The Veggie Gang


Tomato

Many gardeners in the Pikes Peak area have been complaining of undersized tomato plants, underperforming basil, wimpy peppers, etc. As usual, weather challenges us when we garden here, and this year, we have a rather unusual combination – chilly temperatures and (at times) over-abundant moisture. The last few summers have been warmer than average, so we’ve been caught off guard by conditions that are pretty comfortable for the gardener, but not so much for the warm-season vegetables and herbs!

A fellow Colorado gardener that I know of who gardens (with wild success) above 8000 ft always says “A tomato never wants to go below fifty degrees in its life – maybe even sixty!” (She, of course, uses cold frames, hoop houses, green houses, etc for all her gardening. To learn more about her garden, visit her web site here: www.pennandcordsgarden.com.) I suspect that the minimum-temperature rule for peppers is even ten degrees warmer than for tomatoes.

So, what’s the big deal? We’ve been over sixty degrees since the middle of June, right? Well, we have been for day time highs. But you have to also consider night-time temperatures. Even at the lower altitudes, night-time temperatures in our region dipped below fifty degrees several times in the past few weeks. This has helped keep our houses cooler, but it has definitely affected those hot-weather loving plants like peppers, tomatoes, and basil.  

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Irrigation is a super important part of vegetable gardening, and in our arid area, we tend to pay even closer attention to it. A vegetable garden left to be watered by Mother Nature here is not much of an option (though efforts can be made to maximize the benefit of any rainfall). But the vegetable gardener is going to have to supply extra water, so let’s look at a few different irrigation possibilities for vegetable beds:
1) Handheld Hose-End Sprayer
2) Overhead Sprinkler
3) Soaker Hoses
4) Drip Irrigation (more…)

“Freckles” is an heirloom lettuce that performs well in the Pikes Peak region.

“Heirloom seeds are better, right?” It’s a question I hear a lot when I’m teaching classes on growing your own veggies. Just the term “heirloom” makes us think of precious family treasures, fine antiques. “Heirloom seeds” is a phrase that sells and many seed companies take full advantage of it.

Heirloom vegetables (or flowers) are varieties that have been in cultivation a long time—decades, if not centuries—and are still being grown today. They’re what your great grandmother would have sown in her garden. They’re the antiques of the gardening world.

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Now that the winter’s first hard freezes have arrived, fresh homegrown produce is in short supply. The season my be over for frost-tender summer squash, vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, but with some preparation, you can enjoy at least one crop that can be harvested from mid-summer through fall and winter, until the days start to warm again. There’s nothing like going out to the garden in December, brushing off some snow, carefully digging into the cold soil, and pulling up some crisp, bright orange carrots!

Keeping carrots fresh and edible all winter isn’t hard. The trick is to keep them from freezing. Here along Colorado’s Front Range, it takes a two-foot thick layer of straw laid over the carrot bed. Top the straw with a moisture barrier such as a small tarp or large trash bag. This keeps it dry when warm days melt a recent snowfall. (You could also use autumn leaves, as shown here; any form of light-weight insulation works well.)

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peas_packet.jpgA visiting friend from Nashville (recently upgraded from Zone 6 to Zone 7 on the new USDA hardiness map!) reminded me of how different spring planting can be all around the country. She’s been gardening for weeks back at home, while things are just barely getting going here. But this certainly is the time of year that people start to want to plant.

So, what can we plant? Here is an easy summary of spring vegetable planting dates in our Zone 5b Colorado Springs area based on information from Colorado State University Extension (those in Monument, Black Forest, etc may want to add a week or so): (more…)

How many times do we read a description in a seed catalog, order the seeds, and then find ourselves disappointed with the results? Our Colorado climate and soil conditions make for some challenging gardening, and varieties that thrive in other parts of the country just don’t do as well here.

Thankfully, we have a state university providing us with research-based information especially suited to our high and dry gardens. From 2004 through 2008, CSU trialed an assortment of potential commercial crops, comparing varieties to discover which, if any, do well here. The results are available on their website under the heading “The Rocky Mountain Small Organic Farm Project.”

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seed_packet_juliet.jpgA friend asked me a question last summer that kind of blew my mind. “If we can’t expect seeds from hybrid tomatoes to ‘come true,’ then where do they get hybrid seeds from year after year?”

Now, I definitely knew (or thought I did) what a hybrid was, and I had a canned answer for anyone who asked how hybrid varieties were made (well, breeders cross two varieties to come up with a new one). But I realized I hadn’t really ever understood the nitty gritty of hybrid seed production. I intended to hunker down and do some research, but it kept falling way down on the to do list until I started perusing this year’s seed catalogs, considering the varieties I wanted to try. When I order Sungold seeds each year, the seed company doesn’t have to continually grow the parent plants and cross them to get new seeds, right? That would be terribly labor intensive and it seems the seeds would be ridiculously expensive! Well, as it turns out, that is exactly what they do. If you’re curious to learn more, read on! (more…)

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