Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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.

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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.


Keeping Garden Records

veggies

Some of my veggie harvest variety: green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Published Sept. 15, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Be a happy gardener: It starts by keeping records of the successes and failures of your bounty. Gardener Barb Gorges shows you how with her own personal notes.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s surprising what I will forget a few months from now as I page through seed catalogs or shop at garden centers.

Now is the best time to make notes and analyze this year’s successes and failures. Before doing so, I took a quick look at what two other gardeners do.

Along with her garden journal notating weather and garden improvements, Wendy Douglass, master gardener in Cheyenne, has a method for tracking her new perennials. She makes a 5×7-inch card for each, attaching the tag from the nursery, recording where the plant was bought, the date and location planted and any helpful horticultural notes.

Wendy also marks each new plant with a palm-sized, flattish rock on which she writes the plant’s name and date planted using oil-based Sharpie markers. In spring, these rocks may become little gravestones for plants that don’t make it through the winter, but at least they aren’t forgotten. And their cards are moved to the “Deceased” file.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Laramie County Extension horticulturalist, tracks the productivity of the vegetables growing in her high tunnel greenhouse by weighing nearly everything. She jots notes in the field all season long, and during the winter, she adds them to a simple record-keeping system she has devised using Excel.

calendar record

My harvest and bloom records are kept on a calendar during the growing season.

I like the Excel idea because it is easy to insert new information and add pages. My computer is better organized than the binders I have tried to use in the past. Plus, I can insert digital photos.

Here are notes for my vegetable garden. Almost all were plants I grew from seed and transplanted or direct seeded between May 24-27. “Maturity” means number of days between transplanting or direct seeding in the garden until the first fruit is harvested—according to the seed companies.

Under “Harvested” are my actual days to maturity as well as the numbers and weights of fruits harvested as of Sept. 8.

It wasn’t a large garden, but it provided enough fresh produce for two, plus guests, for over six weeks.

Beans, bush

“Bountiful,” Pinetree Garden Seed. Direct seeded about 12 plants. Maturity: 46 days. Harvested: 64-107 days, 1 lb. Despite being classified as “bush,” they need a trellis to better protect them from slugs. I removed all but two plants after the initial damage.

 

Beets

Beets, Early Wonder

Beets

“Early Wonder,” heirloom, PGS. Direct seeded 3 by 4 foot area. Maturity: 50 days. Harvested: 60-90 days, 1.3 lbs. plus very edible greens. Remember to thin so the beets get bigger.

Cabbage

Both could have used floating row cover to protect them from cabbage butterfly caterpillars–cabbage worms. There was too much shade after the tomatoes grew up.

—–“Pak Choy,” Bounty Beyond Belief. Transplanted 6. Maturity: 45-60 days. Harvested a few leaves before the plants bolted in June, then other leaves were eaten by pests.

—–“Red Express,” Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Transplanted 6. Maturity: 63 days. Harvested: 60 days, 2 ounces—no heads really developed and most of the leaves were holey.

Carrots

“Parisian,” heirloom, PGS. Direct seeded 2 by 3 foot area. Maturity: 55 days. Harvested: 60 days, 2 oz. Have taken only samples so far and will harvest the rest after frost. For all the work and water, I want bigger carrots next time, though these are cute little round things.

Cucumbers

Grown under and over wood lathe A-frame trellis, barely affected by hail.

—–“Spacemaster,” PGS. Direct seeded and only one plant sprouted. Maturity: 59 days. Harvested: 85 days onward, 3 fruits, 0.75 lb. Many flowers, but they didn’t seem to get pollinated. Not very tasty.

—–“Muchmore,” from Kathy Shreve. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 54 days. Harvested: 74 days onward, 19 fruits, 4.4 lbs. so far. Tasty.

—“Sweeter Yet,” from Kathy Shreve. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 48 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 5 fruits, 2 lbs. Also tasty.

Eggplant

Used containers on the hot and sunny patio, with potting soil amended with leaf compost. Hail slowed flowering. Expect only a few more fruits before frost.

—–“Orient Express” hybrid, JSS. Transplanted 3 in containers. Maturity: 58 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 13 fruits, 2.3 lbs.

—–“Fairy Tale,” trade with friend. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 50 days. Harvested: 65 days onward, 25 fruits, 2 lbs. Very pretty purple and white streaks.

Peppers, sweet

“Lunch Box Red,” JSS. Transplanted 6 into containers. Maturity: 55 days green, 75 for red. Harvested: 60 days green, 90 days red, 35 fruits, 0.75 lbs., another 51 ripening. Plants in the bigger containers were much more productive.

Pumpkin

“Cinderella,” also known as “Rouge vif d’Etampes,” from seed saved from purchased pumpkin. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 110 days. Harvested:  107 days, 1 pumpkin, 18 lbs. A second, much smaller pumpkin succumbed to a fungus before it could mature.

 Squash, Summer

“Yellow Crookneck,” heirloom, PGS. Transplanted  1. Maturity: 42 days. Harvested: 70 days onward, 22 fruits, 6.5 lbs. so far.

Squash, Winter

“Australian Blue,” from seed saved from purchased squash. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 110-120 days. Male and female flowers didn’t seem to bloom at the same time. A fruit began forming mid-August and probably won’t ripen before frost.

tomatoes

Tomatoes from my garden.

Tomatoes

Started three of the four from seed and planted 1 each in containers with potting soil amended with leaf compost. Needed fish emulsion fertilizer every week or two.

—–“Gold Nugget” yellow cherry, determinate, PGS. Maturity: 55 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 137 fruits, 3 lbs. so far.

—–“Large Red Cherry,” indeterminate, American Seed.  Maturity: 55-60 days. Harvested: 70 days onward, 65 fruit, 3 lbs. so far.  A substantial cage would work better than tying it to a stake.

—–“Silvery Fir Tree” heirloom, determinate, from Master Gardener sale. Maturity: 58 days. Harvested: 75 days onward, 41 fruit, 8.5 lbs. so far. Tastes fine.

—-“Early Girl” hybrid, indeterminate, Ferry-Morse. Maturity: 52 days. Harvested: 83 days onward, 23 fruit, 7.5 lbs. so far. Needs substantial cage for support. Luckily, tomatoes were hard and green at the time of the hail storms and only sustained a few scars.

Pests and diseases

Slugs got most of the beans and infested the cucumbers and squash, but daily examination, beer traps and watering less cut them down from 36 on the worst day to only a few each day.

Other problems, such as the fungus on the pumpkin, powdery mildew on the squash leaves, leaf miners on the beet leaves, and cabbage worms on the cabbage, will all benefit from crop rotation. With my garden only measuring 14 by 14 feet, too small to rotate within, I’m thinking about next year planting kinds of vegetables I haven’t tried at all yet: Maybe corn or alfalfa, or maybe more containers in a different part of the yard.

I also think damage from hail made my plants more susceptible to disease and pests.

Weeds

I had no weeds, unless you count the cherry tomato that popped up among the beets, or the sunflowers planted by the birds, which attracted bees.

My leaf mulch and intensive style of gardening prevents weeds, though I have to be more careful not to provide damp and shady slug habitat.

Final analysis

Having harvested 60 pounds of produce as of Sept. 8 from my shady garden, with maybe another 10 pounds of tomatoes still ripening, and given the two hail storms, I’m happy with my production. I’ll continue to keep a lookout for more short-season vegetable varieties.

What was your experience this summer? What advice do you have for a novice vegetable gardener like me? Shot me an email.