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February 20, 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, February 20, 2020 - Egg Shells for the Garden

Crushed egg shells in coffee grinderEgg shells can have a lot of beneficial uses in ones garden. Crushed and spread around tender young plants, they can provide a barrier of sharp edges that may deter slugs, snails, and cutworms. Added to a compost pile, the shells decompose (very slowly), adding calcium to the pile. Seriously crushed or ground, they can be added to chicken feed to reduce the amount of oyster shell needed by laying hens to produce eggs with thick shells.

One of the articles linked below suggests that "Cats have an aversion to eggshells" and says spreading them in the garden will put cats off. In our house, our cats sometimes jump on the kitchen counter where we dry our egg shells. If we haven't effectively hidden or blocked off access to the shells, our cats seem to love playing with them!

Up until about five years ago, all of our egg shells went on our compost pile where they very slowly decomposed. Then I read about using egg shell to add the calcium needed to prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes and peppers. Since I knew how slowly egg shells decomposed in our compost piles (at least a year), I decided to powder our egg shells for use in our garden.

Grinding egg shellsWhenever we use eggs, we rinse, air dry, crush, and freeze our egg shells. When our quart Ziplock bag of crushed egg shells in the freezer gets fairly full, I use an old coffee grinder to reduce the shells to a fine powder. I think the powdered egg shells probably break down a bit quicker than crushed ones to release calcium around our tomato and pepper plants.

Not withstanding my comment above about egg shells deterring cats, these are pretty good articles about using egg shells in ones garden.

I've frequently linked here and in our Growing Tomatoes and Growing Peppers how-to's to Cindy Fake's excellent article, Managing Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes and Peppers. In it, she tells why adding limestone or egg shells to your tomato and pepper plantings may not totally erase problems with blossom end rot. And she does it in layman's terms.

About Eggs

The Family Poultry FlockAt my advanced years, I've lived through periods where eating eggs was good for you, bad for your cholesterol, oops, okay to eat, and now again according to "a new study of studies," not so good for you. During my years as an underpaid school teacher and part-time farmer, we ate lots of eggs since that was what we had. In those farming years, we kept a flock of 25-30 laying hens.

Approaching my 72nd birthday, I still eat lots of eggs, and my cholesterol numbers remain good. But that may just be me. I now eat lots of eggs simply because I like them. It doesn't hurt that "Eggs are a very good source of inexpensive, high-quality protein. More than half the protein of an egg is found in the egg white, which also includes vitamin B2 and lower amounts of fat than the yolk. Eggs are rich sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper."

If you're considering starting a flock of laying hens, let me suggest you invest in a used copy of the now out-of-print The Family Poultry Flock by Lee Schwanz. Also checking what your county extension service has on family flocks could prove helpful. That's where I found the plans for the laying nest I built for our hens in our barn. I've lived out in the country for the last forty years, but many municipalities are now allowing for small chicken flocks within city limits.

 
 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - Strange Germination Test(s)

100% cucumber germination testWalmartI had an unusual experience with some germination tests I started just two days ago. The Japanese Long Pickling seed we're offering this year was all grown and saved in 2017 and 2018. Germination tests shortly after the seed saving ranged from 80-100% germination. We didn't save any cucumber seed last summer, as I grabbed the wrong sprayer and killed our cucumber vines!

To make sure we weren't sharing sub-par seed with others, I started four germination tests of cucumber seed on Monday. When I checked several other germination tests last night, I also took a peek at the cucumber tests. To my surprise, a lot of germination had taken place. So this morning, I went ahead and did what turned out to be a final read of all the cucumber tests. The four batches of seed tested at 80, 90, 100, and 100% germination! Obviously, the seed we'll be sharing will be from the 100% batches.

The rate of germination wasn't as big a surprise as was the speed of the germination. But then I realized that I'd put the tests in a box of garden gloves and such right over a hot air register. If only all of our germination tests turned out so well.

One of the other tests I was looking at last night was of our Howden pumpkin seed. That seed only germinated at 50% in December. We're only four days into the test, but it appears so far that this test may not produce any better results than in December. Obviously, we're not sharing pumpkin seed unless the current test surprises me with 80% or better germination.

Outside

While it wasn't even close to springlike outside today, I still enjoyed working in the garden for a half hour or so. The sun was out and there was little wind. I pulled some spinach plants that have so far survived the winter. While still alive, the leaves seemed leathery. I also started pulling some winter weeds that always spring up each winter in our main raised bed. The ground was just barely thawed enough to pull the weeds and spinach. But it was nice to get outside and work in the garden a bit.

Habitat for Humanity

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - Starting Broccoli

Fruit BouquetsI started our broccoli and a little bit of Brussels sprouts today. We're a bit on the early end of Johnny's Selected Seeds' Seed-Starting Date Calculator which recommends starting broccoli in our area from February 18 to March 3. Since I like to transplant broccoli and cauliflower the first week in April, things should work out okay if the weather cooperates.

Broccoli and most other brassicas happily germinate around room temperature, with 70- 75° F being ideal. I've successfully germinated them in the past in far cooler conditions in our basement.

Seeding broccoli (seeds are green)I began today's gardening adventure by filling four deep sixpack inserts with sterile potting mix. I then watered the mix with very warm, almost boiling water. The hot water ensures that the peat moss in the mix gets thoroughly saturated.

After the soil had cooled, I made very light impressions in the soil in the center and at some corners of the cells with a finger tip. Depending on the variety and age of the seed, each sixpack got between eight and eleven seeds. I'd much rather pull out extra plants than have to re-seed. The small seed got covered with about an eighth inch of potting mix, as brassica seeds don't need light to germinate.

Then the sixpacks went into a tray over a soil heating mat set to 75° F. The tray got covered with a clear humidity dome. The seed should germinate in five to ten days.

Varieties of broccoli seeded today were Premium Crop, Goliath, Green Goliath, and Castle Dome. The Brussels sprouts were Dagan and Hestia.

I tell about growing broccoli and cauliflower from seeding to harvest in our how-to feature, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

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Other

I dropped off a bag of garlic yesterday at our local food bank. Some of the outer cloves of our stored garlic had begun to dry out and shrivel a bit. Knowing the inner cloves were probably still good, I kept those garlics for our use. The rest got divided up with a big bunch for the food bank and a smaller bunch for one of our daughters.

Burpee Herb Seeds & Plants

Monday, February 17, 2020 - Fun Stuff

When I place my seed orders in November and December, I occasionally order a new vegetable variety or two on a whim. This year, it must have been quite a whim, as I now have seed for eight new vegetable varieties for this season.

Two whims that caught my eye in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog were South Anna Butternut and Crimson Sweet, Virginia Select watermelon. We've grown good Waltham Butternuts and Crimson Sweets for years, but both of these variants sounded interesting.

South Anna Butternuts are a cross of Seminole Pumpkin and the venerable Waltham Butternuticon squash. They are supposed to add "excellent downy mildew resistance, productivity and keeping quality, as well as rich sweet flavor and 95% butternut-shaped fruits." I intend to plant the South Anna Butternuts side-by-side with our Waltham Butternuts and allow them to cross pollinate for seed saving. South Anna Butternuts are an Open Source Seed Initiative variety.

The Crimson Sweet, Virginia Select watermelon variety is an attempt to improve the longstanding favorite Crimson Sweeticon variety. Plant breeder Pam Dawling has been working since 2001 to select for "large, early melons with good flavor and healthy foliage."

The Red Bull Storage Onion from Fedco Seeds had the strongest germination of any of the onions we seeded last month. I'm still looking for an adequate replacement for the now discontinued Red Zeppelin hybrid red storage onion.

I'm hoping that the Cora Cascade mix trailing vinca from Stokes Seeds will give us a nice hanging basket or two.

The online description of Judy's Kale from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative reminded me a lot of Red Ursa kale without the red stem spines. Having ordered some Judy's Kale to try, a freebie packet of Purple Moon kale arrived in the mail this week from Renee's Garden. It may add some color to our mostly green rows of kale with its "frilled & ruffled, deep purple leaves."

Perseverance petunia from the Turtle Tree Seed Initiative will go along the edges of our garden, mostly replacing wooden row marker stakes with something a bit prettier.

And the Minnesota Midget Melon from the Seed Savers Exchange has the hint of being something like our favorite cantaloupe, Sugar Cube.

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

Sunday, February 16, 2020 - Seed Saving and Sharing

Earliest Red Sweet peppersOur first crop of JLP peppers after rediscovering the varietyFor several years, I have returned seed order money with the seeds ordered for the endangered vegetable varieties we work to preserve. I'd hoped to encourage folks to grow out, save, and offer seed for them. That effort hasn't work out so well.

With the renewal in interest over the last decade in open pollinated and heirloom garden seed, some commercial seed houses have begun offering several of the varieties of seed we save. The Turtle Tree Seed Initiative now offers the Earlirouge and Quinte tomato varieties and Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed. Reimer and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds offer our favorite cucumber, Japanese Long Pickling. With those varieties now commercially available, I still fill folks' orders, but I keep the cash. grin

We offer seeds for those previously endangered varieties via the Grassroots Seed Network or the Seed Savers Exchange. If you order seed from us through those sources, be sure to include your mailing address with the order. I've had a couple of orders come in lacking that essential information. Sadly, I can't wish the seeds to you.

Grassroots Seed Network The Exchange Commercial Listings

Earlirouge tomato

Earlirouge Earlirouge

Moira tomato

Moira  

Quinte tomato

Quinte Quinte

Earliest Red Sweet pepper

Earliest Red Sweet Earliest Red Sweet
Japanese Long Pickling cucumber Japanese Long Pickling Japanese Long Pickling (1, 2)
Abundant Bloomsdale spinach Abundant Bloomsdale Abundant Bloomsdale (1, 2, )

We continue to offer one still endangered tomato variety, Moira. It was our longtime favorite tomato variety until I found some Earlirouge seed in 2013 that I'd saved towards the end of my farming years in 1988! Moiras have a bit deeper interior coloring than the Earlirouge or Quinte varieties (all developed by the late Canadian breeder, Jack Metcalf).

Not quite ripe Moira tomatoes on the vine

Our "freshest" Moira and Quinte tomato seed was produced in 2017. I simply haven't been able to isolate plantings of those varieties the last two years. I aim to correct that failing this coming season.

Successful Quinte tomato seed germination testAbundant Bloomsdale spinachOur first germination test of the 2017 Quinte seed showed absolutely no signs of germination. But then I realized that I'd cleared the counter on which I set up the test with a strong cleaner which may have killed the seed. A second test with a considerably larger seed sample germinated at 96%.

Another offering is for Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed. It is a relatively new, Open Source Seed Initiative variety. The seed carries the following restriction: "You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives."

We got our start of Abundant Bloomsdale seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in 2016. Other quality seed vendors, such as High Mowing Organic Seeds, also offer the variety. We've fallen in love with this spinach, although I really suggest folks support seed houses offering it unless you live in the midwest and might benefit from our seed that is slightly adapted to our growing conditions.

One last type of seed we share is our landrace variety of gloxinias via the Grassroots Seed Network and The Exchange. I've hand pollinated our Empress, Double Brocade, and Cranberry Tiger gloxinias for years. Each time we seed gloxinias, we get a nice mix of bloom colors, both single and double.

Magenta double blooms Pink double blooms Purple with white tipped blooms

Seed Saving

I hope to save seed this season from Earlirouge, Moira, Quinte, and Red Pearl (PVP) tomatoes, Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, Goliath broccoli, Sun Devil (PVP) and Crispino lettuce, Eclipse and Encore peas (both PVP), Howden pumpkin, and Earliest Red Sweet and Hungarian Spice Paprika peppers. Note that our patented (PVP) saved seed can't be shared until the plant patents expire. For several of the varieties above, that will be next summer.

We'll also save garlic for planting this fall.

In flowers, we'll probably save seed again from dianthus, gloxinia, snapdragon, marigold, and zinnias.

Comment

I'm having a bit of trouble using the word "share" now for what we do with some of our saved seed. "Sell" is probably the more accurate word, although what we charge for our seed just barely covers seed envelopes, stationery, postage, and of course, the cost of producing the seed. But I'm not going into the business of selling seed, so I'll stick with sharing for now.

Renee's Garden

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Our Senior Garden - February 15, 2020
Our Senior Garden - February 14, 2020

Dave's Garden Frost Page for 47882I really hated to change the splashshot at the top of this page today. Yesterday's splashshot had pretty blue skies, while today's is a bit more gray. Of course, we did start out yesterday at 6° F and never got above freezing. Today's high temperature is predicted to be 45° F, but with some howling wind gusts.

Even with the winter conditions, we're getting very close to time to start many of our garden transplants inside. Our calendar says we'll reach eight weeks from our last frost date for this area early next week. An awful lot of garden transplants need to be six to eight weeks old at transplanting.

Johnny's Seed Starting Date CalculatorAbout ten weeks from now (May 1) is my target date to transplant tomatoes and peppers. While I could safely transplant them a bit earlier, they'd just sit still without putting on much growth until the soil warms a bit. One can use black landscape fabric to warm the soil a bit earlier and later provide a weed barrier while blocking weeds from emerging.

Using the Dave's Garden frost date calculator and Johnny's Selected Seeds' Seed-Starting Date Calculator can give those growing their own garden transplants a good idea of what to start and when.

Our seedings in the next week or so will include broccoli, celery, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, parsley, dill, spinach, snapdragons, daisies, and a bit of milkweed for the monarchs.

Gloxinias in sunroomTo make room for all the new plantings, I cleared the bottom shelf of our plant rack today of all of our old gloxinias. The plants, mostly ones headed for dormancy, went to sunny shelves in our sunroom.

Of course, we had one more gloxinia break its dormancy today and needed to be repotted with fresh soil and moved under our plant lights. We've only had three gloxinias break dormancy so far this winter, but they'll give us some nice early blooms to enjoy.

AcuRite

Thursday, February 13, 2020

There hasn't been much going on for us in gardening to write about of late. I had to trim our two flats of onions again yesterday. Some of the tops of the onions had gotten into the lights and browned out. But we have a very nice stand of onion transplants so far.

Onions in need of trimming

Plant rack on February 8, 2020LasagnaI cut back the timer on our plant lights a couple of weeks ago to 12 hours of light per day. I read somewhere that keeping plant lights on too long this early could encourage the onions to begin bulbing. I don't remember that happening in years past when the onions were getting 15 hours of light each day, but decided to play it safe.

Most of what I've been doing is like trimming and watering onions and watering everything else under our plant lights. It's a bit early to start much more, and every planting requires a decision of what to do with our existing plants on our now full plant rack.

Our second seeding of egg carton petunias got moved to our kitchen windowsill yesterday.

I spent a good bit of today babysitting some spaghetti sauce on the stove. I start by boiling down two quarts of our whole canned tomatoes seasoned with the usual stuff (basil, parsley, oregano, black and red pepper). I later add hamburger browned with onion and garlic. And a final cheat: I add a jar of Pregoicon!

When I make spaghetti for supper these days, I make enough sauce to also make a small lasagna for the next day. Since lasagna always seems to taste better when reheated, I made a lasagna tonight after supper and popped it into the fridge for tomorrow's supper. With just Annie and I home now, I use a deep bread pan to make a rather small, but deep lasagna. Even then, that usually is more lasagna than we can eat in a day or two, but the dogs love the leftovers.

The Home Depot

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Friday, February 7, 2020

Our Senior Garden - February 7, 2020Gloxinia in bloomBrightening these gray days of February, I found a gloxinia coming into bloom yesterday. That was a bit of a surprise as I've cut back watering our active gloxinias, most of which are now headed for their annual required period of dormancy. Even then, we still have a few gloxinias under our plant lights that have yet to bloom since emerging from their last dormancy many months ago.

I found another gloxinia corm this week that had broken dormancy and put on new growth. That's the second one to do so in the last few weeks. We have a dozen or so dormant plants that will be putting up new growth in the next month or so...if they survive dormancy. Not all of our plants survive that period.

As I brought in the mail today, I noticed that we have lots of tulips up on one side of our front steps. When I walked around to the flowerbed on the side of the house, I found some daffodils up as well. Such an early emergence isn't all that unusual for the daffodils, but it really is a bit early for the tulips. I guess that's a result of our somewhat mild winter so far.

Daffodils up - February 7, 2020 Tulips up - February 7, 2020

Target

Wednesday, February 5, 2020 - Petunias

Supercascade petunias now in fourpacksREIOur Supercascade petunias growing in an egg carton were ready to be moved to larger quarters last night. I'd moved our Double Cascade petunias seeded at the same time as the Supercascades from their egg carton to fourpacks ten days ago. For some reason the Doubles grew faster than the Supers.

Since the petunias have rather tender stems, I used sterile potting mix for the transplanting to help ward off damping off fungus. I had a couple of egg cells with two plants in them, so I used four fourpack inserts for the transplanting.

We use the Super and Double Cascade varieties mostly for hanging baskets to decorate our porches. Any leftovers may go into our garden or flowerbeds.

I also thinned the Perseverance petunias seeded two weeks ago down to one or two plants per peat pot. If all of these petunias survive, I won't be seeding any more.

Garden Tower Project

Sunday, February 2, 2020 - Cauliflower

AmazonI seeded our spring cauliflower today. The cauliflower varieties that grow well for us have just a long enough days-to-maturity to make starting them early a good gamble. Our spring cauliflower sometimes gets caught and ruined by the heat of late spring and early summer. The risk in this early start is that the plants could stunt or button from being held too long in their starting quarters. Johnny's Selected Seeds' Seed-Starting Date Calculator adjusted to our locale suggests starting cauliflower from February 18 to March 17.

The late Nancy Bubel wrote of cauliflower in The New Seed Starter's Handbook:

A little finicky, but not really difficult. The important thing to remember is that any insult - real or imagined - will send cauliflower into a pout. The result is a thumb sized buttonhead, or none at all. Just keep the seedlings growing steadily.

Seeding cauliflowerI filled two deep sixpack inserts with sterile potting mix. I watered them with boiling water as insurance against damping off fungus and to help the peat moss in the soil mix absorb the water. Each sixpack cell got a seed or two buried an eighth inch or so deep. The inserts then went in a tray covered with a clear humidome and over a soil heating mat set to 80° F.

The varieties I started remain the same as last year. I seeded some open pollinated Amazing and Violet of Sicily and some hybrid Fremont and Durgesh 41. Of the four, we've had great success with three of the varieties for years. We tried the relatively new Durgesh variety for the first time last year with inconclusive results. All of these varieties have good leaf wrap, preventing early yellowing of the white cauliflowers. Do note that the Violet of Sicily variety is prone to club root (1, 2) and requires a good bit of lime or egg shell to help prevent the disorder.

I tell about growing broccoli and cauliflower from seeding to harvest in our how-to feature, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower.

I'll be starting more brassicas towards the end of the month: broccoli; Brussels sprouts; and cabbage. But for today, it felt really good to be seeding a vegetable for this year's garden.

Asparagus Bed

I finally finished removing the asparagus stalks and leaves from our raised asparagus bed today. I did so in comfort, as it was around 60° F as I worked!

When I finished, I noticed that the bed was almost completely full with soil. That will make it tough to add much compost to the bed this year. But it will also allow me to lavish compost on a much, much older planting of asparagus, Bonnie's Asparagus Patch. Bonnie's patch will just get mowed off before I add the compost, as it has some weeds growing in it that I don't want in our compost pile.

Forecast

There's not much to complain about in our weather forecast for today and tomorrow.

Weather Underground Extended Forecast

I may try to break into our somewhat finished compost pile tomorrow.

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

Our Senior Garden - February 1, 2020A2 Web HostingWhile I started onions and some flowers last month, this month we'll actually begin starting vegetables for our garden. I'll seed cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, celery, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and possibly some beets to grow as transplants.

I rely a lot on past experience on when to start stuff, but I also frequently consult Johnny's Selected Seeds Seed-Starting Date Calculator to make sure I haven't missed something.

Since most of our herb and spice jars are pretty full, I'll just start parsley and dill this month. I'll also start basil in March.

There are yet more flowers to be seeded this month: snapdragons and daisies. I'll also seed some milkweed to help monarch butterflies in their migrations.

Wandering Jew cuttings moved to hanging basket potsI moved some of our Wandering Jew cuttings to hanging baskets today. The job was a bit more involved than usual, as I brought in a couple of hanging basket pots that had been outside and required cleaning. That involved bringing in a small cat litter box to hold the water, soil, and leaf runoff from the pots to dump outside so that I didn't clog our septic tank with soil.

I put three small Wandering Jew plants in each of two ten inch hanging basket pots. The pots took over half of a one cubic foot bag of potting mix, making this a rather expensive transplanting. And I still have another sixpack of Wandering Jew cuttings to pot up later on.

You might have noticed one of our dogs, Petra, in today's splashshot. She's standing guard over the most recent deer bones she has drug into our yard.

A lot of deer get taken and field dressed in our area. That's a nice way of saying poaching. But the folks taking the deer are often just trying to feed their family, so we don't say anything to the authorities. And our dogs get lots of bones to chew on.

Burpee Seed Company

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