Category Archives: Garden Tips

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!

 

 

DUG Talk: Starting a Produce Donation Garden

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DUG Talk:  Starting a Produce Donation Garden

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Today, Teri Connelly and I had the honor of presenting at the 2016 Denver Urban Garden Leader Symposium.   We discussed the initiatives in our communities to grow extra produce for donation to local charities including Project Angel Heart, Jovial Gardens, the Edgewater Elementary School and the Secret Community Donation Garden for Arvada Food Bank.   You can read more about my work starting the St. Philip Community Donation last year in an article I wrote last summer.   Attached is the Power Point Presentation from our talk today.

Donation Talk to DUG Leadership 2 27 2016

It was especially exciting to have the opportunity to connect with other garden leaders about their projects and discuss how we might work together.   As always, it was wonderful to see our friends at Denver Urban Gardens and enjoy the news about their new logo, the addition of more gardens, more programming and plans for the future.   I feel incredibly fortunate to be a member of one of the oldest community gardens in Denver (Rosedale) and to have benefited from the wonderful opportunities offered by Denver Urban Gardens — most notably, the Master Community Gardener Program.

After nearly 20 years as a community gardener, I have learned much about gardening in our arid state of Colorado and can finally count on an ample harvest each summer.  I am committed to growing healthy organic food for my family and to sharing this wealth with others less fortunate.   I hope that you will consider sharing the extra produce in your garden with local food pantries and others who need access to good food.

 

 

4 X 4 ft. Garden Plan

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4 X 4 ft. Garden Plan

Gardening Basics

Power point presentation given on 2/21/16.   The outline is below.

Gardening for Beginners, St. Philip Community Garden   2/21/16

Things to Consider:

  • A Plan/Vision
  • Good Soil – fertile, well-drained soil
  • A sunny spot
  • Water
  • Good Tools
  • Commitment

Benefits to raised bed gardening:

  • Higher yields and less area to weed
  • Reduced soil compaction
  • Earlier planting – better runoff and drainage, warmer soil
  • Frost protection
  • Soil improvement
  • Architectural interest
  • Accessible gardening
  • 4 X 4 Ft. Plot can be built for less than $40

Colorado Climate:

  • Dry climate, need to water, mulch, shade
  • Clay soils, need amendment – compost, garden mix, organic matter
  • Frost dates – May 15, Sept. 20-Oct. 20
  • Cold Crops vs. Warm Season Crops
  • Pests – take a look at your plants, animals – rabbits, mice, dogs, deer; insects good ones and bad ones
  • Snow in the Spring, hot, dry summers

Winning Crops:

  • Cold Season Crops (plant before last frost March-mid-May) lettuces, spinach, onions, radishes, beets, peas, chard, kale, broccoli, scallions, cabbage, carrots, potatoes
  • Warm Season Crops (after last frost May 15-22) tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs like parsley, basil, etc., eggplant, cucumber, squashes, zucchini, summer squash, melons, pumpkins,

Benefits of Community Gardening

  • Learn from others
  • Fresh air and exercise
  • Improving the community
  • Individual garden plots
  • Leadership, social and volunteer opportunities
  • Youth education
  • Low cost and grocery savings
  • Fresh local produce
  • Reduce carbon footprint

To reserve a garden plot, please email atolenti@aol.com.   Plots available April 1.

Extending the Season with Hoop Houses

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The cold frame Dave made me.

The cold frame Dave made me.

Jack be littles are climbing over the green striped Romas.

Jack be littles are climbing over the green striped Romas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For several years, I’ve been thinking about how to extend the season for growing cold crops in my garden.   To this end, my husband built me a cold frame which in theory was a great idea and a good design.   But, when the time came to plant cold crops and tend to them, the snow piled between my warm kitchen door and the box discouraged me from hiking out to water the plants tucked beneath the protective 6 pane windows.   Alas, no cold crops.  Fortunately, I later discovered that with the windows removed, the cold frame made a great raised bed for my spring/summer/fall plants.

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4 ft. X 4 ft. hoop house. Hoops attached to outside.

Recently, I heard about the concept of a hoop house from a garden leader I met from Michigan.   She told me that her garden community had purchased a hoop bender tool from Johnny’s Seeds and with it, one could easily bend 1/2 electrical conduit to form hoops for 4 X 4 ft. beds (and other sizes).   When I researched further, I found the hoop bender was on sale for less than $50 and all of a sudden, I could imagine a whole host of uses for these hoops.    Why not make hoop houses to protect my plants from the rabbit and pest invasion — and the elements?!  I also found out that in the cooler season, 4 mil plastic sheeting is best for keeping the heat in while allowing light to penetrate.   In the warmer season, row cover is preferred and also available from Johnny’s Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com)

My garden partner and I placed our order and once the hoop bender arrived, we picked up 20 1/2 inch X 10 ft. electrical conduit pipes at Home Depot (less than $50) and set to work.   Our first goal was to make some for our community garden’s annual summer sale.   If we could use them, we surmised that other gardeners could too.   As expected, we sold out of our first 20 and started on another batch with more orders to fill.   At the sale, we also sold three 4 X 4 raised beds with two hoops each.   A big hit.

The hoop house with 4 mil plastic sheeting affixed with binder clips.

The hoop house with 4 mil plastic sheeting affixed with binder clips.

We are planning to make and share these with gardeners we know.   And will soon install many in community garden plots to get a head start on cold crops and to protect from the many pests — rabbits, bean beetles, Japanese beetles — hail and hot sun threatening to decimate our harvest.  I will report back how our garden crops fare in the late fall and early spring although I’m still not sure how I feel about trudging out into the yard to water plants when its cold and snowy.