Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Joys of the Common Colorado High Country Gardener by Nancy R White

The summer gardening season is winding down.  As each year passes, I find that I learn new things and once again this year is no exception.
Elk Damage on Viburnum

 Living up in elevation at about 7,000 ft. makes gardening a challenge.  One of the biggest challenges is the wildlife that I love to see when I am hiking, but have gotten a bit frustrated with in my own yard.  When I got home from a short trip to the mountains recently, I found that some animal had eaten half of the leaves off of my small Black Haw Viburnum Tree right by my front door!  My husband said that a large male elk had been hanging around.  I wish I had seen the majestic creature!  I have learned to share in order to enjoy these beautiful creatures in my neighborhood, but I sure hope my tree will live.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

 As I was checking out my tomato plants one day in August, I discovered that one of them has a disease.  I immediately went to my computer and found a number of things it could be.  There were a few easy things I could do.  Getting any loose vines up off the ground was a simple way to keep any soil microbes or insects off of them.  Trimming off any yellowed leaves was easy, too.  I bagged a few blistered, deformed tomatoes along with the diseased looking vines I’d cut and brought them to the plant clinic at the Jefferson County CSU extension office where the plant diagnostic experts looked at them carefully under the microscope.  My Italian plum tomato plant that I was so excited to find has Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.  Except for a few yellowed vines and some grayish/purple spots on otherwise healthy looking leaves, the plant looks normal.  But, the tomato fruits have yellow rings and spots on them and some are blistered and distorted.  They are not edible and in order to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of my vegetable garden, the plant has to be removed and destroyed, along with solarizing the moistened soil around it with a black trash bag.  BUMMER!!!  So much for a harvest of Italian Plum tomatoes.  Chalk it up to another learning experience…

Black-eyed Susans

 Meanwhile out in the rock wall garden where the deer love to roam, the Black-eyed Susans are making a showy late summer display.  The seeds I had so meticulously spread last fall have certainly fulfilled my expectations and then some.  So far no creature is eating them!  I promise to spread their seeds across the entire hillside this fall along with the seeds of a few other species that the deer, elk, rabbits, voles, pocket gophers, etc. don’t seem to like.  Things like Monarda, Cleome, Daisies, Liatris and lots of various Sages.  Learning about what will grow in my area that the animals don’t like is definately a trial and error learning process.

Then there is the joy of discovering what the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees love and opening a restaurant for them.  The catmint and the Blue Mist Spirea are a hit with the bees.  The hummingbirds love the variety of fuscias I have potted on my upper patio along with the creeping California fuscia that spreads like crazy out front.  Butterflies flock to the butterfly bush of course as well as the carpet Roses, Penstemons and Lavender. The restaurant is open and busy. 
Black-headed Grosbeak

 The birds at this elevation are wonderful, too.  We have Mountain Bluebirds, Scarlet Tanangers, the ubiquitous Magpies and Ravens and even a pair of Great Horned Owls that pay us a night-time visit from time to time.  Recently on returning home one morning, my husband came upon an injured Grosbeak.  She had flown into a window.  She was flopping around, but her wings were ok.   As soon as I could I took her to the Wild Bird Rescue where I was told she has a pretty bad head injury. The caretaker told me that if she doesn’t recover fairly quickly, which she hasn’t, she will have to stay at Wild Bird’s indoor rescue home through the winter.  The rest of her kind fly all the way to Venezuela for the winter.  If she’s able, I can come back and get her in the Spring and release her where she was found.  I am hopeful that that will happen.

Spending time outdoors and observing and participating in nature is wonderful.  Seeing the interactions of living things:  plants, animals, viruses, insects, etc., and being an integral part of it all myself makes life interesting.  Thus learning new things in the garden each year comes without much effort.  Appreciating each one as part of the whole process is a bit more of a challenge.