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January 20, 2018

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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

An email from a concerned reader yesterday made me realize that I'd been deficient in posting lately. Things have been slow, gardening-wise, here of late. My wife and I have also been a bit under the weather, her more than me. But I have been doing a little gardening here and there.

Waxed begonias in sunroomWhen I brought our purchased waxed begonia inside last fall, I decided to repot it. It turned out that the original pot contained four plants, so I split them up, two each per hanging basket pot. A week or so ago, a couple of our cats got into our sunroom where the begonias sit on a sunny bookshelf and dug up one of the pots. Fortunately, it was the pot where only one of the begonia plants had survived. It got moved to the center of the pot.

Wandering jew and wax begonia plants in sunroomPlants coming inside for the winter no longer go under our plant lights in our basement plant room. They go to our mostly unheated sunroom, as I'm a bit freaky about the possibility of bringing in insects, insect eggs, or plant diseases to our plant room. Several years ago, we lost all of our gloxinias to the INSV virus, either from infected plants brought back inside or from a purchased plant that was infected. After restarting our gloxinia collection from saved seed, I've not brought any plants back into our plant room, nor have I purchased any gloxinia plants or corms from outside sources.

Never try to teach a pig to sing
Leslie with piglets in outdoor shelter

I also use the cool sunroom to let plants grow slowly, developing extensive root systems. I moved our recently rooted wandering jew plants to the sunroom yesterday. Later on, I'll move geraniums to the sunroom to slow down their topgrowth while their root systems continue to mature.

Writing about our disease prevention efforts reminded me of my days as a small time hog farmer in the 1980s. When visiting friends' hog operations, I had to go through some serious decontamination efforts before entering their hog houses to prevent bringing in potential diseases from our farm. This wasn't an insult, but rather good farming practice. In some cases, I could only look in at the hogs through a window, as the other farmers were as freaky about disease prevention as I am now.

Having mentioned hogs, that gave me the opportunity to once again share a meme I created years ago featuring our best sow, Leslie. The Robert Heinlein quote is probably appropriate for all the messages about the government shutdown folks are sending Congress and the President these days. Our elected leaders may learn to listen/sing someday, but probably only after another election or two.

Seemingly unable to help myself, I ordered more garden seed this week. I found an outlet that still had some of the discontinued Roadside Hybrid muskmelon seed, although at a pretty steep price. I also placed an order with Glenn Drowns Sand Hill Preservation Center. They carry an heirloom cantaloupe, Spear, that I want to try. All of our other cantaloupe varieties are hybrids, so a good open pollinated melon would be a good addition to our melon patch.

Our Senior Garden - January 20, 2018The egg carton petunias I started have been slow to germinate. I had to re-seed one egg carton, but only have myself to blame for that. I used up the last of some old packets of Double Cascade and Supercascade for the planting, even though I had purchased fresh seed this year. (Duh!) The replanting was done with new seed.

Our seeding of ivy leaf geraniums still isn't doing anything. The seed isn't rotting, but also isn't germinating. I'm wondering if I got some hard seed.

With both the petunias and geraniums being a bit pokey on our soil heating mat, I haven't started anything else recently, but will soon need to get with it. I guess I could blame my tardiness partially on the weather. We've just emerged from a long, cold, snowy spell. The snow is just beginning to melt off some today, although we're still using four-wheel drive to get in and out of our driveway.

After taking the photo at right, I noticed that our "four dog alarm system" were out in the field. They have mostly spent nights indoors during the cold weather, creating quite a stir whenever something moves outside. All four dogs are either rescues or strays who have adopted us. Interestingly, all were housebroken when they came to live with us.

Burpee Seed Company


Friday, January 12, 2018 - Indiana Winter Weather

Garden from back porchYesterday, it was 59° F with blowing rain. Overnight, the rain turned to sleet. This morning, it's snowing and our high temperature will probably top out at 28° F! After several relatively warm days, our outlook now is for below freezing weather for a week or so.

Despite the snow over ice on the roads, I traveled into town this morning for a doctor's appointment. I'd been in last month and had several places lasered off. All of the biopsies came back positive, but only early cancers.

Today's visit was supposed to be for outpatient surgery to remove a rather large growth on my shoulder. Since my last visit, I'd used generic Efudex on it, greatly reducing the tumor's size. Fortunately, the doctor was able to laser off what remained instead of cutting it out. For good measure, he took off four other suspicious spots on my arm.

While necessary visits to my laser surgeon/cancer doctor are a bit unsettling and my arms are covered with scars from previous cancer and actinic keratoses removals, it's certainly better than the alternative.

And of course, the moral to this story is to wear sunscreen and/or sun protective clothing when working outside...and visit your doctor whenever an unusual growth appears on your skin.

And if your weather is anything like ours today, drive carefully. I drove to town before any snowplows had worked the highway. Even with the truck in four-wheel drive, I had to keep my speed below 40 MPH to avoid skidding.

Botannical Interests

Sunday, January 7, 2018 - Cold Weather Breaks

Weather Underground 10-Day ForecastOur cold spell has finally broken. I'll still need to make sure our dogs have thawed water each morning, but our near- and sub-zero mornings are behind us for now. As a gardener, I'm hoping the extended period of near-zero temperatures killed off a lot of overwintering bugs and bug eggs in and around our garden plots. As a human being, I'm glad the cold is over, at least for now.

Growing Melons?

Growing MelonsSomething peculiar showed up in our web statistics recently. While this home page always ranks as the most accessed page on the site, our Growing Melons how-to story jumped about four spots in the rankings to second most accessed page on the site so far this month.

I'm not sure why folks are reading about growing melons during a cold spell in January, but the changed ranking moved me to update the story. That involves adding a few, hopefully better, images, correcting difficult phrasing, and adding a bit of new information. After a spell check and an audible readback by the computer, a link check completed the update.

Of course, editing text and images about melons made me hungry for them!

Victory Seeds

Victory Seeds 2018 Catalog CoverI rarely write about seed houses I've not done business with, but will give Victory Seeds a plug here based on their always attractive catalog covers and even more on their excellent rating on Dave's Garden Watchdog. The Victory seed catalog comes out way too late to be considered for any of our main orders.

Victory Seeds offers a nice variety of open pollinated vegetable varieties, both heirlooms and more recent, popular commercial varieties. Prices for their seeds are pretty normal for the industry, although they have one of the higher minimum shipping rates. The company comment on their Dave's Garden Watchdog page states:

The Victory Seed Company remains an independent, farm-based, family owned and operated organization working to protect threatened seed varieties from becoming extinct. We work with cherished family heirlooms, rare old commercial releases, as well as newer interesting varieties - some of which we ourselves have released.

Shipping Rates for 2018

Minimum Shipping Rates (2018)

BurpeeBurpee Seed Company - $1.99 for less than three packets of seed, free for orders of three seed packets or more (plant orders still get charged shipping)
High Mowing Organic Seeds
- $2.95 (free on orders of $10 or more)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - $3.50 (flat rate)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange - $3.50 (orders up to $10) ↑
George's Plant Farm - $3.50 (flat rate)
Annie's Heirloom Seeds - $3.99 (flat rate)
Johnny's Selected Seeds - $4 (orders up to $10)↑
Fedco - $5 (free shipping for orders over $30)
Twilley Seed - $5 (goes down beyond $25 order)
True Leaf Market $5.95
Victory Seeds - $6.45 ↑
R.H. Shumway - $6.95 (orders up to $35)
Botanical Interests - $6.95 ↑
Stokes Seeds - $7.95 (flat rate)
Territorial Seed Company - $7.95 ↑

I try to keep track of minimum shipping rates for most major seed houses on our Recommended Seed Suppliers page. Several years ago, I found I couldn't afford (or maybe tolerate) what I viewed as unfair shipping charges from some seed houses for orders of just one to three packets of garden seed.

Protesting to the companies had little effect at that time. But market pressures seem to have forced some companies to become a bit more reasonable with their shipping charges. Several years ago, High Mowing Organic Seeds tried including shipping charges in the price of their seeds with no shipping charges added to orders. That experiment only lasted a year, but HMOS still maintains one of the better shipping rate schedules.

2018 Seed Orders

Twilley Seeds (9)
Johnny's Selected Seeds (5)
Sand Hill Preservation Center (4)
Stokes Seeds (4)
High Mowing Organic Seeds (3)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (2)
George's Plant Farm (2)
Reimer Seeds (2)
Seeds 'n Such (2)
Seed Savers Exchange Online Store (1)
Turtle Tree Seed Initiative (1)
Willhite Seed (1)

numbers in parentheses indicate the number of items ordered

Last fall, Burpee Seeds began charging just $1.99 shipping for one or two seed packets with free shipping for three or more packets. Of course, Burpee's seed prices are a good bit higher than most other seed vendors. Plant orders from Burpee don't get the same gentle shipping charges. But if you want just a few packets of Burpee Seeds, the new shipping rate makes things a bit more reasonable.

I wrote about a peculiarity in shipping rates from the Seed Savers Exchange Online store last month. To make a long story short, SSE charges shipping for online orders based on zip code and order weight while using a much more favorable (for us, at least) shipping rate based on order total for mail orders.

Even with some careful shopping, we ended up paying $38.90 in shipping charges so far this year for $156.18 worth of seed. That comes out to about a 25% surcharge for shipping!

When I add in the cost of garden chemicals and potting soil purchased locally along with a few new seed trays and such, we'll be lucky to break even on this year's garden. Of course, we give away a lot of produce to our local food bank each year to make our souls feel good. When we had a house full of kids to feed, our garden had to save money on our food bills. It's a good thing gardening is now just a pleasant hobby for us.

Observant readers may notice that neither Burpee nor Fedco, two of our favorite seed houses, have received orders so far this year. We're saving Burpee, despite their high seed prices, for clean-up orders for things I just forgot, mainly due to their improved shipping prices. We simply didn't need anything Fedco offered this year, but they will get a heavy order next year when we need to refresh our now aging supply of bean seeds.

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Potted wandering jew cuttingsSage plantsThe wandering jew cuttings I took last month had rooted enough to be moved to ten inch hanging basket pots yesterday. Getting some thawed potting soil proved to be the hardest part of the task. I lucked out at our local garden center, as they had one big bag of potting soil inside the store and thawed. While I had a good bit of Pro Mix and some organic potting soil on hand, I prefer to use one of the commercial blends that have fertilizer pellets in them for our hanging basket plants.

I half filled the basket pots with potting soil and lined the sides of them with it. Then I pressed the rooted cuttings into the soil on the sides of the pot before filling the center with more potting soil. Three plants went into each pot.

I have a few more cuttings putting on water roots in a glass on our kitchen windowsill. They'll serve as replacements if any of the plants moved today fail. Extras may be used for one more pot of the pretty plants.

I also transplanted four sage plants from their germination pot to a deep sixpack insert. They'll grow there for a month or so before being moved to four inch pots.

I also checked our recently started ivy leaf geranium and petunia seeds for signs of germination. I then had to remind myself that I only seeded them a few days ago.

Free Shipping on Orders over $35

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - Garden Planning for 2018

I start mapping out our next year's garden the preceding summer, usually on a hot July day when I really don't want to work outside. I begin with placing some annual crops that, as almost all crops do, require rotation but can also be a problem because of their height. Our tall, early peas and caged tomatoes get rotated through two narrow raised beds and the north end of our main raised bed to prevent them from shading out crops on their shady side. In this rotation, the peas or tomatoes only grow in a specific area once in three years, helping to lesson the chances of disease carryover.

The location for some crops gets locked in pretty early. I spread Soil Acidifier, mainly sulfur, over the prospective potato area in early fall to allow it time to work. Moving heavy feeders such as sweet corn and broccoli to fresh ground is essential. And while not too closely related, our fall planted garlic needs to go where onions or garlic haven't grown for a year or so.

Beans get special consideration in our garden planning. Our raised beds are all about twenty feet from a farm field that's in a corn/bean rotation. When the field is planted to beans, as it will be in 2018, we can only grow good beans early in the season, as later crops always draw lots of Japanese beetles from the soybean field. Apparently, Japanese beetles like green beans better than they do soybeans. I avoid having to do a lot of spraying with strong insecticides by growing our beans early before the population of Japanese beetles gets too bad.

Isolation by distance or time of blooming has to be considered for crops we intend to save seed from. Lately, we've only grown Earlirouge tomatoes and Earliest Red Sweet peppers in our main garden, growing other varieties a hundred yards away in our large East Garden plot. When our Abundant Bloomsdale spinach and the other varieties planted with it are about to bloom, we pull everything but the Abundant Bloomsdale to ensure a pure seed crop. Our second planting of peas for table use, freezing, and seed saving usually go into our main garden, but come into bloom long after our tall, early peas. In 2018, we hope to grow our later peas in our East Garden. That's an iffy proposition, as the soil in our East Garden is pretty nasty clay soil. I've left room, just in case, in our main garden plan for a late crop of Eclipse and Encore peas if our East Garden planting doesn't go well.

After all of that is done, I make a list of what other crops I want to grow. It's then just a matter of plugging them in on ground where they haven't recently grown. One thing that helps is that we're able to grow succession crops in our garden plots, using the same ground for two crops per season.

One thing that complicates our garden planning and crop rotation is when I get a wild hare and stick something into the ground without thinking about future crop rotations.

So here's what I have so far. Note that nothing is carved in stone until I begin putting transplants into the ground or begin direct seeding.

Our two narrow beds, named plots A-1 and A-2, are usually pretty easy to plan. For all of the images below, the diagram on the left is for our initial spring planting. The one one the right is for succession crops where applicable.

Plots A1 & A2 for 2018

Planning for our large, main raised bed is still a bit iffy. I've left a good bit of space open for succession plantings.

Our main raised bed plan for 2018

The stick with lines included in the image above is one of the measuring sticks I use when making my garden plans.

East Garden polan 2018

Planning for our large East Garden plot is really pretty easy. I rotate the plot 90° counterclockwise each year and then mostly maintain the previous year's planting plan. Having learned from planting just one row of melons in 2017, I increased our planting for 2018 to two rows. And while my knees will protest next July or August, I included two rows of potatoes and one row of sweet potatoes that will have to be dug.

I've not encluded specific vegetable varieties in this posting, but will probably do so at a later date.

I still do our garden plan mapping in the old Appleworks 6 application. Any draw program might suffice for other gardeners. Since I'm somewhat skilled at using Appleworks, I stay with it, although it requires using the Sheepshaver emulator when I'm working in Apple's latest and greatest operating systems.

Rukaten Camera

Tuesday, January 2, 2018 - Getting Started

Our Senior Garden - January 2, 2018We've already started sage, hostas, petunias, and ivy leaf geraniums for the coming gardening season. The sage and hosta are slow growers, but the petunias, ivy leaf geraniums, and most of the other flowers we'll start in the next few days will be for hanging basket plants. As the month progresses and we have space over our soil heating mat, I'll seed impatiens and vinca for hanging baskets, We'll also start some daisies, geraniums, and dianthus to give them the head start they need to be ready to transplant in April or May. Later this month, we'll start our onions, some parsley, and possibly some celery.

Dave's Garden Frost Page for 47882When we start our flower, herb, and vegetable transplants from seed is based on past experience and also from a very helpful interactive tool from Johnny's Selected Seeds, their Seed-Starting Date Calculator. Entering an average frost free date obtained from Dave's Garden, the seed-starting calculator yields a long list of vegetables and flowers with date ranges of when to start them. Sadly, the Johnny's calculator isn't all inclusive, as it only lists stuff they sell seed for. Online searches supplemented by research in the late Nancy Bubel's excellent The New Seed Starter's Handbook usually tells us when to seed and how (light, total darkness, optimal temperature for good germination).

Johnny's Seed Starting Calculator

A General Caution

In last year's Getting Started posting, I shared the cultural information below from the Johnny's Selected Seeds page about Mountain Fresh Plus tomatoes.

Don't start too early! Root-bound, leggy plants that have open flowers or fruit when planted out may remain stunted and produce poorly.

Broccoli buttoningEarlirouge Tomato PlantsI should have taken their words more to heart. I started our Earlirouge tomatoes too early and transplanted them into cold ground. The plants stunted and only reached half their normal height. Fortunately, even the half-sized plants still produced a bounty of delicious tomatoes.

But the cultural advice can apply to lots of garden transplants. Most of our spring broccoli in 2016 buttoned, only putting on golf ball sized heads, probably due to too large/old plants going into some really cold ground that spring. We were lucky that we grow broccoli in both the spring and fall and got a nice fall harvest of it that year.

Sadly, with the best of timing for starting vegetable transplants, weather conditions can delay plantings or adversely affect plants once they're in the ground. Some failures are to be expected in gardening. They can also be learning experiences, even for senior gardeners. Our how-to feature story, Growing Your Own Transplants, provides a few basics to get folks started growing their own garden transplants.


The Garden Tower Project is running another pretty cool contest. They're calling this one their Family Garden Greenhouse Giveaway. The grand prize is a 12' Arctic Dome Kit and four Garden Tower 2's with free shipping. Six second prizes of Garden Tower 2's with free shipping will also be given away.

Interestingly (possibly only to me), you don't enter the contest on the Garden Tower Project site, but on a site. In fact, I couldn't find mention of the contest on the Garden Tower's home page. An email to Garden Tower's co-founder, Joel Grant, confirmed that the contest is the real deal, and that time is running out to enter. The contest ends next Monday at midnight.

Garden Tower Project Contest

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from Senior Gardening

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