Spring Right Around the Corner

I think Punxsutawney Phil got it right this year about having six more weeks of winter.  Look at the news and the weather reports, winter’s wrath is being felt as far South as the Carolinas.  With snow, sleet and ice just about all over the United States it is hard to think about gardening.phil1

I know February is not even half over yet, but now is the time to start thinking about what you are going to plant in your garden this year.  If you are like me you have already received in the mail dozens of seed catalogs.  Now is the time to order your seeds before they are sold out.

I like to start a lot of my vegetable seeds indoors.  The reason for this is I can choose what vegetable plants I want in my garden and not held hostage by what the nurseries have on their shelves.  Take a look at what your favorite nursery sells this year, I bet it is almost the same thing as last year.

41203_white_cherry_tomato_1_003One tomato plant I would suggest you try this year is “White Cherry” from Pinetree Garden Seeds.  Though the name suggests a white cherry tomato, its name is a little misleading.  It is an indeterminate, pale, almost translucent, lemon yellow 1 inch tomato borne on vigorous vines.  Additionally, they have a very pleasant sweet/tart flavor per the catalog’s description.  My son presented me with some seeds last season and once they began to ripen I had so many I was giving them away and what a wonderful flavor.

So while you are watching the Olympics tonight, browse through those seed catalogs and pick out what you want to be eating when harvest time comes around.

Accidental Vegetable Gardening

You are probably a bit confused or dumfounded by the title of my new post.  I thought about what title to give this article and I thought “Accidental Vegetable Gardening” was appropriate.  This past gardening season started out a little slow due to cooler than normal weather in May, but took off once it started to warm up.  I was anxious to get going so I set about planting by vegetable transplants in particular my onion transplants.

Everything was growing great when I noticed something else growing in my onion bed.  Low and behold I had potatoes growing in between my onion transplants.  My only reason for potatoes growing in my onion bed was I accidentally did not remove all the potatoes from last year’s harvest.  So I made a decision to let them grow as long as they did not interfere with the onions.  As time went by I had ten potato plants growing alongside the onions.  Eventually, I had to remove four of the plants because they were crowding out my onions.  I regret now not taking any pictures of them growing together.

The summer was a hot one with both the onions and potatoes growing great side by side.  Here and there I removed some onions that were being crowded out, but they were a nice welcome in the kitchen.  Both the onions and the potatoes performed amazingly together sharing that one bed.  After awhile I began to wonder what the main ingredient that allowed both the potatoes and the onions to perform so well.  It dawned on me it was my soil preparation.

Proper soil preparation when you are growing any type of plant is important, but I feel it is extremely important when growing vegetables.  Vegetables need a good loose soil, that retains water, but also allows it to drain well.  The ultimate goal is for your garden area to have 5% of organic material.

Here in Colorado our soil is so poor that you will have to amend your garden area to reach that 5% organic material goal.  There are a number of ways to improve your soil.  You can add manure, whether it be cow, horse, sheep or alpaca.  Just make sure if it is fresh that you add it into your garden in the fall.  Adding fresh manure in the spring you run into the possibility of the manure burning your plants.

There are a number of other organic material you can add to improve your soil such as cotton burr mulch, compost and peat moss.  If you buy bags of compost from one of the big chain stores make sure you read what ingredients are in the bag.  Sometimes it is made up of more wood byproducts and other trace ingredients that you don’t want it your garden.  If you don’t have a compost pile of your own start one.  This way you know what is in your compost.

Not only does adding amendments help your vegetables grow better, it encourages more worms into your garden.  I love seeing worms in my garden.  The more worms the better.  Worms help break up your soil by tunneling through your garden and eating the organic material you have added.  In return they leave behind valuable worm castings and nice aerated soil.  You can see by my picture that I have plenty of worms in my garden.

So in conclusion, even though the potatoes that grew amongst my onion last year where there by mistake.  Good soil preparation on my part allowed both the onions and potatoes to flourish side by side.  To see what percent organic matter is in your soil you should have your soil tested.  Here in Colorado Springs contact the El Paso County Extension Office (719-520-7675) about obtaining a soil testing kit.  I had my soil tested last year and my organic matter percentage was 5.5%.  A little over the mark, but I am very happy with the results.

Fall Veggie Class

For all you die hard gardeners next month Larry Stebbins the director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) will be giving a class entitled “Fall Veggie Class”.  This class is the first in a series of six classes Larry will present throughout the winter.  The “Fall Veggie Class”  will not only cover Fall Veggies, but also what worked and what did not work in the garden this year.

Just like the rest of the U.S. we have had some unusual weather to deal with this past summer.  First our May was cold and damp then came the heat in June followed by the rain in July.  It was a challenging year to be a Colorado Gardener.  Larry is a great speaker and just full of knowledge about growing vegetables here in Colorado.  The attached  flier provides all the information you will need to know to register and attend the class.

Growing Vegetables in Containers

Don’t let a lack of space stop you from growing fresh vegetables.  Even if you only have a small yard or live in a condo or apartment you can enjoy fresh and tasteful vegetables from your own garden.  Most people think you need a big gardening space to grow your favorite vegetables, but you don’t.  Picking the right type of vegetable and a variety of containers you can grow succulent vegetables too.

When choosing your vegetables look for varieties that will grow well in small places.  Choose bush beans instead of climbers.  Choose from the many determinate tomatoes out on the market.  You are not limited just to determinate varieties, you can also grow indeterminate  tomatoes like Brandywine, Celebrity, Better Boy and many more.  With the indeterminate varieties will have to install a trellis.  There are many dwarf varieties of vegetables on the market.

When choosing your container, how it looks is no big deal to your vegetables, just make sure it is big enough for the plant that you stick in the container.  Look for containers that are 10 wide and 12 inches deep.  Your larger plants like tomatoes and cucumbers need containers that are about 20 inches wide.  Make sure the container you choose has good drainage.  There a lot of commercial type containers sold in magazines and on the internet like “Earth Boxes” that are great for growing vegetables.  Alas they are expensive unless you can find one at a yard sale.  I have used half whiskey barrels, 5 gallon black plastic containers leftover from my many purchases from local nurseries.

 

 

Once you determine what you are going to grow and have picked out the container make sure you purchase a good potting soil made for containers.  Just like if you were going to grow your vegetables in a regular garden bed, soil is a key factor in your gardening success.  When growing vegetables in containers you must pay more attention to watering.  Plants grown in containers tend to dry out faster and vegetables require regular watering for them to thrive.

Like your vegetables in a regular garden they require fertilizer to grow and thrive.  If you use a water-soluble type you should fertilize every time you water.  Since you have to water your plants in a container more often the soluble type fertilizer tends to leach out.  A better choice would be a  time released pellet fertilizer.  This type of fertilizer usually lasts between 3-6 months depending on the manufacturer.

You have decided on what vegetables you want to grow.  You have a chosen your container, planting mix and what type of fertilizer you are going to use.  It is now time to plant your vegetables.  You plant your vegetables in your containers the same way you would plant them in a regular garden bed.  Vegetables like radishes, carrots and beans you can directly sow them in the container.  Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant use transplants like you would normally do in a garden bed.

Growing vegetables in a container is limited only by your imagination.  Don’t let your space confinements deprive you from growing fresh, delicious vegetables.

Garden Fabric/Row Cloth in the Colorado Garden

If you have lived here in  Colorado for any length of time you know how bizarre and unpredictable our weather can be.  As a gardener in Colorado we have to go to extreme lengths at times to have productive vegetable gardens.  If you have never used garden fabric/row cloth in your vegetable garden now might be perfect time to check it out.

This spring has been one of cold temperatures with little moisture.  Now the temperatures are rising fast, what is a gardener to do to ensure a healthy and productive vegetable garden?  The answer may be just a short drive to your local nursery or your favorite gardening catalog.  Garden fabric has many valuable uses in the garden at a very minimal expense.

  • Protects your plants from the cold and wind
  • Protects your transplants from harsh conditions while acclimating to the outdoors conditions
  • Protects your plants from diseases and bugs
  • Helps to moderate the soil temperatures

There are a number of different garden fabrics in the market, you must decide what you are trying to accomplish.  Are you trying to keep your plants warm or cool?  Are you trying to protect your plants from bugs?  Or are you trying to protect your transplants from the wind?  Once you have decided what your mission is you can start shopping for the correct garden fabric.

An all-purpose fabric cloth can usually meet the typical gardener’s requirements.  It can protect your plants down to a certain temperature, keep the bugs out and provide protection for your newly planted transplants.  Make sure you read and understand the manufacturer’s fabric cloth’s description.  It is a good idea to keep a variety of fabric cloth on hand  so you can adapt as the season changes.

In the early spring you are looking for a fabric cloth that will protect our plants from cold temperatures.  Some fabric cloths provide protection down to 24 degrees while letting 70% of the sun rays penetrate.  It also allows the rain and overhead watering to penetrate.

Come summer you are looking for a fabric cloth that will keep your cool weather crops like lettuce from getting overheated, becoming bitter and finally bolting.  At the same time you need a fabric cloth that will keep insects like the carrot fly and cabbage root fly out.

Once your vegetables are up and producing you want to protect them from those varmints looking for a free meal.  How many times have you gone out in the morning for some fresh strawberries for your cereal only to find the birds have beat you to them?  All you have to do pull your fabric cloth back pick the vegetables you want and cover them back up.

Fabric cloth is easy to install.  You can just loosely lay it down on top of your plants and as they grow the cloth will remain on top.  Ah but we live in Colorado where those nasty Chinook winds blow everything from here to Kansas.  One way to keep your fabric cloth here in Colorado is install hoops over your vegetables and attach the cloth to the them.  Or you can just put dirt on the cloth that hangs down the sides or stake it with some garden staples.

Here is an example of a more permanent method of covering your crops.  It is very sturdy, allows moisture in and keeps bugs out.  It takes about 20 minutes to build and can be used time after time depending on the strength of fabric cloth you use.  This one was built with UV Spun-bonded Polypropylene – 1.25 oz/sq.yard- approx. 10 mil.

No matter what type of fabric cloth you decide to use the ultimate end is to harvest good looking, tasty vegetables from your garden.

Benefical Insects in Our Gardens (Praying Mantis)

Springtime not only brings thoughts of flowering crocus, daffodils and tulips, but of spring cleaning in the garden.  Left behind from fall and winter are masses of leaves, twigs, needles and blown trash stuck in every nook and cranny in our gardens.  Spring is the time to clear away the debris so new life can emerge from the warming soil to once again brighten our gardens.

While doing your Spring cleaning in your garden not only be vigilant with your cleaning, but also look for overwintering insect eggs.  One in particular is the Mantids or you may know it by its commonly referred name the “Praying Mantis”.  If you are fortunate enough to discover one do not destroy it.  The Mantids are one of the best beneficial insects to have in your garden.

There are at least six species of mantids found in Colorado.  Mantids are ferocious predators that feed on  a variety of insects, including the pests that want to destroy our the plants in our garden.  Mantids come in various sizes from over 3″ to 1.5 inches.  They come in colors of green and brown.

The most prevalent species found in Colorado is the European mantid the true Praying Mantis.  This variety is rather large, exceeding three inches when full grown and comes in green or brown forms.  This variety can easily be identified by a “bull’s-eye” under the fore leg.

Mantids are some of the most well-recognized and distinguishably of all the insect groups.  The front grasping legs are what captures everyone’s eyes when they spot a mantid.  The legs are well-designed for grasping and holding their prey.  They also have this uncanny ability to turn their triangular-shaped heads in order to see in all directions.

Mantids survive our cold winters as eggs.  The eggs are laid in masses, known as oothecae.  The oothecae is covered in a foamy material making them look like a “packing peanut”.  They are attached to solid surfaces such as buildings, dried plant life, or in my case my central air conditioner unit.

Generally the eggs hatch in late spring, or earlier depending on the weather or if they are located in a secluded warm area.  Once they hatch the offspring called “nymphs”  feast on small gnats, other insects or sometimes cannibalizing on other nymphs emerging from the egg.

Survival is a major factor with mantids, so the use of camouflage and concealment play a vital role in their existence.  Their protective coloration allows them to blend in with the surrounding vegetation to avoid predators, but also to conceal themselves from their prey.

They also display a rocking behavior, in which they make rhythmic, repetitive side-to-side movements.  This rocking movement allows them to resemble vegetation swaying  in the wind.

Us as gardeners can encourage mantises as a form of biological pest control by not using toxic pesticides in our gardens.  So when doing your spring cleaning in your gardens keep a keen eye out for the mantids oothecae.  You could have a natural and free insect control in your garden.  Not a lot of gardeners are fortunate for mantids to take up residence in their gardens, but don’t be disheartened mantids eggs can be purchased from garden catalogs and some nurseries.

Harvesting and Storing your Spaghetti Squash

Summer has come and gone and Fall is now here which means the first frost is not far behind.  I tried a new vegetable in the garden this year “Yellow Zucchini Squash”.  One reason was I always like to experiment with new vegetables and second I am on a Gluten Free Diet because I have Celiac Disease and was looking for a good substitute for spaghetti.

Spaghetti Squash usually takes between 90 to 100 days to reach its maturity, depending on the variety.  You can tell it is ready to harvest when the fruit has turned a deep yellow color, and the rind is hard.  Another way to make sure it is ready to harvest, is your fingernail to test the hardness of the skin.  You want to make sure it does not give anywhere on the fruit.

Once you are satisfied it is ready to harvest, cut the stem leaving about 2″ so as not to damage the skin.  Leave the squash in a warm location for about a week so the skin can harden and cure.  Once cured store the fruit in a cool, dry area with temperatures between 50-55 degrees and low humidity.

Store the fruit in single layers with the fruit not touching each other to lessen the chance of rot.  Under these conditions the fruit can be stored for up to six months.  The storage could be a basement, unheated garage, or root cellar.

For more ideas on how and where to store them check out Colorado State University (CSU) Extension Fact Sheet #7.601.