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.

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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.

What variety of onion grows best in our area?

It is not quite time to plant your onions yet, but it is time to make sure your soil is prepared and that you choose the right onion plant for our growing season.  Onions are best grown in a raised bed at least 4 inches high.  If you do not have raised beds, ensure the soil is loose, well-drained soil of high fertility and plenty of organic matter.  Onions grow best with a pH between 6.2 and 6.8.

There are three types of onions and they are characterized by day length.  Long-day onions, which grow better in the northern states, quit forming tops and begin to form bulbs when the day-length reaches 14-16 hours.  Short-day onions, which grow better in the southern states, will start making bulbs earlier when there are only 10-12 hours of daylight.  Intermediate-day onions, which are great for the mid-state gardens, require 12-13 hours of daylight to form bulbs.  We want to plant intermediate-day onions in our area.  Three varieties that do well here are:

  • Sweet Candy Red(red onion)
  • Super Star Hybrid(white onion)
  • Hybrid Candy(yellow onion) Continue reading

Winter has arrived in Colorado Springs

6-25-2007-050Today I awoke to four inches of snow on the ground here in Colorado Springs.  After getting over the initial shock, my thoughts went to my garden and how this lovely blanket of fresh snow is such a blessing.  December is normally not a wet month here in Colorado so we will take any amount of moisture we can get.  The snow on my garden statues and plants created a winter wonderland of beauty.

Watching my two dogs explore the blanketed yard and garden was funny to watch since both of them are really short and their legs disappeared in the snow.  Some people can’t wait for Spring to come, but while I wait also I enjoy the magical change that snow brings to my garden.  Each shrub, tree, or dormant perennial takes on its on personality draped in a white coating of snow. 

I was excited to see that a hawk had made a visit to my garden.  It was perched on my fence probably looking for a meal while I stared in awe of its beauty.  I wish it had stayed longer until I could get my camera and take a picture.  I don’t get too many unusal birds in my garden so this was a special moment.  I invite everyone to get out into their gardens during the winter and take in the beauty that winter has to offer.

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Garden Sentry

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Colorado Newcomers and Gardening

I have lived in Colorado for 16 years but I still remember the first year I tried to garden here.  Plants I thought would grow here shriveled up and died, frost killed my first bunch of vegetable transplants and the wind blew away my tall tulips.  Welcome to Colorado my neighbors told me.  Here you have to rethink a lot about the gardening you have done where you lived before.

Unlike a lot of the coastal areas, we do not get a lot of rain.  We are considered a semi-arid state.  We also get a lot of wind here called Chinook winds.  You probably have already experienced them early in the morning when your lawn furniture tried to move to New Mexico.  Freak snowstorms is another one of our dilemmas we have to deal with.  It may be sunny when you went to work, but when you got ready to go home there is a blizzard outside.  The old saying “If you don’t like the weather now wait ten minutes” describes Colorado.  Additionally, one of the things I do like about living here, low humidity, also causes probables with our plants.    Also, one of the big challenges to gardeners here, novice or master, is our soil.  Our soil is mostly made up of clay and sand.  Even in some areas we decomposed granite.  Now doesn’t that sound lovely to try and plant your favorite variety of tulips in.  Now your probably wondering why should I even try to garden here? 

Even with all the negatives things I just said about gardening here, there are a lot of reasons to garden here.  The one I like the most is the sunshine.  Being originally from the Northeast, I love all this sunshine here especially during  the winter.  Our high elevations here provides some the highest intensity of light I have ever experience.  The plus of that is we grow some of the prettiest flowers around.

The first area I think as a new gardener to Colorado you need to address is what kind of soil do you have in your yard?  Is it sand or clay?  Or is it a combination like I have?  You talk to other gardeners that have lived here for awhile and your going to hear, you need to amend or soil.  Amend my soil?  What does that mean and how do I do it?  Soil amending is any material added to your soil that will improve the physical properties, such as aeration, water retention and struture.  This can be done by adding compost, aged manure or peat moss.  Check out http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/Garden/07235.html for more detailed information on soil amendments. 

Sure we don’t get a lot of rain here but we just have to rethink how to grow and what to grow.  Granted you may not be able to grow some of  your favorite flowers or shrubs here.  But there are so many other plants you can grow here and they will survive.  One area to look at is our native plants.  Using native plants cuts down on your watering and constant care.  Look at incorporating these trees the Colorado Spruce, Ponderosa Pine, Big-tooth Maple and Pinion Pine into your landscape.  Also, Apache plume, Chockcherry, Rabbitbrush and Western Sand Cherry do great here.  Some flowers that do well are Butterfly Weed, Early Sunrise Coreopis, Yellow Ice Plant, Purple Coneflower and numerous more.

To combat soil erosion, low moisture and humidity we have here, the use of organic or inorganic mulch is essential.  Organic mulch can be hay,wood chips, grass clippings while inorganic mulches are rock mulch or gravel.  Each one has their advantages and disadvantages.  I prefer to use organic mulches because not only do they prevent soil erosion and help with water retention, they will break down over time and improve the soil.  Once again check out http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/garden/07214.html for more indepth information on the use of mulches.

Another word you will hear a lot here in Colorado is Xeriscaping.  Basically what that means is dry garden landscaping.  Xeriscaping takes into consideration the use of the proper plants, irrigation, and soil preparation so you can have a beautiful garden while conserving water.  Xeriscaping does not mean you can only grow cactus or you have to cut out your grass and put down nothing but rocks.  Establishing a plan on how you want your garden to look is vital.  Proper planning and incorporating efficient irrigation can save you 30 to 80 percent on water savings.

Keeping an eye on the loca weather forcasts is really important, especially in the early Spring.  Our last frost date is May 15th.  I know that may come as a shock to you but trust me I have lost plants to frost putting them out too early.  One way I do get a jump on the gardening season is by the use Wall-O-Waters, Row Covers and Cloches.  It one does a good job of protecting your tender vegetation if we get a sudden cold spell.

So as you can see you can grow beautiful shrubs, flowers trees and vegetables here, you just need to learn the proper techniques for this area.  Visit local gardens, your friends gardens and demonstrations gardens and see what is growing there.  This will provide you with a wealth of information on what will grow here.  One of my favorite gardens to visit is the Colorado Springs Utilites Xeriscape Garden on Mesa Road.  Check out their website at http://www.csu.org/wa/xeri/xeriscape.jsp.

Wind aftermath

It is a lovely day today here in Colorado Springs, but I thought I was Kansas yesterday with all the wind we had here.  We had wind gusts up to 60 mph which had everybody and everything outdoors holding on for dear life.  Today I got out of my nice cozy bed and went outside to check out the damage.  Luckily there was no real big damage just a lot of trash from everyone else yard.  I did have to finally get the leaf blower out, which I had been putting off, to collect all the leaves that was blown up against the fences. 

Walking around the yard I noticed other things I have been putting off also.  It is amazing how you tend to forget about chores in the garden when Old Man Winter arrives.  I was supposed to get a bale of straw to cover the garden beds, oh about two months ago.  Well the dog paw prints in the beds and the digging of our neighbor’s cats made it clear I have to get it done.  Not only will get stop the cats from digging but here in Colorado the lack of moisture, high winds and abundance of sunshine will dry out those beds before we know it.

I love Colorado in the wintertime.  I was raised in PA., and there in the winter time it so deary, cold and the snow stays around forever.  Here when it snows it only stays around for a few days.  Our abundance of sunshine makes quick work of the snow.  It may be 10 degrees outside but the sun is shining and you don’t have that cloud of gloom hanging over your head like back East.

Gardening Jobs for January

January is all about looking through your new seed catalogs and deciding what you are going to grow this year.  I always try and grow something new each year.  This past year it was Okra.  I know some of you are wondering what Okra is and what to do with it.  It is a flowering plant in the mallow family (like cotton or hibiscus).  It is a very popular vegetable in the southern part of the U.S.  You can fry okra or put it in soups or gumbo.  Since Okra loves the heat make sure you try a variety that is tolerant of our cooler summers like “North & South” from Burpee

  • Check you houseplants for pests and ensure you water regularly.
  • Clear any annual plants out of your beds you might have forgotten to reduce overwintering pests.
  • Don’t forget about winter watering when the temperatures get above 50 degrees.  Watering now will prevent root damage and give your plants a better chance of making it through the winter.  Check out Fact Sheet 7.211 at the CSU Extension website.
  • Check the mulch levels in your planting beds making sure you have 3-4 inches to protect your bulbs, perennials and shrubs.  Our winter winds have a habit of displacing our mulch from the places we intended.