Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Rabbits and gardens

2019-06-Eastern_Cottontail--wikipedia

Cottontail Rabbit courtesy Wikipedia.

Help rabbits control their taste for gourmet greens

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 26, 2019, “Keep your garden safe from rabbits.”

By Barb Gorges

“Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

–The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

It must have been Peter Rabbit I caught snipping my green tulip buds the morning of May 1 as they lay helpless in a patch of melting snow. I saw him through a window and ran out in my bare feet to shoo him away. Then I walked the dog back and forth a few times—this being the unfenced front yard.

I picked up the six tulip buds, each left with a 4 to 6-inch stem, and put them in a vase inside. I’m happy to say they ripened and opened. The other buds, left unscathed, recovered from the snow and also bloomed.

The tulip vandal couldn’t have been my regular rabbit, one of Peter’s well-behaved sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy or Cotton-tail. There’s a rabbit sitting in the front yard almost every day and my garden beds have never been attacked before. Well, except the time I tried pansies in the whiskey barrel planter and the rabbits jumped in and ate them all. Since then I grow only hardy perennials in the front yard.

The backyard is where Peter Rabbit would find his favorite vegetables, but there are three rabbit deterrents: the raised beds (higher than the old whiskey barrel), the dog, and the concrete block wall. The gates have vertical bars in the lower half less than 2 inches apart. Our biggest garden problem is hail attacks and so our tomatoes grow under hardware cloth-covered frames.

But last summer, I was shocked when the 900 seedlings and assorted mature plants we planted in the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens (between the flagpole and parking lot) were nearly completely obliterated by rabbits.

2019-06rabbit fencing Habitat Hero garden

By the time the fence was erected around the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens mid-March, not more than two of the 900 perennials planted the previous season could be found. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Last fall we planted a couple hundred bulbs there and the rabbits didn’t dig very many up before we fenced it in March. It isn’t an elegant fence, but it is keeping the rabbits out and allowing plants to make a comeback. Perhaps when the plants mature and get tough stems, we can try going fenceless.

I realize it is ironic that we are establishing wildlife habitat and fencing out rabbits. There is plenty for rabbits to eat in the rest of Lions Park. They are food for other animals. They are prolific, but only live two years, providing they are the 15 percent making adulthood. The CBG rabbits feed the resident Cooper’s hawks.

2019-06 duck

Rabbit-proof fencing allows other wildlife access and protects spring bulbs in mid-April. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Laramie County Master Gardener Kim Parker said her solution is dogs and fencing, “At our house, we have successfully used low, 18″ fencing to keep the bunnies out while my garden establishes, then we take it down and ‘let them eat cake.’

“Most of the year, I don’t think they eat hardly anything (at least not that I notice), although I notice that in the winter they nibble on some grass and grape hyacinth leaves. Weird. They also have spots in our buffalo grass lawn where they like to rest, but the dog keeps them from lingering long.

“So, dogs and fencing (I recommend), and perhaps using plants that they don’t want to eat, or that are vigorous enough that it doesn’t matter if they get eaten, grape hyacinth or fall asters for example.”

The Wyoming Master Gardener Handbook says there are rabbit repellants you can spread around or spray on your plants, but they are only effective until it rains. Be careful what you spray on vegetables you’ll eat. Ultrasonic devices are ineffective. Eliminating access to hiding spots, like nearby brushy areas (or that juniper hedge next to the Habitat Hero garden) is important.

Fencing is the only sure-fire cure. For cottontails, the handbook recommends 30 inches high and for jackrabbits (hares), 36 inches, preferably something like chicken wire with small openings. If rabbits gnaw on your trees and shrubs, wrap pieces of quarter-inch hardware cloth around trunks, 30-36 inches high.

2019-06 garden greenup

Seedlings planted last summer make a comeback in early June once the rabbits were fenced out. The fencing was put up three months before (see first garden photo). Photo by Barb Gorges.

At the CBG much of the fence is up against the sidewalk so rabbits can’t dig their way in. Otherwise, you need to allow for an extra 12 inches of fencing beyond the height you want: 6 inches at the bottom bent at a 90-degree angle to the outside of the garden and then bury that flange 6 inches deep.

Remember, if you decide to have a rabbit for dinner, you must follow the Wyoming Game and Fish Department hunting and trapping regulations.

 

2019-06 bronze rabbits

These larger-than-life bronze rabbits are by Dan Ostermiller, Cheyenne native and Loveland, Colorado sculptor. They and other bronze animals will be on display at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens through August 2019. By mid-May, the Habitat Hero Demonstration Garden, seen upper left, had begun to recover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

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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.


Gardening education opportunities

2018-01 Habitat Hero workshop 2015 Barb Gorges

Several of the 100 participants in the 2015 Habitat Hero workshop fill out surveys while waiting for the next speaker to begin. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

 

Also published at Wyoming Network News.

By Barb Gorges

Gardening classes, lectures and conferences are being offered in Cheyenne this winter and spring at Laramie County Community College, Laramie County Public Library and the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

LCCC Life Enrichment classes

Catherine Wissner, Laramie County Extension horticulturist, is offering four 2-hour classes on Saturdays, 10 a.m. – noon, $10 each. Sign up for one or more. To get details and register, call 307-778-1236 or go to the Life Enrichment website, lccc.wy.edu/workforce/LifeEnrichment.

Jan. 20 – Organic or All Natural: What Does that Mean? How growers become certified organic and how to be a more informed shopper.

Feb. 10 – Extending the Growing Season – Greenhouses, high tunnels and hoop houses and how to grow inside them.

Feb. 17 – Gardening for Butterflies, Bees and Birds – Design a garden that provides nectar and pollen, seasonal color and improves property value.

Feb. 24 – Garden Success in Laramie County – Learn how to grow vegetables, lawns and trees in our soils and growing conditions.

Laramie County Seed Library Winter Sowing – Jan. 20

Laramie County Library and the Laramie County Master Gardeners offer free seeds at the library for flowers and vegetables that grow well here, and free basic gardening classes.

Jan. 20 – Winter Sowing, 2-4 p.m., Storytime Room (2nd floor), Laramie County Library.

Some plants need cold temperatures, moisture, and natural sunlight cycles to germinate. Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan demonstrates starting plants outside, but protected from weather and hungry birds. This method is especially useful for native perennials such as coreopsis, gaillardia, milkweed, and penstemon planted to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Contact: Maggie McKenzie, 307-632-8410.

High Plains Gardening Lecture Series

The Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and the Laramie County Master Gardeners present this lecture series again, but in a new location, the CBGs’ Grand Conservatory, 710 S. Lions Park Dr.

Lectures are at 1 p.m. and are $15 each or $40 for all three. Purchase tickets at the Tilted Tulip, CBG’s new gift shop, Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., or call 307-637-6458.

Jan. 20 – Hummingbird Gardening from Agastache to Zauchneria, Shawn Huddleston.

Feb. 24 – Ruthless Gardening: Tough Love for Better Gardens, Shane Smith, CBG director.

March 24 – Crevice Gardens, Kenton Seth.

High Plains Organic Farming Conference – Feb. 27-28

The 5th annual conference will be held at Laramie County Community College. Registration is $50 and includes lunches. You can register for just one day. See www.highplainsorganic.org for a complete description. Contact Jay Norton jnorton4@uwyo.edu.

Habitat Hero – Bee Bird Friendly – Mar. 17

For the fourth year of Habitat Hero, the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society is teaming with the Wyoming Bee College conference (See https://2018wybeeuniversitybeecollege.eventbrite.com or contact Catherine Wissner, cwissner@uwyo.edu) at Laramie County Community College.

Separate registration for the Mar. 17 Habitat Hero track includes the Wyoming Bee College keynote speaker at 8 a.m., Sarah Red-Laird, Bee Girl organization, and 6:45 p.m. speaker Dr. Raymond Cloyd, “Hollywood and Entomology: History of the 1950s Big Bug Science Fiction Movies.” The full day of Habitat Hero speakers include:

–Jane Dorn, growing native perennials for native bees,

–Barb Gorges, what birds need in your backyard and how to apply to be a Habitat Hero,

–Dena Egenhoff, the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities’ Habitat Hero garden,

–Jessica Goldstrohm of The Bees Waggle, native bees,

–Wanda Manley, how to manage your piece of prairie.

Registration is $20 and includes snacks and lunch but not dinner. Register at https://www.brownpapertickets.com. Contact Mark Gorges, 307-287-4953, mgorges@juno.com, for more information.

Gardening for Success Conference 2018 – April 14-15

There will be 30 classes to pick from for gardeners of all levels of experience. The conference is put on by Laramie County Master Gardeners, University of Wyoming Extension’s Laramie County office and Laramie County Community College, where the conference will be held.

The $125 registration fee includes meals. See https://gardeningforsuccess2018.eventbrite.com for details and registration or contact Catherine Wissner cwissner@uwyo.edu.

Laramie County Master Gardeners Plant Sale – May 12

Now that the annual plant sale is indoors at the Laramie County Archer Complex, Archer Parkway east of Cheyenne, the plant sale has expanded to include a free series of short gardening lectures.


Ground covers

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017-08 Turkish Veronica Mary Ann Kamla

Turkish Veronica, by Mary Ann Kamla

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017-08 Periwinkle by Barb Gorges

Periwinkle, by Barb Gorges

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

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

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

2017-08 Soapwort Saponaria Mary Ann Kamla

Soapwort, by Mary Ann Kamla

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

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

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

2017-08 Spotted Deadnettle by Barb Gorges

Spotted Deadnettle, by Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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


Vegetable growing advice

 

IMG_6356.JPG

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

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

 

By Barb Gorges

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

Timing

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

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

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

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

Location

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

IMG_6357

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

Transplants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mulch

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

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

 

IMG_6354

Seed

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water

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

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

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

Bugs and weeds

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

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

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

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

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

Fertilizer

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

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

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

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

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

Trellis and cage

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

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

Add flowers

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


Soil microbes better than rototilling

2017-05Lowenfels-Endomycorrhizal fungi

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

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t healthy for the microbes.

2017-05 Lowenfels-Ectomycorryhizal fungi

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

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

 

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

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

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

Put away the rototiller

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

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

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

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

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

2017-05Lowenfels-Glomalin--green stain--coating with spores

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

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

 

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

Replace chemical fertilizers

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

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

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

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

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

Brew compost tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information:

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

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

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

 


Garden gifts: books, magazines, classes

2016-12-garden-mags-barb-gorgesPublished Dec. 4, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Holiday gifts for the gardener on your list.”

By Barb Gorges

I asked members of the Laramie County Master Gardeners for their top picks for gardening magazines and books to give you ideas for gifts for the gardeners you know.

Gardening conditions in Cheyenne are somewhat unique so advice from these publications must be taken with a bit of local knowledge:

1) We have alkaline soils so ignore advice to add lime and wood ash;

2) We are officially in USDA plant hardiness zone 5 but microclimates can be harsher or milder;

3) Our average annual precipitation is 15 inches. Even if you run your well dry, you can’t reproduce a wetter, more humid location, which some plants require, like somewhere else in Zone 5—say southern Iowa.

MAGAZINES

Most of the magazines recommended are available at local bookstores. Discounted multi-year subscriptions and back issues are available online.

We are lucky that Colorado’s gardening climate is close to Cheyenne’s, making our local choice The Colorado Gardener (www.ColoradoGardener.com, free at outlets, including the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, and online, or $18/5 issues/year delivered). It is a full-color, tabloid-style, 16-page newsmagazine. In addition to articles and a calendar of Front Range garden-related events, even the advertising is informative.

Another option is Rocky Mountain Gardening (www.RockyMountainGardening.com, $24/4 issues/year). Previously known as “Zone 4,” it covers Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. It was recommended by Catherine Wissner, horticulturist at the Laramie County Cooperative Extension office, and several other respondents. Topics in a recent issue included hellstrip gardening (the hot, dry strip along the curb) and frost blankets (written by a Smoot, Wyoming, gardener). Wyoming is well-represented in the news section.

Judy Kowrach was one of two people who endorsed Garden Gate (www.GardenGateMagazine.com, $20/6 issues/year). With no ads, it is full of tips, plant profiles and design ideas. Despite its Iowa origins, much of the information is applicable to Cheyenne. Even without a subscription, you can sign up online for its free eNotes.

Kim Parker and several others listed Fine Gardening (www.FineGardening.com, $29.95/6 issues/year). It does a splendid job of inciting people to commit acts of gardening. I like their warnings on which featured plants are officially classified as invasive in which state and their scientific plant name pronunciation guide. And their deep website full of free garden and plant information.

2016-12-garden-design            I couldn’t come up with an issue of Garden Design (www.GardenDesign.com, $45/4 issues/year), but looking at a preview copy online, it also is sumptuously photographed. Its price reflects the 148 ad-free pages per issue. And its website is also full of free information, even for non-subscribers.

Finally, Rodale’s Organic Life (www.RodalesOrganicLife.com, $15/6 issues/year) is the latest incarnation of Rodale’s Organic Gardening and Farming. In 1978, that publication printed my interview of a man who built a better bluebird house. These days, think of it as the organic version of Better Homes and Gardens—mostly lifestyle, little gardening.

BOOKS

2016-12-garden-primer-rodales-ultimate-encyclopedia            My primary garden book, recommended to me several years ago by Shane Smith, director of the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, is The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch (2008, Workman Publishing, 820 pages). Written by a gardener from the cold climate of Maine, it covers every aspect of organic home gardening in well-organized chapters, but with an index for quick consultation.

Another option is Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (2009, www.rodaleinc.com, 720 pages). Earlier editions have been on my shelf for years. It’s a tad more technical, but both this and The Garden Primer are good how-to guides and problem solvers.

2016-12-peterson-kaufman-insect-guides            Tava Collins recommended National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders (1980, Alfred A. Knopf, $20) for help identifying garden friends and foes. Similar guides are available in the Kaufman and Peterson field guide series.

Collins also recommended three books written by Colorado gardeners: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook, John Cretti (2012, Cool Springs Press); Rocky Mountain Getting Started Garden Guide, John Cretti (2015, Cool Springs Press); and Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West, Marcia Tatroe (2007, Big Earth Publishing).

For special gardening techniques that will work in our area, these next two were recommended.

Marie Madison cited The Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits and Edible Flowers by Maggie Stuckey and Rose Marie Nicholas McGee (2002, Workman Publishing).

Susan Carlson, who I interviewed a few months ago about straw bale gardening, apprised me of a new edition of her favorite book: Straw Bale Gardens Complete: All-New Information on Urban & Small Spaces, Organics, Saving Water – Make Your Own Bales With or Without Straw by Joel Karsten (2015, Cool Springs Press, $24.99).

If your giftee’s interest is in growing native plants that attract pollinators or in identifying plants on the prairie, try these. Keep in mind the definition of “weeds” depends on the situation.

2016-12-weeds-of-the-west-rangeland-plants            Carlson listed Rangeland Plants: Wyoming Tough by Smith et. al. (2015, publication B-1265) It is a free download at www.wyoextension.org/publications or $8 at the Laramie County Extension office, 307-633-4383.

Richard Steele found Weeds of the West (Western Society of Weed Science, 2012, $34 at www.wsweedscience.org) to be particularly useful while manning the “Ask a Master Gardener” table at the farmers market this fall.

Collins mentioned the classic Meet the Natives: A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs: Bridging the Gap between Trail and Garden by M. Walter Pesman. It was revised by Denver Botanic Gardens staff in 2012 and republished by Big Earth Publishing.

2016-12-undaunted-garden            The author of one of my favorites, The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty (2010, Fulcrum Publishing), Lauren Springer Ogden, is a firm believer in “the right plant in the right place” and is the originator of “hellstrip” gardening. Her photography is inspiring. She speaks often at garden events on the Front Range.

Her book would be a good accompaniment to the next two books, helping you to pick appropriate local plants to interpret their lessons. These books are about planet-friendly landscape gardening.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (2015, Timber Press). This may be intended to introduce landscape designers to more natural, sustainable plantings. But you can apply the advice to your own yard, such as using groundcover plants instead of shredded bark mulch everywhere.

2016-12-garden-revolution-planting-in-a-post-wild            The other is Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (2016, Timber Press). Proponents of the “right plant in the right place” too, the authors have designed this book to help you understand their premise: that with knowledge of your eco region and local habitat, you can plant a garden that will evolve over time with a minimal amount of assistance, i.e. chemicals and labor.

LECTURES AND CLASSES

One option: Give your favorite gardener tuition for the 10-week Master Gardener class beginning in January. For more information, call 307-633-4383.

Or give them tickets to the spring gardening lecture series Laramie County Master Gardeners is offering in conjunction with the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. Call 307-637-6458.