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Education

The Garden in April

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

April, like March, is a month of ‘wild weather’, alternating from moisture-laden snow, drying winds, and even rain/snow mixes (yes, Denver does experience rain at times) to a range of temperatures between 65 degrees in the daytime to 35 degrees nighttime.

If you think that sounds confusing for us, imagine the delicate dance that our trees, perennials and early-season veggies must navigate to survive. Perennials and trees (including fruit trees) have a ‘built-in’ time clock that responds to increasing daylight hours, sunlight intensity, and (for fruit trees), a number of hours below freezing for fruit buds to appear. Once those swelling buds open and leaves unfurl, it almost is a signal for more unsettled weather to descend.

One of the challenges in April appears to be our warming climate, and, concurrent increasing drought situation. It’s all too easy to be lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding our changing climate, especially if tree limbs are bowed down with spring snows. For the entire year, Denver receives between 9 – 11” of water but in the past few years, strong winds & rapidly warming temperatures in spring have made less of that available. With greenery emerging daily our thoughts turn to the process of ‘growing’. 

April is the month to ‘GROW.’

G |Grow to fit the season

Understand the variety of needs of cool-season seeds + transplants.

  • Note: Cool-season crops include peas, lettuce, spinach, radish, cilantro, parsley, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips) while warm-season seeds & transplants include squash, corn, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers.

Denver’s last spring frost can be as late as May 15. Don’t plant warm-season crops until nighttime temperatures are between 55 & 60 degrees.

  • For fast-growing cool-season seeds, such as salad greens, utilize ‘succession planting’, in which small quantities of seeds are planted every few weeks until mid-May, to extend the planting/harvesting window.

Join the DUG network at community.dug.org  to connect with other gardeners on their growing journeys! This platform is meant as a ‘give and take’ with our community offering their advice and posting challenges.

R| Respect the soil

Set up a system of ‘internal pathways’, with 3 ‘ wide planting areas separated by designated walkways (about 2’ wide) to prevent soil compaction within the growing areas.

  • Prior to planting, dig 1.5 – 2” of plant-based compost (not manure) into planting areas. Walkways don’t need to be amended. 

Plan for the inevitable ‘spring into summer’ of warm weather by having straw mulch available to place around cool-season crops.

O | Own and understand the ongoing commitment of gardening

A successful garden requires constant nurturing, not just watering.

  • Plant only what you can care for or use.

Consider the benefits of sharing garden care with another gardener.

W | Welcome the wonder + joy of growth 

Plant flowers and herbs such as zinnias, marigolds, chamomile, fennel + cilantro which produce a sense of riotous color, and also flowers that entice beneficial insects to visit.

  • Flowers have a calming effect on our senses and cause us to ‘pause’, bend down and ‘stay awhile’, noticing changes in veggie growth that may signal the need to handpick that ‘caterpillar’ before it munches the entire leaf. 

Appreciate not only the harvest but also the learning steps along the way.

Garden Tip

Know when it’s time to ‘dig your soil’.

Don’t rely upon daytime temperatures as a sign of when to begin your gardening work. For a more reliable measure that deals with soil moisture:

  • Use a hand trowel or regular shovel to dig down several inches and obtain a small quantity of soil
  • Make a tennis ball-sized mound with the soil
  • Drop the ‘soil ball’ from about a foot in height
  • If it stays together as a ‘ball’, it’s not time to dig your soil. Wait several days and try the test again
  • If it breaks apart (shatters), go ahead and ‘dig in’
  • Our soils are usually high in clay, warm slowly, and have very tiny soil particles. If you dig your garden soil too early (i.e., the soil still stays together as a ‘ball’) it may dry like an adobe brick and make it difficult for smaller seeds to germinate

Remember, patience really does pay off!

Water Conservation 101

By Education

In recognition of World Water Day, DUG connected with Diana Denwood of Aurora Water to talk about where Colorado water comes from and why it’s so precious, the difference between drought and aridification, and ways that you can conserve water.

The Garden in March

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliot

March can be one of our (hopefully) snowiest months and also provides wide temperature variations, ranging from an average high of 50 – 58 to lows between 24 and 29 degrees. We’ve also had occasional days of 70 degrees, that throw us all off and exacerbate that ‘got to get growing’ fever that is so unique to gardeners!

Not only are days increasing in length, but sun intensity is noticeable. By March, turf is greening, early bulbs such as crocus, small iris, snowdrops and early daffodils are in bloom, early tulips may have emerged, buds on early blooming shrubs such as lilac and forsythia have enlarged, even fruit trees may show signs of bud swelling: and then the next snow descends or we are deluged with weeks of what ‘new arrivals’ may deem ‘abnormal night time temperatures. All of these changes signal the importance of paying attention to tasks that promote healthy soil for season – wide growth.

March is the month of DISCOVERY.

D |Dig into the wealth of information with DUG

Join the DUG network at community.dug.org  to connect with other gardeners on their growing journeys! This platform is meant as a ‘give and take’ with our community offering their advice and posting challenges.

While you’re there, check out our upcoming classes!

I | Investigate the ease of growing some of your transplants indoors under lights 

Using a simple fluorescent light fixture, seed starting mix, timer, ‘cell pack inserts’, bottom tray and humidity dome, you can easily start seeds for later transplanting to the garden

  • Early March: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions
  • Early March: (Use a bottom ‘heat mat” for better germination) Sweet and hot peppers
  • Mid March: Tomatoes, eggplants

S| Simplify your seasonal work by focusing on the importance of soil health

  • Healthy soil leads to healthy crops which leads to healthy people
  • Activate home compost piles, or purchase landscape – based compost for veggie gardens

C | Create a garden plan to optimize garden usage in all seasons

  • Small quantities of cool-season seeds (our spring season for cool – loving crops such as peas and salad crops never seems long enough
  • Small amounts of warm season veggies (tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans) 
  • Replant spring crops in late summer for a fall crop  

O | Organize tools and garden supports for the upcoming season

  • Sharpen shovels and hoes
  • Remove rust with a file, oil wooden handles with linseed oil
  • Disinfect support structures such as tomato ‘cages’ with a solution of 10% bleach or one containing hydrogen peroxide

V | Visit your community garden plot to remove any dead annual crops from the prior year 

  • Set-up pathways within your plot to designate specific areas for ‘feet to be welcome’. Crops don’t appreciate the constant soil compaction of stepping near them to water or cultivate

E | Evaluate your successes & challenges from the prior year

  • Crop rotation for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potato family is essential
  • Consider your time commitment for gardening. It does require us to notice, pause, turn over leaves, (not just cursory watering)
  • Don’t grow what you don’t like to eat and more than you can use

R | Remember the importance and value of  ‘growing in community’

  • Your fellow gardeners are a wealth of knowledge, skills and wisdom
  • Everyone has a skill that touches gardening
  • Share your skill and ask for help when you need it

Easy Garden Tip

Garden Pathways

For a typical 10’ x 15’ garden plot, divide the plot into 6 separate growing areas

  • Each area is about 6’ 6” long x 2’ 6” wide
  • Internal pathways (for feet to walk, cultivate & care for plants) are 2’ wide
  • Bonus: Pathways don’t require compost and can be mulched with straw or burlap bags
  • This provides an easy way to ‘rotate’ crop families

February seed-sprouting ideas for kids

By Education

A Special Activity for Kids: Inside a Seed

‘Wear a Bean’

Materials needed:

  • Small plastic ‘ziploc’ sack, the size of a coin envelope (can use smallest size ‘ziploc’ sack if that is all that is available)
  • 2 sheets moistened paper towel, folded in half
  • 1 large lima bean
  • Piece of yarn or string

Process:

  • Place bean on paper towel, fold towel over bean & place in place sack, closing sack.
  • Punch a hole on either side of top of bag, insert yarn or string and tie around the child’s neck for the day, taking off the sack from around the neck each night and leaving flat on a table.
  • Each day, open the sack, remove bean, blow on it to introduce carbon dioxide and replace the ‘bean necklace’ around child’s neck. The warmth of the body stimulates germination.

Notice:

  • Bean increases in size after several days as water is drawn into the seed.
  • Seed coat softens.
  • Using your fingers, carefully scrape off the seed coat & separate the seed halves.
  • It’s fun to notice the first emergence of a baby ‘root’, stem and later, the first seedling leaves.

The Garden in February

By A Year in the Garden, Education

February weather in Denver varies from highs in the 40’s & 50’s to night-time temperatures in the high teens to upper 20’s. The month is variable; almost always windy, with increasing sun intensity interspersed with periods of snow.

I do remember several years ago, however, when nothing was ‘typical’ and periods of almost record high 70-degree temperatures led to swelling of buds on fruit trees, that then of course opened in the midst of the next blast of blessed snow. We learn to expect that the ‘atypical’ is ‘normal’ for Denver.

Mother nature is beginning to awake in the midst of this and bursting forth throughout the month with an array of early bulbs and corms, such as: dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), often the first to show its grass-like leaves in early February, sometimes covered with snow and miraculously blooming; species and the regular crocus; snowdrops; the ‘allium’ (ornamental onion family) and shorter varieties of daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinth. Early spring-blooming shrubs such as lilacs and forsythia will often show noticeable bud swell from the middle to the end of February.

It is so exciting to take a daily walk around the garden, bending down to notice emerging foliage of perennials among still-standing dead, protective stems. Daily changes abound, sometimes covered with a blanket of snow. BEGIN your yearly journey by:

B | Being open to the connection between healthy soil and healthy growth

  • Try and have your garden mimic the landscape of our tall grass prairies, covered with last year’s grass, providing the soil with a natural defense against storm and wind erosion.
  • Be vigilant in reapplying straw, leaf, alfalfa mulch to garden beds.

E | Encouraging birds and beneficial insects to visit your garden 

  • Leave ‘dead’ perennial stalks, such as ornamental grasses, coneflowers, yarrow and others standing as a source of food and habitat.
  • If possible, provide fresh, warm water for birds.
  • Leave a mulch of small twigs and branches on the soil surface to attract ground-nesting bees.

G | Gather with friends and community gardeners virtually to plan for educational events

  • It might be fun for different people to start different seeds indoors. Onions and leeks can be started in early to mid-February and by the end of the month, the first seeds of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be sown.
  • In your virtual sessions, share your successes and challenges of the prior season. See them as ‘teachable moments’.
  • Involve children in the whole seed starting process to stimulate a life-long love for the earth and promote healthy eating.

I | Investigate the ‘greening of the garden’, noticing emerging garlic leaves, new growth at the base of mints, oregano and chives

  • If possible, water garlic, bulbs, asparagus, chives, strawberries on days where temperatures are over 45 degrees.

N | Nurture small steps you take to center yourself in the quiet of the garden 

  • Before the frenzy of ‘everything growing at once’, appreciate this time of treasuring the sun, the soil and the bounty it will produce.

The Garden in January

By A Year in the Garden, Education

Looking out my window in early January, I am reminded of past seasons when the desire to put my hands deep into the frozen soil is overwhelming. Even though my ability to do that cherished occurrence is still months away, I continue to realistically welcome each moment of increasing daylight and intensity of the warming sun. Daily perusals of my landscape provide me with affirmations of resilience as I notice the bare whispers of buds on the contorted outlines of succulents whose origins are in South Africa, and are now thriving in Denver.

And I return to the power of dreams as I focus on January.

D | Focus on diversity 

The healthiest and most productive gardens mimic healthy communities by bringing together diverse vegetables, herbs and flowers that contribute to the overall strength of growth. Investigate diverse planting styles (permaculture, companion planting (i.e. the ‘Three Sisters’ growing of corn, beans and squash together) that celebrate the wisdom of the ages.

R | Review your garden plans 

Remember to rotate garden crops to a different area in your plot (especially important for tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. If you haven’t already developed a garden plot plan and incorporate designated ‘walkways’ between rows to dimmish areas of soil compaction around plant roots. Feet do belong in gardens. They just need a place to dance!

E | Encourage participation of others

Be realistic regarding what you like to eat, your life commitments outside of the garden, your abilities to maintain a garden space throughout the season. Utilize the immense fountain of knowledge in a community garden. Develop friendships and lists of people you can turn to for advice.

A | Activate your garden dreams

Join DUG’s online network to access the creative power of our gardening community. Our virtual commons connects novices and more seasoned gardeners, upcoming events and courses that can further your earth journey.

M | Maintain a base of optimism, based in reality 

The ground is frozen, but roots of perennials and trees are actively growing, opening up air channels for diverse soil – dwelling macro and microorganisms to proliferate. Denver’s last frost is typically around May 8th – 15th but early spring crops such as salad greens, radish, green onions, carrots, and beets can often be planted in early April. Note: Water in community gardens is usually not turned on until May.

Remember that the best gardeners grow slowly, like a rich compost. Take a walk outside and begin turning over leaves to experience the miracle of emerging crocus, snowdrops and other spring bulbs by the end of the month.

Sourcing Seeds

By Education

By Judy Elliot, Senior Education Specialist

As daylight hours lengthen and thoughts turn to the upcoming growing season, it’s a good idea to be practical about gardening expectations; with the myriad of seed catalogs available, either as online resources or ‘dream books’, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or overzealous in picking out your next season’s seeds.

Whenever possible, DUG recommends locally purchasing seeds and/or transplants or ‘growing your own’. However, this year, like last, many seed companies are experiencing delays processing seed orders due to increased demand.

A reliable seed supplier (free catalog & online) is: Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Metro Denver nurseries such as Tagawas, Echters, and Southwest Gardens also have a good supply of seeds for the ‘2021’ growing season. Transplants and ‘tubers’ for cool season crops, such as onions, potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are typically available beginning in early – mid March. You can also apply for seeds and seedlings through DUG’s Grow a Garden program before January 31st.

Pro Tip: Check your current seed packets each year to see if seeds stored from prior years are viable (i.e.will they germinate & begin to grow).

To do this:

  1. Tear off several sheets of paper towels, stacking 2 together
  2. Moisten well with a misting or spray bottle
  3. Across the top of the paper towel, evenly space 10 seeds of the specific variety you are testing
  4. Carefully roll up the paper towel & seeds, place in a plastic sack and leave in a cool, dry place
  5. Each day, open the sack, unroll the towels & carefully blow on the seeds to surround them with carbon dioxide (which promotes germination)
  6. Repeat above process each day

Note the first day you see the seed coat split & baby root emerge. At the end of 10 days, if 7 or more seeds germinate, you are safe to utilize the seed source for growing. (70% or greater germination rate is preferred).

Of note, onions, leeks, green onions and lettuce are some of the seeds that are best purchased ‘fresh’ each year.

The Garden in December

By A Year in the Garden, Education

After our long, extended fall, replete with record high temperatures, it seems that some more ‘seasonal’ weather may be settling in. With a light covering of snow on the ground, and temperatures hovering in the tens or twenties at night, it’s hard to turn our thoughts to the garden.

Ah, but this is the season of magic, of tree and perennial flower roots spreading underground, quietly storing sugars and starches to prepare for active growth in the spring. This also is the season for us to focus on our ROOTS.

R: Remember the past growing season by:

  • Making a simple garden map showing what you planted, its location in the garden and any companions it had (flowers, herbs)
  • Be mindful of garden challenges: (heat, insects, diseases, drought)
  • Was the garden utilized spring through fall?

O: Organize and clean any garden tools, sharpening edges of pruners, shovels and garden hoes, removing rust and oiling wooden handles

O: Order fresh seeds if needed. Typically, if stored in a cool, dry location, most veggie seeds, (other than lettuce, green onions, bulbing onions & leeks that lose viability after several years) can be successfully planted for the upcoming season. Order seed catalogs in December to expand your field of dreams. Some favorite selections include:

T: Treasure the gifts that each season brings. Continue to:

  • Care for the soil by piling more leaves or straw on top of growing areas, to promote increased organic matter as they decompose over the winter season
  • Water fall planted garlic once monthly if not adequately covered by snow
  • Deep water those treasured trees and perennial plants

S: Share your increasing garden knowledge, extra preserved garden harvest goodies with neighbors, friends and others in your community. Most of all, know that as we continue to nurture our growing areas, we are also nurtured in a sense of purpose and place.

Connect with other gardeners and plan your springtime garden in DUG’s online community!