Thursday, October 25, 2018

Why do we Garden?

Nature's garden
For this blog post, I would like to consider the big picture of why we are drawn to gardening.  Taoist created gardens to improve human health, and in Mesopotamia the land was used as it was found, with hillsides, depressions, streams, paths and canals incorporated into the garden's plan.  A 17th century guide advises readers to ‘spare time in the garden…. there is no better way to preserve your health’.  Since the beginning of time, nature has been used for its restorative value. 
Many contemporary studies show the direct positive impact nature has on humans.  It has been proven many times that nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well-being (reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones).  In one study, patients in a hospital healed faster on the side that had a view to a natural space.  Findings have become so convincing that some mainstream health care providers have begun to promote nature therapy for illness and disease prevention.

‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’. Albert Einstein
Connecting to Nature
Looking ahead, looking behind. 
How do you connect to nature?
Although we are part of nature, many in modern society are quite removed. We’ve become dependent on technology, removed from our senses or intuition.  People swirl unconsciously around their busy lives, oblivious to the natural world or where their sustenance comes from.  By spending time in nature improve our well-being, connect to that which gives us life and release pent up hormones and energy.  For example, when we lack serotonin (those feel good hormones) we are subject to depression. You can increase the serotonin in your brain by getting your hands dirty, getting in contact with the soil (and a soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae).  Feel better by playing in the dirt, this is where gardening comes in.
We don’t need to go deep into the wilderness to gain benefit from nature, often just out the back door. Nature provides answers, things to contemplate and learn, gets us curious and involved.  Consider the pine out back, can you appreciate its shade and the many winters it has withstood?  Be fascinated by how a little seed can metamorphosize into an edible plant...Observe how you feel the changing seasons…Be curious about the microbes affecting the character of the soil.  This is nature connection, this is when we are open to learning, growing and expanding. 
Nature's art...What can we learn to add to our garden?
The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden promote relaxation and reduce stress.  Observe the development of your plants, listen for the sounds of the wind and birds, appreciate the fragrance or texture of a plant.  And, what better way to take care of your body then to get stronger, or breathe harder, doing chores that come with having a yard and garden?  Makes 'exercise' much easier when you benefit in other ways!
From the National Garden Bureau, here are additional benefits of gardening-
* Garden for Exercise Get a good workout without even thinking about it.  Gardening can help reduce osteoporosis, strengthen or stretch muscles. And, after you're finished, you see immediate results in your garden as your physical health improves.
* Garden to add Beauty A house with a nice yard is a pleasure to look at and satisfying to live in. Think of the garden as another room to be enjoyed whether you are inside or outside.
* Garden to Learn Gardeners find that the more they learn about plants and gardening, the more they want to know. Gardening provides an outlet for creative and artistic expression.
* Garden for fresh, healthy Produce The satisfaction of nurturing and developing something for sustenance.  The food you grow yourself is the freshest you can eat.
Heart rocks in the natural landscape
* Garden for emotional needs and spiritual connections Gardens play an important part in our well-being. A garden might serve as a tranquil retreat or private escape from the demands of everyday life. The beauty of flowers can lift spirits, while pulling weeds can be a great release for stress and excess energy. A harvest of colorful flowers or tasty vegetables provides a sense of achievement and feelings of success.  On a higher level, gardening provides a spiritual connection to life. It's a miracle to take a tiny seed, nurture it, and watch it grow into a beautiful flower or delicious food for your table. Tending a garden also contributes to improving your own living space, the environment and our planet (from Why Garden? The National Garden Bureau's Top Ten Reasons).
So, why might you spend time in the garden?  Just by enhancing our awareness about why we garden may, in turn, increase our enjoyment and appreciation for the effort we put forward.  So, get out and play in the dirt, allow yourself to feel fascinated with the process of life, knowing we are part of all of this.  Gardening may be your therapy leading you toward a happier and healthier life. 
Joelle Dunaetz has a background in landscape design, wellness coaching and supporting people in getting out in nature. She enjoys educating people on how increase awareness, appreciate life and make healthy choices for their well-being and the well-being of the planet.  She also spends time at the Gilpin County Extension office and tinkers in her own garden.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Experience Counting Bees – Become a Citizen Scientist

by Jay Johnson
If you are an active gardener who loves growing all kinds of produce, or if you love to grow flowers and want to help support a national project as a citizen scientist and learn about the kind of native bees, bumblebees and other pollinators that may visit your garden, then you may find the following fun, useful and interesting. Or, if you are interested in science and the plight of bees and are thinking about starting a garden, I recommend you investigate a project I recently joined.

Bee's eye view
My journey started this year on one of my regular visits to the library, visits that include reading Horticulture. I live in Meeker, Colorado and am fortunate enough that they carry the magazine. In the March/April 2018 issue of Horticulture, the cover caught my eye: a picture of 2 sunflowers and the caption, “Be a Citizen Scientist in The Great Sunflower Project”. Intrigued, I checked out the magazine.

The Great Sunflower Project (GSP) was started by researcher Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn (LeBuhn) of San Francisco State University. At first LeBuhn wanted to find out the state of native bees (over 4,000) in the United States and Canada. The article continues to say she wanted to focus on bees since bees are queens of pollination and little is known how they are doing. With one research project being able to only focus on a small area at any time, she created the GSP.

The basis of the GSP is to count pollinator visits per hour per flower on the same kind of plant across the country. LeBuhn chose to focus on sunflowers because they are easy to grow and are visited by many kinds of pollinators. Some of the visitors are the most interesting in the bee world, in particular those in the genus Melissodes. The male has long antennae, and they are called long-horned bees.

The GSP began in 2008, when LeBuhn sent an email to people in the southeastern U.S. asking them to plant specifically ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers. LeBuhn didn’t ask them to be scientists such as an entomologist; they simply needed to be able to count. Therefore, anyone can join the project. I myself do not have entomological experience, but I love to grow flowers, though I hadn’t ever successfully grown sunflowers before 2018.

Honey bee, species unknown
A critical part of the GSP is growing the correct variety of ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers, of which there are two. The one needed for this project is an annual, a cultivar of Helianthus annuus. Also critical to the project is that neither the seeds nor the plants are treated with pesticides. They should also be neonicotinoid-free.

 If you are interested in the project, there are 3 seeds companies I would trust to provide the correct kind of seed: Botanical Interests, Beauty Beyond Belief (BBB Seed) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed (Rare Seeds). Botanical Interests has a bit of information on the GSP on the back of the ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflower seed packet. I am also willing to share seeds with anyone interested in the project.

Bumblebee, species unknown
Armed with the seed buying information, I set out to participate in the project. I ordered seed and shared with friends who either were willing to plant the sunflowers for the project or were just interested in growing the flowers. Fortunately, I was able to secure an extra plot at the Meeker Community Garden just for the sunflowers and planted in the June time frame. As of the date of writing this article, September 8th, 2018, I have been counting bees since August. I started on August 26th, 2018 and have counted 9 times so far. Though I haven’t been able to identify individual species to this point, I’ve noted mostly bumblebees, honeybees and other types of bee visitors.

The user friendly GSP website ( is where you go to submit your data, once you have registered.  Data to record includes: counts, plant species (as other flowers may be used if they meet certain criteria), number of flowers on the spike/bunch, date, time of day, number of minutes counted and name of pollinator only if certain of the name. The website also has tools to help you identify species if you are interested, as well as other information related to the project.

Sleeping bee
Overall, this has been a very fun and positive experience for me.  I would kindly ask you to join me this year if you have flowers that meet the criteria, or join me in 2019. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn and teach someone of any age about sunflowers and native bees. Happy gardening!

About Jay Johnson:
·         -  I grew up in North Dakota and moved to Colorado in 2007.
· I work in Natural Resource Management.
·  I took the Master Gardener training through CSU Extension in 2017

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Beautiful Zinnias

by Vicky Barney
For several years, I’ve been working on an easy to maintain garden that attracts wildlife.  Native perennial plants with low water needs have been carefully selected and have replaced non-natives that need more water or don’t appeal to pollinators.  I’ve kept a few favorite non-native plants, like my annual zinnias.

The zinnia is a member of the Asteraceae family and is a popular garden plant in much of the world.   Most varieties are native to Mexico and surrounding areas, mainly in North America.  They are easy to grow, bloom in a variety of bright colors, and, even though they are not native, provide nectar to adult butterflies including painted ladies and swallowtails.  (See CSU Extension Fact Sheet #5.504 Attracting Butterflies to the Garden.)

There is a perennial zinnia native to Colorado called the Golden paperflower or Plains zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). It grows up to 8 inches tall in a clump, with long lasting golden flowers, and is found growing on the plains, deserts, and rocky slopes of eastern Colorado.  I don’t think it is found here on the western slope.  Like most Colorado natives, it requires little water and lots of sunshine.   (See CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.242 Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes.)

The non-native zinnia hybrids, also sun lovers, grow up to 3 feet tall and produce flowers in a variety of colors - white, yellow, red, orange, pink, rose –that may last through late fall. Like pansies (another one of my favorite non-natives), they can be planted earlier in the spring than other plants as they are cold tolerant and can withstand a late spring frost.   Both benefit from regular watering.  Warning: zinnias cannot tolerate a fall frost and must be covered when temperatures dip overnight, something I experienced firsthand.  It was a sad morning last fall when I discovered all my newly opened blooms had died after a seemingly not-that-cold night spent uncovered. 

Zinnias are easy to grow from seed.   Select a sunny protected garden area two weeks prior to the last frost, or when trees are starting to leaf out.  Soil should be tilled 6 – 10” and amended to produce a medium that will stay moist until the seeds germinate.  Be sure to use seed packaged for the current year, follow the planting directions on the packet, and keep the soil moist until the seedlings appear. 

My experience with zinnias has been with hybrid seeds planted in containers with good potting soil. Seeds can be planted as late as June and will produce beautiful fall flowers.  The challenge is to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, given our dry climate.  I was a bit lax this year with my watering, resulting in sparsely populated pots of flowers, still beautiful but not quite as colorful.  In spite of this, the colorful flowers have been a joyful addition to the garden and have attracted late season butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.  The zinnias have given me one more chance to see the pollinators before they disappear for the winter.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gilpin County Food Bank Garden

by Sandy Hollingsworth
Sometimes one’s love for gardening blossoms into a way to contribute to your local community. In Gilpin County there is a food bank for those living food insecure. It was started in 1995 by county Human Services and need has grown more rapidly in the past four years to now serve an average of 70 families a week. There is also a weekly summer lunch program for children, averaging 50 monthly, to come and select food from items displayed in a welcoming way. Like many food pantries fresh produce is lacking among the donated foods. To help address this need, a group of volunteers decided to install new beds at the nearby CSU Extension community garden located at 9200 foot elevation, to plant, tend and harvest produce each week. An experienced gardener already volunteering for the Food Bank recruited a Colorado Master Gardener and three waterers who set up a schedule to insure the gardens were nurtured throughout the growing season.

In May we started by constructing two raised beds with wire hardware cloth stapled to the bottom to keep critters from tunneling in from below. This means the soil in the beds is only 6” deep but it has worked great for growing more shallow rooted vegetables like arugula, chard, spinach, beets, turnips, carrots, snap peas, snow peas, kohlrabi, broccoli raab, kale, lettuces, dill and radishes. We started out by doing a soil test by the Colorado State University Soil Lab and learned that we needed to add nitrogen and more compost. We added alfalfa pellets, ammonium sulfate, blood meal and compost at rates suggested by the CSU lab to improve the soil over a few seasons. After amending we started planting seeds in half of the beds in early May then succession planted throughout the season until early September. I’d started seedlings of cucumber, chard, kale, cherry tomatoes, and lettuces at home which were added to the beds after the soil had warmed. We used floating row covers to deter critters and keep the plants protected from the wind and intense summer sun plus to regulate soil moisture and temperature.

In addition, the community gardens acquired large metal troughs and we were assigned two. One we drilled extra drainage holes in the bottom before filling with planting mix and the other we used as is with an open small drain plug near its bottom. The latter we designated to grow several varieties of small potatoes and the other was planted with deeper rooted vegetables like cherry tomato and broccoli, longer carrot, more beets & raab, plus onion and vegetables we weren’t sure critters would gobble like baby bok choy, cilantro, butter lettuce, yellow squash and cucumber. For fun and to entice pollinators we added marigold, petunia, annual vinca, and red salvia (the hummingbirds relished that). The real pollinator attractor ended up being the broccoli raab flowers.

In mid-June we were blessed with a large donation of beetroot, celeriac, and red Sorrel plants from the Ace Hardware garden center in Nederland. Luckily, we were given an unused plot to plant these after amending and weeding. This plot we did not install a raised bed or hardware cloth but did put chicken wire fencing around it and bird netting on top to deter browsing critters. This meant each planting area was set up a bit differently for our own demonstration comparison of methods.

All of this made for a bountiful harvest of cool season vegetables agreeable to being grown at high altitude in a shorter growing stretch. By late September we have harvested over 130 pounds of produce for the Food Bank to give people wanting some fresh vegetables to have raw or to cook.

Of course, as with all gardening, we have our list of lessons learned. Given that we had an ever-expanding garden with gifts of starts and seeds, plus since we had not gardened together as a team, our garden was not as planned out as it could have been. We added starts as they arrived in space available. This made harvesting less efficient with lettuce, chard, greens and root vegetables in multiple locations instead of grouped together. It also meant we didn’t group longer producing vegetables together and had some height competition. The broccoli grew so large it shaded out the cucumber and squash starts which were admittedly poorly placed in hindsight. 

Another lesson was that hardware cloth was impenetrable to critters so the in-ground bed without it got hammered and many of our beets and radishes in that plot were taken. Stomping on the underground tunnels to collapse those ended their shenanigans. Also, the fencing helped once we had added it later but it would have been best when we first planted. The floating row covers worked great if we had the edges well tacked down with metal poles, lumber, rocks or clips, so that there were no inviting openings. However, the hail poked holes in them followed by the wind tearing them so that the swiss cheese looking covers let in pollinators (Yae!) but also voles (Boo!). Replacing them with new covers and being sure to tuck in edges prevented more intruders which had already dug up most of the carrots and then beets plus clipping off the pea vines just because they could. Drat! 

The potato trough didn’t drain enough so the soil was muddy mid-season and some plants rotted rather than produced many potatoes. Maybe hilling potatoes too deep in the trough and enthusiastic overwatering added to the problem. We also found it a challenge to dig downward bending over the trough to harvest.

All in all, it was a fun, rewarding season with a wide variety of produce harvested and given to the Gilpin County Food Bank. We look forward to future years when we will plan the layout of our garden beds better, continue to amend to reach ideal soil nutrients according to the soil test, relocate some plants to better depth beds, plant vegetables like squash and cole crops in ground beds since critters don’t nibble them to reserve space in the troughs for critter enticing vegetables.

We also liked swapping stories with other community gardeners about what crop varieties work best. We’ll always need a team of volunteers to tend the gardens to succeed in growing fresh produce and help feed residents of our community.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Think Spring and Summer…Think Color and Variety!!! Mixing Bulbs in your garden beds

by Jan Boone
While we have watched our summer gardens produce their final fruits, and as flowers fade from this growing season, many of us procrastinate a bit longer regarding the chores of putting our gardens to bed before the coming cooler weather.  We’d prefer to enjoy watching the yellow leaves fall, or listen with awe to bull elk bugle as they pass through the neighborhood or across a nearby meadow. Relish the changing of the seasons but consider challenging yourself to recognize the potential of creating new focal point beds and new directions in your garden for next Spring and Summer.  

Take a good look at new garden catalogs now arriving in the mail and think through the different looks you can test by combining bulbs, or rhizomes with ground covers, natives, early blooming annuals or established later season perennials.  It’s easy to accommodate new looks with variety in heights, shapes, bloom textures, leaf variations and color.   Whether in containers or beds, we all know tulips and daffodils are the traditional stars in our Spring garden. Mix it up and see what sparkles the most in your eye! 

In preparation, and before getting too detailed, let’s revisit some basic considerations you should keep in mind. We all know as Foothills gardeners, that one or more of the following factors may come into play as you are dreaming about a Springtime woodland garden!

·        Are you desiring blossoms to appear in Spring, or Summer?  Are you aware of anticipated bloom times for your beds?
·        Are you gardening in a fenced or open area?
·         Is there good water available for bulbs during dormant winter months.  You can’t rely on snow-pack alone.
·        Do you have a bed of established ground cover or low shrubbery that needs a brighter approach in anticipation of the growing season?  Watch your bloom times and adjust according to your garden needs.
·        What’s your critter population?? I’ve had raccoons dig up bulbs; fox disturb small bulb plantings as they dig to bury a treasure; rabbits to nibble on new Fritillary greenery as well as our bigger garden bandits who’ll dine on container tulips about to bloom or graze leaves off of Oriental poppies, leaving the blossoms alone and just when you think you’re safe from attack!!
·        Do you prepare your soil properly to ensure good growth? Soil nutrients are essential.
·        Do you follow proper planting depth guidelines?  Mulching may help in higher elevations, especially in dry conditions.
·        Have you considered or even tried defensive interplanting of unappetizing bulbs around your more enticing bulbs?   
Refer to CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.410 on Fall Planted Bulbs and corms for additional helpful information on proper planting depths for bulbs.          

There are five basic bulb groups, easily recognizable to home gardeners: true bulbs (Tulips, daffodils, Narcissus, and lilium), corms (crocus, freesia), rhizome (iris)s, tubers (Begonias) and tuberous roots (Dahlias).  Obviously, you’re not growing begonias in the gardens at altitude unless you have a greenhouse.  So, for the purpose of exterior applications, let’s focus on more identifiable plant combinations.  See CSU Plantalk #1011 on Selecting Bulbs as well as CSU Fact Sheet #7.406 on Mountain Flowers.

Perhaps you have some Hellebores tucked in a garden bed?? These are early bloomers while Spring snows linger, maybe Dwarf Daffodils or Snowdrops could easily pair around the Hellebore. Native Pussytoes could be complimented with Dwarf Iris or Hyacinth, Fritillary or Crocus bulbs.  White Hyacinth bulbs with Purple tinged Allium could also be a striking combination planting.  How about Paperwhites with early Bell flowers or blue Hyacinth? This is also a good time to mention that small bulbs can be a challenge in getting through dormancy to bloom.  Make sure they are a good firm quality with no visible decay or cracks.  In a planter, they may be subject to damage from winter cold.  The same is true for larger bulbs in that quality DOES count! 

Here's a good example bed from a late Spring visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens that in another version could also be enhanced by additional compatible plantings.  Despite these blooms being a tad past their peak, I thought immediately about ground covers in greens and maybe more violas that would complement the bright tulip colors and help deter too many weeds in the bed.      

Two  additional photos from the Botanical Gardens highlight combining bulbs with annuals and perennials.  I was struck by the unique mix of Hosta and viola along with smaller tulips.  This would be very striking in a shadier area of your garden and could provide good color opportunity with the tulips.

Finally, we need not to forget our early summer and Fall bulb plantings for altitude.  Warm tone Daylilies against a background of White Valerian would be a welcome addition to a patio bed.  How about Snapdragons aligned in front of Daylilies or Barberry as a perennial shrub backdrop? Oriental Poppies with Irish Moss provides a soft, lush green base to the poppy color.

I truly hope these brief ideas end on a colorful note and will inspire plus test you to be creative in trying new combinations of bulbs and plant material for 2019!  Step out of your ‘ tried and true’ way of how you think of your bulb planting.  Perhaps I’ll see you hovering over a bulb display sometime very soon and we can talk about more about combinations you’ve discovered or are planning to try.  Happy bulb hunting!
All photos by Jan Boone