Friday, May 10, 2019

Succulents and Cacti at Altitude

By Jan Boone
Many of us have a quiet sunny corner in a room where favorite winter houseguests have camped out for the past 5 months or so.  These are the best kind of guests because all they require is sun, occasional water and loving words as we pass by.  As much as we enjoy their presence in that sunny corner, it’s getting time to consider who can maybe return to outside decks, who needs a new container and who is tolerant enough to be planted outside in the sun.  Succulents provide diversity in colors, shapes and textures in our gardens and decks.
Photo by Jan Boone
Whether inside or outside, start with the premise that for the most part succulents & cacti demand attention to 3 fundamental basics in order to survive our high, cold and dry growing zones. These include light (depending upon varieties, at least 4 hours of direct sun and afternoon shade); soil to promote drainage since soggy roots simply produce root rot or fungus; and lastly, water.  While many cultivars are drought resistant perennials, it’s important to know plant water needs may require a more selective approach, especially when planting adjacent to one another. Watch to see what your plants tolerate. Succulents store their water in their fleshy leaves or stems and we all know when the temperature drops, those leaves may freeze and the plant is damaged or killed.  

A fourth area of consideration is the more common type of insect infestations you may discover before you start shifting containers or planting for the summer season.  These can include mealy bugs, whitefly, scale, aphids and some mites.  Inspect your plants closely.

Whether in smaller terrariums or larger outside settings, cacti are most selective about their clay soils, good drainage and limited watering needs.  Ball and barrel shapes may add diversity to your decks or rock gardens but winter protection is essential so containerizing these may be a safe bet. 

Perhaps you’ve hosted some of these visitors during winter months:

Jade plant Crassula ovata. Mine is a cutting from my mother’s immense container plant that lived on a balcony in direct afternoon sun in California for years.  Originally part of a diverse plant genus from Africa, the Jade plant has undergone a variety of scientific classification name changes.  This is a popular indoor only houseplant that can thrive on neglect!  My only issue is susceptibility to mealy bug.  At least once a year I find myself gently cleaning leaves w/q-tips, alcohol and soapy water.  These varieties are popular in small terrarium size plants or as large container plants. It does bloom, but more frequently in larger mass plantings. They will not overwinter outside at our altitude but may be content with an occasional secluded warm afternoon on an outside deck. Water is stored in the leaves, stem and roots.  Roots can do well in compact container settings.

Aloe pup 
Aloe Vera Aloe barbadensis.  Aloe is a good specimen to have in a container for the dramatic leaves as well as for its medicinal qualities.  Break a leaf spike off and you’ll find a gel good for burns and minor cuts.  Because I ignored this plant for quite a while, other than occasional watering, I learned what plant pups are!  Like many succulents, this plant reproduces by growing ‘pups’ from a main root. (Also referred to as offsets, or root portions that develop leaves and sprout a new plant).  Break pups off carefully, soak for 24 hours prior to re-potting and you have a new plant.           

Hens and Chicks Easily one of the most popular of so many colorful and unique Sempervivums.  Check the cultivar for hardiness.  Good in containers as well as planted in the right site.

Snake Plant Sansevierra trifasciata Popular as the Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law’s tongue among interior plant circles, but it is actual a succulent from Africa and Madagascar.  It’s low-light and easy maintenance needs are alluring.  Caution … this is a plant not meant for outdoor containers or use.  It’s perfect for an indoor succulent specimen.

Sansevierra pup
Pencil Cactus Euphorbiaceae tirucalli This is one of the first and more unique succulents I learned about upon moving to Colorado.  It is not an actual cactus despite the name, but a true succulent.  It is part of the Euphorbia family.  Members of this family can be annual, perennial, evergreen, shrub-like in gardens or even tree-like.  My initial encounter was a unique 5’ tall interior specimen.  Years later, I still like the vertical, simple nature of the plant and have a 6” high specimen in a terrarium bowl.   A characteristic this family all shares is the milky white sap that can irritate or be toxic to people and animals.  If you’re taking cuttings for propagation, wear gloves and don’t go near your eyes while handling anything w/sap.  There are more varieties that can be planted in outside beds in warmer zones, but not for our cold.  Keep in mind this family includes spurge varieties and even poinsettias!

Pencil cactus container growth
Stone succulent
Stone Plant Lithops marmorata I’ve always thought these small, funny ‘living stone’ succulents looked intriguing.  I became more interested by these as I’d pass large trays of 2” pots for sale at box store garden centers. From South Africa originally, they grow to mimic the rocks and dry environment they grow among. They will test the most determined grower!  Sometimes they split, sometimes they bloom and sometimes they just die!  I’ve discovered The Denver Botanic Gardens has a bed of them in their Steppes gardens to promote education about the threatened Steppes regions around the world.  The stems and roots are underground, while large rounded   leaves store water.  These are highly sensitive to cold and water, so require protection in winter months the payoff is the interesting addition to a xeric or rock garden space in your yard.  Leave them alone and they’re happy when dry and warm.

These are just a few of my winter houseguests, but as I pass through garden centers now, I think perhaps I need to add a few new varieties to my deck containers this coming season.  A great reference tool for anyone interested in succulents or cacti  is Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis, Storey Publishing, 2005. Currently it seems everyone is selling containers filled with multi-colored varying succulents, so it’s good to know what can work for your own house and garden environment.  Enjoy the fun!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cool vs. Warm Season Vegetables

by Susan Carter, Horticulture Area, CSU Ext. Tri River Area
With the sun shining, birds chirping and moisture in the ground this year, many of us are eager to jump into the garden.  There are several good things to think about before you just go ahead and plant.  Living in the mountains can have its challenges.  Did you know for every 400’ higher in elevation that you lose the number of growing days?  However, other factors can determine your frost-free days.  When I lived in Silverthorne CO, 8730’, we had many cold mornings.  Silverthorne is in the Valley with the Blue River running thru town.  Cold air sinks and follows rivers.  Leadville’s elevation, which is 10,151’ but is a high flat area where cold can drain off to lower elevations.  Leadville has 87 frost-free days and Silverthorne has about 60 growing days.  Is it good to know your average last day of frost: 

I now live in Fruita and since it is lower in the Valley, it can be a good 10 degrees colder than Palisade.  This is why most of the fruit and vineyards are in Palisade and why crops like hay and wheat and some vegetables are further down the valley.  Fruita can have a 32-degree frost around Mother’s Day where Palisade can have its last frost date 3 weeks earlier.
CSU Dept. of Atmospheric Science image
For mountain gardens, cool season vegetables are your best bet.  Leafy greens like lettuce, kale and spinach work well.   Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers and many root crops like beets and onions are also great cool season crops.  So why aren’t warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash a good choice?  Well, many of these warm season crops need night temperatures of at least 50 degrees and days up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Moreover, I am not just talking air temperature.  These plants prefer soil temperatures of at least 60 degrees.  Even at lower elevations, these plants are planted too early in the season will suffer from that cold stress and are prone to developing viruses and not thriving. 

On a smaller scale, you can use microclimates around your house to allow for a longer growing season.  There are methods of season extension that you can use such as frost blankets, walls of water, cold frames, plastic mulches and low or high tunnels formerly called hoop houses.  Being a plant geek, I had to experiment and try plants at high elevation.  My husband would laugh at my attempt every year to grow tomatoes.  I would plant them in dark pots, in mostly sunshine and place them against our homes wall under the overhang to get extra warmth and protection from the frost and cold.  I purchased Siberian tomatoes, which only need 55-60 growing days to develop.  Now growing days does not include seed to maturity, you have to add in time from seedling to germination to seedling plant before you can plant outdoors.   In this example, growing days equaled frost free days not optimal growing days as that is all I had to work with.  For all my effort, I typically would get about 3 small to medium tomatoes, but hey I grew them at high elevation.
CSU does not endorse any seed company. 
This just shows a shorter season tomato variety.
Now I could have used other methods of season extension to grow my tomatoes as mentioned above.  I did however grow many cool season crops like lettuce and spinach.  Did you know years ago there were lettuce farms in Silverthorne?  Sometimes it is much easier to grow what grows best in your area.  Depends on how much time, effort and money you want to put into it.  Happy Growing Season.

Monday, April 29, 2019

One of My Favorite Native Plants- Coneflower

by Ed Powers
As a child growing up in the Dakota’s, Nebraska, and as an adult, in Michigan, we grew coneflower in our gardens.  They were tall, extremely beautiful, easy to grow and they really set off our gardens. The scientific name for the coneflower is Echinacea.  I have tried to grow them at 8,000 feet, where we live now, with a great degree of difficulty.  But, after 3 years of trying, we are finally seeing results.

Echinacea is a group of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. The genus Echinacea has ten species, which are commonly called coneflowers. They are found only in eastern states to the eastern plains of central North America, where they grow in moist to dry prairies as well as open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echinos), meaning "hedgehog", due to the spiny central disk, referencing the spiky appearance and feel of the flower heads.  

These flowering plants and their parts have different uses. Some species are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. Echinacea purpurea is used in folk medicine. Two of the species, E. tennesseensis and E. laevigata, are listed in the United States as endangered species.
White Coneflower- Courtesy of American

Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm, or 4 feet, in height. They grow from taproots, except E. purpurea, which grows from a short caudex with fibrous roots. They have erect stems that, in most species, are unbranched. Both the basal and cauline (stem) leaves are arranged alternately. The flowers are collected together into single rounded heads at the ends of long peduncles. Like all members of the sunflower family, the flowering structure is a composite inflorescence, with rose-colored (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head – "cone-shaped" because the petals of the outer ray florets tend to point downward (are reflexed) once the flower head opens, thus forming a cone. Plants are generally long lived.

Research concluded that of the 40 genetically diverse populations of Echinacea studied, there were ten distinct species.  Only Echinacea angustifolia is native to Colorado.
·         Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf coneflower
·         Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka purple coneflower
·         Echinacea laevigata – Smooth coneflower, smooth purple coneflower
·         Echinacea pallida – Pale purple coneflower
·         Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow coneflower, Bush's purple coneflower
·         Echinacea purpurea – Purple coneflower, eastern purple coneflower
·         Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple coneflower
·         Echinacea serotina – Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
·         Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf purple coneflower
·         Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee coneflower

Purple Coneflower- Courtesy of American  
Echinacea, as a medicinal plant, has a long and intriguing history of use. For hundreds of years, the Plains Indians used it as an antiseptic, an analgesic, and to treat poisonous insect and snake bites, toothaches, sore throat, wounds and communicable diseases such as mumps, smallpox, and measles. It was also used by the Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Dakota, Meskwaki Fox, Pawnee, Sioux, and Omaha tribes. Early settlers then adopted the therapeutic uses of Echinacea root, and it has been used as an herbal remedy in the United States ever since.

In 1762, it was used as a treatment for saddle sores on horses.  Dr. H.C.F. Meyer learned of the uses of Echinacea from the native Indians of Nebraska around 1870, and later introduced it to a doctor in Europe. Dr. J. S. Leachman of Sharon, Oklahoma wrote in the October 1914 issue of "The Gleaner," that Echinacea root was used for nearly every sickness with good results. It was also found to be the secret ingredient in many tonics and blood purifiers of the era.

Red Coneflower- Courtesy of American
Chemists and pharmacologists became interested in Echinacea and many constituents are now known, such as polysaccharides, echinacoside, cichoric acid, keto alkene and alkylamide. The extracts exhibit immunostimulant properties and are mainly used in the prophylaxis and therapy of colds, flu and septic complaints. Although there are over 400 publications concerning the plant and dozens of preparations of Echinacea on the market, the true identity of the active principles still remains open.

Echinacea was included in the U. S. National Formulary from 1916 to 1950, although papers published by the Journal of the American Medical Association described it as a useless quack remedy.  Echinacea became known in Europe around 1895. Many research studies done by doctors in Germany indicated that Echinacea is largely effective mostly by increasing the number of white blood cells, thus boosting the immune system and thereby increasing the body's ability to fight infections.

I have enjoyed growing and cultivating Echinacea, and, next to Columbine and Roses, it has become one of my favorites.

Resources US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
The Spruce
Colorado State University/ Garden Notes
Sunset magazine/ Your guide to growing Coneflowers
University of Pittsburgh
USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Friday, April 19, 2019

Creating Native Bee Habitat in your Backyard

by Abi Saeed, Garfield County Agri/Horticulture and Natural Resources Extension Agent

Just like us, pollinators need two main things in order to survive: food (floral resources) and shelter (nesting materials and habitat).

Bee on Black-eyed Susan (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc., play an enormous role in our lives, affecting agriculture, the economy, wildlife and plant diversity in the region. Of the plethora of animals referred to as pollinators, bees are the most important because of a key part of their anatomy: their fuzziness (aka: the tiny hairs that they have all over their bodies). Bees are covered with these branched hairs specialized for collecting pollen, and different bees have hairs on different parts of their bodies. These hairs allow them to be the incredible pollen-carrying critters that we know and love.

Colorado is home to 946 different bee species. The majority of these bees rely on floral resources in the natural environment. Most of the bee species are solitary insects, and live in individual nests, as opposed to their social counterparts, honey bees and bumble bees. This means that most wild bees need a place to build a nest either in the ground, or in existing cavities.

Due to increased development, these nesting resources are fewer and farther between. Although it is always a good idea to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, encouraging the beneficial insects into your landscape involves more than just flowers. The nesting habitat is especially critical for our wild native bee communities to survive, and thrive, in our landscapes.

Native bee habitat in your gardens-
Ground-nesting Bees:

Roughly 70 percent of bees nest in the ground. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil - it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way - you are creating safe ground-nesting bee habitat for these extremely important native pollinators. Although mulch is a useful tool for your garden beds, it creates an obstacle for a ground-nesting bee to find the proper spot to make a home. Mulch can still be used in your garden, but leave some areas uncovered to allow direct soil access for bees.
Ground-nesting Bee (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Cavity-nesting Bees:
Cavity nesting bees, which include 30 percent of the species, can be just as simple to accommodate. Welcome them in your gardens by creating “mason bee houses,” which are made from wood, reeds, cardboard tubes, and a container to house these elements in. Mason bee houses can be as simple or complicated as you like, but make sure that you follow some simple guidelines concerning the correct materials if you are building your own bee hotels. These can easily be found online with a quick search for “bee homes.” Placement can be just as important as the materials that you use for these nesting boxes. Opt for a sturdy spot on a wall or shed in an out-of-the-way area. Make sure that the structure is 3-5 feet above the ground, and away from bird feeders and water spouts that will drain excess moisture. South and/or southeast facing bee hotels do best - they have access to early morning sun and warmth throughout the spring season.
Cavity-nesting Bee Hotel (Photo by Abi Saeed)
And, as with any pollinator habitat, make sure that there are plenty of flowering plants nearby for the bees to access nectar and pollen.

For more Information:

Friday, April 12, 2019


by Sharon Faircloth
We have all been told that adding landscaping can significantly increase the value of our properties.  A beautiful environment contributes to our overall well-being and it’s one of the reasons we live where we live.  Landscaping can be very daunting.  It seems the more natural you want it, the more complicated and expensive it can become.  Whether you want to enhance a problem area, attract wildlife or make it look like you live in a field of wildflowers, all it takes is some planning!  One consideration is to hire a professional to work with you on your vision, budget and timeline.  Another is to do all or parts of it yourself.

There are literally a zillion ideas on doing your own landscaping.   Use the internet for ideas but stay on the 'edu' sites for science-based information on everything else.  To create your vision, begin by taking photos of your site.   Consider what you have vs. what you want.  What can be changed by adding rocks, landscaping timbers or water features, and what do you have to work around driveways, rock outcroppings, slopes, mailboxes?  Look at the big picture.  How does the sunlight move across your property?   Do you have soil issues?  Micro-climates? Gaps where nothing much grows? Perhaps you’d like a little more privacy? Use your photos to observe and then draw out the area to scale.  Even if you’re not an artist or an engineer, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  You just need to have a good sense of space to begin the next phase.
Courtesy CMG Garden Notes
 #411 Water Wise Lands

Consider what you see in the winter time.  Would you like to incorporate more visual interest throughout the year?  A special area to attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies near your kitchen window?  Do you want an area where the flowers are all one color? How can colors be combined for the maximum impact and continuous blooming?  Consider form and texture and what can be added to enhance what you already have or create a whole new area.  Perhaps a new path to your entryway or a rock garden.  What about a challenging area where nothing much is growing? 

Building a rock garden and water feature 
Courtesy of Sharon Faircloth
Other major considerations are how much water you have available and how much time do you want to devote.  Picking the right plant for the right place, amending your soil if necessary, mulching and establishing new plants will improve your chances of success.  Breaking down your plan is a great idea.  Gardening can be hard work, not to mention expensive, so doing a bit at time is totally fine.  Making it a family project gives everyone a sense of ownership and pride!  Remember to keep a diary and note what worked and what didn’t and what you’d like to add or never do again.

The website has organized a wide variety of landscape design subjects for you, from choosing a landscape professional to design elements, the basics of building retaining walls, and conserving energy.  Go to the website, enter landscape design and you will find fact sheets and Planttalk ideas on these subjects, and many more.

Another great resource is the website.  Plant Select is a collaboration between Colorado State University, the Denver Botanical Gardens and local horticulturists.

Courtesy of Planttalk Colorado©
#1110 Using Color in Landscape
The group chooses to test plants for the Rocky Mountain region considering uniqueness, low water requirements, disease resistance, and habitat friendliness (although many of these are not suitable for higher elevations- check for hardiness).  Look for the PlantSelect© designation on plants at your local greenhouse.  Another great resource on their website are downloadable design ideas from professionals.  The designs provide scale, which you can adapt to your space.  You can also just use the designs for an idea of what plants go together and then you can research them for personal choice.

Take advantage of all the resources at your fingertips for landscape design and jump in! 

Photo courtesy of Sharon Faircloth, Vail, CO

Friday, April 5, 2019

Soil Prep is Key to a Good Garden

by Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Master Gardener
“N, P, K, Fe, Ca, Mg, pH…” Listening to gardeners talk about their soil can make you wonder if you need a science degree to understand it all!  Since soil health is the foundation of a successful garden, amending it to its best before planting will help your garden grow.  Spring is a good time to test the soil and see what minerals and nutrients it needs. CSU offers reduced cost soil tests which give you a detailed report of information about what is too high, too low and just right in your garden soil. Too much of a good thing like compost will interfere with your plants’ ability to take up nutrients needed for growth. I was surprised to learn from my vegetable garden soil test last year that I did not need to, and should not, add any more compost in the spring or manure in the fall as that was my annual routine in my home garden. Yet in the Gilpin County community garden where I volunteer the test recommended adding more compost for 2-3 years, plus certain minerals and nutrients in each garden.
pH and soil type chart

In Colorado, the soil is generally high pH (although this rule of thumb does not always hold in the mountains), and the goal is to build the soil to 6 to 7.2 pH for growing vegetables. The overall organic content is best in the 4-5% range which is ideal for the release of nitrogen from the soil. That is why I do not need to add yet more compost since mine was over 5%. You may find that you need to continue to slowly build your organic matter an inch or two at a time over several years, like in the community garden, which was at 4.4%. “Organic matter is also an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil.” (CSU Fact Sheet #7.235)

Compost and aged manure well mixed into your garden help improve the soil texture, tilth, aeration, drainage, and water retention so is well worth the work. Organic soil amendments and compost tea can be used to increase minerals and micronutrients. Gardeners can avoid chemical fertilizers or choose synthetics as preferred.
Soil Nutrients (credit Lumen Learning)

Primary nutrients for plants include Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Aside from carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) these are used by plants in the greatest amounts. C, O, H are generally gained from air and water aided by potassium in the plant. N/P/K help with foliage, root, flower, and fruit growth, plus disease protection. Packaged fertilizers list these 3 on labels to help you pick what you need in higher or lower percentages. Nitrogen helps green growth while phosphorus promotes fruits and flowers so you give the veggies or flowers what they need throughout their growth stages.

Secondary nutrients, needed in lesser amounts, include Magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and sulfur (S). They are just as important to the overall health of the plant.
Micronutrients are needed in even smaller amounts and most soil amendments will contain some amount of them. Micronutrients include zinc (Zn) iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), boron (B) as listed on my CSU soil test reports, plus molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), Chlorine (Cl) and cobalt (Co).

Locally we can readily find amendments for minerals and micronutrients which include:

Alfalfa pellets (S. Hollinsworth)
  • Alfalfa Meal pellets for readily available nitrogen; they also feed soil organisms. It’s better to get ones that only contain alfalfa pellets.
  • Ammonium Sulfate to add nitrogen. Can also be used for side dressing after plants are up and growing.
  • Bio char which may increase soil fertility, help plants use nitrogen and sequester carbon. (CSU Fact sheet 0.509 details the research:
  • Blood meal as a fast release nitrogen which purportedly also may repel deer if you need that benefit.
  • Bone meal or bone char to add phosphorus and calcium.
  • Fish emulsion or fish meal as a source of nitrogen and potassium. It is a byproduct of fish farming and has an odor, which may attract certain animals until it settles in.
  • Kelp Meal from dried, ground up seaweed provides trace minerals, amino acids, and enzymes.
  • Mycorrhiza stimulate plant and root growth and are beneficial to soil life.
  • Phosphate and superphosphate which promote flowering and fruiting. Best incorporated into the soil in spring or fall before planting if needed, as most Colorado soils have adequate phosphorus.
  • Soybean meal (non-GMO if you prefer) with high amounts of slow-release nitrogen and potassium.  
Blood Meal (S. Hollinsworth)
According to CSU research and Plant Talk information, Green sand, Rock powders, Gypsum and Lime are often not needed amendments in most areas of Colorado (although a soil test may indicate otherwise) – they may be beneficial in other parts of the USA.

Also “in areas like Colorado, where the entire growing season is used for vegetable production, a green manure is less practical.”  For additional information, refer to CMG Garden Notes #244, Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops ( But if you can squeeze in a cover crop or rotate beds to allow it every other year it can be quite beneficial for soil health plus may attract pollinators while in bloom. Till it into the soil before it is 4 inches tall to add the plant material into the garden and plant into the amended soil.

If you have not done a soil test to get recommendations, amendment products packaging usually includes suggested application rates.

A few important amendment and soil tips are:
-          Mix any amendments well into the top 6-8 inches of soil where plants and roots grow.
-          Avoid working soil when it’s too wet as it can damage soil.
-          Once your soil is amended, avoid stepping on it to prevent soil compaction.
-          Side dressing with more fertilizers as needed means mixing it into the soil next to and around plants without disturbing them too much.
-          Retest soil after the growing season or early the next year to know what adjustments are needed before the next planting.
-          In general manure is best added in the fall to allow several months for it to break down in the soil, and only use well aged manure as fresh manure can have high salts, ammonia, and even e-coli.

For more information CSU Fact Sheet 7.235 ( provides details on wood, manure, peats, biosolids, plant- based soil amendments, both types to use and avoid, plus application tips for building up your garden. Garden Notes #234 ( explains more about fertilizing and fertilizers. CSU soil test information

After you make the time to amend, you’ll be ready for planting and sowing seeds, or planting seedlings when the soil and weather warms up for a yummy harvest!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Vegetable Garden Layout

by Ginger Baer
For many years vegetable gardens were spacious, spread out and required a lot of weeding, water and upkeep.  I loved my BIG garden, but hated the weeding and tried many methods to cut down on that kind of work. It wasn’t until I moved to the mountains and joined our community garden that I actually tried intensive gardening (due to the fact that my space was limited). Each garden plot measured 4' X 12', a far cry from my 20' x 20' garden at a lower elevation.

In-ground garden
The most important part of selecting your garden location is location.  You need to have plenty of sunlight, well-drained soils and availability to water.  Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, require the least direct sunlight, only 4 to 5 hours. Root vegetables require 5 to 6 hours, and fruiting vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini) require at least 8 hours. In Colorado, water can be a challenge unless you have water rights.  This is why I have a plot in the Gilpin County Community Garden.  They provide the water.

Broad forks
If one has plenty of space, water, time and energy, row gardening can be a great way to garden. It does require a bit of money to amend the soil, maintain and water. I had successfully gardened this way for many years. You will need to be sure that your rows are straight (you can use a string for your layout) because this will make tilling between the rows easiest. In this style of garden, you will need to take care that you don’t walk on the rows as to avoid compaction of the soil, which will inhibit root growth. 

Until recently, mechanical tillers were the recommended method for turning the soil.  Recently, however, it is recommended that you hand till the beds with either a garden fork or a broad fork.  This can be labor and time intensive if your garden is large, however, you are minimizing the chances for compaction (by footsteps and heavy equipment). If this is your style of garden, then by all means, go for it.  

For me, however, I have really loved my smaller, intensive garden. Square foot gardening is a trend that started out in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was developed by Mel Bartholomew. [1] This method has been further developed and there is a garden note from CSU Extension on what is called Block Style Garden. [2] I have adopted this style of gardening in my community garden plot. The idea of this style of gardening is to maximize yields for the space allotted. In your space you should lay out a plan to plant crops with an equal-distance space between neighboring plants in both directions. In doing so you will also need to consider the sunlight requirements of each of your plants.

Another consideration is how much room each plant requires for growing.  Lettuce, radishes and carrots are ideal for block gardening, whereas squash and vining vegetables such as cucumbers may require too much space.  One thing that can help with those types of plants is a trellis. Remember the direction of the sunlight when using this method so that you do not shade the other plants in your garden.

Due to the fact that there is such intensity in your plantings you will need to be sure that you maintain the richness of your soil. Concentrate on improving soils with routine applications of organic matter and get soil testing along the way to be sure that you have a correct balance.

Block style gardens are well suited for both in-the-ground plots or raised beds. As mentioned above, I started mine in a plot that measured 4 ft x 12 ft and it was in the ground. In this plot, I was able to grow onion, lettuce, spinach, arugula, carrots, peas, radishes, turnips, beans, squash and a cherry tomato.

Raised beds in Community Garden
The community garden also offers raised beds by way of galvanized water troughs measuring 3 ft x 10 ft.  I love mine! Last year I grew onions, carrots, radishes, lettuce, arugula, peas, beans, squash and cucumber.  One error I did make was to grow too many squash plants, and you know how those squash multiply (keep your car windows closed!).  The squash really spread and overtook the cucumber plants and beans.  One plant will be enough in the bed this year.

Whatever method you decide to use, it is always a good idea to layout your garden plan with pencil and paper.  This way you will be sure of how much room you have for your plants and you will also have a good record from one year to the next of what you grew, what did well, and what did not. Make the most of your space and happy gardening!

Friday, March 22, 2019


Brassicas in garden (photo Yvette Henson)

by Yvette Henson
I just planted my brassica seeds in flats to plant out into the garden when it is time.  Brassicas are plants in the Brassicaceae family, also known as cruciferous or cole crops.  Plants in this family that are grown for eating include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, radishes, turnips, and more.  As vegetables, they are rich in anti-cancer compounds, one of which is free glutamine.  Brassicas are also high in other many other nutrients.

Brassicas are cool-season crops.  Although some varieties can take longer to mature, they can better survive temperatures below freezing.  We can plant them before the last spring frost and/or later in the summer so they mature when temperatures are cooler (which will improve their flavor and quality).  Cool-season crops generally do very well in our mountain communities where we have lower day and nighttime temperatures.  They can grow well in the open but growing under cover gives the advantage of an extended harvest (earlier and later), cooling in the summer, less evaporation from the soil and protection from cabbage worms, etc.

Brassicas in garden (photo credit Yvette Henson)
Brassicas aren’t too picky about soil - some of them even prefer clay soil.  They do require fertilization (pre-planting and every 3 weeks through harvest), and need water most when establishing and when edible parts are maturing.  Uneven watering and high temperatures may cause heading-type brassicas to split or bolt.  Many disease problems can be reduced if grown on 4-5 year rotation with non-cole crops. The most common insect pests are cabbage worms, aphids, and flea beetles.  These pests are best managed by reducing stress on the plants, covering them with row cover or timing the planting to avoid a particular pest. 

All the varieties I will recommend in this article are open pollinated (OP).  That means that you can plant extra for seed production.  If you provide proper growing conditions, isolation distances and save the best for seed, replant and repeat, you should eventually get a better strain adapted to your local conditions.

Radishes  (photo Baker Creek Seeds)
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are a good digestive.  Radish roots can be eaten fresh, be pickled or roasted.  There are also radishes cultivated for their edible leaves and seed pods (Raphanus sativus subsp. caudatus).  Radishes are probably the easiest Brassica to grow.  Be sure you know if you have spring radishes or fall radishes so that you plant them in the correct season.  Most spring radishes mature in a short time (30 days +) but generally fall radishes take longer to mature.  If your season is really short you can plant both types in the late winter and spring, but if you have warmer summer days you will want to plant fall radishes later.  Fall radishes often store well. My favorite spring radish so far is ‘Early Yellow Turnip-rooted’.  Yellow radishes withstand heat better than reds.  My favorite fall radish is ‘Watermelon Radish’ (60 days).

Kales (2 different Brassica spp.) have a high mineral content and are good cleansers.  They also contain vitamins A & K and potassium.  They are easy to grow and can yield a lot of greens over time in a small area.  Kale can be direct seeded in the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or 6-8 weeks before first frost.  You can start harvesting young leaves as early as 40 days and it can be harvested several weeks after the last frost.  ‘Red Russian’ is a Siberian kale (Brassica napus), the classic kale with tender leaves that makes great massaged-kale salad; dinosaur kale (Brassica oleacea) is great in soup and for kale chips; and a beautiful burgundy-leaved curly kale (Brassica oleacea) is ‘Baltic Red’ which is edible and ornamental! 

Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage (photo Southern Exposure Seed)

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) contains chlorine and sulphur which help cleanse stomach and intestines, and cabbage juice is good for stomach ulcers.  They are relatively easy to grow but they don’t compete well with weeds or deep cultivation. They do best when planted as young plants directly in the garden.  If planting is timed so that heads are forming when temperatures are cool they will be denser and of better quality.  They are most susceptible to frost damage when heading up, but there are cabbage varieties classified as winter cabbages that can withstand frost.  These types can often be stored for several months in the winter.  Two of my favorite varieties of cabbage are ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ and ‘Mammoth Red Rock’.  ‘EJW’ is an early (60-75 days) cabbage with a conical head and mild, sweet flavor, and it doesn’t take up too much room in the garden.   'MRR’ matures a little later (100 days), it has a round flat head with purple tinged leaves and stores well. It makes an excellent semi-fermented ‘kraut’.  Purple cabbages seem to experience less aphid pressure.
Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage (photo credit Yvette Henson)
Nutribud Broccoli (photo Adaptive Seeds)
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) can be a little more difficult to grow than cabbages.  They do best when planted out as young plants about the time of last frost (earlier if under cover).  Our favorite broccoli is ‘Nutribud’ (80 days).  It contains higher than average amounts of free glutamine.  It forms a beautiful head followed by side shoots.  We prefer the side shoots rather than the heads - they are more tender and continue producing until winter kill. 

Cauliflower can be difficult to grow.  It is sensitive to handling, temperature extremes and sun scald on heads.  A reliable variety that is easier-to-grow is ‘Macerata’ (70-80 days), it forms tasty lime-green heads.
'Macerata' Cauliflower (photo Baker Creek Seeds)
Please share your successes and lessons learned growing Brassicas.  What are your favorite varieties?

Yvette Henson is the Director and Agent at the Colorado State University Extension in San Miguel and West Montrose Counties.