Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Iris farm shares beauty, growing tips

2017-04C & T Iris Patch 14 Barb Gorges

A visitor walks a corner of  C and T Iris Patch last June. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published April 30, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Iris farms, sharing beauty and growing tips

By Barb Gorges

There is an annual flower phenomena less than an hour south of Cheyenne, just east of Eaton, Colorado, from mid-May through early June. And after you find it, you might think you’d been to Eden.

It’s thanks to a tradition among iris farms to open to the public while the iris are blooming. Last year was my first visit to C and T Iris Patch’s acre of beauty, and it won’t be my last.

There is a gap between the spring bloom time and the best time to transplant iris—July into August—but Charlette Felte, of C and T Iris Patch, takes pity on spring visitors and allows them to take home select plants. I bought several and as per her instructions, cut the blooms and put them in a vase, then trimmed the leaves and planted the rhizomes (fat root-like appendages) in a sunny spot.

2017-04C & T Iris Patch, Charlette Felte, 58 Barb Gorges

Charlette Felte has a special patch of iris for spring visitors to buy from if they can’t wait for the traditional July-August transplanting season. Photo by Barb Gorges.

With 3,000-4,000 visitors, it’s good everyone doesn’t succumb to immediate gratification and can wait until orders are shipped in summer. If you can’t visit, the color photos in the online catalog are nearly as inspiring.

When Felte reached retirement age, she announced to her husband Tim that she wanted to move to the country to raise iris.” Fine,” he said, “find some land.” Two days later Felte had picked out a place.

Felte knew a lot about iris already. Growing up, her father would send her and her siblings down the street to help an elderly neighbor who had an iris garden.

“I thought they were the prettiest flowers,” Felte said.

Variations

C and T Iris Patch opened in 2000. It now carries 3,200 varieties of iris. The largest category is the bearded iris (the beard being the fuzzy patch on the falls—the petals that bend downwards). Within bearded iris there are classifications based on height.

[Here are the classes of bearded iris beginning with the earliest to bloom: Miniature Dwarf Bearded, Standard Dwarf Bearded, Intermediate Bearded, and then blooming at the same time as the Tall Bearded (mid-late spring), Border Bearded and Miniature Tall Bearded.]

If you are lucky, your iris may rebloom in the fall—when temperatures resemble those during the spring bloom. Some varieties are identified as rebloomers because they have a propensity for it, but it isn’t something to count on.

Now if you think all iris are blue or yellow, you really need to check out what’s available, either online or during bloom time. There’s also peach, orange, pink, brown, red and violet, and some are bi-colored, tri-colored, spotted, striped, and edged with accent colors. And for some reason, flower breeders are always trying for “black.”

The names people dream up for each new hybrid are sometimes beautiful, “Come Away with Me,” “Kiss the Dawn,” “Mist on the Mountain.” Sometimes they make you laugh “All Reddy” (a red iris), “Awesome Blossom,” “Coming Up Roses,” “Darnfino,” “Get Over Yerself,” “Got Milk” (all white and ruffled). And some might be a bit naughty: “Sinister Desire,” “Sunrise Seduction,” “Hook Up.” Or named for someone, usually a woman, “Sarah Marie,” “Raspberry Rita,” “Evelyn’s Echo.”

As I was perusing the catalog this winter, I noticed that each description mentioned the date the hybrid was introduced. The fun of breeding new hybrids actually goes back centuries to the origins of these iris in Europe, North Africa and Asia. North America has wild iris, but they usually prefer swampy conditions.

In Felte’s catalog there are varieties from the 1930s: “Rhages,” “Wabash,” and “William Setchell,” and from 1912, “Romero,” and the oldest, from 1904, “Caprice.” Among other kinds of plants, the older varieties are not as disease resistant. However, Felte said that the older iris hybrids, especially from the 1950s through 1980s, are hardier. The newer, rufflier, lacier, frillier, don’t winter as well. Plus, they don’t have as much fragrance.

Iris photos taken at C and T Iris Patch by Barb Gorges.

Growing iris

Iris are not fussy plants. They prefer drier conditions (they will rot if they aren’t dry enough) so they fit with today’s water-smart gardens.

Felte also recommends her Wyoming customers not choose the tallest, the 40-inchers, because they take so long to bloom, and Cheyenne is already two weeks behind Eaton. The delay is probably due to a combination of Eaton being 1,200 feet lower, 45 miles south, and having sandier soils that warm up faster in spring.

Iris leaves grow in fan arrays. In July, when irises are normally dug up for transplanting, the fan is trimmed to a 6-inch tall diamond. Otherwise, leaves are not trimmed until the following spring.

The rhizomes are covered with an inch of soil, up to the point where the leaves turn from white to green. Felte recommends giving the transplants an inch of water the first time, and then about half an inch per week until mid-September. Deep watering is better than frequent shallow watering.

Felte recommends rabbit feed (pellet form) for fertilizer, which is high in phosphates and other nutrients iris need for good blooms. They need very little nitrogen. The best time to fertilize is mid-to-late March, and again in July for the reblooming varieties or plants newly divided. Felte warns on her website to never use manure.

Trim the flower stalks after blooming to keep the color of the bloom true next year. Trim dead leaves away after winter, Felte said.

In three or four years, your irises will have multiplied and need to be dug up and thinned to keep them blooming. You can either increase the size of your iris garden or give the excess fans to friends.

New hybrids

While bees will pollinate iris and cause seed pods to form, Felte recommends removing them. Unless you have controlled conditions, the seeds will not grow true to the parent plant.

I asked Felte if she has ever registered her own hybrids and she said no, it’s about a 10-year-long process. First, you must provide enough seed true to the hybrid for 75 growers around the country and overseas to grow it out. They keep records for four years and submit them to the American Iris Society which will decide if your hybrid is different enough from all the registered varieties. [Some of the larger iris farms, such as Schreiner’s Iris Garden in Oregon, contribute new hybrids annually.]

Area iris farms open this spring

C and T Iris Patch will be open to the public this year May 20 through June 11, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., seven days a week, at 20524 WCR 76, Eaton, Colorado, at no charge. The website, www.candtirispatch.com, has extensive information about growing iris, and they are ready for online orders as are other Colorado iris farms:

In Boulder, Colorado, Longs Gardens will be open to the public now through June 11, seven days a week, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at 3240 Broadway. See www.LongsGardens.com for more information.

In Denver, check the website for Iris4U Iris Garden, 2700 W. Amherst Avenue, for their public hours, www.iris4u.com.

2017-04C & T Iris Patch 6 Barb Gorges

C and T Iris Patch in Eaton, Colorado, grows a wide variety of bearded iris and allows the public to visit during the May-June blooming season. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Raised beds for better gardening

2016-6 Barb Sahl and raised bed w pavers - Barb GOrges

Barb Sahl made raised beds from concrete pavers and two by fours that are sturdy enough to sit on, saving her knees. Photo taken May 7 by Barb Gorges.

Published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle May 29, 2016, “Got rabbits? Try raised bed gardening.”

By Barb Gorges

Rabbits made her do it.

Barb Sahl, a Laramie County Master Gardener, told me she was a ground-level vegetable gardener for the first nine years at her place on Cheyenne’s south side, but she switched to raised beds to keep the rabbits out of her garden.

There were other considerations too. Raised beds would help keep her dogs from running through the radishes and it was a way to deal with a persistent weed problem.

Sahl was also thinking about her aging knees, knowing her days of kneeling would end in the future.

With that in mind, she installed eight beds using a system of landscape pavers, then added five stock tanks.

2016-6a raised beds 2

Sahl’s dog patrols the vegetable garden in late August 2016.

Below you will find information about the history, types and benefits of raised beds in our area.

Genesis of the raised bed

The stereotypical vegetable garden has rows of vegetables. The bare ground between must be kept weeded.

An alternative is to grow vegetables like flowers, using wide beds, 2 to 4 feet wide (depending on how far you want to reach) and grow your plants more closely. This shades out the weeds and you never step into the wide beds, keeping the soil from getting compacted. The paths between beds can be mulched.

A wide bed can be planted at ground level, or with a bit of soil excavated from what will be the paths, made into a flat-topped mound. The soil in the mound will warm up earlier in spring, allowing earlier planting, though the plants themselves may still need protection from frost at night.

If the bed is amended with compost or with soil brought in, fertility and drainage can be improved.

In 2012, I tried the mound method. I had few weeds and great results. The path around the bed was deep in tree leaves collected the previous fall. However, the edges of the mound had a tendency to erode after heavy rains.

Last summer my husband and I converted to what gardeners normally envision a raised bed to be, a contained mound.

Types of raised beds

Gardeners have been inventive at using whatever is at hand to make the walls of a raised bed: bales of straw (hay has too many seeds that will sprout), wood, rock, brick, concrete block, old stock tanks. Raised beds work for flowers as well as vegetables. Sahl even has her raspberries in one to keep them from spreading.

IMG_1866

Wood: Raised beds can be built to workbench-level (“elevated” beds) or the sides can be as low as a single 6-inch wooden board—though that won’t keep the rabbits out. However, Sahl soon realized plain wooden boards would decompose and she would have to replace them sooner than she’d like.

Thirty years ago, raised beds using old railroad ties were fashionable, but it was found that wood preservative chemicals from that era are toxic and can migrate into vegetable plants.

Currently, “ground contact pressure treated” wood has an environmentally friendlier preservative but there is still controversy.

If in doubt, use cedar or redwood. Either, though more expensive, should last a lifetime.

Raised bed kits often contain posts with brackets that hold wooden boards. Another version I’m trying this year, available locally, is steel plates 18 inches tall and bent 90 degrees which fit around the outside corners of the bed and screw into place.

2016-6 Plastic lumber raised bed - Barb Gorges

Plastic lumber raised bed.

2016-6 Plastic lumber raised bed detail - Barb Gorges

Galvanized steel bracket.

In another bed we built 15 years ago, using plastic dimensional lumber, the corners are held together by brackets on the inside. Surprisingly, the galvanized steel has not rusted out.

2016-6 Raised bed w pavers detail

This detail of Sahl’s raised bed system shows the brackets used to hold the concrete pavers upright, connecting them to the 2 x 4s along the bottom and the top. She will put drip irrigation (the black plastic hoses) back in when planting the beds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Pavers: Sahl used a system she found from Lee Valley Tools that starts with a frame of pressure treated two by fours outlining the shape of the bed. She made hers 2.5 feet wide by 8 feet long. Steel brackets attach to the frame and are designed to hold pre-cast concrete pavers upright. Sahl’s pavers are 16 inches square. More brackets along the top edge of the pavers attach to another frame of two by fours, making the structure strong enough to sit on. The brackets are ordered as a kit and the gardener buys the wood and pavers locally.

 

2016-6 Concrete block raised bed - Barb Gorges

Raised bed made with stacked concrete blocks. Photo by Barb Gorges.

2016-6 Converted trash can holder - Barb Gorges

An enclosure for trash cans has been converted to a raised bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Concrete block: Mark and I tried a concrete block raised bed for our vegetables last year, but we didn’t stack the blocks on boards like Sahl did her pavers. After this past winter’s freezing and thawing, the walls undulate. Also, for the nine months of the year nothing is growing in it, the bed looks just like a pile of ugly gray concrete—right in the middle of the view from our favorite window.

2016-6 Stock tank raised bed w raspberries

Sahl’s recycled stock tank helps contain the spread of her raspberry patch. Large holes in the bottom of the tank are necessary for good drainage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Stock tanks: This style is simpler, but perhaps harder to find, prep and install.

Sahl uses this method and got the idea from a relative who uses rusted-out tanks in her garden.

Sahl found her own stock tanks on Craig’s list. We’re talking about the long, narrow ones made of galvanized steel. Sahl’s are 2 to 2.5 feet across by 6 or 8 feet long by about 2 feet deep. Since they weren’t rusted out on the bottom, she drilled lots of holes for drainage. If she were to do it again, she suggests just cutting out portions of the bottoms.

How to install a raised bed

Find a flat, sunny location within range of your hose or drip irrigation system.

Plan the bed’s width so you can reach the middle comfortably, and maximize the dimension of materials to be used. The shape can be square, rectangular or even L or U-shaped. Sahl left enough room between beds for her wheelbarrow.

Because Sahl has a weedy infestation of skeleton-leaf bursage, she chose to cover her site with weed barrier cloth and then covered that with bark mulch between the beds.

Under normal conditions, you would remove pre-existing vegetation as you would for any other garden, especially if you aren’t building your raised bed very high—you need to allow for root growth.

Unless your building materials are ephemeral, temporary like straw bales, be sure to use a level to keep everything square and neat looking. Get corner posts set straight and boards horizontal.

How to fill a raised bed

Sahl wanted completely different soil for her beds than what was in her yard so she ordered a load that was a little sandier, with less clay. It’s important that it is good quality, she said, and not full of weed seeds. She has grown a wide variety of vegetables in the eight years since and is very happy with the results.

If you are growing vegetables, you may want to mix in a lot of compost like that available through Cheyenne’s compost facility. In future seasons you won’t have to till, just add a couple more inches of compost, perhaps in the form of the organic mulch you use on the surface—leaves and grass clippings, etc.

For flowers, be aware that hardy native perennials do best with less fertile soil.

Accessories

Sahl has made tomato cages from concrete mesh that fit her raised beds perfectly. She can wrap them in plastic to protect the plants from frost early in the season.

Raised beds also lend themselves to the addition of trellises, cold frame covers, mini-hoop houses, hail guards and drip irrigation systems. See previous columns on those subjects at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

Details of Sahl’s raised beds, late August 2016: (clockwise from top left) onions, cabbage, raspberries, tomato, carrots.

2016-6a Gorges raised bed in JulyGorges raised bed, July 2016.

 

 


Garden for bees

2016-4gaillardia - bumble bee - Barb Gorges

There are 4,000 species of bees native to North America and 46 of them are bumble bees. This bumble bee is collecting pollen from a gaillardia or blanketflower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

A version, “Bee aware: How to attract bees to your garden, keep them happy once they get there,” was published April 10, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Bees are wildlife, though we tend to not to think of them in the same category as mice, raccoons and deer. They are however, much more beneficial for our gardens and crops.

We depend on honey bees and native bees to pollinate the flowers of crops to produce up to a third of the value of foods in our grocery carts including almonds, avocado, watermelon, squash, apples–most fruits and many vegetables.

Even crops that are considered self-pollinating, like soybeans, will increase production if pollinated by bees, said Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Extension horticulturist for Laramie County.

2016-4coneflower - honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker collects pollen from purple coneflower. Honey bees are slimmer than native bumble bees. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Both the honey bee, from Europe, and our native bees are declining in numbers for several reasons, especially habitat loss. Like other wildlife, native bees lose out every time their diverse native habitat is converted to a weed-less, flower-less lawn, or paved over, or sprayed with pesticides. So what can we do to help them help us?

Wissner believes that if everyone offered blooming plants on their property, native bees could make a comeback, especially if native plants are used. They’d also improve our vegetable garden yields at the same time.

Native bees are more efficient pollinators because they will fly when it is cooler or cloudy. Honey bees want perfect weather.

Native bees are solitary and almost always friendly according to Wissner. Unlike honey bees, they don’t have big colonies to defend. Bumble bees especially are slow and inoffensive. But it doesn’t hurt to have an antihistamine like Benadryl in your gardening first aid kit, or epinephrine if you already know you are allergic to stinging insects.

Getting bees to your garden

Helping bees (and butterflies and other pollinating insects) can be done by planting flowers–natives especially. For years I thought them merely pretty faces to brighten my mood and the view, but now I see them as essential to the ecosystem.

In many ways, what I want in a flower garden is what the bees want as well: flowers that will bloom as early as possible and others that bloom right until first frost.

2016-4Milkweed - most likely female Bombus griseocolis - Barb Gorges

This bumble bee, most likely a Bombus griseocolis, is checking out milkweed. Notice the yellow pollen baskets on its hind legs. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I also want as many different kinds of flowers as I can get to grow in my yard and bees appreciate the variety. I focus on perennials because they are less expensive and less time-consuming than having to start from seed or buy annuals each year. Perennials just get bigger and bigger or spread seedlings each year, offering more and more flowers.

I love the simple, old-fashioned garden plants and the native wildflowers. Turns out bees like simple flowers too. The latest, greatest double or triple-petalled kind are too difficult for bees to navigate through. Bees need to collect pollen and nectar to eat or feed their young, inadvertently pollinating flowers as they move about.

As a lazy gardener, I grow plants close together to shade out the weeds and I don’t prune back the dead stuff until late spring. The old stems help hold leaf mulch in place and interrupt the wind enough to drop a protective blanket of snow for parts of the winter.

This strategy works well as Wissner said there are native bees, and other beneficial insects, that nest in the overwintering stems.

Find a place to plant with an eye for shelter, water and safety for bees

Reevaluate your current garden with an eye for enticing bees. Instead of another flat of exotic annuals this spring, could you plant native perennials?

Can you remove that half-dead juniper and replace it with a flowering shrub like red-twig dogwood?

2016-4potentilla - female Bombus bifarius - Barb Gorges

A bumble bee, a female Bombus bifarius, works over a potentilla flower. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Could you expand or add a new garden bed? Is it close to your outdoor water faucet? Is it where you can enjoy looking at it? Will it be out of the way of unofficial paths and yard activities? Is it a sunny spot? Many of the most popular plants for pollinators prefer sun.

Protecting bees from insecticides at all times is absolutely necessary—even those labelled “organic” can negatively affect bees or kill them.

Certain native bees like nesting in tubular spaces. You can drill holes ranging from ¼ to 3/4-inch diameter close together in a block of wood.

Bees need water. If you use a bird bath or dish, be sure to refresh it every few days to keep mosquitoes from breeding. Wissner uses a soaker hose on a timer and has seen the bees line up along its length, drinking.

Decide what to plant

Wissner has a rule of thumb when she visits a nursery—look for the plants buzzing with bees already.

Visiting nurseries is the easiest way to find perennials and there is a plethora of them along the Front Range from here south. However, you may have a hard time finding native plants recommended as nurseries are still learning about this gardening for pollinators movement.

The Audubon Rockies website, http://rockies.audubon.org, has a Habitat Hero program section. There you can find a list of resources and local sources for plants. The closer to home the source of the plant, the better—the better chance the plant will thrive in your garden.

Growing from seed is a possibility, but transplanting from the wild should be avoided unless you have the permission of the landowner and the site is about to be bulldozed anyway.

Be sure your selections are rated for our Zone 5 or colder, like Zones 3 and 4. Get at least three of a kind to plant together to make them more noticeable to passing bees.

Look at your overall plan to see if you have a variety of bloom times, flower colors and shapes, plant heights and leaf textures. Different kinds of flowers provide the bees different kinds of nutrients in their pollen.

A pollinator garden doesn’t need to be installed all at once. Half the fun is keeping a lookout for additions—who doesn’t enjoy an excuse to visit a flower-filled nursery?

About Bees:

Identification

The Xerces Society, www.xerces.org/pollinators-mountain-region/

Bug Guide, Iowa State University, www.bugguide.net

Bumble Bees of Western United States, search for the title at www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers

Favorite flowering shrubs

American Plum, Prunus americana

Golden Currant, Ribes aureum

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana

Redosier Dogwood, Cornus sericea

Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia

Woods Rose, Rosa woodsii

Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa

Favorite perennial flowers

Lewis flax, Linum lewisii

Beardtongue species, Penstemon spp.

Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera

Wild Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata

Dotted Gayfeather, Liatris punctata

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia

Aster (fall-blooming), Symphyotrichum spp.

2016-4squash-honey bee worker - Barb Gorges

A honey bee worker climbs out of a female squash flower. Pollen grains still stick to it and will hopefully be transferred to another female squash flower, as they were to this blossom. Photo by Barb Gorges.


Winter sowing

 

Winter sown seeds 3 - Michelle Bohanan - by Barb Gorges

Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan displays one of the milk jugs she uses for winter sowing.

Published Mar. 6, 2016, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Winter sowing starts garden at perfect time.”

By Barb Gorges

When I asked her for tips on starting perennial seeds this spring, Laramie County master gardener Michelle Bohanan said, “winter sowing.” I soon discovered it is an increasingly popular concept and practice.

Winter sowing is what our native and other temperate zone plants do naturally. After they set seed, the flowers and fruits dry. Within months or years, they either shatter and release the seeds, a messy bird picks at them, or the wind blows them. You might shred a few dried flower heads yourself from time to time.

The seeds eventually come in contact with the ground where they are subjected to moisture and cold. That, and the cycles of freezing and thawing, eventually break the seed coat which is necessary if it is tougher than the strength of the seedling.

Surprisingly, many seeds require light to germinate. Day length, or cumulative solar warmth, tells them when it is safe to sprout.

With our occasional spring snowstorms, it’s good that not all seeds, even of the same variety or species, require the same exact amount of light and heat. If the first up are frozen out, the slower germinating fill in behind.

Of course, the plants that have winter sowing down to a fine art are the weeds.

The problem with merely sprinkling seed over your flower bed is that seed is expensive and you don’t know how hungry your local birds and mice are going to be.

It occurred to New York state gardener Trudi Davidoff to safeguard her winter sowing by seeding in shallow, covered containers she set out in her garden. In spring, there was no need to harden off the seedlings since they were already acclimated to the outdoors. She merely transferred them into her garden. Another benefit? No need for grow lights or heat mats. She’s been spreading the word since.

 

Winter sown seeds 1 by Barb Gorges

Cut the milk jug just below the handle, forming a pot 4 inches deep, and a separate cover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to winter sow

 

I visited Bohanan on a nasty day in January with half a foot of snow on the ground. I brought along a translucent plastic gallon milk jug and a little packet of alpine aster seed I’d received in a seed exchange.

With a pair of heavy-duty scissors, Bohanan punctured the jug just below the handle and cut all the way around, creating a 4-inch high pot and a separate cover. She put in about 3 inches of her favorite commercial potting soil, already moistened.

Next, she spilled a couple dozen seeds onto a plastic container lid and with a toothpick, sorted through them, kicking out any unfertilized seeds. They look lighter because they don’t have the germ of the seed needed for germination.

Winter sown seeds 2 by Barb Gorges

Seeds that require light to germinate are placed touching the surface of the potting soil. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Like many small seeds, these require light, so Bohanan gently pressed 16 into the soil but didn’t bury them. Then she forced the upper half of the milk jug, upright, into the bottom half to protect the seeds, leaving off the jug’s cap.

 

In other, wetter climates, the top and bottom can be slashed to allow snow and rain to water the seeds and then drain, but in our drier climate, Bohanan has had, over seven years, good results without making additional openings.

However, I found I had to puncture the bottoms after the snow on top of my jugs began to melt.

On the Internet, a search for “winter sowing” shows many kinds of recycled containers. The bottom needs to be at least 3 inches deep for the soil and the top needs to clear the soil surface by at least 2 inches. The top also needs to be clear or translucent. You provide adequate ventilation and drainage openings as needed.

On the jug in permanent marker Bohanan wrote the name, source and number of seeds and the date of planting.

Winter sown seeds 4 by Barb Gorges

The planted milk jugs can be safely left out in the cold and snow. The seeds will sprout in the spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Back at home, I put the milk jug in a snowdrift on the northeast side of our back fence. While I wait for spring, I’ll empty more milk jugs and try planting more seeds.

 

Bohanan already had 35 jugs going and figured she was only 25 percent of the way through her winter sowing plans.

This technique is easier than my experience last year sprouting orange butterfly weed—a type of milkweed. I had to leave the seeds, planted in moist potting soil and covered with plastic, in my refrigerator for 6 weeks to achieve “stratification,” the term for this cold treatment.  Other seeds need scarification, scratching a break in the seed coat, and this winter sowing method can help.

Maintenance

While seeds left lying on the ground require no help from us, ones in containers do.

Bohanan’s milk jugs have the opening at the top, plus the gaps where the upper part of the jug is pressed into the bottom, that allow for some snow and rain to seep in and some heat to escape when it warms up in the spring. She forgoes slits in the bottom because she puts some jugs in her unheated sunroom and would rather not have them leak on the floor.

However, she does check her jugs regularly to make sure they don’t dry out, especially the ones under cover of her hoop house. She can tell by the lighter color of the soil (although this doesn’t work for all potting soils), or she can lift the jug and tell by the weight if it needs watering.

Knowing how much water to add might be a trick, and if you think you might be prone to overwatering, you should probably add bottom drainage openings.

When the weather gets warm, to keep seedlings from baking, it is necessary to pull the top off and prop it on the bottom diagonally or even remove it entirely during the day.

Timing and location

All of this still sounds easier and cheaper than setting up lights or buying starts next spring. With our last frost nearly three months away, there is enough time to accommodate even seeds that need 8 weeks of cold.

But figuring out where to put your jugs is also important. Placed along the south-facing wall of your house may cause some seedlings to sprout too soon. Along a north-facing wall may delay them. But the mini-greenhouses are easy to move. Just experiment.

What to grow

Try native perennials from our northern temperate climate, Zone 5 or colder, especially if you are turning your lawn into bird, butterfly and bee-friendly habitat. Popular flowers include varieties of penstemon, coreopsis, milkweed and gaillardia.

Try cold-tolerant vegetables from the cabbage family, herbs and flowering annuals, but probably not slow-starting annuals like petunias. It would take all summer for them to finally bloom.

The seeds of tropical plants, like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, may also get started too late to produce before first fall frost. Instead, see tomato growing advice archived at www.CheyenneGardenGossip.wordpress.com.

Resources

Winter Sown, www.wintersown.org: Trudi Davidoff’s site.

Dave’s Garden, http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/ws: Gardeners all over the country have recorded their success winter sowing a variety of plants, but be aware of what zone they report from.

Alplains, http://www.alplains.com/: This catalog specializes in native plant seeds and has essential propagation information. However, use the following website to translate the Latin names.

The Missouri Botanic Garden’s Plant Finder, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/: This is one of Bohanan’s favorite sources of information.

Typical native perennials for the Cheyenne, Wyoming area: Blanketflower, Gaillardia spp.; Gayfeather, Liatris punctata; Tickseed, Coreopsis spp.; Beardtongue, Penstemon spp.; Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia spp. All photos by Barb Gorges.


Hail Busters keep icy vandals away

Hail Buster demo

Pete Michael demonstrates how easy it is to remove a Hail Buster from one of his raised beds. When in use, the corner posts hold it above the foliage. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Aug. 17, 2014 in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Garden Hail Busters: Keep icy vandals from destroying your plants”

By Barb Gorges

How bad was the hail damage in your garden this summer?

After three hail storms decimated gardens in various parts of Cheyenne, I decided to look into how one man uses what he calls “Hail Busters.”

Pete Michael also busts bad guys for a living. As the Wyoming attorney general, he’s the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

As it turns out, he’s perfected a system for keeping hail behind bars. Well, bouncing off half-inch hardware cloth, anyway.

One popular hail protection device used around town is what I think of as the “duck and cover” method. At the sound of the first hailstone on the roof, you duck outside and cover your garden with a tarp or blanket, hopefully not getting injured yourself.

One variation is to install a series of poles in middle of the garden ahead of time so that the weight of the covering and the hail doesn’t flatten the plants.

Another variation is the one my husband, Mark used. He is growing all our tomatoes and most of our eggplants and peppers in containers this year. He runs out and drags them under the patio roof.

Shredded rhubarb leaf

Hail shredded this rhubarb leaf in minutes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The problem is that you may not be home when hail hits. Or you may not be quick enough, or the tomatoes have gotten too big to lug around. Thus, in our garden we had scars on the tomato stems, shredded rhubarb leaves and a puddle of rose petals.

Low tunnel

The first contraption Pete showed me that he’d built was essentially a “low tunnel,” often used for season extension.

His is a 16-foot long portable wooden frame 3 feet wide that sits on the ground. Plastic tubing meant for circulating water in radiant floor heating makes 2-foot high hoops spanning the width at 18-inch intervals. The ends of the hoops fit into attached 6-inch lengths of electrical conduit pipe.

Low tunnel

A portable low tunnel saved one of Pete’s squash plantings from hail devastation. Sections of electrical conduit hold the ends of plastic tubing hoops. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The whole thing is like a covered wagon with white polyester floating row cover (he uses Agribon) stretched tight and kept in place with strips of lathe nailed over it around the wooden frame. The long loose ends are pulled together and staked out to keep the wind from lifting the frame.

Pete is growing fancy squash that profited from the extra heat of being covered. And it was protected from the hail July 13—though the cover material is now shot with holes.

Hail Busters

Pete is a serious vegetable grower. He says he’s tried growing just about every vegetable imaginable. His backyard is filled with raised beds 3 feet wide (same width as the hardware cloth comes) by either 6 or 8 feet long. Each has a hail busting wooden frame made with one-by-twos in the same dimensions as the raised bed. The frame is screened with the half-inch hardware cloth, wire screen with half-inch openings. It stops a lot of hail or at least slows it down so it is less damaging.

He built everything with salvaged lumber, but he did say having to buy a roll of the hardware cloth was a bit pricey.

I have seen other gardens built with screen roofs. The difference here is that the roofs, the Hail Busters, can be set at different heights depending on plant growth.

The tomato cages in one raised bed are sturdy enough that the screen lays on top of them.

In other beds, several stakes planted in the bed support the screen. When it’s time to tend the plants, the screen can be set aside.

A lot of hail comes sideways, but these beds are close together, offering some protection.

Multi-purpose

Hail protection turns out to be only one use for these screens.

Two raised beds become cold frames in the fall. Their screen tops, built with more substantial 2-by-4s, are hinged to the raised beds on one side, then covered with salvaged clear plastic. Pete finds much of his salvaged materials just from being observant.

Early in the growing season, when birds might otherwise steal the seeds he just planted, Pete can lay the regular screens directly on the raised bed frames.

When tender seedlings emerge, the screens keep the bunnies out. And when starting cool season lettuce in August, the screening itself, or some added floating row cover, can give them necessary shade.

In the fall, floating row cover—or blankets—are easily supported to protect vegetables on freezing nights, extending the growing season.

Flowers in hail

Growing vegetables under cover is one thing, but no one who admires flowers would want to look at them through Hail Busters unless they were growing a valuable crop for market or seed.

Pete does grow flowers, without cover, including a magnificent stretch of hollyhocks in the middle of a vegetable bed located between the sidewalk and street. They were a little worn looking from the hail two weeks before, as were the thick bunches of Shasta daisies growing around the house. The big beds of penstemons at the front gate had gone to seed.

His secret is to grow perennials. Annuals, which people plant at the beginning of the season and which are supposed to bloom continually until they die in the first frost, are easily wiped out by hail.

But, he said, perennials bloom in waves—if you are strategic. Say your penstemons are at their peak when the hail comes and knocks off all their flowers (their stems tend to be tougher than your average annual). After the storm, you can decide whether they look bad enough to cut back, or if they just need a bit of trimming, leaving them with plenty of green to continue photosynthesizing, storing energy for next year.

But coming up behind the penstemons might be your daisies. At the time of the storm, their buds were small enough to be missed by the icy missiles.

And if you choose perennials with skinny leaves, they aren’t as much of a target for hail.

Pete also has a very nifty greenhouse with 5/16-inch glass touted to be hurricane resistant. He has lots of progressive ideas on organic gardening, which he admits he gets from his son, who with his wife, has a Community Supported Agriculture operation.

It’s the Hail Busters though, that keep hail away and give Pete peace of mind.

Scarred tomato stem

Though hail has scarred the stem of an unprotected tomato plant, two weeks later, a new shoot shows it is on its way to recovery. There may be time to grow a tomato before frost. Photo by Barb Gorges.


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.


Drip Irrigation; July Garden Report

drip irrigation filter

Drip irrigation filter.

drip irrigation timer

A drip irrigation timer is something we added later.

drip irrigation parts

Drip irrigation (from top left): punch gun, 1/4-inch tubing, emitters, loop stakes, 1/4-inch barbed couplings.

Published July 15, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Irrigate your garden: Setting up a drip system isn’t as complex or time-consuming as you might think, and your garden will thank you later.”

By Barb Gorges

A watched garden never grows, it seems. But go away for a week and the change is significant, thanks to our pet sitter’s help.

She must have a green thumb, and the new drip irrigation system made it easier for her to be successful.

Drip installation

Installing drip is easy enough. It only took two trips to the store—we forgot to buy an end cap—and two extra trips because the clerk accidently let us go home with underground sprinkler tubing, which does not work with drip emitters—it is too thick.

Actual installation, including 25 emitters at the ends of 25 spaghetti tubes, took about as long as driving round trip to the store four times—just over two hours.

It is best if the tubing and fittings are all from the same company, although you’ll use general plumbing materials to get from the typical ¾-inch-diameter home faucet to the recommended ½-inch-diameter drip tubing for home use.

To give you an idea of cost, here is my shopping list (in order of installation from the faucet):

$3 – Vacuum breaker (3/4-inch), a simple backflow preventer keeps water in the hose or drip tubing from getting sucked back into your household water supply.

$11 – Y-connector (3/4-inch), allows you to hook up the drip system and a hose at the same time and turn them on independently.

$5 – Water pressure regulator (3/4-inch), to prevent blowing up your drip tubing when you turn the water on.

$10 – Y-filter (3/4-inch). There are other types, but all keep sediment in the water from clogging emitters.

$6 – Length of PVC pipe, cement, converter to ½-inch tubing, etc. We had the PVC pipe extend to ground level and then attach to the drip tubing.

$0.80 – ½-inch elbow fitting. The tubing is so flexible we didn’t need more than one elbow. There are also T-fittings so that you can have the tubing branch off, down each row of vegetables or to each raised bed. The fittings are forced onto the ends of the tubing—no tool required.

$10 – ½-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners

$1.50 – Bag of 10 ½-inch loop stakes to hold the tubing in place.

$10 – Punch gun, makes the right size holes in the ½-inch tubing to fit the emitters or barbed couplings attaching the ¼-inch tubing.

$2 – Bag of 25 ¼-inch barbed couplings to pop into the holes in the ½-inch tubing to connect the ¼-inch-diameter tubing. Each hole corresponds to a plant you want to water. These barbs are not needed if you run your ½-inch tubing right next to each plant and put an emitter in each hole.

$7 – ¼-inch tubing, 100 feet, cuts easily with pruners. I used plain tubing, but there’s also tubing with holes every so many inches, or tubing of a porous material—soaker tubing.

$4 – Bag of 10 emitters, either 1 gallon per hour or 2, to pop into the holes on the ½-inch tubing. Or, if you use plain ¼-inch tubing extensions, you pop them into the ends of those tubes. You can also install little sprinklers that spray instead of emitters which only drip, but that defeats the idea of saving water by keeping it from becoming airborne and evaporating. See box for gallons per hour calculations.

$2 – Bag of “goof plugs” in case you have punched a hole you don’t want and need to plug it.

$1.50 – Bag of 10 ¼-inch loop stakes for holding the ¼-inch tubing in place.

$1 – end cap, ½-inch. If you don’t have this on the far end of your ½-inch tubing, you just have a holey hose!

We already had some Teflon tape and a wrench for all the plumbing connections so I didn’t count them.

Because I set up my system for 25 plants, I had to buy multiple packages of emitters, barbs and loop stakes. My total was $90. But remember, I’m saving water.

Best estimates are that the plastic components could last as long as four years, especially if I keep the tubing covered in mulch, out of the sunlight that could deteriorate it.

Is it worth it? Yes. Our pet sitter was successful in keeping our vegetables alive during 90 to 100-degree days by just turning on and off the water. We could put a timer on if we had no pet sitter.

Drip in the perennial desert

While I was away, I did a spot of gardening at my mother’s in Albuquerque, in the New Mexico desert. In her neighborhood, migrant Midwesterners have planted a lot of trees and lawns, though there are a lot of natives such as agave and yucca.

Mom has no lawn. Instead, she has a huge perennial garden on drip irrigation. Because the plants aren’t in neat rows like vegetables, she uses ¼-inch soaker tubing attached to the main tubing and winds it around the plants.

Mom grows xeric (needing less water) varieties of some of our favorite perennial flowers from our Midwestern childhoods, including roses, though sometimes, she says, it seems like she’s growing annual roses.

Snails are a big problem. They come out after rain or watering and devour tender plants. They are over an inch in diameter. Maybe if you feed them expensive plants like roses, you could sell them to expensive restaurants as escargot.

July Garden report   

I gave up on the nasturtium seeds I planted (yes, I soaked them 24 hours first) after three weeks and replaced the three inches of mulch, but when I came home I found they had popped through at last. Other than tree seedlings which I pull, and random sunflowers which I let grow, there are no weeds in the vegetable garden, thanks to the dried leaf mulch over-laid with grass clippings each week.

It’s now easy to see I’m growing two types of tomatoes, even though both are cherries. The red cherry tomatoes are indeterminate, never ending their growth. The clue was seed packet directions to plant them 3 feet apart. The plants were three feet tall by the end of June and needed tying to the trellis. They will continue to grow all season, producing tomatoes as they go. Wonder of wonders, I could see little green fruits June 25, one month after transplanting.

The yellow cherry tomatoes, “Gold Nugget” variety, didn’t say they were determinate, but the seed packet said to plant them one per square foot. They are only half as tall as the reds and apparently they will produce their crop all at once, even though they already had flowers developing by mid-June.

The cosmos I started from seed got their first blooms mid-June, however the strawflowers and heliotropes are still meditating.

Out among the perennials, the perennial bachelor buttons (Centaurea montana), painted daisies, and columbine are finished, the penstemons almost. Shasta daisy, black-eyed Susan, bee balm and gaillardia are filling in. The agastache planted late last summer should bloom for the hummingbirds which usually come through mid-July to early August.

The herbs: oregano, basil, lavender, rosemary, sage (culinary, that is—not sagebrush), thyme and lemon balm, don’t have showy flowers but the rubbed leaves smell good and sometimes Mark cooks with them.

It will be a little while yet before we can cook with the vegetables from the garden.

Note: I’m interested in hearing from more readers about how to deal with hail.

BOX

Gallons per hour calculations

Which emitters you chose, 1 or 2 gallons per hour, depends on how much water pressure you have, how quickly your ground soaks up water and how long you want to leave the system on during each watering. You can mix them in the same system if some plants need more water than others.

If your faucet flows at 100 gallons per hour, you could, theoretically, use up to 100 1-gallon or 50 2-gallon per hour emitters.

How much water does your faucet produce per hour? Figure out how long it takes for it to fill a 1-gallon container. Take that amount of time and divide it into the number of seconds in an hour. If it takes 10 seconds to fill, divide 10 into 3600 seconds in an hour and you have the rate of 360 gallons per hour.