Tag Archives: cold crops

Spring in My Gardens, 2018

Spring in My Gardens, 2018

Photos from March 30:  Lillian planting peas with her grandma, Terry.   Turning the soil in the raised beds.

Although its early May, I’ve already been working in my gardens for nearly two months.  Often the first trip to the community garden occurs on a warm day in late February or early March and snow may still be on the ground.  Many times, we’ve had to brush aside snow and chisel away at the soil to get our St. Patrick’s Day peas planted.  But not this year.   We had a rather mild winter in Colorado so the soil was uncharacteristically workable in early March.   My garden pals and I were thus at Rosedale digging early in the season and the peas went in like butter.

Photos:  Toasting St. Patrick’s Day with my mom’s Waterford goblets, picking up free compost and burlap bags at Allegro’s Coffee’s Earth Day Celebration, me posing in front of our robust garlic patch with Marilynn’s garden behind me.   She was my neighbor for 17 years and sadly died of lung cancer the day before this visit to our garden on March 16.

By March 16, we’d planted our first round of peas and spinach.   A few weeks later, we planted more peas with the help of Terry’s grand daughter Lillian as well as other cold crops including lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and more.   I was also surprised to find that many crops that typically don’t make it through the winter, survived — cilantro, rosemary, kale, chard, parsley.

Photos from March 16:  Ana,Terry and Susan getting ready to plant peas on a very windy March afternoon, our tomato cages all lined up where we plan to plant tomatoes in late May, the garlic patch growing between planks of wood for walking.

We’re off to a good start and busily prepping all the beds for the big warm season planting in just a few short weeks.  Although the weather can be deceptively nice in May, we still must restraint ourselves from planting our precious tomatoes, peppers and warm season crops until we’re safely past May 22.   Last year, we had about 6 inches of snow around May 20!

Photos from March 31:   Free tomato seeds earned as a volunteer at DUG free seed distribution, tomato seedlings planted on March 31, two trays of 12 6 packs of tomatoes and peppers growing under lights and on heat mats.

Timeline of Chores

  • March 9:  Map the garden
  • Order or shop for seeds
  • March 12: Volunteer at Denver Urban Garden Seeds Distribution — earn free seeds
  • Visit the plots and make plans for prepping the soil
  • March 16: Plant peas and spring crops
  • Fill milk jugs with water and pack in back of car
  • March 30:  Start seedlings — tomatoes and peppers in early April
  • April 7:  Attend Rosedale Community Garden Spring Meeting, pay fees and network with fellow gardeners
  • Turn soil, pull weeds, lay down burlap on paths
  • April 20:  Visit Allegro Coffee for Earth Day Celebration — pick up burlap bags and free compost
  • April 23:  Flower garden consultation at home with Shirley at http://www.mindful-gardener.com (More later!)
  • April 25:  Transplant seedlings to larger pots
  • April 26:  Scored 6-packs of broccoli and cabbage seedlings at King Soopers for $3.49/pack
  • May 1:  Plant spring bulbs, broccoli and cabbage; plant cover crop in the pumpkin patch
  • May 2: Plant broccoli and cabbage at St. Philip Donation Garden with Jennifer

Photos from April 25:  Susan working on repotting the tomato seedlings, tomato seedlings ready to transplant, individual seedlings in peat pots.

Photos on May 2:  Newly planted broccoli and cabbage with Jen Drews at St. Philip Donation Garden.



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

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:


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



4 X 4 ft. Garden Plan

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

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.


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.