Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Bulb forcing brings spring indoors mid-winter

2017-10 Bulb forcing 1

This classic bulb-forcing vase holds a hyacinth bulb. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 15, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “An indoor spring…during the winter.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s the season for buying spring-blooming bulbs. But not all of them need to go in the garden—at least not right away. Some of them can be kept back for forcing.

Bulb forcing allows you to enjoy crocus, the small iris, hyacinth, daffodils and even tulips indoors earlier than they bloom outside. Think of them as a deep winter gift to yourself, or for someone else.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith recently gave me background on the practice and a few tips.

The science and history

Smith said the trick is to use bulbs from temperate climates that need winter—such as the bulbs we plant in our gardens for spring bloom. They can get by with a shorter winter, or artificial cooling period, to bloom. Bulb growers in Europe started taking advantage of this about 300 years ago, as relayed by Patricia Coccoris of Holland in her book, “The Curious History of the Bulb Vase.”

The timing

Buy spring-blooming bulbs now. Bulbs ordered from catalogs begin shipping here around the beginning of October because bulbs normally need to be planted outdoors when the soil cools, but before it freezes in December.

For bulb forcing, figure 12 weeks minimum of “cool treatment,” however tulips need 13 weeks or more. Once the minimum is met, you can stagger when you start warming up the bulbs. You can aim for specific bloom times during our cabin fever months, January through March, or maybe even later into spring when we get those depressingly late, tulip-breaking snow storms.

The best bulbs

Smith said he used to tell people to buy the premium-sized bulbs for forcing, but now he thinks he gets more bloom for his buck with the smaller grades of bulbs. Premium hyacinth bulbs go for more than a dollar apiece in the John Scheepers catalog, but you might find smaller bargain bulbs and have more, if only medium-sized blooms, for the same amount.

Smith said some varieties of bulbs are easier to force and bulb catalogs often will mention which ones. Varieties seem to go in and out of vogue so don’t be surprised if Smith’s are hard to find.

Hyacinth is the classic forcing bulb, growing 10-12 inches tall. Each stalk is covered in tiny florets. Smith looks for Pink Pearl, Queen of the Pinks, White Pearl, L’Innocence (white), Blue Jacket, Delft Blue and Blue Giant.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 2

Crocus-sized bulb-forcing vases are harder to find. Photo by Barb Gorges.

All varieties of crocus force well. Smith’s favorite varieties are Remembrance (purple), Blue Ribbon, Giant Yellow and Jeanne d’Arc (white). Only 4-5 inches tall, they are usually planted as a mass.

Iris reticulata, though related to the summer-blooming bearded iris, grows only 4-6 inches high. Recommended for rock gardens, mine bloomed outside at the end of last February, but it would be nice not to have to brave winter winds to enjoy it. Smith said all the varieties force well. Scheepers lists eight ranging in color from white to blue to deep purple, all marked with a bit of yellow.

Almost any daffodil (narcissus) will work well for forcing, said Smith. The popular Paperwhite narcissus, however, is a tropical bulb, so it doesn’t need cooling.

Tulips, said Smith, are the hardest to force. They need the longest cooling time, minimum 13 weeks. They also may get floppy and need staking. Look for the earliest varieties, those that would otherwise bloom outdoors here (winter-hardiness zone 5) in April.

There are a variety of other, more difficult spring-blooming bulbs to experiment with: snowdrops, grape hyacinth (muscari) and squill (scilla).

Bulb-forcing vases

Bulb-forcing vases are not easy to find this fall. Your best bet is Amazon or eBay. These vases, usually glass, are pinched near the top, providing a cup for the bulb to sit suspended so that only its base touches the water. You watch as the roots grow to fill the rest of the vase and the flower stem sprouts. For this forcing method, you can cool just the bulbs in your refrigerator for the recommended time. Be sure hyacinth bulbs don’t touch produce.

If you are lucky enough to find a bulb forcing vase, remember to change the water regularly.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 4

These hyacinth bulbs have been potted up and will be set in a 2-foot deep trench in the vegetable garden and mulched with straw or pine needles for their 12-week “cool treatment.”  Small bulbs, like crocus, need a half inch of soil covering them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Potted bulbs

Smith pots his bulbs. Without a cellar between 35 and 45 degrees, he instead buries the pots in a 2-foot-deep trench in his vegetable garden. He then backfills the trench with straw or pine needles. The mulch allows moisture to percolate down, whether the bulbs are watered by hand or by snow, and allows in air.

Pots can be plastic or clay. However, if you have a fancy one, you may want to use it as a cache pot in which you insert the utilitarian pot that was buried.

Put only one type of bulb in a pot because different types sprout at different rates.

The depth of the pot should allow 2 inches or more of potting soil under the bulb with the bulb tip just a little below the rim of the pot.

Smith said regular packaged potting soil will do. Potting soil can be very dry, so mix it with water in an old dishpan or bucket before spooning it into the pot as the layer that will be under the bulbs. Then set the bulbs on top, right side up. The root end can have bits of root left and the shoot end is usually pointier.

You can pack the bulbs in, nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaving just a little space between them. Then fill in with more potting soil. Smith said the top third of the bulb can be left exposed, but crocus and iris bulbs need to be covered a half inch deep.

Label the pot so you remember what’s in it—especially if you do more than one kind. Mark where you bury the pot. And mark your calendar for when to bring the pot in.

Chill out

While the potted bulbs are chilling in the dark, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. You may need to lift the mulch and water once a month if it’s a dry winter.

Coming in from the cold

When you bring a pot in, Smith recommends putting it in a dim room at 60 degrees or cooler until the shoots are a few inches tall. Then move it to a bright window and 65 degrees. “Buried to blooming” may take two weeks. Turn pots every day to keep plants growing straight.

Flowers can last a week or two. Once in bloom, you can prolong it by setting the pot farther from the window and keeping the room’s temperature at 65 degrees.

Afterward

The advantage to planting forced bulbs in potting soil is that you can give them a second life. Cut back the spent flowers and keep watering until the leaves turn yellow. Plant the bulbs out in the garden when the soil thaws, where they might bloom again in two years.

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Iris reticulata bulbs were forced to bloom indoors one spring, then replanted outside in the garden in early summer where they bloomed the next spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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Fair flowers educate

2017-09 Floriculture Dept by Barb Gorges

The Floriculture Department at the Laramie County Fair includes perennials, annuals, herbs, potted plants and flower arrangements. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Sept. 17, 2017 “Fair gives lesson about best oflowers to grow locally.”

By Barb Gorges

I wasn’t thinking of our county fair being a learning opportunity until I overheard one woman visiting the floriculture department say to another, “You should try that in your garden.”

I realized then that the open class entries (all the entries that are not 4-H or FFA) could tell me a lot about what Laramie County gardeners grow, and grow well, at least at the beginning of August.

Checking the fair results at http://www.laramiecountyfair.com, in horticulture (fruits and vegetables), there were only 81 entries, indicating a growing season with a slow, cold start. However, for floriculture [starting on page 148], there were many more entries: perennial flowers (146), annual flowers (84), culinary herbs (64). The other categories, flower arrangements, dish gardens and potted plants, had a total of 55.

Why wouldn’t you plant perennials, the most popular category, in the first place? They take so little work once established. And once you’ve planted a perennial, why wouldn’t you snip three identical flowers the first week in August, place them in a clear glass jar, carry them to the fair and hope for a blue ribbon and $6 premium?

I’ve entered numerous quilts in fairs over the last 35 years (one to two hundred hours or more of work for a chance at the same $6 premium) and understand quilt judging, but I wasn’t sure what floriculture judges were looking for.

The fair book will tell you a little bit, but the 2017 edition is no longer available and the 2018 edition won’t be on the website until next spring. You can contact the Floriculture Superintendent, Chris Wright, through the fair office, 307-633-4670, if you have questions now.

Unlike other competitive endeavors, fair judges give out as many blue ribbons in any class as they feel are warranted. The entries are judged by how well they represent the class. For instance, all seven pansy entries received blue ribbons. However, all the Monarda (beebalm) entries received red ribbons and only $4 premiums.

I chatted with one of the two floriculture judges afterwards. Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator and Extension horticulture specialist, explained he thought all the beebalm was a little past its prime.

Beebalm flower heads are made up of tiny florets that bloom in groups, one concentric ring at a time. Mine had already been in bloom five weeks. But pansies have no florets, just five petals per flower. Mine have been putting out fresh flowers nearly every day since they started blooming in April.

Hilgert has been judging several fairs a year for the last 14 years. He looks for entries that are healthy—no sign of disease or pests. You can pinch off bad leaves, but you can’t remove very many bad flower petals without ruining a bloom.

The containers don’t matter, Hilgert said, though he prefers that they be a size matching the stem length. He’d rather not fish flowers out of the water when they fall into too tall vases. Our fair’s rules call for clear glass or plastic containers and it doesn’t matter to Hilgert whether they are vases or just jars and bottles.

2017-09 Rudbeckia entry by Barb Gorges

Rudbeckia entry in a jelly jar gets a blue ribbon. Photo by Barb Gorges.

When a class description asks for three stems, or three blooms, the three need to be as uniform as possible: same size flowers, same length stem, and flowers at the same stage of bloom. This year I had a bumper crop of Rudbeckia (gloriosa daisy or black-eyed susan), but in over 100 blooms, only three were identical, and luckily, were fresh enough to last the whole week of the fair.

Avoiding wilting, another of Hilgert’s benchmarks, was easy this year—it was a cool, rainy day when we brought our entries to the Exhibition Hall. However, during hot weather, the fair’s rules stating that all open class entries must be turned in between noon and 8 p.m., but not judged until the next morning, doesn’t work well for the tender plants. And it is another day before the public can view them. Volunteers keep the containers of flowers and the potted plants watered during fair week.

There is a simple strategy for entering floriculture at our fair. Before the entry deadline at the end of June, put in online for every class for which you have something planted. There is no entry fee. No one can predict what will look best the beginning of August when the flowers need to be picked. While seven people had great Shasta daisy entries this year, mine were already finished blooming. Of the 35 classes I put in for, I only brought 14 entries. I didn’t even have hail damage this year. It was just a matter of bloom timing.

There is a competitive aspect to the Floriculture department—those other awards that give you bragging rights: Superior, Best of Show, Reserve Champion and Champion. Those are the purple ribbons, some with fancy rosettes, that transcend the classes.

This year gardeners were rewarded with them for an exceptional hybrid tea rose, a sunflower, a salpiglossis, two mints, three potted plants and a fairy garden. A truly wonderful flowering tuberous begonia, entered by one of my neighbors, Jean Profaizer, was the champion.

Whether you ever intend to enter the fair and make some “seed money,” it is worth reading the Floriculture results to see what can bloom in Cheyenne in late summer. I counted over 20 kinds of culinary herbs (although these don’t need to be in bloom), 16 kinds of annuals and 30 kinds of perennials. The most popular, if you put all four classes of it together (white, yellow, pink and other), was yarrow, with 25 entries. It happens to be an easy perennial to grow, too.

2017-09 Echinacea entry by Barb Gorges

Echinacea is another popular fair entry because it is in bloom in early August. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Other late summer standbys are Echinacea (coneflower), Gaillardia (blanket flower), daylily, lilies, various roses, violets, and as previously mentioned, Rudbeckia.

Among the annuals are geranium, cosmos, bachelor buttons, snapdragon, sunflower, marigold, petunia and pansy (though my pansies sometimes come back, acting like short-lived perennials).

When you walk through the display of flowers at our fair, each vase or jarful with its entry tag that you see gives you more familiarity with local possibilities. If you are lucky, the gardener has added the variety name—it’s supposed to give them extra competition points.

With all that information, now is the perfect time to assess your garden, make plans and gather or order what you need for next season. Any end of the season sales on perennials at nurseries? How about seeds, both flower and vegetable? Although they are never seen at the fair, don’t forget spring-blooming bulbs. And think about planting flowering trees and shrubs.

The downside? You may have to dig a new bed to accommodate all your future flower plans. But the bees, birds, butterflies and bats thank you.


Ground covers

2017-8 Sweet Woodruff by Barb GorgesPublished Aug. 13, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Covers of Color, ground covers good for replacing grass or gravel, and feeding bees”

By Barb Gorges

Gardeners consider ground covers to be short plants that act as living mulch, suppressing weeds and preventing erosion.

Your bluegrass lawn is a ground cover. Because it is so popular, its growing needs are well known. You can easily find someone to grow and mow it for you. Even simpler is growing native grasses—less water and much less mowing [search “Buffalograss” at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com].

However, when I surveyed the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their favorite perennial ground covers, a variety of short, flowering plants were listed requiring various amounts of sun and water.

All have big advantages over mulches like gravel or wood chips. Established ground covers out-compete weeds. Rock and wood chip mulches, on the other hand, eventually fill with weeds. Plants keep the ground around themselves cooler. Rock mulch makes an area hotter. Plants recycle carbon dioxide and make oxygen. Rocks and woodchips don’t.

A blooming ground cover offers more for bees and butterflies than rock, wood or a plain lawn. You can combine plant species in a mosaic, or in what’s being called a tapestry lawn by researchers at the University of Reading in Britain.

And you are in luck, late summer is a great time to find perennial ground covers on sale at local garden centers.

Plant now, a month or two before winter weather sets in, and you should see most of your investment sprout in the spring.

How close together you plant depends on how big a hurry you are in to get an area to fill in.

When comparing hardiness ratings, keep in mind Cheyenne is rated Zone 5, but many local gardeners look for hardier varieties rated down to the colder Zone 4 and even Zone 3.

Stonecrop, Sedum hybridum, is recommended by Catherine Wissner. There are many varieties of these succulents, but this one is only 4 inches high. It produces yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. It needs full sun, low amounts of water (after establishment) and is rated Zone 4.

Birdseye Speedwell, Veronica filiformis, is another of Wissner’s choices. This Zone 3 speedwell is only 2 inches tall. Fast growing, in some climates it can invade turf. Small blue flowers with white centers bloom mid-spring.

2017-08 Turkish Veronica Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica, by Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica (or Speedwell), Veronica liwanensis, is one of three kinds of ground covers Martha Mullikin grows between flagstones. They all do well because they get the extra moisture running off the stone. This Zone 4 perennial becomes a blue-flowered carpet 1 to 3 inches tall in spring. It prefers sun with afternoon shade and a drier situation. Linnie Cough said hers blooms for two months. It is a Plant Select variety developed by the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University for thriving in western gardens.

Woolly Speedwell, Veronica pectinata, is a favorite of Susan Carlson. It is like Turkish Veronica, but the leaves are silvery instead of glossy. Both stay green over the winter.

Woolly Thyme, Thymus lanuginosus, and Lemon Thyme, Thymus citriodorus, are the other two forming mats over the flagstones at Mullikin’s. Both are good to Zone 4. Both like full sun and do well in xeric (dry) conditions. Lemon Thyme has the added benefit of being considered a culinary herb.

Red Creeping Thyme, Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus,’ listed by Tava Collins, is a red-flowering ground cover that doesn’t mind being stepped on a little. A Zone 4, it is drought tolerant once it has been established.

Mullikin is enamored with Dianthus ‘Tiny Rubies,’ Dianthus gratianopolitanus, which forms a 2-inch tall mat of leaves covered in pink flowers mid-spring to mid-summer. It prefers full sun and doesn’t mind the colder temperatures of Zone 3.

Barren Strawberries, Waldsteinia ternata, will remind you of strawberries, but the small yellow flowers (Mullikin has a variety with pink flowers) produce fruit considered inedible by people—no word on whether squirrels like them. A Zone 4, it likes full sun to part shade, and is somewhat drought tolerant.

2017-08 Periwinkle by Barb Gorges

Periwinkle, by Barb Gorges

Small-leaved Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Kathy Shreve said, “can take shade, and will grow under a limbed-up spruce tree if given enough water.” A Zone 4 less than 4 inches high, its periwinkle-blue flowers show up in May and early June. Mine, despite being in deepest shade, still plots to take over the world so I prune it when necessary.

Sweet Woodruff, Galium odorata, is another that does well in shade (it doesn’t like full sun), but I think mine would do better if I watered it more—it might reach the listed height of 6 to 12 inches. A Zone 4, its tiny white, fragrant flowers show up in May. Tava Collins said when it is stepped on or cut (or mowed), you may get the sweet smell of hay.

Hummingbird Trumpet, Epilobium canum ssp garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’ also goes by Zauschneria garrettii. Shreve reports it is a “great xeric ground cover, does not seed around indiscriminately, and hummingbirds really do love the orangey-red flowers. Also, it blooms in late July-August when most everything else has pooped out.” This is precisely when migrating hummingbirds passing through Cheyenne would appreciate it. A Zone 3, it is also a Plant Select variety.

2017-08 Soapwort Saponaria Mary Ann Kamla

Soapwort, by Mary Ann Kamla

Mary Ann Kamla recommended several plants including Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, a Zone 3 with yellow flowers mid-summer. Mildly invasive, she keeps it contained with the edge of the patio.

Another that is doing well for Kamla is Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis. A Zone 3 with pink to white flowers, it appreciates water. Its leaves have historically been boiled to make a bubbly liquid soap.

Tava Collins is a fan of Spotted Deadnettle, Lamium maculatum. She grows two varieties: ‘Purple Dragon’ and ‘Pink Chablis,’ the names describing the flower colors. Hers bloom throughout the season, Collins said. The leaves are silvery with green edges. These varieties are Zone 4, but some others aren’t as cold hardy. Cutting back will encourage new blooms. The bumblebees love Lamium, Collins said.

2017-08 Spotted Deadnettle by Barb Gorges

Spotted Deadnettle, by Barb Gorges

Also on Collins’ list: Black Scallop Bugleweed, Ajuga reptens ‘Black Scallop.’  Ajugas are good ground covers in general. This one has leaves that look nearly black when grown in full sun. Early summer it has blue flower spikes. A Zone 3, it can be invasive in the garden.

Richard Steele simply grows clover instead of grass. It’s mowable, takes less water, he says, and it feeds his bees, which provide him with honey.

There are two ground covers I planted this year that Shane Smith, Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director, mentions in his garden tips at www.botanic.org. One is Creeping Phlox, Phlox subulata. A Zone 3, it should have no problem coming back next year, but since it prefers sunnier spots, I’ll see if it its pink and white flowers will develop in the shade.

The other is Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, another Zone 3, with silvery green leaves. Maybe next year it will give me more than one white flower. Patience, patience. Growing perennials is a long-term investment


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‘Bee’ thinking about beekeeping

2017-07-honeybee by Barb Gorges

A honeybee examines a Black-eyed Susan. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 23, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “‘Bee’ thinking about beekeeping.”

By Barb Gorges

Have you thought about beekeeping?

Perhaps one of these reasons draws you:

–The historical romance of beekeeping—it’s been going on since before recorded history.

–You grow crops that would benefit from pollination by bees.

–You have lots of flowers and enjoy the idea of bees buzzing around.

–You like honey.

–You are thinking about going into business selling honey, beeswax and other hive products.

–Or maybe it just sounds like fun.

Either way, you probably have a lot of questions about the hobby. Forty-two folks came to last month’s two-hour presentation on beekeeping by Catherine Wissner, the Laramie County Extension horticulturist and an experienced beekeeper.

At the presentation, Wissner explained how, as hobbies go, keeping honeybees is affordable, beginning around $500 for two Langstroth hives and other essential equipment, plus $175 for the bees, per hive.

As a form of livestock, honeybees take comparatively little work, perhaps 30 hours the first year, for a two or three-hive bee yard, less later, Wissner said. They can often be left to their own devices a week at a time. But they also need someone who will keep them, that is, keep them alive and well. It’s not enough just to buy a “package” of bees and a queen and throw them in a ready-made hive.

Beekeepers inspect, keep records, control diseases, and provide forage, water, shelter, good sanitation and a stress-free hive.

Here’s what to consider before becoming a beekeeper.

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Kent (pictured) and Lara Shook planted 20 acres through the Conservation Reserve Program with a seed mix including flowers to help feed their bees on their place in eastern Laramie County, Wyoming. Bees in town have lots of flowers to pick from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Location

Wissner said cities, including Cheyenne, are a great place to keep bees because so many people plant flowers that benefit both honey bees and native bees.

The countryside around here is a little tougher—there may not be enough nectar in a 1 to 1.5-mile radius to support your hives, so you will have to grow your own flowering plants. Whenever nectar is in short supply, the beekeeper must feed the bees sugar syrup. Instead of nectar, the bees convert white table sugar (other kinds are not clean enough) into honey.

The hive should be located preferably out of the wind, where it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. It needs an obstacle, like a fence, right in front of the exit, forcing departing bees on a trajectory up and over people. It helps if the hive is out of public view since bees make some people nervous.

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Most of the Shooks’ hives are next to an old container, out of the wind. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Regulation

The City of Cheyenne classifies bees as a nuisance, Wissner said, unless the hive is registered with the state. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture allows up to five hives to be registered for free (search “apiary” at their website), which takes care of most hobbyists, and it offers free consultation. It wants to keep honeybees healthy—sick bees in one hive can infect others nearby.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook9

The white box is the “super.” Bees are “bearding” on the outside, indicating that on this hot day, it is too hot inside the hive for so many bees. Perhaps it is time to transfer some bees to a new hive, say beekeepers Ken and Lara Shook. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Essential equipment

The Langstroth hive is most typical. It is a series of stacked wooden bottomless and topless boxes. The vertical panels within them, the frames, are where the bees build combs and deposit the nectar (in the “supers” boxes), or where the larvae pupate (the “hive body,” bigger boxes). The whole beehive is topped off with a “cover.” A stand is also necessary to get the hive off the ground and keep pests out. A minimum of two hives is recommended.

A smoker, a little pitcher full of burning materials, is used to blow smoke in the hive to lull the bees long enough to make inspections.

A hive tool, like a sharp ice scraper, helps beekeepers separate the parts of the hive after the bees have done their best to seal it all together.

2017-07-Kent&LaraShook7

This retired hive is still getting a little action, Kent discovered, when he pulled out a frame to show where the combs are built and honey is stored. It’s old honey and combs and they have turned brown. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Medication

Research on colony collapse is ongoing. One contributor is the varroa mite. Wissner demonstrated how beekeepers determine when to treat for mites. It involves “sugar rolling” the bees.

Safety

You need to protect yourself from bee stings, thus you outfit yourself with the helmet, bee veil and thick, elbow-length gloves. I would go for the full white suit too. Bees equate black with predators.

Some varieties of honeybees are friendlier than others. The queen determines the mood of the hive and if the mood goes sour, you can remove the nasty queen and introduce a new one.

The beekeeper’s personality can affect the way the bees react. It would be good to find a mentor to show you how to move calmly around bees.

You will also want to have a sting kit handy. In our family, with a child who had had an allergic reaction to stinging insects, that was an epinephrine injector, or EpiPen. But for most of us, Benadryl is adequate.

Removing the stinger correctly helps too. Trying to grab it by the end often causes more toxin to be pumped into you. Scraping the stinger away with the edge of your library card or credit card will work better.

Bees

A package of bees weighs about 3 pounds and includes about 10,000 bees, all workers (females) except for about 50 drones (males) responsible for fertilizing eggs. The queen comes in a separate package, corked with a piece of sugar candy. By the time the workers take several days to eat away at the sugar, they have adapted to her scent and won’t kill her when they finally meet her.

Schedule

This summer is a good time to visit a beekeeper. And it is a good time to build up your perennial flower garden as well as study beekeeping.

Spring is when new hives are set up and the beekeeping suppliers ship packages and queens.

Next summer the bees get established and make the honey they need to eat over the winter—there won’t be enough for you until the second year.

In the fall, about October or so, the bees retire to the hive. You can add sugar patties to make sure they have enough to eat. They keep each other warm, though additional hive insulation is welcome.

Spring can be tricky, fluctuating from sunny flower blooming to snarling snowstorm. It’s crucial to keep an eye on the hive’s food supply so the bees don’t die of starvation, said Wissner, “Bees are super-athletes—they need to eat every day.”

Honey, finally

By the second summer, you could have 60 pounds of honey to harvest.

Half the content of a beekeeping supply catalog features honey extracting equipment, jars of all descriptions (including the little honey bears), molds for beeswax candles and kits for honey wine or mead.

More information

Wissner is willing to answer your local beekeeping questions, 307-633-4480. She recommends these books:

–“The Backyard Beekeeper,” Kim Flottum,

–“Attracting Native Pollinators,” The Xerces Society Guide,

–“Beekeeping for Dummies,” Howland Blackiston,

–“First Lessons in Beekeeping,” Keith S. Delaplane.

Other resources include the American Beekeeping Federation, www.abf.net.

You can find a lot of information at www.dadant.com. Dadant & Sons, Inc., which has been in the beekeeping supply business for over 150 years.

Beekeeping equipment and advice is also available in Fort Collins, Colorado, at Copoco’s Honey, http://copocoshoney.com/.

The next Wyoming Bee College Conference, for all levels of beekeeping interest and experience, will be at Laramie County Community College Mar. 17-18, 2018.

Finally, you can call Lara Shook at the Southeastern Wyoming Beekeepers Association at 307-630-9058.

 

 


Vegetable growing advice

 

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Laramie County Master Gardener Kathy Shreve prepares a trench for seeds in a raised bed set up with soaker hoses. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle June 4, 2017, “Time to get your garden growing.”

 

By Barb Gorges

I spent a recent evening in the garden with Kathy Shreve, Laramie County master gardener, reviewing what to know about local vegetable gardening. The topics mentioned here are covered in greater depth in the “gardening” section of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, http://botanic.org, which also has the link to the archive of my previous columns.

Timing

Wait until the end of May or later to transplant tender veggies like tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers or put them under a season-extending cover like a low tunnel. You can also plant them in containers you can scoot in and out of the garage.

However, Shreve started cabbage and onion plants indoors and planted them before the snow May 18-19 and they were fine. Some vegetables, like members of the cabbage family, don’t mind cold as much.

While peas, cabbage types, lettuces and other greens, can be planted earlier than the end of May, most vegetable seeds planted directly in the garden prefer warmer soil temperatures. Measure with a soil thermometer found at garden centers.

Shreve said we can plant as late as June 20. Plant fast growing crops as late as July if you want a fall harvest.

Location

Keep in mind the vegetable garden needs a minimum of six hours of sun per day, preferably morning sun.

IMG_6357

Shreve transplants cabbages she started indoors. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Transplants

Because of our short growing season, tomatoes and other tender vegetables are started indoors. Always look for the short season varieties of these plants. Shreve said she looks for 80 or fewer “days to maturity.”

If the plant was not outside when you bought it, it will need hardening off. Start with the plant in the shade for two or three hours and day by day increase the amount of sun and the length of exposure by a couple hours. Keep it well watered.

When transplanting, Shreve advises digging a hole for your plant, filling it with water, then letting it drain before planting.

To remove a plant from a plastic pot, turn it upside down with the stem between your forefinger and middle finger. Squeeze the pot to loosen the soil and shake it very, very gently.

If there are a lot of roots, you can gently tease them apart a bit before putting the plant in the hole.

Hold the plant by the root mass so that it will sit in the hole with the soil at the same level of the stem as it was in the pot. Fill soil in around the roots, then tamp the soil gently.

However, tomatoes can be planted deeper since any part of their stem that is underground will sprout roots, the more the better. In fact, Shreve said to pinch off all but three or four leaves and bury the bare stem.

Lastly, keep plants well-watered, not soggy, while they get established. Wait a couple weeks before adding fertilizer to avoid burning the plants.

Mulch

Shreve mulches with certified weed-free straw available at local feed stores, but grass clippings and last year’s leaves can also be used.

Placing mulch 2 to 3 inches deep keeps the soil from drying so fast, shades out weeds and keeps rain and overhead watering from spattering dirt onto plants, which may spread disease. It can also keep hail from bouncing and inflicting damage twice.

 

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Seed

Root crops, like carrots and beets, don’t transplant well, so you are better off starting them from seed.

While fresh is good, Shreve said she’s had luck with seed seven years old. But the germination rate isn’t going to be great. She might spread carrot seed a little more thickly if that was the case, and it’s easy to thin to the proper spacing (and the thinnings can be tasty).

Because Cheyenne is dry, Shreve plants in a little trench. That way, when moisture comes, it will collect down where the plants are.

Seed packets tell you how deep to plant. The rule of thumb is three to four times deeper than the breadth of the seed. Lay the seed in the bottom of the trench and sprinkle that much dirt on them. Then water well, but gently, so you don’t wash out the seeds. Keep the soil surface moist until the seeds germinate.

Lightly mulch when the seedlings are visible, adding more as the plants get bigger.

Mark rows with popsicle sticks or plastic knives left from picnics.

Water

Once plants are established, let the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out between waterings. Test by sticking your finger in the soil. Water deeply.

Shreve waters every other day using soaker hose and drip irrigation systems, except when it rains. She originally tested her system for 30 minutes to see if water made it to the root depth and decided on 40 minutes.

Water in the morning, or at least make sure leaves are dry before dark.

Bugs and weeds

Mulch should eliminate most of the need to weed. Shreve said to keep up with it—it’s easier to pluck weed seedlings than to have them establish deep roots and go to seed.

For bugs, Shreve said it is easy to Google “what insect is eating my cabbage,” or take the critter, or evidence, to the Laramie County Extension horticulturist, Catherine Wissner. Her office is now out at Laramie County Community College, fourth floor of the new Pathfinder Building.

Never use pesticides until you identify your problem, and then try the least toxic method first. Again, more is not better. Never apply more than the directions indicate.

Slugs—my nemesis—indicate a garden is too wet.

Shreve said to roll newspaper to make 1 to 2-inch-diameter tunnels. Place rolls around affected plants in the evening. By sunrise, the slugs will be inside the rolls to get away from the light and you can dispose of them, rolls and all.

Fertilizer

Never add wood ash or lime to our alkaline soils as those work only on eastern, acidic soils.

Shreve likes slow-release products which are less likely to burn the plants, as are the natural fertilizers. Additionally, compost tea is a good soil conditioner.

Again, more is not better. Shreve uses half of what is directed until she sees how the plants respond.

Over-fertilization of fruit-producing vegetables like tomatoes often keeps them from producing the flowers that become the fruit. Shreve said they need to be stressed a little bit because it gets them thinking about preservation of the species and producing seed, rather than just enjoying life and producing leaves.

“Just leaves” is OK if you are growing leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale, spinach and chard.

Trellis and cage

If you are growing vining vegetables, getting them off the ground means fruits stay cleaner and don’t rot, and they are easier to find and pick. Use old chain link gates, bed springs, or anything else—be creative.

Hog panels make sturdy tomato cages 5 feet high and 2.5 feet in diameter for larger, indeterminate varieties, with chicken wire over the top for hail protection. Otherwise, use jute twine to loosely tie the stem to a bamboo stake.

Add flowers

Adding annual flowers like alyssum, marigolds and sunflowers, or herbs including dill and oregano, attracts pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden.


Soil microbes better than rototilling

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Endomycorrhizal fungi spores are ready to grow into plant roots, carrying nutrients and moisture. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lowenfels.

Published May 7, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Soil microbes, no rototilling key to next generation of gardening”

By Barb Gorges

Twice in the space of a month this spring I heard rototilling renounced for the sake of keeping soil microbes healthy.

One speaker was Jeff Lowenfels, garden columnist and author from Alaska who spoke at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens/Laramie County Master Gardener spring lecture series. The other was Ron Godin, recently retired extension agronomist in western Colorado, speaking at the Wild West Gardening Conference in Cheyenne.

There are a billion microbes in a teaspoon of healthy soil. The interactions of the whole community of microbes is a giant web of who eats whom and who feeds whom.

Basically, decaying plant material feeds microbes and in turn, microbe “excrement” feeds plant roots.

Microbes include nematodes, bacteria, fungi and protozoa. There are some bad actors, but in general, everything balances and plants grow. For example, prairies and forests have self-sustaining soil microbial communities—no synthetic, chemical fertilizers or pesticides are required.

But when European farmers landed in the New World, they opened things up with the plow and have continued to plow ever since. Regular plowing (or hoeing or rototilling) disrupts the soil microbes. They can’t do their jobs. Farmers repaired damage somewhat with applications of manure and compost. But then came the 20th century’s inventive use of nerve gas left over from World War I as insecticide, and leftover nitrogen-based bomb-making materials from World War II became the perfect fertilizer.

Except that it wasn’t healthy for the microbes.

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Ectomycorrhizal fungi grow close to the surface of roots and grow webs around them carrying water and nutrients. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lowenfels.

Synthetic fertilizers starve the microbes in a way and pesticides kill off beneficial organisms, causing the need for a never-ending cycle of synthetic fertilizer and pesticide application. This was great if you owned stock in the large chemical companies, but bad when you understand the side effects including health issues animals and humans—especially farmers, because the chemicals get into drinking water and food.

 

Lowenfels happily dispensed advice on garden chemicals for years until someone sent him two electron microscope photos, one of a fungus that had trapped a root-eating nematode, and the other of a nematode happily chomping a tomato root unimpeded.

In the first photo, the plant was secreting a substance that attracted the fungus, which in turn attacked the nematode. In the second photo, the fungus was missing due to the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

After his conversion, Lowenfels wrote three books. He said the essential one is “Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web,” coauthored with Wayne Lewis. You’ll notice the play on words in the title–healthy soil is teeming with microbes, and you’ll be teaming with them.

Put away the rototiller

First, put away your rototiller. It’s still handy if you are turning your lawn into a pollinator garden, but otherwise, annual rototilling is detrimental to the soil microbe community. Godin said this advice translates to farming as well.

It will take time to undo the cultural tradition of breaking soil down into a fine, clump-less and smooth expanse of dirt. But there are two reasons for disturbing the soil as little as possible, even in a vegetable garden.

First, every time you dig into soil, you bring up weed seeds, most of which require light to germinate. You just made more work for yourself. Cut weeds off at the soil surface rather than digging them.

Second, microbes feeding your plants and fending off bad stuff can’t function if you break them up. Keeping them intact means less work for you, less fertilizer spreading, less watering since healthy soil holds water better. Pesticides are a last resort for serious problems. Re-inoculate your soil with microbes soon after.

In windy Cheyenne, there’s also a third benefit to not tilling your soil into fine dust: microbes “glue” things together and the resulting clumpy soil doesn’t blow away.

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In this electron microscopic view, Glomalin, stained green and coated with spores, is produced by a group of common soil fungi. It coats soil particles like super glue, sticking them together in clumps. Photo courtesy of Jeff Lowenfels.

To plant seeds or transplants, make an opening just large enough. The roots will find their way without the soil being “fluffed.” Healthy soil has lots of air spaces already. Then mulch.

 

Godin’s rule is 100 percent cover, 100 percent of the time. Cover for large gardens or farms could be annual cover crops later mowed to form mulch. In small gardens use leaves, grass clippings and compost.

Replace chemical fertilizers

In the years chemical fertilizers have been around, studies show fruits and vegetables have dropped in nutritional value. It’s due to the missing micronutrients soil microbes used to pull from decomposing plant material and mineral soils. Synthetic fertilizer is incomplete.

Traditional organic gardening recommends digging compost into the soil, but  Lowenfels says digging breaks up the soil community. Better to side-dress plants, leaving the compost (or mulch) on the soil surface where microbes will get at it and break it down. It works on the prairie and in the forest—there’s no 100-year-old pile of dead grass, leaves or pine needles.

Lowenfels said there are three different groups of plants in your yard. Perennial flowers, shrubs and trees want their nitrogen in the form provided by fungally dominated soils. The compost that promotes this is the brown stuff (mixed with a little green): dry leaves, bark, wood chips, twigs, branches—like the forest floor.

Annuals, including vegetables, prefer their nitrogen produced by bacterially dominated soil. This is green stuff (with a little brown), grass clippings, freshly picked weeds (without seeds) and fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps.

The prairie, like your lawn, falls in between. It appreciates finely shredded brown fall leaves and thin layers of green grass clippings.

Brew compost tea

Compost tea, compost soaked in water, is another way to inoculate your garden with microbes and feed them too. If compost and compost tea smell ugly, that’s anaerobic activity. You need aerobic activity—more air.

Lowenfels gives directions for making a bucket into “a simple actively aerated compost tea brewer using aquarium pumps and air stones.” Fertilizing your plants, and yes, your houseplants too, is as easy as watering them.

While chemical companies made their fortunes keeping our soils addicted to their products, new companies are offering to aid us in bringing our soils back to health. They are building better compost tea brewers. Labs can estimate your microbe population. Our local independent garden centers will sell you mycorrhizal fungi in powdered form you mix with water.

This new era of catering to microbes has gone mainstream. Lowenfels reported that at the 2016 Garden Writers of America conference, none of the tradeshow vendors was pushing synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

For the last 35 years, my husband, Mark, and I have cared for our lawn and garden without a rototiller or synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. We mulch the garden and use natural lawn fertilizers. I look forward to adapting Lowenfels’ ideas to step it up.

[If you are also adapting to the new era in gardening, let me know how it is going. Contact me at bgorges2 at gmail.com.]

More information:

Besides “Teaming with Microbes,” his first book, Lowenfels has also authored:

–“Teaming with Nutrients, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition”

–“Teaming with Fungi, The Organic Grower’s Guide to Mycorrhizae.”

 


Iris farm shares beauty, growing tips

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A visitor walks a corner of  C and T Iris Patch last June. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 30, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Iris farms, sharing beauty and growing tips

By Barb Gorges

There is an annual flower phenomena less than an hour south of Cheyenne, just east of Eaton, Colorado, from mid-May through early June. And after you find it, you might think you’d been to Eden.

It’s thanks to a tradition among iris farms to open to the public while the iris are blooming. Last year was my first visit to C and T Iris Patch’s acre of beauty, and it won’t be my last.

There is a gap between the spring bloom time and the best time to transplant iris—July into August—but Charlette Felte, of C and T Iris Patch, takes pity on spring visitors and allows them to take home select plants. I bought several and as per her instructions, cut the blooms and put them in a vase, then trimmed the leaves and planted the rhizomes (fat root-like appendages) in a sunny spot.

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Charlette Felte has a special patch of iris for spring visitors to buy from if they can’t wait for the traditional July-August transplanting season. Photo by Barb Gorges.

With 3,000-4,000 visitors, it’s good everyone doesn’t succumb to immediate gratification and can wait until orders are shipped in summer. If you can’t visit, the color photos in the online catalog are nearly as inspiring.

When Felte reached retirement age, she announced to her husband Tim that she wanted to move to the country to raise iris.” Fine,” he said, “find some land.” Two days later Felte had picked out a place.

Felte knew a lot about iris already. Growing up, her father would send her and her siblings down the street to help an elderly neighbor who had an iris garden.

“I thought they were the prettiest flowers,” Felte said.

Variations

C and T Iris Patch opened in 2000. It now carries 3,200 varieties of iris. The largest category is the bearded iris (the beard being the fuzzy patch on the falls—the petals that bend downwards). Within bearded iris there are classifications based on height.

[Here are the classes of bearded iris beginning with the earliest to bloom: Miniature Dwarf Bearded, Standard Dwarf Bearded, Intermediate Bearded, and then blooming at the same time as the Tall Bearded (mid-late spring), Border Bearded and Miniature Tall Bearded.]

If you are lucky, your iris may rebloom in the fall—when temperatures resemble those during the spring bloom. Some varieties are identified as rebloomers because they have a propensity for it, but it isn’t something to count on.

Now if you think all iris are blue or yellow, you really need to check out what’s available, either online or during bloom time. There’s also peach, orange, pink, brown, red and violet, and some are bi-colored, tri-colored, spotted, striped, and edged with accent colors. And for some reason, flower breeders are always trying for “black.”

The names people dream up for each new hybrid are sometimes beautiful, “Come Away with Me,” “Kiss the Dawn,” “Mist on the Mountain.” Sometimes they make you laugh “All Reddy” (a red iris), “Awesome Blossom,” “Coming Up Roses,” “Darnfino,” “Get Over Yerself,” “Got Milk” (all white and ruffled). And some might be a bit naughty: “Sinister Desire,” “Sunrise Seduction,” “Hook Up.” Or named for someone, usually a woman, “Sarah Marie,” “Raspberry Rita,” “Evelyn’s Echo.”

As I was perusing the catalog this winter, I noticed that each description mentioned the date the hybrid was introduced. The fun of breeding new hybrids actually goes back centuries to the origins of these iris in Europe, North Africa and Asia. North America has wild iris, but they usually prefer swampy conditions.

In Felte’s catalog there are varieties from the 1930s: “Rhages,” “Wabash,” and “William Setchell,” and from 1912, “Romero,” and the oldest, from 1904, “Caprice.” Among other kinds of plants, the older varieties are not as disease resistant. However, Felte said that the older iris hybrids, especially from the 1950s through 1980s, are hardier. The newer, rufflier, lacier, frillier, don’t winter as well. Plus, they don’t have as much fragrance.

Iris photos taken at C and T Iris Patch by Barb Gorges.

Growing iris

Iris are not fussy plants. They prefer drier conditions (they will rot if they aren’t dry enough) so they fit with today’s water-smart gardens.

Felte also recommends her Wyoming customers not choose the tallest, the 40-inchers, because they take so long to bloom, and Cheyenne is already two weeks behind Eaton. The delay is probably due to a combination of Eaton being 1,200 feet lower, 45 miles south, and having sandier soils that warm up faster in spring.

Iris leaves grow in fan arrays. In July, when irises are normally dug up for transplanting, the fan is trimmed to a 6-inch tall diamond. Otherwise, leaves are not trimmed until the following spring.

The rhizomes are covered with an inch of soil, up to the point where the leaves turn from white to green. Felte recommends giving the transplants an inch of water the first time, and then about half an inch per week until mid-September. Deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering.

Felte recommends rabbit feed (pellet form) for fertilizer, which is high in phosphates and other nutrients iris need for good blooms. They need very little nitrogen. The best time to fertilize is mid-to-late March, and again in July for the reblooming varieties or plants newly divided. Felte warns on her website to never use manure.

Trim the flower stalks after blooming to keep the color of the bloom true next year. Trim dead leaves away after winter, Felte said.

In three or four years, your irises will have multiplied and need to be dug up and thinned to keep them blooming. You can either increase the size of your iris garden or give the excess fans to friends.

New hybrids

While bees will pollinate iris and cause seed pods to form, Felte recommends removing them. Unless you have controlled conditions, the seeds will not grow true to the parent plant.

I asked Felte if she has ever registered her own hybrids and she said no, it’s about a 10-year-long process. First, you must provide enough seed true to the hybrid for 75 growers around the country and overseas to grow it out. They keep records for four years and submit them to the American Iris Society which will decide if your hybrid is different enough from all the registered varieties. [Some of the larger iris farms, such as Schreiner’s Iris Garden in Oregon, contribute new hybrids annually.]

Area iris farms open this spring

C and T Iris Patch will be open to the public this year May 20 through June 11, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., seven days a week, at 20524 WCR 76, Eaton, Colorado, at no charge. The website, www.candtirispatch.com, has extensive information about growing iris, and they are ready for online orders as are other Colorado iris farms:

In Boulder, Colorado, Longs Gardens will be open to the public now through June 11, seven days a week, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at 3240 Broadway. See www.LongsGardens.com for more information.

In Denver, check the website for Iris4U Iris Garden, 2700 W. Amherst Avenue, for their public hours, www.iris4u.com.

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C and T Iris Patch in Eaton, Colorado, grows a wide variety of bearded iris and allows the public to visit during the May-June blooming season. Photo by Barb Gorges.