Friday, February 19, 2021

Indoor Plant Fun

By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

It has been an interesting 14 months. My wife and I have been quarantined this whole time. Like a lot of people we have been catching up on things we fell behind on. We spent our whole summer working on our outdoor gardens. Our flowering plant pots were highly successful, but our vegetable garden was eaten up by the wildlife in our area. We had the garden protected with double netting but the voles and mice got through it and had a feast. So this spring we are going to dig up and turn over our raised garden soil, and find a new protection for them.   

But our indoor plant gardens have been fun. We rely on background info from CSU factsheets and Garden Notes for information on how to take care of them. I can not say enough positive things about these resources. The types of plants we have can be very challenging. We have orchids, African violets, many types of  succulents and cacti. A desert rose, miniature ficus trees, small Japanese Red Maples, indoor geraniums, pothos, ivy, mother-in-law tongue, a small nursery that I start plants in, a small Japanese Black Pine that I am trying to bonsai, several Christmas cactus and a hanging bag full of outdoor plants that I brought in for the winter to see if they would make it.

Plants on steel shelves with only natural light.

Now you may ask how do we house and care for these plants? They are housed in our garage, turned into a sun room and workspace area. It has no heat except for heat coming through basement open areas such as doors or windows.  Our sunny areas face the southwest and some northerly exposure.  We have our stronger plants on steel shelving with some artificial light. We have also put bubble wrap on the windows for insulation while letting the sun light in. The temperature averages between 62 F and 67 F during the winter although when we get below 10 F outside that temperature can drop to 58 F.  

Bubble wrap on windows for insulation and light.

These steel-shelfed plants include all our trees, succulents, desert rose, Christmas cactus, mother-in-law tongue and Japanese Red Maples. They all seem to do well even when it is colder.  Our more sensitive plants are on a plant stand draped with a plastic curtain in back and bubble wrap in front, which can be lifted and thrown over the back of the stand on warm days. The bubble wrap is two sheets 18 inches wide with openings in middle and ends, allowing circulation in the stand. 

Orchids on first shelf of plant stand.

The stand has three shelves. When planting seed in early spring, I put them on the bottom shelf in trays. All shelves are lit with LED lighting. The top shelf holds the orchids, African violets, our small plant nursery and newly rooted trees, and is heated with a heat mat that is controlled by a thermostat.  The second shelf does not have a heat mat. It holds geraniums, pothos and ivy. The stand usually is 65 F to 70 F.  But on colder mornings it may drop to 61 F.

Plant nursery, African violets and newly started ficus trees on first shelf of plant stand. 

All in all it has been a fun time with our plants during this Pandemic and we hope to continue with our success when the Pandemic has passed.

Friday, February 5, 2021

8 Ways Cover Crops Can Improve Your Garden

By Patti O’Neal, Jefferson County Extension Horticulture and Urban Food Systems

Cover cropping, a strategy also known as green manure, has been practiced by gardeners and farmers the world over for over 10,000 years. This organic restoration practice can boost your garden noticeably the very first year you incorporate it into your own best management practices and the improvements increase even more each year as their effects accumulate. These crops are easy to use, do not need much care beyond watering and a mowing/cutting or two and provide tremendous advantages to the garden and gardener.

Cover crops are plants that are considered soil builders. Here are 8 sometimes overlooked ways that cover crops build the soil productivity in your garden:

·       Provides Beneficial insect habitat – pollinators, honeybees, beneficial predator insects will all enjoy the nectar as well as the shelter these crops can provide at every season you use them.

·       Smothers weeds and suppresses their seed from germinating as well.  They provide a dense mat to keep the light from reaching the seeds.

·       Better, more complete soil tillage than any mechanical method.  These crops improve soil structure, allowing more air and water penetration. They can break up soil compaction, loosen tight, hard, or heavy soils and create good tilth.

·       Provides shade for the soil for cooler root temperatures, less moisture losses during hot weather.

·       Acts as a living mulch when established between vegetable rows.

·       Increases organic matter in the soil while feeding the microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms living in the soil.

·       Conserves soil moisture both at the surface of the soil and in the critical root zone. The extensive root systems conserve soil by reducing erosion from rain by slowing water flow across and through the soil. The living foliage can also buffer wind effects.

·       Fixes nitrogen from the air while recycling nutrients, preventing their run-off and leaching from the root zone, simultaneously bringing up deeper nutrients to plant roots that are usually unavailable.

Use seasonally appropriate cover crops.  Legumes, vetches, rye, and buckwheat are all excellent cover crop plants.  Like all plants, each cover crop germinates and flourishes best in certain seasons. Most reputable seed companies will sell individual crop packets or recommended mixes appropriate for specific season plantings.  Some cover crop seeds are available locally, but seed catalogues have the widest range and generally provide good advice and instruction on using them.

If you are letting a bed or area of your garden go fallow for a season, this thousands year old practice of planting a cover crop can help to replenish the biological community of your soil below while providing nectar as well as shelter for pollinators and beneficials above. Here are a couple of tips to help you be the most successful with a green manure crop.

Allow your crop to flower but watch carefully and do not let it go to seed or you will be battling weeds of a different sort in the months to come.

Flowering red clover

If you plant early enough in the season you can get one or maybe even two mowing’s in (If you garden in raised beds, a weed whacker works great for this) forcing the root material into overdrive to produce another above ground crop.  This action forces the root system further into the soil to depositing additional nutrients while continuing to improve tilth, bringing formerly unavailable nutrients up to the plant root zone.

After your final mowing, fork the remainder of the material under so the microbes and arthropods you have encouraged can break it all down completely to become plant available nutrients.  Be sure and do this at least a month to six weeks before your intended planting date for this bed.  Otherwise, the increased microbial activity will compete with the root establishment of new plants or can even disrupt germination of seeds. You do not want to spoil all the good work you have done.

Ferris helping turn the cover crop