Thursday, June 14, 2018

Watering the Vegetable Garden

by Virginia Baer
Those of us living in Colorado should be fully aware of Colorado Water Law as it applies to domestic water rights and crop irrigation. Those gardeners who are fortunate enough to live in a municipality that supplies their water do not feel the restriction of water use nearly as strongly as those who receive their water by way of a residential well. Further, those with residential wells that were in place before 1972 do not feel the restrictions in place as those who have wells drilled after 1972 where outside irrigation is prohibited. (But do note that even those with household-use only wells are allowed to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater from a residential roof). Water restrictions or not, as gardeners we should all be aware of the importance of being conservative with our water use. This is especially important in 2018 where over half of our state is experiencing drought anywhere from moderate to extreme.

If you have healthy, well amended soil you have a good chance for having soil that will hold sufficient water for your plants to thrive. Organic matter in the soil should be at 4%-5% of the makeup of the soil. Sandy soil needs amendments to give the soil more structure so that the water does not run through it too quickly. Clayey soil needs amendments to give the soil pores so that it can breathe and the roots have room to expand. Also, amendments in clayey soil help to keep the soil from being overly compacted.  Vegetable plants utilize about ¼ inch of water per day. This may vary depending on temperature,wind and soil condition. Therefore, water a garden 1 inch would require watering every 4th day.
Checking Soil Moisture
Checking your soil moisture is important so that the gardener can determine whether or not the garden has sufficient moisture. The gardener should irrigate the garden once the soil feels dry to the touch at a depth of 2-4 inches. I have found that using a houseplant watering meter to be very helpful in evaluating the soil moisture content.

Image result for checking garden soil moisture
Manually checking soil moisture with finger

Other Methods for Conserving Water
o  Plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation.

o  Control weeds that compete with vegetables for water.

o  Protect plants and soil from wind with windbreaks to reduce evaporation.

o  I have had the best success with using floating row covers.  These provide moderate shade and help to reduce evaporation, while still allowing adequate sunlight and rain water to get through.

Critical Water Periods for Vegetables
Be aware of the most critical times to water your garden. Water is most critical during seed germination, the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production.  There are many methods that we can employ to be efficient in the use of water in our vegetable gardens while at the same time realizing that an adequate supply of water during the growing season is directly related to the quality and yields of our produce. There are several methods that can be used to conserve water and still have a productive vegetable garden.
Hand watering
The simplest and often most efficient method of watering is just to hand-water with a hose. This allows the gardener to see exactly the amount of water that is needed, and to direct it to specific plants.
Drip system
Drip System Watering
Utilizing a drip system can reduce the need for watering up to 50% over sprinkler irrigation. It is especially efficient for block styled gardens and raised beds. Soaker hoses, in-line tubing with emitters and bubblers or drippers are all methods that can be utilized in a drip system.  Soakers can be buried a little under the soil or mulch. Burying the hose can also protect it from early breakdown by the sunlight.  One challenge of a drip system is the need for clean water. If the water source is not clean the hoses can become clogged.
Sprinkler Irrigation
With sprinkler irrigation, the amount of water being delivered can be easily measured. Sprinkler irrigation should discouraged on vegetables prone to foliar diseases such as Early Blight (tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes).  Sprinkler irrigation also soaks the entire ground thus promoting weed growth, and it also evaporates more in the air, and thus is less efficient.
Furrow Irrigation
For gardeners who have irrigation water from a ditch, furrow irrigation in the traditional row-style garden layout may be the easiest way to water your vegetables, but not necessarily the most water-efficient. Soil erosion, potential weed deposition and runoff are major disadvantages of furrow irrigation.

For more in depth reading about watering the vegetable garden and irrigation of the garden please refer to the following CMG GardenNotes, which can be found at   

#714  Irrigating the Vegetable Garden

Friday, June 8, 2018

by Estella Heitman
Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
     Every gardening enthusiast has a "pet peeve" or two.  For this gardener, it is the Oxeye Daisy.  This daisy is native to Europe and was introduced to America intentionally as an ornamental and accidentally as a contaminant of imported hay and grain seeds.  It has spread to virtually every state, and in Colorado it is now included on the B List of Noxious Weeds.   Noxious weeds are not just plants out of place; they are non-native plants that are displacing native vegetation and disrupting ecosystems.  List B plants are those for which The Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, the Colorado Noxious Weed Advisory Committee & local governments are developing and implementing plans to stop the spread of the species.  The greatest impact of the oxeye daisy is on forage production of infested pastures and meadows.  Cattle avoid grazing oxeye daisy.  Dense stands of oxeye daisy decrease plant diversity. 

     These facts are often unknown and/or disregarded by non-professional gardeners - and frequently by property owners who have little interest in gardening but enjoy the vista of acreage covered with these attractive bloomers.  Because the oxeye daisy is such a pretty plant, proper management is often neglected and the plants increase at an alarming rate and compete perniciously with more desirable plant life.  This gardener has, in fact, heard friends and neighbors express great pride in these plants which spread and cover otherwise untended land, requiring little moisture and virtually no care. The oxeye daisy is  often confused with  the Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x  superbum), a plant that is also a non-native ornamental, although it has a clumping rather than spreading root system and is not considered an invasive plant. 
     The oxeye daisy is a perennial which reproduces primarily by seed, although underground rhizomes contribute to the plant propagation.  Each flower may produce 100 to 250 seeds.  A singly plant may produce up to 26,000 seeds seasonally.  Educational awareness regarding the oxeye daisy and proper management strategies are important for our environment, for our grazing lands, and for the natural beauty of our mountain neighborhoods. For areas with established oxeye daisy invasion recommended controls include mowing as soon as buds appear and continued mowing through the growing season  Hand pulling may be practical for controlling small populations of oxeye daisy, since root systems are shallow and the plant can be dug up and removed.  Herbicides are another option.  Persistent preventative measures may have to be continued for many years since the seeds remain viable in the soil for long periods of time.

Estella Heitman is a Master Gardener who has made her retirement home here in Routt County for the past nine years after many years of part-time residence.  Migrating from the mid-west, she had many, many lessons to learn as a transplanted high-country gardener.  She enjoys the challenges and joys of gardening in the mountains at 8000 feet elevation at her home near Stagecoach Reservoir.

Friday, June 1, 2018

A native in the garden: Oregon grape

by Vicky Barney
   This spring, everywhere I look - on the trail and in my yard - I see pretty clusters of small bright yellow flowers above holly-shaped spiny leaves, leaves that are mostly rich green and may have spots of orange and red.  These small woody shrubs are Oregon grape, named for their edible but tart grape-like berries that appear later in the summer.

     The tall form of Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium) is the state flower of Oregon and grows 3 – 6 feet tall.  The plant I am seeing is much smaller (1 – 2 feet tall) and is Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens or Berberis repens).
     This broadleaf evergreen plant has many names – Oregon grape, Oregon grapeholly, Holly-grape, Mountain holly – which is confusing because it is neither a grape nor a holly. Creeping Oregon grape may also be called creeping mahonia, creeping barberry, or prostrate barberry.  Even the Latin names are confusing.   The plant is sometimes listed with the genus Mahonia and sometimes with the genus Berberis.  Further, botanists are not in agreement whether the creeping form is a subspecies of the taller form, or a species of its own, resulting in yet more Latin names for the smaller form (Mahonia aquifolium var. repens or Berberis aquifolium var. repens).
     Once you know the various names, you can find a wealth of information about Oregon grape.  Both forms are native to the western United States, and the creeping form is native to our area.  It may be found in complete shade, partial shade, and even in open areas.  This time of year, you can see the bright yellow flowers along popular hiking trails in this area as well as on the Front Range. 
     The Creeping Oregon grape in my yard is growing unattended under and around the edges of conifers, chokecherries and serviceberries, sheltered from winter sun and drying winds.  It is growing in a sprawling fashion in some areas and is tall and leggy in other places.  Some flowers perch on stems over 2 feet tall.  It is a wonderful plant for those of us who garden for wildlife: the early blooming flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, and summer berries provide food for the birds.
     Creeping Oregon grape is a great plant to actively cultivate in our gardens as well.  It tolerates sun, likes the shade, requires very little water once it is established, and is rarely browsed by deer.   Pruning will result in shorter, denser plants that make for great ground cover in shady areas.  It also can stabilize hillsides with its underground growth habit, and is resistant to wildfire.   Medicinal and edible uses are detailed in “Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” by Mary O’Brien and Karen Vail.
     With its striking yellow flowers set against shiny leaves in reds and greens in spring, followed by pretty blue berries in summer, and ending with leaves in all shades of red in the fall, Oregon grape adds interest and value to our yards all season long.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.