Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

January 15, 2020

Wednesday, January 1, 2020 - Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!


Friday, January 3, 2020 - Peppers

Our Senior Garden - January 3, 2020Growing PeppersHaving not published a how-to article in over a year, I got busy this week and finished one on Growing Peppers. I'd put off writing this article, as my knowledge about peppers is rather limited. That made for a lot of necessary research and links to folks who really do know about growing peppers.

There's also the painful memory of a really bad experience I had picking hot peppers almost forty years ago. A couple of sage links may give you a hint of my extreme discomfort all those years ago.

I've not grown hot peppers ever since, so my knowledge of them is limited to what I know about growing bell and paprika peppers. Fortunately, the growing requirements are about the same.

Some of the fun in writing such a piece is being able to shower the page with colorful images.

Peppers - 2008 Peppers - 2009 Peppers - 2011
Kettle of 2011 peppers 2013 peppers with chocolate peppers Bucket of 2018 Earliest Red Sweet peppers
2019 -Hungarian Spice Paprika Peppers

And no, those long red peppers in the image above aren't hot peppers. They're Hungarian Spice Paprika Peppers, a rather mild, but slightly spicy pepper for making ground paprika.

Sunday, January 5, 2020 - TurboTax

Our Senior Garden - January 5, 2020TurboTaxIt certainly isn't a gardening item, but I ordered TurboTax 2019icon today from Sam's Club. Intuit is sponsoring a $10 off sale that runs through January 11. If you're not a Sam's Club member, Amazon is also participating in the special pricing.

Note: After checking some other online outlets, it appears that not all of them are participating in the sale. Some had TurboTax priced as much as $20 more than the sale price at Sam's and Amazon!

After one of the grayest days yesterday that we've had of late, today is bright and sunny. Sadly, the wind is howling, spoiling a sunny day with fairly moderate temperatures (mid-40s).

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Egg carton opened up for wateringEgg carton petunias on windowsillThe petunias for hanging baskets I started last month in egg cartons were ready to be moved to a kitchen windowsill today. I had a couple of empty egg cells to fill from ones I'd double seeded. And the petunias got a final watering in the tray they've been growing in.

The bottoms of the egg cartons, the part with the egg cells, fits into the egg carton tops which serve as drip pans. I pull the drip pans and pour water into them, replacing the egg cell parts in them. It's sort of hard to describe in words as the egg carton tops become bottoms, and the bottoms with the egg cells fit into the tops.

Because of the small volume of soil in the egg carton cells, the petunias will require watering almost every day. The petunias will remain on the windowsill for about a month before they begin to outgrow their egg carton cells. Then, they'll get transplanted into fourpack inserts and go back under our plant lights, as fourpacks won't fit on the windowsill. After several weeks in fourpacks, they'll get transplanted into hanging baskets.

I'm sure our egg carton petunias may seem like the hard way to do this. But it's a nostalgia thing for me, as my mother used to start plants in egg cartons on our kitchen windowsill. And now, I've come to like having the plants for a month or so in the kitchen.

Sam’s Club

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

REII started a few things yesterday. I seeded trailing impatiens, vinca, dianthus, and sage. The impatiens and vinca are for hanging baskets. I'll seed more vinca in a few weeks to go into our garden. The dianthus just takes a long time to develop and flower. I used seed saved in 2016 and 2017 for that planting. The sage is for replacement plants in our East Garden. We use sage there as corner and halfway markers for the plot. Sadly, the sage plants I brought inside appear to have all died, necessitating the seeding today.

The impatiens dianthus, and sage all need light to germinate. So their seed got sprinkled across the top of the soil and lightly covered with vermiculite. The vinca requires total darkness to germinate. So it got a heavy layer of vermiculite over the seed and its pot covered with a piece of black plastic. All four four inch starter pots went into a tray over a soil heating mat set at 76° F.

Here are a couple of very good pages on growing impatiens from seed:

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Victory Seeds 2020 Catalog CoverBotannical Interests 2020 Catalog CoverI downloaded the 2020 Victory Seeds catalog yesterday. I haven't received a paper print version of it yet, possibly because of a lack of recent orders on my part. Also, Victory Seeds always sends their catalog out a good bit later than many other seed vendors, generally after I've placed my seed orders.

The catalog cover this year is stunningly beautiful. It is probably the best of the bunch of seed catalog covers I've looked at this year!

Victory Seeds is a truly family owned and operated business specializing in older and heirloom seed varieties. Their sixty-four page catalog offers eighteen pages of tomato varieties! There are also lots of bean (and other) varieties offered.

I took a look at the 2020 Botanical Interests seed catalog online today. It doesn't offer a download link. Again, I didn't get a paper version, as we haven't ordered from them since 2014. We did get some nice garlic with that order.

Botannical Interests offers a nice selection of open pollinated vegetable varieties.

Seed Catalog Covers

I suspect a lot of hard work by photographers, artists, and layout folks goes into creating seed catalog covers. Below are the covers from the mainline seed houses we frequently order from. Clicking on a cover image will open a larger version of it in a new tab or window. Clicking on the name of the seed house should take you to their home page.

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 R.H. Shumway Seed Savers Exchange Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
High Mowing Organic Seeds Johnny's Selected Seeds R.H. Shumway Seed Savers Exchange Southern Exposure
Seed Exchange
Stokes Seeds Territorial Seed Company The Exchange Turtle Tree Seed Initiative
Stokes Seeds Territorial Seed Company The Exchange Turtle Tree Seed Initiative
Victory Seed Company West Coast Seeds Baker Creek's Whole Seed Catalog
Victory Seeds West Coast Seeds Whole Seeds

A bit more information about them appears on our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers.

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening FTC 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 9, 2020- Dianthus and Petunias

Dianthus emergingDianthus in herb gardenTo my pleasant surprise, the dianthus I seeded on Monday are up already. It appears that we may get about two dozen plants from the seeding, possibly far more than I'll need. Although planted from seed saved in 2016 and 2017, our dianthus go back to a packet of Carpet Series Mixed dianthus purchased in 2008. The carpet series produces lovely plants with a variety of colors, although reds dominate. While classed as biennials, we often have plants bloom into their third year.

When I did the seeding on Monday, I was surprised at the vials of dianthus seed we'd saved over the years. If you'd like to try some, send me an email request that includes your mailing address.

While two dozen dianthus sounds like a lot to me now, I ran across a photo from 2013 when I transplanted dianthus from a communal pot to seventy-two cells!

Flat of dianthus

Double Cascade petunia starts in egg cartonsDouble Cascades in two closest potsOur egg carton petunias that I brought upstairs this week seem to love their kitchen windowsill. They're putting on good growth, although I'm having to be careful to water them as needed. So far, that watering has been every other day. Because of the small egg cell size, I'll soon be watering them every day.

While sometimes listed as trailing petunias, I've found that our Supercascades and Double Cascades have a pretty upright growth. But they do really well in hanging baskets on our back porch.


After patiently waiting for an unfilled order from December 12 with Twilley Seeds, I began to raise a little polite hell with them over the weekend. That produced a brusque response from them, but also got my order out the door and into my hands this week.

Another go-to seed supplier over the years, Stokes Seeds, has similarly failed this year to get our order to us. I filed an online order on December 23, an obviously poor time to do an online order with the holidays. Needing a couple of onion varieties I should plant right now, I wrote their customer service (without response) and then their president. I got a prompt email response from President Wayne Gayle and a phone call from a customer service person who said my order was being processed. Alas, the order still remains in limbo. Orders with Johnny's Selected Seeds and the Turtle Tree Seed initiative filed the same day as the Stokes order arrived in just four or five days.

I've long recommended that the Seed Savers Exchange should get their annual exchange yearbook of member offerings out at a reasonable time to be useful for their members. We got our yearbook last year in late January, an improvement over past years, but still a totally unacceptable date for the yearbook to be truly useful to their members. We're still waiting on our yearbook.

Something Else

Our Senior Garden - January 8, 2020The days are getting longeerI didn't have the energy or time to get this up yesterday. I took our sometimes daily splashshot of our raised garden beds late in the afternoon with the sun low in the sky. Late, by winter standards. The sun was clearly in the photo, but what I took turned out to be fairly pretty. While the winter sun is still low in the sky, but we're gaining minutes of daylight each day.

Charity: Water

Friday, January 10, 2020

Our Senior Garden - January 10, 2020Corn dogIt's raining bucketfulls today. I knew it was going to storm last night, as one of our dogs, Petra, heads for the landing on the stairs just before storms roll in. She's a rescue dog that apparently developed a fear of storms before she was picked up and placed in the Gibson County Animal Shelter. My softhearted wife, Annie, adopted Petra a day before the dog was scheduled to be euthanized. Petra has turned out to be one of the best and most lovable dogs we've ever had.

The Weather folks on TV are saying we could be getting up to 3-5 inches of rain before this is all over.

I'd hoped to start onions today, but still don't have all the onion seed I need. Stoke Seeds continues to delay shipping my order for some reason. Only after sending Stokes President Wayne Gayle a rather terse COB message this afternoon, I received notification that our order is ready to go out (Shipping Label Created). That doesn't mean that the Post Office has it in their system, it just means that someone at Stokes finally created a shipping label.

Of our four longest running seed suppliers (Burpee Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Stokes Seeds, and Twilley Seeds), two (Stokes and Twilley) have given us really unsatisfactory buying experiences this year. Only the fact that we've had a mostly satisfactory relationship with all four for over forty years gives me cause not to add the two to my When Hell Freezes Over list of companies I will never do business with again.

Eagles: Hell Freezes OverOf course, the old saying that one should never say never comes to mind as I write this section. Don Henley's line that later named an Eagles' live album and their most successful tour may also figure into this thought process. "The album name is in reference to a quote by Don Henley after the band's breakup in 1980. Henley was asked in an interview about when the band would play together again, to which he responded 'when Hell freezes over.'" (Credit: Wikipedia) At the beginning of the concert recorded for the Eagle's Hell Freezes Over album, the late Glenn Frey joked to the audience: "For the record, we never broke up; we just took a 14-year vacation."

Courtesy of a couple of our kids, Annie and I got to see an Eagles concert in 2018. Sadly, Glenn Fry had passed by that time, but his oldest son, Deacon Frey, and country star Vince Gill took over Frey's vocals in excellent fashion. It was a great concert.

Not able to start anything today, I really should stop rambling and write something about gardening.

Timing Seed Starting

Dave's Garden Frost Page for 47882When we start our flower, herb, and vegetable transplants from seed is based on past experience and also from a very helpful interactive tool from Johnny's Selected Seeds, their Seed-Starting Date Calculator. Entering an average frost free date obtained from Dave's Garden, the seed-starting calculator yields a long list of vegetables and flowers with date ranges of when to start them. Sadly, the Johnny's calculator isn't all inclusive, as it only lists stuff they sell seed for. 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).

Johnny's Seed Starting Calculator

You'll notice that I've entered our local frost free date in the image of the calculator above.

While an image above shows our garden surrounded by fog, it has cleared now...only because it's raining like crazy again.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

...who got us our seed order two days after it was placed!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Our Senior Garden - January 12, 2020Weather Underground Extended ForecastThe rain has finally stopped. We ended up getting just a little less than three inches of precipitation in two days. The creek just down the road from us has overflowed its banks, but isn't over the bridge on the road over it. There's standing water in lots of places where there usually isn't.

While it's cold outside today, our extended forecast shows some fairly nice days coming this week. I still need to remove the stalks from our asparagus patch, remove some mulch from our main raised bed, and do something with some surviving spinach I haven't had the heart to pull in one of our narrow raised beds.

Inside, I've sterilized potting mix for an anticipated planting of onions this week. I also did some cleaning of our downstairs plant room, as I hadn't swept up spilled potting mix there for some time. And I pulled our sage and vinca starts off the heat mat and moved them closer under a plant light.

Dianthus, vinca, and sage starts

I also realized last week that I hadn't been saving paper coffee cups to use in the spring as cutworm collars. So I started bringing in my used coffee cups from road trips, rinsing and drying them, saving them for their spring duty.

Now, it's time to go watch some football on TV.

Renee's Garden

Monday, January 13, 2020 - Starting Onions (from seed)

One can grow good onions in the garden starting with onion sets, purchased onion plants, or by starting seed to grow ones own transplants. We've done it all three ways over the years, using purchased onion plants last year for our sweet onions that failed to germinate. But for cost and the availability of many onion seed varieties, we choose to grow our own onion transplants each year.

Over the past five years, we've started our onions at some point in January. When doing some extensive (for us) Onion Trials in 2014, I did start a test tray in early December, but followed it up with later plantings in January and early February.

Seeding Onions

Getting ready to plantOnion seed packets and row labelsI plant our onions in rows in seed flats running down the longest flat dimension. Since standard 1020 seed flats are rather flimsy and a full tray of wet potting soil is rather heavy, we used to double our seed flats for better strength, using a slotted tray inside a solid tray. A few years ago, we switched to a standard, slotted seed flat in a heavy duty Perma-Nesticon plant tray.

I had "sterilized" some planting medium several days ago in anticipation of this planting. Since a seed flat takes just over half a kettle of potting mix, I had to sterilize some more this morning to plant two flats of onions. Our sterile potting mix this time was a half and half mix of commercial potting soil and Pro-Mix. Often, it's a mix of potting soil and peat moss. Since Pro-Mix and peat moss can run a bit acid, I add a sprinkle of lime to the mix.

I baked the mix in the oven in a heavy stainless steel pot at 400° F for an hour and a half to kill any potential damping off fungus. If you've ever had newly started plants topple over at the base, often with a light circle or thinning at the base of the stem where they fell over, you've probably experienced damping off, a fungus sometimes present in commercial potting mixes. One can get around the problem by using soilless starter mixes or by sterilizing the mix yourself.

After filling the seed flats with sterile potting mix, I water the soil with very warm, non-softened water before seeding. Pro-Mix and peat moss will absorb warm water, but resist absorbing cold water. I let the soil cool down before placing any seed in it.

Onion flats on soil heating mats and under plant lights
Thermostats controlling heat mats

Planting seed flat to onionsTo plant, I make four quarter inch deep furrows lengthwise down the seed flats with a ruler. Most any straight edge will do the job. In a pinch, I once used our cheese grater to make the furrows! The tool really isn't important. A straight furrow of the proper depth is what you want.

I label each row at either end with an inexpensive plastic label. Note that we reuse our plastic plant labels year after year by soaking them in a bleachwater solution for a few days to remove the permanent marker labeling on them. The bleach and a little scrubbing removes almost all of the marker, and the bleach sterilizes the labels.

I do my best when seeding onions to space the seed at half inch intervals in the rows. "My best" usually means one could find three seeds on top of each other in places, but almost no gaps in the row. I'd rather thin than reseed.

Then I pinch the soil over the seed and firm it with the ruler or my hand.

Onion seed should germinate well at room temperature. Since our basement plant room runs a little cool this time of year, I put our trays of onion seed on thermostatically controlled soil heating mats set to 75° F. The trays were covered with clear humidity domes to hold in heat and soil moisture. The soil heating mats and trays are under our plant lights so that early germinating seed will get some light.

I'll probably not have to water the trays until the seed germinates, but might have to mist the soil with Captan if any moss or mold begins to form on the soil surface.

The slender onion plants should agreeably pop up in 4-7 days.

Onion Varieties

We have a nice mix of seed for our onion planting this year. Since onion seed doesn't store very well beyond a year, six of the nine varieties seeded are from fresh seed. When I did our seed inventory in December, I pitched a lot of old onion seed.

For sweet onions, we'll rely again on the old open pollinated favorite, Walla Walla. Last year's Walla Wallas were grown from plants purchased at Walmart as our supposedly fresh Walla Walla seed failed to germinate properly. While our sweet onions were smaller than usual, they stored far longer than sweet onions usually do.

Our yellow storage onions include the open pollinated Yellow of Parma and Clear Dawn varieties. We'll also grow some Milestone hybrids, a consistently good performer.

For red storage onions, we're trying the Red Bull hybrid for the first time. We grew the open pollinated Red Sunset variety for the first time last year and were quite satisfied with it. We'll also grow some open pollinated Rossa di Milano (if the 2018 seed germinates) and Red Creole varieties. Red Creole is a short day variety more suited for growing in the south. Here in west central Indiana, our Red Creoles mature early producing small but flavorful onions a full month before our other varieties mature.

Our single white onion variety will again be Southport White Globe.

Note that one could direct seed onions into their garden plot, but I don't recommend it. The onions get a late start that way and won't mature until fall. Also, baby onion starts are small and would require a lot of careful weeding around them.

Here's a couple of our articles dealing with growing onions:

  • How We Grow Our Onions - We grow our onions in tight, intensive gardening areas with excellent results. (August 6, 2014)
  • 2014 Onion Trials - Sensing that some of the hybrid onions we've grown for years may be discontinued soon, we tried nine new-to-us onion varieties this year, many of them heirloom varieties. (July 28, 2014)

Botannical Interests

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Texas NachosGehl's Nacho Cheese SauceA couple of orders from Walmarticon came in yesterday. The first was a heavy box of Gehl's Nacho Cheese Sauceicon for our annual Super Bowl treat of Texas Nachos. Gehl's stopped selling their retail sized boxes of cheese sauce several years ago, but their sauce makes the difference in our Texas Nachos. So I ordered what was available, two fifty ounce packages of the cheese sauce. That comes out to 6.25 pounds of the stuff.

The second Walmart order was a pickup order correcting a mistake with our original order. I'd ordered three heavy duty Perma-Nesticon trays, but only got one in the first pickup. The second pickup had the other two. By using Walmart's ship-to-store option, I saved a few bucks on shipping. The trays are really expensive ($10-12 each) compared to standard seed flats, but I've built up a good supply of them by ordering one or two (or three) each year. While durable, these plastic trays can get brittle if left out in the sun too much. I broke three of ours this last season by dropping or stepping on them.

Ordering Garden Seed

I'd guess a lot of folks are just now getting around to ordering garden seed for next season. We have to order at least some of ours early, as we start petunias and vincas for hanging baskets, seed geraniums, onions, and some herbs in January.

With some time on my hands yesterday, I put together a couple of tables that may or may not prove helpful in gardeners' selection of seed vendors. All of the companies listed below are included on our listing of Recommended Seed Suppliers. That means I think they're one of the good guys among garden seed vendors.

There is a bit of inherent unfairness in this comparison. Some of the orders crossed two holidays and weekends. Others did not. Some companies were generous in allowing employees days off during the holidays. One, Fedco Seeds, clearly stated on their site that they would not begin filling orders until January 2, 2020.

Time to Fill Seed Orders This Year
Date Order Placed
Date Order Received
Days to fill order

Burpee Seeds

December 12, 2019 December 14, 2019 2
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds December 12, 2019 December 16, 2019 4
Johnny's Selected Seeds December 23, 2019 December 27, 2019 4
Fedco Seeds December 14, 2019 January 6, 2020 4*
Turtle Tree Seed Initiative December 23, 2019 December 28, 2019 5
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange December 12, 2019 December 23, 2019 11
Seed Savers Exchange December 23, 2019 January 4, 2020 12
Stokes Seeds December 23, 2019 January 13, 2020 21**
Twilley Seeds December 12, 2019 January 8, 2020 27**
* Fedco began shipping orders January 2
** Processing of order only began after I contacted company and complained - backorder not filled until I complained in February

Shipping Charges

I tried to figure out a way to include shipping charges in the table above, but it wouldn't fit without really reducing the print size. Then I thought it might be helpful to show folks what my actual shipping charges were for each order I placed along with the sellers' published shipping rates. Note that the arrows by some sellers indicate that charges can go up or down with the dollar value of the order.

Minimum Shipping Rates (2020) What I Paid for Shipping

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - free shipping

Fedco - $6 ↓ (free shipping for orders over $30)
BurpeeBurpee Seed Company - $3.95 ↑
Turtle Tree Seed Initiative - $3.00 ↑
Seed Savers Exchange - $3.00 ↑
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - $3.50 ↑ (orders up to $10 )
Twilley Seeds $5 ↓ (drops on orders over $25)
Johnny's Selected Seeds - $4 ↑ (orders up to $10)
Stokes Seeds - $7.95 (flat rate)

I found a couple of years ago that when ordering heavy stuff such as bean, pea, or sweet corn seed from the Seed Savers Exchange, their shipping is cheaper on mail orders. When I called to inquire about the difference in shipping rates, a very polite customer service agent told me that online orders are computed by shipping weight while the standard shipping charge applies to mail orders.

It's not a bad idea to do a web search for coupon or promo codes for free shipping or other discounts from seed houses. Such offers become pretty scarce towards spring. And even reliable seed houses fudge a bit with ads and emails advertising "Free Shipping," when the offer is often free shipping on orders of $50, $60, or even far more from some seed houses.

Habitat for Humanity

Friday, January 17, 2020

There's not any gardening going on here today. I was pleased this morning to find that some of our onions seeded on Monday are emerging.

Onions emerging

I also noticed in the last few days some stringy white moss or mold forming on the soil surface. I've sprayed it with Captan, so there goes any organic onions for this year. And actually, since we grow our onions in raised beds bordered by treated landscape timbers, we can't call anything grown there as organic.

As to the Captan fungicide, we use it to control soil molds and mosses, on the cut sides of our seed potatoes, and as seed treatment on our pea seed that we plant in early March.

Burpee Seed Company

Sunday, January 19, 2020 - Sorta Starting Geraniums

Our trays of onion starts should be ready to come off their soil heating mats by Tuesday. I'll be replacing the trays of onions on the heating mats with seed geraniums and got a start on the geraniums today.

My track record with growing geraniums from seed is a bit spotty (2009, 2010). Looking for a bit of seed geranium wisdom, I looked at several web sites on the subject, but found my best advice from a couple of old favorite garden authors.

AmazonCrockett's Flower GardenA tip from the late Nancy Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook is well taken:

"Geranium seeds can be erratic in germination. Try rolling the seeds in damp paper towels and letting them 'pre-soak' in this way for two days before planting in flats."

The late James Underwood Crockett in Crockett's Flower Garden echoes Bubel's advice with another suggestion:

"Geranium seeds have a tough outer surface. If something isn't done to crack or soften this shell, germination is difficult. Most seed houses sell scarified seeds, which have been scraped to give the seeds a better chance to sprout. If you don't buy scarified seeds, it's a good idea to soak them for 24 hours in warm water."

Scarifying geranium seed with an emery boardGeraniums seed on damp coffee filterI decided to combine the two authors' advice along with a combination of some of our previous germination methods. I very lightly scarified the geranium seed today. I simply scraped each geranium seed across the narrow dimension of a fresh emery board. Then I placed the seed on damp brown coffee filters, bagging them to provide a bit of seed soaking (not quite stratification, but close). While I've germinated geranium seed on paper towels and coffee filters for years, I plan to move some of the seed to small pots of sterilized potting mix on Tuesday well before the seed germinates. I'll do that because geranium seed germinates at a slightly higher rate when it receives a little light. The seed will go into the small pots with just a bit of vermiculite surrounding it. The rest of the seed will serve as backups for pots where the seed doesn't come up.

The bags of geranium seed were moved to a rather warm area of our dining room.

For years, I was able to start good geraniums without scarification or stratification, but something seemed to change about the seed we receive about five or ten years ago. So now, I play it safe with the somewhat expensive seed and take some extra steps to get a good bunch of geranium plants. I'd suggest only employing the methods described above if you've had trouble in the past germinating geranium seed.

David's Cookies

Monday, January 20, 2020 - MLK Day

Getting plant rack readyGloxinia breaking dormancyToday was a preparation day. I moved our trays of onions off their soil heating mats and lowered our plant lights over them. That freed up our two soil heating mats for starting geraniums on them tomorrow.

I moved one of the mats to the second shelf of our plant rack, stringing its power and sensor cords. Having both soil heating mats on one shelf is something new, but should make working our plants a bit easier.

I also moved the last of our still growing gloxinias from our dining room table to the bottom shelf of our plant rack. Using the bottom shelf for the gloxinias was a bit of protection for our onions and other plants. Our cats tend to treat trays full of potting mix and onions as litter boxes!

While working the gloxinias, I thought to check our trays of dormant plants. I was a bit surprised to find that one gloxinia had broken dormancy and put up some pale green growth. The gloxinia got repotted in fresh potting soil and thoroughly watered.

I wound up my geranium seeding preparations this evening by filling twenty-one three inch pots with sterilized potting mix. I'll probably move more seed to such pots tomorrow, but ran out of sterile potting mix. I have a kettle of soil sterilizing in the oven right now.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 - Starting Geraniums

Geranium seed germinated on coffee filterGerminated geranium seed moved to three inch potI began moving geranium seed from the coffee filters they'd been soaking on to three inch pots of sterilized potting mix today. I got an unexpected surprise when I opened the first coffee filter of seeds. Eight of the nine seeds in it had germinated in just two days. At that point, I'd only made five plant labels for the 2019 Maverick Red seed from Stokes Seeds. So my game plan for how much of each geranium variety to move to pots got upset early on.

The surprisingly quick germination continued as I worked through seven packets of six different geranium varieties. The good luck ended with a coffee filter of eleven Summer Showers ivy leaf geranium seeds from Twilley Seeds, none of which had germinated. Bad seed from Twilley is nothing new to us, especially ivy leaf geranium seed. On the odd chance that the variety is one of those that may need some light to improve germination, I left that packet out where it could receive some sunlight. I also seeded two seeds each to two pots of soil of the Summer Showers variety. The rest of the baggies of geranium seed in coffee filters went back to the same warm spot where they'd been. I suspect that warm spot was a bit warmer than I'd thought.

Seeds surrounded with vermiculite

The seeds in the pots got a very light covering with vermiculite. It helps hold in moisture while still allowing some light to reach the seeds.

Trays of geranium seed under lights and on soil heating mats

The trays of potted geranium seed were covered with clear humidomes and placed on soil heating mats set at 76° F. By seeding to pots instead of four- or sixpack inserts, I'll be able to move each plant off the soil heating mat as soon as it emerges. I did drop the fluorescent shoplight just over the tops of the humidomes after taking the shot above. As the geranium plants emerge, I want them to get as much light as possible.

Sort of working backwards here, before seeding, I bottomed watered the trays of pots of soil with boiling water. After letting the soil absorb the moisture, I top watered the pots of soil with very hot water with a bit of Captan fungicide mixed in. We've had some mold or moss growing on our trays of onions this month, so I thought a preventative application of the fungicide might head off trouble. I didn't do any seed transfers until the soil had cooled down to around 80-85° F.

I ended up with 13 pots seeded to Maverick Red geraniums, 8 to Maverick Mix, 6 to Pinto Mix, and 6 to Multibloom Mix. For our ivy leaf geraniums, I seeded 7 pots to Tornado Mix and 2 pots to the ungerminated Summer Showers Mix.

In all, forty-two pots got seeded to geraniums. Not every pot will produce a plant, even with having pre-germinated the seed on coffee filters. As it becomes obvious a plant isn't emerging from the soil, I'll re-seed with leftover seed now still in the coffee filters in ziplock bags.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020 - The Exchange

The Exchange 2020 coverGeranium upOur copy of The Exchange 2020 Yearbook arrived in today's mail. It's the paper version of all of the Seed Savers Exchange members' listings of saved seed offered for sale to others. If you're looking for an obscure open pollinated vegetable variety, the Yearbook or its online counterpart is the place to look.

The 2020 Yearbook contains 20,242 listings from 405 SSE members or listers of 15,023 unique varieties of vegetables. Members at the $50 or better membership fee automatically receive a copy of the Yearbook. I'm a cheapie $25 senior citizen rate member, but still received a copy. Last year when I'd dropped my membership, I still received a copy, possibly because I still had vegetable varieties listed.

I'd recommended in my Time to Let Go feature that SSE needed to "Get the annual print yearbook into members' hands in early January." While not even close to "early January," this year's Yearbook arrived a week earlier than last year.

Geranium Up

Well over half of the germinated geranium seeds I moved to pots of soil yesterday are showing signs of a plant emerging. Some, such as the one shown above are up and growing. We're obviously off to a good start with our geraniums this year.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Geraniums off soil heating matA2 Web HostingSome of our geraniums came off our soil heating mats today. Twenty-six of the forty two pots seeded got moved to plant trays with our shoplights closely over the tops of the plants. The sixteen pots of geranium seed still on the soil heating mat got a blast of heat, as I reset the thermostat to 80° F. That may get the remaining geranium seed going, but the main reason for the increased temperature was to accommodate a communal pot I seeded to Cora Cascade Mix trailing vinca for hanging baskets.

Tomorrow, I hope to begin re-seeding geranium pots showing no sign of germination from what's left of the seed started on coffee filters.

Dianthus and sage uppottedOur sage and dianthus started in communal pots were ready to move to larger quarters today. The sage went into a deep sixpack insert while the dianthus were moved to three fourpack inserts. The sage will require one more "uppotting" to four inch pots in a few weeks. The dianthus should be fine in fourpacks until we're ready to transplant them into flowerbeds.

Our Double Cascade petunias for hanging baskets now growing in egg cartons are quickly outgrowing their egg cells. Interestingly, the Supercascade petunias growing side-by-side with the Double Cascades aren't growing all that fast. I'll soon need to move the Double Cascades to fourpacks and move the plants back under our plant lights. When I do that, I'll seed another egg carton to petunia varieties we grow for our garden plots.

Double Cascade petunias growing in egg cartons

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Our Senior Garden - January 24, 2020REII started out early this morning moving geranium seeds to pots that appeared to have no germination. There weren't all that many to be filled. But I had more germinated seed on coffee filters than pots needing a seed, so I filled four more three inch pots with sterile potting mix and added multiple seeds to each pot. Barring a disaster, we should end up with about twice the number of geranium plants we'll need. Family members will be thrilled with the overflow.

With one of our egg cartons of petunias about ready to come off a kitchen windowsill, I started another egg carton of petunias this morning. This time I started a new-to-us variety from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative, Perseverance. Unlike our first batch of petunias for hanging baskets, these petunias along with some Celebrity petunias we'll start a bit later are for our garden plots and flowerbeds.

Jiffy Pellet RefillPeat pellets seeded to petuniasAn email yesterday from a reader of this site inquired about whether I had used peat pellets. I have. I tried starting both geraniums and petunias in them without much success in 2012. The peat pellets may not have been to blame, as we were experiencing getting some hard geranium seed at that time. After those failures, a full box of the pellets has just sat on a shelf in our basement plant room. Thinking I might give the pellets another try, I dropped twelve of them into an egg carton and watered them with near boiling water. The pellets quickly absorbed the warm water and swelled to their full size.

Tiny petunia seed along crease in paperEgg carton of petunias on soil heating mat under humidomeAnd then came the seed. Oh, my!

We get most of our petunia seed from Stokes and Twilley Seeds in pelletized form. There's a reason for that, as petunia seed is almost as small as the dustlike gloxinia seed we work with. Pelletizing the seed makes each seed large enough to deal with individually. I tried dropping one petunia seed in the top of each peat pellet but probably ended up with at least three seeds in each one! I also didn't cover the tiny seed with vermiculite as is my usual practice with petunias. I was afraid the seed would get lost in the stuff.

Plant rack getting fullWith more geraniums coming off our soil heating mat, there was just enough room to squeeze in the newly seeded egg carton of petunias. There are still fifteen pots of geraniums on the heating mat ranging from showing no germination to some that are up but need another day or two for their first leaves to open.

Our plant rack is quickly getting full, and that's a good thing. It means we're well underway in getting our garden transplants started. When it fills, we'll have to move some plants elsewhere.

The gloxinias on the bottom shelf continue to enter dormancy and get moved to a dark shelf in our plant room. We also use our sunroom for plant rack overflow. Since the sunroom is unheated, that means firing up an oil heater in the room in January and February. We can also move plants to our dining room table that sits by some large, east facing bay windows. I occasionally place hanging baskets of plants around the edge of our plant rack where they receive just enough light to keep the plants going. A larger plant rack, a heated cloche, or even a greenhouse would ease our plant crowding problems, but at nearly 72 years-of-age, I doubt any of those project will ever happen. grin

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Vinca seedlings moved to larger quartersWalmartOur Pacifica vinca seeded on January 6 have begun putting on their first true leaves and were ready for transplanting from their communal starter pot today. Since the plants had gotten a bit tall and spindly, I planted each one a good bit deeper in the soil than they'd been in the starter pot. I used one fourpack insert and three three inch pots for the transplanting.

I'd been sparing in seeding the vinca, as the Pacifica variety is one more suited to our garden plots than hanging baskets. Since vinca grow very slowly, the Pacifica should hold well until spring when they'll decorate our raised garden beds. While slow growers, vincas eventually reward gardeners with beautiful displays of blooms right up until the first frost.

I have some Cora Cascade Mix trailing vinca for hanging baskets germinating on our soil heating mat. That seed came in late, so I got the garden vinca seeded ahead of that for hanging baskets, the reverse of the usual.

After situating the transplanted vincas under our plant lights, I raised a couple of the lights to grab shots of our geraniums and onions. The geraniums are still really small. The onions are about ready for their first trimming. Without periodic trimming, the onions fall over and become a real mess.

Baby geraniums Onion plants

Adjusting the level of our plant lights will become a near daily activity from here on out. Interestingly, watering is only required weekly for most of the plants. With the onions large surface area of soil, they will need watering every four days or so.


Sunday, January 26, 2020 - Refried Beans

Recipe for Refried Kidney BeansFruit BouquetsMy wife made some delicious goulash last week. She only used a half pint of our canned kidney beans, and she suggested the other half pint in the fridge would be good as refried beans. That sure sounded like a hint to me.

When I was working in our plant room yesterday morning, I noticed several sprouts sticking out of our bags of stored onions. When I checked, we didn't have any rot in the onions, but the sprouted onions had to go, as they would soon rot. (Well, a couple of the onions were a bit slimy.) But two of the onions were in pretty good shape and came upstairs with me.

After supper, I noticed that the pan we'd used to fry tenderloins for supper was the same one I use to make refried beans from our canned kidney beans. So...I was off and running making a small batch of refried beans.

While our online recipe calls for two pints of beans, the leftover beans in the fridge meant slightly altering the recipe. I went with two more pint jars of beans along with the half pint of leftovers and slightly nudged up the other ingredients.

Without reproducing our whole feature for refried kidney beans, here's the quick version of the recipe.

Ingredients Quick Directions
Olive oil or bacon drippings (cut salt amount if using bacon drippings)
1 medium sized onion
5 garlic cloves
2 pints canned kidney beans
1 tsp  lemon juice
4 Tbsp Taco Seasoning
1 tsp+ Canning salt
1/4-1/2 cup chicken broth (preferably Swanson's)
  1. Sauté finely chopped onions and garlic until translucent in olive oil and/or bacon drippings
  2. Rinse canned kidney beans
  3. Add kidney beans, lemon juice, taco seasoning, salt, and chicken broth
  4. Allow to simmer for ten minutes or so
  5. Begin smashing beans with wooden spoon or puree them in a food processor
  6. Simmer a bit if the mixture is a bit runny

Lunch today will almost certainly include burritos with some of our freshly made refried beans.


Moving petunias to fourpacks and potsLarge holes to accommodate rootballsI decided to go ahead and move our egg carton of Double Cascade petunias to fourpacks and small pots today. The petunias were getting a bit spindly, a sign they needed more light or possibly warmth.

I filled three fourpack inserts and two three inch pots with standard unsterilized potting mix for the fourteen petunias that had grown in the egg carton. I watered the inserts and pots with boiling water to help the soil absorb moisture and also to possibly knock down any damping off fungus that might have been present in the soil. That made waiting for the soil to cool down the longest part of the job.

When the soil temperature of the inserts and pots dropped under a hundred degrees, I began scooping the plants out of their egg cells with a teaspoon. With each plant, I was able to transfer a good rootball with the plant into holes I dug in the inserts and pots. Each plant went in a little deeper in the soil than it had been in the egg carton. That allowed me to firm soil around the base of the plants to help them stand erect.

The transplanted petunias went downstairs under our plant lights.

Propagating a Dwarf Geranium

While waiting for the petunia soil to cool, I cleaned up the dwarf geranium that has grown on our windowsill for many years. Since geranium stems get woody after several years, making a clone of the plant has been necessary every three years or so. And I'd let the geranium get way too big this time around.

Propagating dwarf geranium

Taking a true stem and leaf cutting of the plant could have proved risky. I chose to follow my previous method of propagation by leaving the stem attached to the plant, but burying part of it with lots of rooting gel in a fresh pot of sterile potting mix. In a month or so, I can trim the cutting from its parent plant. Eventually, the new cutting will take over for the parent plant.

Sam's Club

Friday, January 31, 2020 - January Wrap-up

January, 2020, animated GIF of our Senior GardenWe're winding up what has turned out to be a busier January than I had expected. One of our egg cartons of petunias for hanging baskets quickly outgrew their egg cells and had to be transplanted to fourpacks. Of course, I seeded those petunias in mid-December.

This month, we started onions, geraniums, vinca, dianthus, petunias, and sage. The two flats of onions have already required a first trimming and a very little re-seeding of bare spots.

We now have two full flats of geraniums in three inch pots. The forty-two plants that came up germinated at just over 50%. But that figure includes a couple of hard to germinate varieties. Eliminating those varieties, our germination rate was in the mid-70s.

Our only seeding failure this month were some trailing impatiens from a new seed vendor.

The Wandering Jew cuttings I took last month are now ready to be moved from their deep sixpack inserts to hanging basket pots. While our plant rack is a bit crowded right now, the onions, geraniums, and Wandering Jews can soon be moved to shelves in our sunroom.

One goal for the month didn't get quite done. I wanted to get our main asparagus patch cleared of stalks, but only got about two-thirds done. The job is taking longer this year, as I'm not only cutting down the stalks, but also cutting them up to go into our compost pile. I usually don't try to compost asparagus stalks, as they break down slowly. But with the extra chopping, they may break down a little quicker than usual.

While cleaning up the asparagus, I took the time to save seed from the plants. I also spent some time updating our how-to, Growing Asparagus.

Onions 1 Onions 2
Geraniums 1 Geraniums 2
Dianthus, vinca, sage Double Cascade Petunias
Wandering Jew, petunias, trailing vinca, and a gloxinia Asparagus seed

All in all, with lots of cold windy days, I wasn't too disappointed with getting outdoor work done. Inside, things were pretty busy.

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