How to Pick a Pea

By: Sandy Swegel

How to pick which one to grow, that is.

There are so many varieties of peas to choose from….which one shall we grow? Here are three peas with very good reasons to grow them.

For snow peas, the generally accepted superior variety is “Oregon Sugar Pod II.” Research trials have documented that Oregon Sugar Pod producers twice as many snow peas as other cultivars. And there’s a cool reason for that: Oregon Sugar Pods split and produce two peas at every growth node while other snow peas produce just one. And the “II” in Oregon Sugar Pod II? That refers to the fact that this evolution of the pea is disease resistant. So you get lots of peas and no powdery mildew.

Despite the obvious perfection of the Oregon Sugar Pod II, I also like to grow the Dwarf Grey Sugar. They taste about the same to me and I get lots of peas from the Dwarf Grey Sugar, but the real reason to have them is that they have purple flowers. All the other peas have white flowers. More Purple Flowers Please.

Finally, the third pea I’m enamored of is Sugar Ann…an heirloom edible Pod pea. No shucking or shelling…you eat the whole thing…pod and all. They are delicious steamed or sautéed but we rarely eat them that way. Any pea lover will attest: peas taste best fresh picked, while you’re still standing in the garden.

Do you want a secret to more peas in less space? Plant your peas (or thin) a little further apart—4 inches between plants. Research in Oklahoma showed those plants branch more and produce 23% more peas than plants 2 inches apart.

Whatever variety you choose…start them soon. All peas stop producing when the temperatures get up above 75 degrees.

Photo credit:

www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/snowpeas
theenchantedtree.blogspot.com/search?q=Pea
www.thekitchn.com/5-ways-to-eat-sugar-snap-peas-144936

 

A New Movie About Art and Gardens

Opening in independent theaters this week is a wonderful “gallery film” The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism. It is opening across the US and the U.K. beginning March 26th, so check out your local listings right away. Here’s the description of the film written by its producers more artistically than I can recreate:

“Taking its lead from French artists like Renoir and Monet, the American impressionist movement followed its own path which over a forty-year period reveals as much about America as a nation as it does about its art as a creative power-house. It’s a story closely tied to a love of gardens and a desire to preserve nature in a rapidly urbanizing nation. Traveling to studios, gardens and iconic locations throughout the United States, UK and France, this mesmerizing film is a feast for the eyes.”

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cfvWwluoB9E

You can find a screening near you here: http://www.exhibitiononscreen.com/en-uk/find-a-screening?cmbCountry=United+States#

 

Roasted Carrot Salad

From the Kitchen of Engrid Winslow

An exotic and super-easy salad that your whole family will enjoy.

Serves 4

4 carrots
2-3 Tangelos
2 oz. Castelvetrano olives
olive oil
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 450. Peel carrots, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces, then lengthwise into 1/2″ thick batons. Toss carrots with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 8 minutes, stir, then roast for another 6-8 minutes until brown and tender. Set aside. While carrots are roasting, peel the tangelos, separate into segments and cut each segment in half. Remove and discard pits from olives and roughly chop. Toss carrots, tangelos and olives together and drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

 

YELLOWJACKET TRAPS, THEN PANSIES

By: Sandy Swegel

Is Spring about to happen in your neighborhood? Before you start getting pansies or collecting daffodils, stop and put out your yellow jacket traps…if yellow jackets are a problem for you in the summer.

The yellow jacket life cycle is pretty simple. Almost all the yellow jackets die off in winter. Single queens that already “mated” go into winter hibernation…in the ground, or your shed, or woodpile. Once warm weather starts in the Spring the queen wakes up, builds a new nest and starts laying eggs for this year’s yellow jackets. One little queen easily lays 500 eggs. Conservatively, every queen you catch now means hundreds fewer yellow jackets gathering at your picnics in the yard this summer. It is so much easier to catch one queen now than to tackle nests full of angry yellow jackets under your picnic table in July.

A simple pheromone trap works great…it lures the queen to those yellow plastic hanging traps. This is no time for simple soapy water. You’ll be glad you spent the $5 for the pheromone lure refills. And the lure doesn’t affect honeybees.

Catching the queens isn’t always predictable. I put up more than one trap. Last year the trap by the BBQ grill caught ten queens. And a trap under a tree caught two. It seems to differ every year. But I will be grateful come summer.

It’s definitely time in this warm March we’re having in Colorado. It was 80 degrees today…I got stung cleaning up debris in the perennial bed. The queen rolled over from her winter nap and sunk her stinger into me as revenge. Ouch. Yellow jackets hurt so much more than other wasps. If you don’t go outside in the summer, then let the yellow jackets live. But since they don’t play well with others, I believe in a strong birth prevention policy.

Photocredits:
www.rescue.com/bug/yellowjackets
greenbugpestandlawn.com/learning-center/flying-pest

 

ILLITERATE GARDEN

By: Sandy Swegel

“My garden is illiterate.  It didn’t read the book about what it can’t do.”

That was the wisecracking opening remark at a gardening talk I attended recently.  We all laughed and during the break we started talking about some of the stupidest plants we know.

Looking at wild plants, we laughed about orchids native to cold, arid Colorado.  But the most illiterate plants are the ones we humans planted because we didn’t know better.

The plants that don’t know they can’t survive in Zone 5.

Pineapple sage don’t you know anything? You like living in semi-tropics.  What are you doing living another year in the colorado clay soil iris garden with 70 mph winds?

The plants that don’t know that being an annual means can’t live longer than one year.

Yep verbena bonariensis I’m talking about you.  The books say you are an annual but I’ve watched you survive for three years in a row.  Ditto snapdragons…I have trees younger than you.

Plants that don’t know they are supposed to be invasive.

I’m waiting for you bamboo. Any day now you’re supposed to fill in that entire border between my yard and my neighbor’s ugly garage.  Sure, four years ago I saw one runner into the grass…but what have you done lately?

Codependent plants.

These are the plants that not only don’t know they can’t survive but also put up with terrible abuse.  Don’t be sweet-talking me Japanese Maple.  You know who you are.  You croaked all those times I planted you in protected areas and nurtured you with extra mulch in winter and water in summer.  But the year I put you, a tree, in a pot with six other plants on a third floor deck without protection from the cold and without winter watering…that’s the year you survive?

If it were up to humans, we’d never have surprises in the garden or tulips blooming in July or scabiosa blooming in December literally under the snow.  Or the gallardia that blooms in my driveway. We won’t even mention the weed that seeded and bloomed in my truck bumper the December I was driving around Louisiana.

What a relief that our plants are so darn illiterate.

 

Photocredits:

fullycoolpix.blogspot.com/2014/08/plants-live-everywhere.html

www.boredpanda.com/plants-flowers-versus-concrete-asphalt-pavement/

 

 

The Windy Garden

By: Sandy Swegel

This could be a perfectly beautiful early Spring. We’ve had a week of warm sunny weather that is waking up the daffodils and tulips. Birds are flitting about and energetically singing out mating calls. It’s a joyful break from dark winter days. But then there’s the wind. Chinook winds. Or as they were called the year I lived in the Alps, “scheiss foen.” Everyone understood if the foen had arrived that you could be in a foul mood because of the irritability and headaches from the air pressure changes these mountain-made winds caused.

Wind can have devastating effects on a garden. Sure the strong winds can break stems and tree branches, but the greatest stressors comes from the drying effects of the winds. Plants close their stomata (leaf pores) to reduce water loss, but that slows the plants’ ability to grow. The winds desiccate the plant tissue and dry out the top inches of the soil meaning the plants need more water. Even plants under snow cover can get very drought stressed because the winds evaporate the snow before it can melt.

If it’s going to be a windy season, I make a few mental changes in my garden plans. Here’s things to consider if you have a windy garden:

Use more drought tolerant plants.
Increase your watering after the winds die down.
Grow shorter plants.
Grow plants like lavender with thinner leaves that won’t desiccate so easily.
Plant some tall ornamental grasses through the flower garden. They look beautiful in the wind and provide some wind break protection.
Plant evergreens as windbreaks.
Consider a garden wall.

And take an aspirin for your sinus headache.

 

Photocredits:

http://clarenbridgegardencentre.ie/
Top Tips for Windy Gardens
http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/waterton/ne/ne-galerie-gallery-2.aspx?a=1&photo=%7Bdfae32e8-4d1e-47e4-a909-08c9ea68dd13%7D

 

Crevice Gardens

By: Sandy Swegel

Some crevice gardens look like regular gardens where flowering plants cover all the rocks. Others look more like rocky alpine mountainsides. The Denver Botanic Gardens latest crevice gardens combine sculptural placement of the rocks with native plants.

So keep at eye out for a crevice garden near you. Botanic Gardens around the world are investing millions of dollars installing crevice gardens that highlight the art of stone and alpine gardens, and that provide us with ideas of how we will keep growing beautiful plants and flowers even as global warming reduces our available water in some places.

 

For a good how to, check out High Country Gardens’ blog. http://www.highcountrygardens.com/gardening/rock-gardening-creating-a-crevice-garden/

Photo credits :
www.nargs.org
www.rockstarplants.com/
www.architectureartdesigns.com/18-effective-ideas-how-to-make-small-outdoor-seating-area/
www.yampariverbotanicpark.org/gardens.php

 

Give your House Plants a Spa Day

By: Sandy Swegel

Right about this time of year is when your indoor plants are all stressed out. It’s been months of winter and dry heated air. Outdoors in nature, wild plants are enjoying spring rains that clean off their leaves and freshen their soil.

Once again, we plant lovers know to mimic nature if we want our plant friends to thrive in the odd conditions we try to grow them in. Growing plants under a roof without moving air or overhead moisture is definitely odd.

The plants I’m wintering over are the most stressed. The hibiscus have aphids. White fly that I thought I eradicated shows up in the sunroom. Scale is appearing on the underside of waxy leaves.

Time for a Spa Day.

Take any plants that are moveable and bring them into your shower. Don’t forget a good drain catch…you don’t need perlite in your sewer pipes. Bring in the non-buggy plants first. You don’t need to spread pests and disease. Clean off dead or diseased leaves and give the whole plant a good overhead shower. Use the hand sprayer to get the underside of leaves.

Pretend you are a spring thunderstorm and really soak the soil so that water runs out the bottom taking away some of the built up salts. Use soapy water to treat any soft-bodied pests. Use your fingernail or a Q-tip with alcohol to remove scale sacs.

After the bathing and dripping dry, add a layer of clean compost — earthworm castings work great. Then douse the soil with a good natural liquid fertilizer—I like seaweed based fertilizers because then everything smells ocean fresh.

Your plants will be grateful for their Spa Day and perk right up from all that moisture and a good meal.

Of course you might need your own Spa Day after you finish cleaning up the mess. But we all enjoy a good Spring shower.

 

Photos:
www.ourhouseplants.com/guides/cleaning-your-plants
www.thesmallgarden.com.au/blogpages/how-to-holiday-proof-your-garden-this-summer

 

 

LISTENING WALK

Take a Listening Walk

By: Sandy Swegel

The skies were gray this morning.  The landscape was brown and dead.  I kept looking for Spring but at best there were just the green tips of bulbs appearing among dead leaves. Maybe the buds were swelling on trees.  It was cold, but it still felt like Spring.  How could that be?

The loud demanding chirping of some birds interrupted my thoughts and I realized I could HEAR Spring. So I took a walk to a nearby pond and while I couldn’t really see Spring…the pond scenery was just as brown as my yard was…but now I knew…nature is waking up.

I could hear the male birds in rapt mating calls…doing their best to make some new baby birds.  Lots of mating and birthing going on in Spring.  I could hear some tiny chirps that I think were baby sparrows or finches.  There was rustling in the winter leaf debris.  I couldn’t see anything but I could guess there were baby caterpillars and insects under there that the birds were scratching to find.  I suspect there were little mice in there too.  Which meant that snakes were waking up and slithering in the grasses.

They’re wasn’t much to see, but I could hear nature erupting in new life. Spring is noisy.   A nature walk in January is pretty quiet except for some chickadees and perhaps large animals running off, startled by a human invading their wild territory.  But Spring makes an absolute racket.  Even the water is noisy.  A week of warm weather had melted ice and brooks were babbling again.

Very early Spring is subtle.  I know from the sounds that new life is starting.  But it’s a slow lazy waking up.  Snow is coming later in the week and I’m reminded of the adage that March is the snowiest month.

The avid gardener has just a few tasks in early Spring.  One is to enjoy nature without having to work to weed or control it.  Another is to do some pruning while the trees and shrubs are still dormant.  But after a cold morning walk, the best thing this gardener can do is go inside and start some more seeds under the lights.  Outside, Mother Nature can call the shots.  Inside, I’m getting a head start on all those seeds that I want to grow now!

Photo credits:

cuddlesandmuddles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/world-book-day-activities-taking-a-listening-walk/

www.twrcwildlifecenter.org/volunteer/baby-bird-program/