasoned salt to the kale after laying the leaves out on the shelves of our food dehydrator. It took a little less than three hours in the dehydrator set at 135o F for the kale to dry.

Finished kale chipsNo leaves were burned this time around, although I still made a mistake. I thought I'd salted the kale very lightly with sea salt on two trays and seasoned salt on the other two. What I'd forgotten was that kale shrinks a lot in drying, while the salt remains, becoming more concentrated with the shrinkage.

Green beans cookingThe good news is that our granddaughter, Katherine, for whom I was making the kale chips, absolutely loved them. She ate all four dehydrator trays of them last night. Even better news (for me, at least) was that we had some delicious boiled kale with our supper. As is often our practice during gardening season, supper included two vegetables. We also had green beans leftover from Thursday. I found them to be even better reheated than they were the first time around.

Eckrich Skinless Smoked Sausage iconWe may try making another batch of kale chips yet this fall. Most of our kale will be reserved for a batch or two of Portuguese Kale Soup. I stocked up on the necessary skinless smoked sausageicon this week at the grocery, as it was on sale. The checker didn't bat an eye as she rang up my six packages of smoked sausage, enough for two batches of the delicious soup. The smoked sausage also makes an excellent, easy meal when baked with boxed potatoesicon.


First head of fall broccoli set onWhile working in the garden, I took a moment to peek at a head of broccoli in a row next to our kale row. One of the plants had set on a head earlier in the week, and I'd been checking it daily. Between Thursday and Friday, it appeared to have doubled in size!

I'd been a little concerned that our broccoli might go to seed or be bitter because of the high temperatures we were having (upper 80s, low 90s). Overnight, a cold front came through with a little very welcome rain. Our daily high temperatures are predicting to drop 10-15o F for the next few days. Since we have a lot of cool weather crops maturing now (Sugar Snap peas, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, and spinach), the cooler temperatures should help things along. Our remaining warm weather crops (peppers and tomatoes) will just have to make do in the cool weather.

Something Really Nice

REO Speedwagon at the EPC - December 3, 2010The Firefly GrillAnnie and I really enjoy overnight getaways, often to nearby concerts. One of our favorite venues over the years has been the Effingham (Illinois) Performance Center. We've seen a number of really good concerts there. Each time we visit Effingham, we make sure we have reservations for dinner at the Firefly Grill. It's always an incredible dining experience.

On our last visit to Effingham, we arrived an hour early and had plenty of time to enjoy touring the Firefly's garden plots just outside the restaurant. The Firefly rightfully prides itself in using local meat and produce, some grown just a few feet from where it is served!

Garden plots just outside the Firefly's kitchenNew garden plot in valley below restaurantI wrote co-owner Kristie Campbell, who is always good to respond to my emails, admiring their garden plots and their new garden plot under construction. Kristie asked their newsletter writer, Jessica Rommel, to reach out to me and include a brief posting about Senior Gardening. Jessica did, and we're featured in a brief, but wonderful posting about Senior Gardening in the Firefly's September Newsletter. We're honored and thankful for the publicity, as Senior Gardening is truly a niche site.

I'm not sure I would really appreciate Senior Gardening being anything more than a niche site. I enjoy being quietly retired, gardening, writing about it with no deadlines, and trading emails with my many gardening friends.

Have a great weekend!

Firefly Grill

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

Monday, September 21, 2015 - Picking Green Beans Again

Our Senior Garden - September 21, 2015Annie and I did a thorough picking of our first row of green beans yesterday. I'd done a light picking on Thursday, but we still almost filled a five gallon bucket with some absolutely gorgeous fresh green beans. When cleaned and snapped, the beans only made four quarts for canning and a bit more for fresh use. But it was a nice, cool afternoon to work in the garden and sit on the back porch snapping beans.

Our bean rowsOur two rows of green beans were planted on the same day, but were treated a bit differently. Seed for our first row was soaked before planting, while seed for the second row wasn't pre-soaked. This wasn't any kind of a test or scientific experiment. The day I planted the beans, I was unsure if I had room for a second row. It was very hot that day, and by the time I got to the beans, I was hot, tired, and my hip was killing me. So when I saw that I could just squeeze in a second row of green beans. the furrow got watered before I direct seeded the beans dry into the ground. The first row also got our three earliest maturing varieties, although there's not more than five to ten days difference between the earliest and latest bean variety planted. I'm thinking that our results this year may show the value of soaking green bean seed before direct seeding in dry weather.

Checking Onions (and Garlic)

We always can our green beans with a good bit of chopped onion for flavoring. So along with my picking, snapping, and canning chores, it was time to check our onions again. It's important to check onions in storage at least once a month for spoilage, as one bad onion let go for a time can cause a whole bag to rot.

When I check our onions (and garlic), I pour a whole bag of them into a seed flat or tray. I then return them one at a time, trusting sight, smell, and touch to reveal rotting or softness that indicates an onion is beginning to go bad. And each time I go to the basement for an onion for cooking, I gently squeeze the onions in the bag I'm accessing to check for rot.

We didn't grow potatoes this year, so we don't have them to check for rot. The process, however, is the same, and possibly even more important than checking ones onions. A whole bag of potatoes can go bad in a real hurry from just one bad spud. Our stored garlic is more prone to simply dry out than rot, as I'm pretty tough roguing out bad garlic before we put ours into storage. That's possibly why we have so many cull garlic bulbs each year, using the still good cloves to dry and grind for garlic powder.

I ended up pitching several bad onions. I also found several onions with soft spots that indicated problems to come. Those onions got used in the canning of the green beans. I only had to cut off a couple of layers of bad outer wrappers.

First Frost

It seems hard to believe, but we could be within ten to fifteen days of our first frost that could end the growing season for some of our garden plants. Over the last seven years, the occurrence of our first frost has varied from October 5 (2010) to October 30 (2008). The Senior Garden is located pretty close to a dividing line on climate charts for the first 32° F frost, but generally, we expect our first frost to arrive sometime in the second half of October.

When I began gardening in Indianapolis in the 1970s, a county extension agent there gave me an easy to remember rule-of thumb for frost dates. He suggested "5/10 and 10/5" (May 10 - October 5). We now live a bit further south, so we have a little longer growing season, but not much longer. I basically rely on the extension agent's saying now, although our we usually get a week or more on each end of our growing season in our current location.

Currently, the easiest way to find ones frost dates, both spring and fall, comes from the Dave's Garden site. They have a page where one only has to enter their zip code to get a range of dates for first frosts at various temperatures.

Pea Blossoms Eventually = Peas

I'm adding this section to today's posting with the sweet taste of a Sugar Snap pea in my mouth. We grow most of our peas in the spring, and they're all shell peas for freezing. But I was able to work a row of Sugar Snap peas into our fall garden plan. I say that I grow the Sugar Snaps for our grandkids to eat fresh right off the vine. That's partially true, but Annie and I also love Sugar Snap peas.

When I went outside to grab a photo of our rows of green beans, I also snapped a few shots of blossoms on our Sugar Snap pea vines and some mature Sugar Snaps. I also picked, removed the strings, and popped a sweet pea pod into my mouth.

Sugar Snap Pea Blossoms Mature Sugar Snap Peas

Like a lot of the rest of our fall garden, our Sugar Snaps were a bit of a risk to plant. We just barely had enough growing days left in the season when I direct seeded the tall peas along a trellis on the south end of our main raised bed on July 24. Having soaked the pea seed a bit, and with daily waterings, the peas emerged somewhat irregularly from the soil. The row eventually filled in with pea plants, but it took several weeks.

Even so, it appears we'll be able to satisfy the grandkids' love of Sugar Snaps and possibly freeze a few pints for winter use.

Germination Test

JLP "Heavies"JLP "Floaters" TestI went ahead and read a couple of germination tests a day or so early this morning. After fermenting a large batch of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed, I started germination tests with both the good seed that had settled to the bottom of the fermentation jar and also with the floaters, seeds usually assumed to be bad because they float to the top of the fermentation jar.

I'd started the germination tests late on September 17 and would normally not look for results until the fourth, fifth, or sixth day of the test. But I'd peeked at the bags of seed yesterday and could tell that we were getting some germination in both tests. As it turned out, our good seed, the heavies that sank in the jar tested at 80%. I'd dumped so many floaters onto the wet paper towel for the test that I hadn't even bothered to count them. So I can only estimate that we got between 20-30% germination there. But any seed sprouting from the floaters is a bonus. That seed can't be used for sharing, but it adds a bit of insurance in case something goes terribly wrong with the other batch of seed in storage.

Interestingly, I'd washed the goo off some of the cucumber seed before starting the fermentation process and ran a germination test on it. It wasn't a fair test, as I only used fat seeds, ones that were pretty sure to end up being heavies instead of floaters if fermented. That test produced about 92% germination, suggesting one could skip the fermentation process and just thoroughly wash saved cucumber seed. Of course, the fermentation process not only helps separate the goo and cucumber flesh from the seeds, it can also kill off bacteria living on the seeds' surface.

Taking It Easy Today

After picking beans yesterday and lugging heavy canning equipment up and downstairs, there are few muscles and joints in my body that don't hurt today. Instead of sucking down some pain killers, I'm just going to be lazy today, other than already having gotten in my first set of hip rehab exercises this morning. Gardening really is one of the joys of retirement. Being able to pick your spots and days to do chores may be another. The only lifting I'll be doing to day is of my glass of iced tea!

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wunderground 10-day forecastOur Senior Garden - September 24, 2015We're in a stretch of really nice weather. Daily highs are in the 80s (F), but with little humidity. Area farmers are taking advantage of the good weather, harvesting soybeans and field corn as fast as they can. With the current, extended dry spell, they should be able to bring in a lot of their crops before the usual fall rains begin.

For gardening, the current weather conditions make working outside in the cool mornings delightful. On the other hand, our soil is very dry right now. Nothing has started to wilt, but there's not much chance for rain in our extended forecast, either.


Spinach ready to pick

Washing spinach leaves
Spinach picked, cull leaves litter lawn

After a first picking a few weeks ago, our row of spinach filled back in and was ready for another picking yesterday. It only took a few minutes to pick the entire row, nearly filling a five gallon bucket.

Cleaning the spinach took considerably longer than the picking. I rinsed the leaves twice in the picking bucket before washing them one by one under the kitchen faucet. While I'd carefully culled out bad leaves while picking, making a bit of a mess I still need to clean up as I tossed them aside, many of the good leaves had dirt and/or grass clippings clinging to them.

When I was done cleaning, I had put a big green bag of large spinach leaves and a smaller green bag of baby spinach in the refrigerator. But I still had a colander overflowing with spinach leaves left. I needed a spinach intensive recipe for supper!

Cheese and Spinach RavioliA little online searching provided a recipe that I modified a bit to make an incredible chicken, spinach, and ravioli dish. I sautéed some chopped onion, garlic, celery, and sliced mushrooms in olive oil while a package of spinach and cheese ravioli warmed in a separate pan of chicken broth. Some chicken tenders sprinkled with ground paprika went into the pan next. Once the chicken was browned, I added the colander of spinach, stripping out the stems, of course, and added a little white cooking wine. Then the ravioli and broth were added along with a jar of alfredo sauceicon and a little heavy cream and were allowed to simmer a bit.

That not much of a recipe, I realize. But that's sort of the way I cook.

When I rinsed some spinach leaves yesterday, I saved every bit of the rinse water, dumping it on the spinach bed. But everything needs water all at once, now, and we simply don't have the well capacity to irrigate.

Getting Ready for Winter (and Spring)

Raised bed mulched for winterI mowed and raked (swept) the back yard on Tuesday, mainly so I'd have some grass clippings to work with. I mulched our narrow raised bed for the winter. It will be used for early peas in the spring. Getting ones soil prepped in the fall considerably eases such early spring plantings. I'll just pull back the mulch and plant the peas, probably sometime in March!

I also picked the last of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers and pulled the few remaining vines. I did leave the trellis in place, as we have some snapdragons intertwined with the trellis netting that I hope will begin blooming profusely, now that they're not having to fight the cucumber vines for light and soil moisture.

That narrow bed will need to be cleared next month, as we'll be planting it to garlic yet this fall. As with the other narrow raised bed, it will be heavily mulched with grass clippings once it is planted. Doing so helps stabilize soil temperatures, although one has to be careful to pull the mulch as early as possible in the spring, or when the garlic shoots begin to come up. Grass clippings will matt and prevent weaker garlic plants from pushing leaves through matted mulch!

Impatiens and Hummingbirds

Hummingbird by impatiensWe still have hummingbirds at our feeders, at least, we did as of yesterday. With our overnight low temperatures getting into the mid-50s, I really had expected the transients we're now feeding to be pretty well gone. But we still have about a half dozen of the speedy birds visiting our two feeders, still fighting each other for dominance at the feeders. The birds also work the blooms of our hanging basket of impatiens, apparently looking for nectar and bugs.

Canes and Ladders

I'm finally off my cane. I was having to use it early in the morning and late at night for about a week, but finally don't even have to do that. I do, however, still keep a folding cane in my truck, just in case. But I'm also parking at the far end of parking lots when shopping to give me a bit more exercise going in and out of stores.

Pushing my hip rehab pretty hard this morning, I was up on a stepladder washing windows. I may yet pay for that one, but our bay windows in the dining room sure look a lot better. Standing on a ladder and riding the lawn mower are still two things that really irritate my new hip.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - The Race is On

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgFall Garden Plan & RecordWhen I was teaching, a fall garden was pretty much out of the question. My classroom duties required almost all of my time getting things started at the beginning of a new school year. Now in retirement, I am blessed with the opportunity and challenge to grow almost a whole new garden each fall.

July and August, when one typically plants fall crops in this area, are the driest months of our growing season. This year, the annual mini-drought that plagues our area has extended well into September. So the catch in this wonderful challenge is getting our fall crops up and out of the ground during the driest part of the growing season in time to beat the first killing frosts of fall.

We employ several tricks to get our fall crops going, including pre-soaking seed before planting, heavily watering planting furrows before direct seeding, using transplants when we can, lots of grass clipping mulch to hold in what soil moisture is already present, and very limited, selective watering of newly seeded or transplanted crops. (See World's Most Expensive Row of Green Beans for why we don't water more. And yes, I keep a brand new, unused jet well pump in stock in case I screw up again.)

Beyond the hot, dry weather and soil moisture problems of getting a fall garden going, we have to be cognizant of our limited number of growing days before our first killing frost. Our first frost usually occurs sometime in October, although we're able to get past mild frosts with the use of cold frames and/or floating row covers over our tender crops.

Below is an commented listing of the fall crops we're watching with days-to-maturity figures in parentheses and a target harvest date calculated from the planting/transplanting date. Note that the target harvest dates do not allow for the shortening day lengths in fall. For us, tomorrow will be the first day of fall when we receive less than 12 hours of sunlight as our days continue to steadily shorten. After this point, one might need to add seven to ten days to traditional days-to-maturity figures for various crops.

Sugar Snap Pea BlossomsSugar Snap peas (64) - direct seeded July 24 - target September 27 - Our Sugar Snap vines are now filled with blooms, but there are only a few peas maturing on the vines.

Amazing cauliflower (68) - transplanted July 31 - target October 7 - I put out only two cauliflower plants this year, as our fall cauliflower never seems to mature before a frost.

Premium Crop BroccoliPremium Crop broccoli (58) - transplanted July 31 - target September 27 - I cut our first head of broccoli this morning (September 25), although the other four plants are just getting close to putting on heads. But we should get a good crop of main heads yet, as broccoli is pretty frost tolerant. And of course, once the main heads are cut, broccoli can put out an abundance of smaller, but tasty sideshoots.

Various kale varieties (55-62) - direct seeded July 31 - target September 24-October 2 - We've done light pickings and thinnings of the kale already for kale chips and boiled kale. Since kale is quite frost hardy, we should easily make a good crop of it for at least one big batch of Portuguese Kale Soup.

Various green bean varieties (50-61) - direct seeded July 31 - target September 19-30 - We did a thorough picking of our first row of green beans last weekend (September 20), but our second row of somewhat later varieties are taking their time setting beans, especially the Bush Blue Lakes. As long as we don't get an early frost, we should still make a crop with them.

Fall carrotsVarious carrot varieties (56-75) - direct seeded August 5 - target September 30-October 19 - Our fall carrots are beginning to look really iffy. They have nice, healthy top growth, but aren't thickening their roots much yet. That could just be a matter of timing, although I'm worried about the poor soil moisture limiting their growth. Since I messed up our spring carrots, this is a crop we really need to bring in well.

America SpinachVarious spinach varieties (43-45) - direct seeded August 5 - target September 17-19 - We stole baby spinach leaves early on for spinach salad, picking the whole row once for boiled spinach, and picked it a second time just this week. Obviously, our spinach has done very well, possibly because it got watered more than any of our other fall crops.

When I picked spinach on Wednesday, I left a few America plants unpicked at the very end of the row. At that point, I knew I'd picked far more spinach than I needed for our dinner. I like the looks of the savoyed leaves of the variety, although it's hard to get bugs, dirt, and grass clippings cleaned out of the depressions. America produced far better than the two highly touted, more expensive, hybrid varieties we grew.


I've omitted our fall lettuce until this point (first transplanting August 17), as we take many of our romaine and softhead lettuces pretty early, replanting over and over until cold weather finally ends their season. I pretty well took out all the rest of our first transplanting of lettuce this morning, although there are still five or six small plants remaining that I put in a week or so ago. I have more lettuce transplants on the back porch and will be filling in the open spaces in the bed in the next few days.

Mature Lettuce

Coastal Star Romaine LettuceLettuce DryingThe Coastal Star romaine lettuce that we tried again this year has turned out to be a good match for our fall growing conditions. It's supposed to be a somewhat heat resistant variety. Both of our plants produced nice heads, one taken early as a baby romaine and one late when fully mature.

The one Skyphos plant I cut, a red butterhead, gets the award for most bug damage. We really like the lettuce, and so do the bugs! But we had a very nice Pandero, a red, mini-romaine we're trying for the first time this year, that did quite well.

I used our garden hose to rinse the lettuce thoroughly, although I'm sure we'll find some bugs and grass clippings on it yet. I let the lettuce dry in the sun for a few minutes before bringing it inside to dry some more in our dish drainer. Then it was bagged and went into the vegetable drawers of our refrigerator.

Open lettuce areaAs I finished up today's lettuce adventure, I noticed that I'd left a Crispino iceberg and a Skyphos from our initial planting. Both had been overgrown by our green beans, but somehow survived. So they should make our next cutting of lettuce. And there's now plenty of room for our next transplanting.

This information won't be of much use to gardeners this year with a growing season similar to ours, although the posting will remain available for future use in our blog archive. Gardeners further south may still be starting fall gardens. An old friend who now lives in Florida added me to the Grow Gainsville garden page on Facebook, and I've recently enjoyed watching their postings as they plant their fall gardens.

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

Monday, September 28, 2015 - More Lettuce

Our Senior Garden - September 28, 2015September 13 lettuce plantingI really hadn't planned on doing another posting here until I did our end of the month review on Wednesday. But I got out this morning while our main raised bed was still in the shade and transplanted some more lettuce. Transplanting lettuce near the end of September in the midwest might sound a little crazy, but we plan to protect the crop with a floating row cover through any early frosts. I really hate having any unused garden space during the growing season.

I'd picked the last of our August 17 planting of lettuce last week. We have another small planting that I did on September 13 to keep us in a continual supply. Those plants are looking pretty good at this point and should mature just about the time when we will use up the last of our already picked lettuce that is in the refrigerator.

Today's planting included: 3 Defender, a long, narrow leaved romaine; 2 Winter Density, a bib/romaine type that puts on an abundance of crispy leaves; 2 of our favorite iceberg type, Crispino (grown from seed saved last year); and one each of the reds, Skyphos and Red Lollo. The red lettuces seem to get bitter far quicker in hot weather than the other varieties we grow, but they also add some great color to our garden, and if we pick them early enough, our salads.

Lettuce transplanted

Earliest Red Sweet Pepper PlantWhile I still have a good number of healthy lettuce transplants left on the back porch, we've probably made our last planting/transplanting for the 2015 gardening season. We're out of space, at least space we can protect from frosts, and we're just about out of growing season, even with season extenders such as cold frames and floating row covers. We will be planting garlic next month, but that's for the 2016 gardening season.

Our attention now turns to bringing in what we can from our fall garden and then beginning to prepare our garden beds for next season. As usually happens at this time of year, our bell pepper plants are ripening an incredible amount of peppers. Since we grew the plants for both fresh use and seed saving, I only planted the Earliest Red Sweet variety to ensure the purity of the seed saved. Growing them for the first time in years on good soil, I now remember why I like the variety so much.

Another shot of pea blossomsOur Sugar Snap pea vines have lots of blossoms and are beginning to set pea pods in some volume. But our dry soil conditions have really slowed this crop, with just a few, plump, sweet pea pods produced so far. And while the pea vines have shaded our row of kale (see image above right), the row is now about ready for a really good picking.

We did get a brief shower last evening that dropped two tenths of an inch of rain. That's not much, but we do have a 40-70% chance of rain tomorrow, depending on which weather forecast one uses. We also ran our well dry on Saturday for the first time in several years. We weren't being extravagant with our water use, but the water table is just that low right now. The well recharged in about an hour, but we'll have to really conserve water for the next month or so.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - September Wrap-up

September, 2015, animated GIFWe finally got the rain yesterday that we've desperately needed for over two months. It was a steady and fairly heavy rain that lasted all morning and afternoon, dropping 1.10 inches of precipitation on our dry garden beds. Our lawn seemed to immediately green up.

Even though we're pretty close to the end of our gardening season, the precipitation should do several of our crops a lot of good. With no risk of an early frost in our extended forecast, we may yet harvest good green beans and lots of Sugar Snap peas. Both of those crops have been severely impacted by the dry conditions. Some of our green bean plants have been blooming, but not setting pods. Others were producing short pods with only one bean fattening in them. Most of our Sugar Snap peas have looked more like snow peas, with large pods with only bumps showing where fat peas should be by now.

Despite the dry conditions, we got a lot done in September. We began harvesting lettuce fairly early in the month, with only a few of our plants getting bitter in the occasionally hot, always dry growing conditions. Our row of spinach got picked repeatedly for spinach salad, boiled spinach, and even some spinach and cheese ravioli and shrimp portofino, both with lots of extra spinach added to the sauce.

We made one small batch of bread and butter pickles with some of our Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers. We also were able to save a good bit of the cucumber seed for sharing via the Seed Savers Exchange, even after ruining one large batch with too hot of water during hot water treatment.

Most of the boxes of cull garlics I'd left sitting for a month or so on the back porch got turned into garlic powder. We had so many cull elephant garlics that I sent a box of them with Annie to work to share with her friends there. While we wanted as much garlic powder as we could produce, the mild elephant garlic might not produce pungent enough garlic powder, although we did include some elephant garlic in our powder this time.

Earliest Red Sweet PeppersWe've already enjoyed kale chips and boiled kale from our row of four varieties of kale. The row is just about ready for a really heavy picking. We've had our kale nipped by really heavy frosts in the past, but it usually stands up for a long time through light frosts. We usually have to pull it when it's still producing just to get the ground tilled for the next season.

We've also enjoyed having tomatoes all month long, although not in any great volume. As mentioned Wednesday, our Earliest Red Sweet peppers are really producing right now. Those that we picked on Wednesday got cleaned, sliced, and frozen for winter use last night. I also had three nearly perfect peppers to save seed from, adding to our seed stock.

Flowers in bloom Gloxinias in bloom

The flowers that edge our raised beds have burst into full bloom. By this time of year, they don't have to compete so much for light and moisture from surrounding crops as they do most of the growing season.

And our gloxinias growing downstairs under plant lights have exploded into bloom over the last two weeks.

I managed to find time to finish and put up a feature story that I'd started four years ago. Sadly, almost no one read it all the way through, but that's possibly because it deals with the winter/spring subject of Growing Your Own Transplants. On the other hand, it just may totally suck.

As we move into October, we'll be getting our garden plots ready for next year. We did get one narrow raised bed tilled and mulched for winter and an early spring planting.

I'm beginning to wonder if the hummingbirds visiting our feeders will need fur coats for their migration south. This morning, we still had at least one hummingbird visiting our feeder. That's a bit later than I can remember them staying in the past, but the tiny birds seem to know when to leave. Maybe they know something we don't about when it's going to get really cold this fall.

All in all, we've had a very productive month. We harvested and put up some things for winter and are still enjoying produce from our fall garden. We pretty well finished up our seed saving for the year with good stocks of fresh Earlirouge tomato, Japanese Long Pickling cucumber, and Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed. Physically, my strength and mobility have continued to improve, although on most nights, I can tell exactly where my new titanium hip is!

August, 2015

October, 2015

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening


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