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February 19, 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.

Monday, February 19, 2018 - Presidents Day (U.S.)

Weather Underground 10-day ForecastOur Senior Garden - February 19, 2018The wind is howling outside this morning with rain predicted for most of the day. I heard a TV weatherperson say we may get around four inches of rainfall this week! A couple employees at a local grocery and I laughed yesterday about the forecast, being thankful that the precipitation isn't coming as snow. After getting only 1.74 inches of precipitation last month, the rain is welcome, but will almost certainly cause some flooding in low areas.

During the winter months when our rain gauge is safely tucked away in our garage, I rely on a number of nearby Weather Underground reporting stations to figure our monthly precipitation. One of the cool things about Weather Underground is that you can use a custom feature to pull up things such as total precipitation for a month. I usually access the data from about six nearby stations, throw out the high and low figures, and average the rest to determine a reasonably accurate figure for a given month. We're fortunate to have lots of folks in our general vicinity who go to the trouble of maintaining a weather reporting station.

Sage plantsWhen I mentioned transplanting some sage starts in yesterday's posting, I realized that I hadn't gotten a photo of the sage. When I took today's splashshot from our sunroom window, I also snapped a shot of the sage, which sit on a bookshelf by the windows.

Sharing the tray with the sage plants is what was supposed to be a hosta plant I brought inside last fall. Plants brought back inside no longer go under the lights in our sunroom to prevent bringing insects or diseases into our plant room. Apparently, the hosta died, as what I'm now seeing the pot is a very healthy, volunteer petunia! Hmm...

After finishing yesterday's posting rather late last evening, I sent emails to the heads of Other World Computing and the Seed Savers Exchange. Within an hour, I had a response from both! Do those guys ever sleep?

My RAM chips should ship tomorrow. OWC's Larry O'Connor related that his employees have been hit hard recently by the flu, and things are a bit slower than usual at OWC.

SSE's Lee Buttala is going to look into whether my yearbook has shipped as yet. He related that yearbooks had gone out and been received by at least some members last week. Of course, a solve to the yearbook problem would be for SSE to get it done and shipped in early January when it would be more useful to SSE members completing their garden plans and seed orders.

Burpee Fruit Seeds & Plants


Sunday, February 18, 2018

honey_cardAmazonI was about ready to start writing a posting on Valentines Day, but I made the mistake of turning on the television. Compared to what happened in Florida, gardening wasn't very important in the bigger scheme of things.

I was going to write about the incredibly cute card my wife got me. We have a pact that we often fudge on to not buy gifts for each other for Valentines Day. The card's cover read "Love you honey." A small bottle of honey accompanied the card.

For my part, I gave Annie Ed Sheeran's latest CD, Divide. She'd been looking for it in Terre Haute, but the places there were sold out. I found it at our Sullivan Walmart hidden along with all the other S's.


Onions before trimming
Cauliflower and daisies
Tiny geranium plants

It's still a bit early to be starting a lot of stuff for this year's garden, although it seems like we have a lot going already. Our tray of onions was ready for its first "haircut" today. I snipped the plants to about three inches tall which will encourage thicker stems and additional root growth.

Our cauliflower plants also required a little attention today. I moved several plants from cells where two plants were growing to open cells. The cauliflower is sharing its tray with some daisies.

I'm still finding another sprouted geranium or two every day or so from our last planting. Even having scarified the seed, some of it has taken a long time to germinate.

Gloxinia regrowing after dormancyAfter grabbing photos of the plants downstairs, I moved some sage plants from the deep sixpack insert they were outgrowing to four and four and a half inch pots. The transplanted sage went upstairs onto a bookshelf in our sunroom.

I hadn't checked our dormant gloxinias for a month or so. When I finally did inspect them, I had sixteen of them to repot, water, and move under our plant lights. Fortunately, gloxinias are pretty forgiving and enduring when they begin to regrow from their corms after months of inactivity.

Herb gardenOn a warm day last week, I went out to our herb garden to prune our two sage plants there. The pruning was prompted by an old San Francisco Chronicle article that recommends cutting back sage stems "until they're just a few inches off the ground in late winter." I ended up trimming not only the sage, but the oregano, thyme, and what is probably a dead rosemary as well. While our sage, oregano, and thyme overwinter well in our climate zone, we've not successfully overwintered rosemary plants. I still have eight more sage plants that mark our East Garden to prune on one of those warm, dry days we're occasionally experiencing.

I wandered out to our planting of garlic this afternoon, but found no sign of emergence as yet. Often, we have garlic leaves visible by this time. Since this winter has been fairly cold so far, I suspect it will be a week or two before we begin to see some activity in the garlic bed.

Computer Stuff

I decided to try writing this update on my "new" Mac Mini despite its limited 4 gigs of RAM. (I'm rather impatiently waiting for the "guaranteed" replacement of the 16 GB of memory that failed after just four years of use.) For those of you who remember such stuff, it was almost shades of working in System 6 or DOS where you could run only one application at a time. I could run a couple of apps, but when I started working photos, I found myself dancing in and out of virtual (extended) memory (never a good thing).

Other Stuff

I'd expected to receive our copy of the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Yearbook in the mail last week. While I'd been assured by two SSE staffers that listed members, even paperless members like me, would receive a yearbook, I haven't seen one as yet. While the seed listings of the print yearbook are available via the online exchange, there's lots of other information in the print edition that is not online or is more easily accessed via the print yearbook. Publishing the yearbook this late appears to be another example of SSE's continuing de-emphasis of their members' efforts and listings.

Garden Tower Project Contest

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transplanting daisiesDaisies moved to deep sixpack insertsI start a lot of our flowers in communal pots. Doing so saves some space and also eliminates having open cells in inserts where seed hasn't germinated. The downside of using communal pots is that one has to transplant the emerged plants fairly soon after they begin putting on true leaves.

Our communal pot of Alaska Shasta Daisies was ready for transplanting today. Since the plants may be in their next containers for a good while, I chose to transplant into deep sixpack inserts instead of the shallower fourpack inserts I often use. The deep inserts obviously give the plants a bit more room for root development.

Daisies in bloom
Daisies at back of property

Our tall shasta daisies grow in what once was an isolation plot at the back of our yard. There soil there is nasty, gray clay and didn't grow much of anything well as an isolation plot. When our beloved dog, Mac, passed away, I buried him in the plot, planting daisies over him. I've been pleasantly surprised that the daisies took, although we lost several plants in last summer's dry conditions. We need just a few more plants to fill out the previous garden bed.

The family joke now, of course, is that Mac is pushing up daisies.

Computer Challenges Continue

The "new" Mac Mini has continued to experience some random software crashes. Wondering about the RAM I had installed, I ran an Apple Hardware Test late last night, using its extended memory testing. Sure enough, one of the two 8 gig RAM chips in the machine had problems.

Fortunately, the RAM upgrade had come from our longtime Mac hardware supplier, Other World Computing. They have a good record of standing behind the products they sell, including a lifetime warranty on RAM chips.

While getting a replacement set of matched chips will save me a good bit of money, it may also result in our main computer being down for a few days. As with most returns, I have to send back my current chips before OWC sends a replacement. Although I have some compatible 2 gig chips, they may not be enough to power my Mac Mini setup. Hopefully, I can update this site in the interim using my MacBook Pro laptop.

Habitat for Humanity

Friday, February 9, 2018

Geraniums upStarting verbascumA bunch of the geranium seeds I'd moved to pots yesterday were up this morning, clearing some space in a tray over a soil heating mat. So...I started some perennial Snowy Spiresicon verbascum. Burpee's Learn About Verbascumicon page suggests starting verbascum from seed 8-12 before ones last frost. We're at about 9-10 weeks from our frost date, so I'm hoping my timing is right.

I seeded the verbascum to a small pot, covering the tiny seed with just a bit of vermiculite. (Thanks again to reader Mike Bryce for his tip about using fabric softener sheets to break the static electricity of tiny seeds in plastic pouches.) The pot went into a tray covered by a clear humidity dome and over a soil heating mat. I did have to reset the mat's thermostat back down to 75° F. I'd previously had it set to 78 to try to pop up some of the hard geranium seed I've written about recently.

Seeding hosta podsI'm also taking another try at starting hosta from saved seed. Our seed pods really didn't dry enough last fall to begin splitting open. After extracting the seed by hand in a failed attempt in December, I soaked the rest of our saved seed pods in a ziplock filled with water in the refrigerator for several weeks. That softened the dry pods so that I could easily tear them open. I didn't try to extract the seed from the pods, though. I just spread the split open pods across the soil and covered them with a bit more sterile potting mix. The pot went into the same tray as the verbascum.

Untrimmed rose bush Trimmed rose bush

I took advantage of some nice weather today to do a job I missed doing last fall. I trimmed our lone rose bush which blooms each summer no matter how badly I treat it. The bush came from one of those small, potted rose bushes sold at Walmart and other outlets around Valentines Day. I bought ours on sale after the holiday and after its blooms had faded.

On my way to the rose bush, I noticed that we have three or four clumps of daffodils up. While we still have a good bit of winter ahead of us, spring can't be too far away.

Daffodils up


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Pots with geraniums sprouts
Cauliflower up

I moved about thirty geranium seeds from the paper towels they germinated on to 3" pots today. All but four of the thirty-some seeds I put on moist paper towels on Monday showed some sign of germination. The big difference in germination rates between this seeding and a failed one in January is that I scarified the seed this time around.

I'd sorta forgot about them, but noticed this afternoon that our cauliflower is mostly up. One variety may need a little re-seeding, but we already have enough plants up to supply our spring planting needs.

Computer Changeover Woes

My efforts to switch to a fresh computer this week came crashing down this morning. After doing a complete backup of my internal and external hard drives (which took about 15 hours), I tried to restart my "new" Mac Mini. It repeatedly hung during startup and refused to start from a DVD or the external drive.

After switching the position of the RAM chips to no avail, I began unhooking peripheral items, often the cause of hangups. When that failed, but wondering why the computer wouldn't accept the keyboard commends to boot from a DVD or the external drive, I swapped in the new keyboard. That allowed me to use a key command at startup to boot into Mac OS 10.13.3 (High Sierra) on an external drive. The new, main drive was still a mess.

I tried using Apple's Disk Utility to fix whatever was wrong with the drive. When that operation failed, I tried to repair the disk with Tech Tool 7. Again, no dice.

I finally turned to a rather old (version 4) utility, Alsoft's Diskwarrior. It was able to rebuild the new drive's directories and mount the drive. Running Disk Utility revealed no more errors.

The repaired disk then successfully booted from Mac OS 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard). I continue to stubbornly stick with it as my main OS so that I don't have to replace a bunch of software that is incompatible with Apple's latest and greatest operating system.

Just to make sure, I did another backup of the drive to see if that was what corrupted it in the first place. All went well with the backup, so I assume the bad keyboard was the cause of the troubles. That's good, as I need to use that computer to get started doing taxes soon.

I wound up my computing efforts by ordering an upgrade to Alsoft's latest version of Diskwarrior. It saved the day today.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - Computer Changeover

I'm working through a computer changeover. I would like to call it a computer upgrade, but it isn't. I replaced my old 2010 Mac Mini with a relatively new one I found on eBay. The old Mini was showing the effects of six years of hard use, but I couldn't find an acceptable or affordable upgrade.

The only part of the changeover that could be described as an upgrade was the new 2TB hybrid hard drive iconthat replaced the old 750 GB drive. An excellent hard drive install video from Other World Computing made the task of swapping out drives a bit easier. I transferred my data from the old drive to the new one using Mike Bombich's reliable Carbon Copy Cloner. The new hybrid hard drive does seem to make the machine a bit faster.

I'm only part way through this changeover. My office desperately needs a thorough cleaning which will include replacing the KVM box that allows me to run several computers through one keyboard, mouse, and display combination. Two of the four ports of the old unit had failed, but I've used the thing for so long that I can't even find the receipt for when I bought it. There's also a new keyboard and power strip to add to my office computer setup.

Gardening News - A Pleasant Surprise

Geranium seed sprouting on moist paper towelSometimes things work! The geranium seeds I scarified and put on paper towels on Monday are beginning to germinate. I began moving sprouted seeds from the moist paper towels they'd germinated on to 3" pots of soil, covering the emerging seeds with just a little vermiculite. I lost one seed sprout, as its first root (radicle) had attached itself to the paper towel and tore off when I tried to move the seed.

After moving just seven seeds from one bag of sprouting seed, I ran out of sterile potting mix, so I had to stop. I have another kettle of potting mix sterilizing in the oven right now, sharing the oven with some rather tough steak leftovers I thin sliced and covered with beef broth. Hopefully, the beef won't pick up any off odors or flavor from the covered kettle of hot potting mix.

We have vinca, daisies, and onions up and on their way. Vinca is said to be a bit slow to germinate, but ours popped up in just a few days. We have three different varieties of daisies up. And after a little re-seeding, our tray of onion transplants is filling in some bare spots in the rows.

Vinca Daisies Onions

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Germination test of Quinte tomato seedI "read" the germination tests this morning for our first batch of hot water treated tomato seed. Doing so was pretty easy, as I'd only tested ten seeds of each variety. The results were: Earlirouge - 80%; Moira - 80%; and Quinte - 100%. I suspect I might have gotten one more seed each of the Earlirouge and Moira to sprout had I let the test run a day or two longer.

When laboratories do germination tests for seed houses, I believe they test about a thousand seeds, leading to far more accurate numbers than we get with our limited tests. But the seed we're testing isn't for sale: It's for our personal use. I only need to know a general figure of how viable the seed is.

Hot water treating seedAfter doing a whole bunch of non-gardening chores mid-day, I got around to hot water treating most of the rest of the tomato seed we'll plant in late April or early May. I treated Bella Rosa, Mountain Fresh Plus, Bellstar, Better Boy, and Red Pearl tomato seed. Most of this seed will not get a germination test, as our supply of seed for some of the varieties is limited. But with our previous hot water treating success, I'm fairly confident that I haven't cooked our seed.

I should add a note here that I use our kitchen sink as a hot water bath around the pyrex cup that holds the seed. Keeping the water in the pyrex cup at the proper temperature is a lot easier with very hot water surrounding the cup.

Burpee Seed Company

Monday, February 5, 2018 - Starting More Geraniums

I was quoted in Ashley Kindergan's article, Planting the Seeds for Better Health, as saying "The magic of putting a seed in the ground and watching a plant grow from it is, for me, an incredible part of God’s creation." Of course, the flip side of that statement is that sometimes seeds just don't grow.

In a flashback to 2009 and 2010, our first seeding of geraniums (thirty-plus seeds) only produced one plant! The seed was from two different companies and three different seed packets. Some of the seed was on coffee filters and some in soil. I even split one packet of seed, scarifying half of the seed and not the other. Interestingly, the seed on the coffee filters didn't seem to rot. It just didn't germinate, leading me to believe I'd once again received some hard seed from the sellers.

Still having time to produce some good geranium transplants for our garden, I started more geranium seed today. Mindful of the quote often attributed to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” I changed my planting routine a bit.

I had one unopened packet of fresh Pinto mix seed that I spread across a moistened paper towel and placed in a ziplock bag. Two other opened packets of Maverick (one red and one mix) got scarified before going onto paper towels and into ziplocks. I accomplished the scarification by wetting a finger, getting seed on the finger, and drawing the seed across the fine side of an emery board. While I'd scarified a few of the seeds in my first planting, I was pretty gentle with the scarification and may not have broken the seed coating or seed itself. I wasn't so gentle this time.

Instead of placing the seed under a plant light over a soil heating mat, the seed went into a brown paper bag with some other ziplocks holding germination tests on a shelf over a furnace register. While geranium seed is said to germinate a bit better with some light, I decided to just go back to my old tried and true method of germinating the seed in darkness on paper towels in a warm location.

About Thursday's Germination Tests

I held up each ziplock bag of hot water treated tomato seed to the light this morning and could clearly see sprouts emerging from most of the seeds. That produced a "Whew" from my lips, as hot water treatment can kill ones seed if you get the water too hot. I'll wait until tomorrow to do the actual "read" of the tests, where I open the bags and folded paper towels to count germinated seeds and calculate germination percentages. But for now, I know the Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomato seeds I subjected to 120-122° F temperatures for 25 minutes on Thursday are still viable.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Inserts seeded to cauliflowerI started our spring cauliflower on Friday, but didn't get around to writing about it until today. I seeded deep sixpack inserts to Amazing, Fremont, and Violet of Sicily. While our cauliflower gets transplanted into a row alongside our broccoli, our cauliflower varieties take about two to three weeks more to mature heads than the broccoli, thus, the earlier starting date for the cauliflower. We'll seed our broccoli towards the end of this month.

I followed our usual practice of using sterile potting mix watered with very warm water. Once the soil cooled a bit, I used a finger to make an indentation at the center of each insert cell and dropped in a seed. I covered the seed with an eighth inch or so of potting mix. I also put a few extra seeds at the corners of each insert in case the centered seeds don't germinate.

The inserts are now in a tray covered by a clear humidity dome on our plant rack. The clear dome serves to hold in moisture and allow the emerging plants some light as soon as they emerge.

Our how-to article, Growing Great Broccoli and Cauliflower, tells how we grow our brassicas from seeding to putting them into the freezer.

Texas Nachos

Texas NachosOur annual Super Bowl feast of Texas Nachos hit a bump in the road this week. It turns out, according to a grocery store employee, that our favorite nacho cheese, Gehl's, is no longer marketed retail. The manufacturer has switched to supplying large packages to stadiums and such.

The delicious nacho cheese is still available from Amazon and Walmarticon online, but the packages are way too big for us to use. We'll be trying an alternative Annie found at Kroger.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Our Senior Garden - February 1, 2018
Click on images to open larger view in new tab or window.
Wax begonias and wandering jew plants in sunroom
Egg carton petunias on kitchen windowsill
Hover mouse over images to reveal labeling.

I can feel the excitement and anticipation for a new gardening season beginning to creep into my old bones. The occasional warm, sunny day we now experience makes me want to get started as soon as possible. Plants in our sunroom and on a kitchen windowsill hint at the coming of spring. But the harsh reality is that our last frost date is still two and a half months away.

Most of what we'll start this month will be flowers, with several exceptions. We'll probably start our cauliflower over the weekend. It takes a good bit of time to be ready to transplant and needs to mature before the heat of summer arrives. Later this month, we'll start our broccoli transplants. And at some point in the month, we'll get some parsley going. Our jar of dried parsley is just about empty!

Burpee Seed CompanyTowards the end of the month, we'll seed some lettuce and spinach for transplants. We'll probably do another lettuce seeding in March. The spinach transplants will be something new for us, as we've previously direct seeded our spinach. My enthusiasm for getting it started early is possibly driven by the failure of our fall spinach crop. I find that I'm craving spinach salad and spinach omlets these days.

iconFor flowers, we'll seed alyssum, dianthus, more petunias for bedding plants, and snapdragons. I'm also going to try growing some Snowy Spiresicon verbascum from a free seed sample from Burpee. We'll probably start some other flowers as well, but my thinking hasn't gone out that far as yet.

Hot Water Treating Seed

Last week, a reader inquired about acquiring some hot water treated tomato seed. His tomatoes last season had been struck with bacterial canker, a devastating and often seed-borne tomato disease. He had a good plan for fighting the disease, as he planned to let the affected ground rotate out for several years while he grew his tomatoes in containers from all hot water treated seeds.

We've been fortunate here to have never experienced bacterial canker, but we have faced other sometimes seed-borne tomato diseases (bacterial speck, spot and anthracnose). Good crop rotation, effective fall garden cleanup, and hot water treatment of our seed for a few years eliminated those disease problems.

The reader's question got me starting thinking about hot water treating the seed we plan to plant this year. We'll be growing tomatoes from seed from several new, outside sources. I believe our previous disease problems came in with some contaminated commercial seed.

So today, I started treating bunches of seed we'll use for our own plantings this year. While I usually treat only one variety of seed at a time, I realized that I'd need to treat several varieties at a time to cut down the time required.

I put about a hundred seeds of Earlirouge, Moira, and Quinte tomatoes in separate cheesecloth bags, secured with old bread bag fasteners with labeling and a bit of scotch tape to make sure the packets didn't come open in the hot water.

Treating tomato seeds in hot water bath Drying seed and beginning germination test Clip back on bread bag

Then it was just a matter of following the process I describe in our how-to article, Saving Tomato Seed.

For the reader who wrote, I offered him some of the last treated seed we had on hand from 2014 and 2015, but also steered him to the seed saving article. I never heard back from him, so I'm guessing that I didn't have the tomato varieties he wanted, or he chose to treat his seed himself.

A final step in the process was to return the bread bag clips where they belonged. grin


While it got up to 51° F yesterday, it appears that we'll start February with some normal, wintery weather.

Weather Underground 10-day Forecast

Looking a bit further into weather, I'll again reproduce some drought data our government provides.

Drought Information
U.S. Drought Monitor
United States Weekly Drought Monitor
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook
United States Monthly Drought Outlook
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook
United States Seasonal Drought Outlook
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Weekly Drought Monitor

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader
Click on the title or the graphic (above) to access the
U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook

PDF Version of Graphic Adobe PDF Reader

The last frame in the table above doesn't look too favorable for gardeners across the south and up the east coast.

Good Gardening Books

Crockett's Indoor Garden Crockett's Flower Garden

Crockett's Victory GardenThere are lots of good gardening books on the market. My personal favorite remains Crockett's Victory Garden. First published in 1977 as a companion to the PBS/WGBH Victory Garden television series, Crockett's Victory Garden's month-by-month log of the late James Underwood Crockett's activities in his garden plots greatly helps me with gardening techniques and timing for starting plants. Long 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 Alibrisicon. Think five bucks shipped as a maximum fair price for a used paperback copy in good condition. I keep my original paperback version of Crockett's Victory Garden in my upstairs office and a hardback copy I picked up used on a downstairs bookshelf.

A couple of other volumes I wouldn't be without are Rob Johnston, Jr.'s Growing Garden Seeds and the late Nancy Bubel's The New Seed Starter's Handbook. Johnston's brief but informative booklet has about all the information one needs to begin saving garden seeds. While there is a substantial shipping charge on orders from Johnny's, the booklet itself will only set you back $3.02! Bubel's volume on starting seeds runs just over five bucks shipped for a used paperback copy and exhaustively covers starting garden plants from seed.

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