Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


Keeping Garden Records

veggies

Some of my veggie harvest variety: green beans, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and summer squash.

Published Sept. 15, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Be a happy gardener: It starts by keeping records of the successes and failures of your bounty. Gardener Barb Gorges shows you how with her own personal notes.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s surprising what I will forget a few months from now as I page through seed catalogs or shop at garden centers.

Now is the best time to make notes and analyze this year’s successes and failures. Before doing so, I took a quick look at what two other gardeners do.

Along with her garden journal notating weather and garden improvements, Wendy Douglass, master gardener in Cheyenne, has a method for tracking her new perennials. She makes a 5×7-inch card for each, attaching the tag from the nursery, recording where the plant was bought, the date and location planted and any helpful horticultural notes.

Wendy also marks each new plant with a palm-sized, flattish rock on which she writes the plant’s name and date planted using oil-based Sharpie markers. In spring, these rocks may become little gravestones for plants that don’t make it through the winter, but at least they aren’t forgotten. And their cards are moved to the “Deceased” file.

Catherine Wissner, University of Wyoming Laramie County Extension horticulturalist, tracks the productivity of the vegetables growing in her high tunnel greenhouse by weighing nearly everything. She jots notes in the field all season long, and during the winter, she adds them to a simple record-keeping system she has devised using Excel.

calendar record

My harvest and bloom records are kept on a calendar during the growing season.

I like the Excel idea because it is easy to insert new information and add pages. My computer is better organized than the binders I have tried to use in the past. Plus, I can insert digital photos.

Here are notes for my vegetable garden. Almost all were plants I grew from seed and transplanted or direct seeded between May 24-27. “Maturity” means number of days between transplanting or direct seeding in the garden until the first fruit is harvested—according to the seed companies.

Under “Harvested” are my actual days to maturity as well as the numbers and weights of fruits harvested as of Sept. 8.

It wasn’t a large garden, but it provided enough fresh produce for two, plus guests, for over six weeks.

Beans, bush

“Bountiful,” Pinetree Garden Seed. Direct seeded about 12 plants. Maturity: 46 days. Harvested: 64-107 days, 1 lb. Despite being classified as “bush,” they need a trellis to better protect them from slugs. I removed all but two plants after the initial damage.

 

Beets

Beets, Early Wonder

Beets

“Early Wonder,” heirloom, PGS. Direct seeded 3 by 4 foot area. Maturity: 50 days. Harvested: 60-90 days, 1.3 lbs. plus very edible greens. Remember to thin so the beets get bigger.

Cabbage

Both could have used floating row cover to protect them from cabbage butterfly caterpillars–cabbage worms. There was too much shade after the tomatoes grew up.

—–“Pak Choy,” Bounty Beyond Belief. Transplanted 6. Maturity: 45-60 days. Harvested a few leaves before the plants bolted in June, then other leaves were eaten by pests.

—–“Red Express,” Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Transplanted 6. Maturity: 63 days. Harvested: 60 days, 2 ounces—no heads really developed and most of the leaves were holey.

Carrots

“Parisian,” heirloom, PGS. Direct seeded 2 by 3 foot area. Maturity: 55 days. Harvested: 60 days, 2 oz. Have taken only samples so far and will harvest the rest after frost. For all the work and water, I want bigger carrots next time, though these are cute little round things.

Cucumbers

Grown under and over wood lathe A-frame trellis, barely affected by hail.

—–“Spacemaster,” PGS. Direct seeded and only one plant sprouted. Maturity: 59 days. Harvested: 85 days onward, 3 fruits, 0.75 lb. Many flowers, but they didn’t seem to get pollinated. Not very tasty.

—–“Muchmore,” from Kathy Shreve. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 54 days. Harvested: 74 days onward, 19 fruits, 4.4 lbs. so far. Tasty.

—“Sweeter Yet,” from Kathy Shreve. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 48 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 5 fruits, 2 lbs. Also tasty.

Eggplant

Used containers on the hot and sunny patio, with potting soil amended with leaf compost. Hail slowed flowering. Expect only a few more fruits before frost.

—–“Orient Express” hybrid, JSS. Transplanted 3 in containers. Maturity: 58 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 13 fruits, 2.3 lbs.

—–“Fairy Tale,” trade with friend. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 50 days. Harvested: 65 days onward, 25 fruits, 2 lbs. Very pretty purple and white streaks.

Peppers, sweet

“Lunch Box Red,” JSS. Transplanted 6 into containers. Maturity: 55 days green, 75 for red. Harvested: 60 days green, 90 days red, 35 fruits, 0.75 lbs., another 51 ripening. Plants in the bigger containers were much more productive.

Pumpkin

“Cinderella,” also known as “Rouge vif d’Etampes,” from seed saved from purchased pumpkin. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 110 days. Harvested:  107 days, 1 pumpkin, 18 lbs. A second, much smaller pumpkin succumbed to a fungus before it could mature.

 Squash, Summer

“Yellow Crookneck,” heirloom, PGS. Transplanted  1. Maturity: 42 days. Harvested: 70 days onward, 22 fruits, 6.5 lbs. so far.

Squash, Winter

“Australian Blue,” from seed saved from purchased squash. Transplanted 1. Maturity: 110-120 days. Male and female flowers didn’t seem to bloom at the same time. A fruit began forming mid-August and probably won’t ripen before frost.

tomatoes

Tomatoes from my garden.

Tomatoes

Started three of the four from seed and planted 1 each in containers with potting soil amended with leaf compost. Needed fish emulsion fertilizer every week or two.

—–“Gold Nugget” yellow cherry, determinate, PGS. Maturity: 55 days. Harvested: 60 days onward, 137 fruits, 3 lbs. so far.

—–“Large Red Cherry,” indeterminate, American Seed.  Maturity: 55-60 days. Harvested: 70 days onward, 65 fruit, 3 lbs. so far.  A substantial cage would work better than tying it to a stake.

—–“Silvery Fir Tree” heirloom, determinate, from Master Gardener sale. Maturity: 58 days. Harvested: 75 days onward, 41 fruit, 8.5 lbs. so far. Tastes fine.

—-“Early Girl” hybrid, indeterminate, Ferry-Morse. Maturity: 52 days. Harvested: 83 days onward, 23 fruit, 7.5 lbs. so far. Needs substantial cage for support. Luckily, tomatoes were hard and green at the time of the hail storms and only sustained a few scars.

Pests and diseases

Slugs got most of the beans and infested the cucumbers and squash, but daily examination, beer traps and watering less cut them down from 36 on the worst day to only a few each day.

Other problems, such as the fungus on the pumpkin, powdery mildew on the squash leaves, leaf miners on the beet leaves, and cabbage worms on the cabbage, will all benefit from crop rotation. With my garden only measuring 14 by 14 feet, too small to rotate within, I’m thinking about next year planting kinds of vegetables I haven’t tried at all yet: Maybe corn or alfalfa, or maybe more containers in a different part of the yard.

I also think damage from hail made my plants more susceptible to disease and pests.

Weeds

I had no weeds, unless you count the cherry tomato that popped up among the beets, or the sunflowers planted by the birds, which attracted bees.

My leaf mulch and intensive style of gardening prevents weeds, though I have to be more careful not to provide damp and shady slug habitat.

Final analysis

Having harvested 60 pounds of produce as of Sept. 8 from my shady garden, with maybe another 10 pounds of tomatoes still ripening, and given the two hail storms, I’m happy with my production. I’ll continue to keep a lookout for more short-season vegetable varieties.

What was your experience this summer? What advice do you have for a novice vegetable gardener like me? Shot me an email.

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

Gold Nugget tomatoes

Gold Nugget cherry tomatoes are an early, determinate variety.

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

By Barb Gorges

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

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

Pruning

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

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

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

Harvesting

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

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

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

Note-taking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter harvest planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annual flowers

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

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

Garden report

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

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