Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

January 15, 2017


Sunday, January 1, 2017 - Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! - 2017

Happy New Year and best wishes from Annie and I for a healthy and successful 2017 gardening season.

Getting Started

Dave's Garden Frost Page for 47882Any active outdoor gardening is still months away for us. Inside is another matter. We'll soon be starting petunias for hanging baskets, geraniums, onions, and vinca. We'll also take cuttings from one of our favorite house plants. I have a general idea of when to start these plants from past experience, but also have some tools to help out when I'm uncertain.

When I'm working with something new, or have one of those senior lapses of memory, a couple of free web pages come in handy in determining a seeding date for transplants. The first comes from Dave's Garden. It calculates ones last and first frost dates from your postal zip code. (For Canadian gardeners, the Old Farmers Almanac has a listing of frost dates for many Canadian cities.)

The second comes from Johnny's Selected Seeds. They've offered a Seed-Starting Date Calculator for years, first as a downloadable spreadsheet, but now as an interactive web page. One just enters their approximate last spring frost date (from Dave's or elsewhere) and the page calculates a date or range of dates when one should start seedlings. This year's calculator appears to have been expanded a good bit to include a lot more vegetables and flowers. It may not have everything listed that you need. For example, Johnny's doesn't sell geranium or vinca (periwinkle) seed, so they don't appear in the calculator.

Johnny's Selected Seeds Seed-Starting Date Calculator

Some seed vendors print planting information on their seed packets, usually stated as, "Start seed indoors xx weeks before your last frost date." A few seed vendors publish some pretty clear instructions in their seed catalogs and on their web sites. Here are the directions from two outstanding seed houses for starting Mountain Fresh Plus tomatoes.

Johnny's Selected Seeds Stokes Seeds
CULTURE: GROWING SEEDLINGS: Don't start too early! Root-bound, leggy plants that have open flowers or fruit when planted out may remain stunted and produce poorly. Sow in flats, using a soilless peat-based mix (NOT potting soil), 5-6 weeks before plants can be transplanted out after frost danger. Keep temperature of the starting mix at 75-90°F (24-32°C); tomato seeds germinate very slowly in cooler soil. When first true leaves develop, transplant into plug trays or 3-4" pots for large, stocky 7-8 week transplants for earliest crops. Grow seedlings at 60-70°F (16-21°C). Water only enough to keep the mix from drying. Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble, complete fertilizer. GREENHOUSE: For extra early harvests in July start seed from Feb.15th. to Mar. 1st. - regular commercial crops from Mar. 15th. to Apr. 1st. Home Gardeners should sow directly into Jiffy 7's, April 15th. at 2 seeds per pot (not transplanting). We germinate in Jiffy Mix rather than soil, because it requires less watering, develops better root systems and seedling growth is much easier to control. Soak Jiffy Mix thoroughly with warm water before seeding. Sow in rows 1/4 in/6 mm deep, approx. 500 seeds per (20 x 1 2 in./51 x 31 cm.) flat or about 6 to 8 seeds per in/25 mm. Cover seed and firm. Maintain soil temp. of 75°F/24°C for 5 to 12 days. As seedlings break the soil, lower soil temps. to 65°F/19°C, then to 60°F/16°C when they are erect.

I plan to start planting today or tomorrow with petunias for our hanging basket plants! I praise the Lord each morning and evening for another day of life and gardening.

Botannical Interests

 
 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - Warm and Rainy

Our Senior Garden - January 3, 2016
Click on images to open larger view in new tab or window.
Zip top bag of gloxinia seed
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

We've had several days of warm and rainy weather here. In between showers, I was able to cut and compost the stalks from our two asparagus patches. Sadly, with the rain, I wasn't able to spread compost over the patches as I'd hoped, but did give them both a good shot of commercial fertilizer. As there's a thundershower going on right now, the compost will have to wait. Things are supposed to freeze up for the next five days.

I saw some very small zip top baggies in the Sow True Seed catalog and thought they'd be great for holding tiny seeds such as gloxinias. Such seeds seem to get lost in standard seed packets and often stick to the glue of self-sealing packets. While tiny seeds can cling to plastic bags from static electricity, a swipe over the outside of such baggies with a sheet of fabric softener kills the static and lets the seeds flow freely.

Not needing anything else from Sow True Seeds and not wanting to pay their minimum $3.95 shipping charge for a dollars worth of baggies, I began looking elsewhere for the bags. I first found them online at Walmarticon. To my good fortune, I also found them in the craft section at our small, local Walmart store.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017 - Starting Petunias in Egg Cartons

My mother used to start seedlings in egg cartons on the kitchen windowsill. In a bit of a nostalgic mood, I tried starting petunias in egg cartons several years ago. The experiment turned out well, although the petunias quickly outgrow their egg carton cells.

Petunias in egg carton on windowsill

Having started our petunias for hanging baskets in egg cartons today, I thought I'd brush up an old posting from 2012 and tell how we do it.

I cut off and discard the narrow flap on the egg carton before splitting the egg cell section from the top. One of the advantages of styrofoam cartons over cardboard is that the top can go under the egg cell section as a watertight drip pan. Before putting the halves together, I punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each egg cell with a sharp pencil.

The cells of the egg cartons get filled with sterilized starting mix. We make our own from potting soil and peat moss, heating it in the oven for an hour at 400° F to kill off any damping off fungus that might be (and often is) present in potting soil. I've also tried using peat pellets in egg cartons but didn't have much luck with the pellets in egg cartons or otherwise.

Cutting egg carton Punching holes Halves assembled
Cutting egg carton Punching drainage holes in cells Halves reassembled
Watering Seeding and melting pellet Under lights
Watering before seeding Seeding and melting seed pellet Under lights, on heat pad

Before seeding, I water the starting mix thoroughly with warm water. Our petunia seed comes as pelletized seed, so planting is just a matter of getting one seed in the center of each cell, something harder to do than it sounds. A few extra seeds do provide insurance in case not all of the centered seeds germinate.

Petunia seed needs light to germinate, so I don't cover the seed. To help the pellet dissolve and release the seed on the soil surface, I go back and drip several drops of warm water on each seed with an eyedropper or old syringe.

Repotting petuniasI part with Mom's practice of just setting the egg carton on a windowsill to germinate, as it's a bit cold on our available windowsill these days. Petunias also benefit from a bit of bottom heat during germination, so ours went into a planting tray with a clear cover on our heat mat and under our plant lights. Our soil mat thermostat has a probe that goes right into the soil, so we can be pretty exact with our seed starting temperatures. For petunias, I set our thermostat at 80° F. A warm, sunny windowsill might work as well.

Transplants on dining room tableOnce germinated, I keep the petunias on the heat mat for a day or two before removing the clear cover and shutting off the heat. They acclimate a bit under our plant lights in the basement before being moved to our kitchen windowsill. The petunias have to be watered almost daily once they get started, due to the small size of the egg cells. The egg carton tops used as drip pans make bottom watering pretty easy.

After four to six weeks, the petunias outgrow their egg cells and get moved to fourpacks and go back under our plant lights. At that point, I usually start more petunias (in egg cartons) to be used in our garden and flowerbeds. In early March, I begin transplanting three petunias each to ten inch hanging baskets (without the hangers attached), still leaving them under our plant lights.

Hanging basket plantsAs our March weather moderates, the hanging baskets go under our cold frame to harden off for a few days or outside in a protected area of the back porch during the day. After about a week, we begin to hang the plants from the hooks around our back porch.

Porch plants 1
More porch plants

We almost always have a hard freeze late in March, so bringing the petunias back inside on cold nights has become a bit of a ritual at our house. Last year, we had a 28° F low on April 2-3 that required bringing in not only our hanging basket plants, but everything that was under our cold frame!

Starting our petunias as early as we do gives us gorgeous plants starting in April. A drawback is that the plants begin to require a good bit of pruning and fertilization by July or August. It sometimes seems that the plants just wear themselves out. But with a little care, most of the plants make it, and we have blooms well into the fall.

Our standard hanging basket petunia varieties are Supercascade and Double Cascade. We get our seed for them from Twilley Seeds. The Supercascades are easier to care for, while the Double Cascades make a much more spectacular show when in bloom. Unfortunately, as the double blooms brown, they're really ugly and need to be trimmed regularly.

Twilley packages most, if not all of its seed now in foil packets. The pelleted petunia seed ships in a reusable plastic vial...in a foil packet. That may seem like overkill in packaging to some, but we appreciate it, as we freeze leftover seed for use in later seasons.

Since I set the thermostat for our soil heating mat at 80 today, I also started a couple of pots of vinca, which requires that temperature to germinate well. Vincas, however, don't need light to germinate, so that seed got covered with an eighth inch or so of potting mix.

It's really a bit early to be starting vinca, but we didn't do well germinating them last year. An early start will allow me to try again if we have bad luck getting them going this time. Also, we're planning to use lots more vincas this year at the corners of our raised beds.

Burpee Seed Company

Thursday, January 5, 2017 - Wandering Jew Cuttings

Our Senior Garden - January 5, 2017Taking cuttings from wandering jew plantWith cold temperatures and snow falling outside today, I decided to start taking cuttings from our Wandering Jew plant. We've kept a Wandering Jew plant in our west facing kitchen window for years. The afternoon sun illuminates our plant and makes a dazzling display.

Our current plant is not the original, as wandering jew plants seem to wear out after twelve to eighteen months of growth. It's a seventh or eighth generation plant, cloned each year to produce a new plant for the kitchen and others for our back porch and to give away. When the new plant takes its place in the kitchen each spring, the parent plant goes to our back porch for several months before the stems become woody and the plant begins to languish.

Taking cuttings now seems to be about the right timing in our area to be able to move new plants outside in early April.

Wandering jew stem cuttingsTo take cuttings from a wandering jew plant, one snips off stem sections about four inches long at the tip of the plant's growth with several leaves attached. Since the stem will be challenged to supply water to the leaves until it forms roots, I pull off all the lower leaves on the cutting, leaving only two or three at the top.

Cuttings in waterAt this point in the process, one has the choice of rooting the leaves in some sterile medium or popping the stems into a glass of water to form water roots. I'd planned to root our cuttings some of each way. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring in the bale of Pro Mix from the back porch when I brought in a bag of potting soil. The bale was open in a large trash bag, but had adsorbed a lot of moisture. After picking up the eighty pound frozen brick of Pro Mix, I decided to just plop all of our cuttings into water today.

In a week to ten days, the cuttings should begin putting out stubs of roots about a quarter to a half inch long. I should have gotten our Pro Mix inside and thawed by then and will dip the base of each cutting in Clonex Rooting Compound Gel. Each treated stem will then go into a three inch pot of Pro Mix or some other sterile potting mix. The rooting compound really isn't essential for wandering jews, as they can root without it, but just not as well.

Cuttings in ten inch potCuttings rooting under clear coverThe potted cuttings then will go into a tray with a clear cover under our plant lights. It's important not to let whatever clear cover you use to hold in moisture to touch the leaves, as that can trigger rot. A little gentle bottom heat helps the rooting process, but certainly isn't essential. When we're doing our cuttings, our soil heating mats are usually in full use germinating crops for our garden.

When the cuttings root in two to three weeks, one can let them grow for some time in small pots. I often move them fairly early to ten inch hanging basket pots, their final destination, as a matter of convenience. Then the hanging basket pots can sit under our plant lights in the basement (without their hangers), on a sunny shelf in our sunroom, on our dining room table by our large bay windows, or later, under our cold frame or in a protected area of our back porch on warm days.

Rukaten Camera

Friday, January 6, 2017 - Seed Catalog Covers

All of our major seed catalogs have arrived or I've downloaded a PDF copy of them. As always, they're an attractive bunch. Clicking on the images below will open a larger view of each catalog cover in a new tab or window. Clicking on the names below the images takes you to the companies' web sites.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Botannical Interests Burpee Seed Company Fedco Seeds
Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Botanical Interests Burpee Seed Company Fedco Seed Cooperative
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds Mountain Valley Seed Company Park Seed
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds John Scheeper's
Kitchen Garden Seeds
Mountain Valley Seed Park Seed
R.H. Shumway Seed Savers Exchange Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Sow True Seed Stokes Seeds
R.H. Shumway Seed Savers Exchange Southern Exposure
Seed Exchange
Sow True Seed Stokes Seeds
Territorial Seed Company Twilley Seed Victory Seed Company West Coast Seeds The Whole Seed Catalog
Territorial Seed Company Twilley Seeds Victory Seeds West Coast Seeds The Whole Seed Catalog

Obviously, seed companies put a lot of effort and creativity into their annual seed catalog covers. From a posting I did back in 2015, one can tell that seed catalog covers have been a bit of an art form for a very long time. The images below are from the Seed Catalogs collection of the Smithsonian Library.

C.E. Allen - 1898 Alneer Brothers - 1896 Burpee - 1893 D.M. Ferry & Company Vaughan Seed Store - 1899
C.E. Allen - 1898 Alneer Brothers - 1896 W. Atlee Burpee - 1893 D.M. Ferry & Co. - 1899 Vaughan Seed Store - 1899

One can also just Google "old seed catalog covers" in Google Images and see a lot of nice cover artwork.

I also owe Scott Slezak of Annie's Heirloom Seeds a thank you. When I started putting together the cover art for this page, I realized I didn't have a cover yet for Annie's. I emailed Scott late last night, and he was kind enough to get their PDF catalog posted this morning so I could include their cover art for this year.

Shipping Rates (Going Down!!)

Minimum Shipping Rates (2017)

High Mowing Organic Seeds - $2.95 (free on orders of $10 or more)
Seed Savers Exchange
- $3 (orders up to $10) ↑
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - $3.50 (flat rate)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - $3.50 (orders up to $10) ↑
George's Plant Farm - $3.95 (flat rate)
Sow True Seed - $3.95 (orders up to $15) ↑
BurpeeBurpee Seed Company - $3.95 (orders up to $10) ↑
Annie's Heirloom Seeds - $3.99 (flat rate)
Johnny's Selected Seeds - $4 (orders up to $10)↑
Fedco - $5 (free shipping for orders over $30)
Twilley Seed - $5 (goes down beyond $25 order)
Mountain Valley Seed Company $5.95
Victory Seeds - $6.45 ↑
R.H. Shumway - $6.95 (orders up to $35)
Botanical Interests - $6.95 ↑
Stokes Seeds - $7.95 (flat rate)
Territorial Seed Company - $7.95 ↑

I'm not sure why, but I noticed when I updated the minimum shipping rates table on our Recommended Suppliers page that several seed houses had dropped their minimum shipping charge for this year. High Mowing Organic Seeds may have pushed things a bit, offering free shipping on any size order for two years. They went back this year to a $2.95 shipping rate on orders under $10. Larger orders still ship free.

The table at right lists minimum shipping rates for many of the seed houses we use. The up arrow at the end of some lines is to show that shipping rates go up as ones order total increases. What it doesn't show very well is that several seed houses drop the shipping rate or eliminate it altogether as ones order total increases.

TurboTax

TurboTax iconIt's once again that time of year. I first tried downloading TurboTax from Amazon, but their server kept dropping my very slow internet connection. I did get a refund, even though they don't usually refund downloads.

Looking elsewhere, I found that Sam's Clubicon had a good price for the software with free shipping. I love free shipping! Our dogs went nuts a few minutes ago when the UPS driver slipped our software inside our storm door. (The dogs are staying inside a lot during some really cold weather.)

A Little Snow and a Lot of Cold

Our Senior Garden - January 6, 2017We got a little over an inch of snow yesterday. The temperature finally made 10° F today at noon, with a high of 13° F predicted for this afternoon.

WTHI-TV Extended ForecastYesterday, the light bulb that heats our dogs' pen in the garage burned out. So I got shake and baked with wood chips crawling into the dog pen to change the bulb. I noticed that I'm getting too fat to easily fit through the dog door anymore!

It appears that things won't thaw out until next Monday or Tuesday. At least I have my fat to keep me warm.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Several baby hostas up
One baby hosta

Our Senior Garden - January 8, 2017We're still in the deep freeze here in western Indiana, but have high hopes for a thaw by Tuesday. It's a not-so-toasty 15° F here in the early afternoon, with the daily high temperature predicted to be 21. With others experiencing much worse conditions around the country, I'll be thankful for what we have.

I wrote briefly in November about collecting and starting hosta seed. I tried stratifying some of the seed, while also planting some seed that hadn't been through the cold, wet process. Both pots of hosta have now begun to germinate, putting up tiny single hosta leaves.

The stratified seed has germinated a bit better than the non-stratified seed, but this wasn't much of a scientific test. That I got any sprouts made me happy.

If our baby hostas survive, they'll go into our front and side flowerbeds. The hostas there have suffered from mole damage and dogs laying on them. By late fall, five of our six existing hosta plants appeared to be dead or dying.

Other Stuff

One of the Wandering Jew cuttings I put in water on Thursday appears to have put on a tiny root. By tiny, I mean a water root less than an eighth of an inch long. But it's a start. When the water roots are about a half inch long, I'll treat the stems with rooting compound and set them in individual pots in sterile planting medium. They'll be covered with clear humidomes until there is enough root growth to support their leaves.

Speaking of clear humidomes, I noticed that both of ours that fit our Perma-nest trays had yellowed and were becoming brittle. While we get our heavy duty trays from the Greenhouse Megastore, they don't sell the covers. I found that Park Seed carries them and ordered a couple of new ones last week.

I also found that during our current cold snap, our newest Gro-mat couldn't keep up with the cooler conditions in our plant room. I'd set our soil heating mat thermostat to 80° F for our germinating petunias and vinca, but the soil in the pots never got above 75°. I switched to an older Gro-mat whose built-in thermostat is shot and still only got to about 78-79°.

Mountain Valley Seeds

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

1800flowers.com
Deal of the Week
Assorted Tulipsicon
30 Assorted Tulips for just $30!
(Offer Ends 01/13/2017)

Our Senior Garden - January 10, 2017I was really hopeful that today would be a nice day. We did indeed get the 50°+ temperatures that were predicted, but they also came with rain and wind gusts up to 50 MPH! It has turned out to be an altogether nasty day outside.

Our snow cover has melted off. The melted snow plus the rain today will help with water tables, as December was a dry month here.

I'm hoping this warm-up will produce enough dry periods when I can get out and prune our apple trees. Winter is the ideal time to do this job, as the trees are dormant. Without any leaves, it's easy to see crossed limbs that need to be pruned. If we should get a 24 hour period above freezing, without rain, and not too windy, I'll apply dormant oil to the apple trees. Dormant oil smothers insects and insect eggs on and sometimes under the trees' bark.

A predicted extended warm spell should allow our finished compost pile to thaw. If that occurs and it isn't pouring down rain, I'll spread the compost on our asparagus beds.

Baby vincasA bright spot in this winter gloom is that the vinca I seeded last week are beginning to come up. Vincas take a good bit of time to mature, but produce lots of lovely flowers once they get going. I'm hoping to use vincas instead of geraniums at the corners of our raised garden beds this year.

The vincas will get moved to fourpacks once I'm sure all the seed that is going to germinate has come up. From there, they'll stay under our plant lights, possibly being moved to 4" pots as they mature.

Our seeding of egg carton petunias, done the same day as the vincas, didn't turn out so well. The soil in the egg carton cells dried out quickly, before the seed could germinate. I re-seeded the cells yesterday and will need to be more careful monitoring soil moisture in them while they're on a soil heating mat under our plant lights.

When the egg carton petunias and vincas are off our heat mat, I'll get started seeding geraniums. Since we've had mixed results in the past germinating the ivy leaf varieties of geraniums, I began stratifying half a packet of Summer Showers seed yesterday. While stratifying sounds pretty esoteric, it just means I put the seed on a wet, brown, coffee filter in a ziplock bag and stuck it in the refrigerator.

A Perfect Fit in Any Size. SKECHERS e-Gift cards are great gifts for the holidays! Send one today!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Our Senior Garden - January 14, 2017Hand truck with Pro MixWe've been fortunate so far this weekend to escape a predicted ice storm. We're still under a freezing rain advisory, but it may stay warm enough for us to miss some of the damaging ice accumulations folks to the west of us are experiencing.

My major gardening victory this week was getting our bale of Pro Mix to our basement. I'd left the bale outside, open in a large trash bag. It had picked up lots of moisture, more than doubling its weight. I finally remembered that I had a lightweight hand truck and used it to move our still somewhat frozen, eighty pound block of Pro Mix to the basement to thaw.

Sadly, leaving the Pro Mix outside to get wet probably negated its major advantage, being a sterile planting mix. It doesn't seem to take much for mold and/or damping off fungus to get started in such mixtures. I did, however, scrape off enough thawed mix from the top of the bag earlier this week to root a few of our wandering jew cuttings. I added the Pro Mix to some other potting soil and sterilized it before dipping the cuttings in Clonex Rooting Compound and putting them in 3" pots. We still have more cuttings trying to put on roots in a glass of water.

Baby petuniasOur pots of vinca were ready to come off the heat mat this week, having produced an acceptable 15 plants or so. Our egg carton petunias are now beginning to germinate after being reseeded (after I let them dry out).

AmazonWith pretty lousy weather outside, my wife on the road much of the week, and little gardening to do inside, I disappeared late this week into a good book. I'd resisted buying Mark Greaney's new Jack Ryan novel, True Faith and Allegiance, when it came out in December. Greaney co-wrote several Jack Ryan novels with Clancy before the original author's passing and has now produced three more such novels that stay pretty true to Clancy's writing style.

Having devoured that book in two days, I've moved on to a couple more good books I've been saving for dreary winter days, Michael Pollen's Cooked and John Grisham's Rogue Lawyer.

To keep me from nibbling on unhealthy stuff while I read, I keep reheating a quart of our canned green beans that have some leftover ham and ham juices mixed in with them. Such treats remind me of why we work so hard to grow and can our own green beans each summer.

Hosta, vinca, petunias, and cuttings under lights

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Monday, January 16, 2017

Our Senior Garden - January 16, 2017
Composted asparagus patch

Compost in truckIt didn't rain today (not yet, anyway), and the temperature got up to 50° F. I took advantage of the favorable conditions to spread some Milky Spore where moles have been playing around our raised beds and move compost to our asparagus patches.

Even though our truck came with a bed liner, I put a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the bed to make things easier. I also wisely dropped the truck into 4-wheel drive before venturing into the field to shovel up last year's compost pile.

Either there wasn't as much compost as usual, or I left too much on the ground for the crop of pumpkins or butternut squash that will grow next summer on the site. We have fantastic results growing either crop following a compost pile.

I ended up getting a two to three inch layer of compost spread over our raised bed of asparagus, but that left only a little left for Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, one off our ground that we tend. Both patches had previously been fertilized pretty heavily and had compost applied during the summer.

Getting this job done was a priority, as we didn't get compost applied to the patch last winter. I was still too gimpy from hip replacement surgery. The lack of the annual application of black gold negatively impacted our asparagus harvest last spring. So even though I got some compost on the patches last summer, I still wanted to give them an additional boost with more compost now. It's only two or three months until asparagus picking season!

Talk about luck or good timing! It just started to rain!

REI January Sale

Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - Starting Seed Geraniums

Geraniums and buckwheat in narrow raised bedMaverick Red seed geraniumIt's once again time for us to start our geraniums for the coming season. Starting seed now ensures we'll have large, rugged plants to put out sometime in April. It also gives us a little margin for error in case this seeding should be a failure, as one could easily start geraniums well into February and still have good, strong plants by May.

Growing geraniums from seed often saves us money over buying plants at a garden center. Of course, there have been some expensive disasters for us such as we had in 2009 and 2010. But with potted transplants running $4-5 each in the spring, we do pretty well by growing our own. So far, our investment in summer geranium beauty runs just $11.05 for the seed, and that amount includes an extra packet of Maverick Red that we probably won't need to use.

Geranium seed on damp coffee filter
Seed in coffee filters bagged

Ivy leaf geraniumI'm starting less seed this year. Since we'll not be using geraniums at the corners of our raised beds, I won't want as many transplants come spring. I bought fresh Maverick Red and Pinto Mixed seed for this planting. I also picked up a packet of the ivy leaf variety, Summer Showers, for hanging basket plants. As an experiment, half of the packet of Summer Showers (5 seeds) has been stratifying on a damp coffee filter in our refrigerator for several weeks. I'll start that seed along with the rest of the packet side-by-side to see if stratification improves germination or not.

For our garden geraniums, I started a whole packet each (10 seeds/packet) of Maverick Red and Pinto Mixed. Since not all of the seeds will germinate or germinate at the same time, I start our seed on damp, brown, unbleached coffee filters. I prefer the coffee filters over paper towels, as the emerging roots from the seeds don't seem to embed themselves in the coffee filters like they do with paper towels.

I wet the coffee filters and lay them out on our kitchen counter, spacing the seeds across half of the filter. Then I fold the filter over the seed and pop the filters into a pint Ziplock bag. The clear bags go into a tray covered with a clear humidome and over our thermostatically controlled heat mat. I set the thermostat at 75° F. I've tried cooler (68° F) and much warmer (85° F) temperatures, but seem to get better results at 75° F.

When starting geraniums this way, one has to be on their toes. Geraniums seed can sprout in 24-48 hours, although about 5 days is a more normal time frame. Since I can see through the bags and brown filters, I begin checking for germination after a couple of days by holding the bags up to a light to search for roots showing.

As soon as the seed sprouts, I move the seed (very carefully) to a 3" pot of sterilized soil. I just push down with a finger in the damp soil to make a slight depression in it, drop the seed in the depression, and sprinkle vermiculite around it. The seeded pot goes back into the covered tray, as the seed still needs bottom heat and also benefits from some filtered light.

While all of this sounds a bit involved, I successfully started geranium seed for years in total darkness in a warm spot around the house. With twenty seed geraniums plus ten hanging basket geraniums started now, I'm hoping for about an 80% germination and survival rate (plants that actually make it). That should yield around sixteen transplants, far more than enough to dress up our garden plots, although a lot less than the 30-40 plants we often grow. If we get good germination from our ivy leaf geraniums, they'll go three to a ten inch hanging basket pot to decorate our back porch.

Our feature story, Growing Geraniums from Seed, tells how we do it start to finish. Our seed this year all came from Twilley Seeds, although we long used Stokes Seeds for our geranium seed. Seed from either one should prove satisfactory, although I'd caution readers against trying bargain geranium seed you might find online. I've tried some, and you get what you pay for.

Our geraniums come into full bloom in June. If I'm good about snapping off spent bloom spikes, watering, and supplying a little mild fertilizer through the season, they persist until frost takes them in October or November.

Geraniums, snapdragons, and brassicas

Botannical Interests

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Our Senior Garden - January 22, 2017Apple trees pruned and sprayedAfter a week or more of cloudy weather, we got a warm, sunny day yesterday. Other than some gusty wind, it was just the day I'd been waiting for. I pruned and sprayed our apple trees in 60 degree comfort. The pruning was a light one, trimming broken and inward growing branches. The spray was a mix of dormant oil and fungicide. The dormant oil helps smother insects and insect eggs on the trees, while the fungicide was to hold back some heavy lichen growth on the trees. I had to take my time spraying, waiting for the wind to die down to spray the downwind sides of the trees.

I also moved our egg carton petunias to a windowsill in the kitchen. They'll grow nicely there in a bright, west facing window for several weeks. When they outgrow their tiny egg cells, I'll transplant them to fourpack inserts where they'll remain until moved to ten inch hanging baskets. Then we'll seed more petunias (in egg cartons) for use as transplants into our flowerbeds and garden plots.

Egg carton petunias on kitchen windowsill

Transplanting vincasSprouted geranium seed covered with vermiculiteToday, I moved our vinca plants from their communal pots to fourpack and deep sixpack inserts. I purposely set the tiny plants a little lower in the soil than they'd been in the germination pots. I also dropped the plant light over them a good bit lower to help prevent the plants from getting tall and spindly.

I've been checking the geranium seed I started last Wednesday the last few days. Today, I found six seeds had sprouted. I moved them to 3" pots filled with sterile potting mix, surrounding and sometimes covering the sprouts with vermiculite. When possible, I oriented the sprouts root down and seedhead up.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - One More Seed Catalog

Victory Seeds 2017 Catalog CoverVictory p24 melonsThe Victory Seed Company publishes their seed catalog each year in January. Our print copy arrived yesterday, although I'd downloaded the PDF version earlier this month. Other than the usual gorgeous cover and a couple of photos, the catalog is a black and white, alphabetical listing of the heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seed offered.

In contrast to some seed houses with far more attractive catalogs, Victory Seeds has an almost perfect rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog. That's a pretty sure sign of a vendor of reliable seeds.

Seed prices seem reasonable. Victory's minimum shipping charge of $6.45 is one of the higher charges we currently monitor on our Recommended Seed Suppliers page. Victory's Mike Dunton reminded me that page 3 of the print and PDF catalogs has a 5% discount code for online orders.

Victory Seeds is not one of our recommended suppliers. With the late publication of their seed catalog, we've already placed our seed orders each year before it arrives. We do list the vendor in our Others to Consider section and hope to try them at some point in the future.

CustomInk

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - Upcoming Events

I almost spaced on this one, but this Saturday (January 28, 2017) is National Seed Swap Day. Although folks can organize a seed swap whenever they want, the last Saturday of January every year is has been designated Seed Swap Day by someone or other. The link above leads to a page listing seed swaps scheduled across the nation for Saturday and other days. If you're lucky, one may be occurring near you. The Terre Haute Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Association sponsored a swap here in 2014, but we haven't had one since (or nearby).

Other sources of free, open pollinated seed include seed libraries. Often associated with public libraries, seed libraries "lend" seed to gardeners with the request that they grow out, save, and return seed to the library from varieties "checked out." We attempted to support some seed libraries in Indiana and nearby states last year. Sadly, we found that the librarians were pretty much unappreciative of our donations, other than a really class operation in Normal, Illinois.

Most online links listing seed libraries appear not to have been updated since their posting (mostly in 2014 and 2015). The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance appears to have a current page of seed libraries for Colorado and surrounding states. Older and probably outdated listings include the Seed Library Locator Map, Lending seeds at the library, and The Seed Library Social Network.

Another event I ran across this week was the International Compost Awareness Week (May 7-13, 2017). I'll refrain from posting all the snarky thoughts that ran through my head when I saw this one, other than to link to a 2008 column, An Awareness Overload. In it after researching a month of awareness observances, I made my own list of awareness events:

  • Finish the Laundry or Go Naked Awareness Day
  • Get a Job Awareness Day/Week/Month
  • I Need Want a New Mac Awareness Month
  • Make my Spouse (Significant Other) Feel Special Awareness Month/Year/Life
  • Find a New Spouse or Significant Other Awareness Month (only applicable if you ignore the one above)
  • Remember What I Went to the Other Room For Awareness Moment (otherwise known as a "senior moment")
  • Write a Decent Column/Posting Awareness Day :-)

In real Senior Gardening news, I'm hoping to seed some short daisies and some onions yet this month. Unfortunately, I keep getting caught up in the constant lies, horrible appointments, and actions of our new President. God help us.

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

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trailing Impatiens (Envoy mixed)Daisy messWith space opening up on our soil heating mat, I started some impatiens and daisies today. The impatiens were the trailing type for hanging baskets. I only had a few seeds left of our preferred variety, Envoy (which is now discontinued), so I ordered some Cascade Beauty Red and Blue from an unknown vendor, Garden Starts Nursery. Garden Starts has no ratings yet on Dave's Garden Watchdog and sells through Amazon and eBay. I'm hoping things will work out. They certainly got my order to me in a big hurry.

The daisies started were more compact than the Alaska Shasta Daisiesicon I planted in 2015 along the side of the house. I had to dig them out last year, as they took over the bed, fell over, and covered the sidewalk next to the bed. I seeded a pot each of Silver Princessicon and Mixed Painted Daisiesicon.

Impatiens and daisies seededDaffodils upI started the impatiens and the daisies in communal 4" pots which fit pretty neatly under a humidome. I used a sterile mix of standard potting soil and Pro Mix. I sprinkled ten to fifteen seed over each pot, lightly covering or surrounding the seed with vermiculite. After bottom watering the pots with warm water, they went into a tray over a heat mat set at 75° F, and were covered with a clear humidome to allow light to reach the seed.

The daisies will go in a flowerbed along the east side of our house. I noticed yesterday that a few daffodils had pushed up an inch or so during our warmish winter weather (so far). Weeds were also growing well in the bed, so I spent a few minutes getting weeds out of the bed near the daffodils. I'll have to take several tries at weeding the bed, as pulling weeds in cool to cold weather isn't much fun.

We're not done with the taller Alaska Shasta Daisies. After burying a dog last summer in what had once been an isolation plot, I transplanted daisies over the grave.

I spent a good bit of time yesterday checking on the latest system update from Apple Computer. I downloaded the update on my Mac Mini, as the Sierra partition of that machine is one I use only rarely. It installed well, but I didn't catch the download at the right point to save the 1.5 GB installer file, and it automatically deleted itself after installing. So late last night after a successful install on the Mini, I had to download the file again to my laptop. Knowing it would be a bit faster, I hardwired the laptop with an Ethernet cable.

The first download during daylight hours took 4-5 hours. The second download, started a bit after midnight, took under an hour! Sadly, Frontier Communications has oversold our area and our internet speed is terrible when folks up and down the road are using the net. But we caught a really fast download last night, as our connection was good and Apple's servers obviously weren't too busy.

From experience, I generally wait a few days before installing new system updates and upgrades. If there is a problem with the updates, one usually knows after just a few days.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Friday, January 27, 2017 - Starting Onions

I started onions today. For years, I relied on onion sets and/or onion plants purchased for our onions. Then I discovered the incredible variety of onions available from seed and haven't used purchased sets or plants for the last thirty years!

Seeding onions in traysWe start our onions in rows in standard seed flats each year in January or early February. That gives the plants time to become sturdy enough to survive being bare-rooted into our garden. One can also direct seed onions into the garden in the spring. I just prefer starting them inside in sterile soil where I don't have to deal with weeds and then transplant them into our garden in April.

For today's planting, I slipped a slotted 1020 seed flat into a Perma-nest tray. The slotted flat holds the soil, but provides drainage. The Perma-nest tray has the strength to hold a heavy flat of wet potting mix. When I don't use the expensive (about ten bucks each) Perma-nest trays, I have to triple the standard 1020 flats to be strong enough to not split when filled with plants and damp soil. In those times, I use a slotted tray in a solid tray, with an old third tray on the bottom to protect the other two trays from damage and add strength. The third tray prevents ripping holes in the solid tray when I slide the flats across the rough wooden shelves of our plant rack.

Onion seeds in rowAfter adding sterile potting mix to the trays and watering them with warm water, I use a stiff ruler to make a quarter to half inch depression in the soil for the seed. Then I try to space the seeds three-quarters to an inch apart in the row, although I think I planted a lot heavier than that today. I pinch the soil back over the seed and use the ruler to firm the soil over and around the seed. Good soil to seed contact improves germination rates.

Sowing mostly black seeds into black soil makes it hard to tell where the seed has gone. The image at right is of the one row of (green) treated seed we planted. I plant four rows per tray, and started two trays today.

Onion trays on plant rackThe planted trays go onto our plant rack downstairs to germinate. I fired up our extra soil heating mat for one tray, but the other one will have to germinate at ambient temperatures. Cornell's home gardening site suggests that onions will germinate in temperatures from 45 to 95° F, so the unheated tray should do okay, although it will probably take longer to germinate.

Our main onion varieties this year will be Red Zeppelin, Walla Walla, Clear Dawn, and Milestone. Walla Wallas are sweet onions that will keep only a couple of months after harvest. We quickly use them up when canning green beans and pickles and in our Portuguese Kale Soup. The other three varieties store fairly well and are used for all sorts of cooking. Red Zeppelins are sort of the king of red onions (IMHO). Milestones are a somewhat sweet, yellow onion that stores well. And Clear Dawn onions are much like the parent storage strain they were bred out of, Copras, but open pollinated. Each of these long day onions grow well for us here in west central Indiana.

From testing a bunch of other onion varieties in 2014, we seeded a few Red Creoleicon, Yellow of Parma, Tropeana Tonda, and/or Southport White Globe from old seed. Red Creoles are short day onions best suited for growth in the south. Here in Indiana, they ripen early, small red onions for us two weeks to a month before our other varieties mature. Yellow of Parmas store well. Tropeana Tondas produce large, red onions that sadly tend to split and double, diminishing their storage capability. But they sure are pretty. And the Southport White Globes are from a freebie seed packet that peaked my interest.

Our Red Zeppelin and Milestone seed was fresh this year. The Clear Dawn and Walla Walla seed was a year old. The other varieties seeded ranged from 2014 to 2016 seed. Since onion seed doesn't store all that well, we may not get much from the second tray I seeded, even though the seed has been in frozen storage.

Onions and carrotsI've only allotted space for two, fifteen foot double rows of onions in our garden plan this year around our spring carrots. I may sneak another row of onions in beside our spring broccoli and cauliflower. Such companion plantings seem to do well for us. If our two trays of onions germinate well, we should have almost twice as many onion plants as we'll need, allowing me to be very picky about which ones I transplant.

Our How-to feature, How We Grow Our Onions, tells how we grow our onions from seeding to harvest and storage.

Hmm

In one of life's cruel twists, I find that my system doesn't tolerate onions very well after finally getting good at starting, growing, drying, and storing them. If I'm lucky, I can currently tolerate about one meal a week that contains a small amount of onions. But gone for now are they days of putting a thick slice of raw, sweet onion on a cheeseburger. Hopefully, the intolerance will lessen in time.

You might think I'd quit growing onions in our garden, but I really like growing them. I love what onions do for the flavor of many dishes, despite the times they strike back at me in the middle of the night. So I keep growing onions, especially in the spring when they seem to provide some insect protection for the double row of carrots that almost always grows between the double rows of onions.

We also tend to give away a lot of produce, including onions. When we did our Onion Trials in 2014, I dropped off a fifty pound bag of onions to the Light House Mission in Terre Haute, Indiana. But we were trialing fourteen varieties of onions that year, grown under near ideal conditions. Things don't always go that well for us.

Rambling Here a Bit

If your email is anything like mine, you may currently be receiving lots of emails heralding "Free Shipping." But once you open the email, it turns out to be free shipping on orders over $50-100. That's not free shipping to me.

The same folks sending out the emails with the misleading free shipping subject also seem to want to be BFFs. Several reputable seed houses email me several times each week. When it gets bad enough from a vendor, I simply hit the junk button for their emails.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - January Wrap-up

January, 2017, animated GIFFor one of our slow months in gardening, January turned out to be a really productive one for us. We started petunias, vinca, geraniums, impatiens, daisies, and onions this month. We rooted some wandering jew cuttings for new plants for this spring and moved some baby hostas we seeded in November to deep sixpack inserts.

Outdoors, we had enough nice days that I applied compost to our asparagus patch and pruned and sprayed our apple trees. I even pulled a few weeds away from some emerging daffodils in one of our flowerbeds.

Back indoors, we now have more gloxinias in dormancy than actively growing. Sadly, none of our plants are currently in bloom. I moved the last of our gloxinias that had been on the dining room table to our plant rack last week. The longer hours of light there may push some of the plants into bloom. But most are ready to have their watering cut back as they go into their annual required period of dormancy.

Since we finished 2016 with a rather dry December (1.36" precipitation), this month's 3.11" of precipitation was welcome, although it made things a bit dreary at times.

Sweet Potatoes

I decided to go ahead and try growing sweet potatoes again this year. With my previous hip problems, I'd left them out of our garden plan for several years. We'll only plant a few, as I only ordered twelve plants from George's Plant Farm, a highly rated supplier of sweet potato plants.

Sweet potatoesAfter placing my order, I sent an email to George, the taterman, inquiring about what happened to Granny's Seeds, started by his daughter and son-in-law several years ago. I was pleased to get a prompt response not from George, but from Eric Swedenburg. Sadly, Granny's went under, as it's really tough to break into the seed house business. But Eric and Andrea are back at George's Plant Farm happily growing and selling great sweet potato plants.

In an email exchange with Eric when I ordered seed in late 2014, I mentioned that I wouldn't be ordering sweet potato plants due to my then upcoming hip replacement. When my seed order arrived, Eric and Andrea had included a bunch of gorgeous sweet potatoes for Annie and I. That kind of personal touch is part of why I love small, mom and pop businesses.

December, 2016

February, 2017

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