Monday, December 3, 2012

Garden makeover by Irene Shonle

Voles have periodic population explosions, and my house was the epicenter this year.   Pocket gophers decided to get in on the party, too.  Whereas before, they had always stayed down in the leach field and other peripheral areas, this year they moved into the garden.  I watched one of my rhubarb plants disappear underground entirely.
Fencing kept out the rabbits and chipmunks, but not voles and pocket gophers

I finally realized that my attempts to retrofit exclusion just weren't working (rocks kept me from burying the fence underground, and voles just slipped right under like the fence wasn't even there).  Pocket gophers were completely undeterred by the above ground fence.   It was time to do things right -- even though it would mean a LOT of work!

Monday, November 19, 2012

In My Backyard by Martha Perantoni

The number one question I heard all summer from gardening clients and at the Evergreen Farmer’s Market Master Gardener booth was “what won’t the deer and elk eat?” The answer I finally arrived at was “anchovies.”

Colorado and her foothills are unique in its diversity of wildlife. That’s the beauty and the challenge of it, particularly for gardeners.  I revel in the wildlife community, and its impact and softening on me daily is worth a few lost posies. Native Americans believe in the power of the animal kingdom and since we are all part of the same community, I think it’s critical we soften our attitudes towards those we consider invaders. While your garden may not be completely ungulate resistant, what a wonderful opportunity to view and enjoy our local species by offering them occasional snacks!

This bull elk wandered through my driveway during rut, herding his ladies ahead of him, and for obvious reasons I stayed in my car until he moved through. They devoured plants in their path, but it’s autumn and, shoot, plants need winter pruning anyway!

My little red fox friend decided that caching his catch in my upper deck container was a good idea. All the time I thought he was there to smell my lobelia before the first freeze!

Every region and climate in North America has its own set of challenges –in Florida, it’s hurricanes and for California, it’s earthquakes. While Colorado has its share of everything from drought and wildfires to deep snowpack, how lucky we are we have opportunity to view and cherish our wildlife. Got elk? Get a camera and share the beauty of your interaction!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bobcat in the garden - by Irene Shonle

Bobcat visits our garden.  Photo by Tom Lambrecht
Following up on the last post,  we had a visit from another garden helper a couple of days ago.  A beautiful bobcat spent about fifteen minutes visiting our garden, probably attracted by the many voles in the area (and possibly the bunny poop we have been adding as fertilizer).

We watched it stalk several voles -- it missed a couple of times and finally did get one.  I hope it returns often, because there's plenty more where that one came from!

Since our beloved old dog died a few years ago, it has been interesting to watch the increase in visits from critters of all kinds -- our vole population is up, but so are the bobcats, coyotes, and foxes.    Maybe we'll reach a reasonable equilibrium one of these years.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nuisance Neighbors or Garden Helpers … a Tail (!) from Camp Evergreen

Mr. Fox, enjoying a bit of shade on the deck

Those of us living at altitude know all too well, the challenges of gardening with critters around our prized plants, veggies and trees.  We’ve all made the efforts to keep them out or perhaps even have read the Fact Sheets on control methods.   In fact, most hearty  Master Gardeners (MG) have fielded calls on the CMG Hotline about controlling the critters that frequently make a meal out of our prized nursery stock, ripening tomatoes or seedling transplants and saplings. What’s a gardener to do??   Just who was here first???

Other than surrounding your beds with 6’ high fences, electronic eyes, searchlights, coils of razor wire, bottles of repellant and other manners to control underground attacks – I say strive for a non-contentious balance. While these invaders may be looked upon as nuisance neighbors, these critters also can be considered garden helpers.  Case in point, I had two such garden helpers this past summer that amused me to no end.

Take Mr. Fox, seen above resting in the shade on the back deck after a hectic morning of wrangling squirrels!  Dare I say there were no battles of who’s going to eat the birdseed at the feeders first …birds or squirrels?  Or who’s going to dig in the deck planters to bury some unforeseen treasure from the forest floor.  In fact, I followed wet paw prints across a spot of sheltered deck after a light rain one evening, only to discover they did not belong to the resident Camp Lab, but belonged to Mr. Fox.   He at least had had the consideration of digging in a planter box that had not yet been planted!  For that, he earned Special Access and the box remained unplanted for the rest of the season … and no, I didn’t dig around to find out what all his buried treasures were!

Then there was Carly, the young elk cow, who appeared one late afternoon to help trim the back lawn.
Young elk, Carly, the lawn maintenance crew

For all that say … “Who has a lawn in the Foothills …?”   I will readily admit I do – It’s small, only 8 x 30 off my back deck.  It’s just an added spot of greenery no one enjoys, other than those here at the Camp.
Yes, it’s filled with dandelions, small knapweed and other such invaders but Carly does enough to help keep things under control!  Perhaps an affiliate membership in the Colorado Weed Management Association is in order??  I will say she was even considerate enough not to leave her pine-tainted fertilizer behind, even though it was fall and the prime time to fertilize lawns for root growth!

There are a few more ‘helpers’ around here at The Camp, but they have yet to prove their worth.  (Even though Rosie the Rabbit is careful & delicate in her pruning, she just needs to find a different  horticultural focus, besides my budding Columbine!)   While it is fun to call out our nuisance neighbors,
it is important to remember how much we all enjoy living in such colorful surroundings – even if it means a 6’ high fence to protect the veggie plot is in your future for next Spring!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Greenhouse in Teller County, CO by Valerie Belding

I’ve never been a person filled with garden envy until I tried gardening in a mountain valley. I’m just outside of Woodland Park along Trout Creek and register 10 degrees colder than Colorado Springs’ temperatures at almost any given time. My soil, at one point, consisted mainly of decomposed granite. Summer sun is adequate but my fall/winter sun exposure is limited to 6 hours.

With a back hoe, we dug a pit and brought in top soil for a vegetable garden. I experimented with several types of structures until we built my current greenhouse(7’ x 12’). I have a regular garden plot up against my greenhouse and I use both all summer. Compost and horse manure are added to the beds plus my spent annual containers; plants, dirt and all.

Last year I battled with what someone said were gophers. I never saw the animals but saw the mounds. The burrows were 2-3” across and all over my perennials beds. I flooded and collapsed many tunnels and ultimately baited the flower beds. Afraid of repeating the battle this year, I opted to use hardware cloth under the soil in the greenhouse and contained the soil in boxes adding height for future composting.

Pavers line the middle walk for heat retention and cleanliness and I keep gallons of water for passive heat. As night temperatures decline I add an additional plastic liner to insulate from the cold. I also lower the ceiling using moveable boards across the midrib to support one more layer of plastic. I can still vent and run a fan by lifting the plastic bib in front of the door. I have heat in the morning hours to keep it from getting too cold.

As we just cleared a 13 degree night I was tickled to open up the greenhouse and see my lettuce, Swiss chard and onions in good shape. I did lose some very young lettuce and most of my spinach to a mouse. I'm negotiating his presence with baited traps and ‘aromatherapy’ (urine sprays and blood meal). Seems he’s got the message. I'm not sure how much growing I have ahead with diminishing day light, but I'm going to see how far I can go.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pocket Parks by Janet Low

The park with bermed, rock covered hillside with native shrubs and wooden architectural features

Strolling along an old railway path in Salida with  my granddaughter, we came across a once weedy vacant lot that had been transformed into a “pocket park.”  As she napped in her stroller, I sat and enjoyed the view of the Collegiate Peaks and the natural setting that had been created by the native herbaceous perennials and shrubs. At this Monarch Spur Park in Salida, a wooden structure created to post facts about the sight, along with a list of native plants that were planted in the pocket park were included.  Credit was also given to the creators and donors of the park.

Explanation of Monarch Spur Park, a sign in the pocket park in Salida

By definition, a pocket park is a small park accessible to the general public, frequently created on a single vacant building lot or small irregular pieces of public or private land.  They provide greenery, a place to sit, possibly created around a monument or art project. They can also have a positive effect on the value of nearby homes and businesses as well as eliminating the weeds on long forgotten lots.

The wooden structure built for the sign

Returning home to Lakewood, I began to think of the possibilities for “pocket parks” in Jefferson County.  As a master gardener without a plot of land of my own for gardening, I have adopted plots of land to tend to, such as friends’ gardens that need help with planting, weeding, dead heading  and dividing, a memorial garden at the church my parents once attended and now the idea of a pocket park.

My thoughts about a pocket park would be to research land ownership when coming across a plot of land that would make a viable project.  CSU fact sheet #7.242 Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes and #7.422 Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes would be supports for suggested plants. 

The labor force necessary could possibly come from Colorado Master Gardeners as a project for  garden project/plant select/ or display garden credit hours.  The plants could also come partially from Colorado Master Gardeners when dividing and sharing their own gardens (such as Fall Harvest), along with fundraisers and donations throughout the year.  The Salida park used a grant form Great Outdoors Colorado, along with cooperation from neighboring landowners, Salida Parks Open Space and Trails and the City of Salida Public Works Dept.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Outdoor Vermicomposting at 8000' - Part 1, The Worm Bin by Tina Ligon

Figure 1 - Repurposed refrigerator - it is now a worm bin
Yes, you can do vermicomposting outdoors, year round at 8000' and yes, it does take a little effort. I started my outdoor bin in August 2009. I successfully kept worms in the bin in 2009 and 2011. I moved all of the worms indoors in 2010 due to a work assignment out of state so wasn’t around to give them the attention needed. This article is about the bin, I plan to blog more about the other aspects of outdoor vermicomposting at altitude in the future.

I originally saw the example of using a discarded refrigerator as a bin at the Sustainability Fair in Fort Collins.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Be conscious of your manure compost – by Tulsi French

Tomato with Herbicide Damage

After adding manure to our soil last year, our tomatoes have not had a chance.  We received slightly aged horse manure from a friend of ours in Gilpin County.  We were unaware the manure had small traces of Milestone herbicide (Aminopyralid). The herbicide was used in the horses’ grazing fields to treat noxious weeds. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Yep, that was a “Hard Freeze” by Tina Ligon

Dill covered with Ice

I think it is a safe assumption that all of us mountain gardeners have had a “hard freeze” by now. I was curious about the terms frost, soft vs. hard freeze and a few other terms that describe those temperatures and conditions that occur around the freezing point of water, 32 F/ 0 C. With a background in science, I am familiar with the behavior of water as it approaches the freezing point but what about these other terms.

Late blooming Daylily

After a little research, it looks like these terms mostly come from meteorologists and the agricultural community. Plus the terms only seemed to be thrown around in the Spring and Fall, we don’t hear much about a frost warning when there is a foot of snow on the ground. Although I learned, it is that frost on snow that leads to higher avalanche danger in certain conditions. Here are some general terms and definitions that I found in the Farmer’s Almanac that seem to be in alignment with National Weather Service guidelines:
FROST: Damage depends upon length of frost duration.
LIGHT FREEZE: 29 degrees F to 32 degrees F / -2 degrees C to 0 degrees C. Tender plants killed with little destructive effect on other vegetation.
MODERATE FREEZE: 25 degrees F to 28 degrees F / -4 degrees C to -2 degrees C. Wide destruction on most vegetation with heavy damage to fruit blossoms and tender semi-hardy plants.
SEVERE FREEZE: 24 degrees F / -4 degrees C and colder. Heavy damage to most plants.
It is all interesting information but seems to be a moot point when we experience a >50 F drop in one day (78 to mid-20s at my house) here in Colorado. Within the next 24-48 hours I saw lows around 18. So needless to say I wasn’t out there trying to cover and protect tender vegetation, the game was over for this year.

Ice crytals on Cotoneaster

Below are a few CSU Extension links to some great reminders about some items to take care of in the Fall to put our gardens and landscape to bed for the winter. Plus enjoy the pictures of the beauty associated with those icy mornings.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How to Get Red Fall Color in Your Mountain Garden -- By Irene Shonle

There is no denying the splendor of stands of aspen as they turn gold.  Hordes of leaf-peepers have been turning highway 119 into a parking lot as they take pictures of the brilliant yellow contrasting with the bluebird sky.
Many lament the lack of reds in the fall palette, but I would like to speak up for Colorado fall reds.  Okay, so they may not steal the show like the aspen do, but if you look carefully (and design them into your garden), they provide a lovely contrast.
Here are some of my favorites:
Golden currant, Ribes aureum

Cotoneaster lucidus

Wild geranium, Geranium caespitosum
Leafy cinquefoil, Drymocallis fissa
Native mountain-ash, Sorbus scopulina
Other worthy contenders: 
Red-twigged dogwood, Cornus sericea
Wild roses often turn a lovely red
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius
Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
Red-leafed rose, Rosa glauca
Pig-squeak, Bergenia
Waxflower, Jamesia americana
Sulfur flower, Eriogonum umbellatum

Plant these all with abandon in your mountain garden, and you will enjoy a wider range of fall colors (and they all are very garden worthy in other seasons as well!)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Noxious Weeds by Mary Beth Mainero

Last year I took the Native Plant Class with Patti O’Neal, Research Associate at the CSU Extension in Jefferson County. I was eager to learn all about the beautiful wildflowers on my property. Lo and behold they turn out to be Noxious Weeds! Not all, but many.
Did you know that Colorado has a Noxious Weed Law (CRS 35-5.5 et al) that requires all homeowners to control and eradicate noxious weeds on their property? This is a civic obligation, besides voting and jury duty!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Bluebird Diary by Gina Kokinda

“How the waiting countryside thrills with joy when Bluebird brings us the first word of returning spring. Reflecting heaven from his back and the ground from his breast, he floats between sky and earth like the winged voice of hope.”
(Quote by WL Dawson)
March 15. Mr. Bluebird off our deck surveying the site.
Zippity-do-da, Zippity-A…My oh my it’s a wonderful day! The magical beautiful bluebird, symbol of happiness and peace, has inspired poets, writers, musicians, naturalists, and everyday people alike:

“Be like the bluebird who never is blue, For he knows from his upbringing what singing can do.” -Cole Porter

“And when he sings to you, Though you're deep in blue, You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss, Somewhere there's a bluebird of happiness.
Life is sweet, tender and complete, when you find the bluebird of happiness.” -Edward Heyman & Harry Parr Davies

“Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why, oh why, can't I.” -Lyman Frank Baum

It’s easy to understand why the bluebird is so beloved. I have always admired them, but had no idea just how enjoyable and sweet they could be until this season, when I was blessed with the pleasure of watching a pair raise two broods on our property. My office window faces a couple of nesting/roosting boxes that we installed in hopes of their taking up residence with us. They did, and the lovely family are still hanging around our garden today. In fact I am watching a few of them hunt and frolick this very minute as I write!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Spotting of Hummingbird Moth by Tina Ligon

This morning I saw a Hummingbird Moth in the yard. I ran and got the camera and of course it had left. So I was patient and kept the camera close by and yes it came back.

See Irene's post from July 10 for more information on this lovely insect.

Adult white-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles Lieata) Photo taken by Tina Ligon

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Favorite Container Plants for the Mountains -- by Irene Shonle

We have an outdoor eating area that we carve off from our driveway in the summer months. In order not to feel as though we are sitting in the driveway, I encircle the area with large pots of container plants.  After much trial and error, I have come to three conclusions about container plants for the mountains:  they have to be critter resistant (anyone else found petunias to be chipmunk candy?), they have to attract hummingbirds (okay, that's my personal bias), and they have to not require too much heat to bloom (Annual salvias don't usually do well for me).   

So, what are the plants I rely on?

Geraniums  -- I keep them in pots, and bring them outdoors in the summer.  Their colors dazzle, and the critters just don't like them.
Nasturtium "Empress of India" and Cerinthe -- look for the hummer just below the Cerinthe on the left

Nasturtiums -- gorgeous bright blooms, easy to grow from seed, a big-time hummer attractor, and they even provide edible flowers!  I like to grow them in the same pot as Cerinthe, or honeybells.  These dusky purple flowers are more deeply colored with our cool nights, and are also great for hummingbirds.

Sweet pea "Matucana" provides fragrance at my front door

Sweet peas -- I start these inside at least two months before the last frost, and twine them up my porch posts.  I love the delicate fragrance as I come in and out of the door.

Anagallis monellii or blue pimpernel

Anagallis -- this is a new favorite for me; I had never grown it before, but I love the bright blue flowers, and it has done very well through both drought and lots of rain, always covered in flowers. Never needs deadheading, either. This year, I also tried a pentas and verbena (adventures in watering these posted earlier).

Pansies have often done well for me in the past, but it all depends on the critters tastes in any one year -- this year, probably because of the drought, they decided to eat all of them, so I have none.  I love Osteospermum (and they do well in our cool nights)  but so do the Golden mantled ground squirrels.  Lobelia is a great plant for hanging baskets.

If you want to grow plants from seed (it's cheaper that way), start them at least two months before frost, so they will have time to fill out).  If you buy plants in containers, you may need to buy them early (when they are available at garden centers down below), and move them in at nights until conditions warm up.  Don't put frost-tender plants such as geraniums and nasturtiums out too early, or they will freeze to death.  Container plants do require more water, so if you don't have water rights, you will want to limit or eliminate container plants from your repetoire.

Friday, August 31, 2012

My Pet Tomato at 8,800' -- by Irene Shonle

Tomatoes and other warm season vegetables are just plain hard to grow in the mountains.  Our short growing season and cool nights conspire to make it hard for these heat-loving plants to set fruit and ripen. Tomato pollination is temperature dependent.  If nighttime temperatures drop below 55°F, pollen fails to develop and flowers that open the following morning will not set fruit.  

Mountain gardeners lament not being able to grow home-grown tomatoes in particular.  I usually recommend that people not struggle with them, but to use their precious garden space to grow things that have a greater likelihood of success (most cool season vegetables like leafy greens and root crops), and simply go buy tomatoes.  

If they simply MUST grow their own, there are a couple of different suggestions.
  • Gardeners at 7,500' or below might get away with planting the tomatoes right against a south facing wall to take advantage of radiant heat during the night.  
  • Blossom set sprays help set fruit even with cool nights, and some tomatoes are bred for cooler temperatures, such as the ones from Siberia or the ones bred in Oregon (  In general, mountain gardeners will do well to look for determinate, early tomatoes, because even when there is reasonable fruit set, ripening can be an issue (and if you have to finish ripening green tomatoes indoors on your windowsill, the vine-ripened flavor that everyone craves doesn't develop.
  • Gardeners at higher elevations may be wise to invest in a greenhouse.
  • Another option is to grow what I call a "pet tomato". This is a tomato that you plant in a pot and bring in every night (to allow the fruit to set, and to have the flexibility to continue growing indoors, even when an early frost threatens). 
Tina Ligon gave me a tomato start this year (thank you, Tina!) -- a truly purple tomato called "Indigo rose" , developed by Oregon State, and it has become my "pet tomato" for the year.  I can't wait to taste it!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Here's What is Blooming at 7900', Late August by Tina Ligon

It is August 23 and one can tell that we are closer to the Fall equinox than the summer solstice. The days are noticeably shorter and the nights a little cooler. I still have lots of tomatoes that need to ripen and you know the time is limited. I start to get a little panicky this time of year, not quite ready to let go of summer.

So today, I took a walk around the yard to remind myself what a glorious time of year it is. Even with our inconsistent water supply this year there are lots of plants blooming. My most impressive flower displays are those on the outside of the so called “beds.” For example, here is a mix of flowers that I am not sure I would have come up with but look how great they are. There is the bright yellow of the Grindelia squarrosa (Curlycup gumweed), the rust colored display of  Eriogonum umbellatum (Sulphur flower), a touch of pink with a late blooming Geranium caespitosum (Parry geranium), and all blended together in a cluster of Artemisia frigida (Fringed sage).

Bahia dissecta (Yellow ragleaf).
 Scattered around the yard is a plant new to me, Bahia dissecta (Yellow ragleaf). It is a flower that I have to admit I just haven't paid too much attention to until recently. I have been watching the plant grow and wondering just what it is. I finally did some research and found its name today and it is a native to boot. All too often I discover it is yet another noxious weed when I do this research so this was a pleasant surprise.

Allium cernuum (Nodding onion)

Machaeranthera bigelovii (Tansy Aster)


The yellows do seen to be promenient this time of year but there are some purples and whites also like this later blooming Allium cernuum (Nodding onion), a Machaeranthera bigelovii (Tansy Aster), and this splash of white, the Erigeron speciosus (White fleabane).

Erigeron speciosus (Showy fleabane)

But trully living up to theircommon names is the Showy Goldeneye (Heliomeris multiflora) highlighted with a touch of Showy fleabane (Erigeron speciosus). So get out there and enjoy this wonderful time of year. I noticed that although there is a blooming nodding onion, I also saw one that had gone to seed. So using mother nature as your guide, why not collect some seeds and scatter them to make some some new displays. So what is blooming at your place? Feel free to comment, would like to hear what is blooming at different elevations.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pick a Bouquet and Throw It Away - by Irene Shonle

There are a number of noxious weeds that are granted asylum in mountain gardens because of their good looks.  I actually spend quite a lot of time working to convince people that what appears to be a pretty garden flower can in fact be a bully (never mind the state weed law). 'Daisies' in particular (oxeye daisy and scentless chamomile) seem to have such an aura of innocence that it comes as a shock to learn of their dark side.  One man told me that he had such fond memories of using daisies as a love prognosticator (she loves me...), that he could not wrap his head around them being "bad."

It helps to use images to make the point.  This a mountain town (which I will not embarrass by naming  in this blog) where every available inch is covered in scentless chamomile:
Scentless chamomile is a prolific seeder, and rapidly colonizes any bare ground
Something that takes a little of the sting from removing invasive ornamental weeds from your property is the idea that you can "pick a bouquet and throw it away".   Pull up the plant, roots and all (both scentless chamomile and oxeye daisies have relatively shallow roots), clip off the roots, and enjoy them in a vase.
Pick a bouquet and throw it away
I gathered this bouquet from the side of the road.  I saw an isolated plant growing, and wanted to pull it before it went to seed.  I frequently just throw the whole plant away, but this time, the flowers looked so fresh and pretty that I decided to put them in a vase and enjoy them for a while.
 Pulling weeds from roadsides or your yard is a total win-win situation -- you prevent hundreds if not thousands of seeds from going into the seed bank, and you get to enjoy free flowers!  Just be sure that you limit this concept to noxious weeds, and not our native plants.  Pretty noxious weeds (aka invasive ornamentals) that are good candidates for "free flowers"  include:  yellow toadflax, dalmatian toadflax, bouncing bet, dame's rocket,  and common tansy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back from the dead -- by Irene Shonle

This summer, I conducted some inadvertent experiments in how far you can push plants to the brink of death, and still have them bounce back.

I had posted earlier about  how the wind whipped back all the top foliage off a newly-planted bleeding heart. I am happy to report that it has made a great recovery:

Bleeding heart has returned from the dead

I had planted a Verbena and a Pentas in a planter, and then went away for a few days.  Because they were so newly planted, they strongly resented the heat and lack of water, and took it harder than the more established container plantings.  This is what I came home to:

I figured they might be goners, but with some extra TLC, light fertilizing, and clipping back the dead foliage,  they also bounced back from the dead.  The verbena has even started flowering since I took the picture a couple days ago, and the hummers have been delighting in the Pentas.

I guess the moral of the story is not to give up too soon?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Hazards of Gardening with Poultry by Ashley McNamara

A mugshot of one of the guilty parties. 
I can honestly say that I know a number of people that keep chickens in the mountains, and quite a few that grow vegetables in the mountains, but gardening at high altitudes is challenging enough that I don't know of anyone who grows vegetables specifically for their chickens. The current issue of Backyard Poultry magazine features an article on how to plant a "poultry garden", which gives instructions on how to grow vegetables expressly for chickens. The author, a master gardener, lives in Michigan, as lush and verdant a state as you are likely to find, and she writes, "Truth be told, our poultry like a lot of what  we like to grow and eat for ourselves" (she got that part correct). The author also instructs the reader, "A hoop of wire can protect your plants until you are ready for your chickens to eat them".

Yeah, right.

Last year I had a disaster in my vegetable garden. I had read in a number of sources (including Backyard Poultry) that you could make a "chicken moat" around your garden using chicken wire and bird netting. The idea is to free range the chickens and use them as predators to intercept caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other invertebrate herbivores, and then give the birds access to the garden to clean up, aerate and fertilize the space, after everything that is fit for human consumption has been harvested. 

Unfortunately it didn't work that way for me. I had my "moat" all set up, with a portable electric fence to keep the birds confined to a 1600 square foot area, and the raised beds holding the vegetable garden protected from the chickens by a system of dowels, chicken wire, bird netting and landscape staples. Everything went swimmingly for several weeks. The beets, peas and arugula were thriving and the chickens seemed pleased to eat bugs and dandelion greens and weren't spending inordinate amounts of time gazing longingly at the contents of the raised beds. Then one fateful day in late August when I wasn't home, one of the chickens managed to dig under the chicken wire, pulling up several  landscaping staples and creating a hole big enough for them to walk through. By the time I discovered what they had done, the entire flock had spent the afternoon gorging themselves on tender vegetable plants and were waddling around happily, their crops full to bursting. The only things they didn't devour were the onions and potatoes. I had a strong desire to cook up an enormous batch of chicken a la king that very evening.

I am very fond of my birds, but I have to admit that they have done more to sabotage my gardening efforts over the years than any other critters that I have had to deal with (yes, there are pocket gophers on my property, and deer that will eat tulips planted less than 4 feet from my house). Every time they have the opportunity, the little devils make a beeline for my begonias (arguably their favorite food) and they have ruined more than one crop of lettuce and carrots by scratching it out of existence. The only real favor that they do for me is poop. I then get to clean it up, compost, and shovel it onto my garden beds as a soil amendment.

This year, I have my chickens out on free range again, but you can be sure that they are being kept far away from the veggies!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Dividing Iris by Ashley McNamara

Unknown bearded iris cultivar. Photo by Tina Ligon.
Here in the arid West, as far as landscape plants go, it's hard to beat iris. The numerous species and endless cultivars have flowers in virtually every shade of color imaginable (except for bright reds and fuchsias); the distinctive foliage adds texture and interest to the garden space even when the plants aren't in flower; and those big ol' rizomes at the base are the plant kingdom's answer to a camel's hump, storing moisture and nutrients for the hard times. Iris, once established, are almost carefree. They should be deadheaded once they are done flowering, and they like a bit of bone meal worked into the soil and some mulch in the fall. Oh, and one other thing: every once in a while, individual clumps of iris should be lifted up out of the ground and divided.

This is because iris, as they grow, have a tendency to grow out from the center of the plant, leaving a clump of dead rhizomes in the middle. The good news is that it's easy to do, and it gives you a chance to move and spread more iris into different areas of the landscape, and also to share and trade different cultivars with your gardening friends. The best time of year to do this is after the plants are done flowering but at least two months before the ground typically freezes. Here in the higher elevations of Colorado, that generally means any time from the end of June until the end of August.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cheatgrass Challenges by Tina Ligon

Cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum

OK, let's spend a moment on one of our favorite noxious weeds - Cheatgrass (downy brome), Bromus tectorum. I have to admit, I admire the tenacity of cheatgrass but when I think of the hours I have spent trying to get it under control on just my 2 acres, I start to question my sanity or at least a possible diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder. To say the least I can't walk outside without pulling some up by its roots.

According to the CSU Factsheet No 6.310,, "Cheatgrass is an annual—it lives for only one year/growing season and then dies. It reproduces by seed and is termed a winter annual because its seed germinates from fall into winter. The plant reaches maturity in the spring and turns brown and dies with the onset of summer."

New tillers on plant with mature seedheads

OK today is July 12, definitely well into the onset of summer and this is what I pulled up. A plant with a mature seed head and a new seed head forming and new tillers, all on the same plant that should be dying right now. Yes, I know, I am ranting but hasn't this plant read the literature. Just because we had a hot, dry spell, and then a nice rainy period, doesn't mean it is supposed to have a second and third family.

So my point is, get out there and check your yards, this plant has not given up trying to make more seeds this year. As I said in the beginning, I do admire its tenacity, but I am not giving up. I will be out there scouting and pulling up more tomorrow.

Happy weeding!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hummingbird Moth and Larvae by Irene Shonle

The other day, as I was wandering around my garden, I noticed a very large and beautiful hornworm on my fireweed.
Larvae of the hummingbird moth, Hyles lineata

Even though the reaction of many gardeners is to immediately squash hornworms (tomato hornworms give all the rest of them such a bad reputation), I was pretty sure that this would turn out to be something  interesting.  So, I did a little research, and found that, indeed, this hornworm will ultimately become the much-beloved hummingbird moth (aka the white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata).    I was thrilled -- I had never seen the larvae on the property before, although I had frequently enjoyed watching the moths taking over the night pollination shift from the hummingbirds.  (Note:  tomato hornworms also turn into hummingbird moths of a different species, Manduca quinquemaculata, but they typically do much more damage as caterpillars).

Here is a picture of the adult white-lined Sphinx moth, courtesy of CSU's Whitney Cranshaw, via Bugwood:

Adult hummingbird moth (Hyles lineata) by Whitney Cranshaw

For more information on hornworms and hummingbird moths:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bear Eats Repellent -- by Irene Shonle

Who knew?
  I've been making a fairly effective home-made critter repellent to ward off the deer, bunnies, ground squirrels and voles that sometimes chow on my plants.  The repellent is based on putrescent egg solids, capsaicin (the "heat" in hot peppers) and garlic, which have all been shown by research to have a repellent effect (recipe below the picture).  The directions say to store the repellent outside, in order to let it fully develop that lovely "eau de rotten egg".   I was pretty happy with the effect it was having on my plants, and was leaving the bottle on my porch steps to ripen -- until one night, my husband woke to hear the sounds of a large animal chewing on something.  Turns out, the repellent was attractive to bears!  I had no idea -- we're so careful to bring in everything else that might attract bears (the poor things are especially hungry, with this drought), but I never even considered that a repellent might be a problem!!!
The sprayer, chewed by a bear

Critter repellent recipe

  • 1-2 beaten raw eggs
  • One or more chopped Habanero pepper or hottest pepper you can find
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (optional: rabbits)
  • 1 quart or less water
      Shake well or blend.
      Strain with cheesecloth or very fine strainer  into sprayer.
      Let it “ripen” a bit – putrescent (rotten) egg solids most effective.
      Spray on plants you wish to protect.
      Rinse sprayer with clean water to avoid gumming.
      Reapply after each rain
      Store leftovers outside out of the sun (but not someplace a bear can get to it!!!)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Wildfires and Your Defensible Space – A Reminder by Patti O'Neal

Colorado is on fire – again.  One of the greatest pleasures of living in such a scenic state as Colorado is living in and enjoying the amazing beauty of our heavily wooded mountains.  But that comes with a cost – the threat of fire.   And whether that cost is caused by an act of nature or a careless human, the net result can be the same – loss of life and property.  We are now experiencing the largest most destructive fire in the history of our state as well as some record temperatures and winds, so special care and attention to practices and actions of the part of all of Colorado’s citizens is of the utmost importance. 

Since the Hayman fire in 2002, the forest service has made considerable effort educate and to patrol mountain communities to check that homeowners are practicing good “defensible space” techniques to minimize the danger of loss of life and property.   Under the circumstances, a few reminders never hurt. 

What is defensible space?  This is the area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to prevent or stall  the spread of fire towards the structure.  It can also act in reverse and prevent fire from the structure from spreading to the nearby forested area.  It provides a space for fire fighters to do their jobs safely and more easily.
The two factors that have emerged as the primary determinants of a homes ability to survive a wildfire are a home’s roofing material and the quality of the defensible space. 

Watch out for Wild Caraway - by Irene Shonle

Wild Caraway, a list B noxious weed in the State of Colorado, seems to be enjoying a population explosion in the mountain areas.  I've seen it in cow pastures, on roadsides, in mountain meadows, and in driveways -- and I've just discovered it in the past couple of years!  It goes under the radar screen of  many people who are otherwise savvy weed warriors.

Wild Caraway is actually the same plant that produces the caraway seed you may know from rye bread.  It just seems to have a dark side to it, in that it spreads very aggressively in areas where it is happy.  Unfortunately for us, it seems to have found a happy home in the Colorado Mountains.  It crowds out native plants, reduces forage, and in general, makes a pest of itself. Gather as many of the seeds as you want for your bread-baking adventures -- but be careful, since the seed shatters when it is mature.  Pull out any other plants that you see.

Wild caraway is in the parsley family, or the Apiaceae. It is a biennial, and grows to about 1.5 feet tall.  It has small white flowers that are clustered in flat umbels, and ferny foliage.

Wild caraway

In some ways, it looks a bit like a "looser" yarrow.  The picture below shows yarrow and caraway side-by-side. The caraway is on the left, in my hand.  It's not that easy to photograph, so forgive the picture.

The picture below shows a more closeup of the difference between the leaves.  The one I'm holding with my thumb is the wild caraway, and the yarrow is on the right.