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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dianthus by Christy Hoyl

Sweet William, dianthus barbatus is a herbaceous biennial and I love having it in my flower gardens.  It reseeds very well and will grow in full sun to part shade here in Rollinsville.  Colors range from white to pink to red with variegated patterns.  It attracts bees, butterflies and birds.  It has a clove like smell.  I make beautiful garden flower arrangements with it during the summer months.