Senior Gardening

One of the Joys of Maturity
The Senior Garden Blog Archive
Features & How-To's
Affiliated Advertisers


March 16, 2019

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.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Boy! That didn't take long!

The plants that I'd moved outside over the last few days and wrote about yesterday are back inside already. Overnight temperatures are predicted to drop below freezing for the next four nights. The plants will do nicely on our dining room table, as long as the cats leave them alone.

Plants back inside

Starting Earlirouge Tomatoes and Earliest Red Sweet Peppers

With a target transplanting date seven weeks from today, I started our Earlirouge tomatoes today. I seeded a deep sixpack insert with seed from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative. Their seed was grown out last summer from some of our seed! I started another sixpack with our own saved seed from 2017. (Our Earlirouge seed saved in 2018 had generally poor germination rates.) And I started a communal pot with some of the original 1988 saved Earlirouge seed from our farming years.

I also started our Earliest Red Sweet peppers today. The ERS variety produces lots of medium sized red peppers. Unlike some early peppers, the ERS variety continues to produce prolifically until frost.

Both the tomatoes and peppers went over our second soil heating mat. It doesn't have an external thermostat, but has its own internal shutoff when it gets too hot.

I'll be starting several other tomato and pepper varieties early next month. They'll go into our East Garden which often doesn't get worked up until sometime in May.

Rukaten Camera


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Our Senior Garden - March 14, 2019Lettuce - first out on the porch to harden offDespite the high winds we've been experiencing recently, I've begun moving plants outside to harden off. I don't have our cold frame covered with plastic as yet, so the plants have been moved first to the edge of our back porch. Later, I moved the plants close to the house under the porch for some protection from the wind. Our tray of lettuce was the first to go outside, followed by a couple of hanging baskets of petunias, and a flat of daisies, sage, and hosta I'd overwintered from last year.

I know I'll need to bring the plants back inside or move them under a cold frame on a few frosty, possibly freezing nights we'll have the rest of this month. As the wind howls outside as I write this posting late at night, I wonder what I'll find with the plants in the morning. Sometimes, I get a little overeager.

When plants and trays come back inside, they don't go back to our sunroom or basement plant room. They go onto our dining room table, or in the case of hanging baskets, line one wall of our kitchen. After losing all of our gloxinias to the INSV virus several years ago, I've become very cautious about bringing plants back inside. Our general rule is that such plants never go to our basement plant room, only to the dining room table or our upstairs, semi-unheated sunroom.

Part of my hurry up on moving plants outside is because I want to move lettuce transplants into a raised bed yet this month. I know I'll need to protect the plants with either a floating row cover or a cold frame (or both), but can hardly wait until we have our own spring lettuce for a month or so.

Talking about things we're anticipating, I dropped off a packet of Earlirouge tomato seed with my dentist's receptionist today when I went in for a teeth cleaning. She and her husband are avid gardeners, and I'd promised her some seed from our current favorite tomato variety. Things were slow for them at the time, and the receptionist, dental assistant, and dentist and I all engaged in a conversation about missing the taste of real, homegrown tomatoes.

Please note that I'm no longer offering our Earlirouge tomato seed to SSE members, GSN members, or readers of this site, as the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative grew out some seed I'd sent them and is offering the variety commercially. Getting an endangered tomato variety back into commercial production and sale may help secure the variety's survival.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - Spinach

As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to seed a row of spinach beside the early peas I sowed yesterday. Doing so was easy. I used a piece of scrap one inch lumber to carve out a shallow furrow, sprinkled seed down the row, and pinched the soil back over the seed.

One interesting thing about the planting became apparent as I seeded. I had soaked some Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed overnight that we had produced in 2017. It had been stored in a jar in a dark area of our basement. This morning, I drained the water off the seed and dumped the seed in a bowl with some Captan fungicide in it to fend off seed rot. After letting the seed sit and dry for a couple of hours, I seeded it. But as I went down the row trying to keep the still damp seed from clumping, I notice spots of green. Closer examination revealed that some of the seed had germinated overnight!

Spinach SaladShrimp PortofinoWe love spinach in salads, omelets, boiled, and in wonderful recipes such as Shrimp Portofino. But our spring crops only offer a short picking period before the weather turns hot. Today's direct seeding is the earliest I've done in hopes the spinach will survive some late frosts we're sure to have and still mature a nice crop before the weather turns hot. I also plan to save seed from this planting. Our fall spinach usually produces an extended picking period in the cool, shortening days of fall. With it, the problem is getting it started during hot weather in August.

Here are some interesting pages I found on growing spinach.

More Peas

We grow two varieties of supersweet short peas each year. Since the Eclipse and Encore varieties don't germinate well in cool soil, we usually wait until mid-April to direct seed them. We'll probably try to get the varieties direct seeded in early April, but I also started some Eclipse and Encore peas today to transplant into the prospective pea row.

Seed, labels, and tray ready for planting

I seeded a full tray of deep sixpack inserts (36 cells) half and half to Eclipse and Encore. As usual, I used sterile potting mix for the seeding. I used a finger to make a hole in the center of each cell, dropped in a seed, and covered it with a quarter to half inch of potting mix. The tray went over a soil heating mat set to 70° F, covered with a clear humidity dome, and under our plant lights.

Pea seed in potting mix

When the Eclipse pea was introduced, it was advertised as being a supersweet pea. We found that to be true, but also found that the shrunken peas didn't germinate all that well. That may have been a cause of the pea variety being discontinued. We also grew the Encore pea which is part of Eclipse's parentage. Encores are just about as sweet as Eclipses and germinate slightly better.

I went on a mission to save the Eclipse variety years ago, only to find out that both the Eclipse and Encore pea varieties are patented. Even under very restrictive plant patent laws, I could grow the varieties for our use and even save seed from them. But I can't (and won't) share seed with others...until 2021 when the patents expire. I'm hoping to outlive the Bayer/Monsanto/Seminis patents and share seed with other gardeners in 2022.

Garden Tower Project

Monday, March 11, 2019 - Direct Seeding Early Peas

We try to plant our first peas sometime in early March. One exception to that over the last ten years was when we seeded them on February 28, 2012. Of course, that was the year of the drought that followed an extremely warm winter. The latest in that period we've started peas was on April 3, 2011. The driving force for such early plantings is, of course, to mature a crop of sweet shelling peas before hot weather sets in.

Our early pea varieties are Champion of England and Maxigolt, which germinate well in cool soil. Both varieties are tall peas, growing to five feet or more. While tall peas require trellising, I like them because there is less bending involved in picking the mature peas. We've also tried the All American winner, Mr. Big, and really liked the peas, but found the variety didn't fill its pods very well. I also grew some Spanish Skyscrapers one year. True to their name, they totally outgrew our trellis. I'm still trying to find a spot where I can hang a very tall trellis to try the variety again. The peas we harvested from our Spanish Skyscraper vines were excellent before the vines all fell over after outgrowing our trellis.

Since our ground has thawed and was tilled last fall, I was able to use a pretty traditional planting method today. After raking the soil in the raised bed smooth, I staked and strung an area for a sixteen inch by fifteen foot wide bed planting. While one can grow great peas in a narrow row, we have to use a double trellis around our peas to keep the wind from blowing them off the trellis, so we might as well have a wide bed of peas.

Diagram of raised bed for peas

Using the strings as a guide, I raked out a wide furrow about three inches deep. I spread some 12-12-12 fertilizer and granular soil inoculant in the furrow and hoed it in. It felt really good to be back out in the garden again working with a rake and hoe!

Then I shook some Captan fungicide on the seed and liberally seeded the row. I used my rake to pull an inch or two of soil over the seed, firming it by gently tapping the soil with the head of the rake to ensure good seed to soil contact.

Fertilizer and inoculant spread in row Furrow liberally seeded Seed covered, Repels All and Milky Spore added

After covering the seed, I sprinkled some Repels All and Milky Spore over the entire bed. The Repels All is to help keep our dogs from digging in the bed (usually after a mole). The Milky Spore kills Japanese Beetle larvae and other grubs that moles feed upon, denying them a purpose for tunneling under the bed.

I omitted watering the newly planted bed. I hope to seed a row of early spinach tomorrow along the edge of the bed. And, we're predicted to get some light rain for a couple of days beginning tomorrow night.

I describe this method of planting, narrow rows, and a couple of alternate methods for seeding when the ground is frozen or nearly so in our how-to feature, Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas.

Fruit Bouquets

Sunday, March 10, 2019 - Hot Water Treating Tomato Seed

I spent some time this afternoon hot water treating all of the new tomato seed we ordered for this year's garden. Hot water treatment can kill seed borne disease organisms, but normally is not necessary or recommended when dealing with seed from trusted vendors. I'd gotten a little iffy about where we got some of our seed last year and ended up hot water treating all the tomato seed we started for that garden. I had one packet of seed this year that worried me a bit, so I went ahead and treated all six packets of new tomato seed we had come in. So all the tomato seed we start this year will be hot water treated, either last year or today.

Again, hot water treatment should not be necessary for seed purchased from reputable vendors (Burpee, Johnny's, Stokes, etc.). Saved seed is another matter, as we've had seed and soil borne diseases in the past in our tomatoes. The hot water treatment process can slightly reduce germination rates. And if you goof and get the water too hot, you can kill the seed! (Yep, been there, done that!) But the process is really fairly easy, especially if you're an old hand like me at working in a photo darkroom where developing solution temperatures have to be strictly maintained.

An excellent page on Cornell's Vegetable MD Online, Managing Pathogens Inside Seed with Hot Water, carries the advisory, "While this is a well-documented procedure, any treatment done to seed after purchase voids any guarantees of the seed company." The page also has a good listing of vegetable seeds' time and temperature requirements for hot water treatment.

A chart on a University of Massachusetts Amherst page, Hot Water Treatment of Seeds, adds all the nasties that can be carried in or on tomato seeds. I've underlined the diseases we've identified and had in our garden over the years:

Alfalfa mosaic virus, Anthracnose, bacterial canker, bacterial speck, bacterial spot, cucumber mosaic virus, early blight, Fusarium wilt, leaf mold, Septoria leaf spot, Tomato mosaic virus, Verticillium wilt, double virus streak

Getting to the nitty gritty, I should mention here that our Saving Tomato Seed how-to has a section on hot water treatment of seed.

Cheesecloth holding treated seedWhile one can hot water treat seed one variety at a time, I chose to do all six tomato varieties today in one batch. With one variety, one can just dump the seed into warm water. But with six varieties to treat, I wrapped each in cheesecloth marked for identification by different sandwich bag tags, twist ties, and various colored rubber bands.

Tomato seed being hot water treatedThe cheesecloth "bags" went into warmish (90° or so) water in a two cup Pyrex measuring cup. I gradually added hot water from the tap until I got the water temperature to the required 122° F. To help hold the water at that temperature, the pyrex cup was in our kitchen sink filled with hot water. I also had a teapot of boiling water on hand that I used to keep the sink water really hot. And when needed, I'd bump up the temperature in the pyrex cup with a little of the very hot water, being very cautious not to exceed the recommended temperature.

I still use my trusty, 40+ year-old Weston darkroom thermometer from my darkroom days to monitor the water temperature.

Required Disclosure Statement

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

After twenty-five minutes, I began dumping out some of the hot water from the pyrex and adding cooler water. I did so several times, gradually getting the water temperature down to the nineties. Then I dumped out the water and moved the cheesecloth bags onto some paper towels to dry a bit and cool some more. After a few minutes, I used scissors to snip the cheesecloth just above the seed, opening up the cheesecloth to reveal the seed. Each bunch of seed went into a paper bowl marked with the seeds' variety name. The paper bowls of seed now sit atop a high bookcase (where our cats can't get to them) to dry for several days.

Hot Water Treatment of Tomato (and other) Seed

Tomato Varieties We Hope to Grow for 2019

I'm planning on making a larger than normal tomato planting for us this year. We had all the tomatoes we could use fresh, can, and give away last season from just six Earlirouge tomato plants, but there are several new-to-us varieties I want to try. And after building a whole bunch of dandy new tomato cages in 2017, I'd like to see them all in use for the first time this year.

Last year, there were three tomato varieties (Bellstar, Crimson Sprinter, and Dixie Red) we hoped to try for the first time. They didn't get a fair trial because I messed up my knees and couldn't properly care for the plants. We're adding two more new-to-us tomato varieties this year (Bradley and Chef's Choice).

Open pollinated tomato varieties for 2019: Earlirouge, Moira, Quinte, Crimson Sprinter, Bradley (open pollinated slicer/canners), Bellstar (OP paste), and Red Pearl (OP grape).

Hybrid tomato varieties for 2019: Bella Rosa, Dixie Red, Better Boyicon, Mountain Fresh Plus, Mountain Merit, and Chef's Choice.

Just listing the variety names has my mouth watering for a really good, homegrown tomato. I'll be seeding the first of our tomatoes in a week or so.

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, March 8, 2019 - Egg Shells and Coffee Cups

Grinding egg shells to powder for use in the gardenCutworm collars around broccoli and cauliflowerOther than adjusting the height of our plant lights over the transplants we've started and watering the plants, there hasn't been a lot of gardening to do the last few days. I did get one periodic chore done yesterday, grinding saved egg shells to a fine powder.

We somewhat irregularly save our egg shells by rinsing them out, drying them, and crushing them a bit in a ziplock freezer bag. The crushed egg shells go into our kitchen freezer until the bag gets fairly full. Then, I get out an old coffee grinder and grind the shells down to a powder, saving them in an old mayonnaise jar.

We started using ground egg shells under our tomatoes and peppers about three years ago to reduce blossom end rot. Before that, we'd used lots of calcitic limestone under those plants, but tomatoes don't much like the sweet soil that an excess of limestone can produce. I've not found any research about using egg shells to provide calcium to crops, but it has worked well for us the last few years.

Although scattering crushed egg shells around plants is said to discourage cutworms, we grind our egg shells to help them break down and supply calcium to plants. I've noticed that when we have egg shells in our compost pile, they don't break down very readily.

We're also saving used paper coffee cups to use as cutworm collars around a variety of plants. Our broccoli, cauliflower, and pepper transplants all get a cutworm collar around them the first week or so they're in the ground. Cutworms seem to especially like our pepper plants.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Surprise Burpee package and contentsGetting ready for spring and summer, I'd ordered some flea and tick medicine online. So when the UPS truck pulled into our driveway today, I wasn't surprised. But when I got to the truck, the box I received was clearly labeled as coming from Burpee Gardening. That was strange, as I knew I hadn't ordered anything from Burpee recently!

Upon opening the well packed box, I found a jar with nine or ten packets of mixed flower seed in it. An accompanying letter explained that Burpee was kicking off their Sow A Smileicon campaign by sending out samples to garden writers to share with others.

The promotion involves Burpee throwing in a generous packet of Sow A Smile flower seed with each order that includes an annual flower seed ordericon. Then things get involved. Burpee suggests that one create a homegrown cut-flower bouquet from the planting, give it to someone, and capture their delight in a photo.

Burpee then asks if you might "share your smile-story images" on a Facebook page they've created for the campaign. (It appears the link for sharing images and stories isn't active yet.)

The freebie seed packets contain an assortment of annual flower seed, including annual baby's breath, annual candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, catchfly, gloriosa daisy, and plains coreopsis. Other packet info says the flowers grow from two to four feet tall in full sun and can cover twenty-four square feet. I don't have that much space to devote to such a planting, but have a little spot in our back yard where I can sow a little of the seed.

Please don't write me for advice on growing seed from this sample. Of all the flower seed included, I only have experience with growing gloriosa daisies.

Of course, Burpee's idea in sending out samples was probably so writers like me would publicize the campaign. The number of seed packets sent also suggests they hope we'll share the seed with others. I dropped off seed today with my favorite checkout people at Walmart, a local grocery, and a liquor store whose checker is an avid gardener. Tomorrow, my wife will share seed with her co-workers at the bank.


Our Senior Garden - March 5, 2019We're in our last night in the deep freeze. We're finally out of single digit overnight lows, but it's still cold out. (My apologies for folks in Minnesota and such who know what real cold is.) I got out to take our trash to the roadside for pickup and to dump some used cat littler in a hole and some kitchen scraps on our compost pile. I foolishly wore a pair of thin garden gloves and found my fingers were numb from the cold and wind after just a few minutes outside. The blue skies with fluffy clouds sort of fooled me. When I went to town a bit later, I was bundled up like Nanook of the North, including some heavy thermal gloves.

March weather here is a bit fickle. We're supposed to be back up over 50 degrees by the weekend. Of course, we'll still have a good number of nights below freezing. But eventually, winter will break.

Other than bottom watering a few trays of transplants, I really didn't do any gardening today.

Burpee Gardening

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Our Snowy Senior Garden - March 3, 2019REI Arc'teryxSnow had been predicted for today, originally with accumulations of 3-5". It appears that we'll end up with a little over two inches. Other than cleaning the cats' litter box, the weather pretty well rules out any outdoor work.

Inside, I transplanted three Supercascade petunias into an eight inch hanging basket pot. Doing so now should bring the plants into bloom in April. Our Double Cascades appear to have stunted in the egg carton cells they were seeded in. I moved them into fourpack inserts to see if I can get them growing again. The good news was that I got sixteen good plants from the twenty-four cells that I seeded. There were actually more plants than that, but I mangled some moving them from the egg carton cells to the fourpacks. I still find a teaspoon to be the best tool for scooping the plants and soil out of the egg cartons.

Supercascades in hanging basket pot Double Cascades in egg cartons Double Cascade petunias in fourpack inserts

Our tray of onions were ready for another trimming today. For some reason, the plants seem to need trimming far more often this year than in years past.

Onions in need of trimming Onions trimmed

I use a pair of Heritage Kitchen Shears for the trimmings and many other garden and household chores. They're made of stainless steel and come apart for thorough cleaning. I did notice when creating the link above today that the price for the shears has gone up about ten bucks. I'd guess that is partially due to the import tariffs the President recently enacted. Even at the new price, the shears are a good buy. For years, I was always buying cheap scissors, as the handles would break or come off.

Boiling tomatoes with potatoesFinished lasagnaAnother recent use for the shears was trimming cooked lasagna noodles to length! I made our lasagna sauce from scratch this time around, boiling down two quarts of canned whole tomatoes for the sauce. Since the salt added in canning can make boiled down tomatoes pretty salty, I cut two potatoes into the tomatoes as they boiled. The potatoes absorb a good bit of the saltiness. (And our dogs love the salty, cooked potatoes!)

As I prepared the lasagna sauce, I was again reminded that we need to have a good crop of basil this year. Our jar of dried basil from our garden is almost empty. And while our dried basil is a second choice to picking fresh basil, it's far better than using store bought, as we know it wasn't sprayed with anything harmful. Not as low as our jar of basil is our saved oregano. We shouldn't have a problem saving lots of it, too. Our oregano plants tried to take over one side of our herb garden last summer

Friday, March 1, 2019

Our Senior Garden - March 1, 2019
Click on images to open larger view in new tab or window.
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

Burpee Seed CompanyOur gardening pace really begins to pick up in March. While our only planting will be our early peas, we may get to pick a few spears of asparagus. Our garlic should emerge, and our daffodils and tulips that emerged in February may begin to bloom. Our remaining apple trees will need to be sprayed with dormant oil. I may try grafting some apple scions again on some rootstock I bought last year and overwintered.

Most of our March gardening action happens inside or on our back porch or under a cold frame. We'll be starting our tomatoes and peppers this month, as well as basil. Plants under our plant lights will need regular watering, repotting, and towards the end of the month, move under a cold frame outside to harden off. Hanging basket plants that can easily be brought inside on cold nights will hang from our back porch soon.

I need to put together another PVC pipe cold frame, as I'd like to get some lettuce transplanted into the garden well before our last frost date (April 14). I'll need to protect the lettuce with a cold frame and/or a floating row cover. Our old cold frame will need some repair before being covered with 6 mil clear plastic, as some of its joints have come loose. The original frame received a lot of abuse in its first year of use, as it was so light the wind would catch it when open and blow it fifty feet or so. I corrected that problem last year by cutting open the base of the frame and putting some concrete in the PVC pipe as ballast.

I started lots of flowers and some celery in communal pots last month. I began moving some of those plants from their somewhat crowded communal pots into fourpack and deep sixpack inserts yesterday and today. I started with the largest plants and worked my way down. About the time I ran out of sterile potting soil, I also ran into some plants that were still too small to move. Using sterile potting mix is necessary while the plants are still tender and susceptible to damping off.

Plants moved from communal pots to inserts

If we have an extended warm, dry spell, I'd love to get a first tilling done of our garden plots. Some were tilled last fall, but even those areas could benefit from the soil being loosened a bit.

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Required Disclosure Statement: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and True Leaf Market are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. Clicking through one of our ads or text links and making a purchase will produce a small commission for us from the sale. We're also a consumer member of the Fedco Seeds Cooperative. True Leaf Market Fedco Seeds

Previously on Senior Gardening


From the at Senior Gardening
The Senior Garden Blog Archive
Features & How-To's
Affiliated Advertisers