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The Power of Journaling in Your Garden: Noticing Change and Enhancing Your Gardening Experience

By Spring - Planning & Planting

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook the subtle changes and transformations that occur in our gardens. Yet, these changes are the heartbeat of the garden, reflecting the rhythm of nature and offering valuable insights into its health and vitality. One powerful tool for capturing these moments and deepening our connection with the garden is a garden journal.

Why Use a Garden Journal?

Observing Change: The garden is a dynamic ecosystem, constantly evolving with the seasons and weather patterns. Document the progression of flowering plants throughout the year, from the delicate blossoms of apple trees in spring to the vibrant hues of fall foliage. By keeping a journal, you can track these changes over time. Not only does this deepen your appreciation for the natural world, it also helps you anticipate and respond to seasonal patterns in your garden for the future.

Documenting Growth: A garden journal serves as a living record of your garden’s growth and development. Note the dates of your key milestones for the year, such as planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, and harvesting fruits and vegetables. By recording the progress of plants, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of their needs and preferences. This documentation can be invaluable for planning future plantings, assessing the success of different varieties, and identifying trends over time.

Noticing Details: In the frenetic pace of modern life, it’s all too easy to overlook the small details that make each day in the garden unique. Take note of the delicate patterns of veins on a leaf, the intricate structure of a flower bud, the color of the wings of visiting butterflies, and the subtle changes in light and shadow throughout the day. A journal encourages you to slow down and pay attention to these details. By capturing these moments on paper, you create a treasure trove of memories to revisit and savor while taking time to slow down and appreciate the current moment.

Problem-Solving: Gardening is as much about problem-solving as it is about planting and pruning. Whether you’re grappling with pests, diseases, or challenging growing conditions, a journal can help you identify patterns and track the effectiveness of different solutions. For example, if you’re dealing with a pest infestation, note the type of pest, the date you first noticed it, the affected plants, and any remedies you’ve tried. Many insects lay eggs on the undersides of leaves, so make a practice of checking all parts of a plant. As you practice your observation skills, you will also become familiar with all life stages of an insect. By documenting your observations and experiments, you empower yourself to make informed decisions and adapt your gardening practices accordingly.

Reflecting on Successes and Failures: Every gardener experiences triumphs and setbacks, and a journal provides a space to reflect on these experiences. Celebrate the successes – the first ripe tomato of the season, the lush blooms of a favorite flower – and learn from the failures, whether it’s a crop lost to pests or a plant struggling in its new location. By embracing both the highs and lows of gardening, you cultivate resilience and growth as a gardener.

How to Start Your Garden Journal

Choose Your Format: Garden journals come in many forms, from traditional notebooks to digital apps. Choose a format that feels comfortable and convenient for you, whether it’s a leather-bound journal for sketching and writing or a smartphone app for snapping photos and making quick notes on the go.

Establish a Routine: Set aside time each day or week to update your garden journal. Whether it’s a few minutes in the morning with your cup of coffee or a quiet evening stroll through the garden, find a time that works for you and make it a regular habit.

Record Your Observations: When it comes to journaling in the garden, there are no rules – simply observe, reflect, and record. Take note of the weather, the condition of your plants, any wildlife sightings, and any changes you notice in the landscape. Include sketches, photos, and clippings to bring your journal to life.

Use Your Senses: Engage all your senses as you explore the garden – feel the texture of a leaf, inhale the fragrance of a flower, listen to the rustle of leaves in the breeze. By immersing yourself fully in the sensory experience of the garden, you deepen your connection and appreciation for its beauty and complexity.

Review and Reflect: Periodically review your journal to track changes over time and reflect on your observations. What patterns do you notice? What surprises or challenges have you encountered? Use your journal as a tool for learning and growth, and let it inspire new ideas and experiments in your garden!

Gardening Journaling with Kids 

Garden Journaling is an awesome activity to do with kids as well! Not only does journaling provide a creative outlet for self-expression, but it also encourages observation, critical thinking, and a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the garden. Here’s why:

Encourages Observation: Garden journaling encourages kids to slow down and pay attention to the details of the natural world. From the delicate petals of a flower to the movements of insects and birds, children learn to observe and appreciate the beauty and diversity of life in the garden.

Fosters Curiosity: Journaling sparks curiosity and encourages kids to ask questions about the world around them. Whether they’re wondering why leaves change color in the fall or how seeds grow into plants, journaling provides a platform for exploration and discovery.

Promotes Learning: Garden journaling is a hands-on way for kids to learn about plant life cycles, seasonal changes, and the interdependence of living organisms. By documenting their observations and experiences in the garden, children deepen their understanding of science and ecology in a meaningful and engaging way.

Nurtures Creativity: Journaling allows kids to express themselves creatively through writing, drawing, and storytelling. Whether they’re sketching the shapes of clouds in the sky or describing the scent of blooming flowers, children learn to communicate their experiences and emotions in unique and imaginative ways.

As you get out into the garden with your journal, encourage your kids to join as well.

Create a Kid-Friendly Journal: Provide children with their own special journal or notebook for recording their observations in the garden. Let them personalize their journal with stickers, drawings, or photos to make it uniquely theirs.

Use Prompts and Activities: Provide kids with journaling prompts and activities to inspire their creativity and curiosity. For example, ask them to draw a picture of their favorite flower or describe the sounds they hear in the garden. Encourage them to write stories about the imaginary creatures that live among the plants or create nature-inspired art using found materials.

Include Fun Science Experiments: Integrate simple science experiments into garden journaling activities to help children learn about plant growth and ecology. For example, have them plant seeds in different soil types or observe the effects of sunlight and water on plant growth over time.

Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate children’s achievements in garden journaling by showcasing their work in a special garden journaling gallery or hosting a garden-themed storytelling event. Encourage kids to share their experiences and discoveries with family and friends to inspire others to connect with nature.

Getting Started with Container Gardening

By Spring - Gardening in Non-Traditional Spaces

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.

Here are our top tips for having a successful growing season in containers:
Assess Your Space:

Before planting, observe your space at different times of the day, noting how the sunlight moves across the area. Ideally, container gardens should receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily for most vegetables, herbs, and flowering plants. However, if your space is shaded or receives only partial sunlight, there are still many plants that can thrive in these conditions, such as leafy greens and certain types of flowers like impatients or begonias.

Additionally, consider the quality of the sunlight in your space. Is it filtered through trees or buildings, or is it unobstructed? Plants that require full sun may struggle in areas with dappled or indirect light. Check your seed packets or seedling tags to confirm the sunlight conditions your varieties need.

Wind exposure is another important factor to consider on the Front Range, especially for balcony or rooftop gardens where plants may be exposed to strong winds. Wind can dry out soil quickly and cause plants to become stressed or damaged. Choose sturdy containers and consider installing windbreaks or using trellises to protect from high winds.

Temperature fluctuations can also impact plant growth and health, particularly in metro Denver where we can see wild temperature swings within a day. Some plants are more sensitive to temperature changes than others, so it’s essential to choose plants that are well-suited to your local climate and microclimate. 

Varieties we recommend:
  • Tomatoes: Look for determinate tomato varieties like ‘Celebrity’, ‘Early Girl’, or ‘Patio Princess’. These varieties are known for their ability to produce early, compact fruit even in fluctuating temperatures.
  • Herbs: Herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano are resilient and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. They’re also versatile in the kitchen and add flavor to your dishes year-round.
  • Lettuce and Leafy Greens: Varieties such as ‘Buttercrunch’, ‘Red Leaf’, and ‘Romaine’ lettuce, as well as spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are cold-hardy and can withstand temperature fluctuations in Denver’s climate. Leafy greens can all be replanted in late summer for a fall harvest.
  • Peppers: Opt for compact pepper varieties like ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Sweet Banana’, or ‘Mini Bell’ peppers, which are well-suited for containers and can handle temperature changes better than larger varieties.
  • Radishes: Radishes are quick-growing and can tolerate cooler temperatures, making them ideal for early spring and late fall planting in Denver. Varieties like ‘Cherry Belle’ or ‘French Breakfast’ are popular choices for container gardening.
  • Zucchini and Summer Squash: Choose bush varieties of zucchini and summer squash, such as ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Yellow Crookneck’, which take up less space and are more resilient to temperature fluctuations than sprawling varieties.
  • Marigolds: Marigolds are hardy annual flowers that add a pop of color to your container garden. Varieties like ‘French Marigold’ or ‘Signet Marigold’ are heat-tolerant and can thrive in Denver’s climate.

Experiment with a variety of plants to create visual interest and maximize productivity in your container garden. Mix and match different colors, textures, heights, and growth habits to create dynamic container compositions that are as beautiful as they are productive.

Plan for seasonal changes by selecting plants that offer year-round interest or swapping out plants with the changing seasons. Consider cool-season vegetables and annual flowers for spring and fall, and heat-tolerant plants for summer. Rotate crops regularly to prevent soil depletion and pest buildup.

Set Up Your Containers for Success:

Containers offer a diverse range of options in terms of shapes, sizes, and materials, providing flexibility for customizing your garden according to your preferences and requirements. Traditional choices like ceramic and terracotta pots add a timeless appeal to any garden, although terracotta pots have a tendency to dry out soil quickly. On the other hand, lightweight plastic containers are popular for their practicality and affordability, but there is a risk of them leaking microplastics into the soil over time when exposed to sunlight, heat, and moisture.

To minimize the potential for microplastic contamination, it’s important to properly dispose of old plastic pots and regularly inspect and maintain plastic containers for signs of deterioration. Additionally, thrifty gardeners often repurpose items such as buckets and barrels to create unique and functional upcycled containers that add character to their gardens.

Proper drainage is essential for container gardening success. Choose containers with adequate drainage holes (or add them yourself!) to prevent waterlogging and root rot. Elevate containers on pot feet or use saucers to allow excess water to drain away freely, ensuring healthy root growth.

Selecting the right potting mix is crucial for container gardening success. Use a high-quality organic potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening, as garden soil may compact and inhibit drainage in containers. Look for mixes that contain a blend of organic matter, perlite, and vermiculite to promote healthy root growth and water retention.

Adding compost to a potting mix for container gardens is also quite beneficial. Compost adds valuable organic matter to the soil, which improves soil structure, increases water retention, and enhances nutrient availability for plants. It also introduces beneficial microorganisms that contribute to soil health and plant growth.

Planting Your Container Garden:

Before planting, fill containers with potting mix, leaving space at the top for watering. Add water to your mix in the pots so that the soil is well-moistened (but not soaking wet) before planting. Plant seeds or seedlings at the appropriate depth, following specific planting instructions for each plant. Water newly planted containers at the root of the plant to settle the soil and establish good root contact.

Arrange plants in containers with consideration for aesthetics and functionality. Place taller plants in the center or rear of containers, with trailing or cascading plants along the edges to soften the edges and create visual interest. Experiment with different planting schemes, such as symmetrical, asymmetrical, or layered arrangements, to find a style that suits your space.

Provide adequate spacing between plants to allow for proper airflow, sunlight penetration, and root development. Avoid overcrowding containers, as this can lead to competition for resources and increased risk of disease. Consider using companion planting techniques to maximize space and naturally repel pests, such as planting marigolds to deter aphids or basil to repel mosquitoes.

Common companion plants for containers:
  • Basil and tomatoes: Basil is known to enhance the flavor of tomatoes while repelling pests like mosquitoes and flies.
  • Marigolds and vegetables: Marigolds are excellent companion plants for vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. They help deter pests like nematodes and whiteflies while attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs and bees.
  • Nasturtiums and cucumbers: Nasturtiums repel pests such as aphids and cucumber beetles, making them ideal companions for cucumbers. Their edible flowers add a pop of color and peppery flavor to salads.
  • Chives and carrots: Chives help deter pests like aphids and carrot flies while improving the overall health of carrots. Planting chives around carrot containers can enhance carrot growth and flavor.
  • Thyme and strawberries: Thyme acts as a natural insect repellent and helps prevent fungal diseases, making it an excellent companion for strawberries. It also adds a savory flavor to strawberries when grown together.
  • Lavender and herbs: Lavender not only adds beauty to containers but also repels pests like moths, fleas, and mosquitoes. Planting lavender alongside herbs like rosemary, sage, and oregano can help deter pests and attract beneficial pollinators.
  • Calendula and beans: Calendula, also known as pot marigold, attracts pollinators and beneficial insects while deterring pests like aphids and nematodes. Planting calendula near beans can improve bean yield and overall plant health.
Caring for Your Container Garden:

Proper watering is crucial for ensuring healthy container gardens. To maintain optimal soil moisture levels, it’s essential to monitor the soil regularly. You can check the soil moisture by inserting your finger into the soil; if the top inch feels dry or no soil sticks to your finger, it’s time to water. When watering, ensure thorough saturation at the root level rather than watering from above, as this minimizes the risk of fungal diseases by preventing excess moisture on the foliage. Be aware that soil in containers may need daily watering to maintain moisture levels optimum for healthy growth.

In addition to proper watering, incorporating compost into the soil is beneficial for container plants. Compost enriches the soil with essential nutrients, improves soil structure, and promotes healthy microbial activity. Throughout the growing season, periodically add a layer of fresh compost to the top of the soil. Lightly mix the compost into the top layer of soil, ensuring it is evenly distributed. This practice replenishes nutrients and organic matter, providing ongoing nourishment for your plants.

After adding compost, consider applying a layer of mulch such as straw, leaves, or other green matter. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, regulates soil temperature, suppresses weeds, and reduces evaporation. Together with compost, mulch creates a favorable environment for plant growth, promoting healthy root development and overall plant vigor.
Prune plants as needed to maintain shape, control size, and remove dead or diseased growth. Deadhead spent flowers regularly to encourage continued blooming and prevent seed production. Use sharp, sterilized pruners or scissors to make precise cuts and minimize damage to plants.

As the season progresses, monitor plants for signs of pests and diseases and take appropriate action to control infestations. Effective organic pest control methods include hand-picking pests, spraying with insecticidal soap, and introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings that prey upon pest insects. Practice good sanitation by regularly removing debris and fallen leaves from containers to reduce the risk of fungal diseases and pest buildup.

Putting Your Container Garden To Bed:

At the end of the season, putting your container garden ‘to bed’ for the season is essential for maintaining soil health, protecting plants from harsh winter conditions, and preparing for successful growth in the following season. Begin by removing any annual plants that have reached the end of their growing season. Cut back the foliage and stems, and then carefully lift the plants out of their containers. Compost this material but be sure to discard any diseased or pest-infested plants in the trash to prevent the spread of problems to other areas of your garden.

If your containers contain perennial plants, assess their condition and prune as needed to remove dead or damaged growth. Wait until spring to do any major pruning since this practice can stimulate new growth that may not survive winter conditions.

After removing plants, add in a fresh layer of compost and then cover with a thick mulch bedding of straw or fallen leaves. This replenishes nutrients, improves soil structure, and helps the soil retain moisture, preparing it for future planting.

To prevent damage from freezing temperatures, consider moving containers to a sheltered location such as a garage, shed, or covered porch. If moving containers indoors is not possible, insulate them by wrapping them with burlap or bubble wrap or placing them close together to create a windbreak. Elevating containers off the ground with pot feet or bricks helps prevent freezing and thawing cycles that can damage roots.

Throughout the winter months, periodically check the moisture level of the soil in your containers. While plants are dormant, they require less water, but it’s essential to prevent the soil from completely drying out. Water sparingly during dry periods to keep the soil slightly moist but not waterlogged.

As winter comes to an end, start planning for the next growing season. Consider which plants you want to grow, assess the condition of your containers and soil, and prepare any necessary amendments or repairs. By taking proactive steps to care for your container gardens during the winter months, you set the stage for a successful and bountiful garden in the spring.

Why You Should Practice Succession Planting for Your Garden

By Spring - Planning & Planting, Summer - Planning & Planting

Denver’s high-plain desert climate presents challenges for gardeners due to its short growing season and frost dates from mid-May to mid-September. However, smart gardeners utilize succession planting to extend their harvests.

This technique involves staggering crop plantings for a continuous yield, maximizing production and offering various benefits for gardeners: 

  • Maximizing Space: With limited growing seasons, succession planting allows gardeners to make the most of available space by efficiently rotating crops and interplanting, a technique that utilizes the space at the base of taller growing crops to plant shorter varieties, thus ensuring that beds are always productive.
  • Continuous Harvest: By staggering plantings, gardeners can enjoy a steady supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season, rather than a single, overwhelming harvest.
  • Soil Health: Succession planting can improve soil health by reducing the risk of nutrient depletion and minimizing soil erosion. Rotating crops also helps to break pest and disease cycles.
  • Season Extension: With careful planning and the use of season-extending techniques such as row covers and cold frames, gardeners can extend the growing season into the cooler months of fall and early spring.
Practical Succession Planting Tips:

Know Your Frost Dates: Familiarize yourself with the average last and first frost dates for your area to determine the optimal planting times for different crops.

Choose Quick-Maturing Varieties: Select varieties of vegetables and herbs that have shorter maturity times, allowing for rapid turnover and successive plantings.

Plan Your Planting Schedule: Create a planting schedule based on the specific requirements and maturity dates of each crop. Consider factors such as soil temperature, sunlight, and water availability.

Stagger Plantings: Plant new crops as soon as previous ones are harvested to ensure a continuous harvest. For example, after harvesting radishes in early summer, replant the space with quick-growing crops like lettuce or spinach.

Interplant Compatible Crops: Take advantage of companion planting by interplanting compatible crops that can thrive together and provide mutual benefits. For instance, plant lettuce between rows of tomatoes to maximize space and reduce competition.

Utilize Succession Planting Beds: Dedicate specific beds or sections of your garden to succession planting, allowing for efficient rotation and management of crops throughout the season.

Monitor Soil Health: Regularly assess soil fertility and health by conducting soil tests and amending as needed with compost, organic matter, and natural fertilizers.

Example Succession Planting Plan:

Consider this example succession planting plan for Denver’s Zone 6a:

  • Early Spring: Plant cool-season crops like peas, lettuce, radish and spinach as soon as soil can be worked.
  • Late Spring: Plant warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, basil and cucumbers after the danger of frost has passed.
  • Early Summer: Replant harvested areas with quick-growing crops like beans and basil; towards the end of June, replant a few summer squash seeds and delta radishes.
  • Late Summer: Sow fall crops such as kale, carrots, and beets for harvest in the cooler months.
  • Early Fall: Extend the season with cold-tolerant crops like kale, arugula, and swiss chard.

Garden Planning: Strategies for Success

By Spring, Spring - Planning & Planting

Successful gardening goes beyond simply planting seeds or transplants; it involves intentional planning to maximize the potential of your garden space. By viewing your garden as a season-long opportunity to grow food, support habitat, practice regenerative techniques, and foster community, you can create a thriving and fulfilling garden experience. Here are some key considerations to guide your garden planning journey:

Planning for Purpose:
  • Determine whether you’ll be gardening in individual or shared plots, considering communal areas for sprawling crops like pumpkins or winter squash.
  • Create a plan for donating surplus produce to food banks or those in need through the Fresh Food Connect app
  • Connect with your heritage by growing and preserving special varieties that hold sentimental value.
  • Foster a community of flowers and herbs near your vegetables to attract beneficial insects for natural pest control; zinnia, marigold, calendula, dill, chamomile & basil are all helpful companions.
Structuring the Plot to Fit Your Needs:
  • Experiment with different plot shapes, such as rectangular, heart-shaped, or butterfly-shaped, to suit your interests.
  • Designate distinct areas for internal foot pathways to reduce soil compaction and erosion; ‘walkways’ should be 18”-2’ wide and can be covered with straw or leaves, materials that will slowly decompose and add organic material to the soil as they are stepped on. Straw is better than muddy pathways!
  • Consider incorporating raised beds for easier access, improved drainage, and extended growing seasons.
  • Utilize vertical gardening techniques for vining crops to maximize space and sunlight exposure.
Planning for Places of Peaceful Reflection:
  • Create spaces within your garden where you can pause, slow down, and find joy.
  • Bring in elements like chairs, straw bales, or tree stumps for comfortable seating.
  • Keep a journal to document changes in your garden and personal reflections throughout the season.
Planning for Seasonality:
  • Understand the temperaments of your plants and their preferences for different seasons.
  • Denver’s last expected spring frost is around May 15, so plan to direct sow cool season crops by mid – April; salad greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula), green onions, radish and cilantro can all be direct seeded when night time temperatures are above 40 degrees. 
  • Plant small quantities of salad greens (succession planting) at  2 week intervals to stagger maturity times
  • Corn, beans, squash, cucumbers & melons can be planted beginning the first week in May
  • Pepper & tomato transplants should not be planted outside until night time temperatures are at least 55-60 degrees. Don’t get fooled into planting too early. Plants that are under stress give of chemical compounds that can affect their overall health and  attract pest insects.
Planning for Ease of Harvest:
  • Implement vertical gardening methods to reduce labor and improve plant health.
  • Utilize trellises, cages, or living supports like corn or sunflowers for vining crops.
  • Minimize soil compaction and disease by keeping fruits off the ground.
Planning for Diversity:
  • Start with compost-enriched soil to support a diverse garden ecosystem.
  • Embrace cultural diversity by incorporating different crops, planting traditions, and cooking techniques.
  • Plant flowers and herbs to attract pollinators and create a mini wildlife habitat.
  • Personalize your garden space with creative elements like painted stones or decorated structures.

Remember, gardening is a journey, not a race. Take the time to nurture your garden, appreciate its bounty, and savor the process of growth and transformation throughout the seasons. With careful planning and thoughtful consideration, your garden can become a cherished oasis of beauty, abundance, and connection.

Maximizing Small Spaces: Gardening Tips for Balconies

By Spring, Summer, Summer - Gardening in Non-Traditional Spaces

Cities can present unique challenges for gardeners, especially those with limited growing space. However, with the right strategies and techniques, even the smallest outdoor areas and balconies can be transformed into vibrant green spaces bursting with life.

When gardening on a balcony, selecting the right plants is crucial. Opt for compact and dwarf varieties that thrive in containers, such as patio varieties of tomatoes, peppers, herbs like basil and thyme, lettuce, and strawberries. These plants not only fit well in confined spaces but also offer a bountiful harvest throughout the growing season.

Vertical space is often underutilized in balcony gardening but can be a game-changer for maximizing growing area. Consider installing wall-mounted planters, hanging baskets, or trellises to grow vining crops like peas, beans, cucumbers, and small-fruited tomatoes. By training plants to grow upwards, you can take advantage of sunlight exposure and airflow while minimizing the footprint on your balcony.

Container gardening is the cornerstone of balcony gardening. When selecting containers, choose ones with adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, and opt for lightweight, weather-resistant materials like plastic, fiberglass, or resin. Consider using vertical stackable planters or tiered shelving units to create a tiered garden, maximizing space efficiency.

Sunlight is a critical factor in balcony gardening success. Assess your balcony’s sunlight exposure throughout the day and select plants accordingly. Most vegetables and herbs require at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive. Utilize reflective surfaces like mirrors or light-colored walls to bounce sunlight onto plants, especially in shaded areas.

Proper watering and maintenance are essential for balcony garden success. Monitor soil moisture regularly, as containers can dry out quickly, especially during hot, dry periods. Water plants thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Consider installing a drip irrigation system or self-watering containers to maintain consistent moisture levels and reduce the frequency of manual watering. Incorporate organic fertilizers and plant-based compost into container soil to provide essential nutrients for healthy plant growth throughout the growing season.

Companion planting and pest control are integral parts of balcony gardening. Use companion planting techniques to maximize space and naturally repel pests. Plant aromatic herbs like basil, rosemary, and mint to deter common garden pests like aphids, mosquitoes, and whiteflies. Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings to your balcony garden to help control pest populations naturally. Consider adding flowers like dwarf zinnias, nasturtiums and marigolds for visual beauty and as an additional source of food for beneficial insects.

Harvesting fresh produce is one of the joys of balcony gardening. Regularly harvest ripe fruits, vegetables, and herbs to encourage continued production and prevent overcrowding in containers. Embrace the satisfaction of growing your own food and savor the fresh flavors of homegrown produce right from your balcony garden.

Gardening in small spaces like balconies requires careful planning, creativity, and a bit of experimentation. By choosing the right plants, utilizing vertical space, optimizing sunlight, practicing proper watering and maintenance, implementing companion planting techniques, and harvesting regularly, you can create a thriving urban oasis that brings joy, beauty, and fresh flavors to your outdoor living space. So roll up your sleeves, grab your gardening gloves, and let’s get growing!

Starting Seeds Vs. Buying Seedings: Which is Right for You?

By Spring

As spring approaches, you’re likely excited to get your hands dirty and cultivate your own green oasis within our urban confines. One of the first decisions of the season you face is whether to start your garden from seeds or purchase seedlings. 

Each method has its own set of pros and cons, and understanding them can help you make the best choice for your gardening journey.

Starting from Seeds
  • Variety: Starting from seeds opens up a world of possibilities. You have access to a wide array of plant varieties, including heirlooms and unique cultivars, that may not be available as seedlings at your local nursery.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Seeds are generally more affordable than seedlings, especially when bought in bulk. This allows you to experiment with different plants without breaking the bank.
  • Control: By starting from seeds, you have complete control over the entire growing process, from germination to harvest. You can choose the soil mix, containers, and environmental conditions tailored to each plant’s specific needs.
  • Learning Experience: Growing plants from seeds provides valuable hands-on experience and allows you to develop a deeper understanding of the growth cycle and needs of various plants.
  • Time and Patience: Starting from seeds requires patience and careful attention to detail. It can take several weeks for seeds to germinate and grow into sturdy seedlings before they’re ready to be transplanted into the garden.
  • Climate Considerations: Denver’s unique climate, characterized by its high altitude and fluctuating temperatures, can pose challenges for seed starting. You’ll need to provide consistent warmth and light to ensure successful germination and growth.
  • Risk of Failure: Despite your best efforts, not all seeds will germinate, and some seedlings may fail to thrive. Factors such as improper watering, temperature fluctuations, and pests can all impact seedling success rates.
Buying Seedlings
  • Time-Saving: Purchasing seedlings allows you to jump-start your garden without the wait associated with seed starting. You can transplant established seedlings directly into your garden, saving you weeks of waiting for seeds to germinate and grow.
  • Convenience: Seedlings are readily available at local nurseries and garden centers, making them convenient for beginner gardeners who may not have the time or resources to start from seeds.
  • Reduced Risk: Since seedlings have already passed the delicate germination stage, they generally have a higher success rate than seeds. This can be reassuring for beginner gardeners who may be uncertain about their seed starting skills.
  • Better Adaptation: Local nurseries often carry seedlings that are well-suited to Denver’s climate, reducing the risk of transplant shock and increasing the likelihood of successful growth in your garden.
  • Limited Selection: While nurseries offer a variety of seedlings, their selection may be limited compared to what you can find in seed catalogs or online seed stores. You may miss out on unique or specialty varieties by opting for seedlings.
  • Cost: While seedlings offer convenience, they can be more expensive than starting from seeds, especially if you have a large garden to plant.
  • Quality Control: Not all nursery-grown seedlings are created equal. It’s essential to inspect seedlings carefully for signs of disease, pests, or stress before purchasing to ensure you’re getting healthy plants for your garden.

In conclusion, whether you choose to start your garden from seeds or purchase seedlings depends on your preferences, resources, and gardening goals. Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, and it’s essential to weigh them carefully before making your decision. Regardless of which path you choose, remember that gardening is a journey of learning and discovery, and don’t be afraid to experiment and adapt as you go.

Happy gardening!

Basics of Yearly Fruit Tree Pruning

By posts, Spring, Winter

Most fruit trees are domesticated, which means they have been bred to grow more vigorously and bear larger fruit than their wild cousins. This means it’s important to prune them regularly for optimal health and productivity. 

The main goals of pruning fruit trees are to:

  • Open up the canopy to allow airflow between branches for pollination and disease reduction
  • Redirect energy towards branches that are going in an ideal direction (not too low or high, not curving or crossing other limbs)
  • Manage the shape and size of a tree, especially as it relates to the surrounding context (fences, sidewalks, buildings, other trees)
  • Shape the tree to be stout and strong to resist snow, fruit, and wind loads
  • Remove dead or diseased tissue
  • Increase fruit production by increasing the amount of surface area of the tree that is exposed to light (a more open canopy will produce blossoms throughout the tree instead of just around the outside edges)

The best time for yearly pruning is in the late winter or early spring when the trees are dormant (usually before the end of March is best). You can also prune after the trees have gone fully dormant in the fall, but it usually takes until later in November for trees to fully lose their leaves, and it tends to be less comfortable to prune from a weather perspective during December than late February or March. 

General Guidelines

Pruning is an art and a science, and takes several seasons to develop comfort and confidence. Here are some general tips to guide you as you practice:

  • Begin by removing all dead or diseased wood. If you are not sure if a branch is dead, bend it back and forth a bit to see if it snaps. If you are still unsure, scrape a bit of the bark off with a blade or a fingernail–green cambium means it is still alive.
  • There are two types of cuts: heading and thinning. A heading cut removes part of a branch, and a thinning cut removes an entire branch. Every heading cut makes the tree stouter, stockier, and bushier, while every thinning cut makes the tree longer and more open. Your task is to balance the two types of cuts.
  • Remove branches that are parallel or crossing, or seem like they will conflict or rub against each other (remember that branches sag with the weight of fruit!)
  • Don’t take more than ¼ to ⅓ of the aboveground biomass of a tree in any one season. You can always take more next year! At the same time, don’t be timid or afraid to make big cuts. Fruit trees will respond well to heavy pruning, and the biggest mistake new pruners make is not pruning enough.
  • Make your heading cuts at a roughly 45-degree angle, and make your thinning cuts in a way that doesn’t leave a stubby branch protruding a few inches.

What To Do With Clippings

Depending on the size and number of your trees, there may be a significant pile of pruned branches to deal with. Some ideas are: spend time cutting them into small chunks and incorporate them as mulch under the tree; bundle them with twine and make borders or fences; give them to animals like goats to eat; use them for art projects like basketry or dye-ing. Clippings can also be composted in city composting bins. Never leave any diseased wood on site, as it will spread infection to other vulnerable trees.

Tool Hygiene and Maintenance

Pruning is like surgery, and it’s best to do it in the same conditions: with sharp, sterile tools while the patient is asleep. You should work to sharpen your pruning shears each season, and while pruning use some rubbing alcohol to sanitize your tools in between each tree. This is especially important when moving between two trees of the same species (i.e. peach to peach) because they will carry communicable diseases. 

Pruning for Fireblight or Disease Removal

One notable exception to the dormant pruning rule is to remove disease, especially fireblight. Apples, pears, and some plums are susceptible to fireblight, a bacterial infection that can be fatal to young trees. Some varieties are resistant to the disease, but no trees are fully immune.

 If you notice fireblight on your trees in June or July, the best practice is to use sanitized tools to trim out the affected tissue about 12 inches below the lowest outward sign of infection. That is not always possible given the branching structure, but avoid cutting right at the infection point. If there are multiple infection sites on a tree, sanitize between every cut!

Seedling sprouting from the ground

How To Read A Seed Packet

By All Seasons, Spring, Winter

Seed packets may seem like simple envelopes filled with potential, but they hold a wealth of information crucial to your gardening success. Understanding how to read a seed packet empowers you to plant at the right time and provide the care needed for your seeds to flourish into healthy plants. They’re the perfect ‘how-to’ guide for your seed variety!

The front of your seed packet will tell you your variety name, its Latin name, and whether or not it is organic (meaning non-GMO seeds). There’s often a picture of the variety as well so you have an idea of what you’re growing! The back of your seed packet is usually where you’ll find all the details, including more information about the variety.

Other things you’ll want to look out for:

  • Germination time: The number of days or weeks it takes for seeds to emerge from the soil. This information helps you plan your planting schedule and manage your expectations for when you’ll see sprouts emerging from the soil.
  • Thinning: Provides the recommended distance between growing seedlings to prevent overcrowding. Pull out extra seedlings to create more space for your seedlings to thrive.
  • Days To Maturity: The time it takes for a plant to produce harvestable fruits or flowers. Knowing the days to maturity helps you plan your garden layout and anticipate when you can expect to start harvesting.
  • Special Considerations: Some seed packets include additional information or special considerations for growing certain plants. This may include tips for managing pests and diseases, providing support structures like trellises, or other unique requirements.
  • Depth: This indicates how deep to sow the seeds in the soil. It’s crucial to follow this guideline to ensure proper germination.
  • Spacing: Provides the recommended distance between seeds or seedlings when planting. Proper spacing prevents overcrowding and allows plants to access adequate sunlight, water, and nutrients.
  • Row Spacing: Indicates the distance between rows when planting multiple rows of seeds. Proper row spacing promotes air circulation and makes it easier to tend to your plants.

Other information your packet is likely to contain:

Sunlight Requirements:

Specifies the amount of sunlight needed for optimal growth. Whether a plant requires full sun, partial sun, or shade influences where you should place it in your garden to ensure it receives the appropriate amount of light.

Watering and Fertilizing Instructions:

Provides general guidelines for watering frequency and fertilization requirements. While individual plants may have specific needs, these instructions offer a starting point for maintaining proper moisture levels and nutrient supply.

Tips for Success:

  • Read the entire seed packet carefully before planting to understand the specific needs of each plant.
  • Keep track of planting dates, germination times, and days to maturity to help you stay organized and plan your gardening tasks.
  • Monitor your plants regularly and adjust care practices as needed based on their growth and development.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek additional information from gardening books, online resources, or local gardening experts if you encounter challenges or have questions.
  • By mastering the art of reading seed packets, you’ll be well-equipped to plant your garden with confidence and nurture your seeds into thriving plants. Remember, each seed holds the promise of a bountiful harvest or beautiful blooms, so take the time to give them the care they deserve.

Happy gardening!

Summer is a Great Time to Plan Your Fall Garden

By Education, Spring, Summer

With the oppressive heat and fierce summer sun of mid-summer, it might seem too early to begin preparations for your fall garden. However, just like with spring garden planning, getting a head start will help you make the most of the season.

Extend the Growing Season

Fall gardening is an opportunity to extend the growing season and use season extension techniques like hoop houses to continue growing and harvesting until the deep freeze of winter arrives. Soil temperatures inside the hoop house are several degrees warmer than those outside, allowing for slow, but consistent growth.

As the weather cools, the plants accumulate sugars in their leaves to avoid freezing, leading to a ‘sweeter’ overall taste. Hoop houses hold in moisture so with slower crop growth in late fall due to temperature changes and lower light intensities, crops require less supplemental watering. Click here to read more about hoop houses.

Grow Cool-Weather Crops

Cool weather crops, including lettuces, spinach, radishes, peas, and any vegetables in the brassica family such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or kale, are great to sow by seed as a succession to the warm weather crops currently in the garden.

Our Fall Gardening Guide offers a list of crops and range of dates to plant or sow them, soil preparation techniques and more.

You can also read our Five Tips for Fall Gardening to get you started.

Fall is also the ideal time to plant garlic, refresh our gardens with compost, and add a fresh layer of mulch to keep the soil protected as temperatures drop.

If your goal is to allow the garden to rest after you harvest all warm weather crops, then sowing cover crops is a great way to replenish the soil nutrients allowing it to rejuvenate and be ready for the spring. Cover crops act like a blanket, preventing soil loss from wind and water erosion. 

Their roots hold the soil in place and help to improve soil structure. During the process of decomposition, microorganisms and the decomposing cover crops produce sticky substances that glue soil particles together.  This opens up air channels and also increases the water holding capacity of the soil. Click here to learn more about cover crops.

To help you make the most of fall gardening, stop by our annual Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, August 12th, 2023 from 10am – 3pm., where we’ll have cool-weather organic seedlings, cover crop seed, garlic for pre-order (pick up will be in early October), fruiting trees, compost, mulch, and Birdie garden beds.

In addition, we’ll have educational resources and activities to prepare you for a successful season extension.

Quick Guide to Growing Tomatoes in Denver

By Education, Spring, Summer

Tomatoes are one of the most beloved vegetable crops in any garden. Gardeners obsess over which varieties to grow, having to choose from abundant cherry tomatoes, meaty Roma or San Marzano, to less commonly grown heirlooms. 

Cultivating tomatoes in Colorado requires some specific tactics and techniques for success. Gardeners need to adapt their practices to Colorado’s semi-arid climate, dense clay soils, shorter growing season, strong sunlight, and wide-range of weather conditions. Read more in our post about Tips for Successful Gardening in Colorado.

Here are some top tips for success in Colorado:

1- Soil: Amend your soil with 1-inch of compost at the beginning of the season to help loosen the heavy clay creating more air pockets to allow better drainage. Compost also increases microscopic biodiversity, which promotes plant health. 

2- Start seeds indoors: Mid-March is the recommended time-frame to start your tomato seeds indoors, counting that our average last frost is mid-May, this allows 6-8 weeks for the seeds to mature into strong seedings. If you are starting your own seeds indoors make sure to time the process well to allow enough time for the seeds to sprout, grow and become strong, but not too long in advance that the seedlings begin to show stress by becoming leggy, scrawny or yellowing. Read more about Starting Seeds Indoors.

3- Seedlings: If you are purchasing seedlings, make sure to choose short, stocky seedlings without flowers or fruits already developing. Look for healthy plants without yellowing leaves or brown spots that could signal disease or stress. 

4- Temperatures: Tomatoes are warm weather crops and require consistent night temperatures higher than 50F to thrive, which in the Denver Metropolitan Area is around mid-to-late May. Higher temperatures result in warmer soil, which should be above 55F, especially where the plant roots will go. Planting too early can result in stunted growth and propensity to disease because the plant is under stress. Here is more information about Safe Planting Dates.

Pair of hands digging into the dirt, surrounded by some green sprouting plants

Planting Tips
Once overnight temperatures are steadily above 50F, soil temperature is at 55F or above, and you have grown or chosen strong stocky seedlings it’s time to plant. 

  • Dig a hole twice as big as the root-ball of your seedling.
  • Add a handful of Organic Tomato Tone to the soil and mix well.
  • Remove the bottom leaves of the seedling, leaving two to three sets of leaves, and bury the stalk up to two inches below the leaves. The knots around the stalk will develop into roots providing a stronger root-base and a stronger plant. 
  • Water thoroughly.
  • Mulch the area around the base of the plants to prevent water evaporation and soil compaction, and to help keep soil cooler during the heat of the summer. 
  • Leave enough room for large tomato plants to grow; overcrowding your tomato plants can create ideal conditions for disease.

Companion Plants
To give your tomatoes a layer of protection from disease, plant the following around them:

  • Marigolds: Soil nematodes can attack the roots of your tomato plants, however, planting marigolds nearby help deter nematodes.
  • Alliums: Onions or garlic (known as alliums) are great companion plants for tomatoes because their strong smell can help deter aphids.
  • Basil: Besides providing great flavor to tomatoes on a salad, basil planted near the tomato plants can help deter hornworms. 
  • Nasturtiums: These bright flowers are a perfect ‘trap-plant’ for aphids and white flies, attracting them and keeping them away from your tomatoes.
  • Parsley: Similarly to nasturtiums, parsley is a trap-plant for aphids, and once there the hover flies that like parsley will eat the aphids.
  • Plant other flowers or grasses in the garden to attract beneficial insects like ladybugs who are voracious aphids eaters.
  • Read more about Companion Planting.

Caring for Your Tomato Plants
The number one tip we can give you to help you keep your plants healthy is to check them daily and tend to them as they grow. 

  • Prune lower leaves as the plant grows to allow for airflow at the base and reduce the chance for disease like early blight spores, which can jump from the soil onto the leaves.
  • Water the root-base of the plants not the leaves. 
  • Water early in the morning or later in the day when the plants are not under heat stress and can take the water better. 
  • Feed every couple of weeks as the season progresses, lightly working the Tomato Tone around the base of the plant with a small pitch fork. 
  • Remove any plant debris from around the base of the plant to avoid disease or to become a hiding place for damaging bugs. 
  • Refresh the mulch ensuring it’s a good 3-inch deep as the heat of the summer increases.
  • Prune some of the suckers growing between the joints to tell the plant to concentrate on flowers and fruit rather than foliage. 
  • On extremely hot days use a shade cloth to keep the soil cooler and reduce heat stress.

Potential Pests & Diseases

Like any crop, tomatoes can be attacked by a variety of fungus, diseases, or pests. Knowing what to look for can help you address the issue before it’s too late. Here are some of the most common tomato problems:

  • Early blight, gray mold, different viruses can attack the leaves or plant stalks showing black or brown spots. The leaves turn yellow and curl as the plant struggles. Remove all affected leaves (up to a third of plant foliage) and burn them to avoid spreading the disease. 
  • Aphids and spider mites: These tiny bugs can suck the life out of your plants. You can remove them by spraying them directly with water to knock them off the plant. You can also use insecticidal soap to treat large infestations. 
  • Splitting & Blossom-End rot: Both of these are caused by improper watering. Splitting results from overwatering, and blossom-end rot is a result of inconsistent watering that prevents the plants from properly absorbing calcium from the soil. 
  • Greenback and internal whitewalls: This is caused by excess light and heat and not enough potassium in the soil. Cover plants with shade cloth and feed them with Tomato Tone. 
  • Sun scorch: As the name hints, this is caused by too much sun exposure.  
  • Hornworm: Tomato hornworm can eat the leaves of a tomato plant in a matter of days if not removed. 

Read more about Common Garden Diseases and techniques for Integrated Pest Management