What to Grow?

Seed catalogs_LAH_2733January. The start of a new year. The start of a new garden. As I contemplate my empty veggie beds, I feel like a race car driver waiting at the starting line. “Gentlemen (gentlewomen?), start your engines!”

This year is truly new in another way. We moved last year, and I no longer have a my huge veggie garden. I used to have twelve, 4ˈ x 12ˈ beds, plus four 4ˈ x 4ˈ herb beds, plus a series of 2ˈ wide border beds around the entire area, ideal for pole beans, peas, and perennials (lovage, currants, berries, asparagus). Now I have two, 4ˈ x 10ˈ raised beds. Two. Well, we intended to downsize, right?

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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”

Spinach

spinach_dbg_20100417_lah_2909True confessions… I am allergic to spinach. Very sad, I know. So, I don’t grow it. Everything I’m about to tell you about spinach cultivation I learned from such wise gardeners as David Whiting, Colorado State University professor and State Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program, and Diane E. Bilderback, one of my favorite garden writers (and, along with Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, author of my favorite veggie gardening book, Garden Secrets).

The first tricky thing about spinach is when to plant it. Being extremely day-length sensitive, it is sure to bolt when it receives 14 or more hour of daylight per day. You can squeeze in a crop as soon as the weather is warm enough (and thankfully, spinach is relatively hardy), or wait until days are getting shorter again and plant for a fall harvest.

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My Favorite Cucumbers

cucumber-greenhouse-2008sept08-lah-314Sliced onto a green salad, garnishing Thai food, chopped and added to chicken sandwich spread, pickled on a burger, or just sprinkled with salt and munched as a snack, cucumbers are as cool as, well, a cucumber, and the perfect food for the hot days of summer.

Cucumbers hail from hot and humid southeast Asia, a climate that couldn’t be more different from high, dry Colorado. I’ve often imagined a baby cucumber seedling popping its cotyledons out of the ground, only to be hit with the cold, dry winds of spring. Realizing cruel fate has somehow caused it to end up in Colorado, it immediately despairs, shrivels, and dies!

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My Favorite Summer Squash

zucchini-home-2008sept23-lah-250The fun thing about growing any kind of summer squash is that no matter which variety you choose, you’re likely to be blessed with a bumper crop. Not only that, but zucchini tastes a lot like patty pan which tastes a lot like crookneck which tastes a lot like the new globular introductions. It’s hard to go wrong.

However, there are subtle differences. I’ve trialed a number of varieties. Surprisingly, some varieties succumbed to a heat wave, hail storm, or torrential downpour, while others persevered.  Others took too long to produce a crop. I find the days to harvest given in the catalogs have little in common with what actually happens in my garden, probably because our nights are so cool.

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My Favorite Beans

pole-beans_colospgs-co_lah_4953If you planted green beans in May, and your garden survived our huge hail storm in June, you should be looking forward to your first harvest this month. While we sweat and complain about the record highs, beans like it hot and they’ve been growing like crazy.

There are hundreds of bean varieties, and even catalogs that specialize in beans of all sorts. I’ll share my favorites. Which ones are yours?

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My Favorite Eggplants

eggplant_dbg-co_lah_9256Eggplant Parmigiana, Moussaka, Moroccan Eggplant Salad, Baba Ganoush… there are plenty of delicious ways to eat eggplant. Growing it in Colorado is a whole different story. A native of warm and humid southeast Asia, it takes a bit of persuasion to convince this tomato family member to thrive in our cool, dry climate.

As Colorado gardeners, we have all sorts of tricks to modify the microclimate around our plants and extend a too-short growing season. Cloches, cold frames, copious use of plastic and accessories such as Wall ‘ O Water are all helpful. However, choosing the right varieties can mean the difference between crop failure and Ratatouille. (For more on how to grow eggplant, see the CSU Fact Sheet on “Peppers and Eggplants.”)

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Which Varieties are Best for Colorado?

seed-catalogs_lah_2733Seed catalogs are beginning to arrive in our mailboxes. With all the brightly colored photos of perfect vegetables and flowers, it’s tempting to order one (or more!) of each. Most of us, however, have limited garden space. We need to make some hard decisions.

Which varieties should we order? What will thrive in Colorado? Which ones really taste the best?

Most catalogs have some sort of icon indicating which variety does best across the country. The problem is that we don’t live in the rest of the country. We live in Colorado. Our soils, weather, water, even the quality of light here are all different from most of the United States. When a company recommends a product that grows well in Pennsylvania, or California, or Arizona, there is no assurance that it will do as well here.

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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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Carrots

800px-Karotten-1Carrots thrive in my garden. I have sandy soil that is dug and amended about 18 inches deep. The sawdust I added years ago is now dark humus. The roots are safely underground, and when hailstones pummel the ferny foliage it bends rather than breaks.

Growing carrots is easy, once they germinate. When planted in cool soil, the seeds can take three weeks before sprouts appear. Yet, if you wait too long, it’s very difficult to keep the seedbed damp as the weather warms. My solution is to plant around May 1 – 15, then use a drip irrigation mister attached to a timer to keep the soil from drying out.

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