Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

January 14, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year from Senior Gardening

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019 - Getting Started

Our Senior Garden - January 2, 2019
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Petunias seeded in egg carton cells
Egg carton petunias on soil heating mat
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

I got our new gardening season started on Monday. I seeded some Double Cascade petunias for hanging baskets into egg cartons. The egg cartons are a nostalgia thing for me, as my mother used to start flowers in egg cartons on our kitchen windowsill.

Whether you start your petunias in egg cartons or some other container, make sure to give the seed light and a warm location to germinate. Since our seed was pelleted, I dropped each seed in a small depression at the center of each egg cell and dripped warm water over them to help melt the seed coating. Then the tray got covered with a clear humidome and placed over a soil heating mat whose thermostat was set at 80° F.

While petunias actually grow fairly quickly, I like to have a few baskets of petunias in bloom to go outside in late March or early April, weather permitting. I'll start more petunias later on that will go into our garden plots.

That's the short version of our starting petunias in egg cartons. I told the whole story in a posting in 2017.

Besides starting petunias in January, we'll also be starting our geraniums and onions this month. They'll need months of growth to be ready to go into the garden in April.

Depending on our wants and needs various years, we've started sage, hostas, impatiens and vinca for hanging baskets, daisies, and dianthus in January. I had ivy leaf geraniums on my list of things to start, but our seed won't come in until sometime in February! U.S. prices for Summer Showers geranium seed have gone nuts, so I ordered some cheapie seed on Amazon that is coming from China. While that's a bit risky, the ivy leaf geranium seed from U.S. seed houses has failed to germinate for us the last two or three years.

While it's still way too early to start most garden transplants, now is a good time to get ones game plan ready. A frost free date calculator from the Dave's Garden site uses ones zip code to deliver your last and first frost dates. Of course, such dates are climatic averages, but they give one a good idea of when it's safe to plant.

Johnny's Selected Seeds free Seed-Starting Date Calculator from their interactive tool page is also really helpful. It's an online spreadsheet that uses your frost free date to recommend a range of times to start transplants or transplant or direct seed into ones garden.

Online searches supplemented by research in the late Nancy Bubel's excellent The New Seed Starter's Handbook usually tells us when to seed and how (light, total darkness, optimal temperature for good germination).

A caution is necessary at this point. Starting garden transplants too soon can result in plants getting way too large by transplanting time or getting stunted living in small pots.

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019 - The Seed Varieties We Save

I had long ago started a posting about the vegetable varieties from which we save seed. After saving and sharing all sorts of seeds over the years, we've focused on saving and sharing seed from a few good, but endangered vegetable varieties. At times, we were the only source offering saved seed from these vegetables. After giving away lots of seed over the years, there are now other gardeners and occasionally, a commercial outlet, offering most of these varieties.

A recent request for Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed got me working on the posting again. The seed request was unique, as it's the first I've received via the Grassroots Seed Network. I'd gotten involved with the GSN at its inception several years ago, but drifted away from it after it devolved into a lot of member squabbling. Things there seem to have stabilized in the last year, so I sent in dues (unrequested) and updated all my listings there. Another reason for the updated listings is that I dropped my membership and most of my seed listings from the Seed Savers Exchange last year.

The Japanese Long Pickling Cucumber

Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers...with one serpent looking cukeHomemade JLP sweet relish on a hot dogWe grew the Japanese Long Pickling (JLP) cucumber for years from seed originally purchased from Stokes Seeds. Trellised, it produces long, straight cucumbers that are fairly good for fresh use, but excel for making various types of pickles and relish.

Our strain of the cucumber came from just one seed that germinated from an old commercial seed packet that had been in frozen storage for way too long. After a few years of growing great cukes, inbreeding depression set in, depressing the plants' vigor and seed germination. We were fortunate to find a commercial vendor, Reimer Seeds, offering a similarly named strain of the variety to breed into our strain. Reimer's strain produced a fatter, somewhat shorter cucumber than our strain, but definitely seemed to be true to variety. After planting two or three Reimer strain plants amongst ours for several years and collecting seed only from our strain of plants, the vitality of our strain was restored without losing the advantages of long, thin cucumbers the original strain had exhibited.

Cucumber vines on double trellisGenerally, I find the fifteen foot row of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers we grow each year produces far more cucumbers than we can eat, pickle and can, save seed from, and give away. And we don't grow our JLPs for a full season, usually transplanting them in June or July after we've pulled our early pea vines from their double trellis. The double trellis remains in place to provide the support necessary for the cucumber vines. Grown on the ground, the cukes curl and may rot. Grown on a fence or trellis, one gets mostly straight cucumbers.

One of our oldest feature stories here on Senior Gardening, A Cucumber of Distinction, tells most of our story about growing and preserving the variety.

We did have a bit of a scare this last fall with our JLP cucumber seed. Our initial germination tests came up terrible. We apparently are dealing with some herbicide drift problems in our raised beds that cause some tomato and pepper plants to produce sterile seed! Fortunately, instead of pitching the apparently bad seed, I retested it. The second germination tests of two large batches of seed came out at 90 and 100%. The experience has left me scratching my head a bit in confusion.

Original description from Stokes Seeds packet:

60 days. Dark green fruit grows 12-18 in./42 cm. Small seeded, crisp, cucumber ideal for slicing, salads, and bread and butter pickles.

Note that the 60 days-to-maturity figure is from direct seeding. Transplants will take even less time to produce.

Earliest Red Sweet Peppers

Bucket of Earliest Red Sweet peppersEarliest Red Sweet peppersThe Earliest Red Sweet (ERS) pepper variety produces medium sized, deep red peppers rather early in the growing season (65 days-to-maturity from transplants). The rather small size, compared to today's hybrids (Ace, Red Knight, etc.) probably accounts for the variety disappearing from seed catalogs. Also, it's earliness may have worked against it, as gardeners may have considered it an early-only pepper. We've found that the ERS variety grown all season on good soil produces an incredible abundance of peppers late in the growing season!

The ERS pepper variety has a rather vague history. It apparently was introduced sometime in the 1970s, the years I began gardening as an adult. I've not been able to find any reference to who developed the variety, but have found an occasional reference to it being used in pepper breeding programs. Our original seed came from Stokes Seeds. After a failed experiment with farming, a divorce, and sitting out gardening for five years, I found that my ERS seed in frozen storage was no good. It wasn't until 2010 that I found a Seed Savers Exchange member preserving the variety and offering seed. Our pepper seed is a result of that find.

As one of our favorite vegetable varieties, Earliest Red Sweets get their own feature story here on Senior Gardening.

Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach

Spinach SaladAbundant Bloomsdale spinachThe Abundant Bloomsdale spinach variety is a relatively new, savoyed, dark green spinach bred by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) in partnership with organic farmers. We started saving seed from it during our first year of growing the excellent variety. Saving seed on ones own ground can slowly adapt varieties to ones specific growing conditions.

We've found Abundant Bloomsdale to rival our old open pollinated favorite, America, and several hybrids in taste and plant vigor. It is a cold-hardy variety that is also slow to bolt in warmer weather. Our only complaint about it (and any spinach seed) is that it is a bit hard to clean and winnow.

Note the required OSSI pledge:

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

While we offer Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed through a non-member listing on the Seed Savers Member Exchange, I really urge folks to support seed houses such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and High Mowing Organic Seeds that offer the excellent open pollinated variety commercially.

At the varieties' release, the Mother Earth News published an informative article about it, Try ‘Abundant Bloomsdale’ Spinach, a New Organic Seed Variety.

The Jack Metcalf Tomato Releases - Moira

For years, the Moira semi-determinate tomato was our favorite "heirloom" and overall tomato for fresh eating and canning. It produces lots of early (66), medium sized tomatoes on rather compact plants when caged. The biggest selling points to me for this variety were its incredible flavor and deep red interiors.

Caged Moira Moira in cage
Three Moiras Canning Moiras

The Jack Metcalf developed tomato varieties we save were all released in the 1970s-80s through the Smithfield Agricultural Farm (Trenton, Ontario). All share the Moira's deep red interior coloring, as they have similar parentage. They're also all semi-determinates, so they don't have the rampant vegetative growth of some indeterminate varieties. Grown in cages, they don't require pruning or suckering.

Sadly, the Metcalf varieties lack much disease resistance bred into many more recent tomato varieties. We've found that with good cultural practices, we avoid most disease problems. We did have one season, however, where blight took all of our Earlirouge and Moira plants. I don't know where the blight came from, but we didn't share any seed from that season, scrupulously cleaned up the tomato areas, and hot water treated all the tomato seed we planted the next season or two. We also were careful to only plant the tomatoes in areas where no tomatoes had grown for years. Fortunately, the blight has so far been a one time thing for us.


Quinte tomatoesThe Quinte tomato variety is quite similar to Moiras. It's also called the Quinte Easy Peel tomato, although I've not noticed a distinct advantage in peeling it over other Metcalf releases. It is a dependable, fairly early (70), canning tomato, although not quite as prolific as the other Metcalf favorites.

I lost our saved Quinte seed because I didn't grow it out often enough. Or maybe, I didn't dry the seed properly before putting it in long term frozen storage. At any rate, my saved seed was well and truly dead when I tried to regrow it about twelve years ago.

Fortunately, the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) had the variety and was willing to share a generous sample of it with me. I now grow out and save seed from the Quinte variety every few years.


Earlirouge tomatoesIt has been reported that the Earlirouge tomato was the most commercially successful of all of Jack Metcalf's tomato releases. There's probably good reason for that success. Whenever we've shared Earlirouge tomatoes with friends, family, and my wife's co-workers, they report that it is the best tasting tomato they've ever eaten! That's pretty high praise. Rob Johnston, Jr., the founder of Johnny's Selected Seeds, once wrote me that he thought the Earlirouge tomato was featured on their catalog cover in 1980.

Earlirouge saved seed packetWhen I read of the success of the Earlirouge variety, I determined to find some seed for it. But as I searched the internet, I simply couldn't find anyone offering the variety. And then in one of those slap your forehead moments, I discovered that I'd grown and saved seed from the variety in 1988, one of our last troubled years on our farm. Amazingly, my saved seed was still good after twenty-five years in frozen storage and got us into production of the variety.

True to its press reviews, I found the Earlirouge variety to produce more and larger tomatoes that either the Moira or Quinte varieties I'd previously favored. It's flavor was (and is) excellent and like all similar Metcalf releases, it has deep red interior coloring. Over the years, I've found its 65 days-to-maturity rating (from transplants) to be quite accurate. But beyond being a good early variety, properly fertilized and watered, the Earlirouge variety will produce lots of quality tomatoes well into the fall.

I shared some Earlirouge seed with the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative a year ago. Wonder of wonders, they grew out the seed and loved the variety. I no longer offer Earlirouge seed to other gardeners, instead, direct them to the Turtle Tree listing for their offer of Earlirouge tomato seed.

And, of course, we have a feature story about our experience with the Earlirouge variety. In 2017, I was surprised to receive an email from the daughter of Jack Metcalf. Jack passed in 2013. She was seeking information about his tomato development efforts. After several very pleasant email exchanges, I sent her samples of the Metcalf developed varieties we had on hand: Earlirouge; Moira; and Quinte. She happily has grown out that seed.

Seed Saving

Seed saving has become a bit of a passion for me. I've saved lots of varieties of vegetable and flower seed over my gardening years, refining such efforts in the last decade or so to a few endangered vegetable varieties. An incredible number of other gardeners express this passion via their shared seed via the Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Member Exchange.

If you're new to seed saving, I'd strongly recommend getting a copy of Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds. Without spending any bucks, one can visit the free Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook and its page, Why Save Seeds.

I've published a couple of seed saving how-to's here on Senior Gardening, Saving Tomato Seed, and Saving Gloxinia Seed. I also did the equivalent of a full how-to on Saving Cucumber Seed (1, 2) in a couple of postings here in 2014.

While I've listed the main varieties of seed we save and share, we also have saved seed from zinnias, dianthus, dill, and kidney beans. All are still available from commercial sources, so we don't offer those varieties in our various seed listings.

Free Seed

If you'd like to try some of the varieties listed above (other than Earlirouge) and are willing to save and share seed from them, I'll gladly share some free seed with you. Use the contact link at the bottom of this page to make a request, being sure to include your mailing address.

A2 Web Hosting

Friday, January 4, 2019 - More Petunias for Hanging Baskets

Starting Supercascade petuniasI've hit a bit of a pause in planting as I wait for a rather tardy seed order to arrive. I'd planned to start some geraniums yesterday, but two varieties of seed ordered on December 22 are somewhere in the seed house or U.S. Mail nether.

Instead, I started a couple of fourpacks of Supercascade petunias. They're a pretty flower suited for planters, although they don't cascade all that much. Their flowers are single, as opposed to the ruffled Double Cascades I started a few days ago. The Supercascades seem to have more colors, though, than the Double Cascades.

Both varieties are hybrids, so I've not tried saving seed from them. Generally, seed for them is sold as pelleted seed. Petunias require a bit of bottom heat and light to germinate well. Ours went into a tray under our plant lights covered with a clear humidome and over a soil heating mat.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Sage trimmed before transplanting
Sage and daisies on sunroom shelf

Plants in sunroomI generally don't bring plants back inside for winter, but there are exceptions to the rule. Absolutely no plants come inside and go to our plant room after our 2014 disaster with the INSV virus, but I have another option. We have a somewhat unheated sunroom that doesn't get below freezing where many plants thrive on bookshelves by southfacing windows during the winter and early spring.

Today, I cut back, transplanted, and brought inside some sage plants I'd had in a tray outdoors all summer and fall. I'd started a bunch of replacement plants over a year ago, anticipating having to replace some of the plants that mark the corners and halfway points of the perimeter of our East Garden plot. As things turned out, I only used three of the plants that I had started. So the four best plants got to come inside until next spring.

I also repotted some daisies that had been languishing in a deep sixpack insert. I'm amazed that the plants are still alive. If they overwinter well, I have a spot picked out for them.

We've used the bookshelves in the sunroom for a variety of plants over the years. Most commonly when we run out of space under our plant lights and it's still too cold for plants to go under our cold frame, I move geraniums to the sunroom. Geraniums actually thrive from a period of cooler temperatures that allow them to fill out their root systems and toughen their stems. We've also had gloxinias, onions, brassicas, and other plants that seemed to do well in the bright, but cool sunroom environment. On the few occasions when I feared temperatures getting too low in the sunroom, I've moved an oil heater from my office to the sunroom.

Our Senior Garden - January 8, 2019REI OutletToday was probably the last fairly warm day we're going to have for a while. It got up to 57° F, but strong winds (35-40 MPH) made doing the repotting outside not as pleasant as I'd hoped. At least it was sunny most of the day, something we don't have all too much of through Indiana winters.

The crashing red line in the image below is predicted temperatures for our area for the next week or so. I guess our luck has run out with a pleasant, but wet period of above average temperature days for this time of year.

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Thursday, January 10, 2019 - Starting Onions

Shallow furrows in sterilized soil
Flat seeded and marked with labels
On soil heating mat under lights

I started our onions today. Getting them going this early usually ensures we'll have strong, healthy transplants ready to go into the ground in April. The early start also allows for replanting, as I used some older onion seed, something I really don't recommend.

For our yellow storage onions, we're going with favorites Clear Dawn and Milestone. Clear Dawn is a relatively new, open pollinated variety developed out of the hybrid Copra line. Milestone is a hybrid we've grown and liked for years.

For white onions, we're going with Southport White Globe. The variety produces nice, medium sized white globes.

After our favorite red onion variety, Red Zeppelin, was discontinued, we've been on a search for a reliable red storage onion. Over the last few years, we've tried Red Creole, Rossa di Milano, Southport Red Globe, and Tropeana Tonda with varying levels of success. This year we're going with a new, open pollinated red, Red Sunset.

For sweet onions, it's hard to beat the old favorite Walla Walla variety. We've grown them for years, getting good results other than in droughty years or times when I don't leave them in the ground long enough. They seem to require considerably more growing days than the other onion varieties we grow, even though their rated days-to-maturity is about the same as our other varieties. Walla Wallas, like most sweet onion varieties, only remain good in storage for us for about two months!

We start our onions in a slotted standard 1020 seed flat filled with a sterile potting mix. Since a flat of moist potting mix is pretty heavy, the slotted tray goes into a solid Perma-nesticon heavy duty tray.

Even though the potting mix had previously been baked for an hour or so at 400° F, I watered it with a couple of teapots of boiling water. The hot water might kill off any remaining harmful organisms, but was more to get the peat moss in the mix to absorb the water.

After letting the seed flat of soil cool for a good bit, I made four shallow (<1/4") down the long dimension of the flat with an old ruler. With the freshest seed, I tried to space seeds a half to three-quarters of an inch apart. With the older seed, I put in a lot more. After seeding, I pinched potting mix back over the rows, using the flat side of the ruler to firm the soil over the furrows.

The combined seed flats went onto a soil heating mat in our basement plant room. Normally, onion seed will germinate fairly well without bottom heat in 5-10 days. But our basement has been running cool lately. I think a little bottom heat can only help the germination of the older onion seed.

How We Grow Our Onions tells the story of how we grow our onions from seeding to storage.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

We're on hold with any further plantings. Most of the things we could start need at least some bottom heat, and our two soil heating mats are already in use. But at this point, we have lots of time to get things started. Next up for planting are geraniums, closely followed by impatiens and vinca for hanging baskets.

Permanest traysWe received a couple of garden orders today, leaving only one small order for some ivy leaf geranium seed coming from China still out. Over the last few years, I've been ordering two or three of the rather expensive, heavy duty Perma-nest trays each season. Other than stepping on them or leaving them out in the sun too long (makes them brittle), they're pretty durable. Since our regular supplier for the trays dropped them this year, we ordered some from Indoor Gardening Supplies. The trays were the same good quality and cost about the same as usual, but they came incredibly well packed. If I can keep from dropping or stepping on them, I should be fixed for this kind of tray for several years.

The second order to arrive was our Fedco Seed order. I'd left Fedco pretty much to last to order from, as they don't begin shipping until after the holidays.

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TurboTax 2018We had one other order arrive, stuffed into the very back of our large, rural route box. I'd waited after its initial release for the price of TurboTax to drop ten bucks. I'd gotten burned years ago by ordering too early, only to see the price drop. Sure enough, the price was down ten dollars when I ordered (and still is at that point at this writing). I'd love to try their free online tax service, but at 61 and 70, Annie and I are still paying off college loans for our kids and really depend on the education credit to reduce our tax liability (if the ed credit is still there in the new tax law).

Snow - Possibly Lots of It

Early this week, weather forecasts suggested snow this weekend. The predictions started at 1-3 inches of snow, moving to 4, then 5, then 6, and now 7 inches. As I write this posting rather late Friday night, it has begun to snow outside, but with just a dusting showing on the ground so far. Both Annie and I switched to all-wheel and 4-wheel drive vehicles in 2014, during and after a really big snow that had us snowed in for days. We haven't had anything close to that snow since.

I worked hard this week shopping for essentials: milk; bread; toilet paper; candy; cigarettes, booze...hmm, I got off track there. I actually spent the middle part of the week contacting heating contractors, as our furnace fan was failing. After one slightly chilly night of nursing along a failing fan, our heating system is long as our power stays on. Ah, the joys of country living.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Our Senior Garden - January 12, 2019TargetIt turned out that we landed right in the middle of this week's predictions for snow accumulation. I measured 3 1/2" and 4" of snow in our front yard this morning. That's certainly not enough to snow us in, but hopefully is enough for kids in the area to build snowmen and go sledding. There's a good chance that we'll get more snow this evening. But with our road already having been plowed, we're in pretty good shape.

I gave up today and re-seeded the egg cartons I'd seeded to Double Cascade petunias twelve days ago. The seed from Seeds 'n Such only germinated at about 20-30%. Fortunately, I'd ordered more of the same variety from Stokes and used that seed this time.

The inauspicious start for the twenty packets of seed I ordered from Seeds 'n Such may be reversed or confirmed with some other early plantings. The Walla Walla onion seed I started on Thursday was from the same vendor. We also have a couple of packets of geranium seed from Seeds 'n Such that we'll be using a little later this month. That information may tell you a bit about how we evaluate seed houses for inclusion on our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers. We received and used two packets of good tomato seed from Seeds 'n Such last season which prompted our larger order this year. So far, Seeds 'n Such is at strike one. Maybe I should have read their rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog a little more carefully.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Monday, January 14, 2019

We had a couple of requests come in on Friday for Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed. While I filled the orders with seed produced in 2017, I decided to re-test the seed we saved this last season. It had previously tested across three batches from zero to fifty percent germination, definitely not high enough to share with others. While I was at it, I also started another test on a late ERS batch from 2017 that somehow hadn't been tested.

There is good reason to re-test seed for germination rates after it has been in storage for a while. Germination rates can slightly decline over a year or so, more even with some seed types. But germination rates can also greatly improve if one has somehow saved what is called "hard seed."

The Free Dictionary defines "hard seed" as:

...a seed that does not swell or germinate within its established period of viability. A hard seed has a tough impermeable coat, or testa, that does not allow water or air to reach the embryo.

Hard seeds are encountered most often in seed lots of leguminous herbs (clover, alfalfa, sweet clover), small-seeded vetch, and lupine. Their quantity depends on the conditions that existed during their formation and maturation. For example, in years of drought up to 60–65 percent of the seeds produced by red clover and alfalfa are hard. The number of hard seeds decreases after storage [my emphasis], which varies in time for different crops from several weeks to several years. The sowing of hard seeds results in non-uniform germination and sparse plantings. The impervious seed coats may be scarified before sowing to facilitate germination.

While possibly not an example of hard seed getting better, our saved Japanese Long Pickling cucumber seed tested poorly when initially saved and tested. But after a couple of months in frozen storage, it germinated quite well. I'm just guessing that this wasn't a case of hard seed, but one where I didn't properly remove the germination inhibiting gel that surrounds the seed. Either way, I'm really glad I didn't pitch the seed in frustration.

Note that some types of seeds are naturally hard. One outstanding example is asparagus seed that is almost always a hard seed that requires scarification and/or stratification to germinate well and in a timely manner. Geranium seed is another one that often tends towards being hard seed.

With asparagus seed, I scarify it by pushing each seed across an emery board or piece of sandpaper to thin its seedcoat. I then soak the seed for a day before putting them in soil...and it still seems to take forever for them to germinate. For geranium seed, I also employ an emery board to very gently scrape the side of each seed before planting.

I'm hoping that our 2018 pepper seed will do better in this round of germination tests after being in frozen storage for two months. If not, all I've lost is some time and a few coffee filters and ziplock bags.


One of the pepper seed requests was from a gardener in Australia. Having sent lots of gloxinia seed over the years to gardeners there, I packaged up the seed and mailed it this morning. Then I began to wonder and checked a page from Victory Seeds that I should have remembered. The page showed that pepper seed, unlike gloxinia seed, requires testing and/or a certificate of some kind. So, maybe the seed will slip through, although Australian customs more likely will confiscate it.

Wandering Jew Cuttings

Freshly potted Wandering Jew plantsPot of Wandering Jew plants to sunroomI'd left several Wandering Jew cuttings in a glass of water on our kitchen windowsill for several weeks. They were stems that had been a bit slow to root in water. So while some of their glassmates got potted up weeks ago, these cuttings just sat, eventually putting on a mass of roots.

Rather than moving the cuttings into deep sixpack inserts to begin changing over their water roots to soil roots, I directly potted them in a hanging basket pot. Of course, I found that the hanging basket pot wasn't quite clean enough to suit me, so it got washed again. During the washing, I found a crack in it near the rim, so that had to be glued. But eventually, I placed the cuttings in potting soil with a good bit of rooting hormone sprinkled into the planting holes.

I also potted up another hanging basket with cuttings I'd rooted in potting soil. To make room for the newly started hanging baskets, I moved the first pot of Wandering Jew plants I'd started weeks ago to our sunroom. Eventually, one of these pots of Wandering Jew plants will hang inside our west facing kitchen window. The rest will go outside under our back porch or go to friends or family.


I noted with satisfaction this morning a few onion shoots had emerged from last Thursday's planting. I always feel a bit of wonder at God's creation when I put seed into soil and it bursts into life in just a few days.

Botannical Interrests

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastBurpee GardeningI really didn't have anything to write about today. When I grabbed our almost daily splashshot, I wondered if I'd messed up a camera setting when I saw the result. The image looked like a black and white photo. So I checked my camera settings and opened up the lens a bunch to let in more light and reshot the scene. The result was brighter, but still lacked much color. I think winter is sucking the color out of life!

Our extended forecast from the Weather Underground doesn't offer much chance of sunshine for the next week or so. And what little chance there is comes with a -3° F penalty for the clear skies!

I strung together my most recent splashshots below. I'm already tired of Indiana winter gray.

Saturday, January 12, 2019 Monday, January 14, 2019 Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Without any worthwhile gardening chores to do, I made a run to town for life's essentials: peanut butter cupsicon; donuts; and conversation hearts. If the weather doesn't break soon, I may weigh 300 pounds.


Friday, January 18, 2019 - Spaghetti Tonight, Lasagna Tomorrow

Spaghetti SauceI started boiling down jars of whole tomatoes this morning for spaghetti sauce. I also added a jar of Prego to the mix to add volume and flavor. Doing so makes enough sauce for spaghetti this evening and lasagna tomorrow. I like to make our lasagna a day ahead and let it cool overnight in the fridge. It seems to improve the flavor. I learned that trick from a great restaurant we used to frequent in my college days.

I sauté onions and garlic in olive oil before adding hamburger to brown. After draining off grease and oil, I add the meat mixture to the boiled down tomatoes. I add basil, oregano, parsley, red and black pepper to the sauce and let it cook a bit. Then I add a can or jar of Hunt's or Prego spaghetti sauce. (Yeah, the commercial sauce is cheating a bit, but I didn't want to work with boiling down tomatoes all day.)

Pepper, the dog, not the spiceOne problem we run into in boiling down our canned tomatoes is that they end up being pretty salty from the teaspoon of salt added to each quart. To negate the unwanted saltiness, I peeled and sliced a potato into the sauce. The potato pieces absorb a good bit of the saltiness. Of course, I pull the potatoes out of the sauce before spaghetti time and making the lasagna. I tried a couple of bites of the cooked potatoes, and they weren't too bad. Our dogs initially turned up their noses at them, but with some competition, gobbled them down. We have one yearling pup, Pepper, who will eat almost anything. I still wonder at the completely house trained dogs that show up as strays on our doorstep.

Red Creole onionsI also placed a late seed order today for some Red Creole onion seed and Bradley tomatoes. Our previous seed orders went to vendors that don't carry the Red Creole variety. While Red Creoles are a short day onion best suited for growing in the south, we like them for producing very early, small red onions here.

I'll blame Kentucky gardener Dennis Mohon for the Bradleys. He'd written this week that he thought "they are, if not the best, certainly one of the best tasting tomatoes still being grown." Like everyone else, we love tomatoes with good flavor. The vendor offering the Red Creole seed also sells Bradley tomato seed, so we're going to give the variety a try.

In addition to the new-to-us Bradleys, we'll again be trying the Bellstar paste and Crimson Sprinter open pollinated varieties. We'll also give the hybrid Dixie Red variety another shot. We tried all three varieties for the first time last season, but really didn't give them a fair trial. When I messed up my knees last April, I was unable to properly care for our East Garden planting of tomatoes. They all got overgrown with weeds and produced poorly.

The rest of our tomatoes this year will be tried and true varieties. We'll grow the Jack Metcalf varieties, Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte. We save seed from all three most seasons. Our hybrids will be, along with the Dixie Reds, Bella Rosa, Mountain Fresh Plus, Mountain Merit, and possibly some Better Boysicon.

For grape tomatoes, we'll stay with the old open pollinated Red Pearl variety that has done well for us year after year.

I usually enjoy trying out new tomato and other vegetable varieties. But over the years, we've found our old favorite tomatoes, the open pollinated Earlirouge and Moira and the hybrids Mountain Fresh Plus and Better Boy, hard to beat.


So-so onion germinationYoung gloxinia with budsI re-seeded bare spots in the rows of the onions I started on January 10. Since some of the seed I used was old, I expected I might have to re-seed a bit. Interestingly, some of the older seed, some vintage 2016 Clear Dawn from Fedco Seeds, came up the best. The worst of the seeds planted was our Walla Wallas, supposedly fresh seed from Seeds 'n Such. That's strike two for Seeds 'n Such. Another germination failure from their seed, and that'll be the last you read of that outfit on this site.


One of the gloxinias I started from saved seed in October has put on a couple of buds already. Its leaves so far look like Empress leaves. Our saved seed has some Cranberry Tiger bred in which produces ungainly large leaves, but incredibly large and beautiful blooms. It's always interesting to see what kind of blooms we get from our open pollinated gloxinias.

REI Clearance Sale

Sunday, January 20, 2019 - Texas Nachos

WalmartWith the Super Bowl just two weeks away, I ordered some of our favorite nacho sauce for our annual Super Bowl treat, Texas Nachos. Gehl's Nacho Cheese Sauce disappeared from local supermarket shelves a couple of years ago. Fortunately, it's still available online from places like Amazon and Walmarticon.

When my wife, Annie, and I were dating, Texas Nachos and margaritas on the rocks at Chi-Chi's became one of our favorite outings. Since we really couldn't afford doing such stuff on a regular basis, especially after we got married, we began experimenting on a Texas Nachos recipe of our own. After just a few tries, we were able to come up with a quick, tasty recipe for the treat that comes pretty close, I think, to what the restaurant served, and possibly even better!

Texas Nachos

If you're fortunate enough not to be on "the twelve steps," a good margarita on the rocks really goes well with this dish.

To make the order come out with free shipping, I also ordered a couple of bottles of Serenade concentrate, something we would have ordered anyway. We use the Serenade biofungicide as a soil drench under our potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers to prevent fungal diseases. We also use it as our first fungicide spray when problems arise.

Lunar Eclipse and Lasagna

Clouds over our Senior Garden - January 20, 2019LasagnaI hesitate to mention it, but there will be a total lunar eclipse late tonight. Whenever I write about an eclipse or significant meteor shower, we seem to have cloudy skies spoiling viewing of the event. It's partly to mostly cloudy here this afternoon, so it's chancy whether it will be clear enough to see the eclipse around eleven o'clock (EST) tonight.

The lasagna I wrote about on Friday turned out to be just so-so. I think I'll go back to making the sauce from scratch, rather than adding any commercial spaghetti sauce. Or, I may just add some Hunt's Traditional, as it seems to work better than Prego in our sauce mix. I also ran short of mozzarella cheese and added some provolone to finish up the lasagna. Note that I've taken to using a deep bread dish for our lasagna. It allows a deeper lasagna without it cooking over. USA, LLC

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - Starting Seed Geraniums

Seeding geraniums
Geraniums seeded

I started our seed geraniums today. Instead of our usual practice of first germinating geranium seed on paper towels or coffee filters, I direct seeded the geranium seed into three inch pots. The pots were filled with sterile potting mix with a small depression in the center of each filled with vermiculite. The seed got squished and watered into the vermiculite.

I started nine Maverick Red and six Maverick Mix from Stokes Seeds and three each of Multibloom Mix and Pinto White to Rose from Seeds 'n Such. The tray of pots went onto a soil heating mat and under a clear humidity dome under our plant lights.

Over the years, we've had some ups and downs with starting geraniums. I'm hoping that all fresh seed this year will produce good results. We'll use the geraniums first at the corners of our raised garden beds. Any extras will go along the sides of the beds.

  • Growing Geraniums from Seed - I finally refined our previous blogs on growing geraniums from seed into more of a how-to on the subject. Note that the older blogs remain, goofs and all.
  • Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2010 - If you have the right conditions, growing seed geraniums (geraniums from seed) is relatively easy. (January 22, 2010 - a discontinued, continuing horror story)
  • Growing Geraniums from Seed - 2009 - What should have been an easy "how-to" turned out to be an instructive lesson on nearly everything one can do wrong in starting geraniums from seed! (December 1, 2008 - another discontinued, continuing horror story)

Seed Catalog Covers

One of the things I enjoy about this time of year is paging through garden seed catalogs. Doing so often becomes an additional expense, as I find something I think I need.

All of our major seed catalogs have arrived or I've downloaded a PDF copy of them. As always, they're an attractive bunch. although possibly a bit less gorgeous than in previous years (2017, 2016). It may just be that I've seriously cut down the number of images of seed catalog covers this year due to some dissatisfaction with several seed vendors.

Clicking on the images below will open a larger view of each catalog cover in a new tab or window. Clicking on the names below the images takes you to the the web site of the seed vendor.

Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Botannical Interests Burpee Seed Company Fedco Seeds
Annie's Heirloom Seeds Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Botanical Interests Burpee Seed Company Fedco Seed Cooperative
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds R.H. Shumway Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds John Scheeper's
Kitchen Garden Seeds
R.H. Shumway Southern Exposure
Seed Exchange
Stokes Seeds Territorial Seed Company Victory Seed Company West Coast Seeds
Stokes Seeds Territorial Seed Company Victory Seeds West Coast Seeds
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

Thursday, January 24, 2019 - More Onions

Our Senior Garden - January 24, 2019Half tray seeded to onionsA late order for some Red Creole onion seed came in yesterday's mail. Even though I started a full tray of onions two weeks ago, I seeded a half tray more of them this morning.

Along with getting some Red Creoles, I wanted to use up some old Copra yellow storage onion seed. The Copra hybrid is no longer available. Fortunately, the open pollinated Clear Dawn variety, which we've already started, was bred out of the Copra line. I also seeded some more Southport White Globe and Walla Walla onions.

When I went downstairs to grab the half tray (1010 tray), I saw that our egg carton petunias were ready to assume their position on our west facing kitchen windowsill. There were still several cells without plants growing in them, so I re-seeded those cells, dripping some warm water on the seed to begin melting the pelletized coating on the seeds.

Egg carton petunias

First tray of onions re-seeded now looking USA, LLCThe petunias will remain on the windowsill for just a month or so. In that time, they'll almost outgrow their egg carton cells and will need to be moved to fourpack inserts. Eventually, they'll go into hanging baskets for our back porch.

Besides the Double Cascade petunias on the windowsill, I have a couple of fourpacks of Supercascade petunias under our plant lights in the basement. The Supercascades produce single blooms while the Double Cascades produce double, or ruffled blooms.

Getting back to onions, the tray of them I started and had to re-seed a bit are looking much better now. The new seed added is coming up nicely. I'm not sure if some of the seed I originally started was bad, or if I got the seed in too deep.

I have a long list on my desk of things to start during the rest of January and into February. Hostas, celery, dianthus, impatiens and ivy leaf geraniums for hanging baskets, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce and spinach. After a rather restful and inactive December and early January, we're now really getting into seed starting time.

The Home Depot

Friday, January 25, 2019 - A Pleasant Surprise

Geranium seed germinatingAnother geranium seed germinatingI went downstairs this afternoon with a glass of warm water and a syringe. My intent was to dribble a little warm water over the geranium seeds I started on Wednesday. As I went down the rows of pots squeezing out water on each seed, I was surprised to find that a good number of seeds were beginning to germinate after just two days! It often takes five or more days for geranium seed to sprout.

I hustled upstairs to get my good camera and a set of close-up filters to record the unusual occurrence. Sadly, my skills with close-up filters are limited, but I did get a couple of fairly good shots of emerging geraniums.

We're not out of the woods yet on germinating geranium seed. I'll need to closely monitor temperature and moisture levels under the humidome covering the planting tray. I've kept it pretty warm (77° F) and wet. I'll also need to begin moving the individual pots off the soil heating mat as the plants open their first leaves. But we're obviously off to a good start.

Habitat for Humanity

Saturday, January 26, 2019

I wrote yesterday that I'd "need to closely monitor temperature and moisture levels under the humidome" of our tray of emerging geraniums. Today, ten of the twenty-one pots seeded were ready to come out from their hot, humid germinating tray.

Baby geraniums

While the conditions in the germinating tray over a soil heating mat are great for getting seed going quickly, they also can promote mold and fungus growth. So the geraniums leave their cozy starting tray for much cooler (around 66° F) temperatures, but with a lot more light.

Fruit Bouquets

Sunday, January 27, 2019 - Starting Some Flowers

Our Senior Garden - January 27, 2019Starting impatiens, vinca, and dianthusWe have a cold, but bright sunny day today with just a bit of snow on the ground. I'm not sure if it was the bright conditions or the ten more germinated geraniums I moved off the heat mat this morning, but I was suddenly filled with enthusiasm to get some more things started. With lots of space opening up on one of our soil heating mats, I chose to start some flowers that germinate well for us with a little bottom heat.

I seeded impatiens, vinca, and dianthus today. The impatiens seeded are for a hanging basket or two. I used the last of some Cascade Beauty trailing impatiens seed I'd picked up on Amazon two years ago and some very old Envoy seed that is no longer available.

The vinca was fresh Pacifica XP seed from Stokes Seeds. While I may try some of it in a hanging basket, it performs really well along the edges of our raised garden beds, especially in the second half of the growing season. Since vinca needs total darkness plus bottom heat to germinate, I carefully covered the seed with a thin layer of potting mix. I also cut a doubled section of black trash bag and covered the pot with it.

Dianthus in herb gardenThe dianthus seeded was from saved seed. I do buy some Carpet dianthus seed every few years, but I usually go with the saved seed which produces a variety of colors. While a lot of seed houses list the Carpet series as a hybrid, we've had very good luck saving seed from our plants and getting gorgeous plants from the saved seed. The progeny of the hybrid seed often lacks bicolor blooms. They tend toward red blooms, but what red blooms they are! And while the Carpet dianthus variety is usually listed as a biennial, we often get three years of lovely blooms from our plants.

All of the newly seeded pots went over a soil heating mat that even in some really cold weather is keeping the covered tray over it at a toasty 77-78° F.

Precipitation Records

Our Precipitation RecordsI've tried to keep pretty good precipitation records over the last few years. During the growing season (April-October), that only requires emptying and recording rainfall from our rain gauge regularly. From November to March, we have to rely on nearby Weather Underground weather stations for our data. That usually works out quite well. I often use the Underground's linked listing of nearby weather stations to pull down rainfall data from four, five, and occasionally six weather stations in our area. I throw out the top and bottom readings and average the rest to get our monthly winter precipitation figures.

But when I looked at our most observed nearby weather station this week, I knew something was amiss. It showed 290.17 inches of precipitation so far this month. Other nearby stations for the same period came in at three to four inches of precipitation.

Glitches obviously happen. One of the strengths of the Weather Underground system is that in many areas, there are lots of contributing weather stations. These weather stations are maintained by folks like you and me, other than they're willing to go to the time and expense of maintaining a private weather station. Since these are private installations, they do go down at times, a minor weakness of the system.

We count ourselves fortunate to have so many weather stations near us reporting their weather conditions.

Weird rainfall figure
Nearby Weather Stations

I obviously like and appreciate the Weather Underground and its many contributing stations. I'm not willing to go to the expense of hosting a weather station here. We couldn't contribute to the Underground, as we have lousy internet service here. But I would love to have our own anemometer to measure wind speed here. Data from nearby weather stations varies a lot. And we catch strong winds that come across the open fields west of us after they pass over the Merom Bluff.

The view from Merom Bluff


Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - Cold, But It Could Be Worse

Our Senior Garden - January 29, 2019Current Wundergound forecast for usOur snow melted off just in time for it to get really cold here. I think my only outdoor activities today will be taking the trash out to the road for pickup and cleaning a cat litter box.

It's 14° F with 35 MPH winds as I write just before noon, and the temperature is now predicted to drop to -6° F overnight. In regard to that "it could be worse" stuff, we have family living in Minnesota (Merrifield -35° F, Mankato -33° F) and Chicago, Illinois (-23° F), where overnight lows are going to be a bit scary. I'm also thankful now that we had our furnace troubles three weeks ago and have the system working well.

Strangely, by the weekend, we're supposed to have high temperatures in the 50s.


We're up to 80% germination on our recent seeding of geraniums. While germination test data stamped on seed packets is often in the 90s, I'm generally happy with 80% germination in the real world. Having only seeded 21 three inch pots to geraniums, that's not a big test. I added fresh seed yesterday to the corners of the four pots of geraniums that haven't yet germinated.

The bulk of our geraniums seed this year came from Stokes Seeds. We also started a few pots with seed from Seeds 'n Such which did well, possibly reversing some of my previous reservations about that seed vendor.

David's Cookies

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - January Wrap-up

January, 2019, animated GIF of our Senior GardenEgg carton petuniasIt appears that we've survived the polar vortex. Our lowest temperature reading here was -5° F. While not a pleasant temperature to get out in, it's far better than folks in Minnesota and Wisconsin experienced.

Our gardening got off to its typically slow start in January. I started petunias for hanging baskets, had to re-seed them, and eventually moved the egg cartons holding the petunias to our kitchen windowsill.

I brought some sage and daisies inside from our back porch, moving them to the bookshelves in our sunroom. Joining them were several pots of Wandering Jew plants I started from cuttings this month. While Wandering Jew cuttings are quick to root, the plants fill out pretty slowly.

All of our seed orders are now in. Unfortunately, the last order for some Summer Showers ivy leaf geranium seed was not filled correctly. Instead of 20 geranium seeds, I got 200 hundred onion seeds! Since it's too late to re-order the seed and get it started, I settled for a refund on the order from Amazon.

Onion plantsAs the month wore on with true winter weather setting in, our plantings picked up a bit. I started a full tray of onions on January 10. I followed that up with a half tray of onions seeded on the 24th.

Baby GeraniumsOne of our most important plantings of the season came on January 23. I started seed geraniums, one seed each in 21 three inch pots of sterilized potting mix. To my surprise, the geranium seed from two different vendors began germinating after just two days! We're currently at 86% germination for the planting.

With our sprouted seed geraniums quickly moving out of our covered and heated germination tray, I seeded impatiens for hanging baskets, vinca, and dianthus. All three flower varieties need bottom heat to germinate well. The impatiens and dianthus need a bit of light to germinate well. The vinca requires total darkness, so that pot got a couple of layers of black plastic trash bag rubber banded over it. Despite our basement plant room running at a 65° F ambient temperature, our oldest soil heating mat kept the covered germinating tray at a near constant 77-78° F. I noted with satisfaction this afternoon that the dianthus from saved seed had germinated in just four days.

While some of these early plantings may seem a bit premature, we're now exactly eleven weeks from our last frost date. Many flowers require 10-12 weeks growth to be ready to go into the garden. We make good use of the free Seed-Starting Date Calculator from Johnny's Selected Seeds to jog my aging memory of when to start what. A PDF shows what our copy of the page looks like.


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