Posts Tagged ‘Ranch Community Garden’

Transplanting

Phelan Gardens was packed. Hello, Memorial Day weekend.

Phelan Gardens was packed. Hello, Memorial Day weekend.

As I’ve mentioned before, I got a slow start on prepping my beds and getting things in the ground this year. However, given how unpredictable the weather has been this spring (more so than usual for Colorado), I would rather get my plants in late than risk a late frost. Potatoes will do fine with one, but tomatoes, peppers, and squash will not. I got my Ranch Community Garden bed turned on Friday, and planted it yesterday- Wednesday. I purchased most of the plants on Saturday, but I waited to put them in because I wanted the blood meal to have half a chance to filter through the soil. Also, the straw and a couple of weeds that were turned in will start decomposing. This eats up the available nitrogen that my plants need. While a few days isn’t enough to really get things settled down, it was all the time I had.

These are ready to go in the ground.

These are ready to go in the ground.

I missed the plant sale at the Denver Botanic Gardens, so I went to Phelan Gardens to pick up most of my plants. By going there, instead of to, say, Lowes, or a grocery store, I was able to not only get some heirloom tomatoes, but I knew that many of the plants were grown right here in Colorado in their own greenhouse instead of shipped in from some lush nursery on the west coast. If it’s raised here, then there will be less shock when it deals with having to grow here. The other perk of waiting a couple of days to plant my plants after I bought them is that they were able to sit outside and “harden off” before they went through the shock of being transplanted. All of the frost-sensitive plants were sold from in the greenhouse, so sitting them on the back stoop for a couple of days let them get used to the harsh sun and wind that comes with not being under cover.

The Brandywine tomato (on the right) almost looks more like a potato plant at this stage.

The Brandywine tomato (on the right) almost looks more like a potato plant at this stage.

I’m most excited about my tomatoes. Nothing beats a garden tomato. Even the “vine-ripened” ones that you pay too much for at the grocery store can’t hold a candle to one you actually pick off the vine yourself. I got four plants, two of a size to slice, two of a size to eat whole. Three are heirlooms, and one of the heirlooms is yellow. It’s actually called a pear tomato, so I’m really excited to see what it looks and tastes like a little later this summer. One of the heirlooms even has differently-shaped leaves than the others. Genetic diversity is important. The more identical plants or animals are, the more likely it is that they can all be wiped out by the same disease or weather event. The tomatoes were planted with a pretty purple dwarf basil that contrasts nicely with the orange marigolds. The marigolds are to help attract pollinators, and to reduce the nematode population.

Don't forget to plant for aesthetics, too. Just because I'm planting food, doesn't mean it can't be pretty, too.

Don’t forget to plant for aesthetics, too. Just because I’m planting food, doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty.

For most plants, the general rule is to plant them as deep as they were in the pot you took them out of. However, there are a few exceptions. Tomatoes come in “determinate” and “indeterminate” varieties. The determinate varieties grow to a particular height and then bush out. They can also be called bush tomatoes. They tend to fruit all at once, which means that for a couple of weeks, you are swamped in tomatoes, but that’s it. Indeterminate varieties just keep growing taller, and they tend to fruit fairly constantly from the time they first flower until a frost kills them. All four of mine are indeterminate, so I got to take advantage of another cool thing about them. You can bury them pretty much up to the top. Any buried leaves will become roots. By doing this, you are automatically extending the root system. Strong roots make for strong plants. When you’re buying a plant, you want a short, bushy one. If you ended up with a tall, leggy one, you can also use this to take some height off the plant to help it hold itself up.

That big branch out to the left is at ground level.

That big branch out to the left is at ground level.

The other thing I planted in the RCG bed is peppers. I’m not so big on them, myself, but my roommate loves them, so that gave me an excuse to collect some. I might have gone slightly overboard with picking different varieties, but between freezing and drying the extras, we should be able to keep up with them. The cayenne already has a flower and two buds. She’s taking this reproducing thing seriously, getting a jump on the pollinators before the other peppers start making demands, too.

Hot to trot, baby!

Hot to trot, baby!

I think you can see fairly well that the plants all are each in their own little saucer of earth. The idea, particularly for new transplants, is  to catch all the available water and funnel it directly to the roots. Being transplanted is hard on a plant, so by making sure that they have easily accessible water, I am giving them their best chance at recovering and thriving. That’s also why I moved the drip lines to drip as close to the plants as possible.

That's a lot of peppers for a non-pepper person.

That’s a lot of peppers for a non-pepper person.

The wind may or may not let the straw stay in place, but I re-buried the garden in it to help retain moisture. As of the end of April, we are back to having only half of the expected moisture, year-to-date.  You will see that I planted the plants closer than the recommended distance. The peppers stated 18″ between plants, and I planted them 12″ apart. Once they mature, the plants themselves will do what the straw is doing now. Namely, shading out weeds and keeping the sun from stealing all the moisture from the soil. It also means that I got four peppers in a four-foot space instead of three.

Planting 016

Advertisements

Prepping Another Bed

No longer my bed. They're much more on top of these things.

No longer my bed. They’re much more on top of these things.

I finally got my butt in gear and went to visit my bed at the Ranch Community Garden yesterday. I had two last year, but there was a waiting list for new gardeners, so I gave one back. After all, I’m getting a mighty slow start, and there’s only one of me, so it’s not like I really need two beds. I can feel good, though, that the person that has my bed got one that was worked correctly last year (if a bit neglectfully) and put to bed for the winter in a way that would set them up for a successful year. They, also, are clearly more on top of things than I am.

My bed. Still snugly covered up from the winter.

My bed. Still snugly covered up from the winter.

Giving up a bed also means that I only had to double-dig one four-by-eight plot. I didn’t do it last year- the beds were brand new and the soil hadn’t settled, yet, so it wasn’t really necessary. “I get why you double-dug the potatoes,” you’re thinking. “They need lots of vertical growing space underground. But why are you double-digging the bed that’s getting tomatoes and peppers?” Good question. Several reasons. The first being- I didn’t do it last year. I didn’t know the soil two shovel-lengths deep. Now I know that it’s lovely and even, without any of the crazy sand or clay patches that you can expect to find in urban soil. The fact that it has been an empty lot some ways away from the building of the church that owns the land would explain it. It is essentially un-touched soil. Now I know that under the first layer, I don’t run into rock-hard, compacted soil. It was pretty easy to dig through.

Hello, there. Don't you look healthy.

Hello, there. Don’t you look healthy.

When I was digging through, I also met enough worms that I kidnapped three to keep Herman company in Showcase 2. I was very happy to see that the decomposer population, at least the big ones, is in good shape. I don’t think that you should populate your garden with lots of imported critters. Most won’t survive Colorado, and those that do might become an invasive species. However, moving worms three blocks away from their home works fine. If you are establishing a new garden, ask a gardener friend if they have any worms to spare so you can jump-start your own population.

Before.

Before.

The last benefit is adding loft to the soil. It started out about a quarter of an inch below the top of the 2×6 board edging. It ended being an average of two inches higher than the board. Since the only thing I added was a handful of blood meal to help the nitrogen levels, that lift came from all the space that air and water now has for wending its way around the roots of the plants. I also know that my plants will be able to get their roots well below the bottom of the board edging. Raised beds are pretty and, in a public garden, useful for making sure that you stick with just the plot you paid for. However, they dry out more easily than beds that are flush with the ground. In wet areas, this is good. In the South West, though, there are some Native Americans that actually garden in lowered garden beds due to the need to preserve every drop of water we have. The deeper the plant roots go, the more water-efficient they are. This is good for both gardeners that forget to water, and ones that are on water restrictions, as we will be this summer.

After.

After.

What about no-till techniques? I think there’s a lot to be said for them. Particularly when farming on a massive scale, since plowing exposes a lot of topsoil to potential erosion. However, unless you have lucked into perfect soil, I think that for at least the first year or two, really getting down and dirty in your garden is a good idea. Will I go with a more minimal turnover for my RCG bed next year? Quite possibly. I now have the information that it is good soil, and no one will be walking on it to compact it. Will I be going with a more minimal technique for Showcase 2 next year? No. I walk on it, sometimes, and so does the dog when she’s being a monster. Also, it does have those sand patches that still need to be mixed into the rest of the bed for a more even texture. That one probably needs to double-dug for at least two more years before it’s even enough to go for a more minimal digging-over. That might be enough time to train myself and the dog to stop walking on it. Maybe.

Re-covered with the old straw to preserve moisture until I put plants in. Since I'm mostly transplanting into this bed, the straw may well stay all summer, since seedlings won't need to grow through it.

Re-covered with the old straw to preserve moisture until I put plants in. Since I’m mostly transplanting into this bed, the straw may well stay all summer, since seedlings won’t need to grow through it.

Showcase Updates and Dogproofing- Again

She isn't even clearing the fences anymore. She's just sliding over the top.

She isn’t even clearing the fences anymore. She’s just sliding over the top.

Here we are again, at the beginning of a new growing season. I’m a little more on top of things this year, but only just.

The owner of Showcase 1 is back in school and in the midst of changing direction, so her garden will remain tucked under a layer of straw for this growing season, and we will review her available time next spring. I have signed up for my plots in the Ranch Community Garden, and Showcase 2 is still available. In fact, I’ve had to do a little work on Showcase 2. The owner’s dog has discovered that compost tastes really, really good.  At 10 years old with some arthritis, we figured that a second fence might be enough of a challenge to keep her out. It also set aside a strip of yard to start growing grass. Apparently, compost tastes better than we thought.

Mmm. Yummy.

Mmm. Yummy.

We opted for a compost pile behind a fence for Showcase 2 for a couple of reasons. One being that it doesn’t cost anything, since the fence needed to be there to keep the dog out of the whole garden anyway. I like compost that’s on the ground instead of in a barrel because it encourages the native decomposers to work harder, and to breed more prolifically. The more decomposers you have, the healthier your soil is going to be, and the more nutrients will be available in a form that your plants can use. The last reason being that you can have multiple piles going at a time without needing multiple barrels or other apparatus. The magic number seems to be three- one to add to, one that’s cooking, and one that you’re pulling mature compost out of to use.

It's terrible of me to lock away the good parts, right?

It’s terrible of me to lock away the good parts, right?

Our third try at dog-proofing the compost is sort of a hutch that we got for free. It is open to the dirt, so we will be encouraging decomposers in the garden soil, but the sides and top are covered, so it should discourage the dog. I wasn’t able to fit all of it in the hutch, but I did put in the newest kitchen scraps with enough “brown” material to balance it out. We will be using it for future kitchen scraps, but I think weeds will be safe enough in the open pile. They just aren’t as interesting to eat. A side perk is that since it is enclosed, it should retain moisture better than the open pile, which will help it compost faster.

The less interesting pile turned and watered. It would be further along if I did that a little more often.

The less interesting pile turned and watered. It would be further along if I did that a little more often.

As for being on top of things- I have missed the best time to start peas by about three weeks, but I may throw some in the ground anyway. I also need to get the order in for seed potatoes since they can be planted shortly. The potatoes did ok last year, but I think this year will be better.

Hail Recovery

Flowers, the step before fruit.

Now that the fire is nearly contained and I see little if any smoke plumes when I look at the mountains, my focus is back on food.

Showcase 2 and the Ranch Community garden were the hardest hit by the hail. Showcase 1 hardly got any and I hear it is trucking right along. The others took some time to recover, but overall are doing pretty well. In Showcase 2, one of the three tomato plants hasn’t recovered, but still refuses to turn brown. The other two, however, are doing beautifully. The one that had to regrow from the roots is a little slower, but both are growing quickly. The peppers have all regrown leaves and are also growing in size. The potatoes have something new going on at the moment that I need to figure out, but before that happened, they had almost regrown into a solid green layer as they were before the hail. I am re-planting all of the seeds, but I think their failure to germinate has far more to do with my inability to keep them wet enough than anything else.

Replanting with straw mulch. Maybe this will help with the moisture issue.

In the RCG beds, my tomatoes are doing great. The cherry tomato plant even has some blossoms. My tiny pepper plant seems to be getting worse, but I’m not a big pepper eater, so it’s not that big of a loss. The carrots in Bed A had taken forever to germinate, so they missed the hail and are quite happy with life. The ones in Bed B had been a little quicker, so I did lose a fair number of them. Both beds have perfectly happy onion sprouts. The radishes, beets, and turnips, however, were all replanted today. Each of them was large enough to get beaten up by the hail, but not large enough to survive it, with the exception of three beets in Bed B. However, to turn over that section for the other 13 beets it would hold, those three did have to be sacrificed.

They’re hard to see, but there are tiny carrots in front and skinny onions in back.

When I looked around the garden as a whole, I had no idea who had totally replanted and who had let their plants recover. However, I did notice that two of the tomatoes I couldn’t bear to replace with the donations looked absolutely thrilled with life. I had been told that plants would (mostly) recover from hail. I believe it, now. Even the ones that are not native and therefore have not figured out how to deal with this are doing their best to get in the growth they need to be able to set fruit to carry the seeds for the next generation.

The beans weren’t too happy with life for a while, but they seem to be getting over it.

Naturally, I forgot my camera when I went to the garden today, so these pictures are from before the fire. The plants have only improved since then. A major perk of growing organic produce that I indulged in is that the three beetlings and a lambs-quarter that was growing in an inconvenient spot could just be rinsed off at the spigot and eaten as an appetizer before I went home to make dinner. There’s no reason to waste good food, after all.

Things You Can’t Control: Hail

Not what I was expecting when I came out to water that day.

According to the life-philosophy of the Stoics, there are things that you can control, and things that you cannot control. Long story short, figure out which is which and put your efforts into what you can control. What you can’t will take care of itself. Hail is one of those things I can’t control. What I can control is my response to it. It is part resignation, part curiosity, and part thinking about how to minimize the damage next time.

Mental note: tomatoes don’t like hail.

I was not unaware of the possibility of hail. However, I understood it to be of less threat than it is in, say, Wyoming. It could happen, but wasn’t necessarily something to take a proactive stance on like deer or rabbits. However, after the storms last week, I think I do need to be more proactive. About a week and a half ago Showcase 2 and the RCG beds got flattened by a charming combination of torrential downpours and sizeable hail. Fortunately, Showcase 1 is tucked close enough to the house to have been mostly sheltered. The next night brought a second storm that had a tornado watch out east of town. It was the worst hail since 2004 or earlier, so I will accept it as a fluke. However, given what weather has been doing in the last few years, knocking together something for hail protection will fall under “better safe than sorry” for Showcase 2 at the very least. I was told recently that it appears that even years tend to be hail years, so these storms may well not be the last of it. The resignation is that I was aware of the possibility and chose not to take steps as the monetary cost of setting up some sort of shield appeared to outweigh the probability of serious hail damage.

Potatoes, fortunately, are slightly more forgiving.

Hope for recovery.

My curiosity is wondering what will recover and what will not. When I first looked at Showcase 2, I thought that the peppers were all stripped to their stems. A day or so later when I took a closer look, it appears that each has at least one leaf and the stems remain green. My fingers are crossed that they have enough photosynthetic surface areas to recover. The tomatoes had fewer leaves, but they also have stems that are insisting on remaining green, so we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. The ‘tater bed is in tatters, but they fared the best of all, as they have had months of vigorous growth. They went from a bed of solid green to being able to see the individual plants, but I expect them to be fine. The obnoxious part is that the turnips and radishes no longer even have stems, let alone leaves. I haven’t quite decided whether I want to see if they’ll try again or if I want to give up and just replant.

Water damage. That had all been woodmulch.

I spent a couple of hours the following Saturday afternoon helping out in the food bank beds at the Ranch Community Garden. Aside from my root vegetables being shorn and the flowers showing the insult of the deluge, my pepper and tomatoes were still small enough that they seem to have weathered the weather fairly well. There wasn’t much to do. However, some kind soul donated gobs of tomatoes and assorted other plants to replace the abused ones in the beds and they needed to go in the ground. I noticed that the foodbank beds weren’t the only ones getting a significant re-do. My understanding is that given half a chance, plants will do their best to recover from a hailstorm. However, seeing the bedraggled state of most of them, I can understand the desire to replace them with a plant that is immediately more vigorous. My fingers are crossed partially because I want to see what they can do for themselves, and partially because I would hate to replace my own heirloom plants with whatever is left over at the garden centers after half or more of the gardeners in Colorado Springs have replaced their plants.

My poor turnips. That had been 16 healthy little plants in tidy rows getting ready to give me some tender greens.

Now to the proactive part. None of the gardens I have been working with are producing food that is a requirement for the family’s table. All of them are simply an appreciated supplement. However, I do need to think about this as both a supplemental food source and a main food source. Eventually, I hope to be able to feed myself primarily from my gardens and I would like to help people that have limited access to good produce if they don’t grow their own. Good food, after all, should be a right not a privilege. I have a lot to think about. Hardware cloth seems to be the protection of choice, since it is very permeable for light and rain, but less so for hail. If I had my tomatoes in cages, I could just give each cage a roof and call it a day, but the ones under my protection are all on trellises. Do I build permanent structures or things that I bring out when hail threatens? This storm gave warning that it was going to be ugly, but not all of them do around here. Do I build something that is strictly for hail, or should I just go ahead and build multi-purpose structures? How much of the garden should I cover? The place the peas are growing is not going to lend itself to protection, and the potatoes seem to be doing fine without it. Should the structure have a flat roof (easier) or a peaked/rounded roof to help shed the ice? At what point should I bow down to local circumstances instead of insisting on getting what I want? Naturally, the grasses and lambs-quarters are doing just fine. Fortunately, I hear lambs-quarters make excellent salad greens. I will keep you updated as decisions are made and plans are put in place.

As every gardener knows, weeds always survive . . .

Community Garden Beds

Bed A getting ready for manure.

I have two beds in the Ranch Community Garden. In a burst of inspiration, I dubbed them A and B. As a single person, I probably don’t need two beds, but it should give me enough vegetables to preserve some and eat a lot. Any extras I’ll just send along with the food that is grown for the food bank. I threw my name in the hat for a second bed if there were unclaimed plots. By cultivating it instead of leaving it fallow, I will be improving it for the next person that wants to use it.

Bed A with manure, pansies, and marigolds.

It’s funny what you hold onto from childhood. Being the child of two science-oriented people, I looked at my two beds and immediately determined that this required an experiment. Bed A will be the “improved” bed, while bed B will be “unimproved.” It isn’t a pure experiment, as the local soil has already been improved with mulch over the winter and the transplants are adding a bit of potting soil. However, bed A is also getting cow manure and some worm casings. The tomatoes are both going in bed A, because tomatoes like rich soil, and I really want them to be successful. There’s nothing quite like garden tomatoes. The greenbeans are also going in bed A, because I have one trellis and that’s where it’s located. Bed B got the chamomile plants and will be more onion/garlic heavy because tomatoes and onions don’t get along too well. Nor do beans and garlic. I planted some garlic chives and three garlic cloves in bed B. The cloves are definitely an experiment. The ones that Heirloom Gardens planted back in March or April seem to be doing fine, so we’ll see if you can plant them as late as mid-May and still get any growth out of them.

Bed B with pansies.

What is identical between the two beds is one square each of carrots, onions, lettuce, beets, and turnips. There are also two squares of kale and half a square of radishes. I used the same variety in each bed, and they are planted with the same orientation. I am very curious to see if there is any difference between them. I am using the Square-Foot method and staggering the plantings so that I can stagger the harvests. Other than the leeks, which need to go in bed B shortly, most of the additional squares will be identical between the beds to provide additional data.

Bed A, first planting.

I am also growing marigolds and pansies. Both are potentially edible, make sure your marigold is the real thing, Calendula officinalis, but I am growing them for other reasons. Fruit, in this case, my tomatoes, are the result of fertilized flowers. With the exception of wind-pollinated species, you will need pollinators to make sure the flowers are fertilized. Having additional flowers in the garden means that pollinators will already be seeing my plots as feeding grounds when the tomatoes blossom, increasing my odds of setting fruit. The marigolds are also to help protect my tomatoes from nematodes or roundworms. There are some beneficial varieties of nematodes, but most of them are not too friendly. The more years I can grow marigolds, the fewer nematodes I will be concerned about.

Bed B, first planting.

My last note is a cautionary one. If you are a slightly neglectful gardener, which is something I swear I know nothing about, don’t forget to water your plants the days after you transplant them as well as the day of. The marigolds took the day of neglect pretty well. The pansies, however, were far more dramatic in their opinion. They are, fortunately, thinking about forgiving me for it and growing anyway.

Ranch Community Garden: Grand Opening

The beginning of community.

The garden is now open for business! The chain-link part of the fence will be going up next Saturday, and the drip-system should be on by then as well. In the meantime, the plots have all been marked out for each gardener. I did get my second one, since there were leftovers, but there are still a few more yet to be claimed.

The grand opening was a fairly low-key affair. There was water and tea and a couple of trays of grocery store vegetables. The speechmaking was also kept to a minimum. Shane, who’s brainchild this is, welcomed us, and let us know that his goal for the garden is to build community. At the end of the year there would be another party, but this time using our vegetables. There were a couple of rules to go over, like no walking in the beds and no animals outside of the picnic area, then we were let loose. The rest of the time was meeting people, sharing seeds and ideas, and finding our beds.

The beds were very dry. It hadn’t rained for several weeks, and the beds have been bare to the sun in that time. It didn’t make sense to plant much, if anything, before the fence went up and the drip-system was turned on, but most of us were out there starting to water down our beds. The soil was so dry that it simply wasn’t soaking up the water with any speed. Shane let us know that if we dug small channels and divots in our beds, the water would have somewhere to pool until it could soak in. It did help.

My bed!

As I was digging in my bed and watering it, I couldn’t help but think about a documentary I watched some time ago, Blue Gold: World Water Wars. I need to watch it again, as it has a lot of information. However, what has stuck with me is the solution to desertification. This is something that we are fighting the world over as what used to be lush areas good for farming are turning into deserts. At the end of the film the narrator had a whiteboard setup and it looked like a fairly big deal. He starts with telling us to dig holes. I kept waiting for some technological or complicated next step. There wasn’t one. We need to dig holes. When soil has moisture, it is easier for it to accept more moisture up to the saturation point. When it has no moisture already in it, it is far easier for the rainfall to simply roll off the top. This is compounded if the soil has developed a crust as many clay soils do. By digging holes, you are forcing the water to stay where it is until it soaks into the surrounding soil. This moisture will then make the surrounding soil more likely to take up water the next time it rains.

It’s going to take some time to wet it all the way through. I’m sure the rain helped.

I overheard one of the gardeners quip that because we were all watering our beds today, it would be sure to rain that night. Sometimes Mother Nature is unpredictable. Sometimes, she’s right on cue. The grand opening was on Sunday. Sunday night it rained. Monday remained overcast with occasional rain and very wet snow. When the clouds were clearing this morning, I could see that the snow was more serious up in the mountains.

I will be out there again later this week. One of the women has cow manure to share, so she and I will be spreading it on our plots. Depending on how far the rain, and snow, were able to penetrate into the soil, I might even stick a few seeds in at the same time. I can’t wait to get the garden that is all mine started.