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October 25, 2016

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, October 27, 2016

I Voted EarlyAfter reviewing the ballot for our area earlier this week, I went ahead and voted early yesterday. At my age, who knows if I'll still be around to vote on election day!grin Like many rural areas, our early voting center is the clerk's office in the county courthouse. I always enjoy seeing the building's three story atrium, oak bannisters, marble floors and stained glass skylight.

bottom leatherI found the time to vote when a job I was doing for once took far less time that expected. Our new shallow well pump had begun to act up several weeks ago. I opened it up and reseated its bottom leather which fixed things for a while. Then the pump stopped working entirely.

Having a set of replacement leathers on hand, I started with the easier to replace bottom leather. It turned out that replacement put the pump back in working order, and I didn't have to replace the cup leather, a far more involved job.

When the voting went quickly, I headed for our local Walmart, as I needed to get my pneumonia booster shot. I also got a flue shot while there. The pharmacist who gave the shots was a man I'd coached in fifth grade basketball and whose mother I taught with for years. It's a good feeling to see kids you've worked with grow up to be happy and successful individuals.

My one gardening endeavour yesterday was to package some Earliest Red Sweet pepper seed and pop them into the freezer. The seed had been drying on a paper plate for days as I did a germination test on it. The seed tested at a very good 90%.

I planned on going slow yesterday (and possibly today as well), as I'd worked our compost piles on Monday and then put together some heavy steel shelvingicon on Tuesday. The wire shelving went into our plant room to hold butternuts, potatoes, garlic, onions, and dormant gloxinias. The wire shelving should allow better air flow over the rack than the previous shelving I'd installed in the room to hold gardening supplies. It should also prevent one of our cats from using the dormant gloxinias as a litter box!

One other job completed this week was entering an order at the Greenhouse Megastore for trays, pots, and inserts to be used next spring. It's a little early for such an order, but I might just beat some price increases by ordering now. Because of their selection, fair prices, good response to requests to carry items, and excellent service, the Megastore has become our go-to source for trays, pots, hanging baskets, and the like.

Between shoveling compost, pounding together steel shelving, cleaning the plant room, pulling a heavy pump head, and getting shots in both arms, I'm a bit sore. One of the glories of retirement is that I can take a day or two off to recharge before getting back to jobs that I enjoy doing.

Greenhouse Megastore


Monday, October 24, 2016

Hanging basket plantsWeather Underground Extended ForecastWe got past our first potential frost Saturday morning with lows getting down only into the upper 30s. Since I'm just about worn out with gardening for this season, I hadn't taken any special precautions to protect against the frost. But when I got up Saturday, I was pleased to see our hanging basket plants along the porch still healthy and in full bloom.

The beautiful flowers edging our main raised bed were unaffected by the cool temperatures and continued their incredible production of fall blooms. Our broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bell peppers, cowpeas, lima beans, and carrots still actively growing in our raised beds also looked good.

Our row of spinach along the south edge of our main raised bed looked terrible, but that was mostly from insect damage and yellowed leaves. Unwilling to pay $3-4 for a bag of spinach at the grocery, I took my good scissors and 12 quart bucket to the row and sheared it down. Then I sorted through the cut leaves and was pleasantly surprised to half fill the bucket with good spinach leaves. Many of the leaves were larger than what one gets at the grocery, but ours were also heavily savoyed...and definitely not sprayed with any insecticide while they were growing.

A very wet, but tilled East GardenOur current extended weather forecast doesn't show any danger of frost into early November. That may present some problems in getting our garden plots ready for next year. I really hate to pull actively growing crops before their time, but will soon need to start tilling our raised beds to prepare them for next season.

Zinnias along East GardenOur kale is growing where I will want to plant garlic this month or next. The row of spinach I worked yesterday is where our spring broccoli and cauliflower will go. And our three Earliest Red Sweet pepper plants that keep ripening 10-15 good red peppers a week are where our early peas will go. Both the brassicas and peas are crops where I prepare the soil in the fall and mulch it heavily. In the early spring (March and early April), I just pull back the mulch and plant or transplant.

With the heavy rain we had last week, I'm going to just have to relax and enjoy the late fall weather and harvests. Our garden soil will be too wet to work for some time to come. I'm glad I got our East Garden plot tilled last week, as it currently looks like a good spot to lose a shoe in the mud if you stepped into it. Note that I left our eighty foot row of zinnias along the north edge of our East Garden plot. They're in full bloom and too pretty to cut down. I did till along either side of them, though.

Main raised bed on October 23,

Fall color along Turtle Creek ReservoirThe image above shows our sick looking spinach along with some nice fall colors in the distance. The petunias in the spinach row were volunteers I didn't have the heart to pull. Along the right side of the raised bed are fully mature vinca, dwarf basil in full bloom, and marigolds. The luxuriant green growth in the center of the raised bed is a row of lima beans that have as yet to put on any good bean pods. Behind them is a row of cowpeas that need to dry down before I begin picking, shelling, and drying them.

The best fall color I've seen this season was at the edge of the nearby Turtle Creek Reservoir. My brother, Chet, visited last weekend, and we both noticed the display as we drove across the causeway of the reservoir (in our search for a breakfast spot).

Getting back to gardening, I snapped a shot on Saturday of one more Mecate yellow pepper growing in an isolation plot. I need to pick it before it rots. I also grabbed a shot of some volunteer dill and a fully blooming marigold, and some asparagus seed. I try to save a little asparagus seed from our patches each year, just in case we experience a disaster.

 A late ripening Mecate pepper Dill and marigold Asparagus seed

I got started on something far less sexy than gardening yesterday, but quite necessary. I began washing out trays and seed flats used this year. I try to keep up with this task through the growing season, but always end up with lots of dirty trays, inserts, and flower pots that need to be cleaned and sterilized. Doing this task same me lots of bucks over buying all new seed starting supplies for the coming year.

The "sterilizing" part of the cleaning is somewhat questionable. After cleaning the trays, pots, etc., I put them through a bleach bath to try to kill any disease organisms that might be present.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our Senior Garden - October 20, 2016
Our East Garden - October 20, 2016

3.5" of rain in 24 hoursI had made a good start on tilling our East Garden again yesterday afternoon when it began to lightly rain. I pushed ahead, trying to get finished. A large bolt of lightning reminded me that I was riding a big hunk of conductive metal grounded by steel tines sunk six to eight inches into the ground.

By the time I put the lawn tractor and attached tiller in the garage and cleaned the tine housing, it began to rain really hard. Thunderstorms persisted for the next twenty-four hours, leaving us by mid-afternoon today with 3 1/2 inches of rain!

Along with the rain, we've had a dramatic drop in temperature. Today's high temperature was just 59° F. One weather site is predicting an overnight low Friday night/Saturday morning of just 35° F. That's pretty close to frost temperatures.

Rained out from outdoor gardening today, I worked with our collection of gloxinia plants. Many of the plants we'd been enjoying on our dining room table had finished blooming. I trimmed spent flowers from the plants before moving many of them under our plant lights in the basement. I also brought some plants ready to bloom up from the basement and others down from the sunroom.

Gloxinias on dining room table

Some of our gloxinia blooms are a bit droopy. I think the lessening amount of light each day may be responsible, although that's just a guess. Tux, one of our cats, wasn't terribly impressed with the plants or my taking his picture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pepopers and tomatoes on October 19!After staying up late last night canning Portuguese Kale Soup, I got off to a slow start today. Our weather is still unseasonably warm (77° F) with little chance of a frost in the extended forecast. After feasting on kale soup for lunch, I finally got to work.

Peppers picked October 18 & 19I'd picked a half bucket of red peppers from our three Earliest Red Sweet plants yesterday. What the open pollinated ERS variety lacks in pepper size, it more than makes up for in volume of late season, perfect red peppers.

Without emptying my bucket, I headed back to the isolation plot by the barn where I'd noticed some nice hybrid peppers maturing the last time I mowed. I was pleasantly surprised to find several ripe red and yellow peppers along with four ripe tomatoes. I also cut green peppers from the plants there, as we have all the ripe red peppers we can use. As I picked, I thought that I should have brought a five gallon bucket for the picking, but I find the 12 quart bucket Annie got me for my birthday to be pretty handy.

Still catching up on gardening chores I'd ignored yesterday, I grabbed a sharp knife and headed out to our narrow raised bed of broccoli and cauliflower. Our fall brassicas got off to a rough start this year. I transplanted the first of them on August 5, but had to put in more plants on August 15, as dry weather took about half of the original transplanting. At that point, I'd hoped to possibly get a little broccoli from the planting before frost.

Lots of fall broccoliWith our late fall, the brassicas have had more time than usual to mature. We'd already harvested cabbage and kohlrabi. Today, I found two, good sized main heads of broccoli along with a lot of sideshoots. Two of the sideshoots were as big as some small main heads we got earlier this month.

As usual, the longer season cauliflower isn't yet ready to pick, especially since most of it was transplanted late.

Fresh tomatoes from our garden on October 19!Both the broccoli picked today and the kale I harvested yesterday had a few worms and other bugs soak off. But with all the white cabbage moths and cabbage loopers I see flying around our yard and especially on our herb garden, it appears that our regular treatments of the brassicas with Thuricide has been beneficial.

Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to DonorsChoose.orgPicking four good tomatoes this late in the season was a real treat. Our remaining tomato plants all look pretty sad. But at a time when many gardeners have no more tomatoes, I'm thankful for the late harvest. Actually, as my wife, Annie, said today, we're thankful for the bountiful harvest we've had all season...and the good health to be able to continue gardening.

With some thundershowers headed our way, I hope to rather quickly give our East Garden plot another pass with the rototiller this afternoon. Once it starts raining each fall, there often aren't many windows in time where the soil dries out enough to till.

David's Cookies

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - Kale Soup Day

Our Senior Garden - October 18, 2016Kale Soup in progressMaking Portuguese Kale Soup is almost always an all day activity for me. I'm working tonight canning our second batch this season of the delicious soup.

Even though I got started thawing saved chicken broth before 8 A.M., I'll end up putting away the canning equipment around midnight. But the effort is definitely worth the result.

As I began picking kale early this morning, I realized that we might have a larger than normal batch of the soup this time around. Our kale, last picked a month ago, had regrown splendidly. I'd given it a little balanced fertilizer after the first picking, and ended up picking just twelve of the fifteen foot kale row. That produced two packed, five gallon buckets of lovely kale greens.

Carrots dug for soupSince it was a very pleasant, cloudy morning, I decided to dig a few fresh carrots for the soup instead of using some of our spring carrots stored in our refrigerator. I'd planted our fall carrots a little late, and had wondered if they'd beat our first frost to make a crop. Our first frost last season was on October 18!

When I dug, I was pleased to find that our carrots were a bit beyond the baby carrot stage. The freshly dug carrots pulled easily from our currently dry soil and didn't require peeling, just a good scrubbing with a vegetable brush before going into the soup. They'll definitely make a nice crop, as there appears to be little chance of a frost for the next week or so. Of course, I also noticed that the tops of the carrots had been bobbed and that there were deer tracks in the garden. That one is a first for us.

A normal batch of kale soup for us fills a twelve quart kettle. This time around, I had to split the soup between the twelve quart and an eight quart kettle.

The homegrown ingredients in the soup this time included fresh kale, carrots, potatoes, onions, and garlic, frozen peas, dried kidney beans, and canned green beans, tomatoes, and tomato purée - all from our garden. Since I haven't had a home flock since my farming days, the chicken and broth came from the grocery, as did the smoked sausage.

kale row Carrot row

As I've worked on this posting, I've been consuming some kale soup and a delicious bread my wife, Annie, brought home from the grocery tonight. I'm also keeping a close eye on the pressure gauge of the pressure canner. Canning quarts that include meat takes 90 minutes at ten pounds per square inch of pressure. Of course, it takes the canner fifteen minutes to heat up and vent steam, and another twenty minutes to cool down enough to open. When the quarts of soup are done, I'll do a load of pints (another 75 minutes plus of canning). What's left over after canning seven quarts and nine pints will either go into the fridge or be frozen. Two canning loads in a night is about my limit these days.

Taking a chance here on being politically incorrect, we use kale soup like protestant chicken broth. Whenever one of us has the sniffles or signs of the flu, we break out the kale soup for a super shot of natural vitamins. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But the soup is always good.

Crockett's Victory GardenOur kale soup recipe isn't original or unique. It comes from just a few lines from Crockett's Victory Garden, the best garden reference I own. There are lots of variations of the basic recipe online.

As to the Crockett books, long since out of print, Crockett's Victory Garden, Crockett's Indoor Garden, and Crockett's Flower Garden are still available used at very reasonable prices through Amazon and Alibris.

Ah, the timer just went off for the batch of quarts. After it cools down, I'll start the pints. Fortunately, I only do this task about twice a year.

If you noticed from our daily splash shot or the top left photo of this posting, the soybeans around our house were getting harvested today. Todd Jackson's farm crew started harvesting the ninety acre field of beans around three o'clock yesterday and finished about suppertime today.

Todd generously lets us use a small field east of our house that he rents for our large East Garden plot.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Our Senior Garden - October 16, 2016Sierra Trading Post - Dynamic Homepage BannerAfter mowing our East Garden and the field around it yesterday, I switched the lawn tractor over to the tiller and tilled today. Before tilling, I heavily limed what had been our potato rows this year, as that ground had been treated to acidify the soil for the potato crop. The rest of that part of the East Garden got a light coating of lime.

I also spread soil acidifier over the area planned for potatoes next season. After the soil amendments have a winter to work, I'll do a pH test of the soil next spring to see if I need to adjust pH levels a bit more.

Instead of just tilling the part of the East Garden we used this year, I went ahead and turned over the entire 80' x 80' garden plot. Half of the plot had been in turf for two years, so that section was fairly hard, bumpy tilling. The section where we grew sweet corn, potatoes, and melons this season tilled fairly easily.

Today's tilling was an east-west affair (left-right in the photo below). If the weather holds and I get to till the plot again this fall, I'll go north and south. Part of the choice for east-west tilling was so as to not too greatly disturb our gorgeous, eighty foot row of zinnias. I'd mowed down the row of nasturtiums yesterday that ran down the center of the plot.

Our East Garden - October 16, 2016

Our Senior TillerJohn Deere pull-type tillerI'm feeling quite good about getting our East Garden fall tilled. It's a big job for an old man. Unfortunately, I'm also feeling lots of sore shoulder muscles, mainly from manhandling the mower deck out from under the lawn tractor and installing the tiller attachment. Of course, I'd be a lot more sore and the job would have taken multiple days if I'd used our twenty-two year old, walk-behind, senior tiller.

The twenty-some butternut squash I'd selected to save for winter use got bagged and moved to the basement today. We store our butternuts (and potatoes when we have lots of them) in large, burlap bags. We got our last bunch of them in 2014 from S&S Worldwide, although smaller quantities of the big bags are available from Amazon. Since we buy the gunny sacks by the dozen, I guess we're prepared in case the family wants to have bag or 3-legged races here sometime.

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cutting our last cantaloupe of the seasonButternuts at the food bankI cut a homegrown cantaloupe yesterday, It was one I found when cleaning up our melon patch on Tuesday. Unsure of its ripeness, I'd let it sit several days...almost too long. While the flesh was a bit soft, the melon was sweet and flavorful, unlike the melons we'll get at the grocery over the next eight or nine months.

I disposed of the last of our excess butternut squash on Thursday. The manager at the food bank took mercy on me and let me use one of their large shopping carts to hold and move the heavy butternuts. The fifty to sixty butternuts almost filled the shopping cart.

I was a bit unsure about delivering so many butternuts, but the manager had some knowledge about winter squash. "They'll store," he quipped.

Most of Friday was taken up with a six month checkup with my heart surgeon. Neither he nor his staff could find any concerns with my heart, so I'm anticipating it being good for another hundred thousand miles.

I published another how-to article yesterday, One Last Raised Garden Bed. It tells of our construction of a raised bed around three sides of our shallow well. The raised bed project presented some different requirements than our other raised beds as described in Building a Raised Garden Bed. Because of the new bed's proximity to a water source we use for watering the garden and water for our dogs, I didn't want to use treated lumber for the construction. I also couldn't afford our preferred 6x6 timbers in untreated cedar, as it runs two to three times the cost of treated landscape timbers. But dropping back to 4x4 cedar timbers seems to have worked out well for the raised bed that will hopefully serve for many summers to come as our herb garden.

Burpee Herb Seeds & Plants

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - Growing Asparagus

Our Senior Garden (in the rain) - October 12, 2016Growing AsparagusIt began to rain around noon, putting a major kink in my plans to either mow or till today. But we really need the rain, as it's the first we've received this month.

Being rained out from outdoor gardening, I watered our porch and inside plants and moved on to finishing a how-to article on Growing Asparagus. I haven't started an asparagus patch since 2006. Writing the article had me reaching back in my memory and consulting my ancient garden logs and plans as to how I did the task.

Images of starting the asparagus patch or the plants getting started from seed under our plant lights were nonexistent on my hard drive. Google searches of my web sites (1, 2) didn't help much either, although it revealed that I'd published a lot of asparagus photos over the years. So much of the how-to is text, although I spiced it up with many photos of our asparagus patches from over the years.

Our raised bed of asparagus is now ten years old. The second patch we care for, Bonnie's Asparagus Patch, is well over twenty years old. Both are still going strong. I'm already looking forward to another spring asparagus feast beginning next April.

Charity: Water

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - Cleaning up the East Garden

Dumping melons and vines on compost pileMelon patch cleanedI got started cleaning up our East Garden plot today. I'd previously mowed the areas where we'd grown sweet corn and potatoes. This afternoon, I cleared all the melons and most of their vines from our melon patch. Clearing the melon patch may slightly lesson the chance of disease and insect carryover, although there was a lot of melon trash (leaves, stems, etc.) still left on the ground.

In past years, our melon patch got cleared in either August or September. I'd just pull up the melon plants from their hill and drag them to our compost pile. Since I waited so long, many of the vines were dry and brittle. So I had to pick up the vines by hand. But since the soil was very dry, I was able to drive our truck across the patch without fear of creating a lot of soil compaction. I loaded the remaining melons and vines in the truck and dumped them on our working compost pile.

I left the grass clipping mulch that hadn't broken down yet and will turn it under when I rototill the East Garden. I'd really prefer that a frost occur before I till, as I'd hate to have to mow down our eighty foot rows of zinnias and nasturtiums before their blooming season is over. Maybe I'll just till around them.

Two bonuses came from clearing the patch. I filled a quart bag with zinnia seed. I also, wonder of wonders, found a good cantaloupe at full slip. The zinnia seed will get spread out on a cookie sheet to dry for a week or two. I think I'm going to let the cantaloupe set a day or two before I cut it.

Row of zinnias

Giant Pumpkins

In case you missed them, I stumbled across a couple of pumpkin stories today on The Washington Post. One tells of a Pumpkin weighing 1,910 pounds winning a contest. The other relates that a Rhode Island man’s giant pumpkin set a North American record for massive gourds. That one weighed in at 2,261.5 pounds.

Sadly, our pumpkins didn't make it this year. I didn't get them sprayed in time to save them from an invasion of squash bugs. Maybe next year, but we definitely won't be growing any one ton pumpkins.

Work never looked so good. See SKECHERS Work Collection!  SKECHERS Work - Made to Last

Monday, October 10, 2016 - No Frost in Sight Yet

Our Senior Garden - October 10, 2016Weather Underground 10-day ForecastWe continue to be blessed with pleasant days and cool nights. Our current extended forecast from the Weather Underground site predicts more of the same for the next ten days.

Our first frost has occurred here over the years anywhere between October 5 and early November. From the Dave's Garden First Frost/Freeze page, our typical first frost date is October 17.

Combining our past experience with the climatic data provided by Dave's Garden, it appears that our rather late planted fall garden crops may have time to mature. We've already begun to harvest lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli and continue to bring in lots of lovely red peppers. Our row of kale is recovering nicely from a thorough picking last month, and our double row of carrots are now maturing good roots. The only fall crops that are in question in beating the frost are our rows of crowder peas and lima beans.

Out our window, September 26, 2008 Out our window, January 20, 2003

As my wife, Annie, and I chatted this morning, I noticed the desktop photos on my laptop which was in the office backing up and my big screen for my Mac Mini. They sort of depict our extremes of seasons when looking out our kitchen window. We're now in between the two images in season, but winter will soon be upon us.

I need to get started getting our garden ready for fall, winter, and the next growing season.


Butternut squash curing on back porchBucket of peppersI dropped off a box of about fifteen butternut squash this afternoon at our local food bank. We have 50-60 more butternuts still curing in the field and what we'll save for the winter curing along our back porch. The ones on the porch have been scrubbed clean for winter storage and need to be bagged and taken to the basement.

Feeling that I'd been a bit lazy today, I got out and cleaned up some stuff in our main raised garden bed and picked a bunch of deep red Earliest Red Sweet peppers. On my way back to the house, spying the curing butternuts, I decided that we should sample the squash with our supper this evening.

Baking Butternuts

I selected one of the smaller butternuts curing on the porch for our dinner. After washing it and breaking off its stem, I sliced the squash lengthwise, top to bottom. I cleaned the seeds from the squash and also cut a small slit towards the top. The egg area and slit got filled first with butter, then with brown sugar.

Before popping the squash into the oven for about an hour at 400° F, I sprinkled a little salt and pepper over them. Some recipes call for a bit of nutmeg, while others omit the brown sugar in favor of maple syrup.

Butternut cut in half Seed cell cleaned Butter added Brown sugar, salt, and pepper added Baked butternut squash

Our dinner consisted of some round steak, pounded thin and tenderized, the butternuts, and some freshly picked broccoli.

Raised Beds

Friday, October 7, 2016

Our Senior Garden - October 7, 2016Growing PeasI didn't do much gardening today. I cut a few small heads of broccoli and a large head of savoy cabbage. I also harvested gloxinia seed from a couple of seed spikes that were ready.

It was also time to bring in the last of our hummingbird feeders. I last saw (or heard) a hummingbird around the back porch on Tuesday, and that was just one lonely hummingbird. I almost missed seeing it, but heard the distinctive hum of its wings and caught a brief glimpse of it at a feeder. While the hummingbirds that are with us all summer become used to us on the porch and even look in the windows when their feeders are dry, transient hummingbirds are pretty shy.

Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas

I worked late last night and again today on a how-to story, Another Garden Delicacy: Homegrown Peas. I pretty well finished the text of the article about 3 A.M. this morning, having worked on it for several evenings this week. When I finally got up this morning and well into the afternoon, I worked editing and adding images and proofreading. I posted the story a little after 3 in the afternoon.

I actually enjoy the planning, organization, and writing. It's what I do. The technical aspects of web design and the proofreading become a bit tedious. But such activities also challenge the mind, not a bad thing for a retired senior citizen.

Aided by a bit of Johnny Walker Red, the words seemed to flow last night. And probably because of Mr Johnny Walker, I had a lot of proofing and correcting to do today.

Each evening as I wrote, I found myself craving peas. So today in the grocery, I bought a package of steamer snap peas, something I'd usually pass by. But we didn't grow Sugar Snaps this season, so I had little will power to resist the peas on sale. They turned out to be delicious, almost as good as homegrown. Now I need to rework our East Garden plan for next season to include Sugar Snaps. (Done!)

Heirloom seed from Botanical Interests Organic seed from Botanical Interests

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - Way to Go, Burpee! (and the Burpee Foundation)

Our Senior Garden - October 6, 2016White House GardenI sort of snoozed through the story on the news last night about care for the White House garden being privately funded for years to come. Today, I found a story on the NPR web site, Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden Will Keep Blooming, Even After She Leaves, that relates that Burpee Seeds and The Burpee Foundation have donated enough money to ensure care for the garden for about 17 years. All politics aside, I think that's a pretty classy move by Burpee.

Thanks to Angela N. for use of the photo at right via Creative Commons Attribution.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - Gloxinia Seed Ripens

Ripe gloxinia seedCloseup of open gloxinia seed headI almost missed a gloxinia bloom spike that had burst open today. I check the hand pollinated blooms daily, because they'll begin to shed seed everywhere within a day of opening. Since the gloxinia seed is the size of dust, there's no picking up spilled seed.

I'd noted a seed head just beginning to split open this morning on one of our gloxinias in the basement, but then spaced on checking the plants on our dining room table.

The particular seed head that burst open today was from a purple blooming, open pollinated gloxinia, probably of mostly the Empress variety parentage. I'd marked the stem of the bloom with a loosely attached twist tie, something I often forget to do after hand pollinating blooms.

After carefully cutting the seed head stem with scissors, I turned it over a paper bowl I'm collecting gloxinia seed in. It appeared that 50-100 seeds dumped out of the bloom. I set the bloom spike in the bowl to dry. As it dries over the next day or so, it will yield even more seed. After the seed has had a week or two to air dry, it gets dumped into plastic or glass vials and goes into the freezer for long term storage. I still have some saved gloxinia seed from 1991 in the freezer that germinated well the last time I seeded it (when re-starting our gloxinia collection in 2014).

Recommended Seed Suppliers

After mentioning on Monday some garden articles I'm currently working on, I got busy this morning and updated our page of Recommended Seed Suppliers. While the page gets updated throughout the year, I share some of it here sometime in October or November each year.

Our list of recommended seed suppliers is based on our totally subjective experiences with the vendors listed. Seed varieties available, quality, price, shipping & handling charges, and customer service all figure into our evaluation, winnowed a bit using The Garden Watchdog ratings from Dave's Garden. Some of the relationships run back well over forty years, while others are more recent additions.

  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - offer an incredible array of heirloom seeds (DGW rating)
  • Burpee Seed - the W. Atlee Burpee Company, the granddaddy of all seed catalog vendors, still around with lots of great seed - just so-so ratings on plant orders - excellent customer service, but a tad expensive - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)
  • Fedco - a cooperatively owned seed house in Maine featuring cold-hardy selections adapted to the Northeast - "Consumers own 60% of the cooperative and worker members 40%." Possibly the best value for your dollar in purchasing garden seed! (DGW rating)
  • George's Plant Farm - a highly rated supplier of sweet potato slips (DGW rating)
  • High Mowing Organic Seeds - well organized and illustrated catalog of heirloom, open pollinated, and hybrid seeds - shipping charges included with cost of seeds with no minimum order (DGW rating)
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - offers hardy varieties for northern (and other) latitudes - a bit expensive - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)
  • R.H. Shumway - lots of heirloom (and other) seed presented in a catalog with lots of woodcut illustrations (DGW rating)
  • Seed Savers Exchange - offers small quantities of open pollinated seeds through their print and online catalog - far more variety in open pollinated seed through their members-only annual yearbook (DGW rating)
  • Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - grow 40% of their own seed - used them several years ago and then lost track of them, before once more "discovering" them again (DGW rating)
  • Territorial Seed Company - good variety of seeds - high minimum shipping rates - have been hammered over the last twelve months on customer service (DGW rating)
  • Twilley Seed - our main supplier of sweet corn seed during our farming years and now - no online sales as yet - offers both a print and downloadable catalog - high minimum shipping rates - excellent customer service - a longtime seed supplier (DGW rating)

There really weren't any major changes in the listing since I last updated it this summer. But doing the update reminds me to check my spelling and grammar again and to run the link checker.

The full Suppliers page also lists some other seed houses folks might like to try, along with some seed starting products we like and use.

Botanical Interests - Tomato HP Logo 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

Monday, October 3, 2016 - Broccoli

Our Senior Garden - October 3, 2016Fall broccoliI've been checking our broccoli daily, waiting for the central heads to mature. Broccoli often can mature quickly and begin to bloom and turn bitter just as quickly. Yesterday, I noticed that several of the heads were fairly large, but still rather tight. Today, those heads had begun to loosen, making it time to cut them. In a day or two, the heads would have been overripe.

The five main heads I picked today ranged from four to seven inches in diameter. That's a bit smaller than we often get, but a whole lot better than the one to two inch buttoned heads we got this spring. The planting of our fall broccoli ended up being somewhat staggered, as we lost almost half of the first plants we transplanted for fall. Their replacements may yet yield a few more main heads. In addition, we should be able to pick broccoli sideshoots for several weeks.

After tasting a bite or two of the broccoli, I was really tempted to get out some dip and devour a good bit of the picking. Instead, I soaked, cut, blanched, and froze it for future use.


One of the nice things about fall and winter for me is that it allows time to work on some new feature stories and how-to articles for this site. Working as an educator for almost forty years and moonlighting as a writer during the later years of teaching, it's nice now in full retirement to be able to write at my leisure. When I was writing for commercial web sites (1, 2), the weekly deadlines didn't allow for much in-depth development of columns or long-term investigative reporting.

I currently have feature stories and how-to articles in progress on growing asparagus, sweet corn, peas, herbs, end-of-season gardening chores, and a raised bed update that includes our new herb bed around our shallow well. Often, such articles get started, but languish on my hard drive for a year or more before publication. Still missing from our how-to series are articles about growing tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, lettuce, beans, spinach, and lots of other crops. I think I've left the easy ones till last. But then, almost everyone knows how to grow good tomatoes and green beans.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016 - Butternut Squash

Cleaning up butternuts

Butternuts in cartButternuts curing on grassWhat started out as a wet, cloudy day today turned into a gorgeous, sunny, fall afternoon. I got out and began cleaning up what once was a huge hill of butternut squash. I trim the squash from the vine with a pair of lopping shears, as leaving an inch or two of stem on them allows better curing and storage.

I filled our four cubic foot garden cart with squash and left three bunches of butternuts on the ground to cure in place a bit. As squash bugs had finished off our vines, there were a lot of immature and damaged squash that went onto our compost pile. I'd earlier moved a dozen or so overripe or rotting cantaloupe and watermelon to the pile.

Butternut YamsI think there are about 75 good butternuts, with another 25 or so culls that got composted. We obviously won't use all the butternuts. We'll keep enough to make butternut mock yams at Thanksgiving and Christmas and a few more for baking. The rest will go to friends, family, and a local food bank.

I did find an interesting recipe online for Easy Butternut Squash Soup.

Our hill of butternuts was the old standard, Waltham Butternut Squashicon. Waltham's are very productive, but vine vigorously. For those who aren't blessed with space as we are, bush butternutsicon don't take up as much space. Of course, you may not get 75-100 squash from three plants as we did with our Walthams.

I got worn out moving the heavy butternuts, so I still need to collect and compost the vines. Afterward, I'll mow the area, as we had some pretty good grass breakthroughs despite using lots of grass clipping mulch to suppress weeds.

I'd hoped to clear the melon patch of melons, but there still a few on the vines that may yet mature. I set out three watermelon to cut, although I'm not confident that they'll have really good flavor, as they matured in cool weather. Eventually, I'll have to clear the area, as I want to rototill the entire East Garden this fall.

Burpee Gardening

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Our Senior Garden - October 1, 2016
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Main raised garden bed, October 1, 2016
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October is a changeover month for us in our Senior Garden plots. We'll be harvesting the last of our fall garden crops, but our focus will gradually shift to getting our ground ready for the next gardening season, a job that will extend well into November.

We hope to still bring in spinach, lettuce, carrots, lima beans, crowder peas, kale, red bell peppers, cabbage, broccoli, butternut squash, and possibly some cauliflower and a few late tomatoes. Fresh, undamaged tomatoes have become rather rare and precious of late as our plants wind down and insects take their toll. We have one very late planted Earlirouge tomato plant, put in after blight wiped out our main Earlirouge planting, that may keep us in fresh tomatoes right up until the first frost.

We'll make one more batch of Portuguese Kale Soup this month. We're waiting on our kale to fully re-grow after picking it two weeks ago for our first batch of the soup.

While kale can produce far into the fall, well past initial light frosts, we'll pull our kale plants after the next picking. They occupy the area of our main raised bed planned for garlic for next season. In this climate zone, one plants garlic in the fall, preferably in late October. Getting the garlic planted just after ones first frost allows the cloves planted to begin developing roots before winter truly sets in.

We'll continue to refine our garden plan for next season as we prepare our garden plots for winter and next season. We have an initial plan roughed out already, but changes will almost certainly need to be made as we decide what to grow, how much, and where for next year.

I'll be writing more later this month about garden planning and our fall gardening chores.

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