Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer’s Over, Here Comes Frost! by Sharon Faircloth

Unprotected basil after the first frost
Just as I was starting to think about the coming frost and trying to give up summer, we got a quick cold snap and good-bye basil and most of the annuals that had been so happy all summer!

This time of year, it’s probably best to watch the weather to protect your plants and extend your growing season.  There are two types of frost, advective which occurs when a cold front comes through dropping temperatures to severe levels; and radiation frost which occurs on those crisp, clear nights that allow heat to dissipate at night.
Cover those plants you want to protect

Typically, the soil warms during the day so whatever you can do to hold that heat in, the longer your cool season veggies will last. There are several ways to protect your garden at night.  The critical thing is to make sure to allow the sun back in the next day to bring the temps back up.  For ideas on how to mitigate colder temperatures both fall and spring, check out CMG Garden Notes #722 and #715
Row covers do help to hold the heat 

You might want to keep soil and air temperatures as part of your garden journal.  A journal has helped me remember what I planted, what worked and what I might add or do differently next year.  We have so many microclimates in the mountains, it’s very useful to track the frost dates with the rest of the data we keep to maximize our efforts each season.  My first frost this fall may have not affected you at all!  There can be as much as a 1 degree drop in temperature for 300 feet of elevation but there are mitigating factors like rocks and wind shelter.  Historic dates may assist as a guide but you’ll find tracking your own temps will be more informative to your own personal microclimate.

So keep track of your dates, mitigate the cold snaps and prosper through the fall!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Herb Harvest Wreath by Tina Ligon

Wreath of Herbs
It is late summer; as a matter of fact it is the last day of summer, fall officially starts in a few hours. Here at 8000’ in the Front Range of Colorado, we have already had a small snow and temperatures down to 29F. As usual, after the freeze, it has warmed back up quite nicely. The tender plants died with the cold but the herbs are doing great. Some of the herbs still growing here unprotected are – parsley, thyme, culinary sage, winter savory and mints. The more tender herbs such as basil are still alive but in the protection of a greenhouse. There are some years that sage and thyme can be harvested for Thanksgiving dinner but not always.

This is a great time to harvest some of those late summer herbs. There are several ways to save them for later use but one of my favorites is to make an edible wreath. The herbs can be attached to a metal wreath form with florist wire. Add a hanger, I used raffia, and hang in a convenient place in the kitchen. You now have your home grown herbs right at your fingertips for cooking. Just think how great it will be to clip some off for a nice pot of soup on a cold winter day. You can have a nice memory of your herb garden as well as great soup.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Steps to Beneficial Fall Soil Preparation by Pete Biggam

Healthy Soil Surface - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
A traditional fall activity for many gardeners is preparing the soil for its upcoming winter slumber as well as getting a head start on improving the overall health of the soil in advance of the spring planting season.

There are a few simple steps to fall soil preparation, whether you're working a large garden plot or individual raised beds. 

1. Remove all weeds that are flowering or have gone to seed, along with any large or coarse plant materials from your garden.
Removing any existing weeds along this year's plant debris is a good, general sanitation practice. Weed seeds as well as those from various garden plants, if left on site, may be the first plants you see emerging in the spring, so you can get a head start to your spring gardening chores by removing as many as possible in the fall. Plant refuse makes a great place for insects and disease to overwinter if left within the garden plot.  If you had any issues with disease or pests on your tomatoes or peppers, you should remove these plants completely from the garden.  Other garden refuse is a good candidate for composting.
2. Work on improving your garden soils health by adding organic material and implementing wise cultivation practices.
An example of good soil aggregation after minimum cultivation - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Keeping our garden soils healthy and productive is an important concept to consider every year.  Adding organic matter from the compost bin or other sources is a good practice to perform in the fall when the soil is still warm and workable, and the soil biological community is still actively performing it’s beneficial organic material decomposition process.

Incorporating these organic amendments into the soil is important, but be sure to not over cultivate the soil, as this can impact the overall existing health of the soil. Consider working your soil gently but deeply by using a garden fork, or even a broad fork to aerate the soil and allow for the organic material to be redistributed throughout the soil, and maintaining beneficial soil structure and aggregation.  This will also minimize the impact on your soil biological community and keep them content, situated at a depth they have been comfortable with, through the remainder of the growing season.

Below is a link to a video on use and application of a Broad fork for beneficial low impact soil cultivation. 

The USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service has recently updated information regarding Soil Health Awareness and has developed a series of videos and factsheets that are applicable to gardeners as well as farmers. 

3. Minimize soil erosion over the winter and early spring by adding mulch or even consider planting a cover crop.
Take care to make sure all of your hard work does not blow away with winter winds or early spring rains. You can mulch the plot with materials such as fallen leaves or even additional compost to protect the soil surface from wind and water erosion.
Another alternative is to plant a cover crop in the fall to both enrich the soil as well as prevent erosion, and keep and weeds at bay.
While our cold winters limit the variety of cover crops that we can successfully grow there are several plants that seem to do very well.  
A great reference on the use, application, and benefits of cover crops can be found in this can be found in CSU Garden Note # 244 on Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops
 4. Have your soil and compost analyzed

Fall is a great time to collect soil samples for testing in order to keep current on your garden's nutrient status. Testing in fall allows plenty of time to receive your results and act on recommendations.

If you have been composting and plan to add this to your garden, you can also have this analyzed so you have an idea of what you are applying to the soil.

The Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory at Colorado State University can perform these analytical services for both your soil and soil amendments and is open year round.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Planting Garlic in the Mountains
Garlic, Allium sativum, a member of the lily (Liliaceae) family or Alliaceae family depending on your source, and 2004 Herb of the Year, is a great plant for mountain gardens.  Originating some 6000 years ago, it traces back to the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan, evolving from a wild species to the cultivated treat we know and love today.  Its bulbs have been used for food and medicine by our earliest ancestors.  At one time it was even so highly prized, it was used as currency.  Like many of the minor bulbs, it craves a period of cold, does not require a lot of water and has the ancestral qualities that make it work in the mountain areas.