Early Spring Gardening

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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.

For example, most catalogs or seed packets list days to maturity for vegetables, but only a few mention how long it takes for flowers to bloom. Are they talking about the length of time it takes for a plant to mature a crop from seed—or transplants? And how old a transplant?  In addition, when you compare catalogs from different parts of the country, days to maturity vary even for the same kind of tomato or bean. Clearly this concept is more complicated than it first appears.

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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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