Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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What I’ve learned as a Master Gardener

2018-08Garden tour-Barb Gorges

Outside Ft. Collins, Colorado, one woman, over 20 years, has created a garden refuge. Photo by Barb Gorges.

By Barb Gorges

This is my seventh season as a Laramie County Master Gardener (and Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columnist). I know more now than when I finished the training because there’s always someone to talk to who knows more than me about any aspect of gardening.

I’ve interviewed many people, including other Master Gardeners, for previous columns which are archived at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Always evaluate gardening information. Where does that gardener garden? Is it a garden with a similar climate or microclimate, soil and growing season to mine? Will the treatment harm my soil?

There’s a difference between sticking stuff in dirt and growing plants with more mindfulness—and record-keeping.

You can grow many things in Cheyenne, but not all things. Just keep experimenting with the short-season veggies and consider building a greenhouse or high tunnel.

Cheyenne’s blooming season is longer than you think. In my garden some spring bulbs bloom in March. Some years the frost doesn’t finish the asters until the end of October.

Garden beauty is subjective but good garden design is practical:  put short plants in the front of beds, veggies by the kitchen door and don’t plant trees under power lines.

Every growing season is different. Not every year has powdery mildew, black spot or blossom end rot.

Know when to give up. Or try the plant in a different location. Or try a different variety.

Gardeners are generous. They share plant thinnings and seeds because they can’t bear to compost them.

Propagation from root divisions, cuttings and seeds is rewarding, especially when you share.

Never add lime, an alkaline substance, to Cheyenne’s already alkaline soils.

Gardeners like a challenge, even as extreme as planting acid-loving blueberries in buckets full of specially mixed acidic soil.

Soil is every gardener’s most valuable asset. Preserve its structure and microbiome by tilling and hoeing as little as possible and let mulch keep the weeds down.

Composting your discarded plant material in your own bin or pile saves you money on fertilizer and the cost of having the sanitation department haul it away.

Getting watering and mulching right is more important to plants than fertilizer.

Good pruning benefits trees and shrubs by making them look good and grow better.

Right plant in the right place—not all trees are growing in the right place.

Hail is a fact of life here. Protect tomatoes with hardware cloth screen overhead and grow skinny-leaved and skinny-petalled flowers.

Replacing your lawn with gravel is not less work in the future. It gets weedy. And gravel doesn’t shade the ground, which makes your yard hotter. You are better off with a low-growing ground cover.

Chemical pesticides are rarely necessary in the residential garden. You can pick off pests and remove diseased plant parts by hand.

Stressed plants (too much or too little water, too much fertilizer, too much or too little sun) attract disease and pests.

The sooner you pull a weed or cut it off at ground level, the less work it is later.

Always take care of weeds before they set seed.

Tending a garden is stress-reducing. Many of the gardeners I’ve interviewed have high stress jobs: lawyer, judge, law enforcement, social worker, doctor.

Gardening is good exercise. Even if you aren’t vigorously digging a new bed, just walking around pulling the occasional weed and deadheading the roses is better for you than sitting.

Gardeners see more bees, butterflies and birds—just more of nature.

Visiting botanic gardens when you travel makes for beautiful memories.

Reading to prepare for and dreaming about next year’s garden will get you through a long winter.

Want to start gardening or garden more intentionally and with more knowledge? Become a Laramie County Master Gardener. It’s not too early to find out about the next class. Call Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, 307-633-4383.

2018-08 Asters Snowy Range 7-18 Barb Gorges

Asters bloom and attract a bee in a natural rock garden July 18, 2018, in the Snowy Range in southeastern Wyoming at an elevation of 9,000 to 10,000 feet. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Habitat Hero demo gardens get started

2018-07 BOPU-Habitat Hero Demo Garden planting--Don Chesnut

About 50 volunteers planted the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities office June 2. Photo courtesy of Don Chesnut.

Published July 22, 2018 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Habitat Hero demonstration gardens get started.” Also published at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/habitat-hero-demonstration-gardens.

By Barb Gorges

This spring, my eyes were bigger than my garden. I blame all those luscious Botanical Interests seed packet illustrations (www.BotanicalInterests.com).

March 1, a little later than usual for winter sowing (see https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/winter-sowing/), I planted 25 cut-open milk jugs with perennial seeds and set them outside.

The seeds included:

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed)

Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)

Monarda (Bee Balm)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan).

2018-07Rudbeckia hirta-Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan). Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were sprouts in every gallon jug by the end of April. The Rudbeckia seedlings formed a carpet.

I planned to have the front yard ready to plant, but between wet weather and various commitments, that didn’t happen. The seedlings were also too small for the Master Gardener plant sale mid-May.

Then the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee got a query from the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Would we be interested in having a Habitat Hero demonstration garden site between the rose garden and the parking lot? I soon realized my winter sowing overflow would be perfect there.

On the other hand, the Cheyenne Habitat Hero committee spent months over the winter planning a Habitat Hero demonstration garden with the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities. It will show how to save city residents and business owners money and water by planting a flower garden in place of a lawn. I wrote a successful grant proposal to National Audubon that funded nearly half of the $1,200 to buy plants, plus another for $3,500 for an interpretive sign.

The BOPU garden area, in front of their office, was measured and plans were drawn digitally by Kathy Shreve from Star Cake Plants. She chose an assortment of drought tolerant species that over time will grow into a solid mass of colorful mounds of flowers attracting birds, bees and butterflies. An order was placed for plants in 4.5 and 2.5-inch containers, plus a few shrubs.

The turf was removed mechanically. Volunteers broke up the hard clay with shovels and mixed in compost. A flagstone garden path was installed as well as an irrigation system that snapped into existing lawn sprinkler heads. About 50 people showed up June 2 and planted 428 plants in two and a half hours—and watered them all in by hand and mulched them with wood chips.

At the CBG site however, rather than decide how many plants are needed to fill the space, Kathy is helping me figure out how to use the 900 seedlings I started and any donations of other native-type plants. At least there is no lawn to remove and the soil is reasonable.

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Monarda fistulosa (Bee Balm). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At home, my winter-sown seedlings go directly into the garden, but water wasn’t immediately available at the CBG site, so they are in the greenhouse waiting.

Seedlings can live indefinitely crowded together. The above-ground parts don’t grow much bigger, but the roots get longer and longer and are harder and harder to tease apart so I started “up-potting.” I claimed all the plastic containers from the BOPU planting and more from the CBG and bought six bags of potting soil at cost from Habitat Hero sponsor Gardening with Altitude, enough to fill 33 flats.

After 10 days the first 200 Rudbeckias Sandra Cox and I transplanted had grown 50 times larger than the ones that were still fighting it out in the four remaining milk jugs. I’d forgotten how my winter-sowing instructor, Michelle Bohanan, had carefully counted out 16 or 25 seeds for each jug rather than spill an unknown number. Later, in the Botanical Interest seed catalog, where it states how many seeds are in each packet, it said the Rudbeckia packet has over 2,000 for only $1.69. Maybe it was a typo. Maybe not.

2018-07Gaillardia-Barb Gorges

Gaillardia (Blanket Flower). Photo by Barb Gorges.

The repetitive nature of potting up seedling after seedling for hours made me wonder how much of propagation is mechanized at large companies. While washing pots I listened to a recorded book, “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco Cantu, about the U.S.—Mexico border issue. It occurred to me this is the kind of tedious work immigrants gladly do just to be in our country.  These soil-based jobs many of our own citizens disdain, leaving the “green” industry shorthanded.

If all goes well with this latest Habitat Hero project, by late summer—or maybe next summer—you may see 450 Rudbeckia plants flowering brown and gold—maybe in time for the University of Wyoming football season. Also stop by BOPU, 2416 Snyder Ave., on a regular basis so you can see the growing transformation.

2018-07Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Habitat Hero garden-Barb Gorges

The Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens looks deceptively small from this viewpoint. It is a crescent about 100 feet long and 25 feet wide at its widest point. It took on average six people nine hours to plant 950 plants (including those donated by Kathy Shreve). Photo by Barb Gorges taken July 31, 2018.

BOPU Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden Plant List

Agastache aurantia “Sunlight” (Hyssop)

Agastache cana “Sonoran Sunset” (Hyssop)

Aster alpinus “Goliath” (Alpine Aster)

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae “New England Pink” (New England Aster)

Bergenia crassifolia “Winterglut” (Bergenia, Pigsqueak)

Buddleja sp. “Blue Chip” (Butterfly Bush)

Buddleja davidii “Miss Ruby” (Butterfly Bush)

Echinacea purpurea “Magnus Superior” (Coneflower)

Fragaria vesca “Alexandria” (Runnerless Strawberry)

Helictotrichon sempervirens (Blue Avena Grass)

Juniperus scopulorum “Blue Arrow” (Juniper)

Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri Evening Primrose)

Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal” (Switchgrass)

Papaver orientale “Salmon Oriental” (Poppy)

Penstemon x mexicali “Pike’s Peak Purple” (Penstemon)

Prunella lacinata (Lacy Self-Heal)

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasqueflower)

Ribes rubrum “Red Lake” (Currant)

Sedum sieboldii “October Daphne” (Sedum)

Veronica pectinate (Wooly Creeping Speedwell)

2018-07Echinacea purpurea Cheyenne Spirit-Barb Gorges

Echinacea purpurea “Cheyenne Spirit” (Purple Coneflower) is a cultivated variety that blossoms in a variety of colors from orange and yellow to pink. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Geraniums easy to grow–both zonal and wild

2018-06geraniums 1-Barb Gorges

Zonal geraniums of various colors fill a whiskey barrel planter. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published June 10, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: “Geraniums easy-to-grow…and spectacular,” and at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/geraniums-easy-to-growand-spectacular

By Barb Gorges

Geraniums are one of my favorite houseplants.

Serious gardeners look at me askance: “But they are so easy to grow!” Exactly. Besides, in the summer I can set them outside to dress up the porch. In addition, there are the wild geranium cultivars that seem just as easy to grow and propagate.

Zonal geraniums

The epitome of geraniums is the zonal geranium, not actually in the Geranium genus, but in Pelargonium, native to South Africa. The Dutch brought them to Europe in the early 1700s.

I like the big red flowerheads, about 5 inches across, made of many florets. They also come in white, pink and various combinations. The leaves are roundish and fuzzy with scalloped edges. The cottage with the white picket fence always has them in the window boxes or inside in the windows. There’s also the ivy-leafed type.

I double-checked what I’ve learned in 27 years of growing geraniums with information from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, www.almanac.com, and we agree: geraniums appreciate bright light. Otherwise, they still bloom but they get leggy. When that happens, I cut off the thickest stems, use a pencil to poke a hole in the soil in the same pot or a new pot and insert the stem. It’s that easy to root a cutting.   If soil is not immediately available, the stems can be put in water.

Back when I walked my kids to and from school, I’d stop to chat with a neighbor, Charlie Culp. One fall day, he handed me two plastic grocery sacks, each with a hot pink geranium he had uprooted from pots on his front steps. Frost was predicted and he told me I should winter them.

I potted up both and shared one with one of the teachers. All winter I enjoyed mine. In spring I took it back outside. Some years I planted it in the garden, sometimes I left it in the pot. Sometimes I took cuttings to bring in instead of the whole plant, especially if the plant got too big. Eventually I ended up with half a dozen plants. This went on for 17 years.

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Zonal geranium breeders keep coming up with new varieties. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The last year, I took cuttings, put them in water, couldn’t find time to plant them and when I finally looked closely at them a couple months later, they were covered in aphids and never recovered. But soon a friend shared a beautiful red geranium and I collected shades of pink at the nursery.

For the last 10 years, I’ve hauled in four big pots of geraniums for the winter and put them in the big, southwest-facing window in our attached garage. It’s well-insulated, including the doors, but the wall between the house and the garage is less so.

Watching the thermometer in the garage, there are only a couple weeks when it gets below freezing at night and we must bring in the plants. And yes, we drive our vehicles in and out of the garage a couple times a day. But the door is never open more than a minute or two and the temperature barely changes.

A couple of tips: when you bring in geraniums for the winter, try to make yourself cut back the blooming stems to 6-8 inches tall so the plant won’t be so spindly by spring. You can pot up those cuttings in potting soil (not garden soil).

Don’t over-water, especially if you have the plants in their preferred cool location (50-60 degrees). Let the top inch of soil dry out. Fertilize sparingly, waiting until the days lengthen after the winter solstice. And don’t forget to keep turning the plants so they won’t grow one-sided.

Be sure to remove the flower heads when they get down to the last few florets blooming or remove the florets as they finish.

2018-06geraniums-wild-Barb Gorges

Cuttings from true geraniums and their cultivars developed for the garden can also be propagated from cuttings. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Wild geraniums

Real geraniums are in the genus “Geranium,” wild geranium. There are several species native to North America. Many of these wild species are also known as “cranesbill” because the seed pod is a long, beak-like shape.

Area nurseries are selling several Geranium cultivars that will do well here. They have a roundish but palmate (having “fingers”) sort of hairy leaf and a pinkish flower that is equivalent in size to the Pelargonium’s individual florets.

My wild geranium makes a great ground cover in shadier areas. The leaves turn red in the fall and persist all winter. When mine started crowding out other plants in the raised bed, I decided to snip a few leafy stems and see if they would root in water so I could then fill in bare spots elsewhere. And it worked!

2018-06geraniums 3-Barb Gorges

White zonal geranium. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Wyoming Heirloom Apples

2018-05 apple blossom-Barb Gorges.JPGWyoming heirloom apples making a comeback

Also published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 6, 2018, and at https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/wyoming-apple-project.

By Barb Gorges

Most people’s image of Wyoming doesn’t include apple orchards.

However, back in the homestead era, settlers brought young apple trees with them and planted them above stream banks. They provided important food in territory where there were no stores nearby. Not only do some apple varieties store well, but others were made into cider or vinegar which was used as medicine and food preservative.

An 1873 follow-up to the Homestead Act, the Timber Culture Act, gave homesteaders an additional 160 acres if they planted trees on 40 acres. Why not plant trees that provided food as well?

By 1880, entrepreneurs were planting orchards outside of Wyoming’s major towns. Ed Young planted 3000 apple trees near Lander, along with other fruit trees.

The Cheyenne Horticultural Station developed hardy Wyoming varieties during its years of operation, 1928-1974.

But by about the 1930s, modern apple storage methods, long distance trucking and grocery stores started to put an end to the golden age of Wyoming apple growing. Farmers turned to growing hay and grain.

Funny thing, those abandoned apple trees persisted, if they weren’t bulldozed. Some even continued to be taken care of. Many are now over 100 years old. With the interest in tasty local and sustainable food sources, Wyoming’s heirloom apples are being sought after.

Jonathan Magby, graduate student at the University of Wyoming, has for the last several years been helping botany professor Steve Miller on his quest to find,  identify and preserve those apples through the Wyoming Apple Project, https://www.wyomingappleproject.com/.

The way apple genetics work, an apple seed will never grow up to be the spitting image of its parent tree. Instead, orchardists propagate apples by taking small cuttings. Magby and Miller are thus able to preserve heirloom varieties by taking these scions and grafting them to other apple tree cultivars grown for their sturdy, Wyoming-hardy rootstock. They are being grown at experimental orchards outside Sheridan and Lander.

So far Magby has used DNA testing to identify 47 cultivars from old apple trees sampled around the state, though not all matched named cultivars.

The cultivar names are often descriptive, and they are often traceable back to Europe. There is evidence the Chinese grafted apples in 5000 BCE.

Wild apples have their roots in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia, which has landscape much like Wyoming’s, which has native crabapples.

If you are the typical home gardener, right about now you are wondering where you could squeeze in an apple tree or two—and really you need to have two so that apples will form—or at least make sure someone nearby has apple or crabapple trees.

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A page from the Wyoming Apple Project’s key.

Next, you are wondering, of the kinds of apples that survived 100-plus years here, which are the best.

Magby updated his website top 10 list for me when we talked:

*1. Wealthy

  1. Haralson
  2. Patten Greening

*4. Yellow Transparent

  1. Northwest Greening
  2. McMahan
  3. McIntosh
  4. Wolf River

*9. Whitney No. 20 Crabapple

*10. Duchess of Oldenburg

  1. Dolgo

Wait! That’s more than 10! The starred cultivars will do particularly well in Cheyenne as well as Florence Crab.

Each apple cultivar has its strengths and weaknesses, uses and flavors. When we lived in Miles City, Montana, in the 1980s, we had an old Yellow Transparent, a hardy Russian cultivar. Its fruit ripened to a pale yellow in August. It wouldn’t keep over the winter like some. In fact, it was practically apple sauce as soon as the apple departed the tree.

The next question you home gardeners will ask is the harder one, where to buy these apple trees?

Look for Scott Skogerboe, an heirloom apple propagator from Fort Collins, Colorado, who sells trees and shrubs at our farmers market. Ask for Wyoming’s heirlooms at our local nurseries. Hopefully, area nurseries will carry apple trees with rootstock suitable for Wyoming, or for your site if you are planting an orchard. Check the Wyoming Apple Project website for advice. Consult your extension agent.

2018-05 Wyo apple tree-Barb Gorges

This old apple tree persists above Crow Creek west of Cheyenne, making use of a little bit of seepage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

If you have an old apple tree that might be an heirloom, you can contact Miller, Fungi@uwyo.edu. Maggie McKenzie remembered the ancient apple trees on the place west of Cheyenne where she grew up and her family still lives. Magby was able to identify three out of four: Jeffries, Wealthy and McIntosh. Most importantly, McKenzie was inspired to get them some pruning love, helping to prolong their productive life.

For more information on caring for apple trees, see the Wyoming Apple Project website and articles from Barnyards and Backyards, http://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard.

Information for this column came from an interview with Jonathan Magby and other sources.

2018-05 Wyo apple trees-Barb Gorges

University of Wyoming grad student Jon Magby was able to identify the cultivars of three out of four of Maggie McKenzie’s family’s apple trees using DNA testing. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 


Young worm farmers prepare for vegetable growing season

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Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne worm farmers show off their worm compost bin. Photo by Barb Gorges

This column was also published at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/young-worm-farmers-prepare-for-vegetable-growing-season.

By Barb Gorges

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No squeamishness! Photo by Barb Gorges.

Have you ever seen a girl handle a worm without expressing squeamishness or a boy hold a worm without trying to scare a girl? I have.

Out at the Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne there is a worm composting bin. The kids, self-proclaimed worm farmers, gave me a tour of their livestock the other day. Taking off the lid, they moved the partially composted material to one side with a hand-sized rake and didn’t hesitate to plunge their hands in to wrangle a red wiggler or two and bring them out for inspection.

After I’d been introduced to the worms and enlightened about their biology, the worms were carefully returned to the bin. The kids washed their hands and then dried them with paper towels.

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 4

Two of the boys gently rake the kitchen scraps looking for the red wigglers. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Maggie McKenzie, a volunteer at the club who works under Carlos Gonzales, youth development professional, oversees the worm farm. She reminded the kids to throw the paper towels in the bin for the worms to process. The worm castings (worm poop) will go into the club’s garden outside as soon as it is warm enough. It will be great fertilizer for the vegetables which are grown organically—without chemicals.

Back three months ago, I witnessed McKenzie and two other Master Gardeners, Susie and John Heller, give this batch of compost its start.

Bins

Vermicomposting, composting with worms, is simple. You can build your own bin using a well-washed 5-gallon bucket that has a lid. John Heller said at home they have used the plastic buckets kitty litter comes in.

Punch holes 4 inches up from the bottom edge for aeration. Punch another few in the bottom for drainage of the worm urine. It’s valuable natural fertilizer you’ll also want to collect, according to http://www.wormfarmfacts.com.

The Hellers donated a fancy bin to the club. It comes in removable layers, like a layer cake. The worms start off in the lowest one and as compost is finished in that layer, bedding material and food is added to the next layer up. The worms migrate to it through its mesh bottom. This leaves the compost in the first layer to be harvested.

Bedding and food

The Hellers start with a sheet of black ink newspaper (no color) laid in the bottom of the bin. For bedding they shred or tear newspaper into 1-inch-wide strips, moisten it like a wrung-out sponge, and then crumple it into a 1-inch layer.

Next, 2 to 3 inches of food are placed on top. Kitchen scraps are best, but not meat, dairy or grease. Susie Heller said to think about what nutrients are needed in the garden. We have a lot of calcium in our soil, so leave out the egg shells. The smaller the scraps of food are, the faster the worms will digest them. The Hellers sometimes dice theirs.

A little sand is needed because worms, like chickens, have a crop and a little rough sand in their crop helps them break up and digest tough fibers.

Some things are too hard for worm digestion, like avocado pits. Seeds from tomatoes and other fruits pass through unscathed and will sprout. The worms are not fond of citrus fruits. A little goes a long way. However, the worms will eat Starbucks coffee filters and tea bags, said Susie Heller.

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Red wigglers are more active than earthworms, and make compost faster. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Worms

The Hellers added a pound of worms they ordered for about $6 from the Wyoming Worm Wrangler, wyowormwrangler@yahoo.com. Red wigglers, smaller and redder and more active than garden-variety earthworms, work best. The worms placed on top soon crawled below to get away from the light.

The lid was placed firmly on top of the bin. It’s important to keep the worms in the dark, said Susie Heller. And if there isn’t at least a little light outside the bin 24 hours a day, the worms will come out to explore.

Temperature is important too. If it drops below 45 degrees F, the worms will go into hibernation. If it gets above 80 or 90 degrees F, the worms in the bin will die. In nature they can crawl deeper in the soil to stay cool, said Susie Heller.

Maintenance

McKenzie brings in a produce bag of kitchen scraps about every week to 10 days, “I usually add some paper at the same time —newspaper and paper towels—which helps keep odors down if I overload the worms.”

The worm bin should smell like clean dirt. If it gets a rotten smell, add more newspaper—or old brown tree leaves if you have them. McKenzie’s one worm failure though, was due to letting the bin dry out too much.

Harvest

If you use a one-bucket system, in three to six months you’ll have a bucket of worm castings to spread on your garden. At that point you’ll want to sort out the worms and save them for your next batch. Push all the worm-laden compost to one side and put fresh scraps on the other side. The worms will move to the greener pasture on their own in a few weeks. If all went well, they’ve been reproducing, laying little white eggs.

As the Boys and Girls Club kids will tell you, it’s fun to be a worm farmer. There’s nothing quite like the gentle, cool touch of a hard-working, compost-making, red wiggler when it gets a break from the bin to explore the palm of your hand.

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 2    The Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne gave permission to take and post these photos with this story. Red wiggler photo by Barb Gorges.

 


Apply to be a Habitat Hero

Habitat Hero logoThe Habitat Hero program recognizes people who have reduced the size of their water-loving lawns and planted native, water-smart plants that benefit birds, bees, butterflies (and bats) and other wildlife.

Audubon Rockies, the regional office of the National Audubon Society for Colorado and Wyoming, offers information about wildscaping and the application to become a Habitat Hero at   http://rockies.audubon.org/programs/habitat-hero-education.

The Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society and Laramie County Master Gardeners are already planning the 5th annual Cheyenne Habitat Hero workshop for spring 2019. To be notified about the details when they are available, sign up for the blog posts at https://cheyenneaudubon.wordpress.com/.


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Starting gardens: find sun, soil, water

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 1byBarbGorges

This perennial garden keeps expanding. The raised bed with the hail guard on top is where we grow the vegetables, the sunniest spot in front or back yard. Photo by Barb Gorges. 

By Barb Gorges

Is this the year you’ve decided you’ll spend more time on flowers and vegetables and make that boring expanse of lawn more colorful and edible? Here’s how to start.

Find the sun

Find where the sun shines on your yard and where the shadows are. This is the very first and most important step you must take. If you didn’t notice last year, you can estimate.

See where the shadows of currently leafless trees fall during the day. Find the sunny, south-facing side of your house.

For vegetables you want the sunniest location possible, at least 6 hours of full, summer sun. Do you have overgrown or dying trees and shrubs that need pruning or removal? However, a little shade by late afternoon keeps veggie leaves from temporarily wilting.

Keep vegetable gardens close to the house so it is easier to step out and pull the occasional weed and pick the ripe tomatoes.

Flowers aren’t as picky about sun because there are kinds suited to different light levels: sun, part sun, part shade and full shade. If you desire to grow a certain kind, google its light requirements.

Block the wind

In most residential neighborhoods there are enough obstacles, houses and landscaping, to blunt the wind. But if you are out on the prairie, you might want to put delicate plants in the lee of the barn or plant a windbreak first.

Get the dirt

Soil is anything a plant can stick a root into.

Good soil for vegetables (and other annuals) has lots of microorganisms that help feed the roots. Most vegetables are big feeders. They use lots of nutrients, so you’ll want to dig in compost the first year and then add layers of leaf/plant/kitchen compost mulch after that as needed. No need to dig again in future years.

If you use chemical fertilizer instead (unfortunately limiting good soil microbes), remember to follow the directions. Too much nitrogen gives you leaves and no fruit and too much of any fertilizer gives you sick or dead plants. And remember, Cheyenne has alkaline soils so do not add alkaline amendments like lime and wood ash.

Perennial plants rated for our zone 5 or colder (Zones 3 and 4), especially native plants, are really quite happy with whatever soil is available. If you are trying to grow flowers in the equivalent of pottery clay, gravel pit or sandbox, you might look for native species adapted to those kinds of soil. Or consider growing your plants in a raised bed or container you can fill with better soil.

Water carefully

Here in the West, water is a precious commodity so save money by not throwing it everywhere. If you have a sprinkler system, make sure it isn’t watering pavement.

The new era of home landscaping encourages us to replace our lawns with native perennials because they use less water. Native plants also provide food for birds, bees and butterflies, and habitat for beneficial insects. The Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities is installing a demonstration garden at its headquarters this spring.

But you will need to water a new perennial garden regularly until it gets established, and at other times, so figure out how far you want to lug the hose or stretch a drip irrigation system.

Once established, a native perennial garden not only takes less water than a lawn, but it doesn’t require the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides or gasoline for the mower. Your time can be spent admiring flowers instead of mowing. Although if you convert a large lawn to a meadow, you may want to mow it once a year.

Vegetables are water hogs. The fruits we harvest, especially tomatoes and cucumbers, are mostly water. Unless you like to contemplate life while watering by hand, check out drip irrigation. You can even put a timer on the system.

Sprinklers, on the other hand, waste a lot of water, especially when it evaporates in the heat and wind before it can get to the plants. If you abstain from watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., you’ll lose less to evaporation.

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 3byBarbGorges

It cost me $3000 to have the turf dug up for this garden…and the broken sewer pipe replaced. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Deleting lawn

While you can rent a rototiller to open up an area for planting, I prefer to use a sharp spade. I dig one clump of grass at a time, only about 8-10 inches deep, break and shake off as much soil as possible and put the remaining chunk in the compost bin—or fill in a hole in the remaining lawn.

It’s slow going, but I disturb fewer tree and shrub roots that underlay my entire yard. When I get tired of digging, that means I’ve reached the amount of new garden I have the energy to plant this year. I don’t want gardening to become a chore!

The plants and details

In the six years I’ve been interviewing local gardeners and writing monthly columns, I’ve accumulated a lot of information, from seed starting to native grass lawn alternatives to growing giant pumpkins and native perennials. Go to my website, https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com, and on the right side of the page use the search function or scroll through the list of topics.

If you are using your phone, select “About” from the menu and find the search function and topics at the very bottom of the page.

2018-03-05Coneflower&beebyBarbGorges

I love this kind of garden visitor. Photo by Barb Gorges.