Category

A Year in the Garden

The Garden in December

By A Year in the Garden, Education

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

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

R: Remember the past growing season by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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! 

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.’

The Garden in May

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

May, one of our main planting months, has our temperatures all over the place, ranging from 77 – almost 90 degrees daytime to the mid 50 degrees at night.  Thanks to the ample March snowfall & precipitation in mid-April, plants of all types, including copious quantities of weeds are flourishing. 

Let’s think on the positive side. Their leaves, using the process of photosynthesis, capture atmospheric carbon dioxide (yes that same gas that contributes to climate warming), storing it in the roots which then release nutrients to feed the diverse community of soil microorganisms. So weeds can actually be thought of as providers of ‘free food’. We just need to manage them before they produce seeds or remove their underground creeping stems or long ‘taproots’ (like found in dandelions). As we get ready for another gardening season, let’s look more closely at what the month may have in store for us.

Do remember to focus on ‘prevention’ strategies.

P |Prepare for seasonal weather challenges

  • Hail always occurs! To prepare for that, don’t transplant all seedlings at one time, succession plant short maturing crops such as salad greens & peas, give crops time to grow new leaves, remove damaged outer leaves
  • Other hail strategies: Erect windbreaks of fallen branches near crops to break the force of pounding wind, hail & rain. Have spun polyester row-covers, such as ‘reemay’ on hand or utilize coverings similar to ‘micromesh’ for protection
  • Denver weather often ‘springs into summer’, rapidly heating.

R| Be Realistic about your layout and plantings

  • Set – up your plot in sections, planting small quantities of cool-season crops such as peas, salad greens, radish, beets & green onions. 
  • Set up a system of ‘internal pathways’ (designated areas that welcome feet) to lessen soil compaction. 
  • Use the information on the backs of seed packets to inform you about how deep or far apart to plant seeds.  Crowded seedlings lead to conditions that promote disease & insect infestation
  • Don’t plant more than you can eat or share.  One tomato plant can yield up to 40 lbs. of fruit

E | Evaluate past successes and challenges

  • ‘Harden off’ all transplants for a week to successfully acclimate them to outdoor growing conditions, including strong wind and sunlight.
  • Challenge yourself to water all plants at soil level, avoiding overhead watering
  • Mulch early-season transplants, such as broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower soon after planting them. Wait for cool-season seeds (salad greens, green onions, beets, carrots) to germinate and then mulch with straw. Mulch warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants several weeks after planting them

V | Visit your garden often to notice changes 

  • A well – designed garden encourages us to ‘slow down’ and appreciate the interconnected community of soil, plants, and critters
  • Harvest produce on a regular basis.  Carefully pluck individual outer leaves of leaf lettuce to promote further growth. Check peas daily to extend their period of production.  When plants are no longer productive, remove them and replant the space to a warm-season crop such as cucumbers
  • Encourage productivity by lightly cultivating the soil around all plants on a weekly or bi-weekly basis prior to watering.  This promotes deeply rooted crops that utilize water and nutrients more efficiently.

E | Encourage biodiversity 

  • Plant flowers (marigolds, zinnias, bachelor buttons, cosmos) and herbs (dill, cilantro, chamomile) to attract a variety of beneficial insects (ladybugs, green lacewings, bees & butterflies) that help keep pest insect populations to a manageable level
  • Plant different crops (not just a single one such as tomatoes) to create a balanced plant ‘community’ Rotate plant families (especially the potato, tomato, pepper & eggplant family) to prevent the build-up of soil diseases

N | Notice first emergence of pests 

  • Identify beneficial and pest insects in all of their life stages. ‘Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs” by Colorado’s esteemed entomologist, Whitney Cranshaw, provides in-depth information
  • Learning a bit about insect growth patterns lets you utilize strategies to ’pick them off or keep them out’.

T | Tap into the wealth of knowledge in your fellow gardening community  

  • Community gardeners often have a lifetime of accrued gardening knowledge and wisdom to share. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 
  • Challenge yourself to learn one new tip each season and, along the way, perhaps not repeat the same mistake of the prior year
  • Join DUG’s online gardening community to assess gardening tips throughout the season and involve yourself in classes that provide unique earth–based ideas.

Garden Tip

Keep them out!

Prevent damage from many pests that damage your crops by physically excluding them. Products such as:

‘Reemay’, or its equivalent, are lightweight row -covers, composted of spun polyester & can be placed directly over transplants or seeded rows to prevent insects such as aphid & cabbage butterflies from feasting on your crops.

If the crop requires pollination, such as peas, simply remove the covering. You can water directly through the fabric & it not only provides adequate sunlight transmission but also provides several degrees of frost protection.

The Garden in April

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

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

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

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

April is the month to ‘GROW.’

G |Grow to fit the season

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

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

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

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

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

R| Respect the soil

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

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

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

O | Own and understand the ongoing commitment of gardening

A successful garden requires constant nurturing, not just watering.

  • Plant only what you can care for or use.

Consider the benefits of sharing garden care with another gardener.

W | Welcome the wonder + joy of growth 

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

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

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

Garden Tip

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

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

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

Remember, patience really does pay off!

The Garden in March

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliot

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

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

March is the month of DISCOVERY.

D |Dig into the wealth of information with DUG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O | Organize tools and garden supports for the upcoming season

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

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

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

E | Evaluate your successes & challenges from the prior year

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

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

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

Easy Garden Tip

Garden Pathways

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

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