Senior Gardening

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The Old Guy's Garden Record

December 15, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Our Senior Garden - December 1, 2016Weather Underground 10-day ForecastIt's December, and fall will soon yield to winter. Our hours of daylight continue to drop steadily, and our predicted temperatures are headed downward as well. We have just a few days or weeks until the ground freezes, stopping almost all outdoor work.

Outdoors, I still need to clear our asparagus beds of their foliage. Doing so helps prevent insect and disease carryover, and also will make picking next spring much easier. Once the asparagus stalks are out of the way, I'll screen our finished pile of compost, spreading the black gold over the asparagus patches.

Our new raised herb bed needs to be cleared of the last of the annuals growing in it. I'm pretty sure the sage plants in it will overwinter, but have no experience with overwintering the perennial oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

Inside, there are a few important jobs to complete this month. Beyond caring for our indoor plants, I need to do a complete inventory of the seed we have on hand. Doing so helps prevent re-ordering varieties we have in frozen storage and also alerts me to items I need to re-order. It also is the time when I pitch really old seed that has lost its viability.

Print seed catalogs should begin to arrive in some volume soon. I'll spend many pleasant hours examining ones from our trusted seed suppliers before placing seed orders this month.

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Friday, December 2, 2016 - Seed Inventory

Stored seedDoing inventoryEach fall I bring all of our garden seed inside from the freezer in the garage to do a complete inventory of it. It's a bit of a long and tedious job, but necessary to make sure we know what we have so that we can order what we need, and only what we need.

I keep our inventory record on a spreadsheet. While I sometimes update the spreadsheet through the growing season as we use up or save seed, I always do a complete update of it in November or December each year. The timing of the inventory is purposeful, as we'll soon need to begin ordering seed for next summer.

Some of the inventory is pretty exact. I weigh some seed packets (beans, corn, peas, etc.) and count others. But some of the inventory is perfunctory, simply feeling a seed packet to see if there's enough seed in it to get us through the next growing season. The spreadsheet's amount column reflects my erratic, but effective system, with entries such as "6.8" or "0.5 ounces," "packet," "25 seeds," "lots," "some," and "a few."

Seed inventory spreadsheet

Saving Zinnia Seed

Processing zinnia seedGive to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgYesterday, I stripped the seeds off the last of our saved zinnia blooms. Saving this kind of seed year after year makes planting a forty or eighty foot row of the lovely flowers possible. I saved far more seed this year than we'll need to edge one side of our East Garden with zinnias next year. I do purchase a cheapie seed rack packet or two of zinnia seed each year to add a little variety to our row of zinnias.

We cut our seed bill a little bit each year by saving open pollinated seed. This season, we saved asparagus, basil, cantaloupe, cucumber, dill, peas, pepper, spinach, and tomato seed. We also saved some dianthus, gloxinia, impatiens, and zinnia seed.

Burpee Seed Company

Saturday, December 3, 2016 - What Did People Read Here on Senior Gardening This Year?

Other than pinching off a few spent gloxinia leaves and blooms, I didn't do any gardening today. I really need to get our asparagus patches cleaned up, but cold, windy weather has kept me inside of late.

Wanting to post something here today, I decided to update a posting from last December, our most accessed pages on this site. Note that I didn't include basic pages like this page, the about page, and indexes. So here are the ten most read feature stories, how-to's, and recipes on this site so far for 2016:

  1. Gloxinia blog Growing Geraniums from Seed Buidling a Raised Garden Bed
    Gloxinias (blog)
  2. Growing Geraniums from Seed
  3. Building a Raised Garden Bed
  4. Mulching with Grass Clippings
  5. Gloxinia Photos
  6. Growing Great Melons on Heavy Clay Soil
  7. Saving Gloxinia Seed
  8. Portuguese Kale Soup (recipe and story)
  9. A Cucumber of Distinction
  10. Saving Tomato Seed

The listing is about the same as last year, with only the mulching and melon how-to's being new to the list. Our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers and our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup recipe got bumped from the top 10 this year.

The top three most read stories remained the same as last year. I get more email about growing gloxinias than about any other gardening question. Growing geraniums from seed obviously remains a biggie. I'm guessing that's because potted geraniums in the spring continue to command premium prices.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - Garden Planning

Plots A1 & A2
Plot B (Main raised bed)
East Garden

Before we start putting together our seed orders each December, I try to finish our initial garden plan of what will go where and when. I started working on the plan for next season in mid-August. Such plans need to show what we want to grow, but also must allow for crop rotation from the past two seasons. While one can cheat a bit and get away with it on rotating some crops, others that are susceptible to soil borne diseases require a strict rotation. Melons, sweet corn, tomatoes, and potatoes are especially unforgiving to both insect and disease carryover.

Sixteen years ago, I started using a draw module to map out our garden plots to scale. Doing so lets me figure out how much I can fit in our various garden plots within a few inches, especially our main raised bed. The computer program I use, AppleWorks 6, was end-of-lifed almost ten years ago. But there are lots of garden planning and computer draw programs available. I haven't switched because AppleWorks still works fine on my Mac Mini (running Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6.8) and on my MacBook Pro running Sierra (Mac OS 10.12) under the Sheepshaver emulator.

East Garden RotationRotations in our large East Garden plot are pretty easy since we rotate the 40' x 80' planted area 90° each season. The remainder of the full 80' x 80' plot is planted to a cover/turndown crop.

Rotations in our raised beds are a good bit more difficult. In the past, we've experienced bacterial spot and anthracnose in our tomato plantings. In 2016, blight took out the tomato plants in our main raised bed. Those are all diseases that one must plant around for several years in the future.

Even with all of that, our initial garden plan for 2017 is complete. I haven't gotten all of the succession crops planned as yet. And anything other than our already planted garlic is subject to change between now and April.

We'll be planting lots more tomatoes, peppers, and peas in 2017. Our open pollinated tomatoes in the main bed this year were hit hard by blight. We'll still grow those varieties again (on clean ground), but will add a number of hybrids to our East Garden to make sure we can replenish our stores of whole canned tomatoes and tomato puree. We'll also need to make pickles again in 2017, as our canned bread and butter pickles stay good for about two years.

Making room for the extra tomatoes and peppers, we'll cut our melon plants from two to just one row. I'm also going to try to sneak in a row of trellised Sugar Snap peas between our sweet corn and potatoes. The last time we got a good sweet corn crop, we had a long trellis up at the edge of the garden that seemed to discourage sweet corn hunting raccoons. Of course, I may try using a hot wire to control the deer and raccoons.

In our main raised garden bed, our early pea (and succession cucumber) row will be several feet longer, as I eliminated the caged tomatoes we usually grow at either end of the row. I also added a second row of our later planted supersweet peas, as we had an excellent seed crop this year. That will make for a lot of shelling early next summer, but peas are always the first saved vegetable that we run out of over the winter.

Since we should have corn in the farm fields around us next season, we can delay growing green beans and plant them as a succession crop after something else comes out. If we plant late beans when we have soybeans around us, bugs from the soybeans migrate into our garden, doing a lot of damage and making me spray a lot with some rather nasty chemicals I'd rather not use.

2016 Main Raised Bed Garden MapWhile our initial garden plan is pretty well done, the succession crops for our raised beds aren't decided. I added a row of lima beans as I wrote this piece, as my wife loved the few limas we got from our rather late planted row this fall. I need to fit in our fall carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, kale, lettuce, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Right now, there's plenty of space left for succession crops.

Since I don't have our succession crop plan in place to show you for next year, I'll share our final garden map of our main raised bed for 2016. The sticks with lines in the center are my measuring tools, two graduated in three foot increments and one in one foot increments. One of the reasons I like the old AppleWorks application is its ability to do multiple page masters. You set up one page as a base, and then add pages with that base as a background. I made lots of use of it in my teaching years for my five-day lesson plans.


We continue to enjoy having gloxinia plants in bloom. The plants now in bloom and coming into bloom are mostly the ones I seeded in June. Our older gloxinia plants are finishing their blooming cycle and moving towards dormancy. I moved two potted gloxinia corms onto a dark shelf in the basement last week, as the plants were going dormant.

Gloxinias in bloom on December

First year gloxinias usually put up two to ten blooms in their first blooming cycle. After going through their first period of dormancy, the corms are able to produce plants with ten to twenty blooms at a time. Even with a few less blooms, we're enjoying the colors we're getting from our new gloxinias. With frost having taken all of our blooming plants outdoors, it's nice to have plants still blooming inside.

Purple blooming gloxinia Red (magenta?) blooming gloxinia Lots of buds showing a tinge of pink Not gloxinias, but a cat bouquet

The last plant at right above obviously isn't a gloxinia. It's the bouquet I sent my wife at work from 1-800-flowers.comicon. Her birthday was last week, but the bouquet has lasted well.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Our Senior Garden - December 7, 2016Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2017 Catalog CoverOur print catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds arrived in today's mail. It's by far the heaviest seed catalog we'll receive this year. Printed and illustrated on heavy, glossy paper, the Baker Creek catalog features an incredible amount of open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties.

While we have a good number of vegetable varieties in frozen storage from Baker Creek, two of our favorites are the Tam Dew honeydew melon and the Ali Baba watermelon. Tam Dew's produce a slightly spicy tasting melon with green flesh. The always dependable Ali Baba variety ripens to long, pale green rinds with delicious, although somewhat seedy, red flesh.

The Whole Seed CatalogThe catalog we received was Baker Creek's free version. They also offer their Whole Seed Catalog for about ten bucks that includes lots of feature stories and recipes. While their free catalog runs 150 pages, the paid one is 356 pages long.

One item I noticed that Baker Creek dropped this year was the Picnic watermelon variety. We still have 18 Picnic watermelon seeds from a 2012 order from them in frozen storage. The Picnic variety is a dependable, widely adapted producer of medium sized, delicious watermelons. For folks hunting Picnic seed, the Seed Savers Exchange Store offers the variety this year.

Coloring Contest

Fedco Magic Molly Catalog CoverOur print copy of the Fedco Seeds catalog hasn't yet arrived in the mail, although I downloaded the PDF version of it this week. Taking advantage of their black and white print motif, Fedco is running a coloring contest of their catalog cover this year. I'm not sure how much coloring there is to do on the mostly black cover, but they're offering some nice prizes for what I think is a cool idea.


Seed catalogs seem to be a bit slow in arriving this year. We may be down a bit on seed vendors' mailing lists, as we don't order a lot of seed most years. And while PDF versions of the print catalogs are a pretty good, poor second best, we've only downloaded four of them so far this fall. From what I've read online on catalog request pages this year, many seed houses plan on getting their catalogs out after Christmas. When we were growing lots of geraniums and onions that must be started in early January, that was a bit late for us. But with our reduced gardening in retirement, we can live with it.

I've updated our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers and updated the comments about each trusted supplier and some others as possible sources for garden seed.

With our garden plots pretty well cleared and our annual seed inventory done, I'm ready to begin putting together seed orders for next season.

Botanical Interests Burpee Gardening Full disclosure: Botanical Interests, Burpee, and Mountain Valley are Senior Gardening affiliate advertisers. We're also a member of the Fedco Seeds Cooperative. Fedco Seeds

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Our Senior Garden - December 8, 2016Sierra Trading Post - Dynamic Homepage BannerToday has been what I think is our first really unpleasant day to be outside any length of time at all. Temperatures remain in the low to mid-20s, but a 15-20 MPH wind makes it feel much colder. I limited my outdoor time to taking the trash to the street for pickup and a quick trip to town for supplies.

When I went into our sunroom to take our almost daily splashshot of the garden, I was surprised at how cold the room was. The thermometer on the desk read 38° F. When I checked the gloxinias by the windows, they'd obviously gotten a bit colder overnight. So I moved all the gloxinias out of the sunroom, some going to our dining room table and others under our plant lights in the basement.

The plants I moved to the dining room table were all first year plants that were seeded in June. Most of them have buds on them, but I think it was just too cold in the sunroom for them to bloom. It's much warmer in the dining room, but even in front of our large bay windows, the amount of light the plants will receive is limited. It won't be long until the whole gloxinia collection will need to go under our basement plant lights...until the plants go dormant.

Gloxinias on dining room table

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Friday, December 9, 2016 - SESE Seed Catalog

Our Senior Garden - December 9, 2016SESE 2017 Catalog CoverWe had our first snow of the season this morning. Unlike folks a bit north of us, this snow left only a light dusting on the ground.

Our print copy of the 2017 Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog arrived in today's mail. It somehow seemed appropriate to me that I got to spend a pleasant hour or so on a snowy day paging through the catalog.

The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers lots of good, mostly open pollinated vegetable varieties. If you hunt a bit, you'll also find a few hybrids.

Last year, we got our start of Abundant Bloomsdale Spinach from SESE. The new variety was developed in cooperation with the Organic Seed Alliance. Mother Earth News has an informative article about the new variety.

Spinach bloom and seed headWe found the savoyed Abundant Bloomsdale variety to be comparable to America spinach, a AAS winner. I pulled the America and a couple of hybrid spinaches early this spring, leaving only the Abundant Bloomsdale variety to bloom and go to seed. While cleaning spinach seed turned out to be a bit more difficult than I'd expected, we ended up stuffing two 3" x 4 3/4" seed envelopes full of saved seed. (We get the seed envelopes we use for seed sharing from SESE.)

In years past, we ordered and were pleased with Yellow of Parma onion, Kevin's Early Orange pepper, and Hungarian Paprika seed from SESE.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016 - A Year in Our Garden - 2016 (Garden Review)

Rather than doing the month-by-month review I've done in the past, I decided to look at what worked, what didn't, and what fell in between this gardening season. I've summarized our results in a table below.

Our garden plots were somewhat limited again this year. Last season, we didn't plant our East Garden plot due to my hip replacement surgery in May (2015). I tried to not overdo things this year, as I'm still rebuilding muscle strength lost from when my hip was bad and I babied myself a bit too much. Our East Garden that often has lots of crops was limited to yellow squash, melons, sweet corn, and potatoes this year. Well, I did plant sage plants around the plot as corner and halfway markers and a long row of zinnias down one side and another long row of nasturtiums down the other side.

Our Senior Garden - June 5, 2016 East Garden - July 3, 2016

Our raised beds were somewhat reduced from years past. I planted about half the spring carrots and lettuce as usual. I also cut back our planting of peppers, other than the open pollinated Earliest Red Sweet variety which we're trying to save from extinction. A single row of spring green beans was planted instead of our usual two. The spring planting of green beans was due to the fields around us being planted to soybeans. We got our beans picked and canned before the usual horde of Japanese Beetles migrated from the soybeans to our garden plots.

Here are the results from our 2016 garden. While it looks like we did pretty well, there were more total crop failures that we usually experience.

Successes In Between Failures
  • Spring cauliflower
  • Early, tall peas
  • Short, later peas
  • Fall broccoli
  • Garlic - a bumper crop
  • Onions
  • Spring and fall carrots
  • Spring spinach & lettuce
  • Green beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupes and watermelon, but not honeydew
  • Herbs and herb garden
  • Peppers
  • Butternut squash - another bumper crop
  • Fall broccoli
  • Zinnias - our eighty foot row of zinnias along the north border of our East Garden were spectacular this year. Zinnias are easy to grow, and I had lots of saved seed to make the planting economical. I had to seriously weed the row just once early on. I later was able to hold back weeds with grass clipping mulch.

  • Yellow squash - We got some.
  • Fall lettuce - We got some nice lettuce before deer and rabbits ate the rest.
  • Tomatoes - We had blight in our Earlirouge tomatoes this season. Most of our tomatoes picked came from Quinte, Mountain Fresh, and Bella Rosa plants in isolation plots well away from the blight infected tomatoes.
  • Fall spinach - just a so-so crop
  • Spring broccoli - buttoned
  • Pumpkins - squash bugs decimated the vines just as they bloomed
  • Sweet corn - transplants stunted, eaten by deer - main, direct seeded crop eaten by deer and raccoons
  • Potatoes - ??
  • Honeydew - Our plants grew and produced well, but raccoons seemed to love the smell of the melons. They'd scratch them open in the field, but would only eat a few bites. I guess they were hoping for watermelon or cantaloupe.

In gardening, you're going to win some and lose some each season. We got beat up pretty bad on sweet corn, potatoes, and tomatoes this year. But we had a bumper crop of butternut squash with just three or four plants producing a hundred winter squash. Our spring broccoli was a disaster, but our fall broccoli filled our freezer with delicious broccoli florets. We had another great crop of garlic, lots of peas and green beans, and so many carrots that I donated some to our local food bank.

Our new raised herb bedEighty foot row of zinniasOur first year with a true, separate herb garden planted in a new raised bed around our shallow well was a great success. We had good basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, dill, oregano, and thyme. I also had dill and basil planted in some of our other garden plots which did really well.

Our eighty foot row of zinnias along the north border of our East Garden were spectacular this year. Zinnias are easy to grow, and I had lots of saved seed to make the planting economical. I had to seriously weed the row just once early on. I later was able to hold back weeds with grass clipping mulch.

Canning - Cool Storage - Freezing - Drying

We only canned green beans, applesauce, and Portuguese Kale Soup this year. We had lots of canned tomatoes and pickles leftover from last year, although the pickles are disappearing fast.

Amazon - Debbie Meyer Large Green BagsWe have garlic, onions, a few potatoes, and butternut squash in cool storage in our basement. The basement actually runs a bit warm and dry for such storage, but we do okay with it. I have to frequently check our onions for sprouting and rot. The few potatoes we dug this year are already getting a bit wrinkly.

Our carrots are stored in Debbie Meyer Green Bags in the vegetable bins of our refrigerator. I've been trying to use the few spring carrots that have put up shoots from the tops, but for the most part, the carrots are storing well so far. We usually can store our fall carrots well into spring this way.

We froze peas, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, pepper strips, some cull carrots, and asparagus this year. After using some of the frozen asparagus, we'll skip that one next year.

We dried rather than canning our kidney beans this year. We also dried cowpeas. From our herb garden, we dried thyme, rosemary, dill seed and dill weed. I didn't attempt drying any parsley, basil, sage, or oregano, as we still had lots left from previous seasons. We really enjoyed having fresh herbs when cooking growing just a few steps from the kitchen this year.

Seed Saving

We save seed to cut our costs in the future and to help preserve some good, but endangered vegetable varieties. Our main targets for seed saving this year were Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, Earliest Red Sweet peppers, and Who Gets Kissed sweet corn. We saved a lot of seed from the first two, but deer and raccoons consumed all of our sweet corn this year! Two of three would yield a superstar baseball batting average of .667. Of course, two of three yields 67%, a failing grade in most schools. I'm choosing to be happy with what we got.

Other saved seed, in no particular order, includes Carpet dianthus, dwarf basil, Japanese Long Pickling cucumbers, Moira and Quinte tomatoes, Eclipse and Encore peas (both of which are PVP protected, so I can't sell or share seed, but can grow and save enough for us to re-plant), hosta, zinnia, asparagus, cantaloupe, gloxinia, and impatiens.

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Monday, December 12, 2016 - Another Seed Catalog

Sow True Seed 2017 Catalog CoverOur major seed catalogs for 2017 are still a little slow in coming in. It appears that some of the major seed houses have moved distribution of their seed catalogs well into December, when they used to arrive in late November or early December. Since our garden plan and seed inventory are done, and I've decided pretty much what we'll grow next year, I'm chomping at the bit to start ordering.

Cut Tropeana Tondo onionWe did receive a Sow True Seed catalog on Saturday. We've been satisfied with the garlic sets, dill, and onion seed we've purchased from them in the past. I'm about out of the Red Creole short day onion seed I got from them in 2014, and it's probably too old to be dependably viable. That's not STS's fault, as onion seed doesn't keep well, even in frozen storage. We don't live in a short day zone, but the Red Creoles dependably produce our first ripe onions each year.

I might be tempted to order more Tropeana Tonda red onion seed. In our 2014 Onion Trials, the variety produced large onions that retained red edges well into the onion's core. Sadly, the variety also split or doubled a good bit, making it a poor choice for long term storage.

The STS catalog is attractive, well illustrated, and includes lots of tips on how to save seed. Its layout sometimes made it hard to tell what was what on a page. It also lacked an index, something I think all seed catalogs should have, preferably at the end of the catalog.

STS Catalog - pp 54-55All of Sow True Seed's variety offerings are open pollinated. Since we grow about one-third hybrids in our garden plots, that eliminates STS as a sole supplier, but they still have some good stuff. I liked that they now carry the excellent America spinach. In the past, I had to hunt online for it, only finding it at the Seed Savers Exchange Store amongst reliable vendors.

I also found some small, 1 1/2 x 2 inch, zip top bags I may use inside our paper seed packets for tiny seeds such as gloxinia. The seed tends to get stuck to the self-adhesive closures. I previously have not used small plastic or glassine bags for sharing seeds, as tiny seeds stick inside the bag from static electricity. A tip a few years ago from Mike Bryce solved this problem. He rubs the outside of such seed bags or packets with a fabric softener sheet (Bounce, Downy, etc.) to neutralize the static electricity and make the seeds easily flow out of the packet! Works like magic! Thanks again, Mike!

Right now, it looks like my order for Sow True Seeds will be pretty small. Plastic bags and some onion seed will run $6.25, although I'll get tagged for STS's $3.99 minimum shipping charge.

One Step Forward, A Step and a Half Back

I learned today that my Social Security allotment would go up 0.3% per month. I also got a letter from my bank, saying they were adding a monthly service charge to our checking account...that was a dollar more than the increase in Social Security. I guess our government and the bank are working together to help keep me healthy. Otherwise, I probably would have blown the Social Security increase on a Big Mac each month.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

OUr Senior Garden - December 13, 2016Twilley Seed 2017 Catalog CoverWe had a bit of snow again this morning. It turned out to be less than an inch of accumulation here, but it sure was pretty while it was falling. Interestingly to the photographer in me, it made the splashshot at left, taken around noon, to appear to be a black and white photo.

More important to our gardening, one of the seed catalogs we'd been looking for arrived today. Twilley Seeds is a bit unusual amongst today's seed vendors, as they still do not offer online sales. So ordering from Twilley requires either a phone order or filling out a mail order, just like in the old days.

I became a big fan of Twilley Seed years ago. During the 1980s, we grew two to four acres of Twilley's then new sh2 supersweet corn each year for roadside sales. Although I don't buy our sweet corn seed in twenty-five pound bags anymore, we're still big fans of their Summer Sweet corn seed.

Twilley offers an excellent selection of open pollinated and hybrid vegetable varieties. Prices are reasonable, especially on some of their small packets of flower seed.

I quickly put together a tentative order for fourteen items. When done, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Twilley had halved their previous minimum shipping charge to $5. I won't be sending the order until some other seed catalogs come in for comparative shopping.

Shopping Guides

The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners The Old Guy's Shopping Guide

I mentioned these pages last month, but will run them by you once again. I updated our Senior Gardening shopping guides. Giving the link to your significant other might produce some nice results.

The Old Guy's Shopping Guide for Gifts for Gardeners - a page of useful items that make great gifts for gardeners

Shopping Guide for Gardeners - the tools we use in our garden

I guess I should also mention here that I continue to update the information on our page of Recommended Suppliers. Today's new info was the improvement in Twilley Seed's shipping rates.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - Fedco

Our Senior Garden - December 14, 2016Fedco Magic Molly Catalog CoverAnother important seed catalog came in today. Fedco Seeds is a cooperative seed company (of which I'm a member). They offer a good variety of seeds, leaning a good bit towards open pollinated offerings, but also including some great hybrids as well.

One doesn't have to be a member of the cooperative to order from Fedco. (Members do get a 1% discount.) We stocked up on green bean seed from Fedco over the last few years due to their considerably lower prices for half pound packets of bean seed.

Green bean section of our last seed inventory

The organization of the black and white seed catalog is a bit unusual. While most seed houses alphabetize their listings, Fedco groups them by general seed type. While a bit unnerving at first, a good index on the back cover of the catalog gets one to where they want to go pretty quickly. Since I page through major seed catalogs cover-to-cover, I happened to notice the unusual groupings.

Fedco has an excellent rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog (DGW rating). Our page of Recommended Suppliers carries the following, rare bold faced statement: "Possibly the best value for your dollar in purchasing garden seed!"

Fedco's web site supports online ordering. One can also order by mail, but not by phone or fax. As I mentioned last week, one can download the PDF version of the catalog. Do note that Fedco doesn't begin shipping seeds until January 4, 2017.

Hybrid Onions Come and Go

Fedco - page 36When the excellent Pulsar hybrid storage onion disappeared from seed catalogs several years ago, I became concerned about finding replacement varieties for it and other hybrid onions we grew. Our 2014 Onion Trials of mostly open pollinated onion varieties produced some promising results. I ended up, however, replacing the Pulsars with another hybrid, Copra.

When I paged through our Fedco Seeds catalog today, I found the entry at right on page 36. Since I'd already replaced Copra in our garden plan for the coming season with the open pollinated Clear Dawn variety, I wasn't heartbroken. But I did find Fedco's entries for Copra, and their suggested replacement, Patterson, pretty interesting. I also included the Clear Dawn entry since it ran underneath the other two and it was bred from the Copra line. Note that the Milestone hybrid onion variety could also serve as a suitable replacement for Copras. We also found the open pollinated Yellow of Parma variety to be a possible storage onion for us.

Even with a good bit of Copra seed still on hand, our planned onion varieties for next season are Clear Dawn, Milestone, Red Creole, Tropeana Tonda (?), Red Zeppelin, and Walla Walla. I'm still messing around with open pollinated red onions, anticipating the day when my favorite red onion, Red Zeppelin, disappears from the market.

Obviously, not every hybrid will last as long as the venerable Big Boy and Better Boy tomato varieties which have been around for about 50 years. I'm not totally adverse to growing hybrids, but I also like finding good open pollinated varieties that should remain on the market for years to come.


I'm cooking the cowpeas we grew for the first time this year for dinner this evening. The peas are actually the heirloom Granny's Little Brown Crowder Peas, the "signature pea" from Granny's Seeds.

Sadly, the Granny's site disappeared from the web this summer. While there still is a Facebook page for the Indiana seed house launched in 2014, no new entries have been made since June. I suspect that breaking into the seed business is really, really tough.

Friday, December 16, 2016 - Vegetables We Plan to Grow in 2017

Seed catalogs continue to trickle in. Our initial garden plan and seed inventory are done. As I began to put together our seed orders for this year, I decided to make a list of all of the vegetables and varieties we hope to grow in 2017. The list looks long, but seasoned gardeners may notice some omissions. We grow only what we like to eat.

Asparagus: Viking

Bush green beans: Burpee's Stringless Green Podicon, Bush Blue Lake, Contendericon, Empress (?), Maxibel, Provider, Strike

Beets: Pacemaker III

Broccoli: Premium Crop, Goliath

Cabbage: Alcosa (savoy), Super Red 80, Tendersweet

Cauliflower: Amazing, Fremont, Violet of Sicily

Carrots: Bolero and Dolciva (winter storage), Laguna, Mokumicon, Nelson, Scarlet Nantes

Cantaloupe: Athena, Avatar, Roadside Hybrid, Sarah's Choice, Sugar Cube

Cucumber: Japanese Long Pickling

Herbs: basil, catnip, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme

Honeydew melons: Diplomat, Tam Dew

Kale: Dwarf Blue Scotch, Lacinato, Red Ursa, Vates

Kidney beans: Red Kidney

Lettuce: Crispino and Sun Devil (icebergs), Nancy and Skyphos (butterheads), Defender, Winter Density, and Coastal Star (romaines)

Lima beans: Fordhook 242icon (bush)

Onions: Clear Dawn, Milestone, Red Creole, Tropeana Tonda (?), Red Zeppelin, Walla Walla

Shelling Peas: Champion of England and Maxigolt (early, tall), Eclipse and Encore (short)

Snap peas: Sugar Snap, Bend and Snap

Crowder or Cowpeas: Granny's Little Brown Crowder Peas

Peppers: Earliest Red Sweet, New Ace, and Red Knight (reds), Gold Standardicon and Mecate (yellows), Hungarian (paprika)

Potatoes: Red Pontiac, Kennebec

Pumpkin: Howden

Spinach: Abundant Bloomsdale, America, Melody

Summer Squash: Saffron, Slick Pik

Sweet Corn: Jaws, Summer Sweet 6800R, Summer SWeet HiGlow SS3880MR (all yellow sh2), Who Gets Kissed? (open pollinated se), ACcentuate MRBC, Summer Sweet Multisweet 502BC (bicolor sh2s)

Tomatoes: Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte (open pollinated slicer/canners), Bella Rosa, Mountain Fresh Plus, and Oh, Happy Day (hybrids), Maglia Roseicon and Red Pearl (grape)

Watermelon: Ali Baba, Blacktail Mountain, Crimson Sweet, Farmers Wonderful and Trillion (triploids), Moon & Stars, Picnic (and/or Congo), Mama's Girl Hybrid

Winter Squash: Waltham Butternut

If I've counted correctly, we have 101 varieties, vegetables, or herbs listed above. I actually wimped out on linking herbs, as I have several packets of each we grow, other than common sage. Of the 101, 34 are hybrids.

Going, Going, Almost Gone

I wrote earlier this week about hybrid onion varieties coming and going. The listing above contains some discontinued hybrids we still have seed on hand to grow. Eventually, our saved seed will run out or go bad, and we'll have to find replacement varieties we like. Hybrid varieties that appear to be discontinued, but may be available online somewhere if you hunt really hard, include some of our favorites: Super Red 80 cabbage; Premium Crop broccoli; Melody spinach; Pacemaker III beets; and Laguna and Nelson carrots.


With all the vegetables listed above, there are still a few more I wish I could squeeze in somewhere in our garden plots. I'm going to have to move our two isolation plots next spring for crop rotation purposes. If I get that done, I may add Spanish Skyscraper peas, Mohon's greasy pole beans, and some celery to the listing above.

Headed for Some True Winter Weather

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to
Wayne and Libby

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastIt appears that we're headed for some real winter weather over the weekend. Low temperatures may get close to zero early Monday morning. The good news is that it may get warm enough tomorrow for a little outdoor work before the temperatures plunge. I have two full cans of used cat litter, one bucket of kitchen compost, and a full garden cart of plant refuse to dump. Cat litter typically goes in washes we're trying to fill, while the kitchen compost and plant refuse get dumped on our now dormant compost pile.

If the spirit moves me, I may even get our asparagus patches cleared. Of course, the finished compost pile is now frozen, making screening and spreading it over the asparagus patches difficult to impossible.

Please note that I've included a plug for my darling niece, Libby, and her wonderful husband, Wayne, here. They serve on the mission field for Christ in Cambodia. If you're looking for a Christian mission to support, please consider them and their work for our Lord.

Sunday, December 18, 2016 - Cold

Our Senior Garden - December 18, 2016Petra, Jackson, and DaisyIt's cold here this morning, around 10° F. Tomorrow morning, it's supposed to be colder, in the low single digits, with a slight, slow warm up as we head towards Christmas. My first chores of the day were to feed the dogs and give them thawed water. Their dog food gets raided regularly by birds. We don't enjoy the large flocks of blackbirds, but seeing cardinals and woodpeckers at the dog bowls is fun. When I work up the courage, I need to fill our bird feeder with seed.

After taking care of our three canines (who often come inside to nap, warm up, and get a bite to eat and a drink), I took my laptop to my office to complete a long overdue backup. As the backup worked, I used my main computer to work on a couple of features/book items about seed catalogs and storing garden seed. I often work ahead on items I may use here or elsewhere.

With the laptop backed up, I grabbed our daily splashshot from the very cold (33° F), unheated sunroom next to my office, started a backup on my main computer, and headed for the kitchen (laptop in hand) to finish this posting. Feasting on a small bowl of Portuguese Kale Soup, I completed this short posting on the laptop.

I managed to be in my easy chair for the kickoff to today's Colts-Vikings game.


I bundled up in a hoodie and my heavy winter coat and took compost out to our compost pile. Dumping our kitchen compost bucket was easy, but dumping a cart of plant parts and dead hanging basket plant rootballs was a bit harder. I'd left that stuff in our garden cart. Rain had frozen in the cart, making using a garden fork necessary to pry the frozen material out of the cart.

Walking the hundred yards back to the house, I was walking into the wind. While I'd not noticed the cold while dumping the compost, the wind producing a zero degree wind chill made my cheeks rosy.

I later used that wind to help winnow some asparagus seed. I'd picked the seed a few weeks ago and let it dry in a bowl until today. While I watched our Colts play, I pinched the asparagus "berries," releasing the seed. Then I winnowed the seed outside in the wind.

I don't think I'll be starting another asparagus patch in this lifetime. But I save a bit of seed from our asparagus every few years, just in case. Our asparagus patch is the Viking variety. Roots for Viking asparagus are still available, but not seed (that I can find online). I'm not sure what variety of asparagus out other patch is, as it was planted long before we moved here. Obviously, a good asparagus patch can last for a very long time.

Blame it on Save-A-Lot

I completed our lazy football and soup day by making a batch of our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup. Our Save-A-Lot store had a special on bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts this week (89¢/lb), so I froze chicken breast fillets and boiled down and boned the remains for some nice chicken and broth.

Our dogs enjoy the skin and so-so boned carcases. They're country dogs, always dragging some road kill or poached deer parts into the yard, so we don't worry much about feeding them well-boiled chicken bones and scraps.

This batch of soup got a bit more asiago cheese than usual, as our frozen asiago had turned powdery and a lot of it crumbled off the frozen block.

I think the real secret of success with this soup is the well-seasoned Swanson Chicken Broth we add to our broth in making the soup. We use it with both our Asiago Cheese & Tortellini Soup and our Portuguese Kale Soup.

Anyway, the soup was great, and I'll definitely remember to take my generic Lipitor tablet this evening.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Our Senior Garden - December 19, 2016I have to start taking our daily splashshot a bit earlier in the day. By early afternoon, the sun is low from the west and causes a lot of lens flare in the images. I tried adding a polarizing filter, but that only made things worse. Of course, in just a few days the sun will begin to rise slightly in the sky. Better yet, our hours of daylight will begin to increase.

Seed Orders

I began placing our seed orders for next season today. It didn't take long, as I only placed orders with two companies. I have a few more items to order, but today's orders contained geranium, petunia, and onion seed, all items we need to get started next month.

Long ago, I used to spend hours poring over seed catalogs as I made my annual selections for seed orders. When finally corrected to reflect our always limited budget for seed, I'd carefully place the handwritten orders in envelopes and mail them off.

Ordering seed...the old fashioned wayI still spend many hours reviewing the offerings of trusted seed suppliers in print seed catalogs before formulating our seed orders. I prefer being able to page through a seed catalog to view all of a company's offerings over just using the internet to view a few of the company's offerings.

One order today required filling out an order form, as Twilley Seeds still doesn't support online orders. I did notice that they got their online catalog published. I ordered sixteen packets of seeds from Twilley and four from a company that's been on our When Hell Freezes Over list the last few years. We'll see how that second order turns out.

I only have four or five more items on my to-order list, but each comes from a different seed house. I'll probably just do without on those items, as ordering one packet of seed with companies' minimum shipping charges is cost prohibitive. The Twilley order shipped for a friendly $3.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - Saving Stuff

I've already begun saving stuff for next year's garden. I'm saving used, wax paper coffee cups and egg shells so far. Who knows what's next.

Coffee Cups as Cutworm Collars

hot cups and lidsPaper cup cutworm collarI'm saving my used Dixie travel cups. I almost always have a cup of coffee with me in the truck. We rinse and re-use the lids, but also rinse and save the cups. The bottoms get cut out of the cups and discarded at planting time. The tops of the cups serve as cutworm collars around our brassicas, peppers, and a few other transplants.

After ten days or so, I cut the cups down both sides with a good pair of kitchen shears and pull the cup halves to encourage more root growth. By that time, the plant stems have hardened up enough to resist cutworms, and the plants need space to put out lateral roots.

Our supply of coffee cups comes from two sources. When I can find them on sale, I stock up on Dixie Grab N' Go Hot Cups & Lids, more for the lids which we wash and reuse than the cups. Our Dixie 12 oz PerfecTouch Hot Cupsicon come from Sam's Club in bulk.

Cutworm collarBrassicas transplantedThe paper cup cutworm collars really do work. For a few years before we began using them, and a few times since when we neglected to use them, we've had a lot of cutworm damage in both our spring and fall brassicas and in our peppers. Depending on how tough our tomato plants are at transplanting, we sometimes protect them as well with cutworm collars.

Long ago in the bad old days, I used to spray diazanon insecticide on the ground to stop cutworms. Since it was banned for residential use in the U.S. in 2004, I've found our cutworm collars to be equally effective and obviously less dangerous to the environment. Applying poisons on and around things we're going to eat always seemed to be a bad idea to me.

Egg Shells

Ground egg shells and shells ready to grindWe used egg shells in the soil under and around our tomato and pepper plants for the first time this year. I'd read online somewhere that the calcium in the egg shells helps prevent blossom end rot. So we used less ground limestone and lots of ground egg shells this year. Our main planting of tomatoes seemed to have less blossom end rot than usual before the plants got zapped by blight!

I rinse, dry, crush, and freeze all of our egg shells. Later, they go into an old coffee grinder we use for everything but coffee and are ground into the powder we sprinkle in the transplanting holes for our tomatoes and peppers. Since egg shells break down pretty slowly in our compost pile, I figured that grinding them might speed up their process of decay and sharing calcium.

Note that the jury is still out on this trick. I'm planning on growing a lot more tomatoes next season than in the last few years, so maybe I'll be able to see if the egg shells help.

Also note that just adding calcium to the soil may not cure blossom end rot. Earlier this year, I found an excellent University of California Cooperative Extension Service article by Cindy Fake, Managing Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes and Peppers. It explains in layman's terms that blossom end rot is not only a calcium problem, but also a problem caused by variable soil moisture conditions that may prevent sufficient uptake of calcium to the developing fruit. If you grow tomatoes and peppers and fight blossom end rot each season, this article may have some answers for you about controlling blossom end rot.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - Winter Solstice

Winter Soltice2016 Senior Garden Animated GIFWe have now reached the winter solstice, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. The good news is that we'll be seeing a bit more daylight each day from now through June 21, the summer solstice. USA Today's Doyle Rice explains it all in Winter Solstice: It only gets better from here.

Without much to write about gardening today, I decided to put together and share our annual animated GIF of our Senior Garden for the year. I take these shots out of our rather high, second story sunroom window.

While I don't take one of these splashshots every day, I get one most days to top this page. That allowed me to pick the best shot from somewhere in the middle of each month for the animation.

Friday, December 23, 2016 - Posting Deleted

Saturday-Sunday, December 24-25, 2016 - Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11 (ASV)

The image above is a "scene from a life size nativity at the Luxembourg Christmas market." It was taken in 2006 by graphic artist Debbie Schiel who lives in Far North Queensland, Australia, and shared on the royalty-free stock.xchng site. The scripture was copied from my installation of the free Macintosh Online Bible. There's also a free version for Windows users. On my iPhone, I currently use the ESV Bible app.

Best wishes from Annie and I to you for a joyous and fulfilling holiday season.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

As is usual for the first day of mail delivery after Christmas, we had a deluge of seed catalogs yesterday. Catalogs from Burpee, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Jung Seeds along with our seed order from Twilley Seeds filled our large, rural route box.

Burpee 2017 Catalog Cover Johnny's Selected Seeds 2017 Catalog Cover Territorial Seed 2017 Catalog Cover Jung Seed 2017 Catalog Cover

I didn't follow my usual practice of poring through each seed catalog cover-to-cover, but only because I didn't have the time. With a beautiful sunny day, I spent my time rinsing out a bunch of pots that had been soaking (and frozen for a few days) outside in five gallon buckets of bleach water.

Even though I only have a few seed varieties of seed left to order, I'll probably go through each catalog as time permits. I often find something new and/or interesting when I examine the catalogs, although that can quickly get expensive.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Thursday, December 29, 2016 - Garlic Check

Garlic upOur Senior Garden - December 29, 2016During the relatively warm weather we've had this week, I took the time to check the rows of garlic I planted and mulched in November. As sometimes happens in a warm fall, some of the garlic had sprouted and was up an inch or two. The garlic sprouting early shouldn't be a problem, as it's tough enough to withstand winter weather. I was more checking the mulch over the garlic. If the mulch mats, it can flatten the emerging garlic leaves and kill the plants. Fortunately, I found our grass clipping and leaf mulch to be fairly loose, insulating the ground and garlic from extremes in weather.

I'll need to keep checking the mulch and the garlic monthly, as grass clippings and leaves are prone to mat. If they do, I'll rake off the mulch, although I'd rather have it in place as long as possible. The mulch helps prevent heaving of the garlic cloves. Of course, once the garlic cloves have put up sprouts, they've also put down some roots which should prevent heaving.

Christmas Presents

Walmart icon Amazon

My lovely wife, Annie, got me some wonderful gardening presents for Christmas. I'd specified that I wanted an Earthway Hand-Operated Bag Spreader/Seedericon, although I had to later clarify that I wanted the bag seeder rather than the push type seeders. I've gone through two of the crummy Scotts Easy Hand-Held Broadcast Spreaders, having their gears permanently jam when anything larger than grass seed was used in them. I had an Earthway seeder when I was farming and once seeded a ten acre field to red clover with it.

A bit of a surprise were two galvanized buckets. Annie had gotten me a fairly large galvanized bucket for my birthday. I raved about it so much that she got me two more, one of which is just the right size to fit under the pitcher pump I installed over our shallow well in May.

Seed Catalogs

R.H. Shumway 2017 Catalog CoverI did my due diligence yesterday, going through the four new seed catalogs we received on Tuesday. While I enjoyed looking through the catalogs, I surprisingly didn't find anything that I needed to order!

As far as eye appeal goes, the Burpee catalog ranks first and far beyond any of the seed catalogs we've received so far this year. Had Burpee not sent me their Advent Calendar with 25 seed samples that I wrote about in November, I certainly would have ordered an item or two. Kudos to the folks who assembled that seed catalog.

As I perused the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog, I frequently noted items we order from them. We get most of our lettuce seed from Johnny's, along with a lot of other good varieties. It just turned out that we had enough seed on hand that we didn't need to place an order with them this year.

I was disappointed to see that Territorial Seeds no long carries a couple of seed varieties we'd previously ordered from them (Pacemaker III beets and Milestone onions). Their catalog lacks eye appeal, but they did supply the very best garlic sets we've ever gotten several years ago.

I don't order from the Jung Seeds catalog, but we have a lot of seed packets in frozen storage from their R.H. Shumway outlet. The Shumway catalog arrived today. I've continued to order from Shumway over the years partly as a bit of a nostalgia thing. I like the woodcut illustrations in their catalog.

Shumway remains a good source for us, as they carry five of the six bush green bean varieties we grow at good prices for half pound packets. The also carry the open pollinated Reid's Yellow Dent field corn that we grew on the farm for a few years.

Friday, December 30, 2016 - Cold Snap Coming

December weather summaryWeather Underground 10-day ForecastIt appears that we all may be in for some cold weather by this time next week. Jason Samenow reports in Rare coast-to-coast cold snap to engulf Lower 48 late next week, "Frigid air will grip an unusually large portion of the Lower 48 states in just over a week’s time. The cold is predicted to consume almost the entire nation, from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast, sparing only Florida," noting that, "the cold snap will be most remarkable for the amount of real estate it is predicted to cover."

December has been an interesting weather month here with some abnormally high temperatures and one low around 2-3° F. We'll warm up a bit through Tuesday, before the front hits on Wednesday and daytime high temperatures will remain below freezing for several days.

Beyond making sure our vehicles start, I'll need to be on my toes keeping thawed water available for our dogs. Fortunately, I got the last of our used flower pots out of their outdoor bleach baths yesterday. They've now been washed, rinsed, dried, and are stored in our downstairs plant room.

Most of our weather data comes from the Weather Underground. There are two, good reporting stations in our immediate area. One is outside Merom, Indiana, just a few miles south of us. The other is in Robinson, Illinois, several miles southwest of us.

Botannical Interests

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 Seed Orders

Twilley Seeds (16)
Stokes Seeds (4)
Turtle Tree Seed Initiative (1)

2016 Seed Orders
Twilley Seeds (6)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (5)
Fedco Seeds (4)
Reimer Seeds (4)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (3)
Burpee (3)
High Mowing Organic Seeds (2)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (2)
Mountain Valley Seed Company (1)
Uprising Seeds (1)

Our Senior Garden - December 31, 2016The last of our initial seed orders arrived in today's mail. It was a single packet of Nancy lettuce seed from a new-to-us seed vendor, Turtle Tree Seed. Our regular suppliers of such seed, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Fedco, both listed the variety as a seed crop failure this year, so we got to try a new vendor. Undoubtedly, the Nancy seed we received is old seed Turtle Tree has had in storage, as the germination test date stamped on the seed packet was for April, 2016. But with just a few seeds remaining in our old packet of Nancy seed, I was happy to find any of that seed still available this year.

Our seed orders this year were greatly reduced from last year as we have a lot of good seed left in frozen storage. Most of our new seed came from Twilley Seeds, a vendor we've used for many years. I also gave Stokes Seeds another try after not using them for several years.

I may order an item or two here and there before we begin planting, but we're pretty well set now for the 2017 gardening season.

This Year's How-to's and Feature Stories

I was going to link to our end-of-year columns here, but realized that I could easily list all of the how-to and feature stories I published this year. There weren't that many.


Barn and smoke from powerplantWe're winding up the year with a surprisingly warm (46° F) day. When I took our daily splashshot of the garden today, I also turned east and took a photo of the barn and the smoke from the nearby powerplant. The smoke was traveling in a straight, almost level line in the 35 MPH wind gusts that make being outdoors unpleasant.

I left out our usual, monthly animated GIF of our raised beds, as I'd already loaded up this page with a year-long animated GIF of the garden last week. I did, however, put together the monthly GIF and uploaded it here.


To all the readers who took the time this year to write and comment, share tips, criticisms and photos, my sincere thanks. Reader feedback provides valuable insights into the gardening practices of others and often helps me decide on what to write about and what to leave out. It also nice to just have access to other gardeners to chat a bit.

A special thanks goes out to those of you who have used our Affiliated Advertiser links when making online purchases. Senior Gardening isn't a profit producing site, but the small stream of income it provides helps.

Happy New Year and best wishes from Annie and I for a healthy and successful 2017 gardening season.

November, 2016

January, 2017

Contact Steve Wood, the at Senior Gardening



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