Category Archives: Plants

Garden Envy

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Garden Envy

In my travels, I visit gardens of all shapes and sizes and take tons of photos.  Always excited to visit my friends’ gardens, attend garden tours and visit local botanical gardens,  I just love to pick up new ideas and think about how I might apply new designs or planting combinations in my own gardens.   I am often as envious as I am inspired.  Here is a collection of some of the gardening ideas I admire:

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Teri’s tomatoes were protected from early season hail under the hoops. They are so tall and healthy.

 

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Dale’s potted tomatoes and trellised vegetables. Its a marvel what he accomplishes in a side yard.

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My neighbors at Rosedale in 2014, Diane and Johanna Montague, had such a perfectly orderly spring garden. Beautiful!

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Christine’s garden was already chock full of produce in late May – garlic, kale, berries, onions, greens, herbs. I loved how she used every square inch and had seedlings growing in egg cartons ready for hot season crops. Easthampton, MA

 

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At Nate and Ashley’s 2013 wedding in New Richmond, WI, the reception was held at a local farm. The little garden next to the house was surrounded by flowers and very organic in it design.

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My friend Mary’s squashes were trellised on these cool wooden structures. Hartland, WI. July 2017

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Centennial Gardens, University of Wisconsin, Madison. I love the order of this planter although I am realistic enough to know that my plants won’t conform to such order.

 

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I love the idea of a garden right outside the front door. The log Adirondack chairs, prayer flags and hollyhocks in the background all create a lovely vignette. Steamboat Springs Garden Tour, 2013.

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Spring Garden with lots of space to grow up. Spinach in the foreground with tomatoes in wall of water. Ute Trails Garden, May 2017

 

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The Quest for the Perfect Tomato: The Maglia Rose

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The Quest for the Perfect Tomato:  The Maglia Rose

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Many passionate gardeners, including myself, propagate a variety of seedlings in early spring and after weeks or months of careful pampering and re-potting,  we often find ourselves with extra to share.  It was my good fortune that my garden pal Suzanne had extra tomato plants and offered me some  — four coffee cups containing three or more leggy 3 ft tall tomato plants which she called “Ana’s Tomatoes”.   When I asked her why, she said that they had come from a tomato I had given her last fall.   Of course, I remembered the exchange but also had forgotten the name of the tomato.

IMG_9750I recalled the box of sweet golf ball sized red and green streaked cherry tomatoes Katherine had brought to the seed exchange last fall.   I messaged her and Katherine reminded me that the tomatoes were called “Maglia Rose” after the mottled pink jersey worn by the lead racer in the Tour d’Italia.   Her husband had read about this variety in a newspaper article discussing research and rankings of heirloom tomatoes.   Ranked number one on the list, the Maglia Rose were considered easy to grow, prolific and resistant to disease.   Phil ordered seeds and has successfully grown the Magia Rose for several years.

“The Quest for the Perfect Tomato”, Washington Post, 9/15/17.

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Katherine and Phil’s crop of Maglia Rose tomatoes are very tall and hardy by late July.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/the-perfect-tomato-is-just-around-the-corner/2015/09/15/70909c22-57d4-11e5-b8c9-944725fcd3b9_story.html?

I transplanted the gifted tomato plants into earth boxes in my home garden and directly into the soil at my Rosedale Community Garden.   They were a little gangly so I propped them up with some red sumac branches from my winter pots.  So far, the plants are  thriving and full of little green tomatoes.   I see a large  harvest of Maglia Rose tomatoes in my future.

Description of the Maglia Rose:

  • Short, semi-determinate vines are good for pots and containers
  • Ready about 55 days after transplanting
  • The vines can be left to sprawl and do not need to be stakes.
  • Fruits prolifically
  • Pick tomatoes while they are light pink, which is the stage when peak flavor occurs

 

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

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

 

 

End of Season Report: Brothers’ Garden Competition, 2016

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End of Season Report:   Brothers’ Garden Competition, 2016
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Getting the raised bed ready for planting                                                              .

Its been ten months since Dylan (15) and Tristan (12) started their garden competition at the end of May 2016.   The original goal was a competition to grow the most produce.   As the summer progressed, the goal changed to a more simple one — take care of the garden and see what happens.  The gardens grew all summer (with a little watering help from me) and produced a bounty of produce.   Quite unexpectedly, the one who had not gardened much before shined and worked hard to plant a variety of items and tended carefully to his crops.   The other more experienced gardener who had planted his own plot for six years in my community garden was less than attentive and eventually lost interest in his garden.   Personally, I chalk up his disinterest to adolescence.   He going through some changes and one day, will be back to himself again.

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Tristan planted beet seeds in August.

When I left Colorado in late October for a month in Alaska, the gardens were still producing.   We were still harvesting beets, lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, peppers and more.  When I returned in December, the frost had frozen the plants in their tracks.   Each bed remained buried beneath snow and ice for months.   With the recent thaw and sunny spring days of March, I took the time to clean up Dylan’s abandoned 4 X 4 plot and was surprised to find several pounds of carrots growing beneath the soil.  Woohoo!!

 

Here are come pictures of the gardens throughout the summer:

June 4 2016   Just Planted

July 4, 2016   Seeds Sprouting

August 13  The Harvest is Coming In

September 4   More Harvest

As the new garden season begins, I plan to rally my boys to try again and maybe this time, get in some Spring cold crops.   We’re off to Spring Break in MOAB in a few days with many hours to talk and and plan. My fingers are crossed that when we return, they’ll turn some dirt and get started again!

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.

Crafting with Birdhouse Gourds

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Last year’s dried gourd next to the newly harvested one.

Inspired by our garden neighbor Marilynn who grows birdhouse gourds for Earthlinks, my garden partners and I started growing them several years ago.   We found that these gourds are easy to grow with prolific vines that produce close to a dozen study green fruits every September.   After harvesting the crop each autumn, we divide the haul and suspend them with twine to dry from a kitchen pot rack or the ends of curtain rods.   This drying process takes at least six months, sometimes more.   Fast forward several years and we’ve amassed quite a collection of hollow brown gourds.   So this year, we finally got a date on the calendar to turn these garden treasures into art.   We were especially fortunate that our newest partner on the garden team, Suzanne Buntrock, took the time to do some research about paint, design and construction before our long anticipated get together.

Susan, Suzanne and her daughter Clare and I gathered at the kitchen table with the pile of dried gourds and various paints, tempera and acrylic.   After my husband Dave graciously agreed to drill out the holes – a 1 inch round one in the side and a small one for drainage on the bottom, we proceeded to remove the seeds and dried membrane from the gourds and saved most of the seeds.    We wondered if these seeds would produce the same gourd next season or had they cross pollinated with another species — something to research this winter.

After laying down newspaper, setting up paints and brushes and checking design ideas on Pinterest, we embarked on our artistic adventure.   Suzanne and my son Dylan tried various tempera paints but found after it dried a bit that the paint starting flaking off.   Susan and I worked with acrylic paints and found that the paint seemed to stay on better.   We had read that the final step should be a layer of polyurethane to protect the gourd from the elements.   Unfortunately, even the addition of this layer did not prevent the tempera paint from flaking off.   In the end, we got the project rolling and although some of us still need to add detail to the solid first coat on our gourds, we made some pretty cool birdhouses.   Here are some highlights of our creative afternoon.

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