Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

December 31, 2020


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Our Senior Garden - December 1, 2020
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Our East Garden - December 1, 2020
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With winter setting in, December is a slow month in our Senior Garden. Fall chores will continue to get done outside as the weather permits.

I moved the last of our gloxinias from our dining room table to under our plant lights downstairs today. As the plants fade, they get trimmed down to the corm and set on a dark shelf for their required period of dormancy. But...I also repotted one gloxinia plant that had emerged from dormancy, moving it under our grow lights.

One important job this month will be ordering garden seed for next season. I stayed up late last night working on our seed orders. We don't need as much new seed as we did last year, but have some holes to fill. One of the holes is for Walla Walla sweet onion seed. Our seed this year, although supposedly fresh, didn't germinate well. And I've noticed that a lot of seed vendors are currently sold out of that variety. If you've perused seed vendors online sites recently, you may have found that they aren't showing replenishment of many vegetable seed varieties they sold out of last season.

Our kitchen Wandering Jew plantAlthough it may be a bit early, I took a first set of cuttings from our rather glorious Wandering Jew plant today. We've had a Wandering Jew plant in our kitchen window for ten or twelve years. It's not the same plant, but a succession of cuttings have kept the line alive. Wandering Jew plants are only good for about twelve to eighteen months. So every winter, I take cuttings for the next generation of plants.

Our first Wandering Jew plant was a gift from Samantha Eads, one of our daughters. She now has her own plants that we gave her from cuttings from one of our plants.

Cuttings on windowsill Labels soaking on winowsill

Rooting Wandering Jew cuttings is pretty easy. You just snip about four to six inches off the end of a stem. You can root the stems in water or treat them with rooting gel and root them in sterile potting mix. We usually do a bit of both, although today's cuttings just went into a glass of water on our windowsill. They replaced the peanut butter jar of plastic plant labels getting cleared in a bleach water solution. Obviously, Tux, the cat on the windowsill, is semi-permanent.

Towards the end of this month, I may start our egg carton petunias for hanging baskets and some onion transplants. The petunias need to be ready to go outside in April. And some onions such as our sweet Walla Wallas, take a bit longer to mature than our other onion varieties.

And wow! I really need to clean those kitchen windows!

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Required FTC Disclosure Statement: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and True Leaf Market are some of our 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
 
 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020 - Shopping Guides Rerun

I ran this posting last month, but in this shopping season, I thought I'd run it again.

Garden Shopping GuideShopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners

I updated our garden shopping guides last night. The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners shown at left was the first I put together as a gift guide for non-gardeners shopping for gardeners. It mostly has items that could easily be wrapped and put under a Christmas tree or even fit in a Christmas stocking. Well, I'm not sure the garden carticon, Garden Tower, or a rain barrel meet the criterion of being wrapped and fitting under a Christmas Tree.

After doing the gift guide, I realized that there were lots of basic gardening items I'd omitted from the guide. So I wrote a general Shopping Guide for Gardeners. As usual, I advise new gardeners to start small even with garden tools. "If you're going to garden, there are a few basic tools you'll want and need. Think shovel, garden hoe, rake, and a trowel to start with. You might be able to get by with just the first three." I do go on to list lots of garden tools a gardener might eventually want and/or need. In a section I mentally named shoulder wreckers, I added a post driver to the section about post hole diggers. grin

Required FTC Disclosure Statement

Some of our text links go to the sites of our Senior Gardening Advertisers. Clicking through one of our banner ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale.

I'll add here that such pages fall under the FTC's Required Disclosure Statement (shown at right). In actuality, the pages don't produce many sales and commissions for us. Experienced gardeners often wisely insist on being able to hold a tool before making a purchase.

As you might guess, we have a considerable investment wrapped up in gardening stuff. It's important to remember that we acquired these things over fifty years of gardening.

Chewy.com

Friday, December 4, 2020 - Our Seed Listings

We're certainly not in the business of selling garden seed, but I do share some of our favorite heirloom seed varieties through a couple of outlets. While we save seed from lots of vegetable and herb varieties, we only share our superstars. Listed below are our seed offerings for 2021 from seed grown out this last year (2020). The varieties offered can be obtained via the Grassroots Seed Network (GSN), the Seed Savers Member Exchange (SSE). Two of the tomato varieties are also available from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative (TTSI).

Quinte tomatoesQuinte Tomatoes - Also known as Easy Peel, our Quinte plants this year produced unusually large tomatoes in great volume. Quintes are a Jack Metcalf variety. As with most of his releases, they are a semi-determinate, open pollinated plant. GSN SSE TTSI

Three MoirasMoira Tomatoes - Another Metcalf variety, Moiras have been a longtime favorite variety of ours for their excellent flavor and deep red interiors. GSN SSE

I hadn't grown out our Quinte and Moira tomatoes for seed for several years. This last season, doing so became a priority. The plants went into the rather poor soil of our East Garden plot, but got a lot of peat moss and compost at planting. Both varieties excelled in production and season long health.

Earlirouge tomatoesEarlirouge Tomatoes - Earlirouges were Jack Metcalf's most commercially successful tomato variety release. Along with the Quite variety, they proved good enough for the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative to begin growing and offering both varieties commercially from seed we shared with them. Our Earlirouges stunted early in the season, first from cold weather conditions and later from drought. Eventually, they produced lots of delicious deep red tomatoes. GSN SSE TTSI

Loaded red pepper plantEarliest Red Sweet Peppers - The Earliest Red Sweet bell pepper variety produces peppers a bit smaller than the popular hybrids. But what its peppers lack in size, it makes up for with an incredible volume of peppers, especially late in the season. Our ERS plants got set back by the same weather conditions as our Earlirouge tomatoes. But as usual, the pepper plants produced all season, culminating in a huge harvest in September.

Note that I often add some ERS peppers to our Hungarian Paprika peppers when making ground paprika.

And a tip on growing peppers if they usually don't perform well for you. For years, our pepper plants looked good right up until the time they set fruit. Then they'd languish and eventually die. On a luckshot, I began adding a little Maxicrop soluble seaweed powder to my transplant solution for the peppers. Our pepper problems magically vanished. Apparently the seaweed had some necessary element in it that our soil lacked. Maxicrop is a bit expensive, but it doesn't take much of it to do the trick. GSN SSE

Japanese Long Pickling cucumberJapanese Long Pickling Cucumbers - I'd grown Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers for years. But after a five year hiatus from gardening after I lost our farm, I found that seed for the excellent variety was no longer available. I did, however, still have a few seeds preserved in the freezer over the years. Just one seed germinated, so I began saving seed and propagating the variety. Things went really well for the long, thin cucumbers for several years before we ran into inbreeding depression. So I bred in some cucumbers of the same name from Reimer Seeds, only saving seed from our cucumber plants. The crossing revitalized our strain of the excellent cucumber.

We use JLPs for pickles and pickle relish. They're also good for slicing, although not quite as good as pure slicing varieties. Note that JLPs require trellising, as the vigorous vines grow over five feet tall.

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines

We grow our JLP cucumbers as a succession crop after our tall, early peas. Since the variety is sixty days from direct seeding to mature cucumbers and even quicker from transplants, the cukes have plenty of time to produce despite being planted a bit late. GSN SSE

Gloxinias - Our gloxinia seed was derived from crosses of the Empress, Cranberry Tiger, and Double Brocade varieties. It produces a variety of colors in single and double blooms. GSN SSE

Gloxinias in our dining room - July 5, 2017

Missing from this year's listings is the wonderful Abundant Bloomsdale variety of spinach. We can grow good spinach and save seed from it. But our saved seed somehow turns out to be hard seed that requires near herculean efforts to germinate. So while I work out my spinach seed harvesting problems, I'll refer folks hunting the seed to either High Mowing Organic Seeds or the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Backstories - For additional information on some of the varieties offered, here are a few of our pages that give the backstory of how we started saving the seed.

In our computer meltdowns over the summer, I lost the ability to print seed envelopes. So any seed shared will now come in plain white seed envelopes labeled in my lousy handwriting.

Burpee Seed Company

Sunday, December 6, 2020 - Seed Orders

I stayed up late last night and finished our initial seed orders for next season. I used only four vendors, as we ordered fairly heavy last year. New items I decided to try include Cylindra beets, Kingman seedless watermelon, and a couple of paprika type peppers, Boldog Hungarian Spice and Sweet Paprika Pepper. Of course, one can dry and grind almost any pepper to make paprika that's either sweet, spicy, or hot, or somewhere in between.

Of the twenty-six line items ordered, two were for seed envelopes. The others were all for vegetable seed with carrot seed topping our list of most needed. I'd let our carrot seed get a little too old and suffered rather poor spring and fall harvests this year. The rest of the orders were for seed we'd run out of or were running short on or seed I no longer trusted to be good.

Seventy percent of the orders went to Johnny's Selected Seeds and Fedco Seeds with Twilley Seeds and the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative splitting up the rest. I still have one item I want to order from Burpee, but don't have enough other items I might want to justify shipping on such an order, even with their very reasonable $2.99 flat rate shipping on all seed packets. Dollar wise, I spent less than half of what I did last year on garden seed.

Although Fedco doesn't begin shipping until January 4, 2021, and one item in our Johnny's order is currently backordered, it's important to file our orders early. I start our petunias, onions, geraniums, impatiens, vinca, and dianthus in January.

Printed Seed Packets

With my summer changeover to two newer computers and a brand new printer, I'd lost the ability to print seed packets. My seed packet templates were locked up in Appleworks files that wouldn't print to the new printer. With several seed orders coming in, I began recreating the files in Photoshop yesterday. While time consuming, it turned out to be a fairly easy task.

Quintr seed envelope template

Astronomy Stuff

If you've ever looked at the night sky and wondered the name of a planet, star, or constellation, the free, open source Stellarium planetarium computer program should serve your needs. It allows one to look ahead (or back) at the night sky to see where items will be located. With the coming alignment of Jupiter and Saturn this month, I installed Stellarium on my "new" laptop to see when and where to look for the alignment.

Stellarium is pretty easy to use once you figure out where the appropriate controls are. I quickly dialed in the geographic coordinates for our house, but one can easily use Stellarium's listing of major cities to orient the software to your approximate location.

Set time to view Turn on plant labels
Controls at bottom left of screen display constellation lines and labels Controls and meteor showers shown

The important control boxes are invisible on the lower left and bottom of the screen until you hover your mouse over them. A newly added feature shows the area of meteor showers. With the Geminid meteor showers peaking the night of December 13-14 (Sunday evening until dawn Monday), Stellarium can steer one where to look in the sky for them. Note that this meteor shower may be visible a day or two before and after the peak dates.

Astronomy stuff on a garden blog may seem a bit unusual or inappropriate. But remember that between my years of being a general elementary teacher and a special educator, I got to teach science and social studies to sixth graders for a number of years. Map races, astronomy, and plant pollination made the classes lots of fun each day.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35

Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - Our Best Garden Photos of 2020

Earliest Red Sweet pepper plantApple blossomsI went through almost four thousand photos taken this year in selecting what shots I liked and wanted to include in Our Best Garden Photos of 2020. I didn't do the selections all at once, but started on them last summer. If four thousand sounds like a lot of photography, there is a catch. I often set my Canon T5i to shoot photos in groups of three of the same shot, exposing one normally and one each of a third f/stop under and over exposed. That covers my butt when I mess up the exposure on a shot.

My favorite shots this year were of an Earliest Red Sweet pepper plant and blooms on an apple tree. The pepper plant got off to a slow start due to a late frost in May followed by the first of several dry spells this summer. But it came through magnificently late in the season, overwhelming us with ripe red bell peppers.

The apple tree isn't the Stayman Winesap I ordered, but instead produces tasty yellow apples. While a little disappointed with the variety I was sent years ago, I like seeing the tree filled with blossoms each spring. And I suspect the tree is a good pollinator for other apple trees in our area.

Cuttings

Wandering Jew cuttings rooting in waterThe Wandering Jew cuttings I took a week ago have begun putting out roots. I chose to root the cuttings in water first. In a few days, I'll treat them with rooting gel and put them into some sterile potting mix. Once I move these cuttings into soil, I'll take at least one more set of cuttings.

Asparagus

Asparagus shoots coming upJust for the fun of it more than anything else, I started a bulb pan on November 29 with some freshly picked asparagus seed. To my total surprise today, some of the seed had germinated. Asparagus is normally a hard seed that is slow to germinate. Even with bottom heat, getting a bunch of shoots up in just nine days was pretty gratifying.

First Seed Order Arrives

Our first seed order arrived today. It was a single packet of impatiens seed. Impatiens usually do well each year potted in hanging baskets on our back porch.

Botannical Interests

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

I had my good camera downstairs and ran outside with it when I saw a pretty sunset developing. I was a bit late on the scene, but still got a pretty picture.

Prety evening sky/sunset

A few minutes later after the sky had begun to darken, I checked Stellarium for the Saturn Jupiter alignment and looked outside. Sure enough, the planets were visible in the southwestern sky. I fetched my tripod and a longer camera lens and grabbed some shots of the planets.

Of course, I should have known that my photos would only reveal two bright white dots against a black background. In the past when we had a telescope up and running, we've marveled at Saturn's rings and four of Jupiter's moons plus its red spot. But with just a "short" long lens, we got white dots this evening. But even that was sorta cool.

Stellarium screenshot My shot - two white dots
Stellarium screenshot Two white dots

As to gardening, today was another cleanup day. I rinsed out and stored our sprayers. I also dumped up two partially filled milk jugs of our homemade Not Tonight, Deer deer repellent and stored it in the basement. The old milk jugs had already frozen and thawed several times this fall, sat in the sun all summer, and were sure to break if I didn't do something with their smelly contents.

When I got back inside and sat down for a moment, I wondered, "What is that awful smell?" It was, of course, some Not Tonight Deer that I had inadvertently splashed on my jeans and hands. A shower and a change of clothes became an immediate priority.

Renee's Garden

Friday, December 11, 2020

Kale nibbled by deerSome good kale remainedI'd thought we might get one more good picking of kale. That was until some deer found our kale! They actually didn't take all the kale, but enough that I was ready to give up and pull the remaining kale plants.

The kale got pulled by the roots and composted. It went over stalks I cut from Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. Our compost pile is now a bit over five feet tall, although it will compress pretty quickly in the weeks to come.

With the kale out, we no longer have any crops actively growing in our garden plots (unless you count the garlic bulbs planted last month). And clearing the kale and our last asparagus patch pretty well finished our garden cleanup. I still need to trim our sage plants, but I'll wait until it's a bit colder to be sure they're pretty much dormant by then. I still need to clear our herb and flower beds and trim some bushes. But I'll leave those jobs for the occasional warm days we have through the winter when I'm dying to get outside and do something. Our apple trees could also use some winter pruning.

We've had several days of sixtyish degree days of late that I've greatly enjoyed enormously. As I write this evening, it's raining with a cold front moving in behind the rain. We're supposed to drop to daily highs in the thirties next week. As we still have stink bugs finding their way into the house, maybe the cold weather with freezing temperatures overnight will kill off the annoying bugs.

2021 Seed Orders

Johnny's Selected Seeds (9)
Fedco Seeds (9)
Twilley Seeds (6)
Burpee (3)
Turtle Tree Seed Initiative (2)
Outside Pride (1)
numbers in parentheses indicate the number of items ordered

Hoss Tools and SeedsIf you haven't finished your early seed orders or holiday shopping, it's definitely time to do so. Shippers are saying Monday (December 14, 2020) is the last safe day to order to ensure receiving shipments by Christmas.

Johnny's Selected Seeds got our seed order out to us in record time this year. We have other orders from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative and Burpee that are supposed to arrive next week. Our order with Fedco won't ship until they begin shipping in January, and Twilley Seeds, who last year sat on our order for a month before I threw a fit and got them to ship it, hasn't yet acknowledged the order I sent them last month.

I removed Twilley Seeds from our Others to Consider list on our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers this evening. Selling us seed with fraudulent germination numbers several years ago, last year's delay in shipping our seed, and this year's poor service has pretty well broken forty years of trust with us with them.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Wandering Jew cuttings in deep sixpack insertThere's not a lot of gardening action going on here these days. Our garden beds are pretty well prepared for next season, and it feels really cold outside.

I did move our Wandering Jew cuttings from their jar of water on our windowsill to a deep sixpack insert filled with sterile potting mix. They'd developed inch plus water roots. Even so, I treated the cuttings with some old rooting powder I had on hand. And then I took six or seven more cuttings from our kitchen Wandering Jew plant, placing them in a jar of water. I'll probably repeat this process one more time to ensure we get three or four good hanging baskets of Wandering Jew plants. One will go in a kitchen window with the rest adorning our back porch.

Southern Expsosure Seed Exchange 2021 catalog coverAn email from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange alerted me that their 2021 seed catalog was available. While I'll probably get a print copy sometime this month, I downloaded the online PDF version of it. While our initial seed orders for next season are complete, there are some outstanding products available from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange that we already have seed on hand for.

  • Abundant Bloomsdale spinachAbundant Bloomsdale Spinach - The Abundant Bloomsdale spinach variety is a relatively new, savoyed, dark green spinach bred by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) in partnership with organic farmers. The variety was released under the Open Source Seed Initiative. 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, although our seed saving has often produced hard seed that is difficult to germinate. We've found Abundant Bloomsdale to rival our old spinach favorites, America and Melody, in taste and plant vigor. It is a cold-hardy variety that is 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.
  • Crimson Sweet, Virginia Select Watermelon - On a whim, I ordered some of this variety last year and was really impressed with it. It seems to be a step up from our old favorite Crimson Sweet variety. It produces large, early melons with good flavor and healthy foliage.
  • Hungarian Spice Paprika PeppersYellow of ParmaHungarian Spice Paprika Pepper - This variety has become our main pepper for producing ground paprika. It's a bit fickle, requiring good soil and frequent waterings to produce a good crop. Do note that we often mix in some of our Earliest Red Sweet peppers in the ground paprika production.
  • South Anna Butternut Squash - In its first year in our East Garden plot, the South Anna Butternut Squash became a star in our garden. They produce fat squash with small seed cavities and have excellent flavor.
  • Yellow of Parma Onions - In our 2014 onion trials for open pollinated onion varieties, we came across the Yellow of Parma variety. It produces medium sized yellow onions with good flavor that store fairly well.

Time of the Year

With our garden plots in pretty good shape for next season, it's a lazy time of year. I do a little of this and that each day, but our surge into gardening for the next season, if the Lord grants me that time, is on hold until early January.

I'm patiently waiting on a few seed orders strangled in the Christmas shipping rush. And there's one where the vendor hasn't even acknowledged our December 5 order as yet.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Our Senior Garden - December 16, 2020WalmartWe had our first snow of the year this morning. We didn't get all that much, although it looked pretty this morning. By late afternoon, a lot of it had melted off. We got off easy compared to folks along the East Coast who may end up getting a foot or more of snow.

Gardening, I moved the four hostas that germinated from some saved seed to four inch pots this evening. The seed saving and starting plants was a bit of a lark. But if the plants survive, I'll find a place for them in our flowerbeds.

My most important effort today was doing our annual cleanup of affiliated advertiser ads. We lost some advertisers over the last year or so, but it takes some time to remove and/or replace the defunct ads. I use the global find/change function in Adobe Dreamweaver to make the updates.

Since well over fifty blog pages were updated, I didn't get to check them all after uploading the changes. If you run across a page that is totally trashed by the effort, please .

Habitat for Humanity

Thursday, December 17, 2020 - Top Ten Features/How-To's/Recipes

I'm going to indulge in some end-of-the year self-promotion today. As I do each December, I've assembled a listing of our most visited pages other than this home page. Here are, in order, the ten most read feature stories, how-to's, and recipes on Senior Gardening for 2020:

  1. Mulching with Grass Clippings Pickle relish recipe Growing Sweet Corn Cutworm Collars
    Mulching with Grass Clippings
  2. Sweet Pickle Relish (recipe)
  3. Growing Sweet Corn
  4. Cutworm Collars
  5. Our Tomato Cages
  6. Growing Melons
  7. Gloxinias (blog)
  8. Building a Raised Garden Bed
  9. Making a Sterile Potting Mix
  10. Growing Asparagus

Falling out of our top ten from last year are Growing Geraniums from Seed, Portuguese Kale Soup (story and recipe), Growing Tomatoes, and Gloxinia Photos.

Shortly after getting up this morning, I heard a rather sick sounding smoke alarm. Checking our alarms, I finally found the unit with the dying battery...in the attic of all places. That got me busy replacing batteries in the eight alarm units in our large, rambling house. I discovered that two alarms I'd replaced a few years ago don't have replaceable batteries. When their built in batteries expire, you have to replace the whole unit. So I replaced six batteries, writing the date on them in permanent marker. I was embarrassed to find a couple of the batteries had been in place for over two years!

David's Cookies

Friday, December 18, 2020 - Trimmed Gloxinias

Gloxinia that recently broke dormancy
Starting gloxinias from seed

Dormant gloxinias stored on dark shelvesOur gloxinia season came to an end yesterday. I still had about fifteen pots of gloxinias under our plant lights. Since I'd cut back watering them several weeks ago, the plants looked terrible with lots of withered leaves. Wanting to clear our plant rack of gloxinias, I trimmed each plant back to its corm with a pair of good scissors. Pushing the plants into dormancy by a possible premature pruning occasionally costs me a plant, but not often.

The trimmed plants were moved to shelves in a dark corner of our plant room. They'll remain there, unwatered, until they again put up some fresh growth.

We do have one gloxinia plant actively growing. It's one that broke dormancy several weeks ago. I gave it some fresh potting mix at that time, watered it, and moved it under our plant lights.

Starting More Gloxinias

I certainly don't need any more gloxinia plants, but I went ahead and started a new "pot" of gloxinias this morning. In our breeding of gloxinias, I have let a variety with incredible blooms sort of take over our plants. Unfortunately, that variety also produces huge, ungainly leaves. So starting some of the old Empress variety may bring leaf growth back under control as we hand pollinate and save seed from our plants.

I very sparingly used some of the last of a ten year old packet of commercial Empress seed I had in the freezer for the seeding. Gloxinia seed needs light to germinate, so I sprinkled the seed over a container filled with sterilized soil and topped with some vermiculite. I covered the container with clear wrap to admit light but hold in moisture.

Gloxinias grown from seed usually begin to bloom four to six months after seeding. Assuming the old seed germinates, I'm hoping the new plants will be in bloom when some of our old plants that will emerge from dormancy are in bloom for cross pollinating.

Seed Orders

Our seed orders from Burpee and Twilley arrived in the mail this week. Our Turtle Tree order has been delayed due the Post Office being overwhelmed. The last location the Post Office provided was Buffalo, New York, where I guess our package of seed and seed envelopes was snowed in! With the two orders that did come in, we have seed for all of the things we start in January (onions, geraniums, etc.).

GNRL Click & Grow

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Our Senior Garden - December 19, 2020Weather Underground Extended ForecastWe have a rainy day here today, but it's a few welcome degrees warmer than yesterday. Our weather outlook for the next ten days includes the possibility of snow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since I'm not giving or getting a sled for Christmas, that's no biggie to me, other than it might be pretty.

But we could get a real present on Monday. It appears that we will have a gloriously sunny day with a high temperature of fifty degrees that may permit some outside work.

As I looked out our kitchen window over our back yard this morning, I was pleased to see the bare spot where I'd finally trimmed Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. For some reason, not getting that job done had really annoyed me.

Back yard view Bonnie's Asparagus Patch cleared

Asparagus transplants under plant lightsYoung sage plantsBonnie's Asparagus Patch may get a few of the asparagus transplants I started towards the end of last month. I'm wondering now if I'll need to trim the plants and possibly move them to less crowded pots. The plants rate of growth will slow down, however, when I move them to a shelf in our sunroom.

Also under lights are some sage plants. They too will go to the sunroom where it's a lot cooler and the winter sunlight through the windows is variable.

Seed Scrooge?

Anytime I write about our gloxinias, it usually produces an email or two from folks hunting for gloxinia plants, corms, or seed. Gloxinia plants for sale seem to be nonexistent in the United States. A principal I worked for who also owned and operated a greenhouse once told me that his gloxinia plants came in air freight from Colombia. Apparently, that connection is no more.

Yesterday's posting produced a couple of emails. One reminded me that my links to Stokes Seeds for geranium and gloxinia seed were no longer good, as Stokes inexplicably left the retail flower and vegetable seed market. (Thanks, Debra.) I spent a few minutes correcting the most obvious bad links.

Another email came from someone overseas searching for gloxinia seed. I had an email all ready to send offering free seed when I remembered that I no longer give away seed. For years, I gave readers free seed for the endangered vegetable varieties I was trying to help preserve. Such generosity was usually rewarded with no reports of how the seed grew or even a simple thank you.

When some seed houses picked up and began offering some of our endangered varieties, I finally said, well no, I can't use those words here. But I ceased all seed giveaways last February. Call me a seed Scrooge.

Grassroots Seed Network

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sage before trimming
Sage plants cut back

Our bird feederIt was sunny today with a high temperature of almost 45° F. So after I filled our almost always empty bird feeder, I got started on my outdoor to-do list (for nice days). I cut back the two sage plants in our herb garden, pulled weeds, and somewhat trimmed back the oregano that threatens to take over the whole raised bed. I filled our four cubic foot garden cart with cuttings which will go onto our burn pile. Sage stems are too woody to go onto our compost pile. Besides, they should smell good when I burn them.

I have several more sage plants to trim. They're the ones that mark the corners and midway points of our large East Garden plot. Besides trimming the plants, there are lots of weeds growing close to those plants to pull. I chose to use sage as corner markers as sage is a perennial and is supposed to repel deer. I'm not sure about the repelling deer part, and I have to replace several of the eight sage marker plants each spring. But they are really pretty when they bloom and save me from having to re-measure the plot each spring.

About that Bird Feeder

The bird feeder shown above is a Droll Yankees Bird Feeder. After going through a bunch of cheapie feeders that lasted only a season or two, I shelled out some major bucks for the feeder on the advice of my late gardening friend, Don Smith. He'd absolutely raved about the feeder in an email.

After writing Don, telling him how happy I was with the then new feeder, he admitted his evaluation and recommendation was based on online reviews. He'd never seen or touched one! Our feeder is now five years old and seems to be holding up well, other than the birds emptying it all too quickly.

Required FTC Disclosure Statement

Some of our text links go to the sites of our Senior Gardening Advertisers. Clicking through one of our banner ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale.

Monday, December 21, 2020 - Winter Solstice 2020

Daylight for Merom, Indiana December 21, 2020
Daylight for Atqasuk, Alaska December 21, 2020

Today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. From Wikipedia, "...the winter solstice is the day with the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky." With today being our shortest day of sunlight of the year, daylight will begin getting slightly longer each day starting tomorrow. That is, of course, if you don't live in Atqasuk, Alaska, where it's 20 below zero at this writing and they'll have little to no daylight today.

The northern hemisphere will move to equal periods of light and dark on March 20, 2021, the Spring Equinox. And we'll finally top out on daylight during the Summer Solstice on June 20.

Jupiter Saturn Conjunction

Since I'm already on an astronomy kick today, let me remind you of the conjunction this evening of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. From the Scientific American, "An astronomical conjunction occurs when any two heavenly bodies appear to pass or meet each other as seen from Earth." They may appear to be just one point of light in the early night sky.

Stellarium view of Jupiter/Saturn Conjunction

Clear Skies Tonight - Yippee!I fired up my copy of the free, open source Stellarium software to see where and when the planetary conjunction would appear in our night sky (if it's clear tonight). This night map is only accurate for folks living in the midwest, of course. I have my copy of Stellarium set to the geographic coordinates of the middle of our back yard where I used to place our now broken telescope.

Gardening

If it's nice enough outside today, I hope to trim the sage plants around our East Garden. I also have on my to-do list to bring in flower seed, as it will soon be time to start petunias, vinca, dianthus, and such.

Later

Jupiter Saturn conjunction from our back porch

Without a telescope, it's impossible to get much separation of the two planets in conjunction. I'm eager to see what shots astrophotographers around the world get of this event. My best shot was one just after sunset.

1800Flowers

Wednesday, December 23, 2020 - Starting Egg Carton Petunias

My mother used to start seedlings in egg cartons on a kitchen windowsill. In a bit of a nostalgic mood, I tried starting petunias in egg cartons several years ago. The experiment turned out well, although the petunias quickly outgrew the small confines of an egg carton cell. I've continued to start our petunias for hanging baskets in egg cartons since that first try.

Petunias in egg carton on windowsill

Our hanging basket petunias were a bit of a disappointment last year. The first seeding didn't take. A subsequent seeding did okay. Unfortunately, when I moved the hanging baskets outside, persistent strong winds damaged the petunias. They often looked like one of those women's hair styles with their hair all swept to one side. That's attractive on some women, but not with baskets of petunias.

Double Cascade petuniasSupercascade petuniasSo with some trepidation, I again seeded a couple of egg cartons to petunias today. One carton was seeded to the Double Cascade variety, while the other got Supercascadesicon. Both varieties usually produce gorgeous hanging basket petunias...when I can keep them out of the wind.

I cut off and discard the narrow flap on the egg carton before splitting the egg cell section from the top. One of the advantages of styrofoam cartons over cardboard is that the top can go under the egg cell section as a watertight drip pan. Before putting the halves together, I punch a drainage hole in the bottom of each egg cell with a sharp pencil. That allows for future bottom watering.

The cells of the egg cartons get filled with sterilized starting mix. We make our own from potting soil and peat moss, heating it in the oven for an hour at 400° F to kill off any damping off fungus that might be present in potting soil. I've also tried using peat pellets in egg cartons but didn't have much luck with the pellets in egg cartons or otherwise.

Before seeding, I water the starting mix thoroughly with warm water. Our petunia seed comes as pelletized seed, so planting is just a matter of getting one seed in the center of each cell, something harder to do than it sounds. A few extra seeds do provide insurance in case not all of the centered seeds germinate.

Cutting egg carton Punching holes Halves assembled
Cutting egg carton Punching drainage holes in cells Halves reassembled
Watering Pellitized petunia seeds Seeding and melting pellet Under lights
Watering before seeding Petunia seeds (under arrows) Melting seed pellet Under lights, on heat pad

Petunia seed needs light to germinate, so I don't cover the seed. To help the pellet dissolve and release the seed on the soil surface, I go back and drip several drops of warm water on each seed with an eyedropper or an old syringe.

Egg cartons seeded to petunias

I part with Mom's practice of just setting the egg carton on a windowsill to germinate, as it's a bit cold on our available windowsill these days. Petunias also benefit from a bit of bottom heat during germination, so ours go into a planting tray with a clear cover on our heat mat and under our plant lights. Our soil mat thermostat has a probe that goes right into the soil, so we can be pretty exact with our seed starting temperatures. For petunias, I set our thermostat at 75° F. A warm, sunny windowsill might work as well.

Once germinated, I'll keep the petunias on the heat mat for a day or two before removing the clear cover and shutting off the heat. They will acclimate a bit to the cooler conditions under our plant lights in the basement before being moved to our kitchen windowsill. The petunias have to be watered almost daily once they get started, due to the small size of the egg cells. The egg carton tops used as drip pans make bottom watering pretty easy.

After four to six weeks, the petunias will outgrow their egg cells and get moved to fourpacks and go back under our plant lights. At that point, I usually start more petunias (in egg cartons) to be used in our garden and flowerbeds. In early March, I begin transplanting three petunias each to ten inch hanging baskets (without the hangers attached), still leaving them under our plant lights.

When the weather begins to moderate a bit in late March, the hanging baskets go out to a protected area on our back porch. On sunny days without a lot of wind, the baskets get hung. Since they're pretty portable, the hanging baskets can easily come back inside on nights when frost is predicted.

Burpee Seed Company

Friday, December 25, 2020 - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11 (ASV)

The image above is a "scene from a life size nativity at the Luxembourg Christmas market." It was taken in 2006 by graphic artist Debbie Schiel who lives in Far North Queensland, Australia, and shared on the royalty-free stock.xchng site. The scripture was copied from my installation of the free Macintosh Online Bible. There's also a free version for Windows users. On my iPhone, I currently use the ESV Bible app.

Best wishes from Annie and I to you for a joyous and fulfilling holiday season.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Our seed starting tray on a soil heating mat is now full. Having previously started petunias and gloxinias, I seeded some trailing vinca and impatiens for hanging baskets, and some saved dianthus seed for our flowerbeds today. I think that will probably do our seedings until early January. Then we'll be starting our geraniums and onions.

Tray of flowers getting started

The covered pot shown in the tray above is the vinca. It needs total darkness to germinate, but also needs a bit of bottom heat. So it went into the starting tray under our plant lights and over a soil heating mat, but covered with a couple of layers of black plastic trash bag. Everything else in the tray requires light for germination.

Starting seed this early can be a little risky. The plants could grow too fast and stunt before getting uppotted or going into the ground. But much of this stuff needs 12-16 weeks from seeding to transplant stage. Sixteen weeks from today will be April 17!

I'm sure I'll mention this again next month, but if you're wondering about when to start vegetable and flower transplants, Johnny's Selected Seeds' Seed-Starting Date Calculator should give you some direction. You will need to enter your frost free date, easily available from the Dave's Garden site by simply entering your zip code.

Our last initial seed order arrived in the mail on Wednesday. The Turtle Tree Seed Initiative mailed the order on December 9. It took just over two weeks to get here, disappearing at times from postal service tracking.

It wasn't a big order, some paprika pepper seed and a hundred seed envelopes. The blank seed packets were something I really needed, as I was down to less than a dozen blank seed envelopes. Of course, the new envelopes are slightly longer than my previous ones. That will require me adjusting my seed envelope printing templates.

Hoss Tools

Monday, December 28, 2020

Closeup of just emerged gloxinia plants
Baby glox in pot

A just germinated petuniaThe Empress gloxinias I seeded on December 18 began emerging today. Having used some ten year old seed, I had gotten a little worried after nine days of seeing no sprouts. In about four weeks, the plants will have started small corms and be ready to be moved to fourpack inserts.

Adding to my pleasant surprises, a few of our egg carton petunias seeded on Wednesday have come up already. They're tiny, slender seedlings. Neither the gloxinias nor the petunias are ready to come off the soil heating mat.

Beyond being delighted that some of our seeds had germinated, I didn't do any gardening today. Instead I worked in the kitchen all afternoon.

I've turned out to be the main cook in our house. It's not because I'm good at it, but is simply what made sense. When I was teaching, I got home an hour and a half before Annie. So she and our girls had to put up with my cooking.

St. Jude Children's Research HospitalNow in retirement with Annie still working, I again do most of the cooking as a matter of practicality. I'm lucky that my mother took the time to teach me the basics of cooking when she was going to be in the hospital for a week or so.

I started off by using our leftover Christmas ham to make ham salad.

Then I moved on to making chicken and dumplings for dinner. I'd tried doing so a month ago and produced a total flop. This time around I started by boiling down some chicken breasts and skins. After boning, I cheated a bit by adding a good bit of Swanson's Chicken Broth. Chopped onion, garlic, celery, and carrots were added to the broth. For the drop dumplings, I relied on an online recipe from A Taste of Home.

It turned out well.

Fruit Bouquets

Thursday, December 31, 2020 - Month and Year Wrap-up

December, 2020, animated GIF of Our Senior GardenAmazonThis was a good year to be focused on gardening. If for no other reason, gardening helped keep my mind off of all the horrible things that went on this year. I once had a coffee mug that said, "Gardening: Cheaper than therapy...and you get tomatoes." So true.

Our December has been an easy one. Most of our end-of-season chores are done, with the few remaining being ones that can be done on our occasional warm, winter days.

I picked the last of our kale. I also placed and received almost all of our seed orders for next season. Only our Fedco order remains out as they don't begin shipping until January 4. We have sage, hosta, gloxinias, petunias, vinca, dianthus, and some asparagus started or seeded.

Our gardening year was the usual mix of wonderful harvests punctuated by the occasional failure. I finally was able to save viable Goliath broccoli seed. Even with the seed saving, we have lots of broccoli and cauliflower in our freezer. Our onion and garlic both produced excellent crops that are now in storage in our basement. While our tomatoes got off to a rough start, our pantry is now filled with canned whole tomatoes and tomato purée. Likewise, other shelves of the pantry have green beans and kale soup. Our freezer still has lots of peas, asparagus, and sweet corn remaining.

Sadly, our fall carrot crop failed and our spring crop isn't storing very well in the refrigerator. We also had disappointing crops of spinach. And a major planting of Eclipse and Encore supersweet peas totally failed, leaving me with just enough seed to start over with. Even with the two varieties coming off PVP patent protection next year, I won't produce enough seed to share any.

We had excellent crops of melons, squash, and pumpkins. While we enjoy some of that produce, most of it goes to our local food bank. While that may not do much for my stomach, it makes my heart feel good.

Here's hoping this posting finds you in good health in this time of pandemic. Happy New Year, a few hours early.

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