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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Young worm farmers prepare for vegetable growing season

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.