Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

April 15, 2018


Sunday, April 1, 2018 - Mother Nature's April Fool's Trick

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast
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Planned April 1 positng
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I often write our first- and end-of-the-month postings days ahead of time. I went to bed Friday night petty sure I had our April 1 posting in the can.

When I fired up my laptop Saturday morning and checked the extended weather forecast, I knew I'd need to delay my planned April 1 posting about dealing with the dangers of UV exposure. More seriously, I also know that our plans for early April gardening were out the window.

I expected cold mornings today and tomorrow, but I wasn't anticipating an overnight low of 24° F next Friday night/Saturday morning. I'd hoped to transplant our brassicas on Friday.

Plants insideTwenty-four degrees is well below our cold frame's ability to protect the plants under it. Such a temperature definitely precludes putting the plants in the ground, as Hot Kaps or floating row covers don't provide enough protection to prevent the plants from frosting and possibly being stunted or killed.

Sooo...I'll either be bringing our transplants and hanging basket plants back inside several nights this week, or I'll be throwing a tarp over the closed cold frame to retain a bit more heat.

This year certainly isn't the first time we've had late freezes requiring us to bring plants back inside. But it is about the latest we've had to. We've come to expect a freeze or even appreciable snowfall around March 24-25 each year. It just happens in our climate zone, but not usually in April.

If the surprisingly cold forecast holds, it will set back our planting plans. As soon as I feel confident we're past our last frost, I'll transplant our broccoli and cauliflower. There's a delicate balance there between getting them transplanted too soon and having them stunt in their deep sixpack inserts if held there too long. Next up will be transplanting lettuce and cabbage and direct seeding rows of carrots with onions transplanted on either side of those rows.

BTW: Our weather forecast has changed since I wrote and posted the info above. We could wake up tomorrow morning with 1-3" of snow on the ground...or just some cold rain mixed with snow.

Cold frame all bundled up

Hanging basket plants back insideRain gauge upI put four gallon jugs of very hot tap water under the cold frame before closing it mid-afternoon. Two tarps went over the frame, as our overnight low is predicted to be close to the cold frame's limit to protect against frost.

The few hanging basket plants I had outside hardening off went into trays on the dining room table. I've already had to shoo one cat away from eating leaves off the plants.

We don't take plants from outside back down to our basement plant room anymore. After a disasterous round of INSV virus taking all of our gloxinia plants several years ago, I stopped bringing anything back into the plant room that could harbor disease or bugs.

While outside, I drove a T-post and mounted our rain gauge on it.

Possbily to make myself feel a little better after all the cold weather preparation, I started a pot of dwarf basil and three fourpacks of marigolds today.

Anyway, Happy Easter and April Fools Day.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Current raised brd planOur snowy Senior Garden - April 2, 2018An inch of snow on April 2 is unusual for this area. I'm going to ignore the snow for now and do our normal monthly intro.

One of our goals each April is to get all of our raised beds planted by the end of the month. Even with our garlic planted in the fall and our early peas planted in early March, that makes for a busy month. But getting our raised bed crops planted and mulched in April allows us to focus on our large East Garden plot in May.

Once the cold mornings we're currently experiencing pass, we'll transplant our broccoli and cauliflower. After those brassicas are in, we'll move on to direct seeding some short double rows of carrots at one end of a wide row with cabbage and lettuce at the other end. The carrots, cabbage, and lettuce will be enclosed with double rows of onions. Such intensive plantings save space, and the onions seem to keep bugs away from the stuff planted between them.

When soil temperatures reach 50° F, we'll seed our green beans. And somewhere in that same time frame, we'll transplant Earlirouge tomatoes into a narrow raised bed and Earliest Red Sweet peppers into our main raised bed. I won't wait for soil temperatures to rise too much before transplanting and direct seeding our spring spinach along the edge of the tomato raised bed.

You may notice a question mark by the lima bean row in the graphic at right. Our garden plans are fluid, and I'm not sure I want to go with two rows of green beans or one row of them and a row of limas. Our beans have to go in early this year, as the field beside our raised beds will be planted to soybeans. Planted later in the season, our green beans would be ravaged by Japanese beetles migrating in from the soybean field.

Likewise, I don't show any intercropping with our brassicas, although I might sneak in some beets or lettuce between the slower growing broccoli and cauliflower. That stuff is part of the fun of gardening!

I'm going to grow shorter rows of spring carrots this year. Our fall grown carrots obviously store better into spring, and we've had to pitch extra spring grown carrots the last two years. We'll probably grow less fall carrots this year as well, as the vegetable trays in our refrigerator are still filled with very good carrots stored in green bags.

Our cold frame was covered with snow this morning. I waited until things warmed up a bit to remove the tarps and open the frame. Fortunately, our transplants came through the cold night just fine.

Cold frame covered with snow - April 2, 2018 Plants okay after snow

Sadly, I'll need to keep the tarps out as we still have a several nights below freezing, especially a predicted 24° F overnight low for Saturday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 - Your Annual Nag about UV Exposure

Our Senior Garden - April 3, 2018The Senior GardenerWriting about skin cancer is a bit of a downer. Over the last four months, I've spent thousands of dollars on care from my laser surgeon and lab tests for treatment and evaluation of skin cancers. But I'm still alive and kicking...and gardening.

At this point in life, we seniors can't do anything about the severe sunburns we received as children or later in life that often lead to skin cancer. But not adding to the danger of skin cancer is something we can do to enhance our length and quality of life.

Beyond getting appropriate medical care, protecting oneself from UV radiation while still being able to do the outdoor things we gardeners love is a major concern. The CDC notes that the hours between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. (Daylight Saving Time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors, with UV rays being greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America. A heavy cloud cover can fillter out some UV, but not as much as you'd think.

The trick for we senior gardeners prone to actinic keratoses and/or skin cancers is to find ways to garden without exposing ourselves to too much cancer causing UV radiation. Keeping in mind the CDC recommendations and checking UV scales often posted on weather sites can guide one on when it is safest to work outside. But not all jobs can be done in the early or late hours of the day. For me, mowing is one of those jobs where I have to be out in the sun at peak UV hours.

Steve's sun gearI've come to rely on sun protective clothing, and to a lesser extent, sunscreen,icon for protection from the sun when working outside, even in low UV hours. In the early spring, I start wearing one of several sun protective shirts and bucket hats when I'm outside, even when going shopping! Since we live in a windy area, I appreciate the chin strap on some of the hats to keep me from having to chase them across the yard. My "sun gear" hangs just inside the back door to remind me to put it on.

When I get into serious gardening in warm weather, I generally wear a T-shirt with a sun protective shirt over it along with a hat. And since I've had cancers both on and in my hands, I wear gloves almost all the time when working outside.

At one time, Coolibar was the only show in town for sun protective garments. With more emphasis on skin cancer in recent years, other entities such as Columbia, the REI Co-op, UV Skinz, and the Sierra Trading Posticon have entered the market. Hopefully, such competition will eventually reduce the price of sun protective gear, which until recently has been quite expensive.

Here are some related links about UV radiation and protective clothing:

Lots of Rain

We're at 2.65 inches of precipitation for April, mid-afternoon on the third. And there's more rain showing on the weather radar!

Re-planting Peas

I hate having to re-plant any crop. But our March 3 planting of early peas has only produced about twenty sprouts down the fifteen foot row.

So this afternoon, I took a large plastic trash bag, my kneeling pad, and our pea seed to the narrow raised bed where our previous planting had failed. One side of the raised bed had several inches of standing water outside it, but I was able to work exclusively from the other, higher, dryer side.

Making a furrow in the mud would have proved difficult, besides uprooting the peas that have emerged and any still germinating just below the soil surface. I instead employed a planting method I've previously used for early plantings over partially frozen ground. I spread my pea seed on the soil surface where I wanted it and poked the seeds into the soil with a finger, covering the seed with a bit of surrounding soil.

It only took about a half hour to do the planting. Having spread the trash bag and knee pad to kneel on, I came inside surprisingly mud free, other than my work boots.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - Winter Hangs On

Elevated Raised BedsWFYI and WSIU mugsEven though it's officially spring, our wintery weather is continuing. Our current extended weather forecast includes a chance of snow Friday night and Saturday morning and an overnight low of 22° F for Sunday morning. It appears that this weather pattern won't improve much until this time next week, obviously delaying some of our early planting plans.

A very good looking Stayman Winesap apple tree arrived in the mail yesterday from Ison's Nursery & Vineyards. The tree is now in our basement, as the weather is a bit too extreme for transplanting.

We Like and Support Public Radio and Television

Another treat arrived in today's mail. I'd noted in my membership renewal to WFYI that their minimum for a coffee cup freebie had gone up. I'd bumped up my contribution five bucks to cover a new mug since I broke my old one, but still fell short of their threshold. Membership Director Pam Smith-Rodden promptly responded with an email promising a new mug.

We live sort of halfway between public television/radio entities. We get PBS television via our satellite from WSIU (Carbondale, IL). Our NPR radio comes via WFYI (Indianapolis, IN). My fondness for public television began with Crockett's Victory Garden and continued through my teaching years with The Electric Company. It's a rare night that my wife, Annie, and I don't get our news from the PBS Newshour. My current NPR favorite is a local, WFYI production, John Krull's No Limits.

Hardening Off

An email yesterday from a nephew inquired about when to transplant his cherry tomatoes. He's grown a lovely bunch of transplants under plant lights.

As to when to begin transplanting, I referred him to the Dave's Garden page that lists first and last frost dates of ones growing season based on zip codes. His, for Indianapolis, was April 25. Our last frost date here is April 14, although I usually wait until the end of April to early May to get tomatoes into the ground. Tomatoes like warm ground.

Something to keep in mind is that first and last frost dates are based on climatic averages. With the way our weather has been going so far this spring, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if we get a light frost after our April 14 last frost date!

Equally important as observing frost dates and weather conditions is the process of hardening off ones transplants before moving them into the garden. Plants started indoors have to be gradually acclimated to the outside world of wind, rain, varying temperatures, and UV radiation. Failure to do so can often result in plants dying shortly after being transplanted!

For most plants, the hardening off process begins when the plants are about five to six weeks old. For just a few plants, a sheltered spot on a porch is a good place to start hardening off transplants. One can gradually move the plants into full sun for longer periods each day and also bring the plants inside in case of a frosty or freezing night. The hardening off process usually takes about 7-10 days before the plant stems and leaves have toughened up enough to withstand the shock of going into the ground.

Since we grow all of our own transplants, we employ a 3' x 8' cold frame to protect them all from overnight frosts. The cold frame is opened during daylight hours for longer periods each day. On very windy or rainy days, the frame gets cracked open about six inches to allow some airflow, but to shield the plants from the wind or a heavy storm.

Cold frame propped open Transplants under cold frame Cold frame fully open

Eventually, the plants are ready to go into the garden, and hopefully, all danger of a late frost is past. In cases where planting is delayed and we need space under the cold frame, hardier plants get moved to the sunny edge of our back porch until they get transplanted.

If you buy greenhouse grown transplants that haven't been hardened off, you'll need to do so to protect your investment. Fortunately, most places that sell transplants keep them outside, ensuring that they are transplanting ready.

Other Sources On Hardening Off Transplants:

A Little Maintenance and Clean-up in our Plant Room

I thinned out our second planting of tomatoes today to one plant per cell. This required splitting up some cells with two plants to fill open cells where seed hadn't germinated.

When done with the tomato thinning, I noticed lots of green shoots coming out of our bags of stored onions. So I dumped out all of our stored onions, pitching the sprouted and soft ones into a compost bucket while retaining the few good onions remaining. Our Southport White Globe, Red Zeppelin, and Red Creole onions appear to have stored the best.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - Starting Melons

East Garden plan for 2018The excellent Seed-Starting Date Calculator from Johnny's Selected Seeds says it's time to get our melon transplants started. So, I brought in all of our melon and squash seed from our big freezer this morning and got with the task.

I cut back our melon patch last year to just one row. That turned out to be a mistake. While the single row was much easier to mulch and care for than two or more rows, I also had to reduce the varieties we grow and was disappointed with the volume of good, ripe melons we picked. So we're going back to two rows of melons this year. Doing so will allow us to grow more of our old favorites plus several new varieties.

I prefer to start our melons as transplants, rather than direct seeding them in the garden. It gives us a little head start on the season. Growing our own melon (and squash) transplants allows us to grow varieties that one will never see sold as transplants in a garden center. But there's certainly nothing wrong with direct seeding ones melons or purchasing transplants from a garden center. In times when we've lost a transplanted hill, we direct seed to fill the space if no transplants are available. And our very first melon patch in what we now call our East Garden used some really sad looking transplants we picked up on sale late that spring at a local discount store.

If you're way ahead of me and have your melon transplants started already, our how-to, Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil, tells the whole story of our melon growing, including the essential for us deluxe planting holes we employ.

I used four and four and a half inch pots for today's planting. I fill the pots with sterile potting mix and water them with very warm water. Once the soil has cooled, I make several light depressions in the soil in each pot for my seed. We aim to get two plants per pot.

Seeding melons

While I usually cover the seed as I go, I left it uncovered for the photo above to show the seeds. With some old seed, I used up to five seeds per pot, using three seeds per pot with fresh seed. The seed gets covered with about an eighth to a quarter inch of sterile potting mix.

I ended up seeding ten pots of watermelon, seven to cantaloupe, and three of honeydew.

Most of the melons we'll be growing this year are tried and true varieties we grown over and over. With two melon rows this year, several varieties that got left out last year will return to our garden. And we'll be trying three new-to-us varieties as well.

Our cantaloupes will be Athena, Avatar, Roadside Hybrid, Sarah's Choice, Spear, and Sugar Cube. We'll be testing the Spear muskmelon for the first time this season. It is a longer season melon than most of our cantaloupe/muskmelon varieties. It produces dirigible shaped melons that are reported to have excellent flavor and grow well on clay soil.

With our larger planting this year, I've brought back several watermelon varieties we've skipped the last few years. Ali Baba, Blacktail Mountain, Crimson Sweet, Farmers Wonderful and Trillion (triploids), Kleckley Sweets, Moon & Stars, Picnic, Congo, and the new Mini Piccolo Hybrid (mini triploid) should give us all the watermelon we can eat and give away. The new Mini Piccolo Hybrid from Burpee sounds interesting, and the seed was free, included with Burpee's Advent Calendar.

Our honeydews will be Diplomat, Kazakh, and Tam Dew. The Kazakh variety has an interesting story by Glenn Drowns on his Sand Hill Preservation Center site that is worth scrolling down his muskmelon/honeydew page to read.

The two trays of seeded pots were covered with clear humidity domes and went under our plant lights and over soil heating mats. I set the thermostat for the tray of watermelon to 85° F, as the triploids (seedless watermelon) seeded need all the bottom heat they can get to germinate well. The tray of cantaloupe and honeydew should run between 75 and 80° F. We should see some germination in about four or five days.

Target

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Our Senior Garden - April 7, 2018I had to wait until 10:30 this morning for the temperature outside to get above freezing so that I could open our cold frame. I actually had to first unwrap the cold frame from the tarps over it that add a bit of protection for the plants under the frame.

We're supposed to have a very cold night tonight with the overnight low reaching 22-24° F by tomorrow morning. Once past that freeze, it appears we may be in the clear to begin planting, although overnight lows will hover around freezing for a few more days.

Other than opening our cold frame and wrapping it up in the evening, I didn't do any gardening yesterday. I began my day replacing the valve stems, springs, and washers in our kitchen faucet. The thing had been dripping for months. My wife charitably said that was okay because it helped keep the pipes from freezing over the winter.

I saved the job for an early morning. With my negligible plumbing skills, I wanted time left in the day in case I had to run to Terre Haute for parts or even a new faucet! But the faucet no longer drips.

I still went to Terre Haute, anyway. It was high time to buy our seed potatoes. I also needed a cheap, plastic watering can to use with insecticides and such. I have another one we use for straight watering. And with our continuing mole problems, I loaded up on mole bombs.

And just in case there was water dripping by the time I got home, I picked up two new valve stems for the kitchen faucet. It turned out I didn't need them now, but will in a few years, as the things wear out from the sand that slips through our water filter.

Starting yellow squash and re-seeding dwart basilYellow squashI started a couple of pots of summer squash this morning. I seeded one pot to the Slick Pik hybrid and the other to the Saffron open pollinated variety. Slick Piks are a slender yellow squash, while the Saffrons are a bit fatter. I've found that our Saffron plants will produce all season if kept free of squash bugs. The Slick Piks tend to produce heavily and then languish. I try to start a new pot of Slick Pik squash each time I transplant one into the garden. A succession of three or four plants keeps us in slender yellow squash all season.

I also re-seeded the pot of dwarf basil I started last Sunday. It appears that the seed I saved last year isn't good. I re-seeded with seed from 2016 that germinated well last year.

Not wanting to totally waste a sunny, if cold and windy day, I walked around our yard a bit. Our early peas still haven't emerged in volume. Our garlic looks pretty good, other than the row of elephant garlic. And our asparagus continues to grow very slowly, although each time I check it, there are more asparagus shoots up.

Garlic rows Asparagus slowly growing Lawn needs mowing

Our lawn is obviously ready for its first mowing of the year, but it's way too cold today for that job.

I also did a bit of pacing off distances, trying to locate a good spot for our new, standard Stayman Winesap apple tree. Our original Stayman Winesap tree, a wedding gift from an old friend, died from fire blight in 2012. It was a heavy producer of delicious apples.

Standard Stayman Winesap Old Stayman Winesap

I really wanted a semi-dwarf tree, but all I could find online last fall from reputable sellers were standards. Our original Stayman Winesap was a semi-dwarf. I must have gotten it planted too deep, as it grew right through the dwarfing grafts into a standard apple tree. So a standard sized tree may be okay this time around. Hey, at my age, I may never get to pick an apple from it.

Casolly Fabric Pots

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Plants in cold frameGloxinia in bloomWe made it through what may be our last really cold overnight without any damage to the plants under our cold frame. I did, however, find a dog laying on the tarps on the cold frame this morning! Frown Fortunately, he didn't break the frame or tear the plastic. Nearby Weather Underground reporting stations had the overnight low ranging from 24 to 29° F.

While morning lows will flirt with the freezing mark the next few mornings, I think winter is about to finally release its grip on us. I felt confident enough today to move some Abundant Bloomsdale spinach and Snowy Spiresicon verbascum to the cold frame.

A visual treat appeared in our kitchen today. After months of no plants in bloom, one of our gloxinias is coming into bloom. We have lots more plants that have emerged from dormancy that will probably bloom in a month or so. There also are a bunch of gloxinias in our dormancy area that I need to check to see if they've resumed growing.

The melons I seeded Thursday evening have begun to germinate already. Well, at least the watermelons have. The tray of cantaloupe and honeydew that receives a bit less bottom heat isn't showing any sprouts as yet. Several of the watermelon plants were tall enough that they were touching the clear humidity dome over them, so they got moved off the heat mat to another location under our plant lights.

Watermelons beginning to germinate

Such rapid germination really isn't all that unusual. With strong bottom heat (82-85° F), watermelon will often begin to germinate in three to five days. I expect all of the watermelon to be germinated by the ten day mark. One of the varieties to germinate early was some very old Kleckley Sweets seed. The seed packet doesn't have a date, but I think the seed is vintage 2009 or earlier!

Hummingbirds

Hummingbird
Hummingbirds at blue feeder
Hummingbird

Hummingbird migration mapIt's a bit early, but we may see some hummingbirds by the end of this month. On an impulse, I checked the hummingbirds.net map of northern migration of ruby throated hummingbirds yesterday. While the map didn't show any sightings yet for Indiana, there were a bunch from Kentucky.

We saw our first hummingbird last year on April 24. With our relatively late spring, our first sighting may come a bit later this year. So I still have plenty of time to check our hummingbird feeders and begin laying in a good supply of granulated sugar for the bird's nectar. Just in case there's an earlybird or two, I'll hang a feeder in a week or so.

We don't use any of the commercial hummingbird nectars that often include some completely unnecessary red dye. We mix water and sugar in a 4:1 ratio that the birds seem to like. Before the tiny birds start their southern migration in August, we sweeten the mix to 3.5:1 to allow the birds to put on the weight they'll need for the long flight south.

I can't offer a lot of guidance on hummingbird feeders. The ones we've used for years, the Birdscapes 279 Deluxe Rose Petal 12-ounce Glass Hummingbird Feeder, aren't available online anywhere other than at Rural King. The birds like those feeders, but the perches are prone to break off easily, and they're a devil to clean. Because they are cheap, we have lots of these feeders.

HummZinger feeder from WalmartOur other type of hummingbird feeder, a Perky-Pet 16 Ounce Hummingbird Feeder, is easy to clean, but the blue coloring inside the glass chips off pretty badly.

iconWe're going to try an Aspects HummZingericon basin type feeder this year. Hummingbirds.net recommends basin type feeders for ease of cleaning. This one also provides an unobstructed view of the feeding area, making taking pictures of the birds a bit easier.

If you're trying to attract hummingbirds for the first time, I'd recommend going to a store where you can get a good look at and handle feeders before buying one. Look for ease of cleaning and sturdiness. Feeders with perches allow the birds to save some energy while feeding. Of course, there are scads of very attractive hummingbird feeders on the market. Shopping for a first or even an extra feeder should be fun.

Also, if it's your first go around with attracting hummingbirds, be patient. If you live anywhere in the eastern United States, there are probably some hummingbirds around. Once you attract them, they'll return year after year. After they've hatched out their first and second clutches of eggs, traffic around the feeders gets pretty furious.

We spend a lot of money each summer on sugar for hummingbird nectar. But it's a nice investment in a summertime of entertainment watching the birds.

Hummingbird Feeders

Monday, April 9, 2018

Our Senior Garden - April 9, 2018I awoke this morning to see a light covering of snow on the ground! Fortunately, overnight temperatures didn't dip too far down, but we still have two potentially freezing mornings coming up. Even though cold hardy crops such as broccoli and onions can survive a light frost, I'm going to wait out the two cold mornings before putting any transplants into our garden.

What! No photo documenting the snow! I saw the snow, groaned, and went back to bed for a couple of hours. When I finally got up and dressed, the snow had melted off.

On a more positive note, with all the precipitation we've had recently, soil moisture shouldn't be an issue with our early plantings. Rain along with cool cloudy weather has slowed the soil from drying out quickly, even in our raised garden beds. The wet soil conditions also prevent any tilling of the soil. (Area farmers have to be going a little nuts right now due to delayed tillage and planting.) I'm thankful I stayed with it and got all of our raised beds tilled late last fall.

Sod cleared from apple tree planting siteWanting to get something of value done today, I started work on planting a new apple tree. I didn't get very far, only removing the sod in a circle around the planting site. Having worn myself out digging the sod, I decided to call it a day and finish planting the tree tomorrow.

I found it interesting that the directions that came with the tree from Ison's Nursery suggest discarding the sod, using it to fill bare patches around ones property. Over the weekend, I read on another tree vendor's site that the sod and topsoil should be returned to the bottom of the planting hole before transplanting. The Ison guidance reflects what I've seen recommended in the last few years, while the other site's suggestion is sort of the old school wisdom for planting a tree...the way I've always done it in the past. I'll probably do a bit of both.

Pots drying in dish drainerAnother chore today was one of our periodic cleanings of used flower pots. The job was prompted because the pots had been soaking in the garden cart I needed for the tree work. My darling wife tolerates my misuse of our dish drainer.

I also burnt through a $50 gift certificate David George, president of the Greenhouse Megastore, had awarded me when they messed up a minor item on a previous order. When I'd inquired about the problem and didn't get a response, I wrote the top guy and got an unexpected windfall. I used it to stock up on Perma-nest trays, hanging basket pots, and deep inserts. Mr. George's attention to detail is why the Greenhouse Megastore has a semi-permanent link on our trusted suppliers page.

I also spent a good bit of time arranging plants under our plant lights and adjusting the lights to optimal heights above the plants. Our Earlirouge tomatoes and some vinca got moved to our cold frame to begin hardening off.

Personal note: I've taken aspirin, have pain pads on both knees, and am sitting on a heating pad while writing this posting. I'm glad I quit when I did on planting the new apple tree. Things that I did in a few hours when I was younger take multiple days now at my age. Pacing ourselves as senior gardeners is important.

Fruit Bouquets

Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - Planting That Apple Tree

New Stayman Winesap apple tree plantedOur new Stayman Winesap apple tree is in the ground. After removing the sod yesterday from where I wanted to plant the tree, I finished the planting today. Using a long-handled shovel my father gave me over forty years ago, I dug a hole approximately 3' wide and 2' deep for the new tree. In addition, I used a post hole digger to go down another foot or so to facilitate growth of the tree's taproot.

I backfilled the hole with the sod, topsoil, and peat moss mix I'd made yesterday, although a lot of the sod went to our new compost pile. I had to be careful to build up the center of the hole to make sure the tree's graft was 2-3" above the surrounding soil level. I did so by laying a 2x4 across the planting hole to determine the surrounding soil level. Before putting the tree in, I watered the soil with about five gallons of lukewarm water.

With the tree's taproot pushed into the soil and its lateral roots spread out, I covered the roots with the soil I'd dug from the hole today and mixed with a liberal amount of peat moss. I deem the peat as essential, as the soil dug was mostly gray clay soil.

I covered the lower part of the tree stem with an old latex tree wrap I had in the garage. I also put a pepper cage that has hardware cloth around it around the tree to discourage mice that might gnaw on the tender tree bark.

After putting away my tools, I took a good look at our other apple trees. Buds are beginning to swell on our Granny Smith tree, although the other trees still look to be dormant. A couple of warm, sunny days predicted for the next two days may move all the apple trees to begin blooming soon.

Sorry to make such an abbreviated posting, but I'm still stiff and sore from digging and throwing around hunks of sod. A good bit better information on planting apple trees can be found from the sources below.

REI

Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - Moles

I'd hoped to transplant our broccoli and cauliflower today, but another job proved to be more pressing. Our early planted peas are probably going to be a failure, and I'm blaming mole activity in the bed for the lack of pea plants coming up. Moles seem to love burrowing in all of our raised garden beds. They've also done some damage to the roots of our garlic.

So this afternoon, I used a three way approach to slow the moles, if not eradicate them. In the raised beds, I dug up mole tunnels and placed Giant Destroyer mole smoke bombs in the holes. Outside the beds, I used poison peanutsicon. And in and around the beds, I spread Milky Spore which zaps Japanese Beetle larva.

I have a couple of mechanical mole traps, but they're not very effective.

Our best mole control over the years have been a couple of dogs that dug up and killed moles. But one of those dogs is long gone, and the other is getting old and is a bit lame.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Thursday, April 12, 2018 - Staking Rows

Garden rows stakedEven though I was champing at the bit this morning to begin transplanting brassicas, I took a few minutes to stake where my rows should go in our main raised garden bed. The garden plan is always drawn to scale, but there are often minor (and occasional major) discrepancies between the plan and the actual space in the bed. Fortunately, today's staking only required a correction of four inches in one spot.

Transplanting Broccoli and Cauliflower

Having thoroughly tilled our raised beds last fall, I was able to go ahead and transplant broccoli and cauliflower today without rototilling the bed. Skipping the spring tilling is a compromise, as the plants would benefit from looser soil from another tilling. But with our weather this spring, there's no telling when the soil would be dry enough to permit tilling.

So my first step in the planting was the rake the planting area smooth. Then I strung nylon string down the rows to assist in getting our rows straight.

Holes dug and wateredI used a wide garden trowel to dig a planting hole about 6-8" into the soil, loosening the soil at the bottom of the hole as much as possible to promote deep root growth. Today, I dug all of the planting holes first. Then each transplanting hole got a quarter handful of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer and a sprinkle of ground calcitic limestone to fend off clubroot. (In areas with alkaline soil, ground egg shells can be used to supply the calcium necessary to prevent clubroot without affecting soil pH.) I used my trowel to work both into the soil a bit. Then I filled the holes with dilute transplanting solution (about half strength Quick Start, with a bit of Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed Powder mixed in).

Broccoli and cauliflower plantedOnce the starter solution had soaked into the soil a bit, I backfilled the hole with the soil I dug earlier and plopped a cutworm collar into the soil and watered the cup. Since we have problems with cutworms in our garden plots, I use old, waxed paper coffee cups with the bottoms cut out as cutworm collars. Left in place for a week to ten days at about an inch above the soil line, the cups prevent cutworms from attacking any still tender brassica stems.

Then I squish my transplant into the cup, backfilling with a bit more soil around the base of the broccoli stem. I use my fingers to firm up the soil and again water generously with starter solution.

I spaced our broccoli and cauliflower plants about 18-20 inches apart in the row. Because I should have plenty of room to work the plants from the outside of the rows, I only left 24 inches between the two rows. For folks planting more than two rows of brassicas, I'd suggest a full 36" spacing between the rows to allow working the plants without snapping off leaves and such.

An optional, but for us, necessary, step in the planting is to spread some smelly, nasty tasting stuff on the ground around the plants to discourage rabbits and deer from nibbling on the plants. It also keeps our dogs, usually, from digging up the transplants or laying on them. The plants will also get their first coating of Thuricide in the next few days. It was way too windy today to attempt spraying anything. Thuricide is a biological that keeps cabbage worms at bay.

The cauliflower varieties transplanted today were 3 Amazing, 4 Fremont, and 3 Violet of Sicily. These plants were started on February 2, making them about nine weeks old at this point. That's a week or two older than what is generally recommended, but I'm trying to get our cauliflower to mature around the same time as the shorter seasoned broccoli.

The open pollinated Amazing variety truly deserves its name. It has excellent leaf cover to prevent yellowing of its large, delicious heads. Fremont is a hybrid that produces every bit as well as Amazing. Violet of Sicily is a red heirloom that often, but not always, produces good heads for us. It's also sold under other names such as Purple of Sicily. It is a bit more prone to clubroot than the other two varieties we grow, so those plants got a bit of ground egg shell in addition to the lime added to prevent the condition.

When starting our broccoli on February 26, I just said "screw it" and went with the two best producing varieties we've ever grown, Premium Crop and Goliath. I'd tried several highly rated, new-to-us hybrid and open pollinated varieties the last two years without being much impressed with any of them. Both the hybrid Premium Crop and the open pollinated Goliath varieties usually produce large main heads, followed by lots of smaller sideshoots. Note that the Goliath we grow is Stokes exclusive and seems to do better for us than similarly named varieties from other vendors.

I added the word "usually" to the preceding paragraph, as most of our spring broccoli in 2016 "buttoned." Buttoning is the failure of broccoli plants to produce heads or producing small heads prematurely. Stress is listed as the cause of buttoning on most sites, with cold temperatures, poor soil fertility, root bound transplants, dry soil conditions, and excessive salt in the soil all being mentioned. Note that plants that have buttoned can be left in the ground to possibly produce good sideshoots later. And for us that year, we harvested a bountiful fall crop of broccoli for fresh use and freezing.

A small Barbados lettuce intercropped with broccoliA Jericho romaine lettuce fills out the broccoli rowAfter completing the brassica planting, I just couldn't help myself and did a little intercropping. I put lettuce at either end of the broccoli row and seeded beets in between the other broccoli plants.

We still have a couple of unseasonably cold mornings in our extended weather forecast. I even heard a TV weatherperson say a dirty word for April, "snow!" Having delayed our planting of broccoli and cauliflower a week already, I went ahead with our planting today despite some incredibly strong winds. I do have an ace in the hole, though. If the forecast gets any worse, I can spread a floating row cover over our broccoli and cauliflower to protect them from the freezing mornings. Floating row covers can provide varying degrees of protection to plants. The stuff we have on hand, Agribon AG-19, provides about 4° F of protection to plants under it. There are heavier floating row covers that provide a bit more protection at the expense of light transmission (and cost).

I absolutely loved doing today's planting, even in the terribly windy conditions. It felt good to be gardening again.

As the first such work I've done this season, I found it necessary to take a lot of breaks during the process. Pacing oneself when gardening is important for all gardeners, especially seniors. Pushing too hard for too long can lay one up for days recovering from back and joint pain...or worse.

I'm hoping this planting makes it, as the strong winds we're experiencing can damage the plants and also dry them out. If we lose some plants, I still have a few spares under the cold frame.

I describe how we grow our brassicas from start to finish in our how-to article, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Our Senior Garden - April 14, 2018Yard and garden from kitchen windowWe're once again on a weather hold on any outdoor gardening. A half inch of rain so far today followed by a couple of mornings with freezing temperatures suggest I once again be patient and cautious about putting plants into our garden.

After seeing some fairly close hummingbird sightings on hummingbirds.net, I hung a feeder yesterday. I also moved some hanging basket plants from their protected area beside the house to hooks under our back porch.

I wasted another warm but windy day yesterday. After all of my comments on Thursday about pacing myself, I found that anything with a joint or bone in my body hurt. My one gardening accomplishment for the day was moving our egg carton petunias from their egg cartons on a kitchen window ledge to fourpacks under our plant lights. I only did that job because one of our cats knocked one of the egg cartons off the window ledge!

Lettuce

Thomas Jefferson reportedly said "to sow a thimble full of lettuce every Monday morning from Feb 1 to Sept 1." That practice simply doesn't work in our climate zone. We do, however, try to harvest a little lettuce before the summer heat turns it bitter each spring and harvest lots more in the extended cool days of fall.

Tray of lettuce transplants

Jericho lettuce at end of broccoli rowBarbados lettuce intercropped with broccoliWe started one slow growing lettuce variety on February 21 this year and the rest on March 1. Those sowings have produced what I think are the best lettuce transplants we've grown in years, if not ever. They're almost big enough to harvest while still under our cold frame! Almost! And I really can't remember doing anything much different that our usual practices in starting lettuce.

When I finished transplanting our brassicas on Thursday, I put in a couple of early lettuce transplants. Both Jericho and Barbados are supposed to produce baby lettuce at around 36 days from transplanting.

I'm going to give our lettuce area a couple of extra feet this spring at the expense of less spring carrots.

Brassicas

BroccoliBrassicasHaving gone through a couple of days of 30-40 MPH winds, our broccoli and cauliflower look pretty good. The plants had been bent over in the wind, but straightened up a good bit today with lesser winds.

I'm pretty sure the broccoli and cauliflower I transplanted on Thursday will be okay (with the protection of a floating row cover). But I'd rather not take a chance with our onions and lettuce, the next transplants to go in (along with direct seeding carrots).

Asparagus

With some warm weather and rain, our asparagus has started to come up. I picked nine shoots today, but there are lots more coming on.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Our Senior Garden - April 16, 2018Weather Underground Extended ForecastIt was cold when I got going this morning, around 32-33° F. As I sipped my morning coffee, it began to snow with sustained winds of around 30 MPH!

We're getting off a lot easier than areas north of us, but still, snow on April 16? It does appear that the cold mornings will eventually pass. There's also not any rain predicted for a week or so, which may allow the ground to dry out enough to permit tillage.

My gardening yesterday was limited to pounding in some more T-posts to hold trellises around what is supposed to be our row of early peas. I also poked a bunch more pea seed into the ground, hoping we might still get a crop. Between the weather, mole damage, and pets digging in the bed, we haven't gotten an acceptable stand of peas as yet.

I haven't ventured outside yet today, as it's still just 34° F at noon. Eventually, I'll need to get out and check our rows of brassicas and look under the cold frame for frost damage. I'm almost afraid to look.

Asparagus

We had our first asparagus feast this evening. It was actually a pretty light feast, as there wasn't all that much asparagus. But my wife, Annie, and I ate our fill, leaving just two shoots in the pan which a dog gladly cleaned up. With our continuing cold mornings, I suspect we'll have several days pass before we pick enough of the delicious vegetable to have it again.

I tell the story of our two beds of asparagus in our how-to, Growing Asparagus.

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Thursday, April 19, 2018 - First Mowing

Grass clippings piled by main raised bedI chose to mow instead of gardening yesterday, as our lawn had gotten really high and looked terrible. I started mowing at noon on a relatively warm and sunny day. It was a little windy, but not bad. After taking a break after a couple of hours of mowing, I noticed rising wind speeds. When I checked later, the wind was a steady 30 MPH with 40 MPH gusts. That made for a lot of grass clippings blowing back into my face. It also foretold of yet another cold front moving in.

Staying with the job, I eventually got all of our main yard and the barn lot mowed. I used our lawn sweepericon to rake up the heaviest layers of grass clippings that left in place could have killed the grass under them. Four loads of clippings got dumped by our main raised bed to be used as mulch. Two more loads, those with more leaves mixed in, got dumped by our new compost pile. Our current lawn sweeper's hopper has a 12 cubic foot capacity, so we got a lot of grass clippings.

I won't start mulching with the grass clippings until they've had some time to heat up and decay a bit. Grass clipping mulch piled several inches deep can produce enough heat to damage or kill nearby plants. Let stand for a few days, the clippings heat and then cool and are safe to move under plants and around their stems.

I still have the one acre field to mow. It's not our property, but in exchange for keeping it mowed, the landowner and farm renter let us use part of it for our large East Garden plot.

Thuricide

Broccoli and cauliflower rows sprayed with ThuricideI made a first application of Thuricide spray on our brassicas today. Thuricide is a trade name for BT (bacillus thuringiensis), a biological that gives cabbage looper worms and the like fatal stomach cramps. I haven't seen any of the little white or brown moths so far this spring that lay their eggs on brassicas, but starting early with the spray certainly can't hurt.

Melons

Young melon transplantsThe melons I seeded on April 5 are all up and doing well, other than one watermelon variety. A packet of two year old Congo seed from Burpee failed in two consecutive plantings! I'm guessing this is another example of old seed that tested good when sold in 2016 not lasting very long in our extended frozen storage. Interestingly, some of the other melon seed planted came from packets labeled for sale in 2009 and earlier.

I lucked out and found a packet of Congo watermelon seed on a Ferry-Morse seed rack at a hardware store. There were just twelve seeds in the packet that sold for $1.99. But I didn't have to pay shipping for the seed and got the one variety of seed I wanted.

Good Read

I ran across an interesting story by Edgar Allen Beem this morning about Rob Johnston, Jr., and his founding of Johnny's Selected Seeds. Rooted in the counterculture of the 1970s, Johnny’s Selected Seeds is flourishing with the locavore movement tells of Johnston starting the company in 1973, and its development since then. We "discovered" Johnny's in the late 70s and have been fans ever since.

First Hummingbird of the Season

First hummingbird sighted this seasonI spotted our first ruby throated hummingbird of the season late this afternoon. I've had a feeder hung for several days, but didn't have a clear sighting until today.

Most Gardening Still on Hold

In a normal spring, we'd have our raised beds pretty well planted by this time. But with lots of frosty and freezing mornings so far in April, we only have our fall planted garlic and some frost hardy brassicas planted in our main raised garden bed. I'm still struggling to get a good stand of early peas going in one of our narrow raised beds.

The sun struggled to come out today after a morning low temperature of 33° F. The low for tomorrow morning is predicted to be 30° F, but after that, it appears we'll be able to begin gardening in earnest.

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Friday, April 20, 2018 - Spraying Apple Trees

Our apple treesApple blossom about to openOur Granny Smith apple tree is just about ready to bloom. With only light and somewhat variable winds today, I was able to spray all of our apple trees with Bonide Fruit Tree Spray. I often find it difficult to find a non-windy day to do this critical just-before-blooming spray, but I got it done today. I won't spray again until the blossoms have dropped.

The product used today is a chemical cocktail of the fungicide, Captan, and the insecticides, Malathion and Carbaryl, with a little sticker spreader thrown in. It's effective, but I also wear long sleeves, a hat, glasses or other eye protection, and a paper mask when spraying the trees!

While a bit hard to pick out, the image above left shows all four of our apple trees. The recently planted Stayman Winesap is in the foreground with a dwarf Stayman Winesap and the Granny Smith just behind. Further back blending into the tree line is a volunteer apple tree that contributes a lot of pollination each spring.

Besides transplanting some dianthus and dwarf basil from their communal pots to fourpacks, I also picked a nice mess of asparagus this afternoon. As our weather warms, we'll get more and more asparagus each day for a week or so before production levels off.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pulling cutworm collars and mulching brassicasDespite some knee problems, I got out today to pull the cutworm collars and mulch our brassicas. The broccoli and cauliflower plants have had ten days in the ground that should have allowed their stems to toughen enough to be unattractive to cutworms.

After transplanting brassicas on April 12, replanting peas (again) on April 16, and hunting down what stunk in our refrigerator on Friday (all done while working on my knees), my knees are shot. I've been getting by with aspirin, lidocaineicon and capsaicinicon pain patches, and some good twelve year old scotch. But the knee thing has put off any more work on my hands and knees until my knees calm down a bit. (Among other things, some ricotta cheese seems to have been the main culprit in the fridge stink thing.)

So today, I mostly scooted on my butt down the rows. I cut each paper cup cutworm collar down it's sides (two cuts), held the plant in place with my fingers split around the stems, and pulled the half cups. Then I worked a bit of soil around the plant stems, being careful to leave a rim around each plant to catch water.

The plants got a good watering. Then I spread grass clipping mulch around each plant and in between the rows of broccoli and cauliflower. Pressing the mulch into the damp soil should help fill the small air spaces left where I pulled the paper cups.

I'm hoping we won't have any cutworm damage to the brassicas. I'm somewhat confident we won't, as the lettuce plants at either end of the broccoli row didn't have cutworm collars, but didn't have any cutworm damage.

Brassicas mulched

Gloxinias

Our first gloxinia in bloom this yearI knew we had gloxinias beginning to regrow from their corms in the dark area of our plant room where we keep our dormant plants. But with other home and garden responsibilities, I put off refreshing them. My reward for my tardiness was several plants that had put on way too much growth at the expense of corm strength. Fortunately, it appears that I didn't lose any plants from my two week plus delay.

To get the plants going again, I took them outside yesterday where I had an open bag of good potting mix. I unpotted each plant, rubbed off old potting soil until I got to roots (or the corm). I usually stayed with the same pot, filling it half to three quarters full with fresh potting mix (the kind that has fertilizer pellets in it). Each pot then got a sprinkle of systemic insecticide granules mixed into the soil before I pushed the gloxinia corm and root ball into the soil. I try to make sure the new topgrowth is at or above the level of the edge of the pot. Then I add more potting mix down the sides of the pot, slightly firming it.

Refreshed gloxinias

Gloxinias in sunroomThis time around, because I'd stressed the plants a good bit, I watered them with a bit of starter fertilizer in lukewarm water. The plants then went to the sunroom, as our lighted plant rack is still pretty full.

In all, I refreshed fifteen gloxinias. I did break off the top growth of one corm when working with it. Only when I started to replace the plant label did I notice the designation of "superstar" on it. I add that to the labels of the few, truly outstanding plants we have. The plant may regrow despite my mishandling of it, but it was a reminder to me that new top growth on gloxinias is often a bit brittle, especially if they've not been promptly refreshed after they break dormancy.

Something I Do

All of the old potting mix that got rubbed off the gloxinia corms went into our garden cart. I used a bit of it for top off a planter on our cistern. But since the potting mix may contain residue from our use of systemic insecticide, it can't go onto our compost pile or into our garden plots. Instead, the leftover soil will go into one of the flowerbeds around our house. Since our house is well over a hundred years old, there's certainly residue around it from flaked lead based paint. A little systemic insecticide shouldn't hurt the flowers we grow in those beds. We don't grow any edible plants next to the house.

Asparagus

Today's picking of asparagusWe're getting a bit more asparagus each day. Today's picking was about half a pound. As we have more warm days and some rain, we'll continue to get lots of delicious asparagus spears.

Romaine Lettuce Advisory

While cleaning out the refrigerator, I also pitched some lovely looking romaine lettuce hearts. I hated doing it, but the expanded recommendation from the CDC over the recent E. coli outbreak now recommends pitching any romaine (bagged, whole, or hearts) that you aren't sure where it was grown. A new, unopened package of Dole romaine hearts said they were grown in either "AZ or CA." News reports say the recent outbreak is probably coming from Arizona grown romaine lettuce.

An absence of romaine lettuce in our fridge and on our dinner table may move me to transplant our lettuce soon, even if I have to do it sitting on my butt. grin

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Plants moved from cold frame to porchFruit Bouquests - Mother's DayAfter a couple of warm, rainy days, we're back to some nice sunny weather. While the weather was lousy for gardening, it was pretty close to ideal for moving more transplants outdoors to our cold frame to begin hardening off. The problem for us there, however, was that the cold frame was already full of plants ready to go into the ground.

To make room for the new additions to the cold frame, I began moving some trays of plants to the edge of our back porch. Plants there are still somewhat protected from the wind. The downside of that is that our dogs will occasionally knock a tray off the porch, or for some reason, carry off a fourpack of plants. Several years ago, our cats just about ruined a tray of onion transplants by peeing on them!

I added trays of tomato, pepper, geranium, and vinca transplants under the cold frame. Leftover broccoli and cauliflower transplants, sage, daisies, lettuce, and onions got moved to the edge of the back porch. So far, our pets haven't bothered them.

Apple Blossoms and Tulips

Tulips by front porchApple blossoms showing redI went out to take pictures of apple blossoms late yesterday afternoon, but the blossoms hadn't yet opened. My brief walk wasn't totally fruitless, as our tulips by our front steps are in bloom. Since they grow in a fairly shady area, I'm always happy to get any blooms from them.

By today, the apple blossoms were showing a lot of red, but still hadn't swelled and opened. But with our frosts past (I hope), we should have beautiful blooms on the tree in a few days.

Butternuts Started

I started our Waltham Butternut squash on Sunday. I start them (and our pumpkins) in ten inch bulb pans. That allows me to transplant one pot with three or four plants in it into the hill for the butternuts. I won't start our Howden pumpkins for another couple of weeks. I try to time their days-to-maturity for them to ripen in late September or early October for Jack O' Lanterns for our grandkids.

Two years ago, our hill of butternuts produced over a hundred good squash. While we enjoyed many of them, most of them went to our local food bank, almost filling a large grocery cart there. When I dropped off some other stuff a week later, all but a few of the butternuts were gone.

Fresh Air, Max Brooks, Farmers, and a Monsanto/Bayer Danger

NPR Coffee MugsDuring a brief shopping trip this week, I was listening to Terry Gross's Fresh Air on the truck radio as I drove from store to store. I missed a good bit of the show, but picked up enough that I knew I wanted to hear the full program.

Terry's guest for an interview done last August was Max Brooks, son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. Once home, I quickly found the show on the NPR website, Novelist Max Brooks On Doomsday, Dyslexia And Growing Up With Hollywood Parents. The younger Brooks proved to be as funny as his father, but in his own way. He also discussed some serious issues.

What I'd heard in the truck that hooked me on the program was Brooks' cautionary tale of Bayer buying Monsanto. Monsanto, of course, is the creator of Roundup ready soybeans (introduced in 1996) and corn (introduced in 1998) that nearly all farmers use today. His point was that if Bayer should sell its Roundup ready patents or be sold in entirety to say, China, that country could embargo those products to the U.S., causing all kinds of havoc in the farm community and possibly food shortages. With our President's current bluster on trade tariffs, Brooks' tale seems a lot less far fetched.

The part of the interview about Monsanto begins at about 12:44 into the 37 minute interview. The entire show is worth listening to, as Brooks shares a lot about his parents, his mother giving up her acting career to help him get an education despite his dyslexia, and a lot of funny asides. A column by Brooks also tells the Monsanto story: Food Blackmail: The Potential Danger of Bayer’s Purchase of Monsanto.

And yes, the photo above shows another new NPR coffee mug. WSIU was just a bit slower getting their mug out than WFYI was. Both mugs were appreciated. I also bumped up my membership donations to the public broadcasting services to help cover the cost of the mugs and mailing.

Still Sidelined

Transplanting to hanging basket potsMy bum knee still has me sidelined from any serious outdoor gardening. The good news is that today is the first day I've not experienced severe pain from the knee. Not wanting to waste a sunny day, I transplanted petunias and impatiens into hanging basket planters.

Our first planting of "egg carton petunias" failed this year, so we're a bit behind with our petunias. By this time of year, we usually have several hanging baskets of them along the back porch in full bloom. Looking at it from the brighter side, our petunias often are in pretty poor shape by August. Getting them going a bit later may produce blooms a bit later into the season.

Charity: Water

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Our spring weather is getting a little silly! As I listened to the evening news and weather last night, I heard the weatherman say not to put out any plants until after Saturday. The extended forecast now calls for a Sunday morning low of 32° F.

While our cold frame when closed should easily protect the plants under it, the trays of plants I moved to the back porch to make room for more plants under the cold frame will have to come inside overnight Saturday. I also have a bunch of hanging basket plants that will need to come inside for the night.

We've had to bring plants back inside to protect them in years past. But those occasions occurred in late March, not April.

I'd written the following early this month:

Something to keep in mind is that first and last frost dates are based on climatic averages. With the way our weather has been going so far this spring, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if we get a light frost after our April 14 last frost date!

Despite my words above, I am surprised at the frost/freeze predicted for Sunday morning.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Conveniently, all of our plants that were outdoors fit either under our cold frame or on our dining room table.

Outdoor plants on dining room table

With any luck, tomorrow morning's frost/freeze will be winter's last gasp, and we'll be able to begin some serious gardening soon.

Monday. April 30, 2018 - April Wrap-up

April, 2018, animated GIF of our Senior GardenThis April has to be one of the most frustrating and disappointing months in gardening that I've experienced. Late frosts and freezes, a failed planting, and some untimely rains have left us way behind in getting our garden plots planted. A bit of foolishness on my part in overdoing things early on has left me a bit gimpy, also contributing to our lack of gardening progress.

The best news of the month is that we're now picking asparagus, lots of asparagus! Since our garlic showed some signs of a nitrogen deficiency, I scratched in some balanced fertilizer around the plants a week ago, and they're looking much better now. Our broccoli and cauliflower transplanted on April 12 look really good at this point. Despite repeated re-plantings, our early peas looked to be a bust. One or more of our dogs cemented the failure, digging up the bed a day or two ago.

I'm now mentally tossing a coin over whether to renovate the bed with a deep digging and try planting our supersweet peas there or going with Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, or maybe even carrots, onions, and lettuce. Today, I'm leaning towards renovating the bed, deep digging to interrupt mole tunnels, and planting our supersweet peas there.

Plants back out on back porchBut even with a bit of adversity this month, things are looking good. The weather is warming rapidly with no more frosts predicted. We lucked out and yesterday's frost/freeze didn't materialize. I spent some time yesterday clearing our dining room table of plants, moving them to our back porch. This year's collection of transplants is one of the better looking bunches we've grown over the years. Now, it's just a matter of getting them into the ground.

Vetch

Deep green hairy winter vetch
Closeup of vetch
Half of hairy winter vetch mowed

I mowed our yard again yesterday. Once again, I'd let the grass get a little too tall, but it mowed down easily. Today, I mowed the rather rough one acre field next to us that our East Garden is located in. I'd noticed yesterday that the back half of the East Garden was a much deeper green than the surrounding areas. Closer inspection revealed that our hairy winter vetch had overwintered pretty well.

When done mowing the field, I also mowed the half of the East Garden not sown to vetch and growing up in weeds. Later, I realized that I needed to mow down the vetch where our sweet corn will grow this season. So I fired up the mower again and mowed another quarter of the East Garden, but left one section unmowed. When I turn the vetch under, it should add a good bit of organic matter and nitrogen to the soil.

This is our first experience with growing hairy winter vetch. So far, I'm pretty pleased with the experiment.

I'm going to let the remaining vetch grow a bit. I plan to plant butternuts and pumpkins in that area, but may let the vetch remain to produce more organic matter and nitrogen. The butternuts and pumpkins will be mulched with grass clippings, which should hold back the vetch there.

Our vetch seed came from Outsidepride.com. I didn't mention or link to the vendor last fall when I made the purchase, as we'd never used them before. They have a rather mixed rating on the Dave's Garden Watchdog page. The seed we received from them germinated well. Since their smallest bag offered was ten pounds, I have plenty of seed left to plant this fall.

Apple Blossoms

With everything that has gone wrong this spring, our apple trees have defied whatever bad mojo is going around. Our Granny Smith tree is now opening blooms, but still has lots of the lovely, unopened red buds on it. The volunteer apple tree just off our property is about ready to open its blooms, but for now, remains covered with beautiful red buds. This tree hasn't borne fruit in several years, so we're hopeful this year. At any rate, it should once again provide the necessary cross pollination for our other apple trees.

Blooms opening on Granny Smith apple tree Buds on volunteer apple tree

There's a bit of history that goes with the volunteer apple tree. It grew from seed where we used to dump our cull apples in an unkempt, brushy areas. Apples grown from seed don't produce true to their parent, but may display any number of characteristics from all of their heritage. Alas, the volunteer tree produces rather small apples. But the apples have a wonderful flavor, something of a cross between a firm Red Delicious and a somewhat spicy Stayman Winesap. I've tried taking cuttings from the tree several times without success.

I'm looking forward to getting our raised beds planted in the next few days. Then, we'll move on to planting our large East Garden plot.

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