Early Spring Gardening

Crocus_DBG_LAH_7230r-001

Springtime in the Rockies can challenge a gardener’s patience. One day, the snow is flying fast and furious, and the next the sun comes out and you can’t wait to get outside. Anyone who has lived here a year or more knows better than to plant this early; winter is slow to let go, sometimes lingering until mid-May. Yet, those gorgeous sunny days just beg for time spent in the garden. Go ahead—there are plenty of other chores that need our attention.

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All-America Selections

Tithonia_Mexican Sunflower_DBG_LAH_7143-001As the seed catalogs pile up on my nightstand, the choices become overwhelming. It’s hard enough to choose which flowers and veggies to grow this coming year. But then there are page after page of cultivars to choose from.

This isn’t a new problem. As is true today, the 1930s was a time when plant breeders were creating a lot of “improved” flower and vegetable cultivars. Were they really better than the old standards? With all the new choices, how could home gardeners know which were the best? Continue reading “All-America Selections”

Gardening with Children: What to Grow

Lathyrus odoratus_Sweet peas_CoSpgs-CO_LAH_6185When you plant a seed with a child, you never know what will grow. I have a vivid memory of sowing sweet pea seeds with my mother; I must have been all of three or four years old. We dug a trench against our back fence. Then my chubby fingers placed each seed exactly in its place. I can still close my eyes and see the lavender, pink, and white seeds, coated to indicate what color the flowers would be. Then we covered them up and I patted the dirt smooth. In a few months we had armfuls of fragrant blossoms filling vases all over the house. Growing those sweet peas turned me into a life-long gardener, and to this day they are my favorite flower. Continue reading “Gardening with Children: What to Grow”

Seeds for Colorado

Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page
Glass Gem Corn. Photo: Seeds Trust Facebook page

I love getting seed catalogs in the mail. The flowers are so big and bright, and the veggies are worthy of blue ribbons. Everything looks absolutely perfect. Just order these seeds and you too can have results like this!

Except, we live in Colorado. There’s a very good reason most seed companies are situated in places like South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, where the soil is fertile and the climate is conducive to growing most crops. With our erratic weather, often we don’t have time to ripen those luscious tomatoes. Long-season flowers freeze before they bloom. Isn’t there a seed company for us?

Yes, there is. Appropriately named High Altitude Gardens specializes in short season, cold-hardy varieties that thrive at higher elevations. If you live in the mountains, this is the seed catalog for you!

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“Days to Maturity”

tomatoes-greenhouse-2008sept08-lah-296When can I pick my tomatoes? Will these melons ripen in my short growing season? If I plant these flowers from seed, when will I have blooms?

“Days to maturity” is one of the most important factors in determining what we can grow in our high altitude gardens. Technically, this number tells the gardener how long a particular crop or variety takes, on average, to yield a harvestable crop. However, it’s all a bit fuzzy.

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Give a Harvest of Hope

harvest-of-hope-catalogHave you finished your Christmas shopping yet? Christmas is only two days away! Well, if you’re still scratching your head searching for ideas, I have just the thing for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list. And if you are done with your shopping, may I add one more person for you to shop for—someone you don’t know and will probably never meet?

All during the holidays, garden catalogs have been piling up on my desk. I usually promise myself that I won’t open a single one until I have written all my Christmas thank you notes, cleaned the house, and packed up all the decorations. I know once I start reading about beans and lettuce, I’ll be distracted for weeks.

Except… there is one catalog that I open right away.

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Abusing Your Seeds

If you’re having trouble getting some of your seeds to germinate, it may be that you’re being too nice to them. Armed with tough defenses against all that nature can throw at them, some seeds refuse to grow unless they’re forced to. This year, consider seed assault and battery, followed by water torture. Here’s how to abuse your seeds.

Scarification

Morning Glories have hard seed coats.
Morning Glories have extremely hard seed coats.

The coat of some seeds is very hard and tough. Normally, this protects the seed and ensures that conditions for germination are favorable. In nature, seeds may pass through the digestive tract of a bird or animal, or be burned in a fire. A hard seed coat gives these seeds a longer storage life as well.

Since you’re unlikely to eat or roast your seeds, you need to provide another way for air and water to reach the tiny embryo inside that armored seed coat. Using chemical or mechanical means to create a weak spot or crack in the seed coat is called “scarification.”

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Giving Your Seeds the Cold Shoulder

Bleeding Heart seeds need chilling.
Bleeding Heart seeds need chilling.

Are you itching to get started on your spring garden?

Regardless of the prognostication of groundhogs, those of us living in the high country can expect far more than six additional weeks of winter. It’s only the end of February, and we can get snow through May and even into June. Yet, reports of crocuses and rhododendrons from other parts of the country waken in us hope that there must be something we can be doing now.

If you placed your seed order last month, odds are you’ve received your seeds. You’re desperate to plant some, but you know it’s way too early. Overgrown, leggy seedlings are failures in the garden.

Well, you’re in luck. You can—you should—get started on some of those seeds.

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Sprouting a Harvest

sprouts_lah_5506pThe snowflakes are flying, but you can still have fresh crunchy greens for your salad and sandwiches. How? Homegrown sprouts are easy to produce right there on your kitchen counter.

Alfalfa sprouts have been popular for decades, and are a good place to start, but there are many other options. Clover sprouts are delicious, reminding you of spring. Mung bean and lentil sprouts may be eaten raw or added to stir-frys. Broccoli and radish seeds have a decided zing to them, while onions will wake up your taste buds. Among the grains, wheat berries and rye are your best choices.
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Peas & Carrots

Peas and carrots are a classic couple in the kitchen, but what about the garden?

Normally, peas are sown in early spring. The traditional date is St. Patrick’s Day. While that may work in gentler climes, at 7,000 ft. elevation I would need a drill to create holes in my frozen ground. I usually plant a month later, on Tax Day. At least it gives me something to enjoy on that date.

This year, weekly snowstorms have delayed all my gardening chores. I finally got my peas into the ground on May 6. I don’t have great expectations for the harvest. Maybe we’ll have a cool start to the summer, and my husband will get to enjoy his Sugar Snaps. Maybe not. That’s the gamble of gardening in Colorado.

carrots-csu-lah-058Carrots, on the other hand, are usually planted a week or two before the average last frost date. The cool temperatures and snow-damp soil help keep the seeds from drying out during the three weeks it takes them to germinate.

This year, I sowed carrots on the same day as the peas. At least they’re right on schedule. I took the time to arrange the seeds in blocks of 16 per square foot, so I won’t have much thinning to do later. In my 4 x 4 foot carrot bed, that gives me 256 carrots—plenty for our needs.

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