Monday, January 28, 2013

Eighteen Catalogs and Counting by Carol King

Rain and snow this evening. A few snow showers overnight. You might ask “ What to do I do on a day like this?” I think it is a grand day to look at seed and plant catalogs and dream about spring. I have received eighteen so far. That’s right eighteen: surely January is National Send Out Seed Catalogs month.

With the snow blowing all around, it is a wonderful time to look at pictures of children sitting on giant pumpkins, dahlias as big as a basketballs, roses with names like ”Summer of Love” and “Sweetness”, and all manner of vegetables and flowers promising a wonderful garden. However, one must certainly be careful when reading the text of these catalogs. Gardening in Colorado is not for the faint of heart and most of these catalogs are from companies in exotic places like Wisconsin, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; places that have actual rainfall and garden soil full of humus and natural compost. My experience tells me that certain words and phrases are to be watched out for. By paying attention to the descriptions, we can learn much about what truly is being said and whether a certain plant might have a chance here.

For instance, the phrase “plants are slow to emerge in spring” probably means you’ll forget you planted something in that spot and till it up. “Well draining soil is essential”; might not be a good choice for my clay garden. “Sends forth a heightened perfume; pungently scented”; better like the fragrance as this one will stink. “Patience is needed to germinate”, right; see the first phrase. Be very cautious when you see the word vigorous with any plant or seed as in “vigorous, self sows” or “spreads vigorously”, this will be all over the neighborhood within a couple of years. “Does best in acid soil”; means you’ll be making a weekly trip to Starbucks for coffee grounds if you are going to grow this one. “Best in moist conditions and humus rich soil”; yeah, right. “Can’t ship to: various states”; this one is on some state’s noxious weed list. “Prone to powdery mildew; water early in the day”; these will look horrible in August.

Read between the lines, dear gardener. Read between the lines!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time for Winter Watering by Carol King

Photo courtesy CSU
The dry air, low precipitation,  and fluctuating temperatures that we have had thus far this  fall and winter in the Front Range of Colorado means we need to winter water!  There has been little or no snow cover to provide soil moisture. Trees, shrubs, perennials and lawns can be damaged if they do not receive supplemental water.

Lack of winter watering can cause injury or death to part of the plant's root system.  Weakened plants my also be subject to insect and disease problems.

Read the entire CSU fact sheet about winter watering here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dancing With Peppers: A Timelapse Video from Seed to Plant By Jim Rohling

It was around December 2011 when I read a blog article about gifts for the gardener who has everything. Well, I must admit, I have a lot of gardening stuff:  a greenhouse, 700 square feet of garden area, everything I need to start seeds, a plant sale to help support my habit, and most important of all, a wife who understands my passion. But, I didn’t have a timelapse camera. Guess what I got for Christmas!

During the first week of February, the time when I usually start my pepper seeds, I thought how cool it would be to capture the different stages of the pepper plants from germination to killing frost with my new camera. I started out taking 10 exposures a day when the first cotyledon (seed) leaves appeared. After about a week or so, I went to one exposure in the morning and one in the afternoon. I moved the plants to the greenhouse the first week of April and then to the garden at the end of May.
At the end of the season, I had three videos that needed to be combined. After discussing some options with another CMG, I downloaded moviemaking software and turned my videos into one.  It was a good video, but it still needed something more. The answer was music—the “right” music, of course.  My wife, early on, had said the peppers looked like they were dancing, so I titled the video “Dancing with Peppers”. Another CMG commented, “I didn’t think those little guys could move like that” (the secret? lots of rehearsals!).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aspen Catkins in January! How Trees Know When to Leaf by Mary Small

Aspen Catkins Photo by Anna Wilson

How do trees know when to leaf out?  I’ve pondered this since I was recently sent a picture of aspen buds beginning to flower – in January!

Tree leafing and flowering is not completely understood and the process varies not only among species, but within species. Location’s important, too. A tree may leaf out earlier in the city than its relation in the mountains.  One growing on a warm southern exposure is more likely to leaf out earlier than the same species on a colder northern exposure. Trees originating in the southern part of their range often leaf out earlier than ones originating in the northern part.

Both cold and warm temperatures play a large role in leafing and in some species day length is involved, too. During early warm spells, day length is an additional layer of protection, keeping the tree from leafing too soon despite temperature signals. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Teaming with Microbes, Book Review by Judy Huckaby

Teaming with Microbes, The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web (Revised Edition) by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis. Timber Press, 2010.

Unseen, plants are as busy underground as above ground.  The authors of this book show that underground, the roots sweat (exudate) as a result of photosynthesis.   The rhizophere, the area around the sweating roots, attracts and feeds fungus and bacteria, which in turn are consumed by larger organisms, and on up the food chain. All of these organisms, fungus, bacteria and the critters that eat them and the critters that eat them, excrete wastes.  This is what is taken up by the roots as nutrients. All of this activity keeps nutrients from draining from the soil because the nutrients that plants need are bound up in the bodies of the soil life.  This is called nutrient immobilization.
An empty, ‘new’ garden becoming populated with plants favors bacteria.  As the plants age, more fungus appears.  It is interesting to note that the bacteria count in a sample of soil over time remains the same, but the fungus count becomes more abundant.