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JUNE GARDEN CHORE LIST

By Heather Stone

Buckets and gardening tools lined up along a fence.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

  1. Cage or trellis any vining vegetables such as cucumbers, beans and tomatoes. By training these vegetables to grow up you are saving precious garden space and keeping the fruit off of the ground and away from critters. Click here for trellis ideas!

 

  1. Continue watering your vegetable and perennial beds. Try to keep water close to the roots and off of leaves. Checked potted plants often, they tend to dry out faster.

 

  1. Keep up with the weeds! This can start to feel like a never-ending battle at this time of year, but keeping the weeds under control means more nutrients, water and sunlight for your vegetables and flowers.

 

  1. Mulch around vegetables to help conserve water.

 

  1. Side dress with compost for a mid-season boost.
An oldfashioned wooden wheel barrow..

photo courtesy of pixabay

  1. Begin replacing cool season crops that have begun to wind done or have bolted from heat.

 

  1. Plant successive crops of summer greens like collards, kale, chard and lettuce (Protect them from hot afternoon sun).

 

  1. Transplant any remaining warm season vegetable starts.

 

  1. Plant your squash, melon and cucumber seeds if you haven’t already.

 

  1. Keep an eye out for pests.

 

  1. Keep your birdbaths full and clean.

 

  1. Plant a new patch of bush beans every couple of weeks.

 

  1. Pinch out suckers on your tomatoes.

 

  1. Keep deadheading perennials for continued bloom.

 

  1. Sit back, relax and enjoy your garden.
 

Tomato Staking 101

by Heather StoneTomato plant in a cage for support.

 The ways in which to support tomatoes are as varied as the gardeners who grow them. Staking your tomatoes is important for many reasons. Keeping your plants upright and off the ground helps keep not only insects and critters at bay but can prevent many tomato diseases as well. Click here to check out our comprehensive guide to tomato diseases. Staking maximizes growing space, makes harvesting easier and keeps the garden looking tidy. Here is a little information about three different methods you can use to successfully stake your tomatoes.

Tomato plant supported by a cage.

Cages

Caging tomatoes is an easy and efficient way for the home gardener to support tomatoes. Store bought cages come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. The smaller cages are more appropriate for determinate tomato varieties which are more compact in size averaging around 3-4’ tall. The larger cages will best suit the large, sprawling indeterminate varieties which can range in height from 6-12’.

 

You can make your own tomato cages too. Hardware stores sell rolls of wire fencing or mesh that when cut in 5’x5’sections can be rolled into a circular cage and placed over the plant. This is best done while the plants are still small. Pin the ends together with wire or zip ties and anchor the cage into the ground with stakes. Make sure your grid openings are at least four inches in diameter. This will make pruning and harvesting a breeze. These cages are sturdy and will last for years.

Tomato plant supported by a section of wire fence.

Stakes

Staking tomatoes is also an effective way to support your tomatoes. This method simply requires driving a stake into the ground near the plant and tying the plant up the stake as it continues to grow. To avoid any root damage, place stakes in the ground before planting or when plants are still young.

For indeterminate tomato varieties, stakes should be at least 7 feet tall and driven a good foot into the ground. This will keep the stake from tumbling over with the weight of the plant. Stakes can be wood, plastic, metal or made from salvaged materials. When tying up your tomatoes, it is best done loosely and with a soft material. I like to use old t-shirts cut into strips.

The Florida Weave

http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/supporting-cast-for-tomatoes.aspx

In the Florida or basket weave technique you are essentially sandwiching your tomato plants between two walls of twine. This technique works best when you are planting in rows. Begin by placing one stake at the end of each row, or space stakes every 3- 4’ apart for longer rows. Drive stakes into the ground at least one foot deep. Next, tie your twine to your end stake about 8-10” from the ground. Pull the twine past one side of your tomatoes to the front of the next stake. Loop the twine around the back of the stake and pull tight. Keeping the string taught continue down the row until you reach your last stake. Tie off at the last stake. Now, loop back the other direction until you are back where you started. Tie the twine to the first stake. As your tomatoes grow you will need to add another layer of twine about every 6-8” to keep the plants upright.

Check out this video demonstrating the Florida or basket weave technique.

 

SUMMER HARVEST

by Engrid Winslow

At last, the bounty of your summer garden is at its peak and you can gather all of those glorious tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn, chard, kale, summer squash, onions and other vegetables to enjoy at their freshest and most flavorful. But, ahem, some of us may plant more than we can eat in a day. Well, whether that is planned excess or not, here are a few tricks for preserving that bounty using just your freezer and pantry.

Onions – When the tops flop over onto the ground it’s time to pull them out and let them dry out in the sun or inside in a cool, dry location. Some onions, such as cippolini, are great storage onions but for the ones that aren’t…Ever tried onion jam? How about bacon and onion jam. You can refrigerate them and use them up quickly or pop a few jars into the freezer for a festive addition to a holiday cheese platter. Here are the links to two delicious recipes you can try:

http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/onion-jam https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015978-bacon-onion-jam.

You’re welcome.

 

Corn – Shuck as much as you can and then flash boil for about 2 minutes. Let cool and then scrape off the kernels into a large bowl and scoop out two cups into a plastic bag or container for freezing. Add them to that turkey soup you make after Thanksgiving every year along with some of the frozen shell peas you harvested and froze in the spring.

Tomatoes – This technique works best with cherry tomatoes and is a little bit of trouble but OMG are these delicious. Add them to pizza, pasta, soups, sandwiches or serve on grilled bread as a quick crostini. The flavor of these will make you want to plant even more tomatoes next year. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Arrange cherry tomatoes on a lined, rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Let them “oven dry” for up to 2 ½ hours, checking frequently at the two-hour mark. You can also do this with large tomatoes which will yield a “saucier” result.

 

Zucchini – Use small, tender-skinned, deep green ones. Shred and steam for 1-2 minutes. Freeze in desired quantities for adding to slaw, pasta, soups or your famous zucchini bread.

 

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

by Sandy Swegel

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth can save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter, you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insect’s eggs

Slugs in your hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds next Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photos: http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

 

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

 

Fall Gardening: Getting Ready

by Sandy Swegel

What a great time of year this is.  And not just because the harvest is upon us and tomatoes are ripening and winter squash are filling out.  It’s a great time because school is starting again and school supplies are in the stores bringing up great memories and nostalgia for the beginning of the school year.  Sure we all hated summer vacation ending, but getting new pencils and notebooks and going back to school and seeing old friends was invigorating. The slight nip in the night air that starts in August in Colorado stimulates a new enthusiasm, much like a new year or a new chance.

Going into the garden in August is a lot like getting ready for school again.  First, you have to get rid of the chaos and clutter of summer.  We’ve been vacationing or sneaking naps in hammocks and somehow, the weeds we were carefully hoeing when they were an inch tall in May, have grown taller than us and have seed heads. So the first step of getting ready for Fall Gardening is taking a deep breath and clearing out the weeds and debris that might have snuck into the garden.

On Your Marks First, you have to be able to see your marks.  Clear out the weeds that are choking things like the bindweed threatening to bring the corn to its knees. Pull out tough stalks of spring lettuce.  They’re done…let them go! Those radishes that have been baking in the summer heat…time to recycle them into compost. Any place with diseased-looking leaves:  clear out every last leaf to reduce the chances of trouble there in the future.

Get Ready. Get ready to meet old friends again…the cold-hardy or cool season crops.  These are all the sturdy plants that don’t mind a morning freeze.  Swiss Chard and Kale or Spinach can be frozen solid on an October morning and be perfect for dinner that night.  The secret to having fresh vegetables in the Fall and long into winter is to plant while the soil is warm so that the plant is full-grown by frost.  After it gets cold, plants don’t grow very quickly, but the garden will keep them ready to eat for months.  Get ready to plant a big garden.  It’s not the end of a garden season, but the beginning of one.

Get Set. Make a plan.  Think about how many salads you’ll want  (or how many pounds of greens you bought last year.)  For greens, you want two general different kinds:  the soft sweet salad greens that will last you until hard frost and the sturdy kales and chards and collards that will be good for cooking. The local farmers call it a “braising mix” that you can pick and stir-fry well into winter. Don’t forget carrots.   This is also time to make a plan if you want a cold frame or want to set up a row cover to extend the season.

Go. It’s just like Spring again…only this time your mind isn’t gaga over a million possible gardens.  So focus on the task at hand—growing enough food for you and your family and friends to eat all Fall and Winter. Prepare the soil. Dig out big weeds. Mix in compost or organic fertilizer. Smooth the surface. Water thoroughly. Let the soil sit for two weeks for soil activity to restore itself. Order the seed you don’t have. Try something a little different like the Asian greens or just something new. They should arrive by the time your soil has rested. Plan a season extender. You can stretch your fall garden into January or February even if you live in a cold place. You can use a cold frame, a hoop house, some row cover or just bags of Fall leaves thrown over plants on extra cold nights.

 

End of the Growing Season

by Sandy Swegel

We had our first big snow…just six inches but very cold and wet followed by more snow and below freezing temperatures so one might easily assume the vegetable garden is done for the year.  It certainly looks forlorn outside my window.  But fortunately, Nature is kinder than that.  For reasons I can’t quite fathom, lettuce that freezes if it’s too far in the back of my refrigerator can handle quite a lot of extreme temperature especially when it’s well insulated by snow.  I expect that when the sun returns in a couple of days, I’ll be able to brush away any remaining snow and harvest excellent crispy sweet lettuce.  Hardier greens like spinach and chard can even be exposed to the air and frozen solid at 8 am but then be perfect and ready to eat by noon with a little mid-day thawing.

The warm season plants like basil and tomatoes have no chance in the cold.  Basil turns brown below about 35 degrees.  Tomatoes don’t taste nearly as good once night time temps dip into the 30s.  Squash leaves croak right at 32 although sometimes the ambient heat from the ground will keep the pumpkins and winter squash edible even though the air is freezing.  Still, the warm season plants are done. Corn on the cob is a memory held by the dried stalks turned into Halloween decorations.

The root crops are another story.  Carrots and beets improve with each freezing night.  As long as you can pry root crops from the freezing ground, you’ll be rewarded with intense flavor and sweetness that improves even more if you roast the vegetables with some olive oil. Many a picky eater who refused to eat turnips or rutabagas, finds November turnips roasted with rosemary and thyme to be irresistible.

The growing season might be over….but the eating season has just begun!

 

Heirloom Tomatoes 2012

by Sandy Swegel

What were your favorite tomatoes this year?  Or should I say who were your favorites since we do have relationships with our plants!

We had a killing frost so it is officially the end of the tomato season, although just the beginning of the “what to do with green tomatoes” season.  My neighbor, Leah Bradley, is a gifted local artist who works in oils and had an Open Studio yesterday. What a delight it was to walk into a room full of paintings of heirloom vegetables.  Tomatoes everywhere and vivid kales, eggplants and pears. Even gnarly tomatoes that had viruses and blights this year were remarkably beautiful seen through her eyes.

There were lots of tomato diseases this year, so be sure to clear all that diseased foliage out of your garden beds and into the garbage (not back into your compost).

Who were the garden award winners in your tomato category this year?  Some of my buddy gardeners have been voting for Juliet, Red Beefsteak Heirloom, Brandywine, and Sweet 100 Cherries.

 

Cover Your Soil!

by Sandy Swegel

Winter winds will come and steal your soil away if you’re not careful.  If you value your earthworms and the compost that naturally forms on top of your soil under plants, figure out a way to get your soil covered this winter.  Here, in Colorado, we can have 100 mile-an-hour winds in January, so we take this seriously.  We also have to take seriously the fact that anything we use to cover the soil needs to be securely attached to the ground.

Here are some of the ways I’ve covered garden soil:

Cover Crops.
These require the most planning and the most work in Spring of tilling the crops in….but
they also provide the most benefit to the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients. NOW is the time to get your winter rye or clover planted so it has time to grow before the soil gets too cold.

Leaves.
Leaves are my favorites because they become leaf mold and can be dug into the soil in Spring.  In Fall, I spread as many leaves as I can all over perennial beds and over the open vegetable bed.  In the perennial beds, the other plants tend to help keep the wind from whisking all the leaves away.  Out in the open vegetable bed, I spread 6 – 12 inches (if you have that many) of leaves on top of the soil  Then I put dozens of heavy plastic bags filled with leaves the neighbors have tidily vacuumed and mulched up on top to hold the loose leaves down.  If the bags aren’t heavy, I put rocks on top of them.  Not a pretty winter garden….but the earthworms thrive in the moisture and warmth under the plastic bags. In Spring, I can spread the leaves in the bag as a mulch on the garden.

Cardboard.
Newspaper by itself blows away too easily, but cardboard, if secured by rocks and bricks, does a good job of holding in soil and moisture.  Make sure the soil is watered before you put the cardboard down.  A layer of leaves and or newspaper under the cardboard will give the worms and microbes something to eat.

Plant a wildflower meadow.
Do you have an area of your yard that you don’t really need for vegetables or perennials? Keep the soil healthy and the garden beautiful by seeding a wildflower meadow.  Fall is an excellent time to plant a mix of wildflowers or even a mix with grasses and wildflowers that will be beautiful for years.

However you decide to protect your garden….you’ve worked hard to enrich the soil and keep the worms and microbes happy.  Help them to stay home and not blow off in the wind or desiccate in the winter sun.

Photo Credits:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dustbowl/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/winter-cover-crops

 

Fall Leaves: They Aren’t Just Pretty

Get ready to collect some manna from heaven!  Leaf mold is one of the best amendments a gardener can add to the garden.  And it’s super easy to make and free:  All you need is leaves and time.  Create a leaf pile somewhere it won’t blow away but will get snowed and rained upon and break down gently in its own time.  At the end of a year (or two if you live in a more arid place), you’ll have the treasure of broken down leaves, wet and almost compost-like.

Leaf mold is valuable in several ways.  It is the result of the fungal breakdown, so in addition to adding organic matter to your garden, you’re also putting lots of beneficial fungi in the soil.  It’s a good way to add valuable minerals to soil because tree roots are pulling nutrients from deep within the soil and depositing those nutrients in their leaves, which then get deposited in your garden.

There are two easy ways to get leaf mold.  The absolute easiest is to live somewhere humid with lots of deciduous trees like North Carolina and just go out into the woods and find places the leaves have drifted over the years.  Reach down under a soft squishy pile of leaves and you’ll find leaves from previous years broken down and moist and crumbly, often with earthworms happily working away.

If you don’t have your own woodland or if you live here in the arid plains of Colorado, the process needs a little helping along.  In my neighborhood, a gardener on a busy street put up a sign in front of her house:  “Bagged Leaves Wanted.”  People hate to just throw leaves in the garbage, so in the spirit of recycling, they drop them off at her house all hours of the day and night.  She takes the first 1000! or so bags for her garden and leaf mold pile and her goats (Apparently goats think dry leaves taste like potato chips.) The rest of us gardeners in the neighborhood take the next 1000 bags strangers drop off for us.  They tidy their yards to get rid of leaves and we add all those leaves to our garden because we know they are manna from heaven!

For more how-to info and video, check out Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening magazines.
http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/making-leaf-mold.aspx
http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/basic-leaf-mold