Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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What I’ve learned as a Master Gardener

2018-08Garden tour-Barb Gorges

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

 

 

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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Heirloom veggies for taste and variety

 

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brinkman hand-pulls weeds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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

–Neem oil has worked very well for aphids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artichokes: Green Globe.

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

Beets: Crosby’s Egyptian

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

 

Broccoli: Purple Peacock, Romanesco Italia, Umpqua.

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

Carrots: Amarillo, Dragon.

Celery: Giant Prague, Tendercrisp, Utah Tall.

Peppers (sweet): Antohi Romanian, Topepo Rosso.

Peppers (hot): NuMex Joe E. Parker.

Cucumber: Parisian Pickling.

Eggplant: Syrian Stuffing, Turkish Orange.

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

Lettuce: Crisp Mint, Little Gem, Baby Oakleaf.

Melon: Kazakh, Minnesota Midget.

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Heirloom onions. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Onion: Flat of Italy, Red of Florence.

Pea: Laxton’s Progress #9.

Squash: Kobocha winter

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

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

Zucchini: Midnight Lightning, Tatume (Mexican zucchini)

 


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.


Cutting Gardens: Grow Your Own Bouquet

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Published Nov. 18, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Grow your own bouquets: whether you prefer a formal cutting garden or the more informal cottage garden approach, a little planning—and some tracking with a spreadsheet—will have your garden yielding seasons of colors indoors and outside.”

Bloom Chart

Click this link for the chart in Excel: Gorges Greening & Blooming 2012 (2)

Click this link for the chart as a PDF: GorgesGreening&Blooming2012(3)

When I first started this list in March, I was excited about spring and listed everything as it greened up. Later I wasn’t as rigorous so green-up times for some of the later blooming perennials are estimates. If no green is mentioned, it could be a plant was already blooming when I planted it, or I noticed it in the neighborhood and thought I might try it someday.

Gaillardia

Gaillardia

Not everything on the list might lend itself to cutting for traditional floral arrangements, but overall, you get a sense of seasonal progression of garden color.

Note:  Greening up but not blooming in my garden this year because they are biennials, newly planted–or stubborn–were mullein, Verbascum Thapsus; hollyhock, Alcea spp.; poppy, Papaver spp.; gayfeather, Liatris punctata; and peony, Paeonia spp.

You’ll notice that after I list the common name of a plant it is followed by the Latin genus name, but sometimes I’ve put “spp.” after that instead of the species name because I never recorded it or it wasn’t available. On the other hand, on my list some variety names appear after the plant’s common name.

By Barb Gorges

asters

Fall blooming asters

Why grow flowers

There’s more to harvest from the garden than the edibles. There are the flowers.

The practical vegetable gardener may already have companion flowering plants, such as marigolds, that either ward off insect pests or shanghai them, but let’s talk about flowers–flowers that make you want to pick them and bring them in the house, and even share them with friends.

If you have the urge to cut flowers, then you want to consider the cutting garden.

The vegetable gardener may scoff at flowers, but the enormous flower industry is meeting an important need, even if it is merely human happiness.

Flowers in the garden make the bees happy, too, and they in turn may add to vegetable prosperity. Plus, growing your own is cheaper than the florist imports, sometimes from South America.

“Cutting garden” is a searchable Internet term and immediately I found an article from the University of Vermont advising me to plant my flowers in mono-species patches, like vegetables, in some out-of-the-way place where you won’t have to look at the destruction you wreak when you cut all that’s in bloom.

The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens has a plot in its community gardens where cutting flowers grow, said its assistant director Claus Johnson. It features long-stemmed, showy varieties like dahlia, gladiolus and zinnia, and Bells of Ireland, which has a green flower, for contrast.

Not having a place or desire to do that, I went to the Laramie County Public Library and found Suzanne McIntire’s book, “An American Cutting Garden, A Primer for Growing Cut Flowers.”

Strawflower

Strawflower

Cottage Gardens

While perusing the 20 feet of gardening books five shelves high, I discovered books on the cottage garden and realized, in a tiny way, that’s how I already grow my flowers. A true cottage garden would leave no turf inside the fence except paths since the historical British cottager was growing food and herbs as well. But I’m still giving the dogs lawn space in back and blending the front turf with all the neighbors’.

No symmetrical borders or large swathes of color for me, simply a profusion of whatever will grow–cottage-style. I bring a few blooms indoors for closer examination and appreciation of beauty than is afforded by the view out the window or the passing glance during garden chores. Having a garden  that is considered messy means that cutting a few flowers is not noticeable.

November is a little late to be telling you fall is the time to prepare new flower beds and plant spring bulbs, the first of the cutting flowers. If the ground is actually frozen, then stockpile leaves and compost to dig into your future bed, rustle up your seed-starting equipment and sit back and enjoy the plant catalogs while anticipating what the local garden centers will carry in spring.

In your plans and dreams, don’t forget to take into account growing greenery for your future flower arrangements. And plan to leave paths so you can reach everything with pruners or scissors.

Much of my cottage/cutting garden is on automatic pilot: perennial plants and self-seeding annuals. Every year I fill in spaces with new perennials or annuals. Sometimes the spaces happen because perennials get tired and disappear, or I pull out some of the overly vigorous, such as feverfew or lemon balm, a mint. My flower garden is populated by hardy specimens I like.

McIntire advises us to correlate the cutting garden to future flower arrangements, but my bouquets are as informal as my garden. Any blooms that are incompatible, such as the violets that are too short for an arrangement with penstemons, get their own appropriately sized vase/jar. As a long-time quilter, I never worry anymore if my quilts or flowers match my décor—the more color I have, the less it matters.

Cosmos

Cosmos

Keeping records 

Last summer, I decided to keep records on an Excel spreadsheet showing my garden bloom dates in color. My dates won’t be the same as yours due to differences in plant exposure to sun, wind, soil and moisture, as well as particular horticultural variety.

Although many bloomed two weeks early this year, the list of plants is more useful to Cheyenne gardeners than McIntire’s. She gardens in Virginia in cold hardiness Zone 7 and has a long, hot growing season. We reside in Zone 5 with a short season, though squint-eyed optimist that I am, I usually aim for perennial plant varieties with the colder Zone 4 rating.

Finding dianthus, pansy, violet and calendula blooming in November is a little like discovering Easter eggs, but there they were Nov. 9, despite 9 inches of snow the month before. I’m reluctant to tuck the blanket of leaf mulch over them just yet.

Even in winter, there will be a few things to cut. The yarrow and rudbeckia left standing would make a nice dry flower arrangement, maybe with the strawflowers I dried earlier.

In December, I look forward to coniferous evergreen prunings, or a whole spruce or fir tree as is customary, the ultimate in cutting plants to bring indoors.


August Garden: Pruning, Harvesting, Record-keeping, Hail Protection

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early, determinate variety.

Published Aug. 29, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Busy Bee: August is a busy time of the month when it comes to your garden care.”

By Barb Gorges

In July, I could scarcely believe how much growth my vegetable plants put on. Hot weather is particularly good for tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, my main crops.

And this month brings a full crop of gardening issues: pruning, proper harvesting, note-taking, winter harvest planning and hail protection.

Pruning

It was easy to see that allowing one square foot for each of my yellow cherry tomato plants–as per the seed package directions–was inadequate. By the end of July, I couldn’t even see the support baskets. Plus, since we’d been out of town, I missed my chance to pinch suckers when they are tiny, something the garden books all mention.

But when I checked with local expert Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, he said it wasn’t necessary in this climate—our plants need all the leaves they can get to nourish them in our short growing season. The only pinching that is helpful: tomato blossoms that won’t produce ripened fruit before frost. Cheyenne’s first average frost date is Sept. 20, meaning often it is earlier.

Shane said he also might snip a few leaves from around a tomato to give it more sun and encourage it to ripen more quickly.

Harvesting

When my husband Mark grew prodigious amounts of tomatoes years ago in Miles City, Mont., I was the one who harvested them because his job in fish management kept him out in the field. I just pulled them from the vines.

But now, after talking to Shane and reading the book “Grow, Cook, Eat,” by former Cheyennite Willi Galloway, I’ve learned that snipping or cutting vegetables is best. Or, in the case of beans and peas, at least use two hands, one to hold the plant and one to pinch. A sharp knife is good for harvesting broccoli and the leafy things. As a general rule, it seems it is better to harvest at the young and tender stage. This means checking your garden often enough. Plus, in some cases, harvesting encourages more edible growth.

Next year I plan to be less tomato-centric and learn how to cultivate and harvest carrots, cabbage and maybe cantaloupe.

Note-taking

In addition to starting a wish list of vegetables for next summer, now is the time to make notes on successes and failures.

I also need to remember where I’ve planted tomatoes and their cousins, eggplant and peppers, so I don’t plant them in the same place at least the next two summers—a 3-year break insures no species-specific viruses will lurk in the ground.

Now is the time to figure out why the pansy leaves turned bright yellow with green veins. It’s chlorosis, same as many trees in Cheyenne get. If the yellow isn’t from insufficient watering, it may mean that particular plant has not been able to take up enough iron and needs a treatment of iron chelate. Different kinds of plants and even different varieties of the same kind have different capabilities for wresting iron from our alkaline soils, Shane told me.

Now is the time to find a sunnier spot in the yard for the poppies and peony that didn’t bloom, to prepare for moving them after the first frost.

Spring was the time to make notes on how the tulips and other spring bulbs fared and mark where they are so I don’t accidently damage them while planting more this fall. Late summer is the time to order bulbs and corms and tubers of interesting perennials to plant in that in-between time after the first frost and before the hard ground freeze.

I’m keeping my eyes open for more information about the Laramie County Master Gardeners’ bulb sale beginning September 9 at its annual Garden Walk.

Winter harvest planning

Garden authors Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch harvest vegetables year-round at Four Season Farm in Maine. They harvest greens throughout the winter from cold frames or inside high tunnels with floating row covers over the plants—double insulation.

Some greens they start in August for fall harvest. Others mature by winter and remain static, but alive, for mid-winter harvest. As space becomes available, Eliot gets an early start on spring greens.

The trick is to find a spot that is shady in the heat of summer so the seedlings get started, but that will be sunny by the time leaves fall, Barbara said in a recent edition of her garden column in the Washington Post.

I asked Shane if folks around here have tried this. He said many greens may not survive mid-winter here, but spinach sown in mid-August will green up in April.

We had a cold frame years ago: an old storm window supported over the soil by a frame of boards allowing the window to slope towards the south, with hinges at the back so it could be propped open on warm days.

Mark used it to put seedlings out early. Extending the season in the other direction would be an interesting experiment. But we may have to invest in one of those heat-activated hinges to open the top on hot Indian-summer fall days we are out fishing or we could cook our greens before they are picked.

Coleman’s book, “Four-Season Harvest” is a good guide, especially for interesting greens like mache (put the tent over the “a” for the French accent). It also has a handy time-table for planting in our zone.

Hail protection

Aren’t we proud to be hail capitol of the U.S.? So what does one do to keep her garden from being flattened?

Grant Family Farms, based in Wellington, Colo., plants in fields scattered over a large area, since hail storms tend to be very localized.

Home gardeners are of three camps when it comes to hail.

The first is to build a roof or cage of hardware cloth–wire mesh–over each raised vegetable bed, or make little caps over each plant.

The second is to run out and throw something over the plants when hail threatens. Jan Nelson-Schroll said she puts cushions on top of her tomato baskets. She said this isn’t a solution if you aren’t home or the hail is too big for your safety. Smith suggested installing poles beforehand that are taller than the plants for draping a tarp or sheet over so that the plants aren’t flattened by the weight.

The third is to do nothing. Master Gardener Kathy Shreve said her garden is too big to cover.

For more tips on protecting your garden and recovering from hail damage, visit the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens website, www.botanic.org, and click on Garden Tips. You may also pick up a copy at the greenhouse.

Annual flowers

Why is it that the sunflowers the birds planted are more successful than the sunflower seeds I bought and babied?

How many annual flowers, like the cosmos I started from seed, can I cut and bring inside to enjoy versus the number to enjoy outside? And of the flowers left outside, how many should I deadhead to keep more blooms coming versus the number of old blooms to leave to go to seed so I can establish a self-seeding stand?

Garden report

By Aug. 16 the heliotrope was finally in full, deep purple bloom. The seed catalog picture did not do it justice. It is worth the wait. We picked our first Japanese-type eggplant July 25. It was only 8 inches long, but now that we have more patience, we’ve let them grow bigger. The “Gold Nugget” yellow cherry tomatoes started ripening the first week in August and the gold rush is picking up as we prospect under the leaves to find them. The red cherry tomatoes are just now ripening. The pumpkin vine has put on yards of growth in the last month, and nearly a dozen pumpkins. The winter squash is a dozen feet long, but no squash. It’s kind of late to try hand pollination and get something to ripen.

So far so good. Can you hear me knocking on the wooden tomato trellis?