Category Archives: Garden Tips

Late Summer Produce and Planting in The Donation Garden — August 6

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Late Summer Produce and Planting in The Donation Garden — August 6

 

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In 2015, I helped start a donation garden at our family church in Littleton, CO and three summers later, the garden is still growing strong.   We donated over 400 pounds of organic vegetables in years one and two and hope to again this year.  The primary benefactor of the produce we grow is Sheridan Food Pantry.  Each Wednesday, we harvest, weigh and record the harvest before volunteers pick it up for delivery to the food pantry.

20664554_10212084087290872_4994398325057015282_nWith eight raised beds, several community plots and 30 X 30 square feet of plot space to plant, the garden is fairly large.  This year, my key partner in the project moved on to another area of ministry so I’ve been managing this project  practically on my own.  But despite her loss, I remain committed to the project and am excited for another banner year of harvests.   Stepping Stones, a center for adults with special needs has reached out to volunteer in the garden — and their help has been great.    My husband, boys and several friends have also chipped in to water and plant.  Next season, I hope to recruit more volunteers and increase the engagement of the church community as a whole.

20638649_10212084080730708_7954302197931968392_nAs with many gardens, some of the seeds planted did not come up and now that the spring crops have been harvested, there is abundant space for fall crops.   This week, I worked to prep the available space and devoted several hours to planting carrots, beets, cabbage, broccoli, beans, peas, and more.    The summer crops are producing well now and I’ve been harvesting summer squash, zucchini, squash, peppers, cucumbers, herbs and more.  Green tomatoes are growing on the vine, little green pumpkins are hiding beneath large leaves, miniature beans are appearing and the beets and carrots are almost ready to pick.

When the seeds come up weeks after planting in the smooth turned soil, it always seems miraculous to me.   Its always a joy when a thicket of green leafy vegetables emerges.   The hard work has paid off and our garden is thriving!

 

 

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Planning My Fall Garden

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Planning My Fall Garden

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After years of planting a vegetable garden, I finally learned that one can plant continuously throughout the season.   By mid-July, garlic, peas, and spring crops have been harvested leaving room in my garden.    Planting more seeds will keep the weeds at bay and provide more crops for an autumn harvest.   Cooler autumn days are a mere month away,  so its time to gather seeds and make a plan to get those crops in while the days are longer and the temps are warm.   This method of following a harvested crop with another is known as succession and/or seasonal planting.

The following is a list of some of the crops I’ve successfully planted in late July/early August:

  • Arugula, Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mesclun, Pak Choy, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Peas
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Crops planted in late July are taking off by late August — beans, cabbage, beets, kale.

 

There are more options including curly parsley, claytonia, turnips, mizuna, radish, endive, leeks and mache.   For a successful late fall harvest, you need to time your cold-season crops properly.   They should be planted when the weather is still warm — in late summer or early autumn — and while there is still more than 10 hours of sunlight per day.     Cold-season crops should be almost mature by the time the cold weather finally arrives in late autumn.   Protecting the vegetables with a season extender like a cold frame or hoop tunnel will enable them to hold on through the winter.

 

 

 

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Getting the cold frame ready for late summer planting of cold crops.

Here are some examples of fall crops planted from locally purchased seeds:

Scarlet Nantes Carrot

  • Days to germination:  12-18 days
  • Days to maturity:  65-75
  • Plant dates:   August 1-31
  • Harvest date:  October 10-November 15

Early Vienna White Kohlrabi

  • Days to germination:  6-12 days
  • Days to maturity:  58 days
  • Plant dates:  August 10-September 10
  • Harvest date:  October 15-November 15

Chinese Cabbage – Pak Choi

  • Days to germination:  5-7 days
  • Days to maturity:  50 days
  • Plant dates:  August 10-September 10
  • Harvest dates:  October 5-November 5

Red Acre Cabbage

  • Days to germination:  7-12 days
  • Days to maturity:  65 days
  • Plant dates:  August 1-5
  • Harvest dates:   October 6-15

Ruby Queen Beets

  • Days to germination:  10-14 days
  • Days to maturity:  55 days
  • Plant dates:   August 1-15
  • Harvest dates:  October 5-15

When its time to start,  I gather my supplies, clean up the planting area and add compost if needed.   I set aside a day in late July/early August to plant seeds.  If I have time, I’ll do a second planting a week or two later.   I make sure to map out my crops on paper and mark the rows well so I can see what’s coming up.

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My friend Jen helped me plant carrots, beets, lettuce, kohlrabi, cabbage and more.. August 4, 2017.

This last round of crops is awesome but can be a challenge to process with the avalanche of tomatoes, peppers and other warm season crops that pile up just after the first frost — late September to late October in Denver.   Make sure to set aside time for cooking and preserving in September and October.  I often invite friends over to preserve together to make it more fun.  The investment in time will be worth it.   The planting is easy and  you grow more than you can eat or preserve, share the surplus with friends or donate to the local food bank.

I challenge you to plant a fall garden and you’ll be happy with the results!

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The broccoli in the raised bed survived the frost and we harvested into November.

 

 

 

How Many Vegetables Do You Need to Plant to Feed Your Family?

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0fc367b7cf7b927cc4d111279738629e-600x0-c-defaultHomegrown Pantry:  A Gardener’s Guide to Selecting the Best Varieties & Planting the Perfect Amounts for What You Want to Eat Year-Round, Barbara Pleasant, (Storey Publishing), 2017.

Although I’ve gardened for years, I’ve never really sat down to figure out how much of each vegetable I need to grow to feed my family during the harvest season and how much I need to preserve for the winter.  My inexact method has always been to fill up the space in my garden with things I like, with plants that I buy and grow from seed and hope it all works out.    Sometimes, I have way too much and other times, not enough.

While on a family vacation last week and away from the constant work of my gardens during this busy time of year, I had the chance to visit to the local library and found some great books to read.  About gardening, of course!  The Homegrown Pantry peaked my interest because it spells out how many plants you need to grow of each variety to feed each individual in your household.   After looking quantities of plants on the list, I understand why many farm kids grew up with such huge gardens — half acre or larger!  While I will never have a garden as big at the days of yore, these guidelines are so helpful that I wanted to share them with everyone.   And put them in a place I can always reference.

How much to grow

Plant Per Person For preservation and storage Preparation
Asparagus 15 plants freeze, pickle, dry
Beans – Bush 15 row feet per person freeze, pickle, pressure can, dry
Beans – Pole 5 row feet per person
Beets 5 row feet per person 20 row feet per person Place in cold storage, pickle, ferment, can
Broccoli 3 plants per person for fresh eating 9 plants for freezing freeze
Brussel Sprouts 4 plants per person More for storage freeze
Cabbage 3-4 small heads per person for spring 5-10 per person for fall crop ferment, freeze, pickle, dry
Carrots 20 row feet per person refrigerate, place in cold storage, freeze, pickle
Corn 50 row feet per person freeze, can, dry
Cucumbers 8 plants pickle
Garlic 30-50 plants per person cool storage, dry, pickle
Kale and Collards 3 plants per person in Spring 9 plants per person in fall freeze, dry
Kohlradi 5 row feet per person in spring 5 row feet per person in fall freeze, dry, ferment
Onions 40 bulbs per person cool storage, dry, freeze
Parsnips 10 row feet per person cold storage, freeze
Peas – snap 15 row feet per person freeze, pickle
Peas – snow peas 10 row feet per person freeze, ferment
Peas – shell peas 20 row feet per person freeze, ferment
Peppers 5 sweet pepper, 2 hot per person freeze, dry, can, ferment
Potatoes 20 row feet per person cool storage, dry, can
Pumpkin 4-6 plants per person freeze or dry
Radishes up to 15 row feet refrigerate, ferment, pickle
Rhubarb 3 plants freeze, can, dry
Rutabaga 10 plants cold storage, freeze, ferment
Spinach 5 row feet per person in spring 10 row feet per person in fall freeze or ferment
Summer Squash 4 plants per person dry, freeze, can
Sweet Potato 12-14 plants per person cool storage, freeze, dry
Swiss Chard 4 plants per person in spring 4 plants per person in fall freeze
Tomatoes 6 plants per person freeze, can, dry
Turnips 12 medium turnips cold storage, freeze, pickle, ferment
Winter Squash 4-6 plants per household cool storage or freeze
Blueberries 5-6 plants freeze, can, dry, ferment
Grapes 3 plants per household dry, can, freeze, ferment into wine
Raspberries 6 plants to start freeze, can, ferment into wine
Strawberries 25 plants freeze, can, dry, ferment
Apples 3-4 dwarf, 2-3 standard dry, freeze, juice, can, ferment
Cherries 1 standard tree, 2 dwarf trees freeze, dry, can
Pears 1-2 trees dry, can, freeze
Plums, peaches, nectarines 2 trees freeze, can, dry, ferment

 

Vegetable/Fruit Per Person For preservation and storage Preparation
Asparagus 15 plants freeze, pickle, dry
Beans – Bush 15 row feet per person freeze, pickle, pressure can, dry
Beans – Pole 5 row feet per person
Beets 5 row feet per person 20 row feet per person Place in cold storage, pickle, ferment, can
Broccoli 3 plants per person for fresh eating 9 plants for freezing freeze
Brussel Sprouts 4 plants per person More for storage freeze
Cabbage 3-4 small heads per person for spring 5-10 per person for fall crop ferment, freeze, pickle, dry
Carrots 20 row feet per person refrigerate, place in cold storage, freeze, pickle
Corn 50 row feet per person freeze, can, dry
Cucumbers 8 plants pickle
Garlic 30-50 plants per person cool storage, dry, pickle
Kale and Collards 3 plants per person in Spring 9 plants per person in fall freeze, dry
Kohlradi 5 row feet per person in spring 5 row feet per person in fall freeze, dry, ferment
Onions 40 bulbs per person cool storage, dry, freeze
Parsnips 10 row feet per person cold storage, freeze
Peas – snap 15 row feet per person freeze, pickle
Peas – snow peas 10 row feet per person freeze, ferment
Peas – shell peas 20 row feet per person freeze, ferment
Peppers 5 sweet pepper, 2 hot per person freeze, dry, can, ferment
Potatoes 20 row feet per person cool storage, dry, can
Pumpkin 4-6 plants per person freeze or dry
Radishes up to 15 row feet refrigerate, ferment, pickle
Rhubarb 3 plants freeze, can, dry
Rutabaga 10 plants cold storage, freeze, ferment
Spinach 5 row feet per person in spring 10 row feet per person in fall freeze or ferment
Summer Squash 4 plants per person dry, freeze, can
Sweet Potato 12-14 plants per person cool storage, freeze, dry
Swiss Chard 4 plants per person in spring 4 plants per person in fall freeze
Tomatoes 6 plants per person freeze, can, dry
Turnips 12 medium turnips cold storage, freeze, pickle, ferment
Winter Squash 4-6 plants per household cool storage or freeze
Blueberries 5-6 plants freeze, can, dry, ferment
Grapes 3 plants per household dry, can, freeze, ferment into wine
Raspberries 6 plants to start freeze, can, ferment into wine
Strawberries 25 plants freeze, can, dry, ferment
Apples 3-4 dwarf, 2-3 standard dry, freeze, juice, can, ferment
Cherries 1 standard tree, 2 dwarf trees freeze, dry, can
Pears 1-2 trees dry, can, freeze
Plums, peaches, nectarines 2 trees freeze, can, dry, ferment

The Ice Saints of May

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IMG_9717I was not surprised when a Spring snowstorm blew through Colorado on May 18 and 19th.  This happens almost every Spring despite weeks of lovely sunny warm weather.   Because of this, I never ever plant any warm season crops until Memorial Day weekend.   On Wednesday night May 17, temperatures dropped below freezing and the next day snow fell heavily in the city and more in the mountains.   In the preceding weeks, the sun had been shining and we’d all been wearing shorts and digging in our gardens.   Many eager gardeners who’d  been seduced into filling their pots with Mother’s Day flowers and seeding their plots with warm season crops, had to scramble to protect everything from the impeding storm.

In the days before weather forecasts on radio and TV, gardeners of northern Europe would look to the feast days of the “ice saints” as a guide to planting their gardens.   I was alerted to this weather folklore by my German friend who is familiar with this historical planting guideline.   I did some research and from “Marlies Creative Universe”,

http://mcuniverse.com/2010/what-are-the-ice-saints/    I found this reference:

The “Ice Saints” Pankratius, Servatius and Bonifatius as well as the “Cold Sophie” are known for a cooling trend in the weather between 12th and 15th of May. For centuries this well-known rule had many gardeners align their plantings after it. Observations of weather patterns over many years have shown, however, that a drop in temperature occurs frequently only around May 20. Are the “Ice Saints” not in tune anymore? The mystery solution is found in the history of our calendar system: Pope Gregory VIII arranged a calendar reform in 1582, whereby the differences of the Julian calendar could be corrected to the sun year to a large extent. The day of the “Cold Sophie” (May 15) was the date in the old calendar and corresponds to today’s May 22. Therefore the effects of the “Ice Saints” is felt in the timespan of May 19-22. Sensitive transplants should only be put in the garden beds after this date.

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Being of Irish descent, I was not aware of this folklore but from personal experience, I know that planting warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pumpkins, corn, cucumber and many flowers is not safe until late May.   When the storm arrived this year, I knew the feast of the ice saints were here.   No matter what the weatherman says, no planting until after the feasts of the ice saints!

Seasonal, Succession and Companion Planting – Workshop at Ute Trails Garden, 5/7/17

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Seasonal, Succession and Companion Planting – Workshop at Ute Trails Garden, 5/7/17

13177550_1116499921748060_2580476015789243526_nSince becoming a master gardener in 2013, I frequently give workshops at local community gardens.   Today, I had the opportunity to give a workshop at Ute Trail Garden in Lakewood where several of my friends garden.   I am sharing the outline of my program for those who could not attend or would also like to learn about seasonal, companion and succession gardening.

The following are methods used by successful gardeners to maximize their harvest, minimize pests and promote healthy soil.

Companion Planting

  • Some plants grow well together, others do not
  • Some plants, especially herbs, act as repellents, confusing insects with their strong odors that mask the scent of the intended host plants.
  • Dill and basil planted among tomatoes protect the tomatoes from hornworms, and sage scattered about the cabbage patch reduces injury from cabbage moths.
  • Marigolds are as good as gold when grown with just about any garden plant, repelling beetles, nematodes, and even animal pests.
  • Carrots, dill, parsley, and parsnip attract garden heroes — praying mantises, ladybugs, and spiders — that dine on insect pests.
  • Much of companion planting is common sense: Lettuce, radishes, and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or winter squash will mature and be harvested long before these vines need more leg room.
  • Leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard grown in the shadow of corn
  • Sunflowers appreciate the dapple shade that corn casts and, since their roots occupy different levels in the soil, don’t compete for water and nutrients.

Seasonal Planting

  • Cold season vs. warm season crops
  • Last frost date – keep track – generally mid-to –late May in Colorado
  • Cold season crops can be planted before the last frost and some can overwinter under mulch examples: lettuce, kale, carrots, spinach, radishes, onions, sweet peas
  • Warm season crops are planted after the last frost and some need the soil to be warmer examples include pumpkins, squashes, many flowers, beans, basil, corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, melons

Succession Planting

  • Benefits of succession plantings: maximize space,  extend  harvest window, maintain a continuous supply
  • Make the most efficient use of space and timing to increase productivity
  • Two or more crops in sequence.After one crop is harvested, plant another in the same space.      Plant lettuce every 3 weeks; two crops of carrots
  • Interval succession planting.  Make repeated plantings of the same crop, planting the same variety at timed intervals.     Succession Planting Interval Charts.
  • Two or more crops concurrently.  Plant several different varieties, typically with different maturity dates    Sometimes referred to as “intercropping” and “companion planting.”
  • Same crop, different maturity dates. Plant several varieties, with different maturity dates — early, mid season, and late — at the same time. As they mature over the season, you harvest them one after the other.

Handout on Companion Planting:

01_Integrated_Pest_Management_and_Companion_Planting

4 X 4 Plot Planting Plan with Cold and Warm Season Crops:

4 X 4 Garden Plan

Vegetable Companion Planting Chart:

http://www.ufseeds.com/Vegetable-Companion-Planting-Chart.html

Pictures of Ute Garden:

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My friend Laura Stevens is one of the leaders at Ute Trail and gave me a tour of the community garden. Here she is in front of her plot. I love how she used thyme for her paths!

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Can I Show You My Jugs and My Rack?

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Can I Show You My Jugs and My Rack?

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Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds.   I am referring to the milk jugs and the new light rack I am using to grow seedlings for my garden.  When I found myself asking my garden pals this weekend if they wanted to see my jugs and my rack, I got a few laughs but I didn’t realize how totally funny it sounded until a male garden pal laughed and said, “Yes, I want to see your jugs and your rack!”   Oh, geez, this is a  slightly dirty spin on my garden projects — which are dirty to begin with!

The exciting news is that my experiment of using milk jugs as little greenhouses has sprouted success.   Thank you to hometown Wisconsin friend Maggie Strunk Leyes for inspiring me.   Here are two jugs with little sprouts inside:

I am also stoked about my new grow lights which arrived via Amazon last week and have been shining on my happy crop of tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.   The green glow of the lights has prompted some to ask if I’m growing marijuana plants.   But, although it is legal to grow 6 pot plants per adult in Colorado, I am not growing weed.

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Falling Head First Into The Garden — The Usual Early Season Psychosis

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April is a heady time of year for me.   Passionate discussions about all aspects of gardening (in-person, on the phone, via text message), frequent visits to local nurseries, intersecting projects and conversations, early morning inspirations and a parade of dirty shoes, gloves and digging clothes littering my floors are all signs that my brain and energy are focused on one subject – THE GARDEN.   Fortunately, the days are getting longer, I have time to work on a myriad of projects and garden geeks eager to talk and share surround me at every turn.

Making Lacto Bacillus Serum – organic fertilizerIMG_9452

  • Contacted John Swain, the horticulturalist for the Denver Golf Courses and designer/planter/co-manager of the donation garden at Harvard Gulch Golf Course and passionate home gardener.   A winter has come between our last fact filled gardener conversation so we had a lot to talk about.   As always, he is a fountain of enthusiasm and information and turned me on to two important sources as well as the benefit of using lacto bacillus serum in the garden (labs for short):
  • The Unconventional Farmer:   http://theunconventionalfarmer.com/
  • Build a Soil:  https://buildasoil.com/blogs/news/8634877-gil-carandang-lactobacillus-serum-recipe
  • Labs are a workhorse of beneficial bacteria (which is edible) and has multiple applications including — speeding decomposition in the compost pile, unclogging drains, treating powdery mildew on squash plants, eliminating odor in animal bedding and most importantly,  “Improves growth of plants when applied as foliar spray and soil drench. Improves their efficiency in uptaking nutrients so naturally, growth is enhanced. With the use of these microorganisms, the nutrients you spray or drench to feed your plants become more bio-available and easily absorbable by the plants. Technically, you can say that plants do not use organic nutrients directly. Microorganisms convert organic nutrients to their inorganic constituents which the plants utilize. Utilizing microbes, you will notice better plant growth and health.”   -The Unconvential Farmer.
  • Labs recipe:  I mixed myself up a batch and its still incubating.   Its easy to make and the recipe can be viewed on the link about from the Build a Soil website.   Basically, you wash rice and take the water and fill a Ball jar about 75% full and cover with a paper towel — make sure air can get in.   Store it on top of the refrigerator and after a few days, the liquid will separate.   Siphon off the center layer adding 1 part serum to 10 parts milk and put in another container, cover tightly and let sit for another few days.   Once curds appear, you can strain the liquid with a cheesecloth (the curds can be fried up and eaten).    You add 1 part serum to 20 parts water to spray in the garden.   Store in the frig or add molasses to store at room temperature.  Stable for about a year.

Garden Hacks

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  • Strawberries and asparagus grow happily together; plan to add strawberries to my new planted asparagus patch
  • Used my mole cages to sift compost into my cold frames
  • Sprinkle carrot and beet seeds together every few weeks to have a continuous crop
  • Marijuana growers have to dispose of growing mix are harvesting the plants; the vermiculate and soil less mix is great mixed into raised beds and helps lighten the soil
  • Dryer lint can be put in the compost pile
  • I used paint stirrers for marking seeds and plants.   Pick them up for free every time I stop at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Progress at Rosedale Garden – my 19th year in this community garden!IMG_9438

  • Planted purple and green asparagus in two 8 inch deep trenches this week; once sprouted will cover with 3 inches of dirt
  • Peas planted on March 15 finally sprouted, planted a third row on April 7
  • Prepped more beds and mapped out where everything is going
  • Seeded pumpkin bed with winter wheat; won’t be planting there for two months
  • Garlic planted in frozen soil in late December is up and growing; looks like its going to make it!
  • Susan has been making videos of me at the garden and I am learning how to edit them!

Opening up the St. Philip Donation Garden

  • Scheduled a work day for this Sunday to get started prepping the beds at St. Philip.
  • One volunteer came and we cleaned up two beds, added fresh compost and planted peas, onions and a variety of cold crops.   Watered and talked about plans.
  • Three plots are spoken for with another two gals potentially interested in volunteering in the donation beds.
  • This is our third year and I’m sorry that I’ve lost my partner of the first two years, Lerae Schnickel to another church ministry.   She was great to work with and its hard to move forward without her support.

Helping at a Jovial Gardens Neighborhood ProjectIMG_9480

  • Jovial Gardens is a really cool Denver-based organization that helps build gardens in neighborhoods.   One of their goals is to decrease food scarcity in the urban environment and  grow food for local food banks.  The group originally started in Edgewater, a suburb on Denver, and organized gardens in more than 40 yards in the neighborhood.   https://jovialconcepts.org/about-us/
  • My friend and master gardener, Teri Connelly is working with Jovial to install gardens in the yards of a number of her neighbors in Arvada.   Today, I had the chance to visit on a work day and saw work in progress in at least 6 yards.   The enthusiasm and excitement of the neighbors and volunteers was awesome.   Teri shared that in one front yard garden they harvested almost a 1000 pounds of organic produce last year.   I would love to start such a program in my neighborhood (Trailmark)  in Littleton.

Seedling Update on the Home Front

  • My experiment of seeding tomatoes and peppers for the first time has had mixed results.   All but one of the 12 varieties of tomatoes I planted has sprouted.   It took less than a week.   I learned that they need a heat mat and lights!IMG_9484.JPG
  • 8 of 11 peppers sprouted this week.   More time needed?
  • The tomatoes are very leggy but John Swain told me that they need grow lights and that its not too late for them to stabilize.
  • I only have one grow light so I’ve set it up for 14 hours alternatively above the trays of peppers, then the tomatoes.   Ordered a 4 foot rack with light from Amazon yesterday so hope it arrives this week.
  • Nothing has sprouted in the milk jugs I planted last week.  Time will tell

 

 

 

 

 

Heat Mats, Seeding Trays and Milk Jugs: Sowing Spring Crops

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Heat Mats, Seeding Trays and Milk Jugs: Sowing Spring Crops

IMG_9147In between the last of the winter snows and the increasingly balmy days of Spring, I am a frenzy of activity – enjoying the season’s last ski days, March break with my kids and preparing to garden.  By early March, I am staging my seed packets of cold crops for planting, cleaning up the winter debris blowing around my yard and making the season’s first trips up to my community garden in downtown Denver.   St. Patrick’s Day approaches as the optimal plant date for peas and I often find myself shoveling aside snow and chiseling away at frozen earth to bury the precious seeds on or near that date.   This year, Colorado had an unexpectedly warm and dry March so my garden partner and I were able to turn our beds and slide the pea seeds in with ease – a welcome surprise!

Seed Trays and Heat Mats

IMG_9376On the home front, I planned to start seeds after taking a few years off.   In the past, I grew a ton of seedlings but found that transplanting them brought mixed results.   Was it really worth it?, I asked myself.  Generally, I find that direct sowing works best for most of my crops – greens, broccoli, cucumbers, pumpkins, basil, flowers, squashes, gourds, beans, etc.   But since I still have to purchase hot weather plants like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, I thought about seeding them at home.   The only sticking points for me is the fact that these hot weather plants need special conditions to germinate; namely warm soil and more light.   Armed with a heat pad, a sunny window and packets of a dozen varieties of tomatoes and peppers, I decided to go for it.

So on March 24, I planted two trays of peppers and tomatoes; one with a heat mat and the17309369_10210917844015519_6103681504834658385_n other without.  Most of the varieties I planted need to be started 6-10 weeks before transplanting into the garden when the soil temperatures rise above 60 degrees at night. No matter that the average last frost date is generally considered to be May 15 in Denver, I don’t ever put in my tender crops before May 22 or Memorial Day weekend.    And even then, I’ll use Walls of Water just to make sure.  I can tell you stories about getting the plants all in on May 20 and an ice storm arriving that night.   Better safe than sorry.   By March 29, the tomatoes on the heat mat had sprouted but none of the peppers in the cold tray.    Was the soil not warm enough to germinate or do the peppers take longer?   Just to be safe, I found an inexpensive heat mat at Walmart ($24.99) and set it up.   As of today, March 31, no peppers have sprouted.   We’ll see what happens this week.

Milk Jugs Make Green Houses

After posting a photo of my seed trays on Facebook, my friend Maggie Leyes shared that she starts all her seeds in milk jugs and sets them outside.    She shared a link to a website with instructions which I promptly checked out:

http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/01/what-to-winter-sow-and-when/

I was surprised to find that even tender crops stay warm and toasty in the milk jugs (even when covered in snow) so I thought I’d give it a try.   Following directions, I cut the milk jugs almost in half leaving a 2 inch “hinge”, punched some drainage holes in the bottom, and added soil less potting mix.   I put two varieties of seeds in each “greenhouse”, taped the pieces back together, labeled the jugs, nestled them in a recycled lid and placed them outside in the rain and impending snow.  We’ll see what happens!IMG_9375

 

 

A Summer Competition: 2 Brothers, 2 Gardens

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IMG_2948[1]Another long summer has arrived and I am once again challenged with how to motivate my boys to lift their heads above their screens and venture outside.   Now 11 and 14, the boys often choose to stay at home rather than accompany me to the community and donation gardens I manage.  In the past, they had to come because they were too young to stay home alone but now that they don’t have to go, they usually don’t.   The good news is that they know how to garden and have learned to appreciate the taste of good home grown organic produce.

So putting all these elements together, I came up with an inspiration.   Why not challenge them each to plant a small 4 x 4 garden at home?   And reward them with prizes for competing in several categories?   Over the course of several weeks, I introduced the idea while building two awesome raised beds, filling them with fresh garden mix and tempting the boys with the thought of selecting the hottest peppers we could find and the possibility of beating  each other on several fronts -number of varieties, number of pounds, largest tomato/zucchini, most delicious dish, best looking garden, etc.    With relatively minimal effort, the boys succumbed to my suggestion and now, a full fledged garden competition is underway.

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Dylan (14) has just planted his garden with carrots, lettuce, and peppers.

When the conversation started, Dylan who had maintained his own little plot in my community garden between the ages of 5 and 12, was adamant that his younger brother would fail.   Not one to back down on a challenge, his younger brother took the bait and started to plan his little garden first.  Several weeks before, Tristan had elected some free peppers at an event we attended at the Denver Botanic Gardens.   And, eagerly flipped through a pile of seed packets I’d arranged on the kitchen table.   He considered the irrigation options — a soaker hose, olla’s (clay pot irrigation) or hand watering.   And worked on mapping out his plan.   So when I finally said, “Let’s plant your garden,” late on Memorial Day, he had thought through all the options and was ready.   He picked out several plants, 10 packets of seeds and flowers and after laying out the soaker hose and placing the trellises, had everything planted in 30 minutes.

At this writing, my experienced 14 year has laid out his soaker hose and selected his main plants but has yet to break ground.   I am hoping he’ll pull the trigger tomorrow — June 2.   With a little nudging, its happening and I can’t wait to see what else grows around here this summer!

Tristan’s Garden List

Pole beans, carrots, onions, radishes, lettuce, cucumber, broccoli, nasturtiums, pumpkin, three hot peppers.

Dylan’s Garden List

Carrots, onions, lettuce, and peppers.

How to Make Cold Brew Worm Tea

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Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of fertilizers for my garden, including Miracle Grow which I later found out was not organic and not allowed in my organic community garden. Fast forward several years, I’ve found worm tea to be the BEST organic fertilizer by far. This amazing fertilizer was first introduced to me by my garden neighbor, Marilynn Banks, who brews it at home and sells me gallon jugs of what she calls”soil soup” for $4 each.   Marilynn brews the tea with worm casings; the process of which causes all kinds of beneficial microorganisms to come alive.   Once brewed, the worm tea has to be applied within 24 hours to insure the maximum benefit.   In my garden, the results of using worm tea have been amazing – hearty growth, robust, healthy plants, abundant harvest.  I soon became dependent on regular applications of this organic “miracle grow”.

Several years later, I was lucky enough to pop into a local garden shop and score a worm cooker, casings and the special liquid ingredient for free!   My garden neighbor was none too happy to hear I’d gotten such a deal when she had hoped I’d buy the set up from her.  As a consolation, I still buy gallons of tea from her when I don’t have time to brew my own.   But this season, I have finally ran out of the special ingredients and am faced with putting some serious money on the table to replace it from the Soil Soup vendor.

Last Sunday, I tuned into a favorite PBS show, “Growing a Greener World” and was happy to see a demonstration on how cook up my own worm tea on the cheap.   Here is what you need:

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • aerator
  • 3 cups worm casings
  • dried molasses (or 2 -3 cups liquid)
  • square of cloth for tea bag
  • rope
  • 5 gallons of water (no chlorine — let is evaporate out a day); rainwater is good

Fill the bucket with water and let sit for a day to let chlorine evaporate.   Put 3 cups or so of worm casings in square of fabric (16 X 16) and tie with 2 ft of twine.   Add 1/2 cup or so of dried molasses to water.   Or a 2 cups of liquid molasses.   Dip “tea bag” in the bucket of water and secure to handle.   Add aerator and let tea “cook” for a day.    Once cooked, apply tea to garden within 24 hours.

Voila!   Worm Tea!