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!

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