Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

March 16, 2018

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Our Senior Garden - March 1, 2018
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We are tantalizingly close to the beginning of another gardening season. We'll actually put some seed in the ground in just a few days, our annual planting of early shelling peas. We'll also be starting transplants for some of our major crops all month long.

Our extended weather forecast is a bit unusual for early March. We're going to have some nice daytime high temperatures, but will still have overnight lows around the freezing mark. The mild weather might tempt me to begin moving plants under a cold frame soon, but this is Indiana. We always seem to get a hard freeze and snow during March Madness, our state high school basketball tournament.

I'll be looking for a couple of nice days without rain or freezing temperatures to get our first spray of dormant oil on our apple trees. Getting an early application of dormant oil and possibly some fungicide cut down on overwintering insects and eggs and disease carryover.

A March chore I can't put off or avoid is repairing and covering our cold frame. I have the parts on hand to build another cold frame as well. Our current PVC cold frame has come apart in a couple of spots and is still a bit too tall to retain heat as well as I would like. So, a new cold frame may get built this month.



Summer Crisp Barbados
Iceberg Crispino
  Sun Devil
Butterhead Nancy
Red Boston (butterhead) Skyphos M.I.
Romaine Coastal Star


Romaine (red) Better Devil
Romaine (red mini) Pandero

Tray seeded to lettuce and spinach I started a communal pot of Pandero lettuce seed in February. Seed of the red, mini-romaine variety always takes a good bit longer to germinate than our other lettuces. Today, I started the rest of our lettuce.

While I seeded fewer varieties than in past years, I ended up filling a 1020 seed flat with fourpacks of lettuce and one with spinach.

We're partial to romaine lettuce, but also like a little variety for our salads. Our main romaines for this spring are Coastal Star, Jericho, and Better Devil. We've had good results growing Coastal Star. Jericho is supposed to be somewhat heat resistant, so we're giving the variety a try. Better Devil is an OSSI butter-cos-romaine that looks similar to Skyphos.

Our icebergs will again be Crispino and Sun Devil. Both do pretty well as the weather warms, although I wish I could get a Sun Devil to bolt and produce seed, as I'm almost out of some very old seed for it. Crispinos produce a loose head, while Sun Devils produce a much tighter, heavier head much like one gets in the grocery.

Rounding things out, I seeded summer crisps Barbados and Nevada and butterheads Nancy and Skyphos.


We usually direct seed our spinach. Having lost last fall's spinach crop to hot weather, I want some spinach on our dinner table as soon as possible, so I started a fourpack of Abundant Bloomsdale. Our Abundant Bloomsdale seed is saved seed, but the OSSI variety is readily available from High Mowing Organic Seeds and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. One fourpack of transplants won't fill a row, so I'll also be direct seeding spinach in the rest of the row when I transplant spinach.

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Friday, March 2, 2018 - Oops!

Too much snapdragon seedThe snapdragons I seeded last Thursday are up. Boy! Are they up!

I got a little careless with one of the packets I was seeding and got way too much seed in a communal pot. Fortunately, it was a $1.44 packet of Burpee's Fordhook Tall that I grabbed off the rack at our local Walmart. I'd looked for snapdragon seed on Burpee's site, but found most of it priced at about four to six bucks a packet! Burpee has also abandoned their previous offer of free shipping on three or more packets of seed. So while I got too much seed in the pot, I don't feel too awfully wasteful.

Another Oops

I neglected to say how I plant our lettuce in yesterday's posting.

There's nothing really fancy about how we do it, although some lettuce seed needs a bit of light to germinate. I filled a whole 1020 seed flat with fourpack inserts and filled them with sterile potting mix. Then I spread a bit of vermiculite over the soil. I mostly put more than one seed per cell, and dripped warm water over the seed to wash it into the vermiculite.

The seed flat got covered with a clear humidity dome and went onto our plant rack. Lettuce seed really doesn't need bottom heat to germinate, so I put the flat on an unheated shelf on our plant rack.

Losing It?

Saved Spinach SeedI really began to wonder yesterday if I was losing it and in need for some Aricept. First, I couldn't find a packet of spinach seed I thought was in the kitchen freezer. It turned out that I'd moved the packet to our garage freezer. But I also remembered that I'd saved so much Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed that I'd stored a jar of it in the basement.

Then, I couldn't find the packet of Better Devil lettuce seed that had just come in from Fedco Seeds. I was sure I'd put it on top of our microwave oven in the kitchen, our general junk catcher there. After searching the house and even going through three bags of trash (yuck!), I found the seed. It was rubber banded with another packet of seed I had set on the microwave. But one of our cats loves to play with rubber bands and will sometimes get on the kitchen table where the microwave sits to hunt for them to play with. The seed packets were in the middle of our dining room floor, an area where our cats often play and sleep. So, I'm blaming the cat instead of Alzheimer's, but I am getting more forgetful by the day.


Saturday, March 3, 2018 - Is Catnip a Perennial?

Our Senior Garden - March 3, 2018Overwintered catnipAs I walked back to the house after assembling all the things I'd need to seed our early peas, I wondered at some very green stuff growing by our laurel bushes. Upon closer inspection, I was able to discern five, very healthy catnip plants. I came inside and said to no one in particular, "Who forgot to tell me that catnip is a perennial?" Of course, I should have remembered from an herb chart I put together a few years ago. The host of young cats we've kept indoors over the winter should be thrilled with the catnip when they finally get outside.

Early, Tall, Shelling Peas

I came into the house a few minutes ago all hot and sweaty with a big, silly grin on my face. I quickly realized that I was on a bit of a gardening high, as I'd just finished planting our tall, early peas. Starting another season of gardening is a wonderful feeling. I said a quick prayer of thanks for the time, health, and opportunity to begin gardening again on a gloriously beautiful day.

Pea seed in furrowPeas plantedI'd pulled the mulch back on Monday from where I wanted to plant the peas, letting the soil warm and dry a bit. After measuring and staking my intended six inch wide row, I used a rake and hoe to pull back the soil to make a 2-3" deep furrow for the pea seed. Then I spread a little lime, a very little Maxicrop soluble seaweed powder, a bit less than a handful of 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, and a healthy dose of granular soil inoculant down the row and hoed it into the soil.

Then it was time to treat our seed. Planting this early into rather cold ground is an invitation for seed rot, so I treat our early pea seed with Captan fungicide. I poured some seed in a glass filled with water to wet the seed. After draining off the water, I dumped the seed into a bowl I only use for this purpose that had several tablespoons of the fungicide powder in it. After a bit of stirring, the seed was well coated and ready to plant.

I'm pretty generous with my pea seeding. The peas will take care of too many plants all by themselves, and I really hate having to go back and replant.

With the seed in the row, I used my gloved hands to spread some of the soil I'd pulled back to open the furrow to cover the seed. I then gently tamped the seed down with the head of a hoe to ensure good seed-to-soil contact before using a rake to pull the rest of the soil over the furrow.

I finished the job by pushing the old mulch up to the edges of the row and then spreading a bit of "dog discourager" over the row. Our dogs have been known to dig up some of our garden plantings,. With a new stray who has chosen to live with us that doesn't yet know the ropes, I'm hoping the repellent works.

The pea seed planted today was Champion of England and Maxigolt. Both are tall varieties that have produced lots of sweet peas for the table and the freezer for us over the years. Since we had some variable germination of our early peas last year, I used all fresh seed for this planting. And while we could save seed from the open pollinated pea varieties, we choose not to. I'd rather pay a few bucks every other or third year for seed and support seed houses such as Johnny's Selected Seeds, the Sand Hill Preservation Center, and the Seed Savers Exchange that continue to offer these excellent open pollinated varieties.

I tell the full story of how we grow our peas in our how-to article, Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas. I spent a couple hours last night refreshing my memory on the process while also updating the page a bit.

Monday, March 5, 2018 - Saving Egg Shells

Egg shells dryingI started saving egg shells again over the weekend. I already have a full jar of ground egg shells, but we'll be planting more calcium hungry tomatoes and peppers than usual this year. Having an adequate supply of egg shells helps reduce adding calcitic lime to tomato plantings, as tomatoes don't really like sweet soil. Calcium in ones soil helps prevent blossom end rot in both tomatoes and peppers, although water uptake is also associated with the disorder.

We rinse and dry the shells before crumpling them into a freezer bag. Eventually, the shells get ground in an old coffee grinder reserved for such purposes. The ground egg shell goes in a jar until it gets added to the soil around calcium hungry plants.

Many years ago, we used to save all of our egg shells from our laying flock. For this application, it's important to peel the albumen out of the inside of each egg shell, as it seems to induce egg picking by hens. The ground egg shells would then be mixed with the chicken feed to increase the strength of egg shells. We did, of course, offer our chickens a pan of oyster shell to add calcium to their shells. Over our farming years, our hens produced lots of eggs with thick shells that resisted cracking.

Used Coffee Cups

Saved coffee cupsSince I'm a coffee hound and rarely go on the road without a cup of it by my side, we use lots of coffee cups and lids. The lids get washed and saved until they split, lessening their cost. While we pitch the cups during most of the year, I do rinse and save coffee cups each winter until I'm sure I have enough to use as cutworm collars around our brassica and tomato plants.

Cutworm collarI place a cut down cup around each plant, as the cups prevent cutworms from reaching our tender transplants. The downside of them is that they limit lateral root growth while they're in the ground. After about a week to ten days, the tomato and pepper plants stems toughen enough to not be attractive to cutworms and the collars can be removed.

And no, that's not a camera lens stored to the left of the coffee cups. It's a Camera Lens Coffee Travel Cupicon that my wife gave me several years ago.

I started a pot of rosemary late Saturday night. While we have several herbs we need to save this year, our rosemary is one of those tender perennials that doesn't appear to have survived a fairly mild winter. I spread a good bit of rosemary seed in a pot, as rosemary is known to have poor germination rates. As long as I get one good plant for our herb bed, we should be okay on rosemary for the season.

While I was at it, I also gave our onion transplants their second haircut. The plants had gotten about six to eight inches tall and were a bit leggy. In time, they'll develop stouter leaves well before they're transplanted in early April.

Burpee Seed Company

Thursday, March 8, 2018 - Lettuce

The lettuce I seeded the first of this month is up. The slow germinating variety I seeded on February 21 is also up. Yippee!

Lettuce up

Our spring lettuce season is always a bit short, but we really enjoy it. I'll need to thin out the lettuce to one plant per cell and transplant the early seeded Pandero lettuce from its communal pot to fourpacks soon. I'm eagerly anticipating eating lots of salads and sandwiches with homegrown lettuce fairly soon.

The spinach I seeded at the same time as the lettuce hasn't done anything yet. Since I have several batches of saved Abundant Bloomsdale seed and some commercial seed as well, I'm not worried about eventually getting a crop.

While I had to give one of our lettuce varieties a week or so head start on the other varieties, we still have one variety that has been slow to germinate. That's somewhat understandable because our Sun Devil lettuce seed has been in frozen storage for thirteen years! But it finally is coming up. I'm really hoping I can make at least one Sun Devil plant bolt and bear seed this year, as our supply of seed and luck with the old seed will run out sooner or later.

Old Seed?

A reader inquired this week if I thought a vendor might be selling old seed. He based his question on side-by-side germination results from his planting of tomato seed. Two varieties from the same vendor emerged much later than his other tomato varieties whose seed came from other vendors.

Slow Bella Rosa and Dixie Red tomatoes on left

My answer to him was a qualified, "Probably." I say probably, as a lot of factors can influence seed germination. Some varieties germinate faster than others. But in a pretty controlled setting with varieties the experienced gardener has grown many times in the past, it's likely something is amiss with the seed that didn't come up in a timely fashion. I told the reader, "I think buying seed in bulk and storing it for years is a matter of survival for some seed houses, but it really risks losing customers, especially those of us who save unused seed from year to year."

Seed houses buy some seed in large quantities for economy, store the seed in freezers or temperature and humidity controlled coolers, and sell the seed over several seasons. One seed house manager told me that some seed they sold could be five years old. BUT, the seed houses are required to do germination tests each year on the seed they sell. Seed below a certain value (varies by vegetable type, I think) cannot be sold.

As a gardener purchasing seed, you'd like to assume it was fresh seed, harvested the previous season. But federal law doesn't prevent seed houses from selling old, but "good" seed. The catch to that is the seed may begin to deteriorate after the germination tests. And for gardeners like me who save and store unused garden seed from year-to-year, getting three to five year old seed sold as fresh probably cuts down the time I can successfully store unused portions of the seed.

Several years ago when the farm bill was up for approval, I wrote two members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, suggesting a rule be added that required seed vendors to print "Seed produced in (year)" on their seed packets. While I heard back from both then committee chairperson Debbie Stabenow and member Joe Donnelly's offices, neither of them offered much encouragement that such a rule would be added. It wasn't, so seed companies can continue to legally sell old seed as fresh as long as it meets minimum federal germination standards.

While I suspect the reader who had the slow germinating seed got stuck with substandard seed, there is another side to the story. I mentioned above germinating lettuce seed from 2005 this year. When I got started growing the Earlirouge tomato variety five years ago, I got good germination from seed we'd saved and kept in frozen storage for 25 years! I'm going to test some of that 1988 seed again this year, although our main planting of Earlirouge tomatoes will come from our improved and adapted saved seed.

I, too, had problems this year with seed from the same vendor that sold the slow germinating tomato seed to my gardening friend. I'm still awaiting a refund for some bad ivy leaf geranium seed they sold me and for a credit balance I'd built up over the years from refunds for bad seed. I've downgraded the vendor on our Trusted Suppliers page from Recommended Seed Suppliers to Others to Consider. As the vendor is one of our longest and most trusted suppliers of garden seed, I'm not sharing their name as yet on this site, hoping the problems I and others have experienced are an anomaly. But I fear, down deep, that there is some serious disorganization going on with the vendor and possibly fatal financial problems.


Saturday, March 10, 2018 - Lettuce Again

Crowded lettuce plantingThinning half doneI'm still working on our lettuce transplants. Since I got way too much seed in many of the cells, I thinned the lettuce back to one plant per cell this morning. Since the plants were really close together, I used a good set of shears to clip the excess plants off at the soil line. Pulling the extra plants might have disturbed the single plant I wanted to keep in each cell.

I had an open cell here and there that I transplanted extras from other cells into. And I also transplanted four Pandero lettuce from their communal pot to a fourpack.

I wasted a good bit of lettuce seed on this planting, but I don't feel too bad about it. I was fortunate that all of our seed was still good. Also, I almost always buy loose lettuce seed over pelletized seeds. The pelletized seeds are easier to get one per cell, but they also cost much, much more than loose seeds. I've also read (somewhere) that loose seed stores longer than pelletized seed does.

While I was at it, I broke up the communal pot of snapdragons I'd overseeded. It seemed cruel to pitch most of the plants, but they were so crowded, some of them had to be moved to fourpacks for any of them to survive.

Soft Foods

Portuguese Kale SoupMy wife is working through some dental issues, so we've been having mostly soft foods of late. Yesterday, I made a batch of Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup for supper. As I finished up writing and editing this posting, I feasted on Portuguese Kale Soup.

Asparagus Up

Asparagus up on March 10, 2018It takes a close examination, but the photo at left shows that we have asparagus spears emerging from the soil. They're up about an inch, but that's a start. Other than the warm winter that preceded the drought of 2012, this is about the earliest we've seen our asparagus come up.

Garlic and Pea Damage and Cleaning Trays

While outside, I also checked our garlic and planting of early peas. Both showed some damage from pets digging. The garlic is up in spots, but hasn't yet filled out the rows. What appears to be a cat digging turned up some ungerminated peas seeds.

Both areas got a liberal application of Shot-Gun Repels-All Animal Repellent to discourage further damage. Even with the digging, we should still get a nice harvest of garlic and peas this year.

Trays drying on the ground on a sunny March dayI finished up my gardening day by rinsing out some 1020 seed flats I didn't get cleaned last fall. I ended up throwing away about twice as many trays as I saved, as these were old trays that had sat outside all winter. Each tray got a light scrubbing with a brush before being doused in a bleach bath and then rinsed. I used our gracefully aging Ames Garden Carticon for the bleach bath. I'm amazed that the old cart still holds water after twenty-four years of hard use.

While the rinse water drawn from our shallow well felt extremely cold, rinsing the trays now had one advantage over doing it later. Since we haven't mowed, there weren't grass clippings on the ground to stick to the trays as they dried.

I'm still holding off on starting our tomato and pepper transplants. We're just about eight weeks away from when I'll start transplanting such stuff. I'm waiting to receive a late order for a couple of tomato varieties I decided I couldn't live without. Marcus Blanton's description of the Dixie Red variety made me want some, as he noted they were an improved type of Bella Rosa, one of our favorite tomato varieties. I also ordered some Mountain Merit tomato seed to justify the shipping on the order. I'd missed re-ordering the variety with our main seed orders last fall. Along with the related Mountain Fresh Plus, the Mountain varieties provide us with lots of large, delicious, slicing tomatoes late in the season. As soon as that last seed order comes in, I'll hot water treat the seed and start our transplants.

An Addition to my Comments about Old Seed

After thinking about it for several days, some thoughts came together for me. It's been two months since I first requested a refund from Twilley Seeds for my credit balance and some bad seed they sold me. Several emails, a letter, and a phone call to them have produced no response.

Selling presumably old seed, not responding appropriately to customer service requests, and not making necessary payments all ring of things that occurred with venerable old seed houses such as Park Seed and R.H. Shumway shortly before they went bankrupt. Both of them got scooped up and reincarnated as parts of large seed conglomerates, but are now only shells of the previous organizations. I'm hoping that Twilley is just going through a rough patch of organizational disfunction, but how they're currently performing doesn't look good.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018 - First Seeding of Tomatoes

Deep sixpack inserts for tomatoes
Hot water treating old Earlirouge seed

Our Senior Garden - March 11, 2018We're about seven to eight weeks away from when I hope to transplant tomatoes into one of our raised garden beds. So today, I seeded a couple of deep sixpack inserts to Earlirouge tomatoes. We'll be transplanting about a dozen more tomato varieties in our East Garden, but I don't expect that ground to be ready for planting until mid-May.

The seeding was pretty straightforward. I filled the inserts with sterile potting mix, made a small depression in the center of each cell, popped in a seed, and lightly covered them with soil. I did put in a few extra seeds in case we have some seeds not germinate.

One wrinkle to this planting is that ten of the twelve cells got Earlirouge seed from our 2017 garden. The other two cells got seed I dug out of our freezer that was produced in 1988! The old Earlirouge seed had to be hot water treated before planting along with another tomato variety I decided to grow this season. We're hot water treating all of the tomato seed we'll use this season to help prevent bringing in any seedborne tomato diseases.

Plant rack on March 11, 2018The seeded sixpacks went into a tray covered with a clear humidity dome and over a soil heating mat. I expect to see some germination in around five days.

I'll start more tomatoes and some peppers in a week or so.

Having noticed that our thyme plants in our herb garden look very dormant or dead, I also started a pot of thyme today. Our thyme overwintered well last winter, but I thought I'd play it safe and have some transplants on hand.

Our plant rack is getting pretty crowded. All of the lights for all three shelves are now on. At times through the winter, only one shelf was lit. I'll soon need to move plants to shelves in our sunroom and onto our dining room table to make room for the transplants we'll be starting. Of course, we're close to the point when plants can be moved to a cold frame outside to begin hardening off.

I published a list here in January of all the vegetable varieties we hope to grow in our 2018 Senior Garden. Since that time, I've updated the listing several times to include additions and in a few cases, replacements. Added today were Honey Bunch grape tomatoes and Abay peppers. I decided I liked the Honey Bunch grape tomatoes better than the Maglia Rose ones I'd originally planned to use along with Red Pearls. Of course, the Honey Bunch seed had to be hot water treated today, but that was easy since I was already treating the old Earlirouge tomato seed. The new Abay pepper variety replaced Gold Standard for our yellow peppers this year. While we got some Gold Standards last season, they were few and small. Of course, they were growing in the rather poor soil of our East Garden plot.

Habitat for Humanity

Monday, March 12, 2018 - Seed Orders

If you haven't finished ordering your seed for this gardening season, expect some delay in receiving mail or web ordered seed. We have two late orders still out. Both orders sat in the vendors' inboxes for almost a week before being processed, as this is the busy season for seed houses. Our orders in November and December got turned around in just a day or two.

Adding to the time for orders to get to customers is an incredible stretch of tough weather all up and down the East Coast. The NBC headline, Northeast braces for third nor’easter in just 10 days, tells the story, as do weather delay advisories on shippers' web sites. I counted five of our Recommended Seed Suppliers that are in areas affected by the winter storms.


Nice gloxinia bloom cluster
White mold on soil surface

Gloxinia in kitchen windowWe have one gloxinia ready to bloom that has a nice, tight cluster of buds. I've had the plant in our kitchen window to keep it watered, but have apparently overdone it. When looking closely at the plant today, I found clumps of white mold growing on the soil surface.

Our gloxinias are bottom watered most of the time, as water droplets mar their leaves. But with today's mold issue, I mixed a little Captan fungicide in my watering can and very carefully topwatered the soil around the gloxinias corm. When the watering had soaked in for a half hour or so, I dumped the runoff from the catch tray under the pot into a trash can. I don't think dumping fungicide down our drain would our septic tank bacteria much good.

The plant tag in the pot identifies the plant as an open pollinated gloxinia, one grown from our own saved seed. It also carries the year it was seeded as 2016. But what I didn't get on the tag was the plant's bloom color. I guess we'll just have to wait to see whether the plant has single or double blooms colored purple, red, or white.

While I've dispatched the mold on our gloxinia's soil, such measures might not be necessary. A San Francisco Chronicle posting suggests:

A white mold growing over the surface of houseplant potting soil is usually a harmless saprophytic fungus. Although the fungus doesn’t damage the plant, it is unsightly and indicates that there is a problem. Overwatering the plant, poor drainage, and old or contaminated potting soil encourage saprophytic fungus, which feeds on the decaying organic matter in soggy soil.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - Scratch Another One Off My Bucket List

Eagles Concert - Indianapolis - March 12, 2018Three generations of WoodsI'd always wanted to see the Eagles in concert, but was never willing to part with the bucks for tickets. An unexpected Christmas gift from our kids, Jen and Robert Hutchens, propelled us to attend the launch of the Eagles 2018 North American Tour with them in Indianapolis last night.

With the passing of Glenn Frey in 2016, his oldest son, Deacon Frey, and country star Vince Gill took over Frey's vocals in excellent fashion. The Eagles didn't cut any corners with the show, performing well over two hours of their group and individual hits. They even had saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and violins providing backup. It was a great concert.

Since I had to clear photos from my iPhone to share the shot at left, I also will share another one downloaded of three generations of Woods. From left to right are my oldest son, Scott, his son, Caleb, and me. Caleb had spent a weekend with us, and Annie grabbed the shot with my iPhone when we took Caleb home.

After the concert and staying up late to do this posting, I'm guessing that I won't get much gardening done today.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sorting seed packetsSweet corn germination testsI didn't do any real gardening today, but took care of at least one necessary job. As seed orders have come in, I've put the new seed in our kitchen and garage freezers, but not in the ziplock bags of similar seeds. Getting frustrated with hunting seed in the kitchen and garage freezers and in a downstairs cool storage area, I brought in our big bag of garden seed from the garage freezer and put everything where it belongs. That means pea seed in the pea bag and carrot seed in the carrot bag.

With all of my seed at hand, I set out our bag of sweet corn seed before returning the rest of our garden seed to the garage freezer. We've experienced some variable germination with our sweet corn the last two years. That's not a big surprise, as I sometimes use some rather old seed, and we've experience dry spells at planting times.

I decided to do germination tests on eleven packets of sweet corn seed (9 varieties). Instead of bagging each seed sample in a ziplock bag as I usually do, I spread moistened unbleached paper towels across our largest cookie sheet and placed ten seeds of each variety there in labeled groups. The cookie sheet went inside a trash bag to hold in moisture and went on a fairly warm shelf in our dining room. In five to ten days, I should know what seed to trust and what to pitch out, if any. The seed tested ranged in purchase dates from 2010 to 2018.

Garden Tower Project Contest

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Earlirouge tomatoes upSweet corn germination testsThe Earlirouge tomatoes I seeded last Sunday are up. While they haven't yet put on their first true leaves, there are enough plants to have six of them to go into a narrow raised bed next month. The thirty-year-old saved seed I started in two cells as a lark has not germinated as yet.

The sweet corn germination tests I started on Wednesday surprised me with some earlier than expected germination. I waited until yesterday afternoon to do an initial read on the tests. Based on what I've seen, I'll need to seriously revise my sweet corn planting plans in some surprising ways.

We'll be using some old seed for our yellow corn. Summer Sweet 6800R and Summer Sweet Extra 7640R tested far better than some of our newer seed. Our bicolors will be the new American Dream variety and the last seed of an old favorite, ACcentuate MRBC. If I can figure out how to isolate it by space or time, I'd like to again try some Who Gets Kissed? It's an OSSI open pollinated, sugary enhanced variety. The last time I tried it, deer ate every ear off the stalks.

The image below shows what is driving my use of old seed for our plantings. It also may explain why we had so much trouble getting a good stand of sweet corn last season.

Labeled sweet corn germination tests

Old Seed from Twilley SeedThe sweet corn seed purchased from Twilley Seeds both last and this year may yet begin to germinate better. That Twilley is selling three to four year old seed, as confirmed by the lot numbers of seed packets, isn't very comforting.

I hate to see Twilley go this way, as they've been a reliable vendor of good seed for us for many years.

Several years ago, I wrote the then chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and our Indiana senator who sits on that committee suggesting the reauthorization of the farm bill should require seed vendors to list the date of seed production on their seed packets and in their seed catalogs (or web sites). While I got a pleasant response from Michigan senator Debbie Stebanow and a phone call from a totally clueless Joe Donnelly staffer, no change was made in the law.

Seed companies buy seed in bulk and sell it for several years as long as it meets federal germination requirements. How the 2018 Summer Sweet 6800R seed Twilley Seeds sold me for this season passed such tests is a mystery to me. The incredibly poor germination of Twilley's Summer Sweet HiGlow SS3880MR and Summer Sweet Multisweet 502BC seed last year should have alerted me to problems with Twilley's seed. Our 2014 Summer Sweet 6800R seed still testing good while the packet received this year out of the same lot being unusable suggests Twilley has some real problems with seed storage. Is it possible that our manual defrost freezer in our garage is a better storage site than Twilley's supposedly temperature and humidity controlled storage?

While it's obvious that my current target of concern is with Twilley Seeds, we've experienced similar problems in the past with other, big name seed vendors. Twilley is being a bit stupid about not owning up to their seed quality problems and asking their customers to hang in there with them while they work things out. Stonewalling longtime customers (and garden bloggers) isn't a recipe for future success.

I'd suggest that gardeners who receive under performing seed strongly request refunds from the vendors who sold them bad seed. Beyond that, gardeners need to write their representatives and senators in Congress, demanding a change in seed packet labeling. Home gardeners, who've been getting ripped off for years by seed houses selling very old seed as fresh need to step up pressure on Congress and their seed vendors to supply reliable seed.

Yet Another "Haircut" for our Onions

Onions before trimming
Onion plants after "haircut"

While working with the plants under our plant lights yesterday, I was surprised to see that our tray of onion transplants were ready for another trimming. Keeping the onion plants adequately watered and trimmed bedevils me every spring. The onions need to be watered about twice as often as the other plants under our plant lights. Their growth spurts also keep me using our good kitchen shears to keep them from getting leggy and falling over.

Winter Stubbornly Hangs On

We'll be having overnight low temperatures in the mid-20s most of this week. Anything lower than about 28° F prevents us from using our cold frame or putting out some of our hanging basket plants. So things under our plant lights and in our sunroom are a bit crowded now. I'm hoping those cool mornings disappear next week and I can begin hardening off our onions, brassicas, and hanging basket plants outside.

With our Earlirouge tomatoes up, I was able to shut off our soil heating mat for a few days before we start something else (more tomatoes and some peppers) that require bottom heat to germinate well. I moved our second try of egg carton petunias to our kitchen window yesterday. The first bunch languished, possibly because of poor potting mix or it being too cold in the kitchen window for them.

I've about killed our cauliflower transplants twice already. They seem to dry down far quicker than our other plantings. I've caught them now twice just after they'd wilted a bit from lack of soil moisture. Getting them outside under a cold frame will keep them where I can monitor them better than their back part of a shelf on our plant rack.

It's hard to believe, but I hope to transplant broccoli and cauliflower in just two or three weeks. Shortly thereafter, I'll be direct seeding our spring carrots and transplanting our onions beside the carrots in an intensive planting.

Monday, March 19, 2018 - Peppers

Earliest Red Sweet peppersHungarian paprika pepperI started our pepper transplants today. I seeded two deep sixpack inserts (twelve cells) of our favorite Earliest Red Sweet variety, as we'll need seven good plants to go into our main raised garden bed. I also started twelve cells of Hungarian Paprika Spice peppers, as we're almost out of our homemade ground paprika. Filling out my planting tray were two each of Ace, New Ace, and Early Red Sweet, along with three cells each of Red Knight, and Abayicon. The Early Red Sweet seed from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative is one I suspect is the same variety as our Earliest Red Sweet.

There wasn't anything fancy about today's planting. I filled the inserts with sterile potting mix and watered it with warm water. I made a slight depression in the center of each cell and dropped in a seed. The seed was covered with about an eighth of an inch of the sterile potting mix, as pepper seeds don't need light to germinate. The tray went over one of our soil heating mats set at 78° F.

Compost Pile

I began the arduous task yesterday of moving part of our compost pile to a new location. I had decided to move our compost pile this year to a rotated out section of our East Garden. I moved a lot of undigested stalks and vines, egg shells, large tea bags, spoiled and sprouted onions and such to a spot much easier to access that might also aid future crops grown on the spot.

The idea of moving the pile was to remove the undigested material from the top of our current compost heap to allow me to access the fully digested compost at the bottom of the pile. I'm going to need a lot of compost to improve a row of soil in our East Garden where I plan to plant our late spring peas.

Feeling Guardedly Better about Twilley Seeds

Final read of sweet corn germination testsTwo things happened today that have made me feel somewhat better about doing business with a previously valued seed vendor, Twilley Seeds. The first thing was an improved germination reading for the Summer Sweet HiGlow SS3380MR sweet corn they sold me last year. An initial read on Saturday of the germination test showed only 50% germination. By today, all ten seeds of the tested sample had germinated. That, of course, doesn't tell me why the variety performed so poorly in last year's sweet corn patch. It also doesn't excuse two other seed samples, one from last year and one from this year, that totally failed my germination tests (40% and 50% germination).

A second positive thing that happened was a call from Twilley's president, George Park. After many emails, a phone call, and several letters, someone at Twilley finally alerted the boss that they had a problem. Mr. Park was gracious in admitting they'd experienced some real problems with bad seed (my description, not his). He attributed the problems to "some stuff getting swept under the rug" by an ex-employee who left their germination records "untended."

When called on it, Mr. Park also admitted that selling four year old sweet corn seed was improper.

As part of his explanation, he said they'd been overwhelmed by employees out with the flu early this winter, something I've heard from other businesses. He also said that Twilley is working hard to get their germination problems "cleaned up."

Twilley still isn't completely out of my doghouse. Our problems with seed quality from them extend over several years. They'll need to prove to me with good seed and service, both of which they've miserably failed at this year, that they should be moved back onto our listing of Recommended Seed Suppliers. But after considering losing a longtime seed supplier, I do feel a bit better now about the whole situation. But I'm also cognizant that I may have received personal attention in this matter only because I'm a garden blogger with an audience of existing or potential Twilley customers.

Rukaten Camera

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - Tomatoes

Our Senior Garden - March 20, 2018Our tomato and pepper cages were in terrible shape after the 2016 growing season, so I built new cages last spring. Seeing that the large roll of welded wire concrete reinforcing mesh (remesh) that we use for the cages was a much better deal than a smaller roll, I ended up with more tomato cages, old and new, than we've ever had. I didn't use them all last season, but certainly will this year, as we'll be greatly expanding our tomato plantings for fresh use, canning, seed saving, and sharing with others. Part of the expansion is driven by several new varieties we want to try and the success we had last season with a slightly expanded tomato planting in our East Garden.

Our first tomato plants to go into the garden are our Earlirouge plants which get favored space in one of our raised garden beds with their improved soil. But the bulk of our tomato plants go into our East Garden and isolation plots. Last year was the first year tomato plants in our East Garden plot have produced really good tomatoes. I'm hoping those results generalize across the whole plot, as we've turned under crop after crop of buckwheat and other cover crops over the years.

So after starting twelve cells of Earlirouge tomatoes on March 11, I started a tray today of the varieties that we'll transplant into our East Garden a good bit later than the Earlirouges get transplanted.

Open pollinated varieties started today were Moira, Quinte, and Bellstar, all Jack Metcalf releases. I also started some Crimson Sprinters, which are part of some of the Metcalf varieties' heritage. Both the Bellstar and Crimson Sprinter varieties are new ones for us. Bellstar is a large paste variety, while Crimson Sprinters are said to be quite flavorful as well as having deep red coloring.

Our hybrids for this year are Bella Rosa, Dixie Red, Better Boyicon, Mountain Fresh Plus, and Mountain Merit. The Dixie Red variety is a new one for us, recommended to me by Mississippi gardener Marcus Blanton.

For grape tomatoes, I started Honey Bunch (hybrid) and Red Pearl (OP).

I made a bit different starting mix for this planting of tomatoes. I mixed commercial potting soil half and half with peat moss and some lime before sterilizing the mix. The peat moss makes for a much lighter soil mix that tomato starts seem to like.

Even with having wetted the soil mixture before baking it at 400° F for an hour and a half to sterilize it, the mix was quite dry. I watered it with near boiling water to get the peat to absorb the water, but then had to wait for the soil to cool before seeding.

The seeding was pretty simple. After marking cells with plastic plant labels, I made a slight depression in the soil for the tomato seed, dropped in the seed, and gave it a light covering of the soil mix. The tray got a clear humidity dome over it and went onto our backup soil heating mat under our plant lights.

Having had the best crop of tomatoes we've ever grown in our East Garden plot last year, I'm excited about growing lots more tomatoes in that plot this year. Of course, the soil improvements we've made there may not be uniform across the 80' x 80' plot. And the weather is always a factor in crop success, but I'm hopeful.

Charity: Water

Sunday, March 25, 2018 - Winter's Last Blast?

Folks an hour or so north of us in Indianapolis got ten inches of snow yesterday! We lucked out and got some cold rain instead. I'm hoping that was winter's last blast.

Even though we're about twenty days away from our last frost date (April 14), our current extended forecast suggests it may now be safe to begin moving plants outside. I had already moved some hanging basket plants to a protected area on our back porch.

Now it's time to begin hardening off our transplants, the hardiest of which should go into the ground the first week of April. I had been closely watching our extended weather forecast to see when to set up the cold frame. Since the cold frame only provides about 5-8° F of protection after sunny days, I held off covering it with new plastic until today, although I had previously done some joint repairs where the PVC cement had failed.

Plants under cold frame

I moved our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), onions, lettuce, daisies, and some sage plants to the cold frame today. With only a slim chance of frost for the next week or so, the cold frame will serve more to protect the transplants from the wind than from cold. I'll still close the cold frame at night, but will keep it propped open a bit more each day during daylight hours to allow the plants to gradually toughen up.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 - Tomato and Pepper Transplants Up

Tomatoes up
Pepper plants up

Our Senior Garden - March 27, 2018The tomatoes and peppers I seeded a week ago are up. That's a big relief, as I'd hot water treated all of the tomato seed I started. Hot water treatment can reduce germination levels, or if you goof, kill the seed from too much heat. But we have seed germinated from all of the varieties planted, although I may have to move some extra seeded plants to fill in open cells.

We're into a rainy period that may last all week. We're supposed to get almost two inches from yesterday through tomorrow. With a dry start to this month, the rainfall may be helpful.

Yesterday, as I drove into town, I noticed our neighbor's flag was stiff from wind from the north. Before leaving, I'd opened our cold frame all the way to give our transplants there their first shot of full sun. When I returned home, the flag had shifted 180°, with the wind coming from the south. That ushered in some warming temperatures along with the rain. I quickly closed down the cold frame, as the plants were getting buffeted by the wind.

Today, I had the cold frame open for an hour or so to allow the plants the experience of getting rained on.

Plants under cold frame

From left to right in the photo above are trays of cauliflower and daisies, lettuce, broccoli Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, onions, and sage.

Earlirouge tomato transplantsPlant labels drying on towelGetting back to tomatoes, our Earlirouge tomatoes seeded on March 11 have put on their first true leaves and are doing well. From here out, it's just a matter of adjusting the plant lights above all of our tomato and pepper plants and keeping them watered until they move under the cold frame.

The Earlirouges get seeded earlier than our other tomatoes, as they'll go into the ground several weeks before the others go into our East Garden plot.

I also emptied out our jar of plant labels that had been soaking in bleach water today, I rinsed the labels before laying them out to dry. Re-cycling the plant labels saves us a few bucks. Most of these labels were from failed seedings, which may tell you that we have our failures along with victories in starting our own transplants.

I have a few pots of communally planted flowers and herbs to transplant today. That should keep me busy the rest of a very rainy day.

Sam’s Club

Thursday, March 29, 2018 - Cutworm Collars

Making cutworm collarsAbout two plus inches of collarWith yet another wet day yesterday (and today), I decided to do something worthwhile inside and get my cutworm collars ready. I hope to transplant our broccoli and cauliflower into the garden sometime in the next two weeks. Preparing the paper coffee cups we use as collars is just a matter of cutting them down to a little over two inches high. (Note that some sources recommend having two inches of cutworm collar above and below the soil line.)

I start saving the disposable Dixie 12 oz cupsicon over the winter, rinsing them out after use and storing them above a kitchen cabinet. I ended up cutting twenty-one cups for collars yesterday, what I should need to transplant ten each of broccoli and cauliflower. That used up almost half of my saved, used cup supply, and I'll need the rest for our cabbage, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and early tomatoes.

I'll describe using the cups when I write here about transplanting our brassicas. I also document the process in our how-to, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

Brassicas with cutworm collars

Balck cutworm
Dingy cutworm moth
Cutworm damage
Cutworm damage

Cutworms can cause havoc in newly planted crops. The small "worms," actually larvae of a number of species of adult moths, eat leaves and often cut young plants off at or near the soil level, hence their name. The worms will attack newly germinated or transplanted brassicas, peppers, tomatoes, and corn, among others. In "the bad old days," gardeners often sprayed the ground around new plantings with diazanon, killing the worms, but also just about any other living thing in the soil. Diazanon was outlawed for residential use in the United States in 2004.

I had to hunt online for images to illustrate a cutworm and the one of the moths that cause them. At left, a black cutworm is shown along with a "dingy cutworm moth" that lays the eggs of the worms. We see lots of these moths around our property each season. I was glad to find a public domain image of the black cutworm from the USGS. The dingy cutworm moth photo is courtesy Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Creative Commons licensing.

Sadly, I didn't have to go outside my own photo library to find images of cutworm damage. We had an unprotected row of pepper plants get decimated by cutworms in 2009. I suspect that our extensive use of grass clipping mulch allows the cutworms some safe harbor and is an inviting area for the moths to lay eggs.

Beyond using cutworm collars, fall cleanup of garden trash from the soil surface helps reduce the volume of cutworms in the spring. Fall and spring tilling also helps interrupt the worms.

While our paper cup cutworm collars work well for us with brassicas, peppers, and tomatoes, some lower growing plants may require another option. One can easily make a cutworm mat out of corrugated cardboard. Jim Crockett used to say the cutworms don't like to crawl across the bare surface of the cardboard. However, some cutworm damage can occur below the soil line to new plants' roots.

Corregated cardboard cutworm matTagboard cutworm collarI hastily made a cardboard cutworm mat yesterday to illustrate this posting. I may actually use some thinner tagboard, leftover from my teaching years, for our lettuce transplants.

While one might be tempted to just say "screw this," and spray ones soil with a pesticide such as Sevin, the Michigan State Extension page linked below notes that "Cutworms can be controlled with several non-pesticide solutions. Pesticides are often unsuccessful." [my emphasis] The entire article is a good read.

Other sources on cutworms:

Some Odds 'n' Ends

Coffee truckI still have about a pint of diazanon concentrate hidden away in my plant room. It's reserved for extreme situations, such as when fire ants built an eighteen inch high ant hill beside our then new asparagus patch. In twenty-four years on our current property, that was the only time I broke out the diazanon, and it proved quite effective in dispatching the ants. We don't normally have fire ants in our area. I suspect the invaders arrived in a bag of commercial cow manure or compost.

Our supply of paper cups comes from my addiction to taking a cup of coffee with me whenever I'm on the road. We buy our cups in volume from Sam's Club. Re-cycling the cups as cutworm collars eases my conscience a bit over felling so many trees for my coffee convenience.

Several years ago when driving to Terre Haute, I thought I'd reached coffee hound heaven. I drove up behind a tanker truck the had the word "coffee" emblazoned on the rear of the tank. Imagine, 8,500 gallons of fresh coffee! Of course, it turned out to be a gas tanker advertising the chain's coffee at their gas stations.

Something I've not gotten done so far is to spray our apple trees with dormant oil spray. I haven't found a period when it wasn't raining or freezing to do it, although I'm sure I've missed several such occasions. We're just about to the time when apple blossoms begin to open, too late to use full strength spray.

Our current extended weather forecast has added a few disturbing pieces of info. We have a couple of mornings coming up with lows predicted to reach 26° F. Anything below 28° F usually prompts me to throw a tarp over our cold frame for the night, just to be safe. In addition, the cold nights follow predicted cloudy days which impede the cold frame from building up heat through the day.

Will winter ever relax its grip on us?

Hummingbird Feeders

Friday, March 30, 2018

Apple treesWe got a one day respite from rain today, having a sunny, but breezy day. Despite the wind, I went ahead and sprayed our apple trees with dormant oil spray. Trying to find a 24-48 hour window in the weather without rain or freezing conditions has been a challenge this spring. While we'll get more rain tomorrow night and some possibly freezing conditions over the next few days, this was the best shot I had at spraying before the apple blossoms begin opening.

Dormant oil can smother insects and insect eggs on or just under the bark of trees. It's also considered an organic product, although I added a bit of Fungonil fungicide to the spray, as our trees have lichens growing on them. Hopefully, the fungicide will also help ward off sooty mold, something we've had trouble with in the past on our apple trees.

We currently have three apple trees. A semi-dwarf Granny Smith has survived diseases and storms. It still produces nice, large apples we usually make into applesauce. A newer dwarf supposedly Stayman Winesap produced its first fruit last year. Three, small, yellow apples began to rot before they fully ripened. A volunteer tree where we used to dump cull apples occasionally produces delicious, small, red apples with a flavor that's a wonderful cross between Red Delicious and Stayman Winesap. I've repeatedly tried taking cuttings from the tree without success. Even though we don't get many apples from the volunteer tree, its blooms help with the necessary cross-pollination required for all the apple trees.

I got an email yesterday informing me that we have a standard Stayman Winesap tree on the way. Stayman Winesap trees are getting hard to find. After losing our Stayman Winesap years ago to fire blight, I've been on the lookout for another one. Of course, now I'm going to need to dig a hole for it.

Dianthus in herb gardenDianthus in bloomI also started two small, shallow pots of dianthus. One was seeded to a perennial variety we've not grown before, Superb Pink.

The other pot was seeded to a mix of saved and commercial Carpet seed. The Carpet variety is a compact biennial, although we often have plants bloom into their third season. While sometimes listed in seed catalogs as a hybrid, we've successfully saved seed from the variety for years. The hybrid Carpet Snowfire seeds produce plants with bicolor blooms, but revert back to mostly solid colors in plants from their saved seed.

We like to plant dianthus along the edges of our flowerbeds. Last year, I put a few in our herb bed. One performed spectacularly, producing the image (above right) of the red blooming dianthus.

Burpee Gardening

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Saturday, March 31, 2018 - March Wrap-up

March, 2018, animated GIF of our Senior GardenPlant rack on March 24, 2018We set records for rainfall in February (5.65"). We'll end up with even more for the month of March, with a good bit more predicted to come in the next few days. One of my jobs today is to put up our rain gauge.

We started lettuce, spinach, tomato, pepper, and dianthus transplants this month. We also spent a lot of time moving previously started flowers and herbs from their communal starting pots to fourpacks and/or sixpacks.

Seeding our early, tall peas on March 3 could have been a high point of the month. Cold conditions slowed the peas germination. They're only now beginning to emerge.

Similarly, some asparagus tips poked up out of the soil on March 10. The cold weather stopped their growth, and only recently have I begun to see new spears beginning to push up out of the soil.

We began moving a few plants outside March 24 and 25. A few hardy vegetable transplants went under our cold frame.

The wet soil conditions prevented any tilling of our garden plots this month. Some years, we're able to till in March and even do a first pass over our East Garden plot. Fortunately, I was able to fall till our raised beds, so if the wet weather continues, we may still be able to plant and transplant into them without tillage.

And I finally got our apple trees sprayed with dormant oil yesterday. That job usually happens in late February or early March. Variable weather and possibly a touch of laziness can be blamed for the late spraying.

Sierra Trading Post

February, 2018

April, 2018

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening


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