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Archive for May, 2011

Watching television is an endurance test, not for me, but for my spouse.  At any moment, the drone from the box will be split by an ear shattering “WHAT?” followed by my going on a five minute tirade whenever a commercial for a big box store comes on.  The 30-second ad gives me more of an aerobic workout than I get all day, what with my flailing arms, leaps from the sitting position, and fast march back and forth in front of the set.

The big box store, eager to cash in on gardeners’ enthusiasm for planting, has a chirpy commercial touting their expertise in plants, potting soil, and everything else to make your garden bloom.  Ahh, but the savvy gardener rises up in horror when the ad shows a tree plucked from its pot and plomped in the ground, not because the tree is planted, but how.

The three-second scene shows a man grabbing the tree by the trunk in order to lift it from its pot, which proves that the fellow doing this is an actor, not a gardener.  A gardener knows this is a no-no.  Grabbing the tree by the trunk to lift the heavy root ball from the pot puts the tree at risk of damage to the bark, which is sensitive in spring growth.

A good way to handle a containerized tree at planting is to dig your planting hole (which should be three times the width of the container, and the same depth as the root ball), then gently lay the containerized tree on its side.  Slide the tree from the container by tapping lightly on the sides of the container to get it to loosen away from the root ball.  Then set the tree upright and lift it from below the root ball to set it gently into place.  Score the sides of the root ball to cut any circling roots, then backfill the hole.

The ad doesn’t show this, so when it comes on, I lean forward, unable to look away from the flagrant foul the store commits.  Shrieking that the ad should have a “do not try this at home,” disclaimer, the diatribe begins anew.

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Author’s note:  here’s a classic article from 2006, published in the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times-Call.

   Perhaps I have stepped over the line when it comes to gardening.  It happened recently when I slipped out the door in my old, pink bathrobe to get the newspaper.  I spotted a weed growing in the garden and became immediately sidetracked, swooping to pluck it from the ground.  Over an hour later I returned to my senses, knees and robe hem dirty, weed parts dangling from my fingers, wondering what on earth possessed me to spend an hour gardening in the front yard in my pajamas.

    Weeds have a lot to do with this erratic behavior.  They’re sprouting at an alarming rate.  While I am impressed with the growth of most plants at this time, the weeds are truly coming up faster than I can keep up.  Pulling weeds is a season long job and in pursuit of weed control many gardeners abandon some rudimentary connections to the world around them.  One colleague of mine told the tale of her small children coming to her while she was weed pulling to ask what was for dinner.  Distracted by weeds, she responded “I don’t know – what are you fixing?” 

   Some of the tougher weed characters in the garden may change from year to year.  This year there is Western Salsify (Tragopogon dubius), a grassy-looking biennial that is sprouting in many gardens.  Western Salsify’s grass-like leaves arise from a central stalk which, when damaged, oozes a milky sap.  Because it has a long taproot, plucking from the soil when it is very young will give the best control.

    Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) can grow to monstrous size – often two to three feet tall with flowers that bristle with spines.  The seeds of this annual weed are tiny and rapidly spread.  Redroot pig weed can be recognized by it’s characteristic reddish stalk and taproot.  Pulling it when it is young will give good control.

    Perhaps the best-known and most hated weed in our gardens is field bindweed (Convovulus arvensis).  Despite being a member of the morning glory family, there is nothing ‘glorious’ about it.  It snakes through the garden.  It entwines itself through branches, along trellises, and into every nook and cranny of the area.  Pulling this plant results in a nightmare out of Greek myth – four hydra-like plants sprouting from the single plant pulled.  Stamina is required in pulling to control this plant because it must be done repeatedly and frequently, until the energy in the root system is exhausted and the plant can no longer regenerate.  Battles with bindweed are epic, and are, in my mind anyway, the true summer Olympics.

    Gardeners should beware of the sinister puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris), also called ‘goat’s head’ due to the shape of the burs.  This plant starts off cute, with many small leaflets forming a mat across the ground.  It looks nice, but heaven help you when it becomes mature, because this plant’s small burs hurt when they grab you.  The burs have a chemical on them that stays in the skin after the bur has been pulled off, leaving a really painful sting that lasts for quite a while.  Any plant that is known to flatten bike tires and seriously injury livestock should be removed.

    If pulling weeds to the point of obsession is not for you, mulching garden beds is a great method of weed control.  In order to control weeds mulch should be applied to a depth of four inches across the surface of the garden.  Weed control fabric, when laid underneath the mulch may help, but research is suggesting that this fabric may limit water and air from getting to roots.

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Throughout the long, dry winter, gardeners dreamed of spring, when we could get outside and get growing.  And while catalog shopping is nice, what we really wanted was to get our hands on some plants and sink them into the soil where they could thrive.  Green thumbs are nurturers by nature, coaxing seeds and seedlings into glorious displays in summer.

So it’s no surprise that when a group of gardeners gets together, they throw a plant sale to benefit causes close to their hearts.  This weekend kicks off the season of plant sales, where you can pick up plants while supporting community causes.  Make room in your schedule and planting plans to attend several of these worthy fundraisers.

Denver Botanic Gardens plant sale, today and Saturday, May 7, is the largest event in the area.  They’ve changed their layout this year, so look for the digital map just inside the entrance to plan your shopping spree.  To ensure that you get the plant of your dreams, plan ahead by checking the lists of plants offered on their website, botanicgardens.org/content/spring-plant-sale.  Looking for a perfect gift for Mother’s Day?  Check out their container gardens for a pre-planted mix designed to show off in sun or shade.  Shop from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.  Admission is free to the sale, unless you’d like to shop the plant sale preview party Thursday, May 5, from 4 to 7 p.m.  Tickets for the preview party are $35 per person.

 Boulder Garden Club’s plant sale, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the Eisenhower School, 1220 Eisenhower Dr., Boulder.  Browse member-grown perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs, shrubs, and trees from the oldest garden club in Colorado.  At the Boulder Orchid Society table of orchids, you’ll find unique plants and good advice from the staff at the event.  Proceeds go toward supporting the club’s civic projects in Boulder and their international projects.

 The Gardens on Spring Creek Spring Plant Sale, Saturday, May 7, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2145 Centre Avenue, Fort Collins.  Unusual annuals, heirloom vegetables, herbs, and perennials are offered for the discerning shopper.  For a plant list and more information, check out fcgov.com/gardens. 

Loveland Garden Club plant sale, Saturday, May 7, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the All Saints Episcopal Church, 3448 N. Taft Avenue, Loveland.  Perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs are ready for your garden and if you’re unsure which is best, ask one of the Colorado Master Gardeners staffing the event.  Proceeds go to community causes, such as Larimer County area tree plantings, Loveland Youth Gardeners.  For information:  Laura 970-223-2265/970-222-3322

Happy Transplants Garden Club plant sale, Saturday, May 21, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Vectra bank, 3300 west 72nd Avenue, Westminster.  Sale of perennials, annuals, herbs and vegetables fund community projects and scholarships.  Information: 303-423-2923.

Growing Gardens Community plant sale, Saturdays and Sundays, May 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at the Growing Gardens Greenhouse, 1630 Hawthorn Avenue in Boulder.  The event offers thousands of vegetable seedlings, plus annuals and perennials and benefits Growing Gardens programming, such as Cultiva! Youth Project, Able Gardening, and community gardens.  For information: growinggardens.org/.

Golden Gardeners annual plant sale, Saturday, May 21, 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. held in downtown Golden on the corner of Washington Ave. and 12th Street.  The sale offers perennials, annuals, ground covers, day lilies, and iris, plus a few begonias.  For information, call 303-271-1830.

 Plan to make your trip easy on the arms, by bringing your own boxes, wagons, wheelbarrows or carts to carry around your plants.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

I’ve never paid much attention to astrological calendars that feature the zodiac or animal influences.  Outside of amusing ourselves with the placemats at Chinese food restaurants, the characteristics of whatever year I was born under never inspired me, mainly because the celestial guides never include a plant.  There are animals and arachnids, fish and fowl, dragons and virgins, but never a plant, which bothers me because I’m a gardener. 

But it turns out I wasn’t looking in the right place to find a foliaged guide; all I needed to do was look to the National Garden Bureau, which anoints a different plant every year for us to celebrate.  And this year, 2011, is a year of great excitement, because finally we are in The Year of the Tomato.

How auspicious to be born under this sign.  Anyone guided by this is sure to be the love apple of everyone’s eye, because the tomato is the most popular plant in the vegetable garden. 

“There are so many different varieties and types.  What originally was just a round, red fruit now comes in many shapes and names: currant, cherry, grape, salad, saladette, plum, Roma, Beefsteak, and more,” said Diane Blazek, Executive Director of the Bureau.  “It’s almost impossible to not find one to fit your taste, garden space and growing climate.”

Though it’s roots are in South America’s  Andes Mountains, the fruit is a world traveller, first being cultivated by the pre-Mayan people, says the NGB.  After the explorer Cortés discovered the tomato in an Aztec market and took it home to Spain, the tomato traveled throughout Europe and across the channel to England.

But love for the tasty tomato didn’t take hold in Europe in those early days; as a member of the nightshade family it was grown as an ornamental plant.  Superstitions grew up around it, including the belief that witches used it to summon werewolves, which is why Linnaeus, the father of our scientific naming system, dubbed it Lycopersicon esculentum, or “edible wolf peach.”

According to the blog Tomato Casual, a way to get money is by placing a tomato peeling over your door.  I actually believe this one – one look at the tomato skin above my door and my mother will hand me money to afford cleaning supplies.

American legends argue over who staged an event in 1820 to convince the public that tomatoes were edible.  One version holds that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate a basketful of tomatoes on the steps of the Salem courthouse, while another claims it was Thomas Jefferson  who, on a visit to Lynchburg, Virginia, munched on the fruit on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house.  Neither legend is proved to be true.

Over ten thousand varieties of the love apple exist;  many, known as heirlooms, have been handed down for more than 50 years. The National Garden Bureau says open pollinated tomatoes, which include heirlooms and all varieties that grow true from seed, are the popular choice for home gardeners.  

From smallest to largest, popular fruit shapes are identified as currant, cherry, plum, standard, and beefsteak. Cherry tomatoes, range from ¼ to one ounce, are produced in clusters. Plum, or paste tomatoes, have more solids than liquids, giving them meaty walls that make fine sauces. Standard-sized tomatoes weigh from 4 to 16 ounces, while beefsteaks, can get to be 2 pounds or more.

 Tomatoes have different growth habits, which can be determinate or indeterminate. Determinates are compact, reaching 3 to five feet. They set fruit and ripen it all at once, so the main harvest is concentrated into a few weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow, blossom, and produce tomatoes throughout the growing season. They can reach up to 12 feet tall, and produce many main stems, all of which are capable of flowering and fruiting. To support unwieldy growth and to keep tomatoes off of the ground, support plants with cages or stakes. Staked plants should be pruned to remove all but two growing stems, which are tied loosely to the stakes and trained for vertical growth.

There is a third type called semi-determinate which is bushy like a determinate, but will set and ripen fruit over a longer period of time. The 1984 AAS Award Winner ‘Celebrity’ is a semi-determinate.

Choose your tomatoes by maturity date, the average number of days from planting outdoors to the first ripe fruit. Early tomatoes, generally speaking, are those that ripen in fewer than 70 days; mid-season tomatoes ripen in 70 to 80 days; and late types require over 80 days.

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