The Onion seeds are not planted and they should be by now. I’m leaving town in search of an early spring in England and asking the Assistant Gardeners to provide the daily attention that germinating seedlings require is above and beyond the call of duty. Even if the Crocus and Daffodils are not blooming in Newcastle, the granddaughter will be enough of a distraction and a subject for the camera. I’ll try to avoid publishing many pictures of her in the next issue of Dallying In The Dirt.

There will be a mad frantic sowing of seeds in the first days of March when I return and try to get caught up to my seed sowing schedule. I spent a few hours today going through my seed storage box to see what I had from previous years and what I needed to order so that they would be here upon my return. I have a ridiculous quantity of seed in that box. Samples sent from a variety of sources and new varieties form previous years that I just had to try. I routinely throw out any seed that is not from last year. Much of it may have some viability but I don’t want to sow it and then find out too late that it was not going to germinate. I have sown some quite old seed and am always amazed at just how long some of those dried bits of protoplasm can survive and then spring to life.

Now here’s an expense that I will have to talk myself into. I know it’s true but I cannot see it. Fluorescent tubes decline over time. If you have been using the same tubes to start your seeds for a couple of years or even less time actually, they are only producing about half of the light intensity that new ones provide. They may look equally bright to us but the plants know the difference. Going out and buying all new tubes when they appear to be working just fine is a very difficult thing to do. My setup has at least a dozen tubes and I use a mixture of types from cool white to daylight. If I was orderly I would have them all labelled as to when I installed them so that I could replace a few each year and spread out the expense. I’m just not. Maybe I will buy a few new ones this year and write the date on them with an indelible marker. If I put a new one or two in each bank of lights then there will be some improvement in each area.

If you are just contemplating starting your own plants from seed, stop contemplating and jump in. It’s exciting, therapeutic and provides you with a range of plants that just are not available in most garden centres. Most of the seed catalogues or their web sites will have more information than you can absorb and they will happily sell you all of the essential tools and equipment and maybe even some that is not essential but nice to have. My one big tip is to make sure you have some source of heat for your germination area. There are commercially available heating mats that work quite well. By year two, you might find them a little small for your expanding operation but they are a simple and inexpensive way to start.

More new and interesting things that I found at the Landscape Ontario Show. Simple items like a metal guard to put around the bottom of your wooden fence posts. They stop you string trimmers from slowly working their way through the fence post. If you don’t want that to happen there were a myriad of styles and sizes of fencing made for metal or vinyl. I was quite impressed with the number of booths selling stone. Now I like the look of natural stone and am tempted to tear up some of my gravel paths and wooden steps and install some of the beautiful stone that was on display. There was also a wide range of manufactured stone, using concrete in colours, patterns and textures that made you really stop and look to see if you could tell if it was natural stone or not. All of these products are wonderfully durable and will probably outlast those of us who install it. That’s just as well as we will need considerable time to pay for this delightful addition to our outdoor living space.

Keeping up to date on gardening activities can be followed on a more frequent basis by checking the front page of my web site, It changes every 2 or 3 days to show you what I am up to. That change only takes a few minutes, while producing Dallying is a much larger effort.

My newsletter subscribers get to ask me questions. Just ‘reply’ to the email newsletter. It is always interesting to read the questions; mostly to see if I actually can answer them or if I have to wade into the textbooks to research the answers. If that happens then we all learn something.

Pat from Memphis Asks? Moles! I have had so many since last summer that I don't see how I can afford to pay someone to "catch" them forever! Is that really the only real way to get rid of them? What so-called deterrents to you approve of or think work? I have purchased one of those sticks you bury that emit a sound that is supposed to be annoying and run off burrowing creatures but I have not put it in yet. ANY suggestions are appreciated.

Ken Answers! This is my opportunity to admit to a lack of knowledge. Moles and voles are not something I have ever had to contend with. Our much colder winter tends to keep the population at bay, although they do wander through our gardens. The sound emitter sounds interesting. Is that something like the shopping areas that play loud classical music to try and discourage groups of teenagers from hanging around?? Repellents can be quite effective if you can apply them into the tunnels as per the directions. There are several brands that I have seen on the market. Try a couple and see which ones work the best.

Nora Asks? I am not able to locate the contact information for Eagle Creek Seed potatoes. Are they still in business? I'm looking for and potato to grow in a container that has a blue flower.

Ken Answers! Yes Eagle Creek is still there. Follow the link on my Potatoes page to find them. There are several Potatoes that will have blue flowers. The one I have grown is French Fingerling, a small but prolific variety that also performs well in pots.

Susann Asks? Hi Ken ... here's a mystery for you! I have two potted Oleander trees that I've been bringing in for the winter for about 6 years. They are kept downstairs in our basement family room and don't get a lot of light till I bring them upstairs in April. Right now I've discovered certain branches are covered in a sticky substance with what looks kind've like yellowish crumbs on the leaves. I can't find any bugs at all on the plant or see any in the dirt ... both plants are healthy and don't seem to be bothered by it! what have I got here and how do I handle it???

Ken Answers! It sounds like your Oleanders have scale. That is an insect that appears as just a bump on the branch. The yellowish crumbs are probably immature scales moving out from their mother to look for a place to call home. The sticky substance is a secretion from the scales that we call honeydew and is usually the first indicator that the scale are present. Look on the stems for little clear to brown bumps and see if they can be easily scraped off with fingernail or knife point. That is the best and easiest control method.

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