Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

February 17, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019

Our Senior Garden - February 1, 2019
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Our East Garden - February 1, 2019
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February is the last of our lazy winter months of gardening. We'll continue to tend the things we seeded in January and actually start some vegetables this month.

I try to start our cauliflower several weeks ahead of our broccoli, as the cauliflower always takes several weeks longer to mature than broccoli. Sadly, starting the plants early hasn't seemed to help much in getting the cauliflower to mature with the later seeded broccoli, and it often turns bitter in late spring and early summer hot weather. We'll also start a couple of new varieties of Brussels sprouts, another vegetable I've not had a lot of success growing in the past. Beyond the brassicas, we'll seed a little celery, lettuce, and spinach towards the end of the month.

For flowers, we'll start some hostas from saved seed that have been stratifying in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. We'll also seed some short daisies for our flower beds and some tall, gloriosa ones for an area in our back yard. Late in the month, we'll seed flowers to go in the garden. While we started impatiens, vinca, and petunias for hanging baskets last month, we'll start more along with some snapdragons to color our raised garden beds.

I have some serious pruning to do of bushes, shrubs, and trees around the property. Pruning in winter seems to shock the plants less than warm weather pruning. Along that line, we sometimes get our first spray of dormant oil on our apple trees during a warm spell in February.

A General Caution

While I'm excited to be starting some plants for our 2019 garden, let me add a few words of caution here. In a 2016 Getting Started posting, I shared the cultural information below from the Johnny's Selected Seeds page about Mountain Fresh Plus tomatoes.

Don't start too early! Root-bound, leggy plants that have open flowers or fruit when planted out may remain stunted and produce poorly.

In our climate zone, February and early March are way too early to start things like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and melons. We've had years when wet soil conditions prevented working the ground in our East Garden in April and May while our transplants for that plot grew to ungainly proportions.

Good Gardening Books

Crockett's Indoor Garden Crockett's Flower Garden

Crockett's Victory GardenThere are lots of good gardening books on the market. My personal favorite remains Crockett's Victory Garden. First published in 1977 as a companion to the PBS/WGBH Victory Garden television series, Crockett's Victory Garden's month-by-month log of the late James Underwood Crockett's activities in his garden plots greatly helps me with gardening techniques and timing for starting plants. Long out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still available used at very reasonable prices through Amazon and Alibrisicon. Think five bucks shipped as a maximum fair price for a used paperback copy in good condition. I keep my original paperback version of Crockett's Victory Garden in my upstairs office and a hardback copy I picked up used on a downstairs bookshelf.

A couple of other volumes I wouldn't be without are Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds and the late Nancy Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook. Johnston's brief but informative booklet has about all the basic information one needs to begin saving garden seeds. While there is a shipping charge on orders from Johnny's, the booklet itself will only set you back $3.09! Bubel's volume on starting seeds runs a little over five bucks shipped for a used paperback copy and exhaustively covers starting garden plants from seed.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019 - Cauliflower

I started some cauliflower transplants today in deep sixpack inserts. I chose the deep inserts as the plants will have to grow there for around eight weeks before getting transplanted into the garden. Even with the deeper inserts, we risk the plants stunting in planting them this early. But if we don't give our cauliflower a big head start, it often gets caught in late spring or early summer hot weather that makes the heads bitter. Sadly, our fall cauliflower often gets nailed by early frosts. But we almost always get a few nice heads each season which keeps us trying.

AmazonThe late Nancy Bubel wrote of cauliflower in The New Seed Starter's Handbook:

A little finicky, but not really difficult. The important thing to remember is that any insult - real or imagined - will send cauliflower into a pout. The result is a thumb sized buttonhead, or none at all. Just keep the seedlings growing steadily.

Cauliflower - Amazing Violet of Sicily cauliflower

I seeded three cells each of Amazing, Durgesh 41, Fremont, and Violet of Sicily in sterilized potting mix. The seed went in about an eighth inch deep. Amazing is a longtime favorite variety for us as it is productive and has a tight leaf wrap that keeps the heads from turning yellow in the sun. Durgesh 41 is a new variety we're trying this year. Fremont is an excellent hybrid that actually has done better for us the last few years than Amazing. And Violet of Sicily (also known as Purple of Sicily) produces nice sized red heads that cook up green, but still taste like cauliflower.

The cauliflower will get transplanted into a row alongside our broccoli, which we'll start in several weeks. I keep trying to give the cauliflower a head start so it will mature with the broccoli, but that hasn't worked as yet. Broccoli is far more heat resistant than cauliflower and often continues producing long after we've harvested all of our heads of cauliflower, or they've turned yellow and gotten bitter. Like cauliflower, broccoli can also buttonhead, especially if started too early or kept in planting cells too long. Unusual weather can also cause buttoning in both broccoli and cauliflower.

Getting ready to plant
Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts seeded in deep sixpack inserts

In Growing Cauliflower, Iowa State's Linda Naeve notes, "The optimum soil temperature for seed germination is 80° F, however, cauliflower will germinate at temperatures as low as 50° F." Since our soil heating mats can't quite hit 80° right now, the cauliflower will just have to do with soil temperatures of 75-77° F. Bubel gives a germinating range for cauliflower from 40-100°, with 80° being optimal.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts is another crop I've not had much success growing. We get nice plants, but have trouble keeping bugs from ruining the sprouts. Still willing to learn at my advanced age, I planted fresh Dagan and Hestia Brussels sprouts seeds today. The Fedco Seeds description for the Hestia variety begins, "If you have trouble growing decent brussels sprouts, here at last is a variety that is early and easy." I wonder if the nice folks at Fedco will come spray our Brussels sprouts plants for us once a week this spring.

At this point, I only have a vague inkling of where I'm going to put the Brussels sprouts. For that matter, I also have to work in a big planting of Goliath broccoli I want to grow for seed, as Stokes dropped their excellent strain of the variety this year. I'm considering opening up a new or expanded isolation plot in the field where our East Garden lies.

Both the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts seedings went into a tray under our plant lights and over a soil heating mat.


I have a pleasant feeling of satisfaction today. Other than our trays of onions that I started last month, the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are the first vegetables I've started for the coming gardening season.

Burpee Seed Company

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - Starting Celery and Hosta

Our Senior Garden - February 5, 2019Hilled and mulched celeryStaying with what is becoming a theme for this month, I seeded a couple of pots to things we usually don't grow very well, celery and hosta. We've actually grown some usable celery in seasons past, but never have had a terrific crop of it.

Instead of using inserts, I seeded the tiny Ventura celery seed in a round, four inch pot. I'd filled the pot with sterile potting mix topped with a quarter inch of vermiculite. I watered the pot with boiling water, further insurance against the dreaded damping off fungus.

The vermiculite will hopefully provide enough cracks in it for the celery seed to snuggle into it to stay moist, but won't obscure the necessary light. The pot went into our germinating tray under a plant light and over a soil heating mat set to 75° F.

I should add that getting celery to germinate isn't my problem with growing it. I get into trouble keeping the celery watered and mulched when it is in the garden.

Our Ventura celery seed came from Turtle Tree Seeds, although there are several other vendors offering the variety. The Adaptive Seed description of Ventura notes that it was "once one of the most common workhorse celery varieties," but "has recently become less common and has undeservedly been eclipsed by proprietary celery varieties."

When boning up on how to start celery, I ran across several interesting pages on the subject:

Hosta and celery seededFor the hosta seed I'd saved in 2016, I used an eight inch bulb pan filled with potting mix. I'd had the seed soaking (stratifying) in water in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and just dumped the baggie of seed pods onto the soil. I tore open some of the seed pods before covering them all with more potting mix. Hosta doesn't require light to germinate.

I'm not really expecting much from this planting, as I think I collected my hosta pods to early. Most of them were still green. At any rate, the bulb pan went over another soil heating mat on the bottom shelf of our plant rack.

I found Joshua Spece's page on Starting Hosta Seed to be helpful in refreshing my memory on starting hosta seed.

Do note that hosta plants take years to really mature. And, one should probably start them in the late fall or so to have something usable the next season. I'm hoping to pick hosta seed again this season, only dry brown pods this time. Then I'll freeze them for a month before soaking them in water in the fridge for a couple of weeks before trying again.

On the bright side of things, I noticed lots of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts plants emerging today when I put the celery in their planting tray. I also replaced a failed shop light on our plant rack that had only lasted 30-40 years!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts germinatedCloseup of baby Brussels sproutsThe cauliflower and Brussels sprouts I started on Saturday were ready to come off the soil heating mat today. I was careful to move my plant lights just an inch or so over the tallest plants. Brassicas tend to get leggy (spindly and too tall) if they don't receive enough light when small. Fortunately, one can easily move the plants lower in the soil to correct the legginess, but I'd rather not have to. I'll need to thin the plants to one per cell soon.

Flat of onionsThe onions I started last month were ready for their first "haircut" today. Untrimmed, the onions fall all over the place, making a real mess. I cut ours off at about an inch and a half. They'll require trimming at least twice more before they go into our garden.

With some rainy weather, I turned to some web work the last few days. I checked and updated (where necessary) the links on our Grow Your Own Transplants page. Then I moved on to doing a Best Garden Photos of 2012 page. I didn't start doing the best photos pages until 2013. Doing this page was a reminder that 2012 was a droughty year.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Thursday, February 7, 2019 - Rain

When just messing around on this site last night, I ran across a pretty photo of the creek just down the road from us. The shot was taken on February 3, 2011.

Creek on February 3, 2011

As I drove into town this afternoon, I was amazed at how far over its banks the same creek was. On the way home, I stopped and snapped a picture of it with my iPhone.

Same creek on February 7, 2019

The Creek feeds into Turtle Creek Reservoir. Whatever surveyor shot the reservoir dam and the level for the bridge over our creek did a good job, as I've not seen water over the bridge in the twenty-five years we've lived here. He/she is one of those unsung heroes doing great things every day on their job.

Our house is a good 50-100 feet above the creek, so we're dry and safe. The reason I went to town, though, was to get a fresh container of plumber's puttyicon to stop a leak where our well lines come into our basement. Obviously, all the rain we've had in the last few weeks has the ground water level pretty high. So far today (at around 5), we've had an inch and three-quarters of rainfall.


Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a gardening site. My sole gardening effort today was splitting up a tray of gloxinias into two trays under our plant lights so the plants wouldn't crowd each other. Several of the gloxinia plants seeded in early October are getting ready to bloom. After over forty years of growing gloxinias, I still find myself getting excited to see what colors the open pollinated plants produce.

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Required Disclosure Statement: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and True Leaf Market are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. Clicking through one of our ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale. We're also a consumer member of the Fedco Seeds Cooperative. True Leaf Market Fedco Seeds

Monday, February 11, 2019 - Thinning Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts

The cauliflower and brussels sprouts I started on February 2 needed to be thinned to one plant per cell today. Since some of the seed I used was several years old, I was pretty generous with my seeding. Rather than just pulling the extra plants and risk disturbing the plant to be left, I used a pair of scissors to trim the extra plants at the soil line.

Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts before thinning After thinning

Thinning the plants early on should allow the remaining plants to put on better growth.


Saturday, February 16 2019 - Starting Lettuce and Spinach

Lettuce Type

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


Romaine (red) Better Devil
  Majestic Red
Romaine (red mini) Pandero
Looseleaf Green Iceicon

Flat of lettuce and spinach startedOur spring lettuce harvest is often cut short by hot weather that turns the lettuce bitter and/or causes it to bolt. We do far better with fall lettuce. To try to beat the heat, I started some lettuce today, a full two weeks earlier than usual. Part of moving up our start time for the transplants was the recommendation in Johnny's Selected Seeds' free Seed-Starting Date Calculator dialed in for our last frost date to begin lettuce transplants between February 10 and 24. It also recommends transplanting the lettuce into the garden between March 17 and 24. I assume that last recommendation assumes one is going to use blankets, a cold frame, Hot Kaps, or a floating row cover to protect the tender young plants from frosts or even hard freezes (25° F and below). We got an inch of snow last year on April 2!

Abundant Bloomsdale spinachUsing deep sixpack inserts filled with sterile potting mix, I seeded twelve varieties of lettuce and a single sixpack to Abundant Bloomsdale spinach. The potting mix got watered with near boiling water, as it was a rather dry mix with lots of Pro-Mix in it. I also covered the potting mix with vermiculite, as some lettuce varieties need light for optimal germination.

I generously seeded the cells of the five sixpacks devoted to lettuce. After seeding, I used a finger to push the seed into the vermiculite, trying not to cover the seed (other than the spinach seed). Once seeded, the flat got covered with a clear humidity dome and went on a shelf under our plant lights. Since lettuce germinates pretty well in cool soil, I didn't put the flat over a soil heating mat. Even if I had wanted to, our heat mats are all currently occupied, although I saw a lot of germination getting under way with the daisies and snapdragons I started on Sunday.

Crispino lettuce blooming Crispino head lettuce

Our best lettuce the last few years has come from a couple of romaine varieties, Coastal Star and Jericho. Likewise, the Crispino iceberg variety gives us nice, soft head lettuce with good flavor. The plants hold up pretty well in warm weather, although we're still using Crispino seed from a plant that bolted in 2014 that I let ripen seed.

We're also trialing two new-to-us lettuce varieties this year, Majestic Red romaine and Green Ice looseleaf. We're also giving the Better Devil red romaine another try. It was a new variety we tried last season, but well, last season was mostly a bust with my knee problems.

The thirty cells of lettuce seeded today will be far more than we'll need. But I'm not shy about sneaking in a lettuce plant here and there in our raised beds. Our best spring lettuce last year came from a Barbados and a Jericho at the opposite ends of our spring broccoli row.

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Required Disclosure Statement: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and True Leaf Market are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. Clicking through one of our ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale. We're also a consumer member of the Fedco Seeds Cooperative. True Leaf Market Fedco Seeds

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