Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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The Old Guy's Garden Record

September 14, 2017


Friday, September 1, 2017

Our garden plots begin to look a bit ragged in September. Plants and vines begin to brown out, and sometimes weeds get away from me. Fortunately, the flowers around our garden beds are mostly in full bloom, adding some pleasant color.

Main garden - August 31, 2017
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Our main garden will continue to produce a bounty of tomatoes and peppers. Our trellised row of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines is fading fast, but we should get a few more nice cucumbers for slicing. Second and final pickings of our row of green beans should add to our canned storage in the basement. Our fall carrots have suffered a bit from a cat who mistook the rows for a litter box, but may yet yield a nice harvest.

I did a second picking of our early kale, freezing a couple of pints of it for winter use. I probably won't pick kale again until we're ready to make our annual batch(es) of Portuguese Kale Soup.

East Garden - August 31, 2017
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

Our East Garden is still producing a few melons, although the watermelons lack the flavor they had in the heat of summer. Yellow squash, pea, tomato and pepper plants will all yield nice harvests for a bit longer. We'll soon dig our row of sweet potatoes. Our long row of kidney beans are ready to pick. A lot of them will be used in our kale soup. Our fall brassicas are well established now and may beat our first frost to produce a crop. And our long row of zinnias continue to bloom. We'll begin saving seed from the mature flowers soon.

Zinnias

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

In early July, I posted a shot of our first ripe Earlirouge tomatoes. They were small tomatoes, but tasted great on BLT sandwiches.

Our first ripe tomatoes of 2017

Below are some more normal sized Earlirouges picked today. They're not quite as pretty as the ones above, but are a good bit larger.

Later Earlirouge tomatoes

Cucumbers for Seed

Cucumbers curing on cistern coverWe're into processing Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers for seed big time. With our recent dry weather, our cukes have begun yellowing on the vine far quicker than usual. It's been hard to catch one at the right stage for slicing and fresh use. Fortunately, we have done all the pickle and relish canning we need to last through the winter, although I would have liked to try one more batch of sweet dill chips.

I processed a large (for us) batch of cucumber seed today. I still have a lot of cucumbers curing on our cistern cover that will soon be processed for seed.

Garden Planning

Plots A1 & A2
Plot B

East garden plan - 2018I've already roughed out our initial garden plan for next season. Doing so is an exercise in what I want to grow, how much garden I can take care of (gets less every year), and looking back at what has recently grown and where. Besides making sure my plantings are rotated, I also have to consider shading of crops from nearby trellised and caged crops.

Our raised beds (at left) were far easier to plot out this year, as our tall crops will go on the northernmost part of our main raised bed and in our two, separate, narrow raised beds. Then, it was just a matter of making sure I didn't plant beans after beans in the same area of the garden.

Our large, East Garden plot gets a 90° rotation each season. Since things there turned out really well this year, I stayed with the same plan, adjusted for the rotation.

Having had incredible results with our long row of caged tomatoes and peppers in the East Garden so far this season, I decided to try it again next year. The ground in the East Garden plot is just beginning to grow good crops after almost ten years of soil improvements!

While I carefully plot out what I intend to grow where each year, there are always lots of last minute changes. I'm weighing tonight whether to grow a third smother/cover crop of buckwheat in our rotated out portion of the East Garden. A large bag of hairy vetch seed arrived in the mail today. I'd originally planned to plant a mix of buckwheat and hairy vetch for fall cover. I'm now considering just going with the hairy vetch.

Tired

I'm beginning to wear out with gardening this season. Other than a very light second picking of green beans today, I didn't do any other outdoor gardening. A "bug" Annie apparently brought home from work, followed by a fall on our basement stairs has made me a bit less energetic these days.

One of the joys of retirement is that jobs one wants to do, but that aren't critical, can be put off or ignored.

Burpee Seed Company

Sunday, September 3, 2017 - Winter Cover Crop

East Garden seeded to hairy vetchWalmartI'm hoping that I got one area of our garden "put to bed" for the winter today. I seeded the rotated out portion of our East Garden to hairy vetch as a winter cover crop. Before seeding, I spread the last of our finished compost down the row where we'll hopefully grow peas next year. I also spread Soil Acidifier and a little Muriate of Potash over the area intended for potatoes. The soil acidifier, mainly sulfur, is to lower the soil pH to help prevent potato scab disease. The Muriate of Potash was just a little I had left over in a bag.

I used the Earthway Seedericon my sweetie got me for Christmas to get a pretty even broadcast of about six pounds of seed over the 40' x 80' section. Then I set our pull-type tiller to just stir the top of the soil and made a pass over the plot to incorporate the seed.

The area seeded had already produced two nice turndown crops of buckwheat this season. I'd originally planned to do a third planting of buckwheat, letting it frost kill and fall over as winter cover. But last week, I decided to try something different. I've not grown hairy vetch before, so this planting is definitely an experiment.

Just For Fun

Earlier in the day, I grabbed my good camera and walked around our main garden, snapping shots of things I thought looked pretty.

Maverick Red geranium Hummingbird at feeder amongst hanging baskets

I'm a sucker for Maverick Red geraniums. I love their bright color and durability. If you deadhead them, they'll bloom all summer and fall. We had to give up using geraniums at the corners of our raised beds, as we'd grown them there for too many years and they began to do poorly. In other spots this year, our geraniums are putting on quite a show.

Even though "our hummingbirds" appeared to leave last week, we apparently have a whole new bunch of migrants visiting our feeders. While traffic is often heavy at our two feeders, we noticed these birds won't visit the feeder on the back porch near our glider when Annie and/or I are sitting in it. "Our hummingbirds" got used to us and used the feeder, often zooming past uncomfortably close to us.

Vinca and kale Back side of main raised bed Flowers, fall lettuce and fall carrots

Instead of using geraniums at the corners of our raised beds this year, we used vincas. Vincas take a good bit longer to develop than geraniums, but bloom heavily for us from about July on. I like their shiny leaves and bright blooms.

Even though we can't see it from the back porch, the back side of our main raised bed is also planted to flowers. When I get around to that side of the garden, the flowers always bring a smile to my face.

Flowers, fall lettuce and fall carrots make for a pretty sight in our main raised bed. The gaps in the carrots came from the cat digging that I mentioned in Friday's posting. I really like carrots, but I love the cat.

Monday, September 5, 2017 - Sweet Potatoes Out

Digging row of sweet potatoesA few of our sweet potatoesI dug half of our row of sweet potatoes yesterday afternoon and the rest this morning. Spreading the digging over two days was essential, as the ground was hard and dry. Fortunately, sweet potatoes grow just under the soil surface, so I didn't have to dig too deep very often.

With our extended dry spell, it was time to get the sweet potatoes out of the ground. The sweet potato vines were still growing vigorously, other than some trimming by browsing deer. But if I let the sweet potatoes go until after we get a good rain, we'd probably have had lots of split sweet potatoes. Taking them a bit early cuts the overall harvest, but may produce more good tubers.

We had five or six monster tubers and a lot of normal sized ones. I filled a five gallon bucket four times with sweet potatoes, but I didn't try to weigh the harvest. It was by far our best harvest of sweet potatoes, though.

Last night, I selected a huge, round sweet potato to cut for sweet potato fries. They were delicious, although I made way to many of them. Tonight, I'm going to try baking sweet potato chips. I'm also going to indulge in a glass of bottom shelf scotch, as digging is hard on this senior gardener!

Sam's Club

Sunday, September 10, 2017 - Kidney Beans

Kidney beansPart of kidney bean rowWe grow kidney beans pretty much for one recipe, our Portuguese Kale Soup. I've been known at times to substitute a handful of red kidney beans for chili beans in our Texas Nachos recipe, but most of our beans go into the soup.

In one of those crazy moments of gardening, I planted a 55 foot row of kidney beans in our East Garden in June. No one made me do it. I just had the space, plenty of seed, the time, and possibly the poor judgment to do so. A fifteen foot row last year produced enough dry beans for our kale soup and several pounds more of dry beans.

Growing dry beans isn't a whole lot harder than growing green beans, although I didn't really get the hang of it until a few years ago. Getting a good stand of beans and then keeping them relatively weed free pretty well ensures a good crop. You just have to pick them before the pods begin to shatter.

A good San Francisco Chronicle article says that "depending on the cultivar, they [kidney beans] take 95 to 115 days to harvest when grown as a dry bean" Our red kidney beans are listed as a 102 day variety. Interestingly, our kidney beans matured in about 90 days last year. This year, they were ready in just over 80 days! I think that's more of a statement about our hot, dry summer than a comment on the accuracy of the vendor's days-to-maturity figure.

At any rate, our bean plants yellowed, dropped leaves, and had pods that had dried to a mostly tan color. Those are all pretty good indicators that ones dry beans are ready to be harvested. A few pods beginning to split open and drop beans on the ground is an imperative to get the beans picked. We had all of these conditions last week.

Drying kidney beansPicking the whole plants, letting them dry, and then banging them around in a garbage can is a time honored way for home gardeners to thresh dry beans. It works, but it also takes a good bit of hand shelling to get all the beans and winnowing to clean them. One can also just pick the bean pods and shell them like one would dry peas or beans. That's also a time consuming job. I've done a bit of both methods bringing in our kidney beans this year.

We ended up getting over seven pounds of red kidney beans from the fifty-five foot row. I'm not sure that is good production for what we planted, but it is more kidney beans than we've produced in any other year. The kidney beans are drying on a couple of cookie sheets.

Now, we're just waiting on our kale to mature before we begin using the beans and lots of other garden produce to make our kale soup.

Seed Saving

Improved germination testWe're just about done with our seed saving efforts for this year. It now appears that we have good batches of saved seed from all of the endangered varieties we're focused on: Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomatoes; Earliest Red Sweet peppers; and Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers.

We also have good batches of saved Eclipse and Encore peas. Neither of those PVP varieties can be shared until 2021 when Monsanto/Seminis's patents expire.

I have a couple of bags of saved Abundant Bloomsdale spinach yet to process and test. One bag of dill seed also needs some attention before being stored.

Remaining on my seed saving list are zinnia seed and a bit more dianthus seed. With the zinnias, I'm going to have to be careful to pick a mix of colors, as our row of zinnias this year bloomed mostly red. I'll try to pick mature seed heads from plants that have white, yellow, or orange flowers on them still in bloom to hopefully give us a broader mix of colors next season.

I may have solved my problem with some failed germination tests. I'd gotten a little casual in handling the ziplock bags containing our germination tests. I had taken to just throwing them on a bookshelf in our dining room. The room varies greatly in temperature throughout the day and also is quite light.

I retested several batches of seed that had failed previous germination tests, placing them over mild bottom heat and keeping them in a dark area. Germination of most of the seed batches improved dramatically.

Getting Ready for Next Year

More and more open patches of ground are appearing in our garden plots as we finish harvesting and begin to get the ground ready for next season. I pulled our cucumber vines, as we've made several batches of pickles, one batch of sweet relish, and saved a lot of seed for the future. There were still a very few young cucumbers on the vines, but you've got to start somewhere in getting stuff out of the garden and preparing the soil for the next season.

Getting Old

Two days of digging sweet potatoes out of hard ground and another day of picking kidney beans on my knees laid me up for several days. I awoke Wednesday morning with a slightly swollen and very sore knee that didn't want to support my weight. Backing off on most gardening chores and liberal use of a heating pad have the knee behaving much better.

Target

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Our Senior Garden - September 12, 2017Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed dryingI finally got around to processing the bags of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed I saved in early June. One small bag sat on a bookshelf all summer, while a large paper grocery bag of plants with seed still attached hung in the garage. Breaking up the dried clusters of seeds was the hardest part of the job. Then I spent a while waiting for a good breeze on the back porch to winnow the seeds. The bookshelf seeds are already in the freezer for long term storage. The seeds from the garage batch are getting an extra drying step. I put them in a pint canning jar with cheesecloth holding a teaspoon of powdered milk under the lid to absorb moisture.

I worked "in the rain" this morning, pulling the trellis netting and T-posts from where our early peas and later, cucumbers grew. I'll be planting some of the spinach seed there in the next day or two.

The "rain" was the heaviest we've had in weeks, and my shirt was barely wet when I came inside. I decided to go ahead and take down our rain gauge, as it serves little purpose in a mini-drought. The soil was so dry that the T-posts easily came out of the ground with just a couple of side-to-side pushes and a single lift.

We live in a large country, but it is still amazing to me that people in two areas of it are suffering greatly from flooding while other areas remain bone dry.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

I didn't do a lot of outdoor gardening today, but I did walk around a bit to snap some pictures. I started my gardening by seeding a row of spinach where our early peas and later, our cucumbers had grown. I'd pulled back the mulch a couple of days ago and dumped around twenty gallons of water on the row of bone dry soil.

Row of spinach planted in main raised garden bed

It's a bit late to be planting spinach, but we should still get some nice baby spinach before our first frost. I seeded Abundant Bloomsdale (47), America (43-55), and Melody (40). The numbers in parentheses are days-to-maturity figures. One also needs to add a few days to those numbers to account for the shorter daylight in late summer and fall. Obviously, we'd have to have a long fall for this planting to fully mature. Note that the Melody hybrid spinach isn't linked to a supplier, as it appears that Reimer Seeds has run out of what I'd guess was old seed they'd bought up of the discontinued hybrid. We bought two packets of it from them last year.

As you can see in the photo above, our main raised garden bed is still producing for us. We'll start taking lettuce soon, have lots of red and green peppers, and the double rows of carrots just might make it before a frost. The flowers (and basil blooming wildly in the background) make working in the garden bed pleasant.

Late Farmers Wonderful watermelonMelon patch in mid-SeptemberMy second job was moving bad melons from our East Garden to the compost pile. I had seven or eight watermelons whose vines had died just before the melons ripened. I did, however, find one good Farmers Wonderful watermelon to bring inside. It was a bit soft in the center, but the rest of the melon was still edible and sweet.

All of the cantaloupe vines in our melon patch have died. In the middle of it, there are late planted hills of Congoicon, Picnic, and Kleckley Sweets watermelon. All three varieties seem to be surviving our mini-drought and have set melons. At the far end of the patch, some older vines are trying to ripen a few more melons.

Congo and Picnic watermelons Kleckley Sweets watermelons Old melon vines still producing

I'm not sure there will be enough warmth the rest of this month to ripen really sweet watermelons.

Cabbage in East GardenFall brassica rows in East GardenMy last outdoor gardening chore today was to spray all of our fall brassicas with Thuricide. I'd begun to see white cabbage moths around our kale. Insect damage was clearly visible on some of the broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower leaves in the East Garden.

The broccoli and especially the cauliflower are longshots to mature before our first frost. I'm rooting for the broccoli to come in, as I want to make some Cream of Broccoli soup.

Our Sugar Snap peas in the East Garden are now blooming. It's another fall crop we cut pretty close on maturing before a frost, but it appears we'll get to pick some peas in a week or two. That is, however, if we can fend off the powdery mildew and black mold that often attacks the peas near maturity. This late in the season, I may bypass the organic Serenade biofungicide or Copper Fungicide and go with the harsher, but more effective Fungonil Fungicide. We've had lots of problems with molds on our sugar snaps, so it's probably time to use a heavy hitter on the vines.

Sugar Snap peas blooming Snapdragons Zinnias

Before leaving the East Garden, I snapped shots of some snapdragons growing at the end of the pea row and a closeup of our zinnias. I also went inside clutching a bunch of mature zinnia seedheads.

Weekly Deals from Ritz Camera

Friday, September 15, 2017 - Seed Saving and Sharing

We have six varieties of saved vegetable seed to share this year. Five of them are endangered vegetable varieties. I've been pleased that we've had a disease free year with our tomato plants. Blight severely limited our seed saving last year from three Jack Metcalf releases: Earlirouge; Moira; and Quinte. All three varieties are medium sized tomatoes with great flavor and deep red interior color. Our Moiras and Quintes have surprised me this year, producing fairly large tomatoes on the rather poor soil in our East Garden. Our Earlirouge plants stunted a bit from dry growing conditions, but still continue to produce an incredible number of great tomatoes.

Clusters of Earlirouge tomatoes Three Moiras Quinte tomatoes
Earlirouge Moira Quinte

Our Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants had their usual bounty of medium sized red bell peppers this season. And our strain of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers produced enough cucumbers for us to can several batches of pickles and one of sweet relish, along with a lot of seed production.

Earliest Red Sweet Pepper Plant Japanese Long Pickling cucumber Abundant Bloomsdale spinach
Earliest Red Sweet Japanese Long Pickling Abundant Bloomsdale

Abundant Bloomsdale spinach is a rather new, Open Source Seed Initiative variety. While I usually don't list seed for varieties available commercially, ours may be beginning to adapt to our growing region. This year is just the second year we've saved seed from the delicious spinach variety.

Note the required OSSI pledge: "You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives."

We offer our seed for sale on the Seed Savers Exchange. In 2017, 404 listed members offered 15,272 unique varieties, totaling 18,845 listings (and those numbers were considerably down from 2016).

One barrier to folks buying seed through the member exchange in the past was a required paid membership in SSE. While SSE obviously promotes membership in the organization, anyone, member or non-member, can now purchase seed through the exchange by simply registering (for free). That's a significant, and I think, long overdue wise move by the Seed Savers Exchange.

If you go to the Seed Savers organization home page, you'll need to click on the Exchange link at the top or bottom of the page to get to the member listings. I've ragged the leaders of Seed Savers over the last few years about their de-emphasis of the member exchange, instead filling their home page with their seed store offerings to the near exclusion of any mention of the member exchange. Even with a pleasant hour long phone conversation with new SSE Executive Director, Lee Buttala, this week, I still don't think folks at SSE get it. They need to enthusiastically appreciate, support, and acknowledge those who have supported them for many years. Getting some clear links (not just toolbar links) to the member exchange on the SSE home page would be a good place to start.

When speaking with Lee, he was gracious in listening to some of my suggestions for the organization:

  1. Include highly visible links (again, not just toolbar links) to the member exchange on the SSE home page. And do it now.
  2. Aggressively seek new members. SSE appears to have lost a good many members over the last few years. As we old guys die off, a new generation of seed savers needs to be found and trained.
  3. Offering reduced price hardship memberships, possibly as a one time only deal ($5-10?) for new members might be a good idea (or not grin). At one time, hardship members were allowed one to write in an amount they could afford! And restore three-year, reduced price memberships.
  4. Add a rotating feature story on a seed saving member, the varieties they save, and how they save seed prominently linked from the home page. That may help drive new memberships and current member interest.
  5. Likewise, the Heritage Farm publication needs to feature seed saving each and every month. It hasn't for a very long time.
  6. Email contact addresses for the executive director and board members should be posted on the site or a routing pull-down menu added to the email contact page.
  7. Either stop the sale of old seed that still tests good or list the year the seed was produced. For those of us who buy in quantity and freeze our leftover seed from year to year, it matters how old the seed is when we receive it.
  8. Improve input by members in the governance of SSE. The near anarchy of the failed Grassroots Seed Network's attempt at a democratically controlled organization mutes this concern considerably. I wonder if there is a good way for more member input.
  9. Re-examine the Seed Savers Accessions Policy and Hierarchy for Preservation. All but one of the varieties I preserve don't meet SSE's policies for inclusion in the seed bank. When I die, I'd hate for these varieties to die with me. (The varieties we save are too new or weren’t on the market long enough to qualify for the seed bank.)
  10. Please, please cut back on the fundraising letters and emails.

Lee offered some good (and not-so-good) reasons for why some of my suggestions wouldn't fly. He told me about some cool, new initiatives in the works to address some of my suggestions. And he did listen.

The Seed Savers Exchange helps preserve an enormous amount of vegetable varieties, supports many charitable efforts with donated seed, and does many other good works with a limited budget and a hard working staff. Sales from their extremely successful seed store seem to be corrupting SSE's original mission of preserving vegetable varieties via a member exchange. Their seed bank is commendable, but there are lots of good, open pollinated vegetable varieties that aren't included. If such varieties can't be included in the seed bank preservation effort, SSE should be constantly highlighting the efforts of those who preserve the varieties. Unfortunately, they aren't, continuing to take their members for granted.

My suggestions seem to me to be no brainers that should have been done long ago.

Seed Savers Exchange

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - Seed Saving and Sharing - Part 2

2017 Moira listing on Seed Savers ExchangeAfter collecting, processing, and freezing garden seed, we're still not done with it. Our listings on the Seed Savers Exchange have to be updated to reflect fresh seed grown out this season. I now include a notice of "Seed produced in 20xx" in our listings and on our seed packets.

Filling seed packetsI started adding a little pizzazz to our seed packets a few years ago, buying blank, printable, self-sealing paper packets for our shared seed. Each year, I update or redo the packet files to reflect the year the seed was grown, batch number, and germination rate. We don't share seed that tests less than 80% germination, but we do hang on to it for a year or so, just in case.

Then I print out a few packets for each seed variety. Filling them is pretty easy, other than tomato seed. It tends to stick together in clumps that have to be separated after the seed dries. The filled packets go into a separate ziplock bag in our kitchen freezer until they're needed. When we have lots of seed for an endangered variety, we often donate packets of seed to seed libraries in the midwest.

A Few Words About the Varieties We Save

Moiras ready to be skinnedQuinte tomatoI started saving seeds in the 1970s. One of the first tomato varieties I saved seed from was the Moira semi-determinate. Introduced in 1972, I liked the tomato for its homegrown tomato flavor and deep red interiors. When I began growing the plants in cages, I liked the variety even more, as it filled, but didn't seriously overgrow, our five foot tall tomato cages. There's not a lot of disease resistance bred into this variety, but the flavor of the tomatoes is incredible. And as you can see in the photo at left, they're an ideal size to squish through a regular mouth funnel into a canning jar...after they've been skinned.

Quinte, like Moiras, are another Jack Metcalf tomato. Released in 1976, they carried the subtitle of "Easy Peel." We lost our start of Quinte seed in frozen storage, as we didn't grow them out often enough. Fortunately, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIM) let us have some of their archived seed to restore our seed saving efforts. Quintes are a lot like Moiras, only with a little less bold interior color. Their flavor is excellent, and fruit without blemishes do peel quite easily for home canning.

Our last saved Metcalf variety, Earlirouge, required a whole feature story to tell of my unique search for seed. Released in 1977, the Earlirouge variety turned out to be the most commercially successful of Metcalf's tomato releases. Rob Johnston, Jr., founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds, reminded me last week that Johnny's had featured the Earlirouge variety on their catalog cover in 1981 (or thereabouts, he thought).

Earlirouge Tomato Plants

The Earlirouge variety retained the deep red interiors of the Moira release, but with slightly larger tomatoes. One of my wife's co-workers recently remarked about some Earlirouges we gave him as having the best flavor of any tomato he'd ever tasted! I sent him a packet of fresh Earlirouge seed last week.

All three of the Metcalf varieties that I grow are somewhat endangered. The Seed Savers Exchange has Earlirouge in their seed bank. GRIM has Quinte. But Moiras don't seem to have such protection. if you'd like to try the Moira variety, I'll gladly send you some seed...with the provision that if it grows well for you, and you like it, that you'll share some seed with other gardeners in the future. Be sure to include your postal address in your request.

The Earliest Red Sweet pepper was apparently introduced in the late 60s or early 70s. There's not any information I can find about its origins. I have found where it was used in a couple of breeding programs. While the "earliest" part of the variety's name is true, Earliest Red Sweets produce lots of medium sized red peppers well into fall. The variety probably disappeared from seed catalogs because its fruit is a good bit smaller than today's hybrid bell peppers. One big advantage of the ERS line is that it ripens lots of red peppers without them rotting.

Earliest Red Sweet peppers

Japanese Long Pickling cucumbersCucumbers curing for seed savingOur strain of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers came from one last seed that germinated from a very old packet of seed. That eventually got us into inbreeding depression trouble, but I was able to breed a similarly named cucumber into our strain to revitalize it without much changing its characteristics. (The commercial variety used produces shorter, fatter, and spinier cukes than our strain.)

The Japanese Long Pickling variety produces long, burpless cucumbers. For slicing, one should take them at 12-14" long. For making pickles, we let ours grow to about sixteen inches long. And since you leave the cucumbers on the vine as long as possible to mature for seed saving, we know this variety can easily produce cucumbers two feet long!

A gardening friend who is now growing the variety wrote me last year, saying, "Enough cucumbers, already!" JLPs are prolific producers if you keep your vines healthy and picked. They are susceptible to powdery mildew, and of course, cucumber beetles.

Spinach seed drying on stalkTulips and spinachWe love the new Abundant Bloomsdale spinach variety. It has deep green, heavily savoyed leaves when mature. It tolerates some heat and repeated pickings. We've used it as baby spinach for spinach salads, in omlets and dishes such as Shrimp Portofino, and as boiled spinach.

Last year was our first to save seed from the new OSSI variety. Our saved seed was pretty spotty germinating this year, so I took extra care in allowing seed to mature on the plants before starting an extended drying period. I tied about twenty of the female plants (spinach plants can be male, female, or both) with twine and hung them in a large paper grocery bag in the garage all summer. Whenever I'd pass the bag, I'd rattle it a bit to help dry seed fall off the stems. When I processed the seed, I still had to break hard clusters of seeds off the stems and then separate the seed clusters.

Gardening

I'm enjoying the slower pace of gardening this month. Yesterday's big job was picking our long row of tomatoes and peppers in our East Garden. While there were lots of cracked, bug damaged, and rotting fruit to haul to our compost pile, I delivered six plastic grocery bags of tomatoes and two of peppers to our local food bank.

You never really know when the glut of garden tomatoes ends. I wondered if the food bank might be overwhelmed with tomatoes, but they were about out of them and were delighted to receive our contribution. Even in our country of plenty, there remains lots of needs.

Long row of tomatoes and peppers

While the tomatoes were great, the peppers ran on the small side. I still can't grow good peppers in the poor soil of our East Garden. I'm still sort of amazed at the huge Better Boy, Celebrity, Mountain Fresh, and Mountain Merit hybrid tomatoes we've grown there. And our open pollinated Moira and Quinte tomatoes have produced a lot of larger than normal fruit.

As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, our September 3 planting of hairy vetch hasn't emerged in our current dry soil conditions. A few buckwheat plants have emerged, but they seem to only need the morning dew to come up.

It has rained a bit the last two nights. A tenth of an inch Sunday night and a whopping half inch of precipitation last night. A local TV weatherperson noted last evening that it had been 45 days since we received an inch of rain.

"Our" hummingbirds left around the end of August, but we're still seeing transients at our feeders. Yesterday, there were three hummingbirds fussing with each other for control of the last feeder I have hung on our back porch. Before that, we had several days where only one of the tiny birds seemed to be visiting our feeders. Soon, they'll all be on their way south.

Raised Beds

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - Garlic Availability

Bagged garlicPurchased garlic bulbsI begin reminding readers of this site in July to order garlic for fall planting. While one doesn't plant garlic until after a first frost, seed houses frequently run out of preferred garlic varieties early on. But this year seems to be different, as the places I checked today seemed to have a good assortment of garlic varieties still available.

We definitely don't need to order any garlic bulbs this year, as we experienced another fabulous harvest of it this summer. But for those who may have put off ordering garlic, let me recommend ordering bulbs from Burpeeicon, Botannical Interests, the Seed Savers Exchange, Sow True Seed, and/or the Territorial Seed Company.

Currently, Burpee seems to have the best selection of garlic varieties, although our very best garlic bulbs came from Territorial (in 2014).

If you've not grown garlic in the past, but use it in cooking, I'd recommend growing it in your garden next year. Garlic is one of the easiest, most trouble free and productive crops one can grow in a home garden! We didn't grow garlic in our garden until about ten years ago. I think the cost of garlic bulbs put me off. Once I got started with garlic, I realized that the initial expense for our garlic starts could be pretty much a one time or at least occasional expense.

Our how-to feature story, Growing Garlic, gives one the basics for growing this crop with lots of links to others who may know a whole lot more about growing good garlic.

Full Disclosure: Both BurpeeBurpee Seed Company and Botanical Interests are Senior Gardening Affiliated Advertisers. If you follow one of the links to them from our links and purchase something, we get a cut of the action.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, September 22, 2017

Gardening should be fun. I'm still a little driven from the days when gardening was a way to put enough food on the table for our family. Two vegetables, a starchy food (potatoes, rice, etc.), bread, and a very limited amount of meat were our classic suppers.

In retirement with just my wife, Annie, and I home most of the time, gardening is now a truly pleasant avocation. Without the pressure to put up lots of vegetables each summer, I've begun to play around with stuff from time to time.

I needed to build new tomato cages this year. Our last bunch had served us well for about ten years, but had rusted out and been cut down so much that the few good ones remaining were only tall enough for pepper plants. I could have bought a fifty foot roll of welded wire concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh) and made eight dandy new tomato cages. But I also could buy a roll three times as long for just twice the price of the smaller roll and make twenty-four new cages. I opted for the long roll of remesh, as I had an area in our East Garden plot where I could put lots of caged tomato and pepper plants.

Six of our premier tomato plants, Earlirouge, got a place in a narrow raised bed with exceptionally good soil, and of course, brand new tomato cages. A hundred or so yards away, I transplanted twelve tomato and nine pepper plants in a long row at the border of our East Garden plot. In the past, we've never had much luck with tomatoes and peppers planted in the poor soil of our East Garden.

This year, our tomato plants in the East Garden excelled, producing lots of large, good tasting tomatoes. I can't say as much for the peppers, though.

My plan had been to grow some of the tomato and pepper varieties we never seem to have enough room for. Sadly, some of the tomato varieties I really wanted to try again didn't make it. But we ended up after several replantings with three Better Boy and one each of Celebrity, Mountain Fresh Plus, and Mountain Merit hybrid tomatoes. At one end of the row was a Tami G hybrid grape tomato plant. Separated only by a few pepper plants were two Quintes and two Moiras, two of our favorite open pollinated varieties.

Varieties that didn't make it included Bella Rosa, Mountain Princess, the new Oh, Happy Days variety, and a couple of open pollinated grape varieties, Red Pearl and the new Maglia Rose variety.

Seven more quarts of tomatoes to the pantryYesterday, I picked tomatoes from all of our plants. I'd last picked on Monday, hauling all of the resulting harvest to our local food bank. But this picking put me in full preservation mode. I ended up canning seven quarts of whole tomatoes with enough fruit left in buckets in the kitchen to do the same again today. With a bit of recent rain, some watering, and daily high temperatures in the low 90s, our tomato plants are overwhelming us with good fruit.

Clusters of Quinte tomatoesWhile out picking, I finally got a half decent shot of some Quinte tomatoes on the vine. The tomatoes were a day or so from being fully ripe, but I picked them anyway, as we're experiencing a lot of bug damage in our tomatoes these days.

Fall brassica rowI got an early start gardening yesterday, watering our spinach row and our peas and soaking our row of kale. After picking tomatoes, I noticed that the we had a lot of white cabbage moths fluttering around our rows of cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli. Planting the fall brassicas beside our long row of zinnias, which draw bees, butterflies, and moths, may have been a mistake. The brassicas got a thorough spraying with the biological, Thuricide (BT).

I took time to pick up fallen apples under our Granny Smith tree, hauling the culls to our compost pile. I'll need to pick the good apples from the tree soon for table use and also for making applesauce.

Canning kidney beansAs I wound up my canning late yesterday afternoon, I began soaking most of our kidney bean harvest in preparation for canning today. I did reserve a quart of dry beans for whatever use I may find for them.

Update: Besides the quart of dry kidney beans, we got nineteen pints of them canned today. That's enough to last us for two years!

Our extended tomato planting this year has turned out to be a smashing success. That has to be balanced, of course, with the small peppers produced in the East Garden planting. But growing really good tomatoes on ground that previously hadn't supported such growth or production is encouraging.

REI

Monday, September 25, 2017

Pantry 1
Pantry 2
Kale bed
Another view of the kale bed

I'm just about worn out from canning. I did tomatoes on Thursday, kidney beans on Friday, and then cooked and canned kale soup Saturday and Sunday. Today, I finished up putting stuff away and cleaned up the mess I'd made in our kitchen! While I'm tired, our downstairs pantry is just about full. Even with the dry growing conditions most of this season, we've obviously been blessed with a bountiful harvest.

Making Portuguese Kale Soup has become a bit of a fall tradition for us. We usually wait to make the soup after we've grown most of the ingredients for it in our garden. (I haven't quite figured out how to "grow" chickens or smoked sausage in the garden yet!grin)

I had been waiting on our second planting of kale to grow enough to make the soup. As it turned out, our planting from mid-June had recovered enough from a couple of light pickings to make the soup. I pretty well denuded the first planting of kale, but was careful not to pick any of the new, central leaves. I gave that part of the kale row a good watering with a dilute, but balanced fertilizer solution to help it regrow.

A second kale planting made late in July is finally coming on strong. We may be able to make another batch of the soup sometime next month.

I followed our usual recipe making the soup. Other than the chicken and broth, smoked sausage, and what may be the secret ingredient, Swanson Chicken Broth, all of the other ingredients came from this year's garden. Ten gallons of kale leaves, about a dozen fresh tomatoes, carrots, the very last of our fresh green beans, peas, garlic, onions, kidney beans, and potatoes all went into the pot. I did, however, add the potatoes just before canning, as they get mushy if cooked too long.

Yesterday was devoted to canning the soup. We ended up with five quarts and nine pints canned. Since the soup contains meat, that pushes the canning times under pressure to 90 minutes for quarts and 75 minutes for pints. The steam venting and getting up to pressure and then the cooldown time adds almost another hour to the time for each batch.

It was a long day.

Earliest Red Sweet PeppersOne of our two, fall lettuce patchesWhen I recover from my canning extravaganza, there are lots of ripe peppers in the garden to be picked and frozen. Our Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper variety is doing is usual fall thing of showering us with more beautiful, red, ripe peppers than we can use (from five plants). We're still getting lots of good tomatoes, and I'm hoping for a late watermelon or two.

I picked our first head of fall lettuce today, a Crispino, but it went home with our eldest daughter who was visiting, along with a bunch of peppers and tomatoes and a bit of kale. Like all of our girls, Erica loves her vegetables.

I froze our last batch of the season of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed today. The main batch had a perfect germination test of 100%, although I only tested a ten seed sample. The "floaters," seed caught in the fermentation process at the top of the fermentation jar, tested at 90%!

I started saving cucumber floaters a few years ago when I realized that they were mostly good seed. Usually, floaters in wet seed such as tomatoes aren't viable, but cucumber seed seems to be the exception to the rule. I do try to sort out the absolutely flat cucumber seeds in the floaters, as they are almost always bad.

We're almost at the end of our growing season. The Dave's Garden page that calculates ones first and last frost dates from your zip code suggests we could receive our first frost on October 17. That still gives us about three weeks of growing season which we can extend if we choose to use cold frames or floating row covers over late crops.

Our current weather forecast predicts a crash from the ninety degree days we've been having to highs in the 70s by the end of the week. There's little to no chance of precipitation in the extended forecast. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center and the U.S. Drought Monitor basically say we're screwed on rain for the foreseeable future.

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

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Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook

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Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

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We've been fortunate to grow, harvest, and save what we have during a rather dry season. Getting into drought classifications is really a bit scary, as such conditions can continue and worsen over a long period. We're being very careful with water usage from our deep well that can periodically run dry. Fortunately, our shallow well has continued to give us good water for our garden plots, although my arm does get tired from pumping at times.

A possible upside of the dry weather is that area farmers are now picking corn and beans. The dry weather has matured crops earlier than usual, and we're seeing lots of combines working in fields in our area. Hopefully, the dry conditions haven't impacted crop yields too much.

And yes, this is another year where I'm thankful that I'm no longer farming.

Charity: Water

Saturday, September 30, 2017 - September Wrap-up

September, 2017, animated GIF of our Senior GardenSierra Trading Post - Dynamic Homepage BannerI shared a couple of photos of our downstairs pantry last Monday. After taking the photos, I walked into our plant room and was struck by all the onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and potatoes stored there. I was again reminded that we've been very blessed with good health and a good harvest this year.

We canned kidney beans, tomatoes (twice), and Portuguese Kale Soup this month. We also froze some boiled kale.

Besides canning tomatoes, we used a lot of them in recipes. I drove tomatoes and peppers to our local food bank twice, while Annie shared tomatoes and peppers with coworkers and some friends at a home for the elderly. Our tomato harvest has been incredible, and it's still continuing.

We were able to save a good bit of seed from several targeted and mostly endangered vegetable varieties this month. We now have lots of Japanese Long Pickling cucumber, Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomato, Earliest Red Sweet pepper, and Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed in frozen storage. A request from a seed library moved me to collect, save, and share some landrace basil seed (mix of Genovese and Large Leaf Italian). We also began saving zinnia seed for next year.

Our September 3 seeding of a hairy winter vetch cover crop in our East Garden appears to have failed. Virtually no rain this month apparently doomed it. I did notice some plants emerging in the area yesterday, but they look suspiciously like volunteer buckwheat from where I let some of it go to seed a bit in August. I may just broadcast some more buckwheat seed over the area, as it seems to want to grow more buckwheat. Buckwheat also requires minimal soil moisture to germinate.

East Garden - September 30, 2017

We still have a couple of transient hummingbirds hanging around our feeder. That's not all that unusual, as the very last of the migrants often pass through here at the end of September.

Looking back, it seems that I spent a lot of time this month cooking and eating. I haven't gained any weight, but I haven't lost any either. The dish below left ended up being cheese ravioli with alfredo sauce over it.

Unnamed recipe starter of chicken browned with garlic, carrots, celery, and spinach Mama's Girl watermelon Lars and Ruby

I also picked a small, but fairly good watermelon on Wednesday. It was the first good Mama's Girl that I got. Previously, I'd given a couple of them away and just plain missed on judging ripeness of some of the melons. The melon had good flavor, especially for this late in the season.

With my wife away on a couple of major trips this month, I really felt like the "chief cat herder at the Senior Garden," a phrase I've tried to get Facebook to take as my employment several times without success. We still have several cute kittens that have their shots and have been fixed to give away. Lars and Ruby White Toes (above right) are big buddies and as cute as they can be. I'm really getting fond of them, so we may keep them together (and be overrun with cats this winter) if we don't find homes for them soon.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

August, 2017

October, 2017

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