Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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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 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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Growing lavender in Cheyenne

2018-10 Cathy Rogers-lavender by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers inspects her lavender crop. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/lavender-is-a-perfect-plant-for-cheyenne, and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Oct. 21, 2018.

Lavender is a perfect plant for Cheyenne

By Barb Gorges

Lavender is an herb held in high esteem across the ages, even back 2,500 years when it was used in mummifying pharaohs in Egypt, according to Google.

Lavender, a member of the mint family, is edible. As a dried wreath or spray, its soft gray-green leaves and stems of lavender, pink, blue or white flowers are classic. As an essential oil or dried herb, it has medicinal uses. It is often used in perfumes and other products because its scent has a reputation for calming the mind. Even photos of great fields of it in Provence, France, or garden borders in England give one a sense of peace.

All those attributes may have been what Laramie County Master Gardener Cathy Rogers was looking for when she went to her first lavender festival several years ago.

“I became interested in lavender because it has always been my favorite fragrance,” she said. It led her to want to fill her pasture on Cheyenne’s north side with mounds of lavender shrubs. She brought home several varieties to try.

Growing conditions here are perfect for many kinds of lavender: dry weather, lots of sunshine and well-drained, low fertility, alkaline soil. The alkalinity enhances the fragrance.

Deer don’t like lavender, but bees do—two more reasons to consider growing it.

Although many of the 450-plus named cultivars of lavender are rated Zone 5, Cheyenne’s growing zone, mulching after the first freeze will protect them from being killed by our region’s tendency for multiple freeze-thaw cycles each winter.

On a hot day in August, Cathy took me out to her garden to inspect the kinds of lavender she chose from festival vendors as most suited to Cheyenne:

Impress Purple

Gros Blue

Folgate

Buena Vista

Edelweiss (Grosso white)

Grosso

2018-10 Cathy Rogers prepares cutting--by Barb Gorges

Cathy Rogers snips a soft, non-woody growing tip to start a new lavender shrub. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Lavender will seed itself, though it won’t grow true to its parent. It can be propagated from cuttings, which is what Cathy did to establish the long row in the pasture.

She prefers to make hers from the softwood—the flexible, non-woody branch ends. She cuts them about 5 inches long and strips the leaves off the lower half. Then she dips the ends of the stems in rooting hormone and inserts them in seed-starting medium, usually a light potting soil made up of ingredients like peat, vermiculite, perlite—not plain old garden soil. You can try rooting the stem in water too. Cathy had 80 percent success with her seed-starting soil method.

It takes about three years for the new plants to mature. Cathy waited a year before planting her cuttings out in the field where she had suppressed the pasture vegetation with weed-barrier cloth. Proper spacing is important—lavender shrubs can be as large as 30 inches wide as well as 30 inches high.

Lavender requires little care most years, once it’s established. Cathy had only irrigated the row once as of mid-August. But plants require annual pruning when mature. Removing one-third of the shrub, usually in spring right after last frost, will give you more flowers. But sometimes branches are harvested during the growing season.

When and what is harvested depends on what product is the goal. For decorative craft purposes, snip branches when the flowers are barely open. Potpourri and sachets use only the flower buds, again, barely open.

For use in food, often paired with lemon flavors in desserts or roasted with chicken or vegetables, check the recipe. Some call for dried or fresh flowers, others for the leaves. A little goes a long way—maybe two teaspoons of dried buds for an 8 x 12-inch pan of lemon bars.

There’s also lavender infusions, lavender sugar, lavender syrup, lavender jam, lavender vinegar and lavender lemonade.

Distilling essential oils requires a big copper distiller like a moonshine still. It can use whole branches, leaves and all. Essential oils get used in cleaning and beauty products.

Cathy’s best sources of information have been the workshops and vendors at the Lavender Association of Western Colorado festival. The next one is June 29, 2019, in Palisade, Colorado, outside Grand Junction. The association’s website, https://coloradolavender.org, has detailed information on growing lavender in a climate similar to ours.

“I use The Lavender Lover’s Handbook, The 100 Most Beautiful and Fragrant Varieties for Growing, Crafting, and Cooking, by Sarah Berringer Baden, as my primary reference, at least until I can get to Provence, France, or Sequim, Washington,” Cathy said. Both are centers of the lavender industry.

This fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare a spot to plant lavender next spring.

2018-10 Cathy Roger's lavender by Barb Gorges

Most of Cathy Rogers’ lavender plants are lavender colored. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

2018-09 Crocus-Barb Gorges

Crocuses are some of the earliest spring bloomers. Leaves make good mulch for bulbs if they don’t don’t get packed down too much by snow. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 9, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle . Also published Sept. 10, 2018, at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/fall-planted-bulbs-start-spring-early.

Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

By Barb Gorges

I made a list of spring bulbs to plant this fall at the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

And then I looked at how the perennials we planted at the end of July were doing. The 450 black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and 450 other assorted prairie-type plants got hit with hail. Most are fine, except the Rudbeckia, reduced to tough sticks with hail scars, though a few still had blooms on top, but either no leaves or new leaves nibbled back.

Rabbits?! My Rudbeckia at home survived hail and they have plenty of leaves despite cottontails napping nearby.

Gardening somewhere besides home is like trying to give another parent child-rearing advice: what you know may not work for someone else or somewhere else.

I’m wondering if it will be a waste to plant anything besides daffodils which are known to be somewhat deer and rabbit resistant. Or maybe plant alfalfa as a cover crop so the rabbits have something better to eat. At least we will have plenty of bare places to plant bulbs this fall.

Below are my picks for a Habitat Hero spring-blooming bulb garden, designed to provide flowers early for bees, and to be self-propagating from year to year, or “naturalizing” or “perennializing” as they say in catalogs.

In each category I picked the cheapest bulbs which, as Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan agrees, is a good indication of how hardy and easy they are to grow.

Some bulbs have a reputation for being deer, rabbit and rodent resistant. All are rated for wintering one or two horticultural zones colder than Cheyenne’s zone 5.

Bloom times are relative depending on spring weather. Microclimates, either hotter (next to a south-facing wall) or colder (north-facing), can make a difference, also. And I looked at color, trying to predict what bulbs might bloom at the same time.

Most spring bulbs are native to the Mediterranean or parts of central Asia with cold and dry climates like Wyoming’s, so it’s easy to be successful with bulbs. I have most of these in my own garden, though not the exact varieties.

  1. Species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica, blooms March/April, 8 inches tall, ivory petals with orangish bases, naturalizes.
  2. Species or snow crocus mix, March/April, 4 inches, white, blue, yellow, violet, deer resistant, naturalizes.
  3. Iris reticulata mix, early April, 4 to 6 inches, blue, purple, yellow, naturalizes.

    2018-09 Iris reticulata-Barb Gorges

    Iris reticulata can bloom earlier than crocus if it is planted close to heat-absorbing concrete or brick. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  4. Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, April, 5 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer and rodent resistant.

    2018-09 Squill-Barb Gorges

    Bees love Siberian squill and through pollination, squill produces lots of seed that increases the patch of blue from year to year. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  5. Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa, April, 5-6 inches, blues, naturalizing, deer and rodent-resistant, multiple flowers per bulb.

    2018-09 Glory of the Snow-Barb Gorges

    Glory of the Snow, at only 5-6 inches tall, survives our spring snowstorms quite well. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  6. Large cupped daffodils, April, 18-20 inches, yellow, naturalizes, deer, rodent and rabbit resistant. These varieties are the most popular of the 13 divisions of daffodils and are available all over town.

    2018-09 Daffodil-Barb Gorges

    There are a multitude of kinds of daffodils to choose from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  7. Grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, April/May, 6 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer resistant. Other Muscari species are white and even pale pink.

    2018-09 Grape Hyacinth-Barb Gorges

    Grape hyacinth come in many shades of blue, and even pale pink. In this garden they bloom about the same time as the phlox groundcover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  8. Species tulip, Tulipa linifolia, May, 6 inches, red, naturalizes.
  9. Single late (Darwin) tulip, May, 22-30 inches, all kinds of plain and blended colors available. These are the most popular tulips and most available in local stores.

    2018-09 tulips-Barb Gorges

    This patch of tulips lasted a couple weeks when temperatures stayed cool, no snow fell and the wind wasn’t too strong. These are past their prime but still make a bright spot visible from the street and our windows. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  10. Allium oreophilum (flowering onion), May/June, 6-8 inches, deep rose. All the alliums, including the giant purple globes I’ve had rebloom for several years, are rabbit, rodent and deer resistant, and popular with bees. But not all allium varieties return reliably.

    2018-09 large Allium - Barb Gorges

    Several years ago I planted five bulbs of a variety of giant Allium. This spring I counted 15 blooms, meaning the bulbs have self-propagated and I could dig them up and transplant some to another flower bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I’m skipping a multitude of tulip types. Some, like fosteriana, kaufmanniana and gregii are good naturalizers and survive our spring snowstorms. Others are advertised as good cutting flowers to be pulled and then replaced by summer annuals: parrot, double early, viridiflora, triumph.

If not available locally, the varieties I’ve mentioned might be available from catalogs like www.johnscheepers.com. Directions with each order or package will tell you how deep and how far apart to plant each kind of bulb.

Let’s hope the bunnies at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens give the bulbs a break.

Laramie County Master Gardener Fall Bulb Sale deadline Sept. 21, 2018

This year Kathy Shreve put together three bulb collections for the Laramie County Master Gardener bulb sale. All the bulb varieties are available individually as well. One collection, the “Pollinator Buffet,” looks good for Habitat Hero gardens.

You can find the order form and photos of the selections at http://www.lcmg.org/event/2018-bulb-sale/.

Orders, with payment, must be mailed or turned in by 5 p.m., Sept. 21, to the Extension office at Laramie County Community College.

Bulbs will be available for pickup Oct. 20 at the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave.

Contact Kathy at keshreve@yahoo.com if you have questions.

2018-09 pink tulips-Barb Gorges

A little bit of wire fence protects the tulips by slowing down small dogs and rabbits. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 


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Wyoming Heirloom Apples

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018-05 YellowTransparent-WyomingAppleProject

A page from the Wyoming Apple Project’s key.

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

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

*1. Wealthy

  1. Haralson
  2. Patten Greening

*4. Yellow Transparent

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

*9. Whitney No. 20 Crabapple

*10. Duchess of Oldenburg

  1. Dolgo

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

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

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

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

2018-05 Wyo apple tree-Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

2018-05 Wyo apple trees-Barb Gorges

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

 

 


Young worm farmers prepare for vegetable growing season

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 1

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

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

By Barb Gorges

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 3

No squeamishness! Photo by Barb Gorges.

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

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

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

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 4

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

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

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

Bins

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

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

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

Bedding and food

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

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

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

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

2018-03WormsBoys&GirlsClubofCheyenne byBarbGorges 5

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

Worms

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

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

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

Maintenance

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

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

Harvest

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

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

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

 


Apply to be a Habitat Hero

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

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

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


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Starting gardens: find sun, soil, water

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 1byBarbGorges

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

By Barb Gorges

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

Find the sun

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

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

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

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

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

Block the wind

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

Get the dirt

Soil is anything a plant can stick a root into.

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

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

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

Water carefully

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018-03-05PerennialGarden 3byBarbGorges

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

Deleting lawn

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

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

The plants and details

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

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

2018-03-05Coneflower&beebyBarbGorges

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