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One of the Joys of Maturity


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February 24, 2021

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.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - Just How Early Can You Plant Peas?

Our Senior Garden - February 24, 2021Burpee Seed CompanyOur first planting every year is our early peas. Our suddenly improved weather outlook got me wondering, "How early can one successfully plant peas in this region?" In years past, we've seeded peas as early as February 28 and as late as April 3. Of course, that one February start was at the end of the mild winter that preceded the drought of 2012.

So I began looking online for some guidance. I began with Burpee:

Green Peas thrive in cool weather and young plants will tolerate light frosts. Once germinated, green peas adapt well to the cold, damp climate of early spring. Peas must be planted as early as possible in the spring to get a full harvest before hot summer temperatures arrive and put an end to production. In temperate zones, the saying "Plant peas by St. Patrick's Day" holds true. Otherwise, plant peas about a month prior to your frost-free date.

According to The Old Farmers Almanac:

Generally speaking, plant peas as soon as the ground thaws and can be worked in the spring—even if more snow is in the forecast.

For a more measured approach, plan to sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost date, when soil temperatures reach at least 45°F (7°C).

Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) signaled that it was time to plant peas.

Preparing pea bedDonors ChooseThose sources and others seemed to recommend a soil temperature of at least 45° F before seeding peas. Of course, I tell of planting peas over frozen ground in our how-to, Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas.

With a high temperature of 60° F today, I couldn't resist getting started on pea planting. While I didn't put any seed into the ground, as our soil temps were around 36° F, I did rake out the prospective pea bed, make a furrow for the pea seed, and worked some fertilizer and granular soil inoculant into the soil. I'd also fetched a container of ground limestone for the raised bed, but our soil tester said our soil was in the sweet spot of pH 6.8-7.0.

Feeding AmericaIt felt really great to be back outside with a hoe in my hands working the soil. Of course, when I hammered in planting stakes and worked with the hoe, I found several areas a few inches down in the soil that were still frozen. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that we keep our pea seed frozen. Why not put it into the ground now? Pea seed seems to have the magical ability to know when to sprout in the spring. Instead, I chose to wait a day or so to let our soil warm up just a bit. Just a week ago, we were dealing with sub-zero temperatures.

Crockett's Victory GardenAmazonI did consult a couple of of my favorite gardening sources on starting peas in my physical library. Both the late Jim Crockett's and the late Nancy Bubel's accounts on starting peas were actually somewhat inspiring. Crockett wrote (Crockett's Victory Garden pp 20-22):

"I don't think there's anything more satisfying for me than walking out into the garden in March, through the last few patches of snow, to plant the year's first crop of peas."

Bubel wrote (The New Seed Starter's Handbook pp 272-3):

"You can sow early, mid-season, and late varieties on the same day, or make successive plantings of peas seeds throughout the cool weeks of early spring, but there's no point in sowing most kinds of peas later than two to three weeks before the the frost-free date, because the yield of peas maturing in warm weather seldom justifies the space they take."

So I'll wait a day or two before seeding our early peas. The seed will get coated with Captan fungicide to prevent rot, totally blowing any hope of organic peas, but preserving our precious seed. And we'll be off and running for our 2021 gardening season.

1800Flowers

 
 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Garlic greening and emerging
Garlics putting up pale leaves

Our Senior Garden - February 23, 2021We're now into the big thaw. There's still snow, slush, standing water, and a good bit of mud to trudge through. But it's obvious winter's grip is beginning to break. We'll probably still see a little snow in the next few weeks. We often get a late freeze or snow around the end of March each year.

With most of the snow melted in our back yard, I checked our garlic today. I was pleased to see a few garlics beginning to emerge. In warm winters, fall planted garlic may emerge as early as December or January! I was happy to see some coming up and that none of our planted garlic cloves had heaved out of the soil in winter freezes and thaws.

I had to re-seed our Celebrity petunias and Goliath broccoli yesterday. Neither had germinated well. While I used the last of our pelletized Celebrity seed, I also added some non-pelletized seed from Park Seed.

The Goliath broccoli not germinating really disturbed me. When I finished saving seed last fall, I did a rough germination test to see if the seed was good. It appeared so at that time, but this failure has me worried.

I got my second Covid-19 vaccination this morning. As a precaution, I stocked up on essentials, as I may feel too lousy to go anywhere tomorrow. I had a sore arm and raging arthritis after my first shot. One of our daughters related that her side effects were worse after her second shot.

But...I'm thrilled to be fully vaccinated against the virus. My lovely and much younger wife, Annie, became eligible to sign up for a vaccination today, although her first shot date is about a month away.

Stay safe and healthy.

The Home Depot

Sunday, February 21, 2021 - Seeds We Save

While I've previously mentioned here the six or seven seed varieties we share at times via the Grassroots Seed Network and the Seed Savers Exchange, we actually save many more varieties of vegetable and flower seed. Saving seed year after year allows varieties to adapt to ones growing conditions. It can also save a few dollars in seed costs.

What we offer to share are mostly endangered varieties. Other stuff we save but don't share include commonly available varieties via seed racks or seed houses, patented (PVP) seed varieties we can't legally share, and generally, seed older than one year old. And some of the saved seed varieties below are getting really old. I need to grow out a few of them.

With lots of snow still on the ground, I had time to run through our seed inventory yesterday to make a list of most everything we have saved seed from in recent years. Do note that we don't save seed from all of these varieties in any one year. I've noted in parentheses the year we last saved seed from each variety.

Vegetables
Flowers

Asparagus: Viking (2020)

Beans

  • Mohon's greasy pole bean (2014)
  • Red Kidney Beans (2020)

Broccoli: Goliath (2020)

Cucumbers - Japanese Long Pickling (2020)

Herbs

  • Dwarf Basil (2017)
  • Genovese/Large Italian landrace (2019)
  • Dill (2016)

Lettuce

  • Crispino (2014)
  • Sun Devil (2019)

Peas: Champion of England/Maxigolt blend (2020)

Supersweet Peas

  • Eclipse (PVP) (2019)
  • Encore (PVP) (2019)

Peppers: Earliest Red Sweet (2020)

Paprika Peppers

  • Hungarian Spice Paprika (2020)
  • Feher Ozon (2013)
  • Alma (2013)

Pumpkin: Howden (2020)

Spinach: Abundant Bloomsdale (2020)

Squash: South Anna Butternut Squash (2020)

Tomatoes

  • Red Pearl (PVP) (2020)
  • Quinte (2020)
  • Moira (2020)
  • Earlirouge (2020)

Watermelon

  • Blacktail Mountain (2020)
  • Moon & Stars (2014)

Daisies: Gloriosa Daisy (2014)

Dianthus: Carpet Mix (2016)

Gloxinia: Landrace mix of Empress, Double Brocade, and Cranberry Tiger (2020)

Impatiens (2009)

Hosta (2020)

Marigold (2019)

Snapdragon (2019)

Zinnia (2020)

If you're just getting into seed saving, let me recommend Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds. It's a small booklet at a very good price that lists instructions on saving seed for a lot of vegetables. I haven't been able to get the page to load this weekend, but the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook had a nice page, Why Save Seeds, and offers basic seed saving information for many vegetables.

Tough Day

I think we had a sympathy (empathy) day today for the folks suffering power and water outages in Texas. I awoke to a very cold house this morning. Our furnace seemed to light, but the fan didn't turn on. So I called the furnace guy. Just wondering, I checked the gauge on our LP tank. Empty!

So, I called our LP supplier to get an emergency fill. This stuff isn't supposed to happen, as we're on a keep full basis. Then I called the furnace guy to give him a wave off, although I'm having him come out to service our furnace when he has time.

As a rather chagrined LP driver filled our tank, our power went out! Fortunately, it came back on within minutes. A couple of guys from our REMC showed up an hour later. Without anything to fix, they swapped out our old electric meter for a new one.

I'm thankful everything is working once again. Several years ago, we had our electricity go off for a little over three days. Our house was filled with the smell of kerosene heaters. This time around with the power mostly on, we stayed fairly warm using three oil heaters and our fireplace.

Possibly the best news of the day was the sun was out a good bit and temperatures reached the low forties. It felt like springtime.

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Saturday, February 20, 2021 - Getting Warmer

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastOur Senior Garden - February 20, 2021Our extended weather forecast from the Weather Underground suggests we may begin to see things thaw out next week. While some overnight low temperatures will drop below freezing, daily high temperatures for next week should stay above 32° F.

Trimming Onions

It was time today to do a first trimming of our three trays of onion starts. As one page title puts it, "Trimming Onion Starts for Stronger Plants." Even so, I always have a little trepidation at doing the deed, fearing that I might kill our onion starts.

I use a good pair of stainless steel shears to trim our onions. While some sources suggest saving the cuttings to use as chives, I don't. One or two of the varieties I planted had treated seed, the hulls of which were sometimes still attached to the leaves. I've also had to douse parts of two trays with some Captan to hold back mold. Both seed treatment and Captan are poisonous.

Three trays of onions before trimming

One tray of onions usually satisfies our needs. I went a little crazy trying to get some old seed to germinate, ending up with way too many onion transplants than we'll need. Fortunately, I already have an outlet for the extras in mind.

One tray trimmed

I try to trim the onions about an inch and a half above the soil level. What I end up with is cuts ranging from one to two inches above soil level. I also try to clean up any onion leaves that drop to the soil surface to discourage rot.

The onion plants will have at least a couple of weeks to recover and regrow before I move them outside under a cold frame to harden off.

When I looked at our daily splashshots in Adobe Bridge today, I realized why I've become a bit snow weary this month. So far, we've only had four days this month with no snow on the ground.

Only four days without snow on the ground

GNRL Click & Grow

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - National Cabbage Day??

National Cabbage DayAn email from Burpee Seeds alerted me to the fact that today is National Cabbage Day. Celebrating the occasion, I added starting some cabbage to my plan for today to start our broccoli. While marveling at another "Hallmark Holiday," I saw on the National Calendar Day site that I'd missed my special day yesterday: "National Do a Grouch a Favor Day!" And of course, today really is Ash Wednesday.

Starting Broccoli

Starting brassicas
Small, treated (green) broccoli seeds

Making plant labelsGetting a bit more serious about gardening, I started four deep sixpack inserts of broccoli and another seeded to Brussels sprouts and, what else, but cabbage. Two of the sixpacks were seeded with Goliath broccoli seed I'd saved this last summer. I'm planning to grow those plants in a tight cluster in our East Garden plot to promote cross-pollination when the plants bloom. Since broccoli requires cross-pollination, I may cut heads of broccoli from the Goliaths that bloom out of synch for seed saving.

I also started some very old Premium Crop broccoli seed. Seed for the hybrid variety has disappeared from the marketplace, so this may be one of the last years we can grow the very productive variety. A final variety seeded was Castle Dome, a hybrid we've had good crops with the last two years. Having been able to save Goliath broccoli seed, it appears that the open pollinated Goliath and the hybrid Castle Dome may be our broccoli varieties for the next few years.

The last sixpack was seeded to Alcosa, Tendersweet, and Super Red 115 cabbage and Hestia and Dagan Brussels sprouts.

I give specifics about planting brassicas in Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

Staying here with brassicas, I plucked out all but one plant per cell of our cauliflower last night.

Snow and Boots

Our Senior Garden - February 17, 2021The recent snowstorm left just over eight inches of snow on the ground. Of course, that figure depends on where you're walking. By our garage, snow drifted two to three feet deep. Our raised garden beds in our back yard disappeared under the snow. Only the tops of the garden stakes marking our garlic rows remained visible. The tops of the stakes are about fifteen inches off the ground. I circled the stakes in red in the image at left.

Along with the snow, temperatures this morning dipped to -3° F. I'm now glad I hooked up an oil heater in our previously unheated sunroom. The max-min thermometer there showed an overnight low of 50° F.

Our current extended weather forecast doesn't show us thawing out until Sunday. But after that, it appears that we'll be staying above freezing during the daylight hours. Of course, when the snow all melts, I'll be grumbling about all the mud to walk through.

Skechers bootsMemory Issue

Having a good pair of waterproof boots is sort of essential for doing any outdoor work in the deep snow. I had a pair of work boots I'd used for ten or fifteen years. When I looked for them the other day, they weren't in their usual spot. I looked under our bed, and they weren't there either. But what was there was a pair of brand new Sketchers Work Boots.

Only then did I begin to vaguely remember that the venerable old boots had finally fallen apart last year. I apparently had replaced them, although I can find no record of the order. It may have been one of the few files I lost in last summer's computer meltdowns. And besides the boots, I found a brand new pair of tennis shoes! I need to look under our bed a bit more often.

Now I need to lace up those dandy new boots, fetch the mail and fill our bird feeder.

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Monday, February 15, 2021 - Snow

As predicted, it's snowing today. The main part of the overnight snow went mainly north of us, just dropping enough to fill in footprints and tire tracks. According to weather radar, we're now into a much larger snowstorm that is still predicted to leave 6-7 inches of snow today. I made a quick trip to the gas station two miles away. Road conditions were already terrible.

Birds on shallow well

Our bird feeder was empty this morning. Instead of filling it, I spread birdseed around the covers of our shallow well and cistern. The seed draws quite a crowd.

Hoss Tools

Sunday, February 14, 2021 - Valentines Day

Our Senior Garden - February 14, 2021World Food Program USWhat started out as a very cold morning (2° F) has progressed into just another cold, windy, bright sunny day today. It's supposed to remain below freezing for the next week. Possibly of more importance is that we're going to get a good bit of snow this week, starting tonight. Four to eight inches of new snow are predicted for tonight and tomorrow with another four inches coming later in the week. For us, that's a lot of snow.

I made a shopping trip to town today mainly for bird seed. Our local Walmart was sold out of milk and almost out of bread as folks stocked up ahead of the storm.

I trimmed back the tallest shoots of our sage plants yesterday. Trimming released the sage's pungent but pleasant aroma. The sage and other plants in our sunroom are doing well. After adding a max-min thermometer and seeing an overnight low of 39° F, I turned on an oil heater in the room. It hasn't gotten below 45° F since.

Sage, hosta, asparagus and Wandering Jew in our sunroom

MilkweedCauliflower upI started a bulb pan of milkweed the first of this month. Since I was using old seed, I seeded the pot pretty heavily. It now appears that nearly every seed sown has come up. I'm not quite sure how I'll deal with these plants. They will probably need to be separated into individual insert cells at some point to do well.

Another planting where nearly every seed planted came up is our cauliflower. I'll soon need to thin the cauliflower to one plant per cell.

Not all of our plantings go so well. The parsley I started from seed saved last year was a total bust. I reseeded the pot today with commercial seed.

Also, our seeding of Celebrity petunias looked like a fail yesterday. But when I started to reseed the egg cartons today, I found that some germination had begun.

And I'm not sure why, but I'm surprised every year at how fast our flats of onion seedlings dry out. While the drying is probably due to the intense number of plants in the flats, the memory issue is one that sorta concerns me.

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Our East Garden - August 1, 2020Donors ChooseIn what may have been a few moments of clarity, sanity, or simply giving in to old age this morning, I cut down my plans for our East Garden this year. We'll still be growing the same crops as usual. But I reduced our melon plans from last year's two rows (140 foot row) to just one 60 foot row. While we got great melons last year, keeping the rows weeded and mulched totally got away from me. My back simply wasn't up to all the bending involved in spreading grass clipping mulch to hold back weeds!

Since I broke our usual practice of planting just half of the 80' x 80' plot last year and used almost the whole area, crop rotations for this year got a bit dicey. Our single row of melons will cross diagonally where we had melons last year. Cutting down the melon rows allowed me to move a planned row of tomatoes and peppers in a good bit tighter than originally planned. Running the row down the middle of the plot wasn't an option, as when we did that two years ago, we had an outbreak of anthracnose which might yet remain in the soil.

East Garden Plan for 2021

I plan to keep our planting of butternut squash in the garden plot proper, transplanting them where we had sweet corn last season. Our pumpkins will once again grow outside the East Garden plot on what is right now our compost pile.

Narrow raised beds plan 2021

Main bed plan

While plans for our two narrow raised garden beds are pretty much locked in for the full season, our large main raised garden bed plans are still incomplete. I haven't yet decided what and how much and where things will go. The weird graduated lines in the image at left are my measuring sticks.

WSIU
WFYI

I still use the old Appleworks 6 computer application for my garden planning/mapping. That's one of the reasons I maintain two Mac Minis. The older one runs Appleworks natively in full size. My new Mini only runs Appleworks via the Sheepshaver emulator which I can't get to run well full screen.

While working on today's posting, I also got busy and contributed to our public broadcasting stations. We get our public television from WSIU out of Carbondale, Illinois. Our public radio comes to us from WFYI Indianapolis via a Terre Haute transmitter.

A2 Web Hosting

Wednesday, February 10, 2021 - Does a Cold Winter Kill Bugs?

Our Senior Garden - February 10, 2021Weather Underground Extended ForecastOur extended weather forecast has bounced around over the last week or so, frequently showing periods of sub-zero lows. Those predictions have improved a bit today, but we probably won't see any above freezing temperatures for another week or so.

The extended cold spell and snow cover got me thinking yesterday. I wondered, "Does a cold winter really kill off insects?" And, "How cold for how long does it have to be to kill off insect pests and their eggs?"

The long accepted common wisdom on the subject is that an intensely cold winter will decrease insect activity the next spring and possibly into the summer.

From a little online research, I found the answer to my first question to be "yes" and "no." It appears to vary by the insect, how cold things get, and places where insects can hide and insulate themselves from the cold. And I was hoping we'd see less bugs next spring! We still are finding an occasional live stinkbug in our house. One bright spot in my research was a line from Erin Hodgson's How do insects survive the winter? "No matter the overwintering strategy, all insects will eventually die if it gets cold enough."

As mentioned in our End of the Season Gardening Chores feature, clearing away old mulch and plant trash from ones garden denies insects places to overwinter in the garden. But it's a bit too late to do that now, and doing so doesn't stop bugs from finding spots in the yard next to the garden to hide.

Japanese Beetle on sweet corn tasselSquash bugOur most common insect pests in the Senior Garden are cucumber beetles on our melon and cucumber plants, squash bugs on squash and pumpkins, stink bugs and/or leaf-footed bugs on our tomatoes, cabbage loopers and small white cabbage moths on our brassicas, and Japanese beetles on our green beans and anything else they can find to eat.

We employ a variety of organic and not-so-organic controls to stay ahead of the bugs. We can also beat some bugs by gardening practices. In years when soybeans are grown in the field next to our garden, we grow our green beans early, before the Japanese beetle population multiplies on the soybeans and migrates to our garden. For the coming season, the field should be rotated to corn, so we can plant our beans a bit later in the season.

Getting back to the cold weather and bugs thing, here are a few articles that might be helpful:

Charity: Water

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 - Snow

Our Snowy Senior Garden - February 9, 2021With four inches of snow on the ground this morning, it's hard to believe I hope to plant our early peas in just three or four weeks! While four inches of snow is certainly not impassible, it was enough to close schools today. Sadly, the past joy of a snow day now is just another e-learning day for students and staff.

Charity Ads

Office and wall calendarAs I sat in my comfortable office on a cold, gray day yesterday, I glanced up at my Walmart $5 Hubble Space Telescope wall calendar. The views on the calendar are magnificent. But looking at it also made me a little bit sad. For years, that space was occupied by a calendar from a once favorite charity. Looking at it made me think of how blessed Annie and I are and reminded me to give back to others.

Having contributed regularly and run a banner ad for the charity every month for years, I decided it might be time to move on from them and share our free ads and donations with some other charities. (There's a lot more to that story, but I'm not into trashing charities by name.) There's certainly lots of need in the world. Charity Navigator helps me sort out the good guys from the bad guys.

Doctors without BordersSo you may have noticed beginning last month a number of small banner ads like the one at left, obviously uncompensated, for some new to us charities not featured on these pages previously. I hope to continue the practice. And no, I'm not giving up our text and banner ads from our affiliated advertisers that do pay us a small commission when readers click through them and make a purchase.

Computers

The image above right also shows my current computer setup. After a massive failure of our computers last summer, I began to rebuild things. My main office computer is now a 2018 Mac Mini running the Mojave operating system (10.4.6). I won't be upgrading it to Apple's latest and greatest OS any time soon, as Mojave is the last Mac OS that supports some of my old, but expensive application suites (Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.). The other top shelf computer is another Mac Mini running my old favorite Snow Leopard (10.6.8) operating system that again saves me from having to upgrade to newer, more expensive version of several really, really, old applications.

Each computer has a huge (6GB & 4GB) external drive holding the myriad of files I want to preserve. Below them are backup drives, which really saved my ass when our computers went to hell last summer.

The laptop shown is my old 13 inch MacBook Pro that failed last summer after getting splattered with tomato sauce. Since that time, I have cleaned it up and got it running again. Replaced by a vintage 15 inch MacBook Pro, I finally unplugged the laptop this morning, returning it to its original box to give me a bit more desktop area.

A Slow Day

Gloriosa daisies uppottedVinca in sixpackI didn't do much gardening today. I watered our gloxinia, Wandering Jew, and miniature geranium in the kitchen this morning. I also checked the plants under our plant lights in the basement and the ones lining a bookshelf in our sunroom. That led me to transplanting some daisies and vincas into individual deep sixpack insert cells from the communal pots they started in. I'd already moved some vinca into sixpacks, but the ones left in the communal pot looked far better than the ones I'd previously transplanted. I'm guessing that there's a bit of transplanting shock going on there.

Beyond that, feeding the birds outside (twice), collecting trash for tomorrow's pickup, and tightening some bolts on a couple of wobbly kitchen chairs, there hasn't been much to do today.

Renee's Garden

Sunday, February 7, 2021 - Very Cold

Our Senior Garden - February 7, 2021Egg carton petunias ready for larger quartersAs was predicted, we started today with temperatures around 3° F with wind chills well into negative values. An inch of new snow made things pretty outside.

Petunias

It seems way too quick, but our egg carton petunias for hanging baskets are ready to be moved to fourpack inserts. But when I looked back at last January's blog, I found the timing to be about the same.

Before moving the petunias to fourpacks and returning them to our lighted plant rack in the basement, I needed to make some room there and do one more job. I needed to start some replacement egg carton petunias. I like having petunias in the kitchen window, and I wanted to start some other varieties more suited for use in the garden than in hanging baskets.

So I seeded a bunch of Celebrity petunias, and a couple cells each of Ultra and Perseverance. The Celebrity variety has been a longtime favorite of ours. I tried the Perseverance variety last year instead of Celebrity. While the purple Perseverance flowers were beautiful, the plants' growth pattern is to overgrow everything nearby! The Ultras are some really old seed I've had in the freezer for far too long. Planting them was more of a germination test than anything else.

Starting more petunias in egg cartons

The egg cartons got filled with damp sterile potting mix. I made a depression in the center of the soil in each egg cell and dropped in a seed. Since most of the seed was pelletized, I went back with a syringe filled with very warm water and dripped water on each seed to help the pelletized coating to begin melting. One doesn't want to cover petunia seed, as it needs light to germinate.

The new egg cartons of seeded petunias went onto a soil heating mat set to 76° F under our plant lights.

Moving petunias to fourpacksGloxinia movers to kitchen windowWith more petunias seeded, I moved on to transplanting our egg carton petunias from their egg cells to slightly larger cells in fourpack inserts. Repotting the petunias into fourpack cells is a pretty easy, but messy job. I use a teaspoon to lift each petunia plant from its egg carton cell and deposit it in a fourpack cell partially filled with potting mix. At this stage of their growth, the petunia plants don't require sterile potting mix, as they are well beyond being threatened by damping off fungus.

The petunias will remain in their fourpacks for less than a month. Then, they'll get moved three to a pot to hanging basket pots.

For more complete information on this subject, see Starting Egg Carton Petunias.

Cooking

I'd bought a large Smithfield ham shank several weeks ago. When I brought it home, I divided it into three sections, freezing two of them. I thawed out the last frozen section this week to make ham salad and also a lovely ham dinner. The juices off the ham were used to soak some Hurst's HamBeens 15 Bean Soup. I prefer that bean mix to plain old navy beans. And of course, you can't have ham and beans without some cornbread.

When it was time for lunch, I wondered aloud where all the beans had gone. At that point, my lovely wife, Annie, admitted that she'd been scooping out beans and eating them all morning! So there was a lot of ham and just a little beans for lunch.

The Smithfield ham I bought was the fattest ham I've ever seen. But it also was one of the sweetest hams I've tasted. We made good use of all of the ham. The hide and fat got boiled down for our dogs to eat. While feeding table scraps to dogs is frowned upon by many, our dogs drag all sorts of road kill and deer carcases into our yard to gnaw on. I don't much mind folks poaching deer and field dressing them, as they are generally people just trying to feed their family, especially in these trying times.

Later on today, I'll be making our usual Super Bowl treat of Texas Nachos.

Garden Tower Project

Saturday, February 6, 2021 - Starting Cauliflower

Cauliflower from last summerDeep sixpack inserts seeded to cauliflowerI try to give our cauliflower transplants a two to three week head start on our broccoli. Even though the cauliflower and broccoli varieties we grow have similar days-to-maturity figures, our cauliflower always seems to take several weeks longer to mature than our broccoli. Starting the cauliflower this early risks the plants stunting or buttoning from being held too long in their starting quarters. But it's a chance I take as opposed to the cauliflower yellowing and turning bitter from ripening in hot weather.

I start our cauliflower seed in deep sixpack inserts filled with sterile potting mix. Each sixpack cell gets a seed buried about an eighth to a quarter inch deep, with an occasional extra seed at the edge of a few of the cells. Since a row in our main raised garden bed has room for six or seven plants, two sixpacks will pretty well take care of our spring cauliflower needs.

The seeded sixpacks went into a tray over a soil heating mat set to 74° F and covered with a clear humidome. Cauliflower and most brassicas tend to get leggy immediately after germination if not supplied with good light. Transplanting the plants deeper into the soil can correct this problem, but it's obviously better to give the plants lots of early, close light to prevent the plants from becoming spindly.

I stayed with several tried and true cauliflower varieties for this planting. I started open pollinated Amazing, Violet of Sicily, and Durgesh 41 and some hybrid Fremont. I'm running out of Fremont seed which is no longer commercially available, although Johnny's Selected Seeds offers an "improved Fremont-type hybrid," Bishop, that we'll probably try next year.

Burpee Seed Company

Thursday, February 4, 2021 - Parsley

Our Senior Garden - February 4, 2021Feeding AmericaMy gardening today was confined to starting a communal pot of parsley, sending out a seed order, and taking seeds out to the freezer and bringing in seed that we'll be starting later this month. The parsley seed was some I'd saved from a plant this last summer. I spread the seed and a good bit of trash mixed in the seed over sterile potting mix and covered it with about an eighth of an inch of potting mix. Since parsley germination benefits from a little bottom heat, the pot went over a soil heating mat. I haven't tested this seed, so there's no way of knowing yet whether or not it will germinate. Fortunately, I have several packets of old commercial parsley seed in the freezer.

Good Gardening Books

Crockett's Indoor Garden Crockett's Flower Garden

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

Current Growing Garden SeedsAmazonA couple of other volumes I wouldn't be without are Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds and the late Nancy Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook. Johnston's brief but informative booklet has about all the basic information one needs to begin saving garden seeds. While there is a shipping charge on orders from Johnny's, the booklet itself will only set you back $2.05! Note that the Johnny's site currently carries the message:

"We are only accepting orders from commercial growers and farmers at this time. We will reopen for home garden orders again on February 10th and 11th."

Bubel's volume on starting seeds runs a little over five or six dollars shipped for a used paperback copy and exhaustively covers starting garden plants from seed.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Wednesday, February 3, 2021 - Onions

The tray of onions I started a week ago today are coming up nicely. Some fresh Walla Walla seed and a slightly lower soil heating mat temperature has produced lots of emerging onions. I turned off the soil heating mat this morning and removed the clear humidome covering the onions.

Onions coming up

After one mostly failed tray in a previous planting of onions, I seeded pretty heavily with this tray. That's going to require some thinning later on. I'll need to remember not to put any of our trays of onions on the bottom shelf of our plant rack. Several years ago, two trays of onions hardening off on our back porch all began to die. When I closely inspected them, a strong odor of cat pee told me what was killing the onions. Cats seem to view a tray of soil as a good cat litter box.

Egg Carton Petunias

Egg carton petunias in kitchen window

Some of our egg carton petunias in a kitchen window are quickly outgrowing their egg carton cells. Since the growth is a bit uneven, I'll need to move the larger plants into fourpack inserts while leaving the rest to grow a bit more in their egg cartons. The soil heating mat vacated by our last tray of onions will soon be filled with more petunias. While our current egg carton petunias are destined for hanging baskets, this planting will be for petunias for our garden plots.

The Exchange 2021 Yearbook

The Exchange yearbook from SSEOur copy of The Exchange Yearbook arrived in the mail yesterday. It contains all the listings by Seed Savers Exchange members and other listers of heirloom and open pollinated seeds (and more) for sale. Started in 1975 by Kent and Diane Whealy, this year's Yearbook has 21,514 total listings, 16,122 of them unique varieties, by 479 listers.

The Yearbook is sent free to all listers. Non-listing SSE members at or above the $50 membership fee also get a copy. Even retired old geezer members like me at the $25 membership fee get a copy.

I missed updating my listings by a day, but they still got included this year's print Yearbook. Non-members wanting a hard copy of the Yearbook can order one for $20. Alternatively, one can download a PDF version of the Yearbook for free. An advantage of the PDF over the hard copy is that it is searchable. And of course, one can view listings via SSE's Exchange site.

Our Seed Listings

We're certainly not in the business of selling garden seed. I do share some of our favorite heirloom seed varieties through the Seed Savers Member Exchange (SSE) and the Grassroots Seed Network (GSN). While we save seed from lots of vegetable and herb varieties, we only share our superstars. Listed below are our seed offerings for 2021 from seed grown out this last year (2020). I've also noted varieties recently made commercially available by the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative (TTSI).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Long Pickling cucumberLots of Japanese Long Pickling cucumbersJapanese Long Pickling Cucumbers - I'd grown Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers for years. But after a five year hiatus from gardening after I lost our farm, I found that seed for the excellent variety was no longer available. I did, however, still have a few seeds preserved in the freezer over the years. Just one seed germinated, so I began saving seed and propagating the variety. Things went really well for the long, thin cucumbers for several years before we ran into inbreeding depression. So I bred in some cucumbers of the same name from Reimer Seeds, only saving seed from our cucumber plants. The crossing revitalized our strain of the excellent cucumber without changing our strain's excellent characteristics.

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

Japanese Long Pickling cucumber vines

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

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

Gloxinias in our dining room - July 5, 2017

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

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

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021 - Texas Nachos

Texas Nachos Wunderground 10-day forecastWhen my wife, Annie, and I were dating, Texas Nachos at Chi-Chi's became one of our favorite outings. Since we really couldn't afford doing such stuff on a regular basis, we began experimenting on a Texas Nachos recipe of our own. After just a few tries, we were able to come up with a quick, tasty recipe for the treat that comes pretty close, I think, to what the restaurant served, and possibly even better!

While Texas Nachos used to be an occasional dinner when our kids were home, we now reserve the treat for Super Bowl Sundays. I checked our recipe and made a shopping list today for what we'll need. I'll need to really cut down the recipe, as it feeds six or more.

It appears that Super Bowl Sunday this year may be a good day to stay bundled up and inside. The predicted high temperature for our area is 10° F with a sub-zero overnight low. We've been fortunate so far this winter in not having lots of snow or really low temperatures. It appears winter will really set in for us next week.

And in case you missed it, Punxsutawney Phil predicts 6 more weeks of winter.

Three of the Maverick Mix geranium seed I started three days ago had germinated by this morning. Those seeds got moved to three inch pots, but still remain over a soil heating mat. I'm hopeful some of the rest of the pack of ten seeds will sprout in the next day or two.

Chewy

Monday, February 1, 2021

Our Senior Garden - February 1, 2021
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Cardinals at well
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We're starting out February with a bit of snow on the ground. The storm that is currently inundating the northeast with snow ran mostly north of us.

One of my morning chores has become spreading a little bird seed around our shallow well and cistern. While I keep our bird feeder filled most of the time, sprinkling a little birdseed around the well often draws eight to ten bright red cardinals there, but only when I don't have my camera with me.

A good bit of what I'll be doing this month will be tending to stuff we already have started: sage; hosta; gloxinias; petunias; vinca; impatiens; dianthus; petunias; asparagus; onions; geraniums; daisies; catnip; celery; snapdragons; and gloxinias.

Later this month, I'll start our cauliflower. Although the varieties have about the same days-to-maturity dates as our broccoli, the cauliflower always takes two to three weeks longer to mature than our broccoli. The broccoli will get seeded towards the end of the month, possibly along with some Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Other things to start may include lettuce, spinach, and possibly some beets.

Starting milkweed seed in bulb panI started some milkweed seed this morning. I began soaking and stratifying the seed two weeks ago per instructions on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site. They suggested soaking the seed for two weeks in some planting medium in a refrigerator. So I put our seed in sandwich bags with a bit of damp vermiculite to soak. Even though I'd soaked the three varieties of milkweed seed in separate baggies, I just dumped all of the seed onto a bulb pan filled with sterile potting mix.

Action Against Hunger USAFilling the bulb pan with the sterile mix emptied the kettle I keep it in. So as I write, there's another kettle of potting soil mixed with ProMix and a little lime heating in our oven. I noticed that a couple of geranium seeds I'd begun soaking two days ago have sprouted. By tomorrow, I'll probably need to move the geranium seeds to individual three inch pots.

I'll be looking for a windless day combined with non-freezing temperatures this month to spray our apple trees with dormant oil spray. Such a spray can kill insects and insect eggs overwintering on the trees.

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