Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity


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June 4, 2020

One of the joys of getting a bit older is having the time to putter around in the garden. Below is my garden blog. This site also contains sections of recipes and features about specific, and often obscure, gardening lore.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Our Senior Garden - June 4, 2020Grass clippings piled by East Garden plotIt rained off and on today, so not much gardening got done. I did mow and rake our lawn yesterday. All of the grass clippings swept up plus those that had been curing by our raised beds are now along the east edge of our East Garden plot. I'll use the clippings for mulch under the tomato and pepper plants I plan to plant down the edge of the plot.

I went out to cut some lettuce for a houseguest today. I cut one romaine and one iceberg for her. I also found two cauliflower to cut. One had yellowed a bit, while the other was pure white but a bit smaller. The houseguest, my wife's best friend, took home the lettuce, a huge head of broccoli, and some cauliflower florets.

I also found about twenty pea pods filled out to pick.

Evening sky - June 4, 2020

We get some nice sunsets and evening skies here. Tonight's evening sky was pretty, but not spectacular. But it was sure nice to look at.

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Monday, June 1, 2020

Our Senior Garden - June 1, 2020
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Our East Garden - June 1, 2020
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

I had big plans for today. It turned out that I had somewhat limited skill and endurance.

I got started this morning tilling our East Garden plot again. For the first tilling yesterday, I had the tiller set fairly shallow. Today, I set it to go full depth (around six inches down).

Along the way, it became necessary to remove a couple of trees that had fallen into one corner of the garden plot. Rather than hassle with a hard to start chainsaw, I threw a log chain around the trees one at a time and drug them with my truck. One tree broke off, and I drug it to our burn pile. The other didn't, but I was able to get it out of the way.

The tilling went well. Some areas of the East Garden are pretty much planting ready. Others could use another pass with either the pull-type tiller or our old walking tiller.

Finishing in the early afternoon, I unmounted the tiller, changed the oil and lubed the lawn tractor, and began to remount the mower deck. All went well until I had to thread the drive belt through a series of pulleys. My old hands weren't nimble enough today for the task. Maybe tomorrow.

Burpee Seed Company

Sunday, May 31, 2020 - May Wrap-up

May, 2020, animated GIF of our Senior GardenREITo say the least, it's been an unusual month. I'll write a bit more about the world condition around us at the end of this posting. But for now, I'll confine my comments to gardening.

Running behind all month, a frost on May 9 slowed us down even more. Our average frost free date for this area is April 14!

But we have had a very productive month as well. We picked asparagus all month long. Possibly due to our unusual spring weather, this is the latest we've ever been able to pick asparagus. I picked a few spears this afternoon, possibly just to be able to say I picked asparagus on May 31. But it's time. Our asparagus season is over.

Our raised bed of asparagus Still producing good spears on May 31 Bonnie's Asparagus Patch (which we pick)

Row of Goliath broccoli beginning to bloomHuge head of Goliath broccoli going to seedWe had several good pickings of spinach before the plants began to bolt. I cut all of our main heads of broccoli towards the end of the month. I had to restrain myself from cutting one huge, beautiful head of Goliath broccoli as we're letting that row bloom and hopefully produce viable seed for future seasons. While several seed houses sell a broccoli seed named Goliath or Green Goliath, they don't produce the same large, gorgeous heads of broccoli we get from a strain of seed once sold by Stokes Seeds. So we're trying again to produce our own seed of the strain.

Sneaking in just at the end of the month, I cut four heads of lettuce today. I probably should have cut some earlier, but we were deep into spinach salads much of this month. I cut heads of Jericho and Coastal Star romaine, a Skyphos Boston butterhead, and a Barbados summer crisp. Like spinach, our spring lettuce crop is always short lived before warm weather and longer days cause the lettuce to bolt and turn bitter. As the lettuce gets harvested or bolts, I'll transplant more celery and direct seed some beets to fill the open area.

Lettuce Lettuce drying on dish drainer

Until today, our large East Garden plot had remained untilled. Wet weather delayed work there, although our big tiller was still down this month. I finally got the right length of v-belt for the tiller this afternoon. A first pass over the plot was pretty rough going. I made a second pass over parts of it which was a much smoother ride.

Our East Garden plot - May 31, 2020

Tomato and pepper transplantsMelon and squash transplantsI have tomato, pepper (both bell and paprika), melon, and squash transplants hardened off and ready to go into the East Garden. While the tomatoes and peppers are going in a bit late, they may give us some nice late harvests. With our weird spring weather, I suspected I might not get into the East Garden plot until late, so I started the melon and squash transplants a bit late.

Beyond what I've already shared here today, I did a garden walkaround this morning snapping photos of some of the crops in our raised garden beds. On a pass by our herb garden that surrounds our shallow well, I found volunteer dill, second year parsley going to seed (which I hope to save), lush sage and oregano.

Volunteer dill Second year parsley that may produce seed Sage and oregano

Earlirouge tomato plantsAbundant Bloomsdale spinach going to seedOur Earlirouge tomato plants, possibly transplanted just a little too early, continue to do well. While they look dwarfed now in their welded wire tomato cages, they should fill and overflow the cages by season's end. Earlirouges are our current favorite tomato for their flavor and deep coloring. While we offer Earlirouge seed via the Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Exchange, I encourage folks to support the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative that grew out some of our seed and now commercially offer the Earlirouge tomato variety.

Our Earlirouges share their narrow raised bed with our row of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach. While the spinach is no longer fit for picking and fresh use, it's on its way to producing another seed crop for us.

Abundant Bloomsdale is another variety we offer seed for via the Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Exchange. We've sent out more spinach seed this year than any other type of seed, possibly because of seed houses being overwhelmed with orders and an apparent shortage of spinach seed. While I'm hoping our spinach seed is adapting to our specific growing conditions, I recommend gardeners in other climatic areas support commercial entities such as the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and High Mowing Organic Seeds that offer seed for the excellent open pollinated variety.

Bed of garlicEarly peasOur raised bed of garlic that had looked a bit puny this spring is now headed towards a grand July harvest. A bit of fertilizer and heavy grass clipping mulch has it looking good again. My wife asked me recently what I did with all of our extra garlic. Last month, before our local food bank went to drive-through status because of the Caronavirus, I took a big bag of garlic there. We almost always grow way more garlic than we can use, but that gives us some nice cushion in picking cloves to plant each fall.

Our early peas continue to look good. They recently set on pods. With the vines trying to fill the pods with fat, sweet peas, I emptied our rain barrel on them today.

Green bean rowsCarrots, onions, celery, and lettuceSkipping over our brassicas which I mentioned above, our two rows of green beans are doing well. The field beside our raised beds was seeded to soybeans yesterday. That late seeding should give our green beans a good head start on the soybeans which will harbor lots of Japanese Beetles which love to migrate to tender green bean plants.

While I mentioned our lettuce earlier, grabbing a shot of that part of the bed from the other end shows our stand of carrots and onions. Now fully mulched, the carrots and onions should be in good shape until harvest.

I skipped over getting a shot of our Earliest Red Sweet peppers. They're doing okay, but will begin to really grow when consistent warm temperatures prevail.

That's where we stand at the end of May. Doing a walkaround provides a lot of photos for this site, but it also reminds me of things that I need to do in the garden and provides a good record of our gardening progress.

Commentary

I believe that readers don't come to a garden site to read about inequality, protests, riots in our cities' streets, an incompetent President, or the ravages of the Coronavirus. That news floods over us each day, often leaving me feeling drained and depressed. Many of the problems we face as a nation seem to have no immediate cure. By keeping my postings as non-political as possible, I hope that your visits to this site might be a little uplifting in these challenging times.

My heart has been heavy most of the day today. I've fervently prayed that the violence in our cities will pass in a good way. Annie and I are blessed to live in rural, beautiful surroundings where the riots are far away. Our children and many others live much closer to the danger.

Protest peacefully. Wear a mask and maintain social distancing. And pray for those who are oppressed.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Friday, May 29, 2020

Four sunny daysPea PodsAfter several days of intermittent rains, we have a favorable forecast of four days of sunshine coming up. I'm hoping to get our East Garden plot worked up during that time period. Physical and mechanical problems have prevented fully planting this plot for the last two years, so I'm sort of pumped at the prospect of having a full East Garden of melons, squash, and sweet corn this year.

Today's gardening was a replay of the last several days. I picked spinach this morning (in between rain showers) and also pulled the spinach plants that had bolted. This picking will certainly be our last for this spring. This afternoon, I finished weeding Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. While I picked a little asparagus from our raised bed, I didn't pick any from Bonnie's Patch. It's time to let it rest and rebuild strength for next spring's harvest.

Possibly the highlight of my gardening day was discovering lots of pea pods on our early pea vines. While we probably won't get any mature peas to pick this month, we should have some in the first week of June. That should ease the pain of the end of our asparagus and spring spinach season.

Garden Tower Project

Thursday, May 28, 2020 - Freezing Broccoli

Broccoli florets frozen on cookie sheetBagged frozen broccoli floretsThis morning, I froze the broccoli picked yesterday. Instead of blanching the cut broccoli florets in boiling water, I steamed them for five minutes in my Tramontina 8-Quart Multi-Cooker. A quick cool in ice water was followed by drying on a clean kitchen towel. Then the florets went onto a no stick cookie sheet in the freezer. I bagged them in gallon Ziplock Freezer Bags for long term storage. This picking produced just shy of three pounds of frozen broccoli florets.

Our how-to, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower, has a section on freezing broccoli. The Spruce also has an excellent tutorial on the subject.

I stemmed the spinach I picked yesterday, sorting the baby leaves out for a couple of salads. The rest of the leaves got boiled. I'm hoping to get one more picking before our row of spinach all bolts. I'll probably begin pulling the plants that have bolted first, as I'd like to adapt our spinach to hot weather a bit. Also, there are way too many plants in the row for good air movement and seed production.

I spent most of the afternoon fighting our mower to get its mower deck off. I've done this job dozens of times with this mower and its predecessor, a similar model. For some reason, the mower deck attachments remained locked in place. After several trips inside to consult the mower manual and attend to a cut the mower inflicted on me, the mower mounts finally released their deck. Just as I backed the mower up to our pull-type tiller, it began to rain.

The mower deck needs to be serviced (cleaned, lubed, and blades sharpened). I'm hoping we won't get too much rain, and that I'll be able to till our large East Garden plot in the next few days. Both our walking tiller and I have gotten too old to till the 80'x80' plot with it.

Hanging basket petunias in bloom

To brighten up an otherwise rather bland posting, I'll share a shot of some of our porch plants finally coming into bloom. I grabbed the shot yesterday as I was coming in from weeding Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. It's hard to beat flowers and a porch swing out in the country.

Fruit Bouquets

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Broccoli, asparagus, and spinach drying in kitchenSpinach boltingI began my gardening day by cutting three large heads and some sideshoots of Castle Dome broccoli. We actually had one head of Goliath broccoli mature a bit earlier, but that variety is reserved for seed production. Getting so much broccoli at once sorta cuts ones alternatives down to freezing at least some of the harvest. Our Premium Crop broccoli are just putting on heads.

Several plants in our row of spinach have bolted, a result of our recent hot weather and longer day lengths. I should be able to get one more picking of spinach before most of the row goes to seed.

After weeding our raised asparagus bed yesterday, I turned my attention today to Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, a second area of asparagus just off our property on ground we now care for. The weeding today didn't go so well. The ground was dry and the soil in Bonnie's patch is mostly clay, so I ended up just tearing off the tops of many weeds which may regrow from their roots.

Before weeding After partial weeding

I only weeded about half of the patch. I'm hoping rain predicted for the next two days may soften the ground a bit to make the rest of the weeding go a little better.

Said rain will continue to keep me from working our East Garden patch. Some of our tomato and pepper transplants for that plot are getting pretty big, close to the point where they may stunt from being kept in sixpacks for so long. They'll need to be the first things transplanted if and when I get to work our large, extra garden area.

The Home Depot

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Both of our asparagus patches had become covered with weeds. We're still getting nice fat spears of asparagus, but I didn't want to let the weeds go to seed.

Weeds in asparagus raised bed

Before weedingAsparagus bed after weedingSo this morning I got busy weeding our raised bed of asparagus. Hand pulling the weeds and lightly cultivating a bit took over two hours! I'd really let things get in a mess.

Once we quit picking asparagus, I'll fertilize the patch with 12-12-12 fertilizer and cultivate again. When I get around to it, the patch will get a covering of compost.

I started this patch in 2007 and made it into a raised bed in 2009. It's obvious that some of the treated landscape timbers have rotted and will need to be replaced. I put in our main raised bed in 2007 and 2008. While its landscape timbers have warped a bit and show a little rot, they've held up much better than the timbers around the asparagus bed.

One other concern with the asparagus patch is that there's a bare spot in the middle of the bed. Dogs digging after moles probably killed the asparagus there. I've tried moving volunteer plants into the area without much success. But then, we're getting all the asparagus we can eat, freeze, and give away, so I'm not complaining.

Bare spot in middle of asparagus bed

While I feel a sense of accomplishment at getting the weeding done, I still need to weed our second bed of asparagus, Bonnie's Asparagus Patch.

If you're considering starting asparagus, you might want to look at our how-to feature, Growing Asparagus.

Here's one final thought on asparagus. Last evening, I mixed asparagus tips and sliced white mushrooms in some cream of mushroom soup and chicken broth. It turned out to be delicious.

Early Peas

Our early pea vines are now filled with blooms. In seven to ten days, we should be picking peas!

Pea vines filled with blooms

I direct seeded our peas on March 3. The treated pea seed just sat until it was ready to emerge. Planting that early totally invalidates days-to-maturity figures but also gives us fairly early peas. We'll pick peas for about two weeks before the vines give out. Then I'll renovate the soil a bit and transplant Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers in the soil between our double trellis.

Our early pea varieties are Champion of England and Maxigolt. The Champion of Englands overgrow our five foot high trellis most years. The shorter Maxigolt variety usually just reach the top of the trellis. Both varieties produce lots of sweet, tender peas. I don't save seed from either of these open pollinated varieties as seed for them is commercially available.

I tell about how we grow both our early and supersweet peas in Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas.

David's Cookies

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Our Senior Garden - May 24, 2020You wouldn't know it from today's splashshot, but we had a pretty nice day today. I got in a couple of hours in the garden this morning in warm weather with a nice breeze. I was finishing up mulching our onions and carrots. I also transplanted two celery plants between our lettuce and carrots. I'd just barely left enough room for them.

I put in some geraniums, vinca, and snapdragons around the edges of our garden beds. The flowers will obviously be an improvement over the row marker stakes they replaced.

Our raised garden beds are all now planted and mulched. With broccoli coming on, it will soon be time to think about succession crops for stuff that comes out. I left two big piles of grass clippings close to our main raised bed. The mulch around our broccoli and cauliflower is beginning to thin already. I'll need to add mulch soon to keep weeds down.

The rest of my day was spent mowing and raking up grass clippings. I'd really let the grass get tall. Most of the clippings went to cover used cat litter I'd filled in ruts with in the field. The litter eventually hardens, but until it does, you don't want to step in it or drive over it.

Have a safe and sensible Memorial Day.

REI

Saturday, May 23, 2020 - Weeding and Mulching Beans

Weeds between bean rowsWeedy bean rowsI'd planned to mow our lawn today, but that effort went out the window before I'd mowed fifteen minutes. As I made a pass beside our main raised garden bed, I saw that hundreds of weeds had germinated in and between our rows of green beans. The beans are growing in an area that got away from me a bit the last two years with lots of grass plants going to seed. Determined not to let that happen again, I broke off mowing for the day and scuffle hoed and mulched the green beans and our onions and carrots.

I had taken my good camera out with me when I began to work the bean rows. As I scanned the area through the viewfinder, I thought, "There be broccoli!" (Thought complete with a Scottish accent reminiscent of Mr. Scott's "Admiral, there be whales here" in Star Trek IVicon.) To my surprise, several plants in our rows of broccoli had headed. One head was big enough to cut, but it was in the Goliath row, seven plants I want to let bloom to produce seed.

So I set to work scuffle hoeing the tiny weeds. Then I spread a fairly heavy layer of grass clipping mulch between the rows. Since the mulch had sat for several days, I was able to mulch right up to the edge of the row, sometimes even between bean plants. I also mulched part of our onions and carrots before my back, knees, and hips got so sore that I called it a day.

Mulching partly done

Broccoli

Goliath broccoli ready to pickCastle Dome broccoli almost ready to cutGetting back to the broccoli pleasant surprise, there was one big head of Goliath along with several other heads in that row that will mature in days. But there were also two Castle Dome broccoli that are just about ready to cut.

We have one row of broccoli for seed (7 plants), another row of broccoli for fresh use and freezing (8 plants), and a third row of brassicas, cauliflower (7 plants). While the broccoli will all head soon, the cauliflower will take a bit longer, getting close to the point when hot weather could yellow it and make it bitter. While spring brassicas are a nice treat, we also grow more broccoli and cauliflower each fall, mainly for freezing.

Asparagus

Due to tray cleaning and weeding flowerbeds, our asparagus didn't get picked yesterday. That made for some long asparagus shoots today.

We usually stop picking asparagus each year by this time in May. But our unusual spring weather along with the shoots still being rather big in size has allowed us to continue picking this late in the month.

Today's asparagus picking

Commentary

I drove into town today as we had a few essentials we needed. I noticed that one of our favorite restaurants in town, China Wok, had re-opened. I called to place a take out order around five this afternoon. The person taking orders said our order wouldn't be ready for two more hours! I called again around seven and the wait was for an hour. It appears that there is a good bit of pent up demand for good Chinese food in Sullivan, Indiana.

China Wok has a warm place in my heart, as they hired one of our daughters when she was in high school as their order taker. They usually have a native English speaking person to take orders.

My other observations from my trip aren't so positive. I was aghast at the number of people not wearing face masks and not observing social distancing. We're currently at thirty confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our not to populous county with one death. If folks around Indiana and the country behave like this, we're going to see an awful second wave of the disease.

Keep your mask on! Stay home as much as possible!

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants

Friday, May 22, 2020

Washing and drying plant trays, pots, and insertsDrying pots on stepsI started soaking dirty plant trays, pots, and inserts in bleach water on Tuesday. While I had other jobs I wanted to do today, some near perfect weather for doing the trays made them a priority. It was warm, sunny, and most of all, pretty much windless. Trying to dry pots and plant trays on a windy day has one chasing down pots and trays blown away in the wind.

So I gathered a good scrub brushicon, a scrubbieicon and our garden hose to wash the stuff. It took several hours to work through all the dirty plant stuff I'd accumulated over the spring. But I probably won't have to do this job again until late summer.

I air dried the plant trays and inserts on the lawn. The flower pots went on our back porch steps to dry. The drying went pretty quickly in the hot sun.

My other big job today was to finish weeding our front flowerbeds. I'd really let our flowerbeds go this spring and began cleaning up the front beds yesterday. When hauling the weeds pulled from the beds, I discovered a hosta plant growing in our compost pile! This was a hosta I'd grown from seed, but declared dead two previous times. Dumped on the compost pile, it rooted and grew. I dug it up and moved it to one of the now weeded flowerbeds.

My first gardening of the day was repotting some snapdragons, sage, and dianthus I'd been torturing under our basement plant lights. I'd just never gotten around to moving the plants to larger quarters. With plenty of room under our plant lights now, it was hard to miss the need for the uppotting.

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastCascade petunia in bloomWe're looking at some pretty nice weather for the rest of this month. I scanned the Weather Underground Extended Forecast and noticed that there wasn't a single day with a high temperature predicted for less than 74° F. The downside of the forecast is that there's rain predicted that will put off our ability to till our large East Garden plot. But I'll gladly take temperatures in the 70s.

As I came in from taking shots of our trays drying, I snapped a shot of a Cascade petunia in bloom. Normally, all of our porch plant petunias would be in full bloom by this time. But cold temperatures and extreme winds have set back our porch plants considerably.

Commentary

In this time of social distancing due to the coronavirus, it's nice to be able to share gardening lore with readers of this blog. Both my wife, Annie, and I had a good scare with a bout of what turned out to be some other flu. (We both tested negative for coronavirus) We're on the mend, but also being really careful in our few trips outside our home. Here's hoping folks will be sensible with the re-openings happening now and wear masks and limit their social interactions.

I really fear that our leaders have been premature in relaxing stay-at-home orders and that we'll see a severe second wave of this disease.

A2 Web Hosting

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Melon plants moved outside to harden offSoaking pots, inserts, and trays in bleach waterIt's been somewhat rainy all day today. Early on, I put a kettle of potting soil in the oven to sterilize. When the rain let up, I moved our melon transplants to our cold frame. While the frame remained open today in a light mist to rain, I can partially close it if necessary to protect the plants from high winds. I'm hoping in the next ten days I can get our East Garden plot tilled for the melons.

I'd also accumulated several dirty plant trays and pots. I put them to soak in our garden cart filled with bleach water. When I get a day when the trays and stuff can dry outside, I'll take a brush and hose to them.

When the weather became a light mist, I picked spinach. I filled my picking bowl rather quickly, going a bit less down the row than I did with the first picking. While there weren't many grass clippings to brush off the spinach leaves, many had mud on them that had splashed up on them in recent storms.

Spinach salad last week
Today's spinach drying

We enjoyed spinach salad three times from our first picking, so I don't know quite how we'll use this picking. The spinach in the salad shown at left from last week is hardly visible. It's hidden by all the other good stuff we put in the salad (hard boiled eggs, croutons, mandarin oranges, and poppyseed dressing).

I washed but didn't stem the spinach. Stemming it before storage can induce early spoilage of the leaves.

Today's asparagusI resumed picking asparagus today. My wife, Annie, had done the picking for several days while I was under the weather. We're not getting as many spears as we did in earlier pickings, but they're holding up in size. The general rule of thumb on quitting picking for the year is to do so when the spears are less than pencil sized. In most years, this time of May is when we quit picking asparagus and let the stalks grow to replenish their roots strength for the next season. Some really cold weather last and this month has pushed our picking season back a bit. And I'm certainly not complaining about a longer asparagus season!

Not wanting to overdo things, I finished my outdoor gardening today by replacing three dead ERS pepper plants. I'm not sure what got them, but they'd died from the top down. Fortunately, I had a sixpack of extra plants to chose replacements from.

We're obviously getting into the fun time of home gardening. Asparagus is always our first treat from our garden. This year, our spinach has come in strong. With blooms now showing on our pea vines, another delicious treat is not far off.

In the next week or so, I'll be starting transplants for our supersweet peas. The varieties we grow, Eclipse and Encore, don't germinate well in the wild, so we start transplants along with a little direct seeding. We'll be growing them this year in our East Garden plot that has rather poor soil, so the peas will need all the help they can get.

Covid-19 Testing Results

I wrote last Thursday that both Annie and I had visited a drive-through Covid-19 testing. We'd both been ill with flu like symptoms and feared we had the disease. We got our results today. It turns out we both tested negative for Covid-19. Apparently, we've had some other type of miserable bug. Since Covid-19 can be so dangerous to folks in our high risk group (elderly), the test results are good news. On the other hand, had we had mild cases that produced antibodies, we might have some immunity to the virus.

So, we're happy to be on the mend, but will continue social distancing, wearing our face masks when we go out, using lots of Lysol wipes, and always thoroughly washing our hands after being out. With our state and many others now relaxing stay-at-home orders (prematurely in my opinion), we'll continue to be very cautious about going out.

Renee's Garden

Monday, May 18, 2020 - Started Butternuts

Bulb pans seeded to butternutsA2 Web HostingI started our butternut squash today. I used two eight inch bulb pans for the planting, as they allow enough space for several plants. The shallowness of the pans hasn't seemed to be a problem in the past, as I've used these pans for butternuts and pumpkins for several years. At transplanting, the bulb pans of squash usually turn out in one piece for easy transplanting.

In a change from years past, I started two varieties of butternuts. I seeded one pan to traditional Waltham Butternut squash with seed from Stokes Seeds and Fedco Seeds. The second bulb pan was seeded to South Anna Butternut Squash, an OSSI variety that has some resistance to downy mildew. It's plant description in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog caught my interest.

The bulb pans went into a tray under our plant lights covered with a clear humidity dome and over a soil heating mat set to 80° F.

Other

I'm still under the weather and not doing any real gardening these days. My wife, Annie, has even taken over our daily picking of asparagus. I did walk out this afternoon and snap a few shots of our garden. My first shot was of our green beans finally emerging after being planted on May 2. I'll soon need to scuffle hoe the emerging weeds between the rows and mulch the area with grass clippings.

Greeen beans emerging

Mulching green beans is a bit of a mixed blessing. Grass clipping mulch prevents weeds from germinating, holds in soil moisture, and keeps beans growing lower on the plants cleaner. The tradeoff is that when you pick, you end up with a lot of annoying grass clippings in the picking, making cleaning the beans before canning a real chore.

While out in the garden, I snapped several shots of some of our plantings. I was really happy to see that most of our carrots had finally sprouted. A few blooms on our tall early pea vines made my mouth water for the taste of homegrown peas. And our garlic that had looked a bit peeked responded to some nitrogen fertilizer and mulching and looks good now.

Carrots emerging First blooms on early pea vines Garlic looking healthy again

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

I ran a low grade fever all day yesterday, so not much got done. Today, the fever was gone, so I mowed a couple of acres of grass. Because I'd been sick, I'd let our lawn go for two weeks, so there were lots of grass clippings to rake (sweep) up to use as mulch.

While mowing, I noticed that a few green beans planted way too early had begun to emerge. I'm hoping the rows will begin to fill in and that I won't have to re-seed.

For supper tonight we're having grilled pork chops, rice, and our last package of sweet corn frozen last August. The sweet corn is the venerable Silver Queenicon hybrid variety which holds up well when compared to today's many supersweet varieties. Hopefully, when I'm finally well, this shot of sweet corn will encourage me to get our East Garden plot tilled and our sweet corn planted for this season.

Habitat for Humanity

Thursday, May 14, 2020 - Covid-19 Testing

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Our Senior Garden - May 14, 2020Annie and I celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary this morning by having Covid-19 tests! We've both had flu like symptoms for a week or so and were happy that the state is providing free tests. Neither of us are terribly sick, but we've definitely caught something that's made us miserable and slowed my gardening.

The test itself is a little uncomfortable, but not really painful. We went to a drive-through test in our local high school's parking lot manned by cheerful National Guard members and county health workers (all masked and gloved, of course). The whole process took about 30 minutes.

Freezing Asparagus

This evening, I froze asparagus. It's something I've not done before. But this time around, I had a good bit of asparagus saved over the last four or five days and really didn't feel good about taking the excess to our local food bank (considering the possibility we might actually have Covid-19 and not a bug).

Being a total rookie at freezing asparagus, I consulted some online experts for how-to's:

"Fenceposts"Part of the asparagus trimmed and sorted by sizeI had washed the asparagus after picking, but soaked and washed it again, sorting the spears by width for blanching. I blanched what we call "fenceposts," very thick spears for five minutes, medium sized ones for three minutes, and thin ones for two minutes. I just about used up all of our ice cubes quick cooling the spears!

I let the asparagus dry a bit on paper towels before putting it in small bunches in pint ziplock freezer bags. It made six pints.

AmazonI blanched the asparagus in one of my few kitchen extravagances, a Tramontina 8-Quart Multi-Cookericon. I got mine thirteen years ago. Since that time, they've nearly tripled in price! There are cheaper models available now, but I'm not sure they're as tough as the one I got for forty-some bucks.

Commentary

Annie and my trip to the Covid-19 testing site this morning was a protective response for us. We've been sick and want to know if we have the virus and are a danger to others. We've masked, social distanced, and refrained from any group gatherings that might be problematic. But we're still sick. Hopefully, we'll be lucky and survive this pandemic.

We need a national response to this pandemic, which our President is not providing. In Indiana, our governor shut down the state for a time, but has now caved to the President and is opening up things that will only increase the disease and deaths resulting from this disease.

Elected officials can make such decrees. But for most of us, senior gardeners in the high risk group, we need to protect ourselves and our families, and we need to remember in November to vote the current President and other such self-serving assholes out of office.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - Spinach

Spinach rowAbundant Bloomsdale spinachI did a first picking of spinach today. I didn't pick the whole row that edges the raised bed that has our caged Earlirouge tomatoes. The Abundant Bloomsdale spinach was direct seeded on March 2, but only half of the row came up. I re-seeded the other half on March 27. What I picked today was the earlier planting.

While some spinach leaves are often marketed as baby spinach, the leaves I picked today were true baby spinach. I picked from the outside of the plants, leaving the core of the plant to produce more spinach leaves.

Abundant Bloomsdale is a relatively new open pollinated spinach variety bred by the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) in partnership with organic farmers. It produces tender, dark green, savoyed leaves with excellent flavor. While it's listed as a 47 days-to-maturity variety, our cold spring slowed down our spinach's maturation.

We started saving seed from this variety the first year we grew it. While I offer our seed via the Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Exchange, I generally recommend that folks living outside our growing conditions order the variety from either the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or High Mowing Organic Seeds. I think our strain of the variety has begun adapting a little to our growing conditions, which might be a good reason for folks in our region to order seed from us. But I should note that our seed from last season is hard seed that requires scarification and soaking to germinate well. Even though I scarified the seed for our first planting with an emery board and then soaked it, only half of the row emerged. The second planting was done with seed saved in 2016 and 2017.

When cleaning and stemming our spinach leaves, I found a couple of cabbage looper worms. Apparently denied feeding on our brassicas by a thorough spraying of Thuricide (BT - bacillus thuringiensis), the moths laid eggs on our spinach. I fired up our organics sprayer after picking the spinach and gave our broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach a good spraying of the organic product.

Uses

Spinach SaladShrimp PortofinoWhile my wife and I both like boiled spinach, we leave that treat for later pickings of larger spinach leaves. Our early pickings often get used first in spinach salad, (baby spinach leaves, mandarin oranges, croutons, feta cheese, and poppyseed dressing)

While my wife doesn't eat shrimp, I often use spinach in making Shrimp Portofino when she's away on business trips.

When cooking with spinach, one tip may help. Spinach really cooks down in volume, so you want lots of it on hand when cooking with it.

While I would have prepared spinach salads for us tonight for supper, my lovely wife slipped into the kitchen and prepared some to-die-for stir fry. The spinach salad will have to wait until lunch tomorrow. It's not a big deal, as the spinach leaves do need time to cool.

Charity: Water

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The wind is howling outside at 40+ MPH. I'm not even going to try to pick asparagus today.

Instead, I stayed inside and finished off the last of our canned tomato products. We used our last quart of canned whole tomatoes last week making a copycat version of Olive Garden's beef and tortellini. Today, it was spaghetti sauce made with our last pint of canned tomato purée since we were out of canned tomatoes.

Oregano Parsley

I did venture outside to cut fresh oregano and parsley for the sauce. Both Annie and I repeatedly tasted the sauce, adding this and that until I realized it needed a lot more basil. We don't have any basil in our herb bed as yet, so dried basil saved last year had to do.

Taking a picture of the parsley with the wind blowing it around proved to be a challenge. I took one round of shots with my usual aperture preferred setting of f/16, bracketing the shots with one over and one under 1/3 f-stop. Getting terribly blurred images of the taller and less protected parsley at first, I switched to bracketing my shots in shutter speed preferred, starting at 320/second. That finally allowed me to get a fairly sharp image of the parsley plant that somehow overwintered in good shape. The oregano is a perennial that growing anywhere else than our herb bed would be considered an aggressive weed!

So, there's not any real gardening going on here today, but there'll be spaghetti with homemade sauce for supper.

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Saturday, May 9, 2020

Our Senior Garden - May 9, 2020Renee's GardenI got outside around nine this morning to pull the caps off of our homemade hot kaps. The sun had just begun hitting our row of bell peppers. Our homemade jug hot kaps over the peppers as well as cold frames can heat up enough in the sun to kill plants under them if not vented. A nearby Weather Underground reporting station had an overnight low temperature of 33.7° F. Even at nine o'clock, there were still patches of frost visible on parts of our yard.

An hour later, I pulled the water jug hot kaps and replaced the mulch and cages around our pepper and tomato plants. I also pulled the cutworm collars from the pepper plants. The plants all looked to be in good shape while the frost killed a couple of flowers I'd left uncovered. I saved the homemade hot kaps, although I really hope that I'll have no use for them in the future.

We had a couple of lettuce plants succumb this week to apparent rabbit damage. I replaced a Sun Devil and a Crispino plant. While some of our other lettuce showed signs of nibbling, the rabbits apparently prefer head lettuce. I spread some Repels All around the lettuce after the first sign of damage. We've not had a repeat of the predation.

1800Flowers

Friday, May 8, 2020

Twenty-nine degree morning predictedBurpee GardeningThe weather forecast for tomorrow morning has pretty well taken over my gardening activities for the last few days. I made thirteen homemade hot kaps on Wednesday and installed them this afternoon. I left the caps off the homemade hot caps so too much heat wouldn't build up inside them. I'll add the caps late in the afternoon, about the time I close up our cold frame for the evening.

Sadly, there are a bunch of flowers along the edges of our raised beds I have no way of protecting from the predicted freeze. I think our spinach, garlic, peas, brassicas, and onions should do okay without any protection. I'm not so sure about our lettuce.

Installing the homemade hot kaps required pulling the tomato and pepper cages. I then pulled back the mulch around the plants and hammered in the U-shaped plant pins through the flaps I'd made on the hot kaps. I returned the mulch around the jugs to try to make the best seal against the weather that I could.

Tomato plants coveered with water jug hot kaps Pepper plants covered with water jug hot kaps

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - Homemade Hot Kaps

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastThe weather forecast for this weekend just keeps getting worse for gardeners. The weather folks began predicting a cold, 36° F morning last week for May 9. They kept lowering the temperature with each revised forecast. Now, the forecast is for a 30° F freeze! While forecasts can be off a bit, I'm preparing for what could be a really destructive cold morning for the tender crops we have in our raised garden beds.

I pitched our odd collection of old Hot Kaps last year after having used them two, three, or four times. The wax paper Hot Kaps were in no condition to protect anything in the future. So when we got a nasty prediction of a hard frost/freeze for the morning of May 9, I needed to get inventive to protect our tender and newly transplanted tomatoes and peppers.

Note that some serious price gouging is going on by vendors wanting over a hundred dollars for twenty hot kaps that would normally cost about twenty bucks!

While our well water seems safe, other than having a good bit of iron in it, my wife regularly buys gallons of drinking watericon for us. I save the jugs to carry non-softened water from our kitchen bypass faucet to plants growing in our basement plant room, our sunroom, and our dining room.

After a while, one can accumulate a lot of used, empty, plastic gallon jugs. I remembered from somewhere about gardeners using plastic milk jugs to protect small, young plants from frost. Thinking about using some of our old water jugs for that purpose, I did a Google search for "using milk jugs as hot kaps."

I found a dandy how-to on WikiHow, How to Make Garden Hot Caps from Used Milk Jugs, that employs metal anchor pinsicon to secure the plastic jug hot kaps. I happen to have lots of the anchor pins on hand, as we use them to secure floating row covers.

Scissors and knife used Jug marked for cutting Anchor flaps bended out Test of jug covering a lettuce plant

I used a sharp knife and a heavy duty pair of kitchen shears to cut the jugs. Plastic jugs often will vary in their shape at the bottom. For our water jugs, I used the knife to pierce the jugs and make the first cuts along the sides of the jugs. After doing seven jugs, I had to get out my whetstone and sharpen the knife that forty years ago I used on the farm to cut up chickens and skin hogs!

As with the WikiHow tutorial, I bent out the flaps left by the cutting and later used a drill to make pilot holes for the metal anchors that will hold the jugs in place. Note that I tried just hammering an anchor through the flaps, but found that a drill was necessary to make complete holes in the flaps.

Just to make sure, I took a jug to the garden and hammered in its anchors around a lettuce plant. It seemed to make a good seal with the soil to keep out the cold.

I'll begin pulling pepper and tomato cages tomorrow to facilitate installing our homemade hot kaps, as it's supposed to rain on Friday. I can pull the caps off the water jugs until Friday evening so the plants under them don't cook. I may cover our lettuce with a floating row cover as well. There's not much I can do to protect the flowers that edge our raised beds. In all likelihood, we're going to lose some plants from this freeze. I'm just trying to minimize the damage.

A freeze this late in spring is unusual. But in this time of Covid-19, I'm happy that both Annie and I seem relatively healthy. So many folks are suffering, and with the premature opening of states like ours, the suffering of the loss of loved ones will only continue. I pray for those. Maybe at some point, our elected leaders will begin to favor saving lives over jobs and political gain.

Hummingbird Feeders

Monday, May 4, 2020 - Peppers

Despite a really scary low temperature prediction for Saturday morning (33-34° F), I went ahead and transplanted seven Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants into our garden this morning. Other than some flowers to replace row marker stakes, getting the peppers in completes the planting of our raised garden beds. I'm gambling the weather forecast will improve before the weekend.

Today's planting was pretty easy as I'd tilled the area a couple of weeks ago and had kept it weed free with a scuffle hoe. After using seven pepper cages to get my spacing right, I went down the row digging holes for the peppers. I went about eight to ten inches deep with a wide trowel. Then I gave each hole and area around it some 12-12-12 commercial fertilizer, lime, and a couple of tablespoons of ground egg shell and worked them all into the base of the holes.

Soil amendments in and around planting holes Peppers transplanted with cutworm collars Finished planting

I watered the holes with our usual starter solution of Maxicrop and Quick Start. At one time, I couldn't grow good peppers on this ground. I eventually found that Maxicrop Soluble Seaweed had whatever our soil was lacking to grow good peppers!

I pushed a little of the dug soil back in the hole, inserted a cutworm collar, and watered it. Then I squished a pepper transplant into the paper cup cutworm collar and firmed the soil around it. It's important to keep the top of the cutworm collar an inch about the surrounding soil level.

I mulched the planting with grass clippings and pushed our pepper cages into the ground. It's a bit early for the cages, but they also prevent deer from nipping the young, tender pepper plants. Deer got a couple of brassicas (twice!) before I wised up and sprayed the replacement plants with liquid Sevin and Not Tonight Deer!

I tell a bit more on the subject in our how-to feature, Growing Peppers.

Broccoli and cauliflower mulched

With lots of now cured grass clippings on hand, I also mulched our three rows of brassicas and our bed of garlic.

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Our Senior Garden - May 3, 2019Trimming washed aspasragusWe had lots of thunder and lightning last night, but got no rain. That waited until I was out mulching the rest of our tomato planting and putting some geraniums in our raised beds to replace ones lost to frost. After a bit, the rain subsided and I was able to go out and pick asparagus.

The last few days we've had fantastic harvests of asparagus from our two small patches of the delicious vegetable. I thought about freezing some of what we'd picked and saved, but instead ended up bundling the excess for one of my wife's co-workers and our local food bank.

I did reserve just enough asparagus for our dinner. I steamed it in Swanson Chicken Brothicon and lemon juice, seasoned with our own garlic powder, Weber Roasted Garlic and Herb Seasoningicon, and Lawry's Seasoned Salticon. And yeah, it was delicious.

Sam’s Club

Saturday, May 2, 2020 - Planting Green Beans

Fertilizer and inoculant spread in furrowBean seed spaced 1-2 inches in rowI had thought to wait until I could rototill again, but went ahead and direct seeded our green beans this morning. The soil was wet, but not muddy and hoed well. And it was an absolutely gorgeous day today.

After loosening the soil with a hoe, I used the tool to make a furrow down the row, widening it a bit by going back and dragging the flat side of the hoe down the row. I sprinkled some 12-12-12 fertilizer and granular inoculant down the row and hoed it in. Then I spaced my seed about 1-2" apart and covered it by dragging the hoed soil back over the seed with a garden rake. I used the rake head to tamp down the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

Our bean varieties this year, by row, were Providericon (50), Burpee's Stringless Green Podicon (50), and Maxibel (61). The second row contained Contendericon (50), Strike (53), and Bush Blue Lakeicon (57). (Numbers in parentheses are days to maturity.) I tried to put the earliest maturing varieties at one end of the rows. All six bean varieties are ones we've grown for years and really like. While planting six different bean varieties is a little more trouble and more expensive for seed, I think a mix of bean varieties greatly improves the flavor of our canned green beans over just a single variety.

While most of the links above are to Burpee (one of our affiliated advertisers), we now get a lot of our bean seed from Fedco Seeds (of which we're a consumer member). Folks who click through a Burpee link (or other add on our site) and make a purchase should know that we get a small commission from such sales.

Our how-to feature, Growing Beans, covers the basics of growing most types of beans.

While I would have liked to transplant some peppers this afternoon, they can wait. With rain possible tonight and tomorrow, it was more important to mow and rake grass clipping to use as mulch.

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Friday, May 1, 2020

Our Senior Garden - May 1, 2020
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May is always a busy month in our garden. We'll finish planting and mulching our raised beds before moving on to tilling and planting our large East Garden plot.

May is also a month of harvesting, although nothing like the following months. We'll continue harvesting asparagus almost all month. Our spinach and lettuce should also be ready to pick soon. And if we're lucky, we might pick a few peas this month.

Inside, we'll continue to care for the melons and other transplants we have started. We'll also seed marigolds, butternut squash, and pumpkins.

In our raised beds, there's green beans to be direct seeded and tomatoes and peppers to transplant. Once our East Garden plot is tilled, we'll direct seed sweet corn and supersweet peas. I still have reservations about planting potatoes, as I'm not sure my knees and shoulders are up to all the digging involved with potatoes.

We'll also transplant more tomatoes and peppers into the East Garden. If all goes well, we should get our melons transplanted there this month. Sweet corn and supersweet peas will also be direct seeded. And there'll be (I hope) butternut and yellow squash and pumpkins.

Tomatoes

Transplanted Earlirouge tomatoTransplanted tomatoes with crushed egg shell around themOur first tomatoes to go into the ground each year are our Earlirouges. They're a canning/slicing tomato variety with deep red interiors and excellent flavor. Developed by the late Jack Metcalf, they're related to the Moira and Quinte varieties we also grow and save seed from.

Our Earlirouge tomatoes get transplanted first because they're our favorite variety. But they also go in first in one of our raised beds, far away from any other tomato plantings we make to isolate them for seed saving. This year, our Earlirouges went into one of our narrow raised garden beds that already has a row of spinach growing on what will be the sunny side of the tomato cages.

Each planting hole received a little lime, a handful of 12-12-12 solid fertilizer, and a couple of tablespoons of ground egg shells. The lime and egg shell are to supply calcium to the plants to help ward off blossom end rot. I used a trowel to work the soil amendments into the planting hole before filling the hole with our usual starter solution of Maxicrop and Quick Start fertilizers.

Our tomato transplants were a little on the tall side, so I pinched off their lower branches and pushed them into the soil to leave about eight inches of plant above the soil line. I chose not to use cutworm collars around the plants, but did sprinkle some crushed egg shell on the soil surface around them. Hopefully, the plant stems are tough enough not to be attractive to cutworms, but the sharp edges of the egg shell my also repel the tender skinned cutworms.

Tomatoes transplanted and bed partially mulched

I didn't have enough grass clippings on hand to completely mulch the bed, but I was able to mulch around each plant. Note that I install woven wire tomato cages at planting. I anchor the tomato cages in pairs with a short T-post, as the winds we experience here can easily topple a tomato cage top heavy with fruit.

I tell about our method of growing tomatoes and other ways in our how-to feature, Growing Tomatoes.

Hmm! I had to replace a cauliflower and a broccoli today in our three rows of brassicas. There were no deer tracks or other evidence of plant eaters on the soft soil. It may have been cutworms, or one of our dogs may have stepped on and snapped off the plants. But all signs of the plants were gone. Weird!

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

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