Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Now use Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd episodes for Therapy

I've found the perfect window both in my schedule and nature's. Its a gentle time when the sun is not yet too intense. I transplant my winter-month-nurtured brassica and herbs. I transplant my cape marigold and mignonette.

I reset my daily schedule so that I can carry water to the garden as my plants require. Springtime moisture is spotty here. I invested.

The flea beetles come. The rabbits do not stop to take a breath between bites. Soon my plants have altogether disappeared or struggle for life. It matters not that I am at the gardens often, doing all I can to make my garden a bit less paradise for rabbits. The diatomaceous earth works in the absence of wind and rain only -- rare conditions in a high country clime.*

The brussel sprouts were their favorite followed by green cabbage.  The rabbits didn't bother dark burgundy lettuces.  My 'Destiny' broccoli was a distance second choice and they only begrudgingly used my purple cabbages as hors d 'oeuvres.

The University of Washington has a great site with the straight dope on rabbits. They were indeed deterred with aluminum foil placed up around plants. Over this, I placed half gallon milk cartons. And over that plastic mesh - temporary fencing type from  Lowe's. They were inclined to eat a hole in the plastic mesh to get to the cabbage.

I replant. Though I've lost transplants, I can try seed if there's time, but now I've lost precious days in a very short cool season.

As days warm enough for pepper and tomato transplants, I move these out into the open. At this juncture, good gardeners can begin to sense a 'letting go.' Some years are good for cabbage and some not, I've been told. I repeat this to myself quietly. This year will be a tomato year (if the cutworms don't get them all!).

Farmer was portrayed as a lowly role to me, growing up in a nation that sought to send its brightest into city jobs in technology. But now I know; they are the strongest, the most resilient, the ones most likely to outsmart nature's foes, the ones with perspective. I may get a T-shirt printed with farmer. Because now I know better.

*Yet, I do use it for the shortest length of time possible and in earnest. With the troubled, depleted soils where I grow its necessary as I build that soil health. I am considering administering silica to my plants even while young transplants here in my home next year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Broccoli bolting in the Heat!

Broccoli isn’t exactly at home in a high desert climate. In a state where the sunshine drew agriculturists, I haven’t heard of any broccoli being grown. Onions, yes. Peppers and sweet melons, and corn — yes, yes and yes. Yet, the gardeners who have gardened here for years, all told me - ‘’Grow broccoli. Its so easy.’’

Strangely enough, though I grew up with a large vegetable garden in the Midwest - large enough to cut our grocery bills significantly for the whole year -we didn’t grow broccoli. Too many pests.  Imported cabbage worm topped out that list.

Here, these pests have difficulty surviving the extreme dry and later bouts of brief deep cold in wintertime. (So if lack of pests is the full definition of 'easy'.....) But there is heat. Oh boy, is there heat! It’s just mid-June.  We’ve had temps for the last 2 weeks, which topped out over 100 degrees, which is drying out the ecosystem to the point that there are forest fires in the high country.  Such is quite the norm for these parts, though.

As I feared - my broccoli is about to bloom. But its only 6 inches high!

Sure, there are bolt-resistant varieties; I was growing ‘’Destiny.’’ I may try others, one day if there's truly nothing else to occupy my seed interests, including 'Green Magic' and 'Imperial.'

Yet four days of temps above 95 degrees and one’s efforts to prevent bolting, can all come to naught. In fact, submissions for U.S patents of heat-tolerant broccoli is generally unverifiable as broccoli is so weather and heat sensitive.

So, I will start new broccoli on my windowsill. Yep, that’s right. Because here in the high desert, if it can’t grow in the summertime, one plants it in late July for autumn growth. So, rather than look for a bolt-resistant variety, I’ll be growing a winter broccoli called ‘Purple Sprouting’ broccoli’ under 3 mm plastic as long as it will grow!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Xeric Perennials that will spread Everywhere --- even without watering

I am lucky to have a variety of xeriscape demonstration gardens around my metropolitan area. What a resource to see what combinations of truly durable plants are pretty together. Design is not my forte, you see. Vetting what is well-behaved and truly hardy, is, though. My extremely practical side.

So, the Extension Service's Xeriscape demo garden, which they do not water (except in the case of establishing a new specimen for demo), is a true gem! We've had a wet spring, so this year, is a good year to see which varieties are 'taking over.' I say this with generally good feelings about the plants.  These are ones I will try in my garden in zone 3, the toughest zone to grow in.

1) Chocolate Flower - no surprise here. Even the NM water authority cautions *against* watering, lest it really take over! Put them in the harshest spaces.
2) Tanager Ganzania - Its a great spreader at the front of the border. Its everywhere! I wonder how it spreads? Seed or otherwise?
3) Mongolian Bells Clematis - Taller with pretty foliage and only slight flowers.  An expected element in a xeriscape as the leaves are nicely broad - a nice contrast to other xeric specimens.
4) Smoky Hills Skullcap - I haven't been able to successfully overwinter this in my yard yet.  But, boy, when it fills in its lush and pretty!
5) Hopflower Oregano - I didn't really like this plant, until I saw it this last time in the demo garden. Soft textured, with only slight color, its has a great vibe I absolutely need to add to my garden.
6) Moon Carrot - A biennial, this must be seeding every where.  Its a unique space-age look. Its in my twilight xeric garden here in my yard. I love it. Not easy to find in greenhouses, one can get it early in the season at Annie's Annuals, before they run out!
7) Purple Winter Savory - I just planted this, this year. It seems a tough little bugger. We're going to find out!

Why is this valuable info? Well, if you're like me, you will be purchasing these plants at around $8/plant. If they can fill in a sparse, large xeriscape space, they are a truly great investment!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

DIY seed tape

I have wanted to get seed tape for a couple of seasons running now. I had decided, though, that given how many seeds I have already accumulated that it only made economic sense to buy tape with seeds, which I have tried multiple times to germinate, but with only negligible success.
For me, that's seed tape for carrots.  There are a few things which I have difficulty growing, for Lord-knows-what-decent reason. Peas and carrots. Yep.

In a seed starting class, I had this eureka moment, when all my frustrations around growing from seed were illuminated.  A seed, the teacher said, had inside it all the energy it needed to emerge from the seed coat, and find the light. After that, it could make its own ‘food’ via the sun’s energy. But only just enough energy to get there.

Year after year of sitting around on the shelf, OR, finding itself in a soil which is nearly too heavy to move out of its way, can mean the seed never escapes. Exhausted (or having lost vitality sitting on said shelf) - it never seeds the light of day. Literally.

Many gardeners I know, get around the issue of poor germination due to our heavy clay soils, by spreading fine compost or a bag of potting soil, atop the native soil and using that as a planting medium. That sure does help a seed to emerge, but it is in for a big surprise when it begins to send down roots into much heavier soils. The non-native applied, lighter topsoil, is also at risk for blowing away during our windy springtimes.

Yet, seed tape, seemed an affordable way, to anchor tiny little carrot seeds just underneath soil line. (Just kissed by the soil, as a friend and long-time gardener advised me.) Also, I could more easily ensure a uniform planting depth — also a challenge when your native soil only comes up in clods!

So, around the house, I rounded up:
1_A roll of budget TP (the kind like tissue paper. Extra-gentle Charmin will not be ideal.)
2_A few brushes, Q-tips, or anything that works like a brush
3_My seeds & a shallow dish or plate to hold the seeds
4_A tweezers
5_A mixture of flour, cornstarch, or gelatin and water. (Yep, any of the 3 works great.)
a Cut the TP in half lengthwise, and then fold each of the resulting halves, in half again. You have material for (2) seedtapes.
b The mixture should not be so thick, that when you apply it to the TP, your brush sticks to the TP. Rather, it should nearly drip from your brush. The cornstarch wants to settle to the bottom of the water all the time; no problem. Simply dig your brush down to the bottom of the bowl each time you apply the dots to your TP.
c I did 10 dots at a time, applied the seed with my fingers (tweezers are handy only when stray seeds end up in the wrong spots), then folded the TP over the seeds. I dotted the cornstarch mix atop the top layer of TP, too, just to be sure the little seeds were nicely anchored.
d I worked on a plush bathtowel, so that there was a bit airflow below the TP for drying. Allow several hours or overnight to dry.
e I wound the resulting tape around old plastic bottle or old paper towel cores, and then slipped them into a ziploc for transport to the garden.

I found that I could complete one foot of tape for each 10 minutes I invested. So, it was great for gray days indoors or keeping my hands busy during a movie. It can seem tedious when the weather is beckoning you outdoors or you have more pressing things to do. 

I am hooked, I have to admit. What I found to be a great bennie to doing this onself, is that I could do custom compositions — alternating colors of snapdragons 1-2-3, or alternating veggie seeds with a companion crops, such as cabbage and dill. FUN, fun, fun!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Waterwise gardening?

Who doesn't like standing around with a hose in hand, on a hot summer day?   Let the rug rats frolic in the spray, but make sure that isn't all spent on your garden! 

Whether you live in a drier climate or not, with *overwatering* in your garden, comes:
1 Lost investment
2 Compromised root health and possibly root rot
3 Loss of oxygen to roots

The fascinating bit in all of this, is that a plant literally works to create a little zone of humidity around itself, through the phenomenon called transpiration - or the plant releasing water through its leaves. Its a zone of protection for it.

What impacts transpiration? Wind, humidity in the air, temperature and radiation. (Radiation triggers the pores on the leaves to open.)

A crop will meet its fullest potential if its transpiration needs are met.

Slow down the evap!

Organic matter IN THE SOIL, distributes water and cools the soil. (Work for 5% of your soil existing as organic matter.)

But organic dressings ATOP the soil, also helps your soil retain moisture - as you likely know.

Compost!  Newspaper! 
Grass clippings from your yard!  
Un-sprayed Straw or Hay (true, finding unsprayed is increasingly difficult)
and Leaves (avoiding glossy leaves such as cottonwood and excessive needles)

If insects hiding under your mulches - and staging a coup on your plants - is an issue in your garden, consider turning under these amendments slightly, say — a couple of inches. Only the topmost soil will be vulnerable to elemental exposure where not in the shade of a plant.

When to water?
As you’ve heard before, but it bears repeating, a plant can absorb more moisture if given in the wee hours of the morning, when its still cool. Plants will benefit most from your water in vestment. Also, think of avoiding watering where there are not roots presently, or where you do not when to stretch *to.*

Water infrequently and water deeply to encourage that root stretch!

How do I know if I’ve watered sufficiently?  Drive a screwdriver down into the soil 8 inches. If there is moist soil clinging to the end of the tool, your soil has been watered about right.

How do I know if I am under watering? 
No tassel? No flowers? No fruit?  Get some water to those roots!

*my notes from lecture by Nancy O’Brien, Master Gardener Jefferson County

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Planting Cabbage in late April

I just visited an artisanal sausage 'kitchen and watering hole' which serves sausages, for which the meat is ground on site. The sausages...the burgers.... while excellent, were almost outdone by their made-from-scratch ketchup, stoneground mustard & horseradish, and the assortments of PICKLES. The cabbage pickles were amazing and remind me, that I don't want to miss out on this from my garden this year.

Its cool outside yet, so its a perfect time to transplant my hardened off cabbage. The spacing seems to be ideally in a little spot 15 inches by 32 inches. No, I will not plant it in any location where brassica has been grown in the last 3 years. Good crop rotation will keep the bugs guessing!

In our climate where hail can strike anytime, its a great idea, to have a few on hand, which are grown simply because they can mature quickly. As cabbage can be grown in autumn, as well, tolerating freezing temps and even doing fine under a 3 mm layer of plastic sheeting, even if I had hail in August or September, I may be able to mature 'Derby Day' by Thanksgiving, as it requires only 58 days to maturity!

Now, for ensuring that its lined with great companions such as onions, dill and mint to keep the bugs at bay, and providing a great high-nitrogen fertilizer (which is the first number in the fertilizer digits on the bag N-P-K) such as bloodmeal or chicken manure, and I'm good to go!  Kimchi, here I come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Tulips are out! Hardy, Durable Tulips

Its a big day! The first tulips appear in the western-facing border garden.

I am hard-pressed to be able to point to anything which the former homeowner did to the home, which was lasting in any way. Most of it was done quickly, without expertise, or done with the cheapest materials available.

The exception is the tulips. (And maybe two rose bushes.) I can count on these lil' buggers showing up every year. In fact, I planted native "rose" bulbs from High Country Gardens in this dry and warm spot, which largely lives on springtime snows, but only one of these has returned 3 years later.

Instead, her red and orange-red tulips remain. I will invest in more of these this autumn, as tulips are generally planted in autumn. (Though, let it be known, that any forced bulbs which I purchase from my local supermarket, I do plant in late springtime. They skip a season of blooming, but do produce blossoms the following spring.) But what are they likely to be?

Better Homes and Gardens says that 'species' types of tulips generally are the longest lived. What the heck is a species type? Here's some good reading: I also turn to the Bible of Tulip sites: -- fascinating site -- but rather academic - do I decide to return one day. For my immediate questions, to this site I turn:

It turns out that tulips have been bread as cut flowers for so long -- 20 years plus - that we've lost the original appearance of tulips and their longevity for quite a while. The 'cutters' want a single, large blossom on a stem. They aren't interested in a long-lived plant as they will replace the bulb at the end of the season (throwing out the old one).  So, those plants/bulbs which are the closest to their 'wild' ancestors, retain the longest life.  Note, these types of tulips are often called 'Botanical Tulips.'

He writes, "Among the botanical tulips that are easy to grow in home gardens are Tulipa kaufmanniana and its hybrids (‘Ancilla’, ‘Concerto’, ‘Johann Strauss’ and many others), T. greigii and it hybrids (‘Cape Cod’,’ Pinnochio’, ‘Toronto’ and many others), T. fosteriana and its hybrids (the ‘Emperor’ series is the most widely grown), T. tarda (now T. urumiensis), T. turkestanica and T. praestans. Note that most botanical tulips do not need deep planting to perennialize well: the standard recommendation of 6 inches (15 cm) is generally quite acceptable."

The author also notes, that some tulips come from very hot dry places, where no rain falls in summer (About a hundred species of botanical tulips grow wild across the mountains of Central Asia, particularly in an area spanning from Turkey to Afghanistan.)  He cautions that the reader may want to avoid these. For us in high, dry climes -- this list is a true bonus as this is exactly what we need! I can't wait to try them!
"...T. clusiana, T. bakeriT. humilis, and their hybrids, such as T. ‘Lilac Wonder’ and T ‘Eastern Star’..."

Finally, some tulips have green chlorophyll in their petals, which allows them to produce food for themselves not only though leaves and stem, but also through their petals. This gives them a bit of edge in the non-food producing season of survival, winter. Yes! I can justify indulging my craving for decadent, green-striped parot tulips, then - and see what happens!

Finally, note there are some groundcovers which are better than others, over bulb flowers in general. One of these is creeping phlox.  Planting your bulbs under groundcovers that don't rob them of what they need to live - maybe even holding warmth in the soil over bulbs in winter - will also help ensure they come back year after year!