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.

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.

Is it Springtime yet?

The last few weeks have us here in Colorado asking is it Springtime yet?  I have lived in Colorado since 1992 and I don’t remember a Spring that has been so chilly and windy for so long.  Even our dog seems to be wondering where is Spring?  Between keeping my ears alert for freeze warnings, trying to keep from being blown away and the never-ending snow.  I am frustrated waiting to get my plants in the ground.  If you are like me you are praying for warmer temperatures so you can do some planting without having to worry about nasty “Jack Frost” killing those freshly planted flowers or vegetables. Continue reading

Growing Swiss Chard as an Alternative to Spinach

Do you love fresh spinach from the garden, but it gets too hot too soon and it bolts?  Growing Swiss chard in your garden is a wonderful alternative.  Though it is a cool season crop, unlike spinach, Swiss chard withstands higher temperatures and water shortages.  It is very nutritious, vitamin rich and very easy to grow.  It is not only great in your vegetable garden, but it can be used as an ornamental plant.

You can eat Swiss chard just like spinach.  Either in a fresh salad or cooked.

Like all vegetables Swiss Chard loves full sun, though it can tolerate some shade.  Additionally it prefers well-drained soil with lots of organic material, it does not like acid soil.  It tolerates infrequent water better than spinach, but performs and tastes better with regular watering.

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Spring has finally arrived in Colorado!

The Spring snows are gone for now and with the moisture they left behind and the warmer temperatures the flowers in my garden have begun to bloom.  The first ones to emerge up through the bark mulch were of course  the crocus followed by the daffodils.  As the days get longer and temperatures get warmer the perennials are starting to poke their heads through the mulch after a long winter’s nap. Continue reading

Quote for the month of March

I found this quote while surfing the web and found it very appropriate for how the weather has been throughout the country. “March is  a month of considerable frustration-it is so near spring and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yard seems light years away.”

Thalassa Cruso

Springtime in the Rockies

I thought the calendar said Spring, but Old Man Winter has not released his grip on us here in Colorado Springs.  We received a good reminder last night when the snow started to fall and the wind began to howl.  When I awoke this morning I looked out to the backyard and behold a winter wonderland.  My scientific measuring on our patio table showed almost 7″ of snow had fallen overnight.

Anyone who has lived here through a winter and a spring knows that come March and April is when we get our heaviest amount of wet snow.  I thought we were going to make it through March without that coming true.  Boy was I ever wrong!  Here in Colorado we try not to complain too much about our erratic weather this time of year.  We know that the snow that falls now ends up in our reservoirs high in the mountains for our drinking water.  But could it not smash my crocus and daffodils one year? Continue reading