Sunday, February 28, 2010

Getting ready for the Garden Tour

I had the pleasure today of attending a tea.  I am not normally the type to get invited to a tea.  But here I was surrounded by a group of very nice and very sophisticated gardeners all sipping from expensive china and snacking on little sandwiches without crusts and eating those delicious little finger foods that had been frosted or dipped in chocolate. I of course had some tea and let me tell you it was very good.

The purpose of this tea was to discuss the upcoming Greeley Garden Tour an event which the very name of which I have to admit stresses me out a little. The idea here is that a committee of experienced master gardeners select a group of about a dozen homes in the city of Greeley with outstanding or unique gardens in order to showcase them and to raise money for a scholarship for nursing students. Needless to say they invited me to this tea because I have been selected, screened and approved for this honor.

I was amazed at how real gardeners share so many of my values. They were excited to have my weird ideas about productive and intensive produce plantings shown alongside the traditional flower gardens prevalent in this area. They were excited about the varieties of plants and my experiments.  I described a few of my specimen plants including my persimmon and almond trees without criticism or the raised eyebrow that usually stares back at me when I usually describe my yard.  A group of open minded people excited about plants.
This just might be the definition of gardener.

My stress comes from the reality that on the last weekend of June over 350 people will be walking through my yard!  I have so much to do.  I really need to address finishing the cedar benches for the west side of the house where people will walk to return to the front of the house. I need to plant the ground cover of creeping strawberries or emerald raspberries in the stone pathway.  I need to make repairs to the flagstone patio, I still need to turn the garden and clean up the strawberry patches.

As every gardner knows - when it rains it pours!

Friday, February 26, 2010

About Bare Root Stock

I have heard many people bad mouth "mail order" or bare root plant materials over the years but I believe that they have their place and if properly planted and cared for can actually have some advantages.

The first thing that you will need to know is that now is the time to order the bare root plants.  Do not wait until late spring because the nurseries will have already sold their plants and if nothing else varieties will be very limited.  Most good nurseries have been around for enough years to make good estimates on the number plants that they will need to sell and this fact means that you need to plan ahead if you want to take advantage of this kind of plant shopping.

The bare root tree, shrub or bramble arrives in a cardboard box wrapped in a plastic bag with some moist paper towels loosely wrapped around the roots.  The stock is usually dormant and may have a rubber band securing the bag around the trunk to keep the moisture in the bag.  It is best to coordinate with a bare root nursery that specializes in this type of plant material and has a good track record.  The timing of the shipment is one of the main keys to success. Your lines of communication with the nursery will need to be open and a clear understanding of the weather in transit and the conditions where you are will be essential for successful plants.

When the nursery ships your material you will need to go out that day and purchase liquid rooting hormone in a large container.  You will want a quart for every twenty or so plants you put into the ground. You will also need to go out and place markers for each of the plants exactly where you want to dig the holes.  I do not pre-dig the holes because I do not want to dry out the soil in the whole and digging the dirt the day the plants arrive one-by-one seems to work very, very well.


When the plants arrive, unpack them immediately and soak the roots in water deep enough to submerge the roots.  You will want to soak these plants for about 24 hours.  At this point, you will need to grab a sharp spade and one by one dig holes and plant the materials.

Grab the trunk of the tree or shrub so that the graft is just above the top of your fist.  Place your elbow on the edge of the hole so that the roots drop into the deepest portion of the hole.  If the roots touch or bend at all you need to dig deeper.  When the roots no longer touch after adjusting the hole then you will begin immediately pushing the dirt from the tailings into and around the roots gently without compacting.  When the hole is full the graft should be one fist (@ 4" above the ground.

Water the plant heavily and mix a one gallon bucket to the specifications listed on the label.  Each plant gets one gallon of mixed rooting hormone.

At this point you will need to protect the plant from deer, rabbits and dogs.  But if you can do this you will succeed and that is definitely the point of gardening - success!

Time to fertilize your fruit trees.

This weekend is the best time to fertilize stone fruit and apples to get them ready for the next season.  I would recommend a bloom boosting fertilizer like 0-10-X with a predominant phosphorus load or ask your local nursery what they would recommend for your area and soil conditions.  This early spring fertilizer will have a chance to break down and will get carried with the spring melt into the roots giving the tree what it needs when it breaks dormancy.

For those who do not have their fertilizer numbers memorized the first number represents Nitrogen content.  The zero in the first part of this number 0-10-X indicates that there is little to no traceable Nitrogen.  This is good in the spring as Nitrogen will boost tree growth and leafing.  You want blooms so the middle number (Phosphorus) is the number that you want to pay attention to for this application.  The final number is Potassium. Potassium is essential for the metabolic function of the tree regulating dozens of tree functions and so this number can be as high or even higher then the Phosphorus rating.

Wood ashes are a good spring fertilizer for trees containing mostly Phosphorus and Potassium but it will also alkalize the soil so excessive application can cause problems if used later than the las spring rain as rain tends to be a little acidic and will correct for the alkali of the wood ash.

If there is still snow on the ground this is actually a good thing as it will begin to dissolve the granules and any further freeze cycles will break apart minerals and aid in absorption.

Apply the fertilizer around the drip line and use about a half a pound of fertilizer for a small tree up to 3 pounds for a large tree.  In my estimation it is best to guess on the low side as you do not want to burn the roots.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Time to start seeds.

This week is the week to start seeds if you live in areas with growing periods of less than about 100 days.  Tomatoes, peppers, bush beans, herbs, melons, and gourds can all be started in trays with humidity domes and adequate sunlight.  Cool weather veggies like broccoli and cauliflower should be started in humidity domes starting in sunlight and then moved to a cool place after germination.  Some peppers require tray heaters to get them to germinate.  If you do not have tray heaters a good alternative is a closed oven with the oven light left on.  This will keep a temperature of just over 100 degrees perfect for germinating these warm weather seeds.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How it started...

I moved into my standard suburban home in the conservative small city of Greeley Colorado in 2008 with my wife, two boys and my dog April. The home was virtually brand new as it had been a builder foreclosure due to the overbuilding in the area combined with the slump in the housing market. The home had not been landscaped yet and as a result my first task was to battle the enormous weed forest that had taken over every square inch of the outdoor space. There was no fence, no irrigation, no topsoil and a backyard that looked like a ski slope.
Over the past three years I have transformed my yard into something unique and beautiful as well as sustainable and productive. This was accomplished on a very restricted budget as well as within the confines of the usual gardeners problems including a gopher, space restrictions, my home owners association, and a community of stepford wives along with all of the limited imagination that accompanies that type of attachment to the past.
What makes my approach to landscaping unique is that I have not only created a yard that is almost completely edible but I feel that I have uniquely fused design elements taken from asian and french gardens. The result is something that I believe to be not only one of a kind but leaves me room to continue my personal growth and experimentation.
The intent of this blog is to share my experiences, lessons learned, knowledge, and offer up my philosophical views on sustainable living and create a resource for this new type of landscaping.
In the next Blog I am starting my seedlings and getting ready for the next season. Join me for ideas on gardening in high altitude climates with short growing seasons.