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?