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The Garden in January

By A Year in the Garden, Education

Written by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

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 Online 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.

The Garden in December

By A Year in the Garden, Education

There is nothing typical about Denver weather, and 2021 is proving to be the year that surpasses expectations in terms of drought, heat, and other manifestations of climate change.

Now, more than ever, it’s the time to plan, prepare for, and play our part to deepen our connection to the regenerative power of the earth. 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 Online.

The Garden in November

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

November in Denver is a time of varying degrees of temperature change and precipitation, with temperatures ranging from daytime highs of almost 60 at the beginning of the month, to the mid-40s by the month’s end. Nights are chilly, gradually cooling from the low 30s to the high teens, with daylight hours rapidly shortening. The possibility for snowfall increases with several inches expected during the month, although there have been years in which blizzard conditions have occurred.

The last fall leaves blanket the ground with a welcome cover, reminding us to use their bounty to mulch our garden beds, surround our perennials, shrubs and trees with a protective coat, and appreciate the importance of slowing down and gathering together. It is not the season of ‘doing’, but developing deeper roots. We are gently reminded to share.

S | Show up for the earth and others.

  • Make sure that all garden beds are protected from the effects of erosion by covering them with fall leaves, straw, and/or cover crops
  • Renew and restart compost piles utilizing disease-free end of garden crops, fall leaves, and non-meat food scraps
  • Utilize extra fall leaves as part of the indoor bedding mix for red wiggler worms (vermicomposting). This provides an easy-to-manage system for creating nutritionally-rich amendments for spring gardens and houseplants
  • Extend a helping hand to others in your community by sharing garden skills, recipes, and seeds

H| Harvest hope.

  • Concentrate on the successes of the season, realizing that gardening is a process, not a race
  • Make a plan to peruse your community and/or home garden on a regular basis, noticing different microclimates that can be utilized for customized growing
  • Leave seedheads on perennial flowers as sources of winter food for songbirds and habitats (leave the dead stems until spring) for overwintering beneficial insects

A | Arrange tool areas + tools. 

  • An often neglected task during the off season involves arranging your tool storage areas and making sure tools are in good working condition for the upcoming season
  • Store shovels and hoes off the floor to prevent rust accumulation & dull edges
  • Remove caked-on soil, oil any wooden surfaces with a thin coating of linseed oil
  • Garden centers offer end-of-season sales on that ‘must have’ pruner or other too essential. Tools make great gifts for yourself or friends

R | Revisit spring plans.

  • Resolve to garden ‘smarter, not harder’ by establishing set internal pathways for feet to show up on a regular basis
  • Plan for season wide usage of gardening areas, incorporating flowers and herbs that welcome beneficial insects and nurture your spirit
  • Grow what you love to eat, or can share

E | Ease into the season. 

  • Learn from the trees and perennials, that concentrate on developing deep roots
  • Consider regular get-togethers, either in person or virtually with gardener friends, to solidify lessons learned, share meals, decide upon shared tasks for the upcoming season
  • Grow a few houseplants to keep the ‘green connection’ growing, increase oxygen levels in your home and realize that you are a key part of our caring for the earth

Don’t forget that you can also save seeds from your final harvests for next year!

Enjoy this short video about how to save seeds from your dying flowers for use in your garden next year.

Quick Garden Tip: Successful Seeds 

Prior to planting season, spend a bit of time checking seed viability (their ability to germinate successfully). Seeds such as lettuce and onions generally germinate poorly after several years of storage. 

Do an easy test to check for seed germination:

    • Spread 10 lettuce or onion seeds out on a double layer of moistened paper towels. Space them evenly in 1 row on top of the towel
    • Roll up paper towel & place in a ziplock bag, keeping the bag in a cool, dark area
    • Each day, carefully remove the ‘seed towel’, unroll & lightly blow on it, releasing carbon dioxide that encourages germination
    • After around 6 – 8 days, if at least 6 seeds have germinated (60% rate), the seed variety is ‘safe’ to plant for the upcoming season.

Fall Basil Pesto Recipe

By Education

The first frost is headed our way soon.
Now is the time to harvest your remaining basil and make pesto!

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fresh basil leaves (no stems)
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves cut in 1/2 lengthwise
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (more to taste)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan (to taste)

Instructions:

1. Place basil leaves in bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade & pulse until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. Add the garlic, salt, one-half of the olive oil, then briefly pulse. Add pine nuts & briefly pulse again.

3. Scrape down sides of bowl & slowly drizzle in remaining olive oil. Continue to process until the mixture is smooth & sticks together. Add the cheeses & pepper to taste & pulse until everything is well blended. Taste & adjust salt.

4. If not using right away, scrape the pesto into a glass jar, cover w/about 1/4″ of olive oil & refrigerate.

The Garden in October

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

October in Denver usually provides us with sunny days, not much in the way of precipitation, and temperatures that range from the low to mid-60s during the day, to a gradual lowering of nighttime temperatures from the 50s to high 30s. It is the time of obvious shortening of daylight hours, falling leaves, and the potential first snowfall.

Our gardens respond in kind: slowing and then ceasing growth of warm-season crops, welcoming the onset of cooler weather that allows us to replant some of our salad greens and kale. It is the season where we begin to notice the individual brilliant colors of remaining flowers and autumn leaves that stand out against the intensity of the blue sky. The ripening pumpkins and winter squash beckon us to put our gardens to bed, gather, and follow age-old cycles of renewal. It is the season of covering and connection to the cycles of the garden, and also of our lives.

Incorporate some of the lessons this month provides by:

C |Creating conditions for a thriving garden

  • Remove any remaining warm season crops.
  • Dispose of any diseased or insect-infested plants such as tomato vines and/or squash family members such as summer and winter squash, pumpkin vines, and cucumbers that have ‘powdery mildew’ on their leaves. Don’t put them in the compost pile!
  • Weeds left standing in the garden provide an ample supply of seeds for early spring growth. Be conscientious about digging them out & disposing of them now.

O| Optimizing soil health

  • After removing warm-season crops, spread ⅕” of plant-based or ‘homemade’ compost on the soil surface, digging it into the top 3” of soil.
  • If you have a source of fall leaves, utilize them as free nutrients. To prevent their clumping together, run a lawnmower over 1” layers of leaves or have the family engage in ‘group bonding’ by jumping on bags of leaves. Dig 1” layers into the soil for additional organic material.
  • Plant winter rye, hairy vetch, field peas or oats as ‘cover crops’. Follow package instructions for each variety, planting by mid-October. A combination of rye & vetch, or oats & peas will give back lots of top growth & deep rooting patterns to open up soil compaction.
  • Lessen soil erosion by trying to mimic a tall-grass prairie, covering all bare areas with fall leaves or straw. Strong winds can quickly remove precious topsoil.

V | Visioning is important

  • Learn to view your season as part of a cycle, remembering and jotting down every step to garden learning.
  • Resolve to make different mistakes each year and don’t try to become a garden ‘expert’.
  • Plan for internal pathways for feet to ‘dance’ and care for crops & planting areas that are not more than 3’ wide.

E | Extending the season for cool-season crops

  • To provide several weeks of additional growing time for salad greens and kale, utilize a type of fabric ‘row -cover’ material, usually made of a spun polyester material. These materials are permeable to water, provide different degrees of light transmission and several degrees of frost protection.
  • Keep the covering in place by either using garden ‘pegs’ or rocks.
  • Water all fall crops with a solution of liquid kelp (1 – 2 tsp.of kelp concentrate/gallon of water) to provide additional micronutrients & frost protection.

R | Rejuvenating and regenerating with respect 

  • A garden, in all of its glory, is part of the larger cycle of growth, experiencing germination, full growth, flowering, pollination, fruiting, and dormancy.
  • All of its components are essential for high-level wellness, beginning with the soil as a provider and ending with the remains of harvested crops that can be chopped & used in the compost pile.
  • Rejoice in the changes of the season that allow us to deepen our connections to the wisdom of slowing down and noticing, appreciating the power in reflection, sharing, and being a part of regeneration.

Quick Garden Tip: Green your windowsill

If you are still determined to continue ‘growing’, consider planting or transplanting lettuce, basil, or chives.

Process:

  • For lettuce or basil, fill 3” pots with an all-purpose ‘indoor’ potting mix that has been moistened well.  Do not use garden soil. 
  • Plant 2 seeds of lettuce or 3 seeds of a shorter growing basil variety per pot. Use the information on the back of their seed packets to determine planting depth
  • Place in an area that receives sufficient sunlight
  • Check for when to water by inserting a toothpick or sharp pencil into the soil several times a week. If soil adheres to the toothpick or pencil tip, no water is needed. Soil should always feel like a ‘wrung-out’ kitchen sponge. 
  • Garden chives can also be dug & transplanted for indoor growth. Again, when planting indoors, utilize a commercially available potting mix.

The Garden in September

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

September in Denver is usually a month of glorious sunshine, changing leaf colors, sunny days, and not much in the way of precipitation. If we are lucky enough to experience decreasing smoke and haze from western wildfires, we can anticipate brilliant blue skies, temperatures from the 70s to mid – 80s during the day and nighttime temperatures cooling to the low 50s. With all of these changes, daylight hours have decreased dramatically, giving us less than 10 hours of sunshine and a lower angle of the sun. Our first frost of the season can usually be expected during the last week in September or the first week in October.

All of these different scenarios seem to precipitate a focus around ‘bringing in the harvest,’ planting ideas rather than crops, and slowing down enough to begin to appreciate the true lessons of the garden. As I consider the ‘harvest’, my thoughts turn inward to successes, challenges, and messages of possibility. Here are some ways to think in new ways about the harvest.

H |Harvest and care for crops regularly 

  • To maximize the yield from warm-season crops such as tomatoes, understand their growth habit. In early September, prune several inches off of the top of tomato plants to restrict vegetative (stem) growth and promote the reopening of ‘green’ tomatoes.
  • Continue to remove ‘suckers’ and long, trailing side stems that are interfering with air circulation
  • Remove most newly opened flowers on warm-season crops, since it takes at least a month from time of pollination to gain a fruit that will successfully ripen inside
  • Prune back rampant growth of winter squash and pumpkins to promote ripening of fruit
  • Check and harvest summer squash and cucumbers several times a week to make sure you don’t ‘miss’ any rapidly growing fruit

A| Arm yourself with ideas that expand your knowledge

  • The most productive garden starts with healthy soil
  • Plant cover crops such as winter rye, hairy vetch, winter peas, and oats by mid-late September to prevent soil erosion, provide quantities of organic material to dig into the soil in spring and promote a thriving environment for soil microorganisms

R | Review, reap, and renew

  • Remove unproductive warm season crops
  • Renew the soil with 1 ½” of plant-based compost dug into the top 4 – 6” of soil
  • Plant small quantities of quickly maturing crops such as lettuce, spinach, radish, arugula, or bok choy
  • Cover any bare soil with mulch
  • Plant garlic in late September or early October

V | View your plot and garden with an expanded eye

  • A garden feeds body and soul, providing a respite from the uncertainties of everyday stress
  • Gardens are intergenerational gathering places that celebrate diversity

E | Evaluate your steps to success

  • Success can be achieved when we vow to not repeat the same mistakes each year
  • Take pictures of your plot to plan for crop rotation, different varieties, diverse planting styles, peaceful gathering places

S | Share: knowledge, bounty, and small steps 

  • The beauty of a garden is that everyone has something to share: knowledge, food, recipes, help with plot maintenance, and family stories. Think of creative ways to involve our youngest generation, too

T | Trust the process

  • A garden is a circle, a cycle of integrated seed to seed growth that occurs in spite of the challenges of the seasons

Quick Garden Tip

Over the winter, soil can be eroded with our harsh winds and snow storms. Protect and restore your soil with cover crops!

Cover crops are best planted in mid-late September. As you harvest your summer veggies, consider creating space to plant cover crops like winter rye and hairy vetch.