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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.

The Garden in August

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

August marks a transitional time in the garden. With daytime temperatures that can stay in the low to mid-90s during much of the month and nighttime temperatures falling a bit to the mid-50s, it can be confusing, to say the least, for our veggies, herbs, and flowers.

Rain is sporadic, winds seem constant, and the air is thick with the smoke from fires in Colorado and other western states. At this time of the season, many veggies and herbs seem to be not quite as vigorous in their growth and show increasing incidences of insect infestations or disease progression. Considering that from the beginning to the end of the month, we’ve lost a little over an hour of daylight, it’s not surprising that plants are stressed.

Let’s consider some strategies that either extend the productive lifespan of our garden or renew its possibilities for the fall months that are right around the corner. 

E |Eliminate diseased plants + those with heavy insect infestations 

  • Members of the cucurbit (summer & winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins) are beginning to show signs of powdery mildew. The fungi responsible for this disease produce spots or patches of white to grayish talcum–powder–like growth
  • The disease is more prevalent as the weather becomes hot and dry and as plants age
  • To keep this in check, avoid overhead watering, pick off affected leaves, and promote air circulation by selectively pruning off excess growth
  • If needed, apply a product containing potassium bicarbonate (‘Bi-Carb’) available, as are many other organic remedies at ‘Arbico Organics’: www.arbico-organics.com
  • Any crops showing spots or blotches on the leaves should not be utilized in compost piles

X| Extend a helping hand

  • Donate or preserve what you can’t realistically eat fresh
  • Donate your skills (helping to care for a plot, ‘strong back brigade’, gardening expertise, calming presence to others in your garden community. What we give returns in so many unforeseen ways

T | Tend your garden on a regular basis

  • Adhere to regular routines of cultivating, renewing mulch, and watering at the base
  • Remember that plants that are thriving, receiving regular care, and are harvested frequently while fruits are young remain productive for a longer period of time than those that receive sporadic care routines

E | Enjoy early morning time in the garden

  • Turn over leaves: pick off eggs of cabbage butterflies, wash off aphids, prune off fading flowers, cut back basil that’s in flower to make pesto, cultivate, and water
  • This is special time for renewal, so enjoy these little moments of noticing and care for yourself and your plants

N | Nurture soil, plants, and spirit

  • Spread handfuls of compost around all existing plantings and lightly cultivate it into the soil
  • Foliar feed leaves with a dilute solution of 1 tsp. kelp/qt. of water
  • Lovingly investigate soil under mulch and notice the biodiversity. It’s home to red wiggler worms, sowbugs, millions of beneficial bacteria & fungi that feed the underground community that in turn, feeds everything above
  • Know that you are a part of creating this miracle of abundance

D | Designate areas for fall crops

  • As you remove ‘old’ crops, begin to plan and plant for fall
  • Early August is not too late to plant fall peas. Soak them overnight in 1 tsp. kelp/qt. of water
  • Mid – August.: Plant small quantities at 2 weeks intervals of lettuce, spinach, arugula, radish, cilantro
  • Early August: Plant greenhouse-grown transplants of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale
  • Cool-season crops planted in warm soil should be planted a bit deeper than in spring & mulched immediately
  • Save space in late September and October for garlic and fall cover crops

August can be an exciting time to evaluate, renew and plan. Focus on one or more things that were a joy to grow this season and think about deleting the ‘heartaches’ from your next year’s garden.

Quick Garden Tip

Another benefit of visiting your garden in the early morning cool, in addition to the peace and tranquility of the special moments, involves the absolute joy that can be found in:

Zero Cost, Minimally Invasive, 100% Effective Pest Control

  • For those noxious Japanese beetles that decimate everything, including Virginia Creeper vine, roses, pole beans, zinnias, marigolds  prepare a solution:
    • 1 cup water with around a Tbsp. of any kind of dish soap
    • Take the bucket to the garden
    • Stand quietly with cup underneath affected leaves
    • Brush off beetles into their bath. They will not emerge
    • Enjoy
    • This also works for cucumber and/or squash beetles in early morning, before they fly

The Garden in July

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

July is one of the hottest months in Denver, with temperatures ranging from the mid to high 90s during the daytime to lows in the 60s at nights. There are some years in which we are lucky enough to receive a bit of moisture from monsoon rains, but this is a sporadic occurrence. Humidity is generally very low, making it seem ‘hot and dry’ throughout the month.

Additionally, daylight hours, after the vernal equinox in June are decreasing, with a loss of about 45 minutes from the beginning to the end of July. Since plants use sunlight, with the process of photosynthesis to produce food in the form of sugars and starches, that accumulate in the leaves, they begin to react to light changes in many ways. Some exhibit signs of stress by sending up seed -stalks, signaling the end of their lives, others send out chemical signals that seem to magically attract pest insects, others slow down their growth and seem more prone to diseases.

This is a month of transition, providing moments of reflection that allow us to evaluate our current garden plan, proactively plan for renewal of soil and spirit, and actively learn from our environment. 

L |Leap into learning 

E| Evaluate your current plantings and soil conditions

  • Realize that all plants have a life cycle, seed to maturity, and respect their needs. 
  • Replace cool-season crops such as salad greens, peas, and radish with beans
  • Consider planting one more summer squash seed to provide strong growth that may resist late-season diseases
  • Renew straw or leaf mulch as needed to prevent erosion, soil compaction, and lessen the effects of diseases. Remove lower leaves & secondary stems from tomato plants so no branches or leaves touch the soil surface.
    • Water that splashes onto lower leaves which may be showing leaf spots or other signs of disease can transmit diseases to the foliage above.

A | Arm yourself with strategies that allow your plants to survive in the heat 

  • Keep plants growing actively with sufficient leaf cover to prevent ‘sunscald’ of unprotected fruit
  • Use kelp (liquid seaweed) either as a foliar (leaf) spray or soil drench to provide a supply of micronutrients to stressed plants
  • Space warm-season crops such as squash far enough apart so that mature leaves act as a ‘living mulch’, shading the root zone.

R | Replant crops that are no longer productive + renew the soil

  • As peas become unproductive, cut off vines at soil level & leave their roots in the soil to feed the microorganisms. The vines can either be chopped & used in the compost pile or left around crops as a mulch
  • Plant a second crop of beans in place of salad greens and radishes that were removed. Beans, such as peas, add nitrogen to the soil
  • Plant summer cover crops, such as buckwheat, that are a haven for beneficial insects and promote soil health. Before they ‘set seed’, cut stalks down at ground level, leaving roots in the soil
  • ‘Top dress’ all crops with handfuls of landscape-based compost, lightly cultivating it into the soil at the base of plants

N | Nourish your spirit by slowing down and creating peaceful places of reflection

  • Bring in a bale of straw or old chair to create a peaceful place that encourages you to visit more frequently
  • Add artistic touches (painted rocks as plant markers, colorful flowers, unusual trellises, or growing containers) that feed your soul

Do remember that gardening is a process, not a race, not a contest. Your role is to nurture, give back and, hopefully not repeat the same mistake each year.

Quick Garden Tips

  • Consider the use of ‘shadecloth’ over your tomato cages for a few hours during the heat of the day. Shadecloth is permeable to light and water but a strategy that aims to limit the burning effects of late afternoon sun intensity. The cloth can be attached to tomato cages with clothespins
  • Handpick Japanese beetles in the early morning hours, when they are more sluggish, and drown them in buckets of soapy water. They are also a preferred culinary delight for chickens! 

Live virtual Q + A with Jungle Judy is back!

By Education, News

Last year during COVID, we started a virtual Q + A series with our own Senior Education Specialist ‘Jungle Judy’ Elliott to an overwhelmingly positive response! So we’re bringing the series back!

Our live Q + As through Zoom allows you to bring Judy right into your garden to get your gardening questions answered, seek troubleshooting tips, and get best practices for organic gardening in the heat of the summer.

REGISTER FOR A Q + A SESSION

Weed Identification

By Education

Now that it’s heating up and we’ve had a lot of rain, our gardens – and weeds! – are flourishing. Learn how to identify common weeds and how to ensure that they are organically managed for maximum production in your garden!

The Garden in June

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

June, a month in which temperatures range between the mid-80s during the day to mid-50s at night, is a prime month for growing most garden veggies, flowers, and herbs. Rain is usually low to non-existent, with humidity also low. It basically is beginning to feel ‘hot and dry,’ and early spring-planted crops, such as salad greens, are approaching the limits of their preferred growing conditions.

You can extend their lifetime by picking outer leaves for your meals, a process that stimulates the growth of new, inner leaves. After a time, however, they develop a bitter taste, signaling that their ‘edible’ journey is ending. In the case of spinach, which matures in less than 40 days, the shape of its leaves changes from broad and rounded to one that resembles an ‘arrowhead’. Shortly after those ‘weird’ leaves begin to grow, the plant sends up a stalk that soon opens into flowers and then seed-heads as pollination occurs. You will notice the same process with lettuce.

It’s helpful to know that although our veggies provide copious quantities of nutritious meals, their true purpose in life is really to produce seeds for a new generation. Respect their life cycle and continue to provide the conditions that allow your June garden to flourish.

F |Feed the soil, yourself, and your community 

  • For a garden to flourish, continue to attend to the soil community. Make sure you have distinct ‘walkways’ within your plot to minimize soil compaction
  • Consider planting cover crops such as buckwheat that can enrich growing conditions for roots and, additionally, feed soil micro-organisms

L| Learn new gardening techniques

  • In June, all crops should be mulched, both cool and warm season. Use straw, any remaining fall leaves, even weeds that have not gone to seed. Mulched soil decreases the effects of erosion that occurs from strong winds and overhead watering, moderates soil temperatures, and, additionally, can lead to fewer problems from diseases later in the season.
  • Try planting small amounts of romaine lettuce (more heat tolerant than most other varieties), near bush beans. The beans provide needed shade for the ‘greens’ and, additionally provide a source of nitrogen for their neighbors.

O | Opportunities abound

  • Surround yourself with flowers and herbs that nourish soil, provide homes for beneficial insects, and repel pests. Buckwheat, planted between rows of crop, is used as a ‘cover crop’ to enrich soil. Cut it down prior to flowering, leaving its foliage & stems on the soil surface as a mulch & roots in the soil to feed the microorganisms.
  • Asters, zinnias, marigolds, chamomile & dill have flowers that provide nectar & pollen for beneficial insects that then lay their eggs on the plants. The larvae are fierce predators of pests
  • Garlic and onions have strong oils in their leaves that help to repel pest insects

U | Understand connections between basic organic gardening practices and thriving crops

  • Take a ‘preventative’ instead of a ‘reactive, crisis’ approach. Healthy soils really do provide the foundation for a bounteous harvest. There is no magic bullet that substitutes for deeply–rooted crops, properly spaced, watered at the base of the plants, and mulched to cover bare soil. Begin to envision your plot as a balanced, diverse micro-community

R | Practice season-wide renewal 

  • Replenish the soil environment by lightly spreading handfuls of compost (‘top–dressing’) around all crops on a monthly basis. Carefully use a hand trowel or garden hoe to scratch it into the soil (pulling back mulch if necessary). 
  • Replant early beans with a second crop, plant another summer squash seed by the end of the month
  • Remove early spring crops that are no longer actively producing 
  • Pinch back basil to delay flowering

I | Imagine the possibilities

  • Investigate the wealth of knowledge in your community gardens, neighborhood, or DUG’s ‘Mighty Network’ gardening platform
  • Investigate the life cycles of garden insects by ‘turning over a leaf’ and noticing the variety of eggs and larvae that call the shady surface ‘home’.
  • Feel the difference between soil that is covered by mulch and areas that are exposed to constant overhead watering and the effects of wind and erosion. Mulched crops are healthier.

S | Simplify your gardening season

  • Grow what you like to eat, can preserve or share with others. Don’t try to mimic the variety of crops shown in seed catalogs. Be realistic with your efforts, fine-tuning your expectations with the amount of time you can devote to nurturing the space on a regular basis
  • Cultivate garden ‘buddies’ who can help with seasonal tasks and/or jointly grow sprawling crops such as cucumbers or winter squash

H | Handle challenges with humility

  • Resolve to treat every step in the growing process as a learning opportunity. The best gardeners ask questions, recruit help from others and celebrate their journey as a life-long experience of giving back more than they take

Garden Tip

Create Opportunities to Linger!

Colorful flowers not only provide gathering places for beneficial insects but also stimulate our senses with visual and olfactory messages that encourage us to ‘stay awhile’. As we spend more time in our plots, we begin to notice early signs of insect damage or disease and can more easily attend to management strategies.  Consider using small tree stumps, straw bales, or even old folding chairs in your plot to custom design your ‘home away from home.’

Plotting Your Garden Masterclass

By Education

Learn how to plan out a perfect garden plot with considerations to layout, plant selection, ease of harvest and more! Our 40-minute on-demand comprehensive workshop with Senior Education Specialist ‘Jungle Judy’ Elliott will set you up for a successful garden!

Purchase Now

Creating a Paradise for Pollinators

By Education

Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, flies, and even bats are some of our most important pollinators. As they visit different plant species, collecting nectar and pollen to provide nutrition for their offspring, they provide important services to both plants and humans.

Flowering plants complete their life cycle, producing seeds and fruits with the help of these important visitors. To encourage their feeling at ‘home’, we can create a habitat to support them, offering their preferred food, water, shelter and space.

Some important things to consider include:

Creating season-wide food sources targeted to your pollinators

Provide nutrition throughout the season by planting flowers that bloom from early spring through fall. Consider perennial and annual flowers with different colors, shapes and sizes, including ones with tubular or bell shapes, in addition to flat surfaces to attract the widest variety of pollinators. Local plants (the natives), match the needs of nearby pollinators. Many of the double hybrid flowers have pollen, nectar, and even scent bred out of them and are not as attractive to local pollinators.

Plant in clumps, rather than individual plants to make it easier for pollinators to find their food source. Planting several varieties of milkweed will provide treasured habitat and food source for the endangered Monarch butterfly. Many commercial agriculture operations use genetically engineered crops, virtually eliminating large stands of milkweed that were previously available for these beautiful butterflies. Simple strategies like planting parsley and allowing it to flower will provide habitat for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Consider utilizing trees, native ornamental grasses, and groundcovers which all offer nesting, resting and shade benefits for a pollinator habitat.

Eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides

The over usage of chemicals has contributed to the decline of pollinators, with systemic insecticides that are absorbed within plant tissue being most dangerous. The number one threat to pollinators is ‘neonicotinoid’ or ‘neonic’ pesticides. Not only are they most toxic to bees, butterflies, and other insects, but they’re systemic. When applied, these poisons make their way throughout the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar.  Provide a safe haven in your habitat by practicing ‘regenerative gardening,’ using the basic principles of organic gardening and sustainability. 

Instead of chemical fertilizers that can pollute our water supply, use compost to provide a season-wide supply of major and minor nutrients. Compost-enriched soils promote deeply rooted plants that use water more efficiently, feed soil microorganisms, and ultimately lead to healthy soil, healthy food (and pollinators) and healthy people.

Cover the soil with mulches and cover crops

Use straw, alfalfa, and cover crops such as buckwheat or crimson clover to provide a blanket to cover and protect the soil. As cover crops begin to flower, they are highly attractive to pollinators for nectar and pollen and, additionally, provide areas for shelter. Diverse heights and seasonal plantings of cover crops offer appropriate homes for beneficial insects.

Create nesting sites

A garden that is ‘overly neat’ is not as attractive to pollinators as one that respects the nesting and shelter needs of its visitors. 

Pollinators such as ‘ground bees’ need access to the soil surface as they excavate nest tunnels in sunny patches of bare ground. Grassy patches provide nesting for bumblebees and other insects to overwinter. Many native bees use abandoned beetle tunnels in logs, stumps, and branches and even chew out the centers of dead raspberry canes to establish nests.

Provide water sources

Shallow birdbaths filled with small pebbles or rocks help to provide ‘landing spaces’ for small bees to gain a needed source of water.

Be sure to empty and refill these frequently to prevent stagnant water, which attracts mosquitos.

Plant suggestions

Early season:

  • Trees: Fruit trees such as apple pear, peach, plum
  • Shrubs: Serviceberry, Sulphur flower
  • Perennial flowers: Penstemons, yarrow, blue flax, wallflower

Mid-season:

  • Trees: Black locust, linden, honeylocust
  • Shrubs: leadplant, chokecherry
  • Perennial flowers: Asters, Showy milkweed, blanket flower, salvias, harebells, coneflowers
  • Annual flowers & herbs: marigolds, zinnias, bachelor buttons, dill, cilantro

Late season:

  • Shrubs: Rabbitbrush
  • Perennial flowers: Rocky mountain bee -plant, Blue giant hyssop, goldenrod, plains coreopsis
  • Annual flowers: All sunflowers

Taking small steps to diversify your plantings, decrease or eliminate the usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and create a habitat oasis that welcomes our pollinator friends is an earth-friendly strategy that connects us to the broader efforts to step lightly upon the land and recognize our part in the interconnected matrix of pollinators, food, and sustainable landscapes.