Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

veggies

My beginner’s garden included green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Also published May 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

How to be a vegetable gardener in Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Mail-order seed companies report that they are running out of seed—vegetable seeds primarily. Seems like we’re all wanting to take a step towards self-sufficiency this spring when there are so many other aspects of life beyond our control.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County, assured me Cheyenne’s garden centers, including the big box stores, have plenty of seeds. And the Laramie County Master Gardeners plan to have their annual plant sale, one way or another, May 31, including a virtual plant sale already in progress, https://www.lcmg.org/.

The UW Extension folks have a variety of videos and recordings about Wyoming gardening available at https://www.uwyo.edu/barnbackyard/live/recordings.html.

While my book on how to garden in Cheyenne won’t be ready for several months, the contents are currently available online at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ as an archive of all my Wyoming Tribune Eagle garden columns since 2012. You can search for information about growing vegetables and it will be suited to Cheyenne and in more detail.

If you’ve gardened elsewhere in the country, there are three things you need to know about vegetable gardening in Cheyenne: use drip irrigation, prepare hail protection and never add lime to our alkaline soils.

If you’ve never gardened before, well, it’s mostly about choosing the right vegetables for our climate and season length, giving plants the right amount of water, and mulching.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Cheyenne gardener Barb Sahl uses several kinds of raised beds. Raised beds can also be made with wooden boards or cinder blocks.

Step 1 – Find a spot for a vegetable bed or containers.

It should be sunny for at least 6 hours a day, preferably morning, and relatively level and within reach of a hose or a drip irrigation system.

Keep the veggies close to your back door so that it is easy to saunter out every day to admire them and pull a couple little weeds.

If the site currently doesn’t even grow weeds well, it could be subsoil left behind by the builders. The soil can be amended and over time, become productive. But for success this season, think raised bed or containers (see my archives).

Also, if this is your first attempt at vegetable gardening, keep the size of the bed reasonable, maybe 4 feet wide (what you can reach across from either side) by 6 or 8 feet long.

Step 2 – Prepare the bed.

I have never used a rototiller. I prefer the (husband with) shovel method. Digging by hand will keep you from creating a bed bigger than you can manage, especially if this is your first garden.

If you have any compostable material, like last year’s tree leaves, lawn mowings not treated with pesticides, vegetable debris from the kitchen or any old plant materials that don’t include weed seeds or invasive roots, you can dig that in.

Dedicated gardeners will send soil samples out for analysis on exactly what the soil needs for growing vegetables. Think about doing that later this season.

Some gardeners work their soil until it’s as fine and chunk free as cocoa powder, but that isn’t necessary—in fact, it’s hard on the soil microbes that can help you. You might want to smooth a row a few inches wide for planting tiny seeds and make sure there aren’t any canyons that will swallow the cucumbers.

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early (55 days to maturity), determinate variety. These were grown with seed from Pinetree Garden Seeds, a mail order company in Maine.

Step 3 – Shop for seeds.

If you know any successful gardeners in our area, see if they will gift you some seeds.

Otherwise, you need to read the seed packets carefully. Keep in mind our average last day of frost is around May 25 and our average first day of frost is mid-September. It’s a short season. You need to look for short season vegetables.

Each packet will tell you how many days from seed germination until maturity (harvest). Remember, some seeds take a week or more to germinate. Look for vegetable varieties that are in the range of 45 to 70 days. Next year you can try starting tomatoes indoors or growing them with some kind of season extender like a hoop house or row cover.

Meanwhile, look for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers ready to transplant.

Easy to grow from seed are the squashes, beans, kale, chard and leaf lettuces (not head lettuce).

Step 4 – Plant seeds and transplant plants.

Follow the seed packet directions on when and how to plant. Make sure your soil is moist already.

For transplanting, normally you plant the plant so it sits at the same height as it did in the pot. However, if it’s a tomato that looks a little leggy, you can bury a few inches of its stem.

Step 5 – Mulch.

We use old tree leaves and pesticide-free grass clippings at our house. Straw is good, but not hay or anything with seeds. An inch or two of mulch will keep down the weeds and keep the soil from drying out too fast.

Step 6 – Water.

Catherine said consistency is most important. Once the plants are established, you can let the top inch of soil dry out (test it with your finger) in between thorough waterings, but if you are not consistent with providing enough water, you will not get good yields.

If you seem to have impenetrable clay soils, try watering for a couple minutes, then water elsewhere and then come back 15 minutes later and see if the soil will absorb the rest of the water it needs.

Step 7 – Fertilize.

Seedlings don’t need fertilizer for a few weeks, but vegetables are soon hungry. Organic gardeners use compost—like your mulch as it decays, or “teas” made from soaking compost—read up first. Avoid all manure, Catherine recommended. It tends to be salty (bad for our soils), full of weed seeds and may harbor pathogens. Avoid chemical fertilizers with too much nitrogen too—nitrogen grows great leaves but little if any fruit. Do not use weed and feed products—they will kill your veggies.

Step 8 – Weed.

If you mulch and don’t overwater, you shouldn’t have much of a weed problem. Visit your veggies every day and pull them or use a dandelion digger (don’t hoe) on any little green interlopers. It’s much easier than waiting until the weeds grow roots to Earth’s core and shed seeds across the continent.

Step 8 – Protect.

Everything is out to get your veggies before you can harvest them: frost, wind, hail, antelope, rabbits, insects, diseases. There are preventative and non-chemical actions you can take. Check my archives.

Step 9 – Harvest.

I remember the first summer after I became a Master Gardener. I told my husband, our family’s vegetable grower, that I wanted to try to grow vegetables myself from start to finish. I did, and they had the most incredible flavor.

2019-01 sandra cox vegetable garden

Cheyenne gardener Sandra Cox used large amounts of compost when starting a garden at her new house and had fantastic results.


Seed-starting lights

2020-03 lights-seeedlings

Mark started tomato seedlings under a fluorescent shop light a week before this photo was taken. We have utility shelves set up in the unused bathtub in the hall bathroom. The rest of the year the shelves are filled with houseplants that do well with only light from the bathroom’s skylight.

Published Mar. 15, 2020, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Better lighting means stronger seedlings”

By Barb Gorges

When hours of daylight are quickly lengthening and seed packets are showing up at garden centers, you know it’s time for flower and vegetable seed starting. If you’ve never tried, it’s time to learn how.

You can go to my archived columns at https://cheyennegardengossip.wordpress.com/ and search “seed starting.” You’ll learn how starting from seed saves you money and gives you options for tomatoes and other vegetables adapted to Cheyenne. Get tips on selecting seeds, potting soil and pots. Learn how to time planting, how deep to plant seeds, how and how much to water and how to avoid damping off. Then learn how to harden off seedlings before transplanting them.

This year I want to talk about light. The right light will give you nice, stocky green plants instead of spindly, sickly ones.

There’s a misconception that windowsills work great for starting vegetable seeds. After all, millions of houseplants can’t be wrong. But houseplant origins are typically the shady understory of tropical forests. Vegetables prefer full sun. Also, many windows are now treated to improve energy efficiency (lowering heat transference) by blocking parts of the spectrum. Greenhouses work better than windows because they give plants direct light from more directions for more hours per day.

Without a greenhouse—glass or hoop house—we’re talking supplemental lighting. On a recent trip to my nearest big box store I found all kinds of grow light bulbs that will fit in a lamp but are not adequate for more than a couple pots. The store also had ordinary 4-foot-long fluorescent shop lights which fit perfectly over two flats of seedlings and will produce decent growth, whether you find full-spectrum bulbs or special grow light bulbs.

But LED lights are taking over. At the same big box store, I found 4-foot LED shop lights. The bulbs are integrated with the fixture and come in a variety of brightnesses, 3,200 to 10,000 lumens, with a range of prices to match, $15 to $75.

There are also LED bulbs, both regular and grow lights, that will replace the bulbs in your T8 or T12 fluorescent fixtures, but they won’t be quite as energy efficient as the integrated ones.

You’ll notice LED bulbs can be about four times more expensive than normal fluorescents, but they cost less than half as much to run and are supposed to last longer.

Then there are the industrial LED grow lights that emphasize blue and red lighting—the important part of the spectrum for growing plants. They come with industrial prices as well. Choosing one gets quite technical. Check out the Colorado cannabis grow suppliers for advice.

However, the few weeks of light our tomato seedlings need hardly justifies industrial lighting.

Light set-up

Because you want to keep the light about a couple inches above the tops of the seedlings, you need to be able to adjust the distance as they grow. Too close and seedlings dry out. Too far and they get spindly. Hang the shop light using the chains that come with it, shortening as needed. Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’s Growing a Greener World, suggests using ratchet pulleys instead.

Or, rather than move the light, you can stack boxes under the flats to bring them up to the light and remove the boxes to adjust the distance as the plants grow.

How do you hang the shop light? You can hang it from the ceiling over a table, especially somewhere like an unfinished basement room.

A set of adjustable utility shelves works well if there is a way you can attach your light fixtures to the underside of the shelves and adjust them. Keep in mind the distance between shelves must accommodate seedling height at six or eight weeks plus a couple inches of space and the light fixture thickness.

Mark and I put freestanding utility shelves in our unused bathtub. For the top shelf we put an expandable shower curtain rod over it and hang the shop light from it.

Plugging it in

Some shop lights can be strung together. Otherwise, if you have multiple lights, you are looking at a power strip, giving you a handy way to flip them off at once. Or, plug the power strip into a timer. Lamp’l’s latest home research shows 16 hours of light per day is about right—seedlings need to sleep too.

Additional tip

Mark and I use electric heat mats under the flats and clear plastic domes or plastic wrap over them to keep the moisture in. But at the first sign of seed germination, they should both be removed.


Seed Library of Laramie County

2019-03 Seed Library Lar Co Barb GorgesSeed Library of Laramie County offers gardening classes

Published Mar. 24, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Sowing seeds of knowledge: Seed Library of Laramie County offers gardening classes.”

By Barb Gorges

            “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Cicero

“Seed” + “Library”—one of the first times these words were put together in the modern era was in California in the early 2000s for the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library (BASIL). It is a place where people can swap seeds, as has been done historically, before the Burpee age.

A seed is rather like a book. You open it by adding water, soil and sunshine and soon you have the whole story. But for most of us, the concept of the library is the public library and one is expected to return the book. How do you return a seed? Save the seeds from what you grew and return them, if possible, though seed libraries won’t fine you if you don’t.

There is an art to saving seed. You need to know when to harvest it, sometime after it has reached maturity and before the pod shatters and scatters it. You also must be careful that wind or bees haven’t cross-pollinated your seed, making a hybrid.

Saving adaptations

One of the original goals of setting up a seed library was to protect the genetics of seeds that are not from commercial sources. The seeds that are handed down from generation to generation in one place become more and more adapted to those local growing conditions. Some of those may start out as commercially purchased seeds and little by little, become adapted (note: this works best with open-pollinated varieties, not hybrids).

Seeds become culturally important heirlooms, like varieties of beans grown in the Southwest.

Public library connection

There are several hundred seed libraries (http://seedlibraries.weebly.com) across the U.S. and in other countries, mostly located within public libraries. Many libraries find it difficult to get seed returned. Because so many of us have depended on commercial agriculture rather than our own gardens for food, the libraries have found we first need to re-learn how to grow vegetables—and flowers. Flowers are important for attracting insects to pollinate the vegetables.

Public libraries are all about spreading knowledge and so seed libraries have an educational component, like the classes offered by the Seed Library of Laramie County this spring.

The Seed Library of Laramie County got its start at the Laramie County Library in 2017. Librarian Elizabeth Thorsen recruited the Laramie County Master Gardeners and they looked at seed library models like the one in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Richmond Grows in Richmond, Virginia.

2019-03a Seed Library Lar Co Barb GorgesThe two local organizations have sponsored the cost, Master Gardeners’ part is from its annual plant sale. Costs include keeping up with the demand for seed, printing packets and educational materials, and purchasing what resembles a card catalog for organizing the seed packets. Donations of additional seeds and funds are appreciated.

Michelle Bohanan and Maggie McKenzie are two of the Master Gardeners working with library staff to put on this spring’s two free events:  Vegetable Gardens for Beginners Mar. 30 and the 2019 Seed Library Kickoff April 20.

Michelle, who has an extensive home seed library and takes part in the Seed Savers Exchange, https://www.seedsavers.org/, and other seed swaps, said one of the joys is watching children pick out their own seeds.

The seed library is located on the third floor and is open during library hours, Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and Sunday 1 – 5 p.m.  Ask the librarian at the Ask Here desk for help.

Seed Library of Laramie County classes:

Vegetable Gardens for Beginners
Saturday, March 30, 3 – 4:30 p.m., Storytime Room, Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave. Free. Adults and teens.

Which plants should be started indoors? How much space does a cucumber need? What should be added to the soil? Get answers to these and other questions about vegetable gardens from local gardening experts.

2019 Seed Library Kickoff

Saturday, April 20. Laramie County Library, time and room to be determined. All ages. Free. Contact Kellie, kjohnson@lclsonline.org.

Get seeds for your garden and tips for simple, affordable gardening! We’ve chosen a huge variety of flowers, herbs, and vegetables suitable for beginning gardeners in our climate. Seeds and advice are free; no library card needed. Each person is limited to 12 packets of seeds.


Transplanted NY gardener blooms in Cheyenne

 

2019-01 sandra cox vegetable garden

Sandra Cox’s vegetable garden did extremely well its first season. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Jan. 6, 2019, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Transplanted gardener helps local yard bloom.”

By Barb Gorges

There’s only one thing that beats Sandra Cox’s love of gardening: It’s love for her family.

In July 2017, she gave up gardening in the Hudson Valley of New York state to move to Cheyenne at the invitation of her son and his family. She left behind a newly planted orchard and everything she knew about gardening there to start over at her new home.

When Sandra arrived, no one had watered her new yard for some months, and our clay soil required a pick ax to plant the calla lilies she brought with her. But with care and mulch, by the end of the season, time to dig them back up, she was pleased to see a healthy population of earth worms.

Sandra’s garden in New York was in the same Zone 5 USDA growing zone (coldest temperature rating) as Cheyenne. But there are five major differences:

 

  1. Cheyenne has alkaline soils rather than acidic so adding lime or wood ash is a no-no.
  2. Cheyenne has a shorter growing season. Sandra’s learned she will have to start her peppers and eggplant indoors earlier and put them outside, with protection, earlier.
  3. Cheyenne has 12-15 inches of precipitation annually, one-third of New York’s. Watering is necessary much more often here. She’s thinking about installing an irrigation system.
  4. Cheyenne has hail. Although the tomato plants this summer made a comeback, the tomatoes themselves were scarred. Sandra’s planning to protect them with wire cages next year.
  5. Cheyenne has different soil—clay instead of sandy.

Although arriving mid-summer 2017, Sandra went to work establishing a vegetable garden. “I disturb the soil as little as possible to avoid disrupting the earthworms because they do all the work for you,” she explained.

Instead, she spread leaves over the abandoned lawn, laid down a layer of cardboard from the packing boxes from her move, then covered them with wood chips from the city compost facility. To keep the chips from blowing away, she laid wire fencing over them and pegged it down. She removed the fencing and planted directly into this mulch the next season.

Sandra researches the best varieties to plant in our climate. Her first fall, she planted grapes and an apple and a plum tree. Last spring, she planted pear, peach and sweet cherry trees. The cherries did very well.

In the north-facing front yard, Sandra’s planted shrubs for privacy and perennials for pollinators and pleasure. The city’s street tree planting program, Rooted in Cheyenne, came out and planted a burr oak and a linden. A huge spruce tree shades the house on hot summer afternoons.

One day last fall, she called and asked if we’d come harvest some kale and Swiss chard since she had too much. What an oasis of lush green! And her giant sunflowers were at least 12 feet high. A sunny yard helps, but much of her success can be attributed to her dedication to compost—she composts everything, and her chickens help break it down.

2019-01 sandra cox chicken

Sandra’s chickens are an important part of her gardening. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Sandra hasn’t used fertilizer yet—other than fish emulsion and well-aged chicken manure. She’s planning to do a soil test this next year to see if she has any deficiencies, but her plants didn’t seem to show any signs.

Pests are not a problem so far. Sandra thinks it is only a matter of time before the pests catch up with her. Already she’s concerned about the big spruce tree being attacked by the ips beetle. It has killed other spruces in her neighborhood, she thinks. The city forester recommended winter watering—good for all her newly planted trees and shrubs, but also good for older trees for which drought stress makes them more susceptible to pests.

Unlike New York which normally has constant winter snow cover, Cheyenne has snowless weeks plus days when the temperatures are above freezing—good days for watering trees.

Sandra remembers that growing up on the family farm was a constant delight, from taking care of the goats to eating apples while high up in the branches to joining her parents and five siblings in the field after dinner to weed, joke around and enjoy each other’s company. Her siblings still enjoy gardening and farming, as does her son, who has a degree in horticulture. Her granddaughters have caught the family enthusiasm as well.

“Bloom where you’re planted” is an old axiom that doesn’t just mean, “make the best of a situation.” For Sandra, it means with a little studying up, she can joyfully grow a garden anywhere, even here.

2019-01 sandra cox garden

Sandra’s sunflowers are more than a story high. Fencing protects new trees and other plantings from the chickens. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Should garden literature be in the fantasy section?

2018-12 GardenlandShould garden literature be listed in the “fantasy” section of the bookstore?

This column was published Dec. 23, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and also posted at Wyoming Network News: https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/should-garden-literature-be-listed-in-the-fantasy-section-of-the-bookstore

By Barb Gorges

My book reviews have always been about books I like and recommend. Gardening books are some of my favorite winter reading and gift suggestions.

However, I was disappointed by “Gardenland,” by Jennifer Wren Atkinson. No color photos—only a dozen black and whites! It was described as a book about garden writing. Among other topics she discusses is how over the centuries it hasn’t always been about how-to, but how writers support our garden fantasies. We started dreaming about floriferous and bountiful gardens when industrial agriculture took away the romance of the family farm.

But this is an academic textbook, it turns out, written at 20th-grade level, compared to this column clocking in at 9th -grade level. We need a popular literature writer to interpret these very interesting ideas. The 17-page bibliography is a useful list of garden writers like my favorites, Michael Pollan and Eleanor Perenyi, and introduces many more.

2018-12 GardenlustFor those of us who want to be immersed in fantastical gardens, there is a new book, “GardenLust, a Botanical Tour of the World’s Best New Gardens,” by Christopher Woods. You can justify buying this 8.5 x 10.5-inch, 400 page, full-color, $40 extravaganza as it will give you inspiration for your own garden—if you have a million dollars to spend. At the very least it may count for your recommended daily dose of nature viewing.

You can preview the book at http://www.timberpress.com. I haven’t decided if I want to order it or if I can wait for it to appear at a used book store. Will what’s new today look boring by then because everyone copied it, like Karl Foerster grass and Russian sage today? Maybe it’s best consumed fresh or at least when there’s a good discount.

2018-12New Organic GrowerAtkinson thinks books about vegetable gardening are not in the realm of fantasy garden books. She would be mostly wrong when it comes to Eliot Coleman. He’s come out with a photo-filled 30th anniversary edition of his book, The New Organic Grower, A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.”  He’s a successful year-round market vegetable grower…in Maine. If he can do it there, we can do it here.

Coleman does it without a lot of expensive machinery. He’s learned how to appeal to customers and how to handle seasonal employees and he passes that information along to the reader, and the nuts and bolts of growing.

Barbara Damrosch, Coleman’s wife, contributed a section about how she grows and sells cut flowers at their farm store as well.

Even if you aren’t planning to go into business, this is an engaging introduction to organic growing from a farmer happy to share his knowledge. You can just imagine Coleman jubilantly giving you a garden tour of Four Seasons Farm. Successful organic growing might not be as much of a fantasy as you think.

Seed catalogs have long been known to be fantasy literature. Those Burpee babies hold giant tomatoes in their outstretched little hands. It’s an old fisherman’s trick that uses perspective to make the fish, or tomato, in the foreground look huge in comparison to the person in the background.

As I become a plant nerd, I can get excited about catalogs with absolutely no pictures. However, the catalog that gets my vote for most beautiful is Botanical Interests Seed Catalog, 2019 Season. Their seed packets feature original botanical art. It makes me want to cut out the pictures and frame them—both flowers and vegetables.

Botanical Interests is a family-owned company in Broomfield, Colorado. Its seeds can be found nationwide and in our local, independent garden centers. Both the website, https://www.botanicalinterests.com, and print catalog contain a wealth of information, as do their seed packets, printed inside and out.

For instance, in the catalog there is an article about the national movement for local cut flowers. In the last few decades, most cut flowers purchased at grocery stores and florists in the U.S. have been imported from South America, raising concerns about pesticide use and the carbon footprint of travel. Check out https://slowflowers.com/. It’s like the slow food movement.

Here in Wyoming we need fantasy garden literature for the five or six months when nothing blooms outdoors. Besides the catalogs and coffee table books, don’t forget to look for garden shows on Netflix. Several are British and make a nice getaway.


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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.

 

 

Published Aug. 12, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/garden-gossip-what-ive-learned-as-a-master-gardener.

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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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.