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Niko Kirby

Meet the 2023 DUG Corps!

By News

This season, four wonderful 2023 DUG Corps members are here to support DUG gardens and host Micro Network events. Please help us welcome Rayanna, Kourtnie, Christina, and Sarah – and look for them in a garden near you!

Meet Christina

My name is Christina Highsmith. I’m one of the four DUG Corps members this season and am loving every moment of it! It’s a dream of mine to be a part of such an incredible organization.
I’m a backyard gardener and houseplant mom. I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, and have since worn many hats in my professional life, mainly in the field of education, but also finance, dog training, and baking! It’s all about the journey!
My love for nature started when I was a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a kid with anxiety, I remember feeling grounded in the outdoors, whether it was cloud watching for hours, listening to waves at the beach, or getting muddy out in my own backyard.
I’m a huge believer in the therapeutic qualities of nature and hope to incorporate this into my professional life down the road!
When I’m not doing DUG Corps activities, you can find me wandering barefoot around the yard with my three burly rescue dogs, glass of wine in hand, and scheming my next big gardening idea.

Meet Sarah

Sarah came to Colorado, from the San Francisco Bay Area, to earn her bachelor’s degree in Organismal Biology and Ecology from Colorado College. She holds a deeply rooted interest in ecology and earth stewardship and has pursed this in a diversity of ways.

Sarah has studied flammulated owls in the ponderosa pine forests of Colorado and common nighthawks in the sand hill ecosystem of Florida. She has contributed to both longitudinal and short term demographic studies of threatened bird populations with a focus on the impacts of climate change.

Most recently, Sarah worked for Sprout City Farms, growing organic produce on an urban farm in Lakewood Colorado, where she focused, instead, on the ways in which our changing climate is impacting our food systems. She is excited to be member of the DUG team, working to build community around food and earth stewardship.

Meet Kourtnie

My name is kourtnie burse, I’m from New Orleans Louisiana. I enjoy the outdoors especially spring and summer. I love that everything seems to be rejuvenating and coming alive again, which I find to be beautiful.

My education background is in environmental science/Geography, from the University of Colorado.

I absolutely love animals of all kinds and currently have a small backyard flock of chickens . I love to farm, ride horses and grow crops of all kinds and enjoy times with my family and friends.


Meet Rayanna

Hello, my name is Rayanna Schutt. I grew up in Commerce City, Colorado, with lovely views of the Purina Dog food factory and the Suncore Refinery. As beautiful as the surrounding views were – something was missing.

As an early teen, my close friends and I set out on a journey to “re-wild” our blocks, introducing native pollinator plants, and learning about food deserts and the issues that creates in the inner cities.

It is a humble honor to be surrounded by so many like minded individuals, here at DUG – and to share our passions for food justice, Earth Care and heirloom tomatoes!

Basics of Vermicomposting

By Education

Composting is a natural way to take organic material like food scraps and garden materials and turn them into a natural soil amendment called compost.

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to turn these materials into a specific type of compost called castings, or worm poop.

Here are some basics of vermicomposting at home, which our Master Composters explain in depth at our vermicomposting classes the first Saturday of every month during spring, summer and fall.

Here are some basics of vermicomposting at home, which our Master Composters explain in depth at our vermicomposting classes the first Saturday of every month during spring, summer and fall. 

Follow these guidelines and watch this video to get you started in your journey with worm composting.

What is vermicompost
Vermicompost, or ‘worm castings’, is worm manure, the end result of worms eating food scraps and garden waste, digesting it and turning it into a soil-looking material with high levels of nutrients and beneficial fungus and bacteria that allow plants to easily access nutrients, making it a great soil amendment to improve the health and growth of your plants, indoors or outdoors. 

What kind of worms should you use?
The most commonly used worm for home vermicomposting is the Red Wiggler worm. This is different from an earthworm, which does not thrive in captivity.  

Hands holding vermicompost (worms and lettuces and dirt)

The Ideal Home for Red Wiggler Worms
Worms prefer a temperature range between 55-77 degrees fahrenheit (13-25 celsius) and a moist environment. You can build a home vermicomposting bin to suit these needs with simple materials:

  • A shallow wide tub – drill holes all around the container to allow air flow
  • A bottom liquid catcher – worm bins produce ‘worm leachate’ that settles at the bottom of the bin. You can dilute this and use it to water your plants. 
  • A lid – Keep the lid ajar to allow air flow

Bedding: the ideal bedding is made of ‘brown materials’ like newspaper (non-glossy), brown recycled paper, unbleached paper, dried leaves, cardboard, or egg cartons, wet like a wrung out sponge but not soaked that could drown the worms because they breathe through their skin.

What do they eat?
Red wiggler worms have a wide plant-based diet. No meat or dairy products, the only animal product they eat is eggshells. They also stay away from citrus fruits, garlic or onions, spicy peppers, all of which irritate their skin. They also eat unbleached paper, dried leaves, and the different materials used to make their bedding. 

You can feed your worms a pint of food scraps once every couple of weeks, making sure they have consumed their previous meal. Too much food scraps can bring unwanted smells and critters, for that same reason make sure to bury the food scraps under the bedding. 

How to Harvest the Castings
Stop feeding and watering the bin a week before you plan to harvest the castings, to allow it to dry out a bit to make it easy to separate the castings from other material and from the worms. 

  • Build a mount and allow light to hit the worms, they will scurry down to hide from the light making it easier to leave them behind.
  • Use a colander or similar tool to sift through the castings leaving behind large pieces of food scraps or bedding.

How to Use the Castings
Castings are nutrient-dense, heavy on nitrogen that can burn your plants if added in high amounts. It is a great fertilizer used in small quantities:

  • Top dressing: sprinkle a small amount of castings at the base of bushes or around vegetable plants and lightly work into the soil
  • Casting tea: in a 1:3 castings to water ratio, dilute the castings and let the mixture rest overnight. Apply directly to the root base of the plants.
  • Soil amendment: Add worm castings directly to the soil where you are planting, about 10% of the soil mass.  

Keep your fully-dried castings in a container in a cool-dry area, and use it throughout the growing season for outdoor plants. Apply to indoor plants every couple of months to boost their growth throughout the year.

Learn more about our composting classes here.

Climate Action One Seed at a Time

By News

Written by Linda Appel Lipsus

DUG is a Climate Organization 

…among other things.

Or is it?

This topic has come up a number of times for me over the past month in various discussions. While I firmly believe DUG is a climate organization, I was shocked to hear so many people say community gardens are not places where we can have climate impact. Why aren’t we making the connection?

Maybe the disconnect lies with size. Gardens are small and we have a cultural obsession with bigger is better. If what you are doing is not a billion of something with a million of something else in one fell swoop, it’s not meaningful. Maybe the disconnect lies with speed. Gardening and growing is inherently slow, intentional work and does not provide instant gratification and instant results, so it must not be working.

Or maybe the disconnect lies with scale. With gardening, you help a tiny seed grow or you sow a mere 10’ by 10’ plot of land while our climate problem is SO big and vast and overwhelming and incomprehensible that these small steps cannot possibly make a difference.

All of this, I believe, is a manifestation of learned helplessness. Making the health of the planet someone else’s problem to fix.

And I get it. It is all so overwhelming. And, in response, I stand firm that DUG’s (unstated) mission is to undo this learned helplessness vis-a-vis our planet.

 All change starts with one step by one person. Growing food and connecting to the soil is something humans were meant to do. We are of the earth. We are dependent on the earth. And the earth is dependent on us acting with care. If we don’t, we get evicted, and that process seems to be underway now.

Each and every one of us has a sacred bond to the land beneath our feet, and that bond can be maintained, nurtured and stewarded by so many simple steps. And, when lots of people take those steps, we do, in fact, create change. When you think of it in terms of billions of people vs. hundreds of corporations, the potential of our collective impact far outreaches that of Fortune 500 CSR goals.

To that end, this earth week I ask you to be curious. Read something. Do something. Talk to someone. Take a minute to set your intention on a new habit you can cultivate that will help heal our home.

Some gardening hacks:

Heal your Soil – As the earth’s “skin,” soil is one of our planet’s most important resources, and it is being ransacked by conventional farming and ranching practices.

You can help reverse this degradation in your own garden, raised beds and even container gardens. 

✔️ Use natural alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers which kill both the bad and the good bugs, of which there are many. Another option is integrated pest management.

✔️ Add compost to your soil at the beginning and end of each season. Compost is rich in microbial life which is what infuses your soil with everything it needs to grow healthy, nutrient-rich food. 

✔️ Plant fall cover crops to do the work in the cold winter months!

✔️ Opt not to clear your garden at the end of the season. Naked soil is vulnerable and rapidly loses moisture and nutrients. Leave the plants in or cut them down and spread the mulch over the winter.

✔️ Support organic, regenerative producers

✔️ Take action and write to your local lawmakers and offending businesses to stop poisoning our soil and our food system.

Increase Biodiversity – Plant different things every year in different places to serve varying functions and attract pollinators. 

✔️ Plant pollinators – Attract and support your friendly pollinators by adding plants and flowers that welcome bees, butterflies, etc.

Find the space, even in a food garden, because pollinators help the entire ecosystem. The Butterfly Pavilion is a tremendous resource. 

✔️ Crop rotation – Your soil has a memory and each plant gives and takes different things. By rotating what you plant where, you let your soil breathe and reset each season. 

✔️ Try not to monocrop – Just as we hear about conventional agriculture monocropping corn, soybeans, etc. you can fall into the monocropping trap, too.

You might really love a certain variety of tomato or pepper and only want to grow that one. This approach might serve you for a season, but not multiple. Mix it up.

✔️ Plant in guilds / practice companion planting – Certain plants benefit from being planted near each other. They provide support and resiliency. Most have heard of the “Three Sisters” – corn + beans + squash – example.

These life-giving crops each serve distinct and complementary purposes to each other that result in a thriving trifecta.

Go ahead and get rid of your lawn – There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to go lawn-free. As to the “how,” Resource Central can help you figure this out, and Boundless Landscapes has shared some ideas too. 

Compost – You can compost almost anywhere you live using a variety of methods. Composting not only captures food waste to create a rich and productive soil amendment, it keeps organic matter out of the landfill where it emits high levels of methane. Composting means you’re both creating a net positive and reducing a net negative. 

And, as always, if you are looking for a 101 on regenerative practices, please watch the film, Kiss the Ground. Grab some popcorn and invite your friends!

Happy Earth Day. Let’s start reclaiming hope today.

How to Resurface Garden Pathways

By GL Resources

Pathways make walking or rolling through the garden a much easier experience. Here is the process for getting your garden pathways resurfaced.

DUG works with Ewing Landscape for landscaping material, including crusher fines, which they call breeze. Garden Leaders may order on behalf of their garden, giving their name and garden name to ensure Ewing provides DUG staff with an accurate invoice to confirm and make payment.
– There is a 2 ton minimum order for deliveries and a 15 ton maximum.
– Call in at least a week before you need the materials, especially as the busy season gets going.
– Provide address, date, and time for delivery.
– They do not use the term “crusher fines”, so order “breeze” granite color as it’s the standard in DUG gardens.

DUG works with Ewing Landscape (303) 794-5960;

Stone is measured by tons; Ewing will convert our measure of cubic yards into appropriate measure for tons when ordering breeze, just be sure to communicate this need. Garden Leaders may order on behalf of their garden when they inform Ewing that they are with a DUG garden.

  • Garden Leaders must give their name and garden name, for Ewing to send an accurate invoice to DUG staff to confirm and make payment.
  • There is a 2 ton minimum order for deliveries and a 15 ton maximum. There is a mulch truck available to deliver up to 25 yards. Inquire about smaller delivery trucks for gardens with limited space for drop-offs.
Project Materials to order (quantity and measurement)
New Garden ​​Multiply the length (L) in feet, by the width (W) in feet, by the height (H) (3 inches) in feet, and divide by 27.
Resurfacing pathways ​​Multiply the length (L) in feet, by the width (W) in feet, by the height (H) (2 inches) in feet, and divide by 27. 2 inches in height

How to Edge a Garden Plot with Wood

By GL Resources

Edging your garden plots or building raised beds allows for more defined growing spaces within the community garden, and in any place where multiple plantings coexist.

At DUG we partner with Specialty Wood Products to supply the lumber needed to edge or fix garden plot borders, or to build raise beds.

Garden leaders should contact the company representative with the specific wood needs and measurements with ample time to place an order before a scheduled work day. Please provide the garden name to ensure the charges are tied to the garden. Billing is handled through DUG and will be deducted from the garden’s funds.

Here is a great video on how to edge your garden plot.


For BII gardens: Thanks to partnerships and grants, DUG is able to cover the cost of restoring or rebuilding garden plots, upon confirmation with Garden Ops team. Make sure to contact them to get your project underway.

Specialty Wood Products
(303) 288-8484;

Planks Typical use
2″x4″x8″ Pergola top
2″x6″x”12′ Plot borders
2″x10″x8′ Pergola top
4″x6″x8′ Raised beds
6″x6″x8′ Pergola posts


Gardeners Can Save Water and Grow a Bountiful Garden, Too

By Education

If you have been paying attention to the news, you’ve seen a lot of coverage on the Colorado River Basin and its dwindling water supplies the “bathtub” rings of Lake Mead; the controversy of which states can reduce their water usage and when.

Walking through our verdant community and home gardens, it may seem like water scarcity is someone else’s problem. But climate change, a growing population and annual weather events (or the lack of them) are squeezing nearly everyone’s water supplies. Even our largest and most stable local water providers in Colorado are prioritizing water conservation policies and programs. Aurora Water, which serves the city’s population of more than 386,000 and provides some water to surrounding communities, is experiencing concerningly low reservoir levels and has declared Drought Stage 1 with watering restrictions going into effect on May 1.

While conserving water during a drought is critical, we all need to do our part to conserve water every year. The more of a buffer we can create between our water demand and our total supply, the more resiliency we have to handle the unexpected. 

There is a lot of water to be saved outdoors, even in our vegetable gardens. With the right tools and methods, your veggie patch will use less water than a traditional Kentucky bluegrass lawn.

What are these amazing conservation tools and methods?

  1. Healthy soil
  2. Mulch 
  3. Watering low and slow
  4. Choosing water-wise plants
A person with gloved hands is scooping dirt out of a tipped wheelbarrow

Healthy Soil
Soil that is healthy for growing vegetables and saving water is soil that is rich in organic material, airy and contains moisture. The natural soils of the Denver metro area are generally lean and either very clayey or very sandy, which is not a healthy environment for veggies. Amending your soil is therefore necessary every year. We recommend organic amendments, meaning materials derived from living matter.

Organic amendments such as compost (purchased or homemade), worm castings, composted manure and coco coir will not only add nutrients, but will increase the water holding capacity of sandy soils and improve the tilth of clay soils. Those elements help water slowly move through the ground and reach your plant’s roots.

In the spring, cover your entire garden with two to three inches of your chosen amendment (or a mix) and till it in. After harvest in the fall, you can cover your beds with a layer of leaves. The base of the layer will decompose over the winter, and then you can till it all in with an additional amendment the following spring.

Mulch is Magic
Organic mulch makes the magic happen. It benefits your vegetables in so many ways:

  1. Retains moisture in the soil
  2. Prevents erosion
  3. Cools the surface of the soil
  4. Inhibits the growth of weeds
  5. Reduces compaction as you weed or harvest
  6. Prevents soil surface crusting so that water doesn’t run off
  7. Keeps plants clean
  8. Creates a tidy look

Select an organic mulch that will decompose quickly, such as straw, grass clippings, dried leaves, non-glossy newspaper or a combination of those. Start off with a layer three inches thick and replenish throughout the season as needed.

Watering Efficiently
There is a lot to know about applying water efficiently in the vegetable garden. Vegetable gardens in our region generally require about one inch of water per week, but the efficient gardener pays attention to the weather and adjusts accordingly. Your plants’ watering needs will change as they mature. For seeds and small seedlings, water shallowly and keep soil evenly moist which may mean watering daily if temperatures warrant it. When seedlings are at least four inches tall and have several mature leaves, you can reduce watering to about every other day to encourage deep root growth. 

Don’t use your eyes to check if your plants need water—use your fingers. Seeing some wilting during a hot day is okay. To know if your plants really need water, check the moisture level two inches below the soil surface with your fingers. If the soil is obviously moist, dark and cool, no need to water.

Avoid overhead watering. It’s tempting to rely on your pop-up sprinklers, but that can trap humidity that encourages the growth of powdery mildew and other diseases.  

The most efficient type of irrigation for a garden is in-line drip. You can add a drip zone for your vegetable garden onto your current sprinkler system (it must have its own zone). Update your controller settings each month, as your veggies need a lot less water in April than in July.

Alternatively, you can connect a regular hose to drip tubing or soaker hoses on top of your mulched bed and run it. You can then run your hose manually. Do not bury these hoses because of concerns that soil may get into your water line. We don’t recommend hose bib timers, as they can break and waste hundreds of gallons or worse.

Hand watering works best for small areas or containers. Always use a nozzle on your hose to slow down the volume and flow rate and water as close to the ground as possible. Do your hand watering in the coolest and least windy parts of the day. In the summer, that means before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

Go Water-wise
Many of us love to plant vibrant annuals like marigolds near our vegetable gardens to attract those awesome pollinators! Generally, annuals require more water than water-wise or native perennial flowers. So switch it up by planting a water-wise and/or native perennial border to accomplish the same purpose. After the perennials are established, they’ll need little to no water. Make sure to mulch them with a three-inch layer of mulch like bark or wood chips. They’ll use less water while providing habitat for the bees and other insects that pollinate our vegetable plants.

This article was written by Diana Denwood, Senior Water Conservation Specialist for Aurora Water

For more information on Aurora Water Conservation Plan click here

Guide to Container Gardening

By Education, Grow a Garden, Spring

Container gardening refers to the gardening practice of cultivating plants in pots, tubs, or other containers instead of directly in the ground or in raised beds. Container gardening allows for food, flower, and herb production in locations where traditional gardens are not possible or accessible, including patios, balconies, decks, and sites with poor soil quality. They are a great option for renters, individuals with limited mobility, gardeners seeking to extend the growing season, and beginner gardeners looking to start their gardening practice gradually.

The portability of containers allows gardeners to choose micro-climates for each plant based on their preferred temperature and level of sunlight. Please refer to the instructions on the back of your seed packets for more information about the preferred micro-climate of your plant varieties. 

Keep in mind that containers are more susceptible to high temperatures and moisture loss than traditional gardening arrangements. You can mitigate damage to your plants by watering the base of the plant only, checking water level daily, covering the soil with mulch, and, if necessary, using shade cloth to lessen the sunlight’s intensity. 

When growing plants in containers, pay special attention to the type of soil that you use. Soil from garden beds or your yard is generally too dense for container gardening. Instead try a lightweight potting mix.

Most garden centers will carry general purpose potting mixes or mixes specifically designed for container gardening. Or create your own soil substitute for container gardening by mixing 3 parts organic compost, 3 parts peat moss or coconut coir, and 1 part vermiculite.

Plants grown in containers often need additional nutrients since potting mixes don’t provide the same nutritional profile as garden soil. Use an organic based fertilizer several times during the season.

Remember to always add mulch (such as straw, not wood chips) on top of your soil in containers to reduce moisture loss from intense Colorado sunlight.

Tips for choosing containers 

  • Use containers at least 8” in depth for all plant varieties other than herbs and lettuces, and much larger containers will be required for many plant varieties. 
  • In general, the larger the container, the better. More soil and space will allow plants to thrive and generate larger harvests. 
  • Always use containers with drainage holes on the bottom or drill drainage holes into containers that do not already have them. 
  • You can increase harvest yield for some plant varieties (such as potatoes) with specialized planters adapted to the unique features of certain plants.

Tips for selecting plant varieties

  • Always select plants based on the amount of light available in your space. Refer to the back of seed packets for this information. 
  • Consider planting more than one plant variety together in a container. Companion gardening is most effective when you choose plants that have physical characteristics that aid each other’s growth. Common companion plants for container gardening include: 
    • Beans, Carrots, and Squash
    • Eggplant and Beans
    • Tomatoes, Basil, and Onions
    • Lettuce and Herbs
  • Companion plants should have a diversity of root depths to limit competition for water. 
    • Common shallow root plant varieties include: chives, lettuce, radishes, salad greens, basil, cilantro, beans, garlic, kohlrabi, onions, peas, mint, and thyme.
    • Common deep root plant varieties include carrots, chard, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, leeks, peppers, spinach, parsley, rosemary, beets, broccoli, okra, potatoes, and summer squash. 
    • Most, but not all, plant varieties are adaptable to growing in containers. Common varieties that are generally not adaptable to container gardening include deep-root plants such as corn or sprawling plants with extra large yields like pumpkins and melons. 
      • Varieties with ‘Patio’ or ‘Dwarf’ in the title are container friendly.

Container gardening can be very resource intensive. You’ll need to acquire large containers and enough soil to fill them. 

Tips for making container gardening cost effective

  • Consider recycling existing containers such as buckets or tubs into plant containers. Make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect recycled containers using chlorine free bleach before planting.
  • Buy your soil and soil amendments in bulk rather than in bags.
  • Order a seed, seedling, and educational resource kit through DUG’s pay-what-you-can with a free option annual program called Grow a Garden
  • Get your seeds for free from DUG every spring in our office (1031 33rd St. St #100, Denver, CO 80205)!



  • CSU Extension “Colorado Gardening: Challenge to Newcomers” Guide 
  • Dustin Wright of Living Earth Designs

Effective Water Conservation Techniques

By All Seasons, Education, Grow a Garden

Gardening in Colorado mandates the conscious use of effective water conservation techniques. We believe community gardens should be models of efficient water use, especially in seasons of drought. Additionally, use of water conservation techniques has several other benefits including reduced water costs and weed proliferation.

If you apply the following techniques, plants will respond by growing quickly and producing an abundant harvest. We have also outlined a set of water restrictions required of all community gardeners in response to the on-going drought. Regardless of the duration of the drought, however, DUG advocates gardeners adopt and incorporate these techniques as a way of life.

Water Plants in the Cool of the Day, Especially During the Evening
Watering first thing in the morning or an hour or so before sunset, allows plant roots to utilize moisture more efficiently. Late-day watering allows the water to percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the sun and wind magnify the effects of evaporation and transpiration from soil and foliage.

Mid-day watering is a poor use of gardening time and an extremely inefficient way of watering into thirsty soils. Since plants do a significant amount growing at night, it makes sense to provide moisture prior to this critical period. 

Water the Roots and Soil, Not the Leaves
Although some plants, such as the broccoli family and lettuces, do not mind overhead watering and moist leaves, most vegetables prefer watering at soil level. Tomatoes, peas and members of the squash and melon families can suffer from disease problems that proliferate on wet foliage. 

Cultivate the Soil Before Watering
Hoe the soil around plants at least once a week. This serves a dual purpose—cutting off germinating weeds that compete for moisture and opening up our heavy clay soil so that water can more easily penetrate to deeper levels. Watering should be done after cultivation, while the soil is loose and airy.

Compost Throughout the Season
Compost should be applied at the beginning of the gardening season, digging two inches of compost into the top 4 – 6 inches of soil, as well as several other times during the summer and fall.

Spread a shovel-full of compost around vegetables, flowers and herbs, lightly cultivating the soil to incorporate the organic material. Since compost has the ability to hold up to 100% of its weight in water, this allows soils to hold and release moisture and organic nutrients slowly. Having compost-enriched soils is one of the best water conservation techniques available to gardeners.

Space Plants so that their Mature Leaves Shade the Soil Surface
Soil that is in shade, even in conditions of drought, is more capable of retaining moisture and reducing evaporation. The mini-climate that is produced by plants that are spaced so that mature leaves almost touch provides shading and cooling effects on the soil surface below. You can extend the growing season of cool season plants, such as lettuce, by growing them in the shade of taller plants such as pole beans. Their leaves provide a “living mulch” to help cool the roots of surrounding plants and to retain moisture.

Mulch Any Uncovered Soil Areas
Mulch conserves water, moderates soil temperature, helps to prevent erosion and slowly enriches the soil with humus as it decays. Pesticide-free grass clippings that have dried out for a few days, clean straw or fall leaves are all excellent sources of mulch. Exposed soil areas that are not being used for growing quickly become weedy and unsightly and are spaces where wasteful evaporation occurs. Mulch warm season crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, after the soil warms. Mulch cool season crops, such as lettuce, peas and broccoli several weeks after they have been transplanted or after they have been growing for about a month after germination.

Check the Soil for Needed Moisture
Most vegetables need about an inch of water per week for adequate growth. Poke a stick or your finger an inch to two inches below the soil surface to see if water is needed. Soils that are exposed to the sun (with no mulch), and are deficient in organic matter, will be significantly less efficient at retaining moisture and nutrient supplies than those that are shaded and compost enriched.

Wilting Leaves Do Not Always Signal a Call for Water
Plants with large leaves, such as those in the pumpkin/squash family, normally droop during the heat of the day. Plants are just minimizing the water loss (due to transpiration) and watering them at this time will increase water loss rather than lessen it. It also weakens the plants by promoting shallow rooting structure. 

Utilize Efficient Watering Tools
Using a hand-held watering wand with a shutoff nozzle allows you to water underneath leaves and close to the soil surface. This also breaks the force of the spray and lessens effects of soil compaction and erosion. Water with a low volume spray, as this lets water percolate deeply into the soil. Clay soils absorb water slowly. Watering for a short period of time, allowing the water to infiltrate the top layer and then re-moistening the area is a more efficient watering technique rather than short, intense watering. As an option to hand watering we suggest the use of black soaker hose snaked through your garden at the base of your plants.

Harvest Frequently
Harvest crops while plants are actively producing and healthy. Overgrown, insect and/or disease- laden plants should be removed and the area replanted to another type of plant or seeded with a cover crop. When the plant is taking more out of the soil than it returns, it is time to concentrate on soil improvement.

When to Harvest? Follow These Guidelines to Get the Best from your Garden

By All Seasons, Education, Grow a Garden

Part of having a garden is enjoying vegetables, fruits, and herbs at their peak. Follow these guidelines to get the best of your garden.

Asparagus: Begin harvesting when spears are 6-8 inches tall and about as thick as your small finger. Snap them off at ground level and new spears will continue to grow. Stop harvesting about 4-6 weeks after the initial harvest, to allow the plants to produce foliage and food for themselves.

Beans, Green: Pick before you can see the seeds bulging. They should snap easily into two. Check daily. It doesn’t take long for beans to go from tender to tough. 

Beets: Harvest and eat the greens that you thin out of the rows. It’s a matter of personal preference when it comes to the right size for harvesting. They are ready any time after you see the beets shoulders protruding at the soil line. 

Broccoli: We eat the unopened flower buds of broccoli, so check frequently, especially as the weather warms up, to ensure you don’t let the flower heads bloom. Don’t expect your home grown broccoli to get to the size of supermarket heads. Harvest when the buds are about the size of a match head. Use a knife to cut below the main crown to harvest. Once the central crown is harvested, smaller broccoli spears will grow as side shoots.

Brussels Sprouts: The sprouts will mature from the bottom up. You can begin harvesting once the sprouts are at least an inch in diameter. Harvest by twisting off or cutting the sprout from the stem. 

Cabbage: The cabbage head will feel solid when gently squeezed. Cabbage needs to be harvested when it reaches maturity or it will continue to grow and split open. Use a knife to cut at the base of the head. Large cabbage leaves that surround the head can also be harvested and used like cabbage. 

Carrots: Carrots can be hard to judge. The tops of the carrot will show at the soil line and you can gauge when the diameter looks right for your variety. If the diameter looks good, chances are the length is fine too. Pull one to be certain. Carrots can be left in the ground once mature. A light frost is said to improve and sweeten the carrot’s flavor. 

Cauliflower: Like broccoli, your homegrown cauliflower heads will probably not match supermarket size. Harvest when the head looks full and while the curds of the head are still smooth. Cut at the base of the crown with a knife.

Corn: About 3 weeks after silks form, they will dry and brown. Kernels should exude a milky substance when pricked. 

Cucumber: Check daily and harvest young. Timing and length will vary with variety. The fruits should be firm and smooth. Over ripe cucumbers can be very bitter or pithy, even before they start to turn yellow.

Eggplant: Slightly immature fruits taste best and should be firm and shiny. Cut the fruit from the plant. 

Garlic: Cut scapes off as soon as they mature, this encourages bulb formation. Garlic tops will fall over and begin to brown when the bulbs are ready. Dig, don’t pull, and allow to dry before storing. Brush off the dirt instead of washing.

Kale: Kale leaves can be harvested throughout the season. They should be a deep green with a firm, sturdy texture. Kale flavor is best in cooler weather. Harvest the largest outer leaves on a plant by simply grabbing a hold of the stem and pulling down. 

Kohlrabi: For the best texture, harvest once the kohlrabi bulb has reached about 2-3 inches in diameter. The bulbs become tougher as they grow and age. Pull or slice at the base. 

Leeks: Harvest leeks when they are about 1 inch in diameter. 

Lettuce, Head: Harvest once the head feels full and firm with a gentle squeeze. Hot weather will cause it to bolt or go to seed rather than filling out. Pull the entire head out. 

Lettuce, Leaf: Harvest the outer leaves once the plant has reached about 4 inches in height. Allow the younger, inner leaves to grow. Leaf lettuce can be harvested in this fashion for most of the summer.

Melons: There are many varieties of melons, but a general rule of thumb is that the color should change to beige and the fruit will slip from the vine when lifted. You should also be able to notice a sweet smell when ripe. 

Onions: Onions can be dug once the tops have ripened and fallen over. Brush the dirt off rather than rinsing and allow the onions to dry in the sun. 

Parsnips: Parsnips taste best if they are left in the ground until after a frost or two. They can be left in the ground over the winter and harvested in the spring. In cold areas, they should be mulched for the winter.

Peas: The pea pods should look and feel full. Peas are sweeter if harvested before fully plumped. Peas really need to be tasted to determine if they are sweet enough. 

Peppers: Each variety is different, but generally, peppers should be harvested when they turn the expected color. Carefully cut the pepper from the plant.

Potatoes: ‘New’ potatoes can be harvested when the tops start to flower. Carefully dig at the outer edges of the row. For full size potatoes, wait until the tops of the potato plants dry and turn brown. Start digging from the outside perimeter and move in cautiously to avoid slicing into potatoes. 

Pumpkins: Once the pumpkins have turned the expected color and the vines are starting to decline, check to make sure the skin has hardened enough that poking it with your fingernail will not crack it. Do not pick your pumpkin too soon because it will stop turning orange once it’s cut, but don’t leave them out in a hard frost either.

Radishes: Radishes mature quickly. You will see the shoulders of the bulbs popping out of the soil line. If left too long, they will become tough and eventually go to seed. 

Rutabaga: The bulbs should be about 3 inches in diameter, generally about three months after setting out. Rutabagas can be mulched, left in the ground and dug up as needed. Cold weather improves their flavor.

Swiss Chard: As with leaf lettuce, cut the large outer leaves at the base of the stem—being careful not to cut new growth—and allow the center to continue growing. 

Spinach: Spinach goes to seed quickly. Harvest by cutting at the soil line before you see a flower stalk emerging.

Squash, Summer: Pick young and check often. The skins should be tender enough to poke with your fingernail.

Squash, Winter: Color is a good indicator of winter squash maturity. When the squash turns the color it is supposed to be, cut from the vine. Do not let winter squash be exposed to frost. 

Tomatoes: Harvest when they are fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. Gently twist and pull from the vine. 

Turnips: Turnip shoulders should be about 2” in diameter at the soil line when ready. Overripe turnips are woody. 

Watermelon: The white spot on the bottom of the melon should change to a deep yellow when ripe. You may hear a change in the sound made when the melon is thumped with a finger. It should make a hollow sound when ripe.

Source: Gardening About

Strategies to Combat Hail

By Education, Grow a Garden, Spring

To Replant or Not to Replant

Although there is no single solution to mitigate the impact of a severe hailstorm, it’s sometimes helpful to take a few minutes and remember some of the strategies we can pull out of our toolboxes to help promote healing.

  • Gardens, like their caretakers, are resilient and have an amazing capacity to  ‘come back’ in the most challenging situations. For a few days after a severe hailstorm, allow for grieving to occur but don’t concentrate on this aspect.
  • Carefully look for signs of new growth, and realize that given the crop or time in the season in which hail occurs, many plants will have time to recover.
  • After several days, spread about ½ inch of aged, landscape – based compost around all plants, and, using a hoe, hand trowel, or other type of cultivating tool, lightly dig it into the soil, taking care to not dig deeply or damage roots. Hail Storms lead to hard, crusted soil and a light cultivation not only opens air channels but also allows for the slow release of nutrients obtained from compost.
  • Tomatoes have the benefit of producing new side shoots from many of the leaf nodes so watch for this new growth before pruning them back.
  • Prune back damaged tops of eggplants and peppers to an outward facing node.
  • Remove shredded leaves that may be on the soil surface to prevent places for slugs, cutworms and other moisture – loving critters to move in.
  • Use a foliar spray (a spray bottle is fine) with one tsp. of liquid kelp per pint of water & spray all foliage with this solution.  Kelp provides many micronutrients and also compounds known as cytokines that stimulate and strengthen new plant growth.
  • Remove outer leaves of damaged lettuce and squash, to stimulate new growth.
  • Replant seeds of collards, summer squash, basil and beans. There’s plenty of time left in the season for them to flourish.
  • Plant marigolds and zinnias around the edges of beds to attract beneficial pollinators.
  • Consider erecting windbreaks of fallen branches near crops to break the force (next time, of course) of pounding rain, wind and/or hail. Branches can be erected in ‘teepee like’ structures to straddle rows of taller crops. If crops are low enough, a basic cover of several layers of garden row cover (often sold as ‘season extenders’ or frost protection) placed directly over the crops and weighted down with rocks or soil at the bottom may provide some protection.

Most of all, celebrate you! Realize that you play an essential part in the garden’s recovery. Hail is a natural part of our Colorado landscape—but so are the incredible blue skies, relatively few problems with disease-causing organisms and smiles we gain from noticing that first new shoot that seems to stand out so strongly as a survivor—a testament to the caring spirit of you—that special person working in partnership with the earth.