Sunday, February 9, 2014

A $50 Greenhouse for your Garden!

This is the perfect affordable greenhouse to add to your garden.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Garden Update: After-Blizzard(s) Comeback in May

The Tax Day Storm

After a 2012 Spring that began in February, and a warm 2013 March, it seemed like Climate Change had permanently reset our garden clocks, and it was time to gear up and plant full force.  Colorado likes to build up hopes like this, and then bury them under feet of snow.  Literally.

Three successive storm systems dumped more than 3 feet of snow on Fort Collins, CO in the last weeks of April, or should I say Apruary.  In between each storm, it seemed like we had seen the last of winter, until the new 10-day forecast came out.  Wild fluctuations in temperatures took us from 50s and 60s down to 6 degrees, one particularly harsh night.

Thank goodness we have Wallowaters to protect what we planted early!

Overall, we fared very well.  A few of the tomatoes that had grown out of the top of their Wallowaters had some damage to the leaves, but the plants themselves were in great shape, as you'll see in this update.

So, let's take a tour around the garden, and I'll show you what we've been up to this May.

The Berry Garden is off to a good start, and we've got things going on in all planters.  The look from the West end of the garden is starting to show more green.

Our early lettuce was planted just before the first storm, and there were no sprouts to speak of for those weeks, but they came back strong and we are just starting to see our first edible Lettuce, Spinach, and Kale.

While we thoroughly enjoyed the first Asparagus that came up, we are disappointed to find out that 5 of the 9 clusters are not coming back (so far).  We don't know whether the late cold snap got them, whether they were over watered, or if there is a pest that got to them.  More on this in the future as we figure it out.

The most distinctive feature in this view is the abundant green in the front of the large box (right). That's Arnica taking over, and it's coming back bigger and stronger than ever.  Hard to believe this was a little 2x2 plant we got at the nursery 2 years ago.  In fact, it's coming on so strong, we had to cut out a patch to make room for other plants.  So glad it's in a container!

Blueberries in Colorado are hard to grow (understatement), but we can report that all 3 of our bushes came back this year.  The Duke variety was not looking good most of the month, but it just started sprouting leaves in the past week, and we are happy it's going to make it.  Now we just need it to flower, get pollinated, and produce some berries.  Last year, the flowers came before the bees were out, and we got zilch all season!

Deb didn't want to go big on Broccoli this year, as the plants are so huge, and you really only get a few harvests early - and then they kind of just take up space the rest of the summer.  Well, I talked her into a very small 4-pack, and while we didn't get them in the ground in March/April, it looks like we'll have some good stuff here in June.

Celery is a plant you think you know, but store-bought stuff has taught us to think of it as a bland food.  When you grow your own, the flavors are outstanding, and become a highlight of many dishes and soups.  Particularly soups.  They start out meek and small, but they eventually grow to be behemoths in the garden.  We have two this year, and while they look out of place in the space seen here, they will eventually fill up all this area - with just one plant.  Let them have room to grow, and you'll have an abundant harvest.

We did a test this year on Zucchini with Wallowaters.  We wanted to see if it would speed up germination.  It sure did. In two varieties, we beat one germination by a full week, and the other variety, the non-wallowater seeds never sprouted.

We tried to put some new soil into the Strawberry planter this year because the upper levels had compressed a bit over the past 2 years.  It stunted the growth a bit on the top two levels, but it's no worry - Strawberries are so abundant and spreading that they will overgrow the box guaranteed.  Many many flowers, and hoping to have fruit in about 1-2 weeks.

We love the new Triangle Planter, and how it fits into the garden.  The Onions and Leeks in the rectangle in the foreground will compliment well.

The Triangle Planter has Beets and Carrots this year, and while the Beets are off to a good start, the Carrots are only sprouting slowly.  Now that the weather has warmed, we hope to see them accelerate.

The Triangle Garden features an art piece by Carrie Fecca - a sphere that is decorated with tiles in the shapes of hearts.  It's about 10" in Diameter, and is on a pedestal made by Very Cool Stuff that is solar, and lights up the sphere at night.

The back row will eventually be our Espalier that we've been talking about for years.  We've got the box ready after adding another vertical post (still unpainted), and fixing a blowout on the back side.  The project took longer than anticipated due to the storms, so we are going with Tomatoes in these boxes for the summer (since we had an abundance of plants from seeds this year), and will plant trees (at a discount) at the end of this season.

We are using alternating Green and Red Wallowaters not just for decoration, but also to see which ones lead to better plants.

This is a view from the back yard that include the Golden Delicious Apple tree to the right.  The addition of the Triangle Planter now completes the transition from backyard to Berry Garden, and no longer gives the feeling of separation by a chaotic no-man's land of mulch and half-completed boxes.  

Both Apple trees fared well in spite of the storms.  They wisely held out on blossoming until May, and we were lucky enough to have bees pollinate during the nice weather.  Unfortunately, we just had high winds yesterday that knocked many of the fledgling apples from the trees, so we hope enough survived to finally have a big harvest - it would be our first at this property.  We so miss being able to make Apple Sauce, Pie, and other goodies from our trees.

The original OctoGarden is looking great at the end of May.  A fresh coat of paint has it looking as good as it did it's first season in 2009.  We are encouraged that the design is holding up in it's 5th season, and the long-term looks great.  The wood has finished it's initial warping, and after redoing the soil in two boxes last year, we can report that the paint and plastic used to protect it from the inside is doing it's job - no rotting or deterioration.

In the foreground is the Basil box.  We decided to put 3 varieties into this box this year, as we always have too much Sweet Basil in our 4'x4' box.  Half the box is Sweet, and then the other half is split between Thai Basil and Lemon Basil.

Basil sprouts are just coming up in the last week in May.  We hope to see significant growth in June!

View from the East end of the OctoGarden shows our Peppers and Tomatoes coming up well, and you can see the Garlic rising tall in the center.  Dill and Cilantro have sprouted, and are getting big enough to see from a distance.

Tomatilla sprouts are just starting to come up too.  As you can see, the irrigation is still unsecured in this box, but the water is flowing nicely and getting them ready for summer.

Sunset from the fire pit is one of my favorite views in the garden.  What I haven't figured out yet is how to get the garden to shine with the colors of the sky.  A flash doesn't work.  Ideas?

We had 18 Peppers that were planted before the storms, and have surrounded them with more from our seeds, and some from the nursery.  The wallowaters kept them all in perfect condition, and many have flowers now at the end of May.

Chives are the stars of this picture, with their beautiful purple flowers blooming.  While pretty, they are a threat to the rest of the garden.  We have to clip all of these edible flowers before they spread.  Don't be fooled - they are prolific.

After a great Onion harvest last year, we've dedicated another box to them.  Two varieties in this box, and some more added to the Berry Garden.

Our Cucumbers and Beans have all sprouted, and are just getting past their seed leaves.  It should only be another week or two and they will be climbing up their trellises.

The first 8 Tomatoes are all heirloom from the nursery.  After riding out the freak blizzards in their wallowaters, they have grown to be strong large plants by the end of May.  Already producing many flowers, we hope to have our first ripe tomatoes by the 4th of July.

The other 16 Tomatoes on this side in the Octogarden (we have 36 total Tomatoes this year) are going to stay in Wallowaters for another 2 weeks.  Not only to they help with accelerating growth, they are great protection from hailstorms that could knock them out early.

The OctoGarden at Sunset is my favorite time.  The light in the garden is cool and peaceful, and the trees in the surrounding area still catch the orangeish sunset glow.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Sourcing in Denver - May 4

If you are a fan of heirlooms and didn't get a good jump on planting your own indoors, this is a perfect opportunity for Coloradoans to pick up some rare varieties.

We have not attended this event, so not sure if you need to camp out, or just get there when it opens to have a good pick of what is available.  I've not known gardeners to stampede or anything, but if there's anything to get excited about, this would be it.

- roo

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Riding out Spring Blizzards with Asparagus Soup

One of the best things about Spring is asparagus season! Our own asparagus garden is currently under a foot of snow, so it will be a little while before they pop up. Meanwhile, it has been on sale at the store, so I have been making this soup quite a bit.

This wonderful soup is delicious, healthy, easy to make, and it can be served hot or cold. If leeks are not available, you can use a large yellow onion and it will be equally as good.

Also, a great tip for keeping asparagus fresh longer is to submerge the ends in water using a device like the Prepara Herb Savor.

Creamy Asparagus Soup Recipe
makes 4 servings

2 TBL Olive Oil
1 TBL unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green part only, finely chopped
1 lb asparagus (remove woody ends), cut into 2 in pieces., reserving some tips for garnish
1 medium (about 1/2 lb) Idaho potato, peeled, cut into 2 in pieces
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
fresh ground pepper to taste
1-2 TBL freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 TBL sour cream
1 TBL finely chopped chives


1. Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add leeks and cook about 5 min until soft, stirring occasionally. Add asparagus and potatoes and cook for another 5 min.

2. Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for another 15-20 min until vegetables are tender.

3. Meanwhile, steam or boil the asparagus tips for about 3 min. until tender, but still bright green. Drain and set aside for garnish.

4. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or this can be done in batches in a blender). 

5. Stir in lemon juice. Serve in bowls garnished with a dollop of sour cream, asparagus tips and fresh chives. Enjoy!

Monday, April 8, 2013

OctoGarden Update: Clean-Up and Early Season Planting

The OctoGarden side of our house is starting to shape up.  Our friend Tim applied a fresh coat of paint this year, and it really makes the garden pop against the still somewhat-bleak backgrounds of pre-spring.  We have found that an every-other-year schedule is keeping the wood protected from the weather.  Tim is really getting a strong skill-set in Garden construction and design, and would love to help you out with your garden if you are in the Fort Collins region.

One of the time-management challenges that comes along with early-season gardening is knowing when put things off.  For instance, while I would love to turn the soil for the Tomato and Pepper boxes, the reality is that we won't be planting them for at least another 2-3 weeks.  It would help to break up the larger clumps and mix in the compost, but after a few weeks, we'd have to do some of that all over again because the soil would settle - particularly if we ever get normal spring rains and snows.  Right-timing these projects is important so that you aren't doubling up on your work.

We've now planted Onions and Garlic in this garden, and prepped for Parsley, Cilantro (aka Coriander), and Dill.  A very cold wave is coming through this week (High 22, low 10) on Tuesday, so we are postponing putting any more seeds in the ground.  Not so much because the seeds would be ruined, but they are clearly not going to advance in germination while that cold, and it's not worth the risk.

The Chives are really starting to come out now, and after just a week of being out from under their dead growth from last year, they are pretty much useable.  We also have good Taragon, Thyme, and Marjoram thanks to the Wallowaters.

Did you know we can get Wallowaters to Amazon Prime Members in 2 days with Free Shipping?

We did put in our first crop of Lettuce (5 varieties), Spinach, and Kale in the Berry Garden, even with the cold weather coming.  In this case, we are hoping that the moisture from the forecast rain/snow will benefit them, even though their optimal germination temperatures are not coming back again until later in the week.

So what did we spend the rest of the weekend on?

Well, it can be summed up in one word: Clean-up.  Or, is that two words.

Well, either way, one of the things that is often underestimated by home gardeners is the amount of work necessary just to get things clean and in order for the season.  There's always debris from dead plants - some of which may have blown in with the winter winds from your neighbors.  Not to mention trash.  Just picking up all this debris can be several hours of work.

There's also the issue of timing when to remove last fall's dead growth.  In many cases, it helps to protect the root systems below.  However, there's a delicate balance between protecting the roots and smothering the new shoots trying to come up.  At best, each Spring is a gamble, with a bookie called the "weather person" who is wrong no less than half the time.

This year, I've decided to clear out the Lillies, and found that they had 4-6" of growth underneath what looked to be a dead blob of leaves from last year.  You really could not see the live stuff underneath.  They are pretty hearty, and I've got confidence that even if it does snow, the snow itself will protect the leaves from sub-freezing temps that will be here for 24 hours.

It's also the perfect time to cut back plants like Russian Sage, as they regrow from the ground up every year.  This year, I'm sporting a cordless hedge clipper, which I believe saved me at least 1-2 hours of work with my manual clippers in past years.  Zip-zip through each plant, in probably 10-15 seconds.  Wow.

I also clipped back dead undergrowth on our Cistena Plums, Lilacs, Roses, and Clematis to give them encouragement to grow up and out without getting so wild that getting out the dead stuff later would be an issue.

I've known many who say to cut down Roses and Clematis down to near the ground, but I've found that by April, they are often sprouting new growth FEET above the ground.  So, I use my hands to crunch away parts that are definitely dead, while the softer, more flexible branches remain.  When you use only cutters, you can't undo a clip that took off 1-2 feet of live plant!

In all, it was a solid weekend of work, but given the temperatures in the 60s, it was a nearly perfect weekend.  Not too hot, and with the Colorado sun, often warm enough for a t-shirt.  Of course, when those clouds move in, it's always a good idea to have layers in Colorado.  Any season, any day of the year, as they say.

Hope your garden is coming along too!

- roo

Early Chives (left), Tarragon (center), and Garlic (right, planted)

Wheelbarrow brings in new soil

Parsley Triangle soil prepped

Starting to look tidy and neat

Wallowaters still dominate the Early Season landscape

The fresh paint looks great

Onion sprouts (from Sets) are starting to come up!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

We Need Turnbuckles for our Espalier. Who knew?!

This is the Fan Cordon Design: Our Lead Pick 

For years I have been wanting an Espalier, or living fence, for years ever since seeing one in our friend Sue's garden. We finally have the area all ready to plant, so now we are down to the details. 

We found this video on YouTube which gave us a great tip about turnbuckles. You have to use wire to train the tree into the shape you desire. After time, the wire stretches out, so using turnbuckles in the wire allows you to tighten it with a screwdriver. Awesome tip!
- Deb

Wow! Way too many turnbuckles to choose from! Roo's job!

Friday, April 5, 2013

One Box Down, and Another To Go

 So, we finally completed the box for our Living Fence or Espalier, and will be ready to plant this weekend if the weather holds up.  I believe this is Phase 5 of my 9-Phase plan, for anyone who has been listening to my ongoing promises about garden expansion.

The box was built in 2012, but my trip to India and the High Park Fires, and a pair of tragedies sidetracked us last year.  Deb has been wanting a Living Fence since we moved to this property in 2007, so for her, it's the realization of a long-held dream.

We plan to use a Fan Pattern for the tree, which will be a fruit.  I think at this point it's fair to say it will be a Cherry or Apple variety, but we've discussed so many species at this point, you never really know till you get to the nursery what we will do.
Our new Living Fence planter
The new 2-Level Triangle Planter in Sketch Form
 The space in front of this box is going to have another 2-level box that will incorporate a brand new design element - Triangles.  I've been wanting to add some other geometric shapes to the garden.  Technically, the Berry Garden is all about triangular shapes overall, because that is what this side of the house is - a big wedge.  Over on the other side, where the original OctoGarden is, the design concept was to create circular patterns with square materials - essentially what an Octagon is.

The challenge with true triangles is that when the fasteners are intended to be on the inside of the box, it's difficult to get the screw gun to fit between the boards.  So, the sketch to the left is my brainchild to make this easier - by cutting the vertical boards at an angle, the metal angles could be applied to the 4x4 wood, bent into place, and secure the corners quite well.

Well, sort of.

There turned out to be a slight problem in the concept.  When I instructed my partner in construction, Tim, to cut the angles on the boards, I said that they would be 30-degree cuts.  Technically, I was correct - 30 degrees would be the angle of the wood.  When he went to make the cuts and set the saw to 30-degrees, however, it turns out that it makes the remaining wood 60-degrees.  There isn't a 60-degree setting for any known circular saw.  Of course, we don't notice this until we start assembling, and notice that instead of a closed 60-degree angle (from two 30-degree cuts), we have actually made a 120-degree angle with two 60-degree cuts.

2-Level Triangle Planter 1.0: Fail

Oops.  Back to the drawing board, as they say.

Having already cut the boards to this angle, we looked for ways to resolve this, and arrived at the conclusion that the best way was to take the 4x4s to a local wood shop, and cut a 30-degree angle into them vertically, but leaving the top of the post squared so that the beveled edges would remain.  It has an appeal because it would create a clean look both from the side and the top.
The Fix: Cutting the Vertical 4x4s, and leaving Beveled Top
So, Tim came back on Thursday with the 4x4s cut, and we applied the angles to the 2x12s to start assembly.  When we put the boards together, however, we encountered another problem.  The wood from Home Depot, which had been purchased in 2011 had warped a little.  When put into the fence at the wood shop, the cut that started out by leaving a 1-3/4" face that would match the diameter of the 30-degree-cut 2x12 had shrunk in some cases to 1-1/2", leaving a quite-noticeable reveal on the outside of the box.  We thought of shimming the angle from the interior, but decided it would not be sturdy enough.  In the end, it was decided the best solution was to take the posts back to the wood shop to make sure that there was a minimum of 1-3/4"over the entire length.

In the end, we are certain that the 2-Level Triangle Planter will be another great-looking box that will help the East end of the Berry Garden look more complete from the backyard, completing Phase 6 of my 9-Phase plan!

The Triangle Planter will go here - irrigation is the post in the middle