Friday, March 29, 2019

Vegetable Garden Layout

by Ginger Baer
For many years vegetable gardens were spacious, spread out and required a lot of weeding, water and upkeep.  I loved my BIG garden, but hated the weeding and tried many methods to cut down on that kind of work. It wasn’t until I moved to the mountains and joined our community garden that I actually tried intensive gardening (due to the fact that my space was limited). Each garden plot measured 4' X 12', a far cry from my 20' x 20' garden at a lower elevation.

In-ground garden
The most important part of selecting your garden location is location.  You need to have plenty of sunlight, well-drained soils and availability to water.  Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, require the least direct sunlight, only 4 to 5 hours. Root vegetables require 5 to 6 hours, and fruiting vegetables (such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini) require at least 8 hours. In Colorado, water can be a challenge unless you have water rights.  This is why I have a plot in the Gilpin County Community Garden.  They provide the water.

Broad forks
If one has plenty of space, water, time and energy, row gardening can be a great way to garden. It does require a bit of money to amend the soil, maintain and water. I had successfully gardened this way for many years. You will need to be sure that your rows are straight (you can use a string for your layout) because this will make tilling between the rows easiest. In this style of garden, you will need to take care that you don’t walk on the rows as to avoid compaction of the soil, which will inhibit root growth. 

Until recently, mechanical tillers were the recommended method for turning the soil.  Recently, however, it is recommended that you hand till the beds with either a garden fork or a broad fork.  This can be labor and time intensive if your garden is large, however, you are minimizing the chances for compaction (by footsteps and heavy equipment). If this is your style of garden, then by all means, go for it.  

For me, however, I have really loved my smaller, intensive garden. Square foot gardening is a trend that started out in the 1970’s and 1980’s and was developed by Mel Bartholomew. [1] This method has been further developed and there is a garden note from CSU Extension on what is called Block Style Garden. [2] I have adopted this style of gardening in my community garden plot. The idea of this style of gardening is to maximize yields for the space allotted. In your space you should lay out a plan to plant crops with an equal-distance space between neighboring plants in both directions. In doing so you will also need to consider the sunlight requirements of each of your plants.

Another consideration is how much room each plant requires for growing.  Lettuce, radishes and carrots are ideal for block gardening, whereas squash and vining vegetables such as cucumbers may require too much space.  One thing that can help with those types of plants is a trellis. Remember the direction of the sunlight when using this method so that you do not shade the other plants in your garden.

Due to the fact that there is such intensity in your plantings you will need to be sure that you maintain the richness of your soil. Concentrate on improving soils with routine applications of organic matter and get soil testing along the way to be sure that you have a correct balance.

Block style gardens are well suited for both in-the-ground plots or raised beds. As mentioned above, I started mine in a plot that measured 4 ft x 12 ft and it was in the ground. In this plot, I was able to grow onion, lettuce, spinach, arugula, carrots, peas, radishes, turnips, beans, squash and a cherry tomato.

Raised beds in Community Garden
The community garden also offers raised beds by way of galvanized water troughs measuring 3 ft x 10 ft.  I love mine! Last year I grew onions, carrots, radishes, lettuce, arugula, peas, beans, squash and cucumber.  One error I did make was to grow too many squash plants, and you know how those squash multiply (keep your car windows closed!).  The squash really spread and overtook the cucumber plants and beans.  One plant will be enough in the bed this year.

Whatever method you decide to use, it is always a good idea to layout your garden plan with pencil and paper.  This way you will be sure of how much room you have for your plants and you will also have a good record from one year to the next of what you grew, what did well, and what did not. Make the most of your space and happy gardening!

Friday, March 22, 2019


Brassicas in garden (photo Yvette Henson)

by Yvette Henson
I just planted my brassica seeds in flats to plant out into the garden when it is time.  Brassicas are plants in the Brassicaceae family, also known as cruciferous or cole crops.  Plants in this family that are grown for eating include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, radishes, turnips, and more.  As vegetables, they are rich in anti-cancer compounds, one of which is free glutamine.  Brassicas are also high in other many other nutrients.

Brassicas are cool-season crops.  Although some varieties can take longer to mature, they can better survive temperatures below freezing.  We can plant them before the last spring frost and/or later in the summer so they mature when temperatures are cooler (which will improve their flavor and quality).  Cool-season crops generally do very well in our mountain communities where we have lower day and nighttime temperatures.  They can grow well in the open but growing under cover gives the advantage of an extended harvest (earlier and later), cooling in the summer, less evaporation from the soil and protection from cabbage worms, etc.

Brassicas in garden (photo credit Yvette Henson)
Brassicas aren’t too picky about soil - some of them even prefer clay soil.  They do require fertilization (pre-planting and every 3 weeks through harvest), and need water most when establishing and when edible parts are maturing.  Uneven watering and high temperatures may cause heading-type brassicas to split or bolt.  Many disease problems can be reduced if grown on 4-5 year rotation with non-cole crops. The most common insect pests are cabbage worms, aphids, and flea beetles.  These pests are best managed by reducing stress on the plants, covering them with row cover or timing the planting to avoid a particular pest. 

All the varieties I will recommend in this article are open pollinated (OP).  That means that you can plant extra for seed production.  If you provide proper growing conditions, isolation distances and save the best for seed, replant and repeat, you should eventually get a better strain adapted to your local conditions.

Radishes  (photo Baker Creek Seeds)
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) are a good digestive.  Radish roots can be eaten fresh, be pickled or roasted.  There are also radishes cultivated for their edible leaves and seed pods (Raphanus sativus subsp. caudatus).  Radishes are probably the easiest Brassica to grow.  Be sure you know if you have spring radishes or fall radishes so that you plant them in the correct season.  Most spring radishes mature in a short time (30 days +) but generally fall radishes take longer to mature.  If your season is really short you can plant both types in the late winter and spring, but if you have warmer summer days you will want to plant fall radishes later.  Fall radishes often store well. My favorite spring radish so far is ‘Early Yellow Turnip-rooted’.  Yellow radishes withstand heat better than reds.  My favorite fall radish is ‘Watermelon Radish’ (60 days).

Kales (2 different Brassica spp.) have a high mineral content and are good cleansers.  They also contain vitamins A & K and potassium.  They are easy to grow and can yield a lot of greens over time in a small area.  Kale can be direct seeded in the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or 6-8 weeks before first frost.  You can start harvesting young leaves as early as 40 days and it can be harvested several weeks after the last frost.  ‘Red Russian’ is a Siberian kale (Brassica napus), the classic kale with tender leaves that makes great massaged-kale salad; dinosaur kale (Brassica oleacea) is great in soup and for kale chips; and a beautiful burgundy-leaved curly kale (Brassica oleacea) is ‘Baltic Red’ which is edible and ornamental! 

Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage (photo Southern Exposure Seed)

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) contains chlorine and sulphur which help cleanse stomach and intestines, and cabbage juice is good for stomach ulcers.  They are relatively easy to grow but they don’t compete well with weeds or deep cultivation. They do best when planted as young plants directly in the garden.  If planting is timed so that heads are forming when temperatures are cool they will be denser and of better quality.  They are most susceptible to frost damage when heading up, but there are cabbage varieties classified as winter cabbages that can withstand frost.  These types can often be stored for several months in the winter.  Two of my favorite varieties of cabbage are ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ and ‘Mammoth Red Rock’.  ‘EJW’ is an early (60-75 days) cabbage with a conical head and mild, sweet flavor, and it doesn’t take up too much room in the garden.   'MRR’ matures a little later (100 days), it has a round flat head with purple tinged leaves and stores well. It makes an excellent semi-fermented ‘kraut’.  Purple cabbages seem to experience less aphid pressure.
Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage (photo credit Yvette Henson)
Nutribud Broccoli (photo Adaptive Seeds)
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) can be a little more difficult to grow than cabbages.  They do best when planted out as young plants about the time of last frost (earlier if under cover).  Our favorite broccoli is ‘Nutribud’ (80 days).  It contains higher than average amounts of free glutamine.  It forms a beautiful head followed by side shoots.  We prefer the side shoots rather than the heads - they are more tender and continue producing until winter kill. 

Cauliflower can be difficult to grow.  It is sensitive to handling, temperature extremes and sun scald on heads.  A reliable variety that is easier-to-grow is ‘Macerata’ (70-80 days), it forms tasty lime-green heads.
'Macerata' Cauliflower (photo Baker Creek Seeds)
Please share your successes and lessons learned growing Brassicas.  What are your favorite varieties?

Yvette Henson is the Director and Agent at the Colorado State University Extension in San Miguel and West Montrose Counties.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Those Darned Aphids!

by Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener
Lime tree- Photo by Kristina Hughes
For those of us who like to let our houseplants spend time in the great outdoors during the warm months, there are many benefits. My plants love being outside in a protected location and they reward me with vigorous growth and rich blooms. Those benefits come with a price, however, and I have paid a price.

My lime tree in particular seems to attract aphids, which isn’t a problem when the plant is outside. Aphids are a favorite food of many birds and predatory insects. Aphids are an important food source for beneficial insects such as lady beetles (especially their larvae) and green lacewing larvae (see photo below). Some people recommend allowing small numbers of aphids to be part of a garden ecosystem, to support healthy populations of the predatory beneficials that love to eat aphids.

My lime tree does fine when it’s outside in the summer. But a couple of years ago, right around this time of year, the aphid eggs hatched. Since I don’t have a house full of beneficial insects (as much as I love them when they are outside) the aphids quickly got out of control. Honeydew was spattered thickly on the floor of my conservatory and the plant was crawling with, infested with, aphids.

I worked my way through the control options for aphids, starting with the least aggressive method. I took the plant into the shower and sprayed it down, knocking the bugs off the plant. I’ve used this method with satisfactory results on plants outside in the garden, where there are natural enemies to help. Inside, however, it only worked for a short time. Then they were back. When I couldn’t stand them anymore, I took the plant back into the shower. And I went around and around. 
Green lacewing larvae- These are good guys ( 

Next, I tried insecticidal soap. It worked for a little bit longer, but I still ended up with lots of accumulated honeydew and lots of creepy, crawly aphids on my plant. Again, if I had had beneficial insects working with me, the soap probably would’ve been sufficient. But as I indicated earlier, I love beneficials which are outside my house. I personally don’t want to release more insects into my house.

I needed another approach. I clearly wasn’t reaching all of the nooks and crannies on my plant where the aphids were hiding. I consulted my references and decided to use a systemic insecticide. I followed the directions carefully and, most importantly, I kept the plant indoors out of reach of pollinators for several months while the insecticide was moving through the plant. Gradually the aphids started to disappear and eventually they were all gone. They have not returned. But I had to keep my lime tree inside all season and I would prefer to be able to put it outside.

Horticultural oil worked really well for the aphid problem I had on my honeysuckle (see my blog from January 17, 2018- So this year I have a new plan. I will put the lime tree outside to enjoy the increased sunlight and fresh air. When I bring it in at the end of the season, I will apply horticultural oil to smother the aphid eggs. I am hopeful this approach will allow both me and my plant to be happier, but also keep the aphids out of the house!

For more information on how to control aphids indoors see:
Managing Houseplant Pests, Factsheet 5.595 from CSU Extension

Friday, March 1, 2019

Why local snowpack is important

By Irene Shonle, Director CSU Extension in Gilpin County 

Overall, snowpack in Colorado is great so far this year (statewide, 114% of normal).   
Snotel Current Snow Water Table
As of February 25th, the South Platte River Basin (our watershed) is 110% of normal and the Arkansas is 125%. West slope river basins range from 107% to 122%.  This is great news to urban dwellers, to farmers and ranchers and to states downstream from us to whom we owe water, since that snowpack will soon be melting into water and rushing down the mountains in our streams and rivers.  This is especially welcome news after the dismal snowpacks of the last few years.

However, river basin snowpack means very little to us locally. The water many of us mountain dwellers drink comes from wells, and not from reservoirs or large underground aquifers as it does in the flatlands.  The production of those wells is entirely dependent on the precipitation that falls in our own yards. It’s very local. And, along the Front Range, from about 7,500’ to 9,000’, we have not gotten great snowfall amounts this year. We are not on the Snotel site, so it doesn’t really show up anywhere, but most of our snowfalls this winter have just been a few inches or so. As one long-time Gilpinite said, you know snowfall has been scarce when 8” seems like a big snow! I have heard reports of wells going dry already this winter. It’s been that way for the last couple of years, and I am hoping for some bigger snows this spring. We need it!

Aquifer diagram
Our wells gather water from melting snow and rain seeping into tiny cracks in the bedrock. The ground water held in these cracks is called a fractured rock aquifer and is only recharged by precipitation. Some of these cracks are as narrow as a human hair, and they are all connected to each other for water to be able to travel through them to your well. This ground water recharge system also explains the phenomenon of well water discoloration in the spring – when large quantities of water enter the fractured rock aquifer when the snow melts, sediments, nutrients and tannins can be carried along.  Shallower wells tend to see this more frequently -- even after a big rain -- whereas deeper wells see it only in the spring or not at all.

Local moisture also has a big impact on the moisture content of trees and fire danger, and yes, the performance of your perennial plants in your garden. The last few years, at least in Gilpin County, have not seen good summer rains either, so this year it would be good to have some spring snows followed by summer rains. There is a somewhat increased probability for above average precipitation this spring, so here’s to hoping!
Three-month precipitation outlook