Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Heirloom veggies for taste and variety

 

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Rusty Brinkman offers a variety of heirloom veggies at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 4, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Local gardeners explore for taste, visual appeal”

By Barb Gorges

At the Laramie County Fair back in August, I was checking out the blue-ribbon vegetable winners and one name kept popping up over and over: Rusty Brinkman.

I met Brinkman and his partner Vally Gollogly last summer at a lunch they catered at their home just outside Cheyenne—a garden-to-table treat.

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Midsummer, Brinkman partially rolls back the cover of his hoop house. Chickens are on patrol, looking for insects. Photo by Barb Gorges.

This spring, Brinkman added a high tunnel and a half-dozen chickens. The greenhouse-like high tunnel will let him to grow vegetables that need a longer growing season than Cheyenne allows. The chickens keep the insect pest numbers down, but at the cost of a little pecking damage. They seem to like yellow vegetables so Brinkman has to throw a little vegetation over the yellow squashes to protect them.

His backyard garden is sizeable, but he also helps garden another 4,000 square feet over at his uncle’s, where he has a real greenhouse to get seedlings started in spring.

A couple years ago when he and Gollogly had an abundance of dill, they thought it would be fun to offer the excess at the Tuesday Farmers Market. Now they are regulars, under the Mooo’s Market banner. Gollogly specializes in prepping the flowers and herbs, Brinkman the veggies.

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Rusty Brinkman offers a variety of heirloom veggies at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Their booth has a certain flair, a certain presentation. That might be because Brinkman’s day job is owner of Crow Creek Catering. As a chef, the Cheyenne native has plied his trade in Denver, New York and the Wyoming [correction: Colorado] governor’s mansion. He knows presentation is an important part of the dining experience.

So what does a chef grow in his garden? Brinkman is a proponent of organic methods so I’m not surprised he also gravitates to the heirlooms. Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated. This means if you save the seeds, you can grow the same vegetables again next year. If you save the seeds from the best individual fruits and vegetables, you might end up with improved strains the next year. Over time, you will have varieties ideally suited to Cheyenne.

On the other hand, hybrid fruits and vegetables also produce seed, but plants grown from those seeds won’t grow true to the parent plant.

Brinkman is experimenting with seed saving, but otherwise his chief source is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds. I have the 2015 catalog: 350 pages of delicious photos of vegetables and fruit from all over the world with exotic names and long descriptions.

For a gardener, it’s like being in a candy shop. But it is important to keep in mind our local climate and look for short-season veggies. Now that he is selling at the market, Brinkman also looks for varieties not sold at the grocery store.

There is so much to choose from. Offerings include purple tomatoes, oddly-shaped squash, a multitude of greens, pointy cabbage, red carrots. But in the end, they need to produce in Cheyenne and they have to pass the taste test–appealing to a gardener who cooks.

Brinkman shared with me a nine-page, single-spaced printout of his garden records for the past three years, organized by vegetable type, variety, heirloom status, year trialed, seed company, how many days to maturity, description. There are 360 entries to date, but some vegetables did not make the cut and were not planted a second year.

This scientific analysis is similar to Brinkman and Gollogly’s training in the science of food preparation. Cooking is one part art and a large part science. You need to understand how ingredients interact with each other. If you invent a good dish, you need to be able to reproduce it, just like scientific studies need to be replicable.

Vegetable gardening is also science, trying to produce the best crop each year.

Brinkman prepares new beds by smothering grass with cardboard or metal plates (he makes folk art from junk metal), then he rototills it. Once a bed is established though, he only uses a garden fork to loosen things in the spring and add compost.

His compost system is nearly keeping up with the garden’s needs and he fills in with more from the city compost facility.

But Brinkman also uses Espoma’s Plant-tone to add microbes and nutrients, and in the fall, he adds old cow manure.

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Brinkman hand-pulls weeds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Brinkman hand-pulls weeds, and hand-picks potato bugs early in the season. This was the first year for the chickens and he’s not sure how helpful they will be, but he said he also uses several other methods for pest control:

–Neem oil has worked very well for aphids.

–Releasing ladybugs and lacewings in the spring, also for aphid control, seems to be working.

–Using Bt (a friendly bacterium) for cabbage whites (butterflies) for the first time this year seems to help.

–Agribon, a light-weight, white polypropylene fabric spread over the carrots seems to be controlling the carrot rust fly.

To get an early start on the season, in late March or early April, Brinkman uses low tunnels, stretching plastic sheeting over hoops placed over his beds.

Much of the garden area is irrigated using drip tape (flattened plastic hose that has a series of small holes).

So what was planted in the Brinkman/Gollogly garden this year? Lots of varieties with delicious-sounding names. Brinkman will know soon which ones have performed well enough to make the cut next year. Here’s a sampling you might find at their booth at the farmers market next Tuesday. If customers aren’t quite ready for “Tronchuda”, a Portuguese variety of kale, no matter. Brinkman can take it home and turn into dinner, or prep it for the freezer.

Artichokes: Green Globe.

Beans: Mayflower, Greasy Grits, Dixie Speckled Butterpea, Golden Sunshine, California Blackeye Pea.

Beets: Crosby’s Egyptian

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Heirloom beets come in a variety of colors and shapes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

Broccoli: Purple Peacock, Romanesco Italia, Umpqua.

Cabbage: Aubervilliers, Bacalan de Rennes, Couer de Boeuf des Vertus, Cour di Bue.

Carrots: Amarillo, Dragon.

Celery: Giant Prague, Tendercrisp, Utah Tall.

Peppers (sweet): Antohi Romanian, Topepo Rosso.

Peppers (hot): NuMex Joe E. Parker.

Cucumber: Parisian Pickling.

Eggplant: Syrian Stuffing, Turkish Orange.

Kale: Dwarf Siberian, Nash’s Green, Nero di Toscana.

Lettuce: Crisp Mint, Little Gem, Baby Oakleaf.

Melon: Kazakh, Minnesota Midget.

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Heirloom onions. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Onion: Flat of Italy, Red of Florence.

Pea: Laxton’s Progress #9.

Squash: Kobocha winter

Tomato: Cherokee Purple, Large Barred Boar, Cream Sausage, Transparent, Glacier, Topaz, Woodle Orange.

Turnip: Boule D’or, Golden Globe, Mikado, Purple Top White Globe.

Zucchini: Midnight Lightning, Tatume (Mexican zucchini)

 


Straw bales conquer garden problems

2016-8 straw bale 1, Susan Carlson, by Barb Gorges

Laramie County Master Gardener Susan Carlson shows off peas growing in her straw bale garden. The spruce trees protect the garden from north wind and the shade cloth protects the delicate lettuce in the rest of the garden from too much sun. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Aug. 14, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Straw bales conquer many garden problems.”

By Barb Gorges

Did the thought of the work involved in starting a vegetable garden keep you from having one this year? Did time for all that rototilling or digging in of compost never materialize? Or maybe you tried a garden in our clay soils and results were poor?

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Straw Bale Gardens, by Joel Karsten, Cool Springs Press.

Susan Carlson, a Laramie County Master Gardener, can recommend a solution: straw bale gardening. Her stepson, who lives in Minnesota, brought her the book by Minnesota native Joel Karsten describing his miraculous method.

This is the second season Carlson has used rectangular straw bales for vegetables and her results look good. She also included flowers.

The idea is that a straw bale is compost waiting to happen. Before the growing season begins, over a couple weeks, you add water and a little fertilizer—organic or inorganic—and it will activate an army of bacteria. The bacteria break down the straw, turning it into just what plants need. Plants can be inserted into the bale or seeds can be started in a little potting soil placed on top.

The bale is like a container or raised bed held together with baling twine. You can set it anywhere, even on a driveway. You don’t prepare the ground underneath.

And, depending on how clean the straw is, you will have few weeds, or wheat or oat sprouts, that can’t be easily removed by hand. You’ll have more sprouts if you accidently bought hay—which includes the heads of grain—instead of straw, which is just the stems.

Straw bales might also be the solution to vegetable plant diseases that persist in soil. Gardeners are always advised not to grow the same family of vegetables (especially the tomato-eggplant-pepper family) in the same spot more than once every three years. You can start a fresh bale each year, although Carlson managed to keep her bales intact for a second year.

Carlson studied Karsten’s book, “Straw Bale Gardens.” Here’s what she did:

First, obviously, she found straw bales.

I checked a local farm and ranch supply store and their regular bale, about 3 feet long and 60 pounds, runs about $7. Avoid the super-compressed bales.

A bale bought in the fall from a farmer should be cheaper than in the spring, after they’ve had to store them all winter. In fall, you can put your bale outside to weather.

If you’ve had problems with mice or voles, as Carlson has, lay chicken wire or hardware cloth down first. Cut a piece big enough to fold up and protect several inches of the sides of the bale.

2016-8 straw bale 2, set up, by Barb Gorges

Carlson’s straw bale garden consists of five bales forming a u-shape. They are planted with (from left) haricot vert green beans, cabbage, a tomato, lettuces, petunias and edible pod peas. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lay out your bale prickliest side up, and so the sides wrapped with twine not against the ground. Carlson bought five bales and formed them into a u-shape to fit within an area fenced to keep out her dogs.

Because she planned to grow beans, Carlson made a trellis as well. She wedged two bales, lying end to end, between two 5-foot steel “T-post” fence posts (about $5 each) and then strung wire at about 10 and 20 inches above the bales. She can add more wire if the plants get taller. Karsten recommends 14-gauge electric fence wire (but you won’t be plugging it in).

On the ground inside the u-shape of bales (or between your rows), Carlson laid landscape fabric. You could use some other material to keep light from germinating weed seeds, like a layer of thick straw, cardboard, wood, wood mulch, etc.

Next, Carlson “conditioned” the bales, starting about two weeks before our last frost date, which is around May 22, though you can start a week earlier because the bales form a warm environment.

The first step here is to find cheap lawn fertilizer with at least 20 percent nitrogen content as Carlson did the first year. Do not use one that is slow-release or that contains herbicides.

You can also use organic fertilizers, like bone or feather meal, or very well-composted manure, but you need to use six times more than the amounts given for inorganic fertilizer. The second season, Carlson said, she is having good results using Happy Frog packaged organic fertilizer, but using much less since the bales were conditioned once already last year.

The conditioning regimen begins the first day with a half cup of inorganic fertilizer (or six times more organic) per bale sprinkled evenly all over the top and then watered in with your hose sprayer until all of it has moved into the bale and the bale is waterlogged, writes Karsten.

The next day you skip the fertilizer and water the bale again. Karsten suggests using water that’s been sitting out for a while so it isn’t as cold as it is straight out of the tap.

Days three through six you alternate between fertilizer-and-water days and water-only days.

Days seven through nine you water in a quarter cup of fertilizer per bale each day. The bales should be cooking by now and feel a little warmer on the outside.

On day 10, add a cup of 10-10-10 garden fertilizer. The numbers mean 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium.

Next, lay out your soaker hoses on top of the bales if you are going to use drip irrigation as Carlson has.

On day 12, Carlson transplanted one cherry tomato plant directly into the bale, wedging it in. Smaller plants are easier to plant than large ones and will soon catch up.

“Bacteria are breaking down the inside of the bale and making this nice environment,” said Carlson.

2016-8 straw bale 4 beans by Barb Gorges

Carlson’s Haricot vert beans. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mostly, Carlson wanted a salad garden and so she started everything else from seed: edible pod peas, Haricot vert beans (a type of tiny French green bean), lemon cucumbers, broccoli, spinach and various lettuces.

She packed a couple of inches of sterile potting soil (not garden soil) into the tops of the bales in which to plant the seeds. The warmth of the composting straw got them off to a good start.

She added shade cloth overhead to protect the lettuces from too much sun and started cutting romaine and butterhead lettuce by mid-June.

Carlson also used shade cloth on the west side fence to keep the wind from drying out the bales too quickly.

And there you have it, a vegetable garden—or a flower garden if you prefer—ready to grow. All you need to do then is to garden as you normally would: enough water, fertilizer once a month, and pull the occasional weed that may sprout, or pick off any little slugs or insects.

Maybe because of our dry western climate, Carlson was able to use her bales this second year. The bales shrank a little so she patched the gaps between bales with bits of chicken wire on the sides and filled them with potting soil.

One question is what to do with the old bales. They are great compost for conventional garden beds. Carlson reached into the side of one bale and showed me lovely black soil. If you don’t have any conventional garden beds to add it to, someone else would be happy to take the compost off your hands.

“This isn’t the prettiest thing,” Carlson says of her straw bale garden, “but when it starts growing, you don’t even look at the bales.”

2016-8 straw bale 3, detail, by Barb Gorges

While most straw bale gardeners start with fresh bales each spring, Carlson was able to use hers for a second season. She pulled away a little straw on the side of this bale and discovered it is full of rich compost. A soaker hose keeps the vegetables watered. The green steel fence post is part of the trellis system. Photo courtesy Barb Gorges.

 


Gardening with rocks

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The quintessential rock garden has colorful carpets of alpine flowers, like this spot in Laramie County Master Gardener Wendy Douglass’s garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Journey Section.

By Barb Gorges

Rock gardens became popular in the 1800s when tourists started visiting the Alps.

Travelers were enthralled by the tough but colorful plants growing on the rocky slopes and brought home alpine plant souvenirs.

It took a few decades to figure out alpine plants need gritty soil, rock and a cool climate to grow successfully. True alpine plants don’t need inches of compost or fertilizer.

Today’s rock gardens aren’t limited to cushions of small plants like the ones we see in our nearby mountains. There are plenty of other kinds of naturally rocky places to emulate.

Master gardener Wendy Douglass takes her cues from the nearby mountains and the prairie surrounding her rural Laramie County home.

The following is a tour of different rock garden styles and options seen through the lens of Douglass’ garden.

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Wendy Douglass enjoys her mountain-style rock garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Mountain

In her backyard, Douglass has a conventional rock garden, emulating a group of rocks on a mountain side. On one side of it is a small waterfall that flows via recirculating water pump. On the other side, rocks have been arranged informally, leaving pockets to fill with soil and plants.

But since her yard doesn’t get as much water as the mountains, Douglass has arranged drip irrigation soaker hose throughout.

Another secret is that the base of the natural-looking pile of rocks started out as a pile of concrete blocks. No sense wasting purchased landscape rocks where they can’t be seen.

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Johnny-jump-ups are welcome between the flagstones. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Patio

Normally, when laying a flagstone patio, one tries to get the stones to fit as closely as possible. But not if you are planning to plant it. Tough little plants were blooming in Douglass’s patio when I visited in June. They enjoy the sandy soil in the cracks. When it rains, the water pours off the flagstones and into the cracks, giving the plants more moisture than they would get in an ordinary garden setting.

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Rocks, gravel, daisies and penstemon are part of Wendy Douglass’s prairie-style rock garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Prairie-style

At the front of Douglass’s house is a dooryard, or more pretentiously, a courtyard, protected on the west side by the garage and on the north side by a low wall. Much of it is planted as a prairie rock garden.

The topsoil Douglass brought in has been eroded by the wind over the last dozen years, leaving a gravelly surface like the real prairie. In fact, among serious rock gardeners, this might begin to qualify as a “scree garden” – emulating those mounds of gravel below the rock faces in the mountains.

Douglas has placed a few rocks among the plants, just as they might show up on the prairie—in fact, many come from elsewhere on the property.

However, this is a garden and so it is a souped-up version of the prairie—more flowers and the grasses tend to be ornamental. Plus, many prairie plants are much taller than the diminutive alpine plants of the traditional rock garden.

And it harbors another secret—an artificial boulder. Douglass and her husband experimented with a technique taught by an Australian company that starts with a pile of rubble covered with a concrete mix and then artfully finished with colored mortar dabbed on by brush.

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Hypertufa containers are fun to make yourself, in whatever shape you choose. This one is in the Denver Botanic Gardens’ rock garden. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Trough

Similar to fake boulder-building, you can make hypertufa (lighter than concrete) troughs to display a particular collection of small rock garden plants. Multiple internet sites have directions.

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Wendy Douglass was inspired by Japanese and Chinese concepts of rock gardens for this spiral. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Zen

Rock gardening took off in Europe and America in the 1920s and, based on the number of rocks installed by landscapers in local front yards, it continues to inspire people today. However, the Chinese and Japanese beat us to it by 1000 years at least.

But those gardens are more about emphasizing unusual rocks, not so much about plants. Douglass has what she calls her Zen garden, a tiny area protected by the house. The plants there can be pruned and shaped by Douglass, rather than the wind and the deer. Small rocks form a swirl on the ground. Sand can be raked in patterns as an act of meditation.

Nearby inspiration for your own garden

There are two fantastic resources close by, public rock gardens, where the plants all have nametags.

2016-7 rock 6 DBG shade Barb Gorges

The Denver Botanic Gardens’ rock garden includes a shady section. Below, the garden is a mosaic of plants from rocky places all over the world. Photos by Barb Gorges.

The first is the Rock Alpine Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Designed by Panayoti Kelaidis and established in 1980, it is anchored by real boulders and every pocket is stuffed with plants from rocky habitats around the world.

On the left is part of the well-established crevice garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. On the right is another, newly established for the future steppe garden. Photos by Barb Gorges.

The newest form of rock gardening is here too, crevice gardening, installed by Mike Kintgen, the current curator. You know how freezing and thawing will cause rock to crack along parallel faults? These cracks, or crevices, can be simulated by laying flattish rocks on edge, stacked against each other. Gritty soil placed in the cracks is just perfect for rock plants. Their roots are protected while they spread mats of colorful flowers.

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The rock garden at the Gardens on Spring Creek feature varieties of columbine in early June. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Closer to home is the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins, Colorado. Installation began there about eight years ago. Arrangements of locally quarried rock display a colorful assortment of heat-tolerant perennials that would do well here in Cheyenne.

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A tiny species of chickweed (top) forms a carpet and columbine (above) gets a toehold in a rock pile in the Snowy Range. Photo by Barb Gorges.

My favorite rock gardens are tended by Mother Nature, up on the Snowy Range, especially along the trail that begins at Lewis Lake. The plants aren’t labelled, but at the Forest Service visitor center above Centennial you might find a copy of a book published by the University of Wyoming Extension, “Plants with Altitude.” It identifies high elevation plants that adapt well to gardens and that can often be found at local nurseries.

A word about collecting rocks and plants

Do not take home rocks you find out in the country without permission from the private landowners or permits from the public land managers.

It is illegal to remove anything from a national park—rock, plant or animal, dead or alive. Period. Wyoming’s state parks also do not allow the removal of rock.

Our closest forest, Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest, no longer makes permits available for removing landscape rock for home use.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Rawlins Field Office, which includes southeast Wyoming, allows rock collecting for personal use with stipulations. Only collect along roads and trails, only by hand (no heavy equipment or explosives) and only less than a pickup load. Otherwise, a contract is necessary.

Check local landscapers and rock companies to find out where they obtained their rocks, especially moss rock—the kind that has moss and lichens growing on it. It should have been bought from private landowners or bought via permit from public land. Quarried stone is less likely to have a shady past.

As for collecting plants, cross public lands off your list. Consider private lands only with landowner permission. But usually, the domesticated relatives found at local nurseries transplant better than wild plants. Check the North American Rock Garden Society website for specialty catalogs for rock garden plants.

Resources mentioned

–Denver Botanic Gardens, www.botanicgardens.org.

–Gardens on Spring Creek, http://www.fcgov.com/gardens.

www.ArtificialRock.com.au

–North American Rock Garden Society, www.nargs.org: illustrated plant list, beginner instructions, recommended resources.

–“Plants with Altitude” by Fluet, Thompson, Tuthill and Marsicek, available through the University of Wyoming Extension.

2016-7 rock 8 Snowies 1 Barb Gorges

The natural, alpine rock garden, mid-July: This one is located at 10,000 feet elevation in the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow National Forest, west of Laramie, Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Dealing with garden pests

 

2016-06Antelope FE Warren AFB 3 by Barb Gorges

Pronghorn graze in winter on the lawns in front of historic residences at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Familiarly known as antelope, they can be garden pests. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 19, 2016, “How to keep pests out of your garden.”

By Barb Gorges

Summer in the garden looks so idyllic from afar—especially back last winter when you were dreaming about it. And then a couple weeks after the last frost, the annoying summer visitors show up, the garden pests.

I asked Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County, what pests people call about most. Her top three are ants, yellowjacket wasps and weeds.

I dealt with weeds in a previous column, but I would like to address those pests and a few more with an eye to integrated pest management. By that I mean the minimum impact on human health, the environment and non-target organisms.

That includes growing the right plant in the right place, checking plants regularly, identifying pests correctly and trying physical and biological control methods before reaching for chemicals.

For more information, see the UW Extension publications at www.wyoextension.org/publications.

When it comes to garden pests, we humans, the big-brained species, should be able to outsmart even a hungry critter.

2016-06Ant colony - Barb Gorges

This might be a colony of pavement ants, which are similar to sugar ants. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Ants

Last summer we had little brown ants making themselves at home along the cracks in our patio. We followed Wissner’s suggestion to put a sugar substitute, aspartame (one brand is NutraSweet), on top of every mound. Between that and caulking the cracks, we cut down on the numbers. But will aspartame work on bigger ants?

“Aspartame only works for the tiny sugar ants,” Wissner said. “For the bigger ants you can buy ant traps at the grocery store. They seem to work and there are no poisons for pets to get into.”

2016-06Western and Prairie Yellowjackets - Barb Gorges

These wasps, though yellow and black like many bees, have hard and shiny-looking exoskeletons compared to the furry honeybees and bumblebees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets like the meat and sugary foods served at picnics and they can be aggressive in late summer. But Wissner notes their ill effects on the beneficial garden insects as well.

“All wasps are predacious and go after caterpillars, grasshoppers and sometimes spiders as a food source for their larvae. If you are trying to develop a butterfly garden, then they are a problem,” she said.

Wissner recommends yellowjacket traps sold at hardware stores, “The best one I found is a hexagonal green sticky trap that hangs. It also catches flies. Late April is the best time to put out traps (to catch the queens), but it’s not too late to put them out now.”

To picnic safely in our yard, we have used the yellow plastic traps with the refillable attractant (which is toxic to pets). We hang them out of reach and 20 feet away from pets, food and people. The brand we use has a wasp identification chart and so far we’ve caught prairie and western yellowjackets.

Keep Benadryl or similar antihistamine on hand if someone gets stung and starts to swell.

2016-06Aphid Wikipedia

Aphid, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aphids

It’s hard to see tiny green (or other color) aphids, but easy to see the damage they cause sucking on plant leaves, making them curl or grow misshapen.

Prevention is the best cure for aphid and many other insect infestations. Wissner said, “They are a good indicator of plants and the soil system being off balance. Too much fertilizer and not enough water typically invites bugs.”

In other words, a stressed plant is a target for hungry insects, who, like wolves, go for the sick and weak, stressing them further.

Besides adjusting fertilizer and water amounts, you can knock aphids off with a stream of water. If the leaves are sticky with aphid “honeydew” you might want to prune them away before the stickiness attracts other insects and fungus. And you can try treating the leaves with neem oil.

Other insects

Some beneficial insects leave behind a bit of cosmetic damage. The leafcutter bee cuts little circles out of the edges of leaves for building its nest. It doesn’t usually hurt the plant and as Wissner said, “They are important in the garden and pollinate a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers.”

2016-06Slug U of Cal IPM Prog

Slugs. Courtesy of the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program.

Slugs

It’s surprising to find slugs in Cheyenne, with average precipitation of only 15 inches a year. I didn’t have any until a few years ago.

I asked Wissner her favorite remedy for slugs. “Chickens,” she said.

If that isn’t an option, beer traps have worked well for me, especially in the vegetable garden. I’ve sunk a 6-ounce yogurt container in the ground and filled it half way with cheap beer (though I hear better beer works better). The slugs are attracted to the yeast, dive in and drown. The next morning, I remove the slugs by pouring out the traps into an old kitchen strainer held over a bowl and then pouring the beer back in the traps. I can reuse the beer several days.

For slugs in the flower garden it is easier to change the habitat—thinning out the vegetation and removing the leaf mulch for a while, giving the birds a chance to find any slugs I didn’t already pick off. “More air, less moisture,” said Wissner.

2016-06Rabbit Wikipedia

Rabbit foursomes are meeting in the middle of our street in broad daylight. Where are the neighborhood owls and foxes? Rabbit stew sounds good though hunting is not allowed in the city limits. Besides, as soon as you remove one rabbit, another one pops up. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Rabbits

Fencing is the best option, chicken wire about 2 to 3 feet high and buried about 6 inches deep to keep rabbits from digging under. Our backyard is completely walled in and our dog Sally is on patrol, so no problems there.

In the unfenced front yard, I apparently don’t grow any flowers that are lush and delicious, except for pansies and so I don’t grow those there anymore. Instead, the rabbits nibble our grass. One garden blogger suggested growing clover in your lawn, a rabbit favorite, as a distraction. It also provides nitrogen for lawns, a key nutrient.

My friend Florence Brown has particular plants she guards with the prunings from her rosebushes. The thorny mulch can keep rabbits away as well as dogs and cats.

 

2016-06Antelope FE Warren AFB 2 by Barb Gorges

While many plant catalogs will mark certain plants as deer resistant, they don’t mention whether they are also antelope resistant. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Deer and antelope

You might think deer and antelope are only a problem for the folks living on acreage outside of town, but it seems the antelope from F.E. Warren Air Force Base walk into the west side neighborhoods in late winter looking for snacks.

Both deer and antelope are browsers, fond of shrubbery, but they will occasionally pick off less woody plants. While many plant catalogs will mark certain plants as deer resistant, that isn’t a guarantee they won’t get eaten.

Various substances are recommended as repellents, but need to be reapplied frequently and after rain. Or you can build a cage to protect an important plant.

2016-06Caged rosebush by Barb Gorges

A cage protects a rosebush in Wendy Douglass’s garden outside Cheyenne. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There’s only one solution for growing vegetables in deer-filled neighborhoods, Wissner said, “Tall double fencing.” The idea behind a fence inside a fence is that deer are hesitant to jump a fence into a space if there isn’t enough room to take a running jump back out. For particulars, talk to Wissner, 307-633-4383.

 

2016-06American_robin USFWS

Fruit is a large part of the American Robin’s diet. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Birds

While Mark and I invite birds to our yard for the many benefits they provide, if we wanted to harvest our chokecherries, or grow other fruit, we would need to put up netting at the right time—before the fruit begins ripening (birds like it greener than we do). But also, Wissner said, “It needs to be monitored several times a day as birds have a tendency to get tangled up in the netting.”

 

Addendum: Ground squirrels, pocket gophers and prairie dogs are a menace to rural gardens. Try protecting trees and other plants with chicken wire and repellents. For information about traps and poisons, consult your Extension office or your county conservation district. For the Laramie County Conservation District, call Rex Lockman, 307-772-2600.

2016-06Pocket-Gopher - Wikipedia

   Pocket gopher. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 


Raised beds for better gardening

2016-6 Barb Sahl and raised bed w pavers - Barb GOrges

Barb Sahl made raised beds from concrete pavers and two by fours that are sturdy enough to sit on, saving her knees. Photo taken May 7 by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 29, 2016, “Got rabbits? Try raised bed gardening.”

By Barb Gorges

Rabbits made her do it.

Barb Sahl, a Laramie County Master Gardener, told me she was a ground-level vegetable gardener for the first nine years at her place on Cheyenne’s south side, but she switched to raised beds to keep the rabbits out of her garden.

There were other considerations too. Raised beds would help keep her dogs from running through the radishes and it was a way to deal with a persistent weed problem.

Sahl was also thinking about her aging knees, knowing her days of kneeling would end in the future.

With that in mind, she installed eight beds using a system of landscape pavers, then added five stock tanks.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Sahl’s dog patrols the vegetable garden in late August 2016.

Below you will find information about the history, types and benefits of raised beds in our area.

Genesis of the raised bed

The stereotypical vegetable garden has rows of vegetables. The bare ground between must be kept weeded.

An alternative is to grow vegetables like flowers, using wide beds, 2 to 4 feet wide (depending on how far you want to reach) and grow your plants more closely. This shades out the weeds and you never step into the wide beds, keeping the soil from getting compacted. The paths between beds can be mulched.

A wide bed can be planted at ground level, or with a bit of soil excavated from what will be the paths, made into a flat-topped mound. The soil in the mound will warm up earlier in spring, allowing earlier planting, though the plants themselves may still need protection from frost at night.

If the bed is amended with compost or with soil brought in, fertility and drainage can be improved.

In 2012, I tried the mound method. I had few weeds and great results. The path around the bed was deep in tree leaves collected the previous fall. However, the edges of the mound had a tendency to erode after heavy rains.

Last summer my husband and I converted to what gardeners normally envision a raised bed to be, a contained mound.

Types of raised beds

Gardeners have been inventive at using whatever is at hand to make the walls of a raised bed: bales of straw (hay has too many seeds that will sprout), wood, rock, brick, concrete block, old stock tanks. Raised beds work for flowers as well as vegetables. Sahl even has her raspberries in one to keep them from spreading.

IMG_1866

Wood: Raised beds can be built to workbench-level (“elevated” beds) or the sides can be as low as a single 6-inch wooden board—though that won’t keep the rabbits out. However, Sahl soon realized plain wooden boards would decompose and she would have to replace them sooner than she’d like.

Thirty years ago, raised beds using old railroad ties were fashionable, but it was found that wood preservative chemicals from that era are toxic and can migrate into vegetable plants.

Currently, “ground contact pressure treated” wood has an environmentally friendlier preservative but there is still controversy.

If in doubt, use cedar or redwood. Either, though more expensive, should last a lifetime.

Raised bed kits often contain posts with brackets that hold wooden boards. Another version I’m trying this year, available locally, is steel plates 18 inches tall and bent 90 degrees which fit around the outside corners of the bed and screw into place.

2016-6 Plastic lumber raised bed - Barb Gorges

Plastic lumber raised bed.

2016-6 Plastic lumber raised bed detail - Barb Gorges

Galvanized steel bracket.

In another bed we built 15 years ago, using plastic dimensional lumber, the corners are held together by brackets on the inside. Surprisingly, the galvanized steel has not rusted out.

2016-6 Raised bed w pavers detail

This detail of Sahl’s raised bed system shows the brackets used to hold the concrete pavers upright, connecting them to the 2 x 4s along the bottom and the top. She will put drip irrigation (the black plastic hoses) back in when planting the beds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Pavers: Sahl used a system she found from Lee Valley Tools that starts with a frame of pressure treated two by fours outlining the shape of the bed. She made hers 2.5 feet wide by 8 feet long. Steel brackets attach to the frame and are designed to hold pre-cast concrete pavers upright. Sahl’s pavers are 16 inches square. More brackets along the top edge of the pavers attach to another frame of two by fours, making the structure strong enough to sit on. The brackets are ordered as a kit and the gardener buys the wood and pavers locally.

 

2016-6 Concrete block raised bed - Barb Gorges

Raised bed made with stacked concrete blocks. Photo by Barb Gorges.

2016-6 Converted trash can holder - Barb Gorges

An enclosure for trash cans has been converted to a raised bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Concrete block: Mark and I tried a concrete block raised bed for our vegetables last year, but we didn’t stack the blocks on boards like Sahl did her pavers. After this past winter’s freezing and thawing, the walls undulate. Also, for the nine months of the year nothing is growing in it, the bed looks just like a pile of ugly gray concrete—right in the middle of the view from our favorite window.

2016-6 Stock tank raised bed w raspberries

Sahl’s recycled stock tank helps contain the spread of her raspberry patch. Large holes in the bottom of the tank are necessary for good drainage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Stock tanks: This style is simpler, but perhaps harder to find, prep and install.

Sahl uses this method and got the idea from a relative who uses rusted-out tanks in her garden.

Sahl found her own stock tanks on Craig’s list. We’re talking about the long, narrow ones made of galvanized steel. Sahl’s are 2 to 2.5 feet across by 6 or 8 feet long by about 2 feet deep. Since they weren’t rusted out on the bottom, she drilled lots of holes for drainage. If she were to do it again, she suggests just cutting out portions of the bottoms.

How to install a raised bed

Find a flat, sunny location within range of your hose or drip irrigation system.

Plan the bed’s width so you can reach the middle comfortably, and maximize the dimension of materials to be used. The shape can be square, rectangular or even L or U-shaped. Sahl left enough room between beds for her wheelbarrow.

Because Sahl has a weedy infestation of skeleton-leaf bursage, she chose to cover her site with weed barrier cloth and then covered that with bark mulch between the beds.

Under normal conditions, you would remove pre-existing vegetation as you would for any other garden, especially if you aren’t building your raised bed very high—you need to allow for root growth.

Unless your building materials are ephemeral, temporary like straw bales, be sure to use a level to keep everything square and neat looking. Get corner posts set straight and boards horizontal.

How to fill a raised bed

Sahl wanted completely different soil for her beds than what was in her yard so she ordered a load that was a little sandier, with less clay. It’s important that it is good quality, she said, and not full of weed seeds. She has grown a wide variety of vegetables in the eight years since and is very happy with the results.

If you are growing vegetables, you may want to mix in a lot of compost like that available through Cheyenne’s compost facility. In future seasons you won’t have to till, just add a couple more inches of compost, perhaps in the form of the organic mulch you use on the surface—leaves and grass clippings, etc.

For flowers, be aware that hardy native perennials do best with less fertile soil.

Accessories

Sahl has made tomato cages from concrete mesh that fit her raised beds perfectly. She can wrap them in plastic to protect the plants from frost early in the season.

Raised beds also lend themselves to the addition of trellises, cold frame covers, mini-hoop houses, hail guards and drip irrigation systems. See previous columns on those subjects at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

Details of Sahl’s raised beds, late August 2016: (clockwise from top left) onions, cabbage, raspberries, tomato, carrots.

2016-6a Gorges raised bed in JulyGorges raised bed, July 2016.

 

 


Garden tools

2016-5-Kathy Shreve's tiling or trenching spade by Barb Gorges

Kathy Shreve’s tiling, or trenching, shovel works well for inserting new plants in her perennial bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 1, 2016, “Must-have garden gear.”

By Barb Gorges

Gardening smart and using the best tools for you and your garden situation means gardening can be less of a chore and more fun, leaving you with time to enjoy your results.

With that in mind, I decided to survey the Laramie County Master Gardeners to find out which tools they consider essential for gardening. I also looked into best garden tool maintenance practices.

Like a good scientist, I checked the literature online and had my own hypothesis on what would surface in the top of the list: tools for digging, cutting, watering, hauling and composting.

Surprisingly, only one person listed a power tool, a rototiller for tilling vegetable beds.

Apparently, most of the Master Gardeners that responded have gardens small enough to use only hand tools, just love gardening by hand, or are in the no-till or minimal till camp.

[Soil science shows that over time the tradition of tilling every year, turning over the top inches of soil, whether by machine or shovel, breaks down soil structure. This disturbs the microbiome community that stores water and provides nutrients to plants. Tilling also exposes weed seeds to light and germination, mandating the use of a hoe or more tilling later.

No-till methods use plant-based mulch as a way to suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil gradually. The soil is disturbed as little as possible when flowers and vegetables are seeded or transplanted.]

The following is the result of the tools members suggested as we head into the new season.

2016-5-Wanda Manley's hori hori by Barb Gorges

Wanda Manley displays her hori hori. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Hori hori

Outside of the lone rototiller, all the other favorite tools mentioned were split evenly between digging and cutting.

One tool does both: the hori hori.

A Japanese tool, the hori hori is “a cross between a knife and a trowel and I use it for everything,” wrote Salli Halpern.

Wanda Manley said, “This is my ‘go to’ tool…great for fluffing soil, transplanting, making furrows, etc. Does not rust.”

Rosalind Schliske said, “In the last couple of years, my new favorite garden tool is a soil knife.” The “knife” she mentions seems to be a modern hori hori, with a composite handle instead of wood.

The hori hori’s 7-inch cutting blade, serrated on one side, is formed into a shallow length-wise v-shape. It can be used to cut and scoop out a small planting hole and makes a fabulous weed remover.

2016-5-Susan Jones's Corona Egrip Hand Weeder by Barb Gorges

Susan Jones likes her Corona Egrip Weeder. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Susan Jones swears by a hand weeder sold under the Corona brand. It also has a serrated edge, but a molded plastic, more ergonomic handle and a v-shaped tip that helps pop out weeds with taproots like dandelions.

Shovels

Only Kathy Shreve and Mike Heath mentioned shovels on their lists. Shreve finds a tiling, or trenching shovel to be most useful. The flat-edged, straight and narrow blade is just right for inserting new plants into her established perennial beds. The weight of the wooden handle adds to its heft, she said, giving her a little extra oomph as she digs in.

Shovels and spades (the distinction between them is not clear) come in a wide variety of blade and handle options. It takes some experience to match one with what fits your hands, height, strength and type of digging you need to do. The same is true of hand trowels or hand spades. In our clay-type soils, go for better quality tools that won’t snap as soon as you encounter a tough situation.

2016-5-Wanda Manley's Felco pruners by Barb Gorges

Felco pruners are made to last, with proper maintenance. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Pruners

One favorite cutting tool was mentioned by both Shreve and Manley by brand name: Felco hand pruners. I finally have a pair myself, after years of being frustrated by cheaper pruners falling apart. Plus, Felco has replaceable parts and accessories available at area garden centers.

Felco pruners are bypass-type cutting tools, meaning the two halves slide by each other as they cut, like scissors, rather than the anvil-type, where one side is a blade and the other side is a flat surface.

Hand pruners might not be the best at snipping chives—you’d want a scissors for that, but they do work fine for cutting flowers and are tough enough for cutting pumpkins off the vine, not to mention doing a little tree and shrub pruning.

2016-5-Bud Davis's Garrett Wade anvil loppers by Barb Gorges

Anvil-type racheting loppers from Garret-Wade are a favorite with Bud Davis. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Loppers

Once your trees and shrubs get beyond hand pruner size, it’s time to look for loppers.

Both Bud Davis and Shreve swear by their ratcheting loppers, which can handle more than my regular pair, rated only for a maximum branch diameter of 1.25 inches. Shreve prefers the Fiskars brand while Davis got both of his pairs, a bypass for green wood and an anvil-type for dead wood, from Garrett-Wade. His loppers even have telescoping handles to help reach farther or get more leverage.

2016-5-Jim Stallard shovel  sharpening by Barb Gorges

Jim Stallard puts a professional edge on a shovel. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Maintenance

No matter what digging and cutting tools you invest in, maintaining them will save you time, money and effort.

Jim Stallard has been in the seasonal tool sharpening business for 16 years. This year he is at Fort Collins Nursery on Fridays and JAX on Saturdays, both in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Stallard has seen it all, including dirt left on metal long enough that the moisture from it caused rust. He uses a wire brush to clean off dirt before putting away tools. More of us need to think about providing a convenient place to store tools out of the weather—and then train ourselves to put our tools away.

Stallard uses silicone spray lubricant on the metal parts of tools—it’s especially nice on the blades of pruners and loppers because it doesn’t cause them to bind up or rust the way some products do.

Keeping tools sharp—even the blades on shovels and hand spades—makes gardening work easier. You can check online for tips on how to do it yourself, but there is nothing like letting a professional like Stallard put a fresh edge on a tool at the beginning of the season. He’s got the power equipment and the experience to put the right angle on your blade for just a few bucks.

The other essentials

One can make do with old buckets and wheelbarrows for hauling, and make compost with just a simple pile of plant debris. Watering can be as complex as drip irrigation (see www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com for a previous column) or as simple as a hose. I was hoping someone could recommend a hose that never kinks. That would indeed be a tool that makes the work easier.

However, it was Master Gardener intern Richard Steele, who said, “The best tool…is having access to the knowledge of the Master Gardeners.” With that in mind, feel free to call the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office with your garden questions at 307-633-4383.


Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

There are 4,000 species of bees native to North America and 46 of them are bumble bees. This bumble bee is collecting pollen from a gaillardia or blanketflower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

A version, “Bee aware: How to attract bees to your garden, keep them happy once they get there,” was published April 10, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Bees are wildlife, though we tend to not to think of them in the same category as mice, raccoons and deer. They are however, much more beneficial for our gardens and crops.

We depend on honey bees and native bees to pollinate the flowers of crops to produce up to a third of the value of foods in our grocery carts including almonds, avocado, watermelon, squash, apples–most fruits and many vegetables.

Even crops that are considered self-pollinating, like soybeans, will increase production if pollinated by bees, said Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County.

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker collects pollen from purple coneflower. Honey bees are slimmer than native bumble bees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Both the honey bee, from Europe, and our native bees are declining in numbers for several reasons, especially habitat loss. Like other wildlife, native bees lose out every time their diverse native habitat is converted to a weed-less, flower-less lawn, or paved over, or sprayed with pesticides. So what can we do to help them help us?

Wissner believes that if everyone offered blooming plants on their property, native bees could make a comeback, especially if native plants are used. They’d also improve our vegetable garden yields at the same time.

Native bees are more efficient pollinators because they will fly when it is cooler or cloudy. Honey bees want perfect weather.

Native bees are solitary and almost always friendly according to Wissner. Unlike honey bees, they don’t have big colonies to defend. Bumble bees especially are slow and inoffensive. But it doesn’t hurt to have an antihistamine like Benadryl in your gardening first aid kit, or epinephrine if you already know you are allergic to stinging insects.

Getting bees to your garden

Helping bees (and butterflies and other pollinating insects) can be done by planting flowers–natives especially. For years I thought them merely pretty faces to brighten my mood and the view, but now I see them as essential to the ecosystem.

In many ways, what I want in a flower garden is what the bees want as well: flowers that will bloom as early as possible and others that bloom right until first frost.

2016-4Milkweed - most likely female Bombus griseocolis - Barb Gorges

This bumble bee, most likely a Bombus griseocolis, is checking out milkweed. Notice the yellow pollen baskets on its hind legs. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I also want as many different kinds of flowers as I can get to grow in my yard and bees appreciate the variety. I focus on perennials because they are less expensive and less time-consuming than having to start from seed or buy annuals each year. Perennials just get bigger and bigger or spread seedlings each year, offering more and more flowers.

I love the simple, old-fashioned garden plants and the native wildflowers. Turns out bees like simple flowers too. The latest, greatest double or triple-petalled kind are too difficult for bees to navigate through. Bees need to collect pollen and nectar to eat or feed their young, inadvertently pollinating flowers as they move about.

As a lazy gardener, I grow plants close together to shade out the weeds and I don’t prune back the dead stuff until late spring. The old stems help hold leaf mulch in place and interrupt the wind enough to drop a protective blanket of snow for parts of the winter.

This strategy works well as Wissner said there are native bees, and other beneficial insects, that nest in the overwintering stems.

Find a place to plant with an eye for shelter, water and safety for bees

Reevaluate your current garden with an eye for enticing bees. Instead of another flat of exotic annuals this spring, could you plant native perennials?

Can you remove that half-dead juniper and replace it with a flowering shrub like red-twig dogwood?

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

A bumble bee, a female Bombus bifarius, works over a potentilla flower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Could you expand or add a new garden bed? Is it close to your outdoor water faucet? Is it where you can enjoy looking at it? Will it be out of the way of unofficial paths and yard activities? Is it a sunny spot? Many of the most popular plants for pollinators prefer sun.

Protecting bees from insecticides at all times is absolutely necessary—even those labelled “organic” can negatively affect bees or kill them.

Certain native bees like nesting in tubular spaces. You can drill holes ranging from ¼ to 3/4-inch diameter close together in a block of wood.

Bees need water. If you use a bird bath or dish, be sure to refresh it every few days to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Wissner uses a soaker hose on a timer and has seen the bees line up along its length, drinking.

Decide what to plant

Wissner has a rule of thumb when she visits a nursery—look for the plants buzzing with bees already.

Visiting nurseries is the easiest way to find perennials and there is a plethora of them along the Front Range from here south. However, you may have a hard time finding native plants recommended as nurseries are still learning about this gardening for pollinators movement.

The Audubon Rockies website, http://rockies.audubon.org, has a Habitat Hero program section. There you can find a list of resources and local sources for plants. The closer to home the source of the plant, the better—the better chance the plant will thrive in your garden.

Growing from seed is a possibility, but transplanting from the wild should be avoided unless you have the permission of the landowner and the site is about to be bulldozed anyway.

Be sure your selections are rated for our Zone 5 or colder, like Zones 3 and 4. Get at least three of a kind to plant together to make them more noticeable to passing bees.

Look at your overall plan to see if you have a variety of bloom times, flower colors and shapes, plant heights and leaf textures. Different kinds of flowers provide the bees different kinds of nutrients in their pollen.

A pollinator garden doesn’t need to be installed all at once. Half the fun is keeping a lookout for additions—who doesn’t enjoy an excuse to visit a flower-filled nursery?

About Bees:

Identification

The Xerces Society, www.xerces.org/pollinators-mountain-region/

Bug Guide, Iowa State University, www.bugguide.net

Bumble Bees of Western United States, search for the title at www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker climbs out of a female squash flower. Pollen grains still stick to it and will hopefully be transferred to another female squash flower, as they were to this blossom. Photo by Barb Gorges.