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December 9, 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, 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

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

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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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.

Mountain Valley Seeds

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

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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Previously on Senior Gardening


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