Sunday, January 31, 2010

American Egg Idols - 3 of our stars

Leghorn lady, hasn't missed laying a large white egg since August. Probably over 180 eggs so far, many times her weight.

Rhode Island Red lady. She and her identical twin sister have been prolific as well, laying a light brown egg, each, every day since mid October. About 90 eggs so far.

Australorp Lady. Beautiful, iridescent bluish black feathers. Very timid - she escaped my arms and flew into the pond. Amazingly, she just sat there and floated. Like a duck. Didn't paddle, though. She has laid a daily egg almost every day since mid October. I'm guessing, about 85 eggs so far.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seed starting test #2. Mostly pepper seeds.

Seed viability test #2. Mostly peppers.

I decided to get out more old pepper seeds and see if they will start. Each square contains 10 seeds. Varieties are:

Aji Pepper 04
Cayeene Pepper 08
Portugal Pepper 08
Doe Hill Pepper 04
Alma Paprika Pepper 06
Red Delicious Pepper 06
Thumbelina Carrot (not pepper) 06
Louisiana Hot Pepper 04

I made the following changes in the method:
(1) The paper towel sits on a plastic sheet, cut from a thick plastic bag. That made it easier to handle when wet.
(2) I placed a layer of kitchen towel between the heating mat and the seed bag. This was because I was concerned the mat is too warm.
(3) I moistened the paper towels with a solution of 1/4 tsp miracle grow in 1 gallon of water.

Depending on what happens, if the pepper seeds germinate, I may try to keep a few as early starts. It's a bit too early for that, I think, but we'll see.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Unseasonably early growth: Rhubarb

A few perennial vegetables are making themselves known in the winter garden. I have one small chive-like onion that I gave up on a few years ago, but keeps coming up. The leaves are now about 6 inches long. Last week I used them as flavor in a savory crepe. Rhubarb is showing signs of life. No where near eating, of course. Then there are the onions, garlic, and shallots that I planted and commented on earlier.

I like this about living in the Pacific Northwest. Even though it's Winter, some signs of life remain. In addition to the edibles, some daffodils also have about 3 inches of growth.

Another Cymbidium Photo

As long as I had the camera out, I took another photo of this Cymbidium. Cool color!

January planting

Thursday (3 days ago) I sorted through saved starts from Multiplier Onions (White Potato Onion) and Garlic (by now I've mess up and I don't know the variety - it's either Inchelium Red or German Red. Probably Inchelium based on the size of the bulb and # of cloves, more than German Red usually has).

Most were firm and appeared viable.

I planted about 50 White Potato Onion starts, both large and small, in last year's tomato bed. Large ones become clusters of small ones next season. Small ones become one large one, next season. There should be plenty for scallions and to save. I wanted to keep these going, they are an heirloom variety and I used to grow them as a boy, a gift from my grandmother's sister. The flavor is more complex than the "normal" store-bought onions, and not as harsh as the Egyptian Walking onions. I hope they grow - normally I plant them in the fall. My goal this year is to have a good supply to eat, but also to have a good supply to carry on to next year, both large and small bulbs.

A few came up in last year's bed, apparently having forgotten them during the summer.

Generally speaking, Garlic planted in the Fall grows to about 6" tall in the fall, overwinters, and makes good bulbs by June or July. Garlic planted in the Spring usually grows into one large clove. That's OK, but the goal is for a multiclove bulb. We'll see what happens with these January-planted garlic plants.

The soil was quite workable. Not too soggy.

It's rained for 2 days since planting.

Friday I saw some nice brown shallots at Safeway, bought a package of 3. I planted them today - just because I can. Shallots are about the same as multiplier onions, but a bit smaller. I planted them out of curiosity.

I read in a garden calendar (see prior entries last week or so) that onions and garlic can be planted now, which is what inspired me.

Seed Germination Experiment: 14 days & Conclusion

I wondered, just how warm is the heating mat. I placed a thermometer between the mat and the thin kitchen towel that covered it, left the thermometer in place overnight. A toasty 86F degrees. Wow!

I had unplugged the mat and forgotten it for 2 days, which may affect the results.

The additional seeds that sprouted were" Cherokee Purple tomato, all. Lemon Boy, all. Tabasco pepper, 2 more. Spinach, all.

Final results, including sprouted seeds that I removed to make the new ones countable:

Chinese Parsley 2005 0/10
Gambo Pepper 2004 0/10
Cherokee Purple Tom. 2009 10/10
Lemon Boy Tomato 2007 10/10
Lemon Boy Tomato 2006 10/10
Tabasco Pepper 2006 2/10
Tabasco Pepper unknown 0/10
Bulgarian Carrot Pep. 2008 10/10
Supersweet 100 Tom. 2007 10/10

Roma II Bush Bean 2008 10/10
Goldn Wax Bush Bean 2008 9/10
Scallop Bush Squash 2008 9/10
Roma Bush Bean 2009 10/10
Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 1 10/10
Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 2 10/10
Golden Nugget Tom. 2009 10/10
Spinach Savoy 2009 10/10
Black Krim Tomato 2008 10/10
Better Boy Tomato 2006 1/10

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Representatives from two more genera. I did not plan on adding either. Most Cymbidiums are too large, and I have never seen an Epidendrum available.

I'm trying to photograph the entire plant. Web photos are cool, but all too often, they just display the flower. It's difficult to find good photos of the entire plant. For me, much of the allure is in the form, from the roots, to the pseudobulbs or canes, to the thick leaves, to the flowers.

A small Epidendrum. These are also called "Reedstem Epidendrums" or "Poorman's Orchid". The flowers are held in bunches above the reed-like stems (duh) for an appearance similar to a kalanchoe. Culture is said to be very easy, similar to most other windowsill orchids - American Orchid Society directions here.

A brownp-flowered cymbidium. I had no plans at all to buy one. Most are too big. This one is smaller, and I'm partial to unusual colors like this one. I had a bit of buyer's remorse, solely because there isn't much room. Culture is similar to epidendrum and Cattleya.

The entire Cymbidium. We'll see how it does. In a way, the flowers are too much - one flower on a stem would be less extravagant. These are said to last 2 or 3 months. We'll see how it does in my room.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seed Germination Experiment: 7 days

Chinese Parsley 2005 0/10

Gambo Pepper 2004 0/10

Cherokee Purple Tom. 2009 8/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2007 7/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2006 10/10

Tabasco Pepper 2006 0/10

Tabasco Pepper unknown 0/10

Bulgarian Carrot Pep. 2008 0/10

Supersweet 100 Tom. 2007 6/10

Roma II Bush Bean 2008 10/10

Goldn Wax Bush Bean 2008 9/10

Scallop Bush Squash 2008 9/10

Roma Bush Bean 2009 10/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 1 10/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 2 10/10

Golden Nugget Tom. 2009 9/10

Spinach Savoy 2009 8/10

Black Krim Tomato 2008 10/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2006 1/10

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Planning ahead for seed starting.

This is planning WAY ahead, but having played with seeds I wondered what are the best dates to start vegetable seeds.

The information below is from

They recommend starting seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the date to set out plants.

Very Early: 4-6 wks before the date of last frost. March 16th to March 30th.
Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips.

Early: 2-4 wks before date of last frost. March 23rd to April 6th.
Beets, carrots, chard, mustard, potatoes.

Average: On or just after date of last frost April 20th. (WSU extension states set out tomatoes Mid May)
Beans, corn, tomato.

Late: One or more weeks after date of last frost April 27th.
Cucumbers, eggplant, melons, okra, peppers, squash.

To find date of last frost, check farmer's almanac here. For Vancouver WA, date of last frost is April 20th. (Date of first frost is given as Oct 15th). That's interesting, because for Seattle, date of last frost is March 10th, and for Portland, which is next door, date of last frost is March 23.

For starting seeds, then, we would time our starts 2 to 4 weeks before planting dates.

Tomatoes - start seeds March 16th to March 30th.
Peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, squash - start seeds March 23rd to April 6th.

I'm not sure about the beans, because they grow so fast and need warm soil. I'm tempted to say start them in May.

For direct sowing of seeds in the yard, zone 8, this site recommends:

Carrots: Feb through April
Lettuce: Feb through March
Onions: Dec through Feb
Peas: Feb through March
Radishes: Feb through April
Spinach: Feb through April
Beans: March through August

These seem early! I'll need to check some other sites as well.

We should be about the same as western valleys of Oregon - maybe a week later. So from OR state extension service, this site:
Beans: May through July
Carrots: March through July 15th
Corn: April through June
Garlic: Sept through Feb (interesting)
Peas: Feb through May
Radish: March through Sept
Spinach: April

What's growing? What's blooming?

Lycoris radiata leaves remain alive. I thought the freeze might kill them. So far, so good. A small amount of slug damage - need to get out some slug bait.

Hazelnut trees are blooming - I think. The catkins on one are long and green, and the others are shorter and grey. They are supposed to pollenate each other . One is Ennis and other is Butler - I'll have to go out and check the tags next weekend.

Seed Germination Experiment: 4 days

Now at 4 days. Many seeds have sprouted.

Chinese Parsley 2005 0/10

Gambo Pepper 2004 0/10

Cherokee Purple Tom. 2009 8/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2007 5/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2006 6/10

Tabasco Pepper 2006 0/10

Tabasco Pepper unknown 0/10

Bulgarian Carrot Pep. 2008 1/10

Supersweet 100 Tom. 2007 0/10

Roma II Bush Bean 2008 7/10

Goldn Wax Bush Bean 2008 8/10

Scallop Bush Squash 2008 7/10

Roma Bush Bean 2009 6/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 1 10/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 2 9/10

Golden Nugget Tom. 2009 2/10

Spinach Savoy 2009 6/10

Black Krim Tomato 2008 1/10

Better Boy Tomato 2006 0/10

If a count dropped - the seed may have fallen out. Plus, on the first count, it was very hard to see sprouts - kind of like a hanging chad.

I forgot to note on the first post - the water that I used contained very dilute orchid food - 1/2 of the strength used for normal daily watering. I don't know if that influenced the results or not.

I removed the larger grown seeds - squash, beans, radishes - to avoid overgrowing. The remainder went back into the bags and back on the warming mat.

4 days. Not bad.

Oncidium starts from "backbulbs": Update

Today is my day off. I went for physical therapy for my neck disk, now back home. Before starting "homework", I checked the orchids, watered them. I accidentally noticed the baggy-with-sphagnum-backbulb system that was set up 4 months ago. Buy "set up" I mean, I had cut the backbulbs off the original orchid (Oncidium "dancing ladies"-type) , wrapped them in damp sphagnum moss, placed them into a ziplock baggy, zipped it shut, and left them in an east windowsill. I forgot to record when I started this "experiment". I'm thinking September. That would be 4 months ago.

As I discovered the ziplock bag. Barely visible sprout in the baggie. Cool!

Out of the bag. I couldn't resist. Plus, I wanted to re-position the sprout so that it gets more light.

This plant, started from another backbulb at the same time, is further ahead. growth is slow - after all, (1) it's an orchid and (2) it's midwinter and (3) I don't know what I'm doing. Still, it IS growing.

Flowers on the original plant. Photo taken January, 2008. Although the plant isn't in bloom yet this year, the new bud spike is growing mm by mm.

So now the starts are back in baggies, but separate baggies. The sprouted start is in my home office along with the other orchids, still in baggie because roots have not sprouted yet. I think they will come when the new start is bigger, and roots don't grow from the old backbulb.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seed Germination Experiment: 2 days (60 hours)

Interesting result so far. I planted Sunday am, now it's Tues pm, roughly 60 hours.
Chinese Parsley 2005 0/10

Gambo Pepper 2004 0/10

Cherokee Purple Tom. 2009 3/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2007 3/10

Lemon Boy Tomato 2006 0/10

Tabasco Pepper 2006 0/10

Tabasco Pepper unknown 0/10

Bulgarian Carrot Pep. 2008 0/10

Supersweet 100 Tom. 2007 2/10

Roma II Bush Bean 2008 6/10

Goldn Wax Bush Bean 2008 8/10

Scallop Bush Squash 2008 4/10

Roma Bush Bean 2009 5/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 1 9/10

Icicle Radish 2008 pkt 2 9/10

Golden Nugget Tom. 2009 2/10

Spinach Savoy 2009 3/10

Black Krim Tomato 2008 2/10

Better Boy Tomato 2006 0/10

So far, very early, quite a lot of germination. This is a test of the packets to see what I can use this year, not a randomized-controlled trial of effects of age on germination. Still, it's interesting. The warmer certainly doesn't seem to hurt, and may well help.

The cat, of course, needs to get to the middle of it all. Probably thinking "this is where that large lumbering animal opens the little packages of yummy stinky fishy stuff for me. Maybe it will open one now! She then walks across a paper towel - well, no longer any semblance of sterile :-)

I did add another sheet of paper towel to each bag. They seem too moist.

We'll see how they look in another day or two.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baby you gotta put me on your healthcare plan...

This has nothing to do with living greener, gardening, pruning, or puttering around the yard. Unless you get a pulled muscle (which I have) or chop off the end of a finger with the pruning shears (which I have done). It's just that I spent all day today (Sunday) doing "homework" - except that prior entry - and needed a laugh. I love this video diversion before heading to bed.

Garden Log: Testing seeds for germination

As planned, this is the start of the germination testing for old seeds. The objective is to determine which packets might as well be composted, and which ones can be planted for this year's vegetable garden. I haven't done it this way in the past, so it's an experiment.

Two generic white paper towels, marked with squares and labeled with the seed varieties and year. The year is the year to sell, so they were one season old at that point. I wanted to test tomato varieties, peppers, and beans. There were also some squash, spinach, radish, and Chinese parsley seeds, so i thought, "why not".

The seed sizes are quite different, but I don't think that matters.

Covered with a paper towel, and very carefully slid into zipper type plastic bag. I did not lift them from the table, just slid, to avoid spilling seeds. This was the most difficult step, especially for round seeds.

I used a tablespoon to add water to the paper towels, about 1-2 tablespoons to each square. This was challenging, again trying to avoid spilling seeds from their designated squares. The labels became more visible when the paper towels were moist. Most of the seeds stayed in place. Once moist, they don't move around much. These photos are also my record, in case the labels become nonlegible.

Then moved to the seed warming pad. My main concern is that the pad is designed to have a seed flat sitting on it, and this method may cause overheating. It's not an exact science. I may give in and buy a thermometer. Regardless, it's a few months to seed starting season, so if this doesn't work, I can try again.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Garden Log: early pre-prep for new apple trees.

Not much to report.

I dug out 2 2-ft diameter circles of sod in the front yard. These spots are in preparation for the superdwarf apple trees that should come via mail order in a month. I mixed in some vegetable garden soil, and threw the old sod onto the veggie patch.

Now it can "cure" a month and will be ready when the trees arrive. I may mix in some additional organic matter, although my own compost is in a waiting mode due to cold.

Seeds to start in 2010

Order from Burpee came in the mail. I felt like a kid on Xmas day. Even though I ordered them myself.

All as ordered. The warming mat will be handy for upcoming experiment, to post tomorrow if I do it. I want to see if existing old packets of seed will sprout. I'll place them on moist paper towels, in baggies, and leave them on the mat. We'll see.

What another Paphiopedilum?

A Phalaenopsis was failing to thrive. I checked the roots and there basically werent any. I am not crazy enough about them to try to rescue it. The original intent was as sort of a "cut flower" that wasn't cut, anyway.

It's absence left room for a new addition. So here it is.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Garden Log, Sunday Jan 3, 2010

Other than the Burpee order, here's what I did today:

Got out the branch & leaf shredded, did some minor repair, and ground up all of the grape prunings. Also the wisteria prunings from yesterday, and about 1/2 of the rose prunings. These had a hay-like appearance when done. I made mulch-donuts around the 2 plum trees.

Yesterday I also dug out the rose that resulted from root stock of a tree rose a few years ago. The tree rose had died, but new canes kept growing from the old root stock, I replaced this with a Rose of Sharon, started as a volunteer seedling about 3 years ago, which last year had very nice white flowers with rose center. The parent is magenta with darker center. I pruned back the 3 ft Rose of Sharon shrub (basically a feathered whip) to 18 inches, to encourage branching.

Seed Catalog Order

Not exactly the same as planned, but it's exciting to look ahead. I ordered from Burpee this year. I liked their user reviews of varieties, accessible right on the variety description. It looks honest - varieties that are labeled as user favorites, and featured prominently, are not necessarily the ones that won the reviews. For example, most thought that Tomato variety "Red Lightening" was tough-skinned and not flavorful. Much less expensive, and much older variety, "Supersweet 100" had a much higher rating for flavor, but complaints about splitting - exactly my experience. "Brandy Boy" was panned by many who grew it - so I changed my mind and went to old reliable "Better Boy", which has that old growing-up-in-the-midwest flavor, is reliable, disease resistant, and bears many big juicy tomatoes. I also added Black Truffle hybrid due to rave reviews, but kept Northen Exposure and 4th of July despite so-so reviews, as an experiment due to early bearing properties and reported tolerance to cold.

Photo Thumbnails from (note - they aren't paying me anything at all to post, or giving me any special deal or product - this is just my garden log. But I hope it's OK to include them in this discussion. Full sized photos can be seen at the Burpee website)
55103A Bush Bean Roma II 53 days - 1 Pkt. (2 oz.) 1 $2.95

83139 Burpee Booster for Beans and Peas - 1-3oz. Pkg (40' row) 1 $8.25

53512A Snap Pea Super Sugar Snap V.P. 64 days - 1 Pkt. (200 seeds) 1 $3.95

52936A Tomato Fourth of July Hybrid 49 days - 1 Pkt. (40 seeds) 1 $3.95

56663A Tomato Northern Exposure Hybrid 67 days - 1 Pkt. (30 Seeds) 1 $3.95

56812A Tomato Cherokee Purple (Heirloom) 85 days - 1 Pkt. (50 seeds) 1 $3.95

52027A Tomato Super Sweet 100 Hybrid (Cherry) 70 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $2.95

67265A Tomato Black Truffle Hybrid 75 days - 1 packet (30 seeds) 1 $3.95

50724A Tomato Better Boy Hybrid 72 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $3.95

62120A Tomato Black Pearl Hybrid 65 days - Packet (30 seeds) 1 $5.25

65005A Bush Bean Eureka 55 days - Packet (2 oz.) 1 $3.95

54460A Eggplant Millionaire Hybrid 55 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $2.95

65025A Eggplant Fairy Tale 50 days - Packet (30 seeds) 1 $5.25

54148A Hot Pepper Big Red Hybrid 70 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $3.95

63770A Pepper Red Popper 55 days - Packet (40 seeds) 1 $4.75

56020A Costa Rican Sweet Pepper 70 days - Packet (40 seeds) 1 $4.75

57109A Zucchini Sweet Zuke Hybrid 48 days - 1 Pkt. (25 seeds) 1 $3.95

53231A Zucchini Butterstick Hybrid 50 days - 1 Pkt. (25 seeds) 1 $2.95

62810A Cucumber Palace King Hybrid (Oriental) 62 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $4.95

62802A Cucumber Early Pride Hybrid (Slicing) 55 days - 1 Pkt. (30 seeds) 1 $2.95

91056 Seedling Heat Mats - 1 Mat - 10in.X20-3/4in. 1 $36.75

This seems like a lot of expense, but I take the following into account:
1. It's a hobby.
2. Given the evaluations, and my past experience, I'm confident that most of these are high-potential varieties in my yard. I chose for early yield, reported disease resistance, and either my personal experience of reliability or multiple reviews. With storebought, it's more difficult to do this.
3. For tomatoes, varieties that turn out well - and a few are already proven performers - this is a 3 or 4-year supply of seeds. Some are admittedly experiments - 4th of July due to reported very early yield, Northern Exposure for reported good bearing in cool short summers. I usually experiment with a couple of new types - I love the black varieties, so will try Black Truffle. Cherokee Purple has always done well for me, as have Better Boy, Supersweet 100, and Lemon Boy. I'll see if my old Lemon Boy seeds sprout, if not see if some are locally available, since Burpee doesn't carry them. They should do fine, they are only 1 year old seeds.
4. For the beans, this will be enough for about 20 meals for two. Plus, when the plants quit bearing, they are fed to the chickens and become eggs. Both the Romas and the yellow beans are excellent, better than anything from the store.
5. For the zucchinis and cucumbers, two plants of each variety will be enough for many meals and snacks, plus some to give away, plus some for the chickens.
6. The pepper seeds may also last 4 years or more. I'm not sure about what to expect, but experience tells me they last longer than that.
7. The eggplants are listed as early bearing varieties. In fact, among the earliest. That's needed here, because they start late and bear late.

The seed mat is part of my master plan for peppers, especially, but also tomatoes and some of the others. Warmer start means faster start, and maybe even more seeds will sprout. It should last a long time. One year I used a heating pad - it seemed to help, but not recommended, they are not made for that.

Cool Orchids

Cool terrestrial orchids. I enjoy looking at the photos, even if I haven't bought them.

In addition to (or because of) being very cool, they're also expensive. I can't justify the price. I suspect it's OK with the company if I show their product (note - no connection between me and the company. I haven't even bought their product - yet) -

White Flower Farm orchids

Cypripedium reginae

Cypripedium parviflorum pubescens. "
evenly moist, humus-rich soil with a slightly acid to neutral pH and dappled shade."

Then there are Bletilla, which are East Asian ground orchids but not lady slippers.
Bletilla ochracea Chinese Butterfly

Bletilla striata Kuchibeni. This one is more in my price range. I don't know if these will thrive in the Pacific Northwest dry-summer climate. The Cypripedium, either, for that matter.

They also carry a burgundy Paphiopedilium hybrid. However, I already have one. The instructions note "Lady's Slipper Orchids thrive in bright but indirect light. An east-facing window is ideal, but plants can also grow well in a south- or west-facing window if shaded somewhat by neighboring plants or a sheer curtain. If the leaves begin to bleach to a pale green or yellow green color, then your plant is receiving too much light. Lady's Slippers need warm temperatures (70-80°F) during the day and cool temperatures (60-65°F) at night to set their flower buds. They also prefer a high relative humidity -- upwards of 50%." Since my little plant has pale leaves, it may have had too much light, but now it's in a shaded W. window, and during the winter in Pacific NW I don't think that excessive light is an issue.

The Cypripedium really is out of my range. Maybe if I won the lotto. I keep thinking about the lower priced Bletilla.... It's the only way I'll ever see one in person. I'll think about it for a while. There is one spot that might work, with shade from large old Cherry tree, privacy fence on west, and chicken house on south. Exposure is East, and this is the spot were I moved most of the hostas. If it is kept from drying out too much in the midsummer, it might work.

Wikipedia on Cypripedium: "As with most terrestrial orchids, the rhizome is short and robust, growing in the uppermost soil layer. The rhizome grows annually with a growth bud at one end and dies off at the other end. The stem grows from the bud at the tip of the rhizome. Most slipper orchids have an elongate erect stem, with leaves growing along its length." (Illustration from Wikipedia, Cypripedium acaule)

Here's another site I ran across. The prices are getting more tempting. I can't vouch for the source.