Friday, January 27, 2017

Eight Mondays till Spring

Someone I heard the other day said it is only eight Mondays until the spring equinox (March 20). You know what that means...the garden get ready stage will soon be replaced with "I'll be outside, call me when lunch is ready." I'm exaggerating of one fixes my lunch! 

What is the readiness plan? Is it too early to start seeds indoors?  What can be planted? Are there any downsides to early seeding? How do I seed, I'm just getting started? Any tips? Do I needy expensive lighting and equipment? "My you ask a lot of questions. Glad you asked, I enjoy answering them."

FIRST - order your seeds or purchase from local garden centers now, no more delays. If ordered immediately they'll probably arrive the Monday after the Super Bowl, perfect.  

SECOND - yes, some seeds can be started this early in late January. The list includes plants that take longer to grow indoors (~10 -12 weeks) before they are ready to be transplanted outside. Try as I might this list may not include every plant that can be started this early.  Soon I'll post a blog with a longer list of popular seeds to start indoors.
  • Cool-season vegetable and herb seeds includes: artichokes, celery, celeriac, onion and leek, parsley. 
  • Ornamental annuals includes: pennisetum grass, lisianthus (seeding tips), snapdragons, stock, verbena, pansies/viola, geranium, wax begonia, dusty miller, heliotrope, petunia, lobelia, ornamental peppers.
  • Perennials include: delphinium, foxglove, dianthus, echinacea (coneflower), eryngium (sea holly), tanacetum (feverfew), rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), viola, yarrow, carnation (tender perennial) bee balm (tender perennial), sweet william (biennial).
THIRD - the downsides to seeding plants too early. Not the ones listed above, they need the extra weeks to grow:
  • Light - if you're depending on using a sunny window for your seed trays, in late January we only have about nine to ten hours of sunlight. Lack of enough light results in spindly, weak seedlings. And if they are too close to the window they won't like the chill. For the plants listed above it is advisable to use grow lights and not windows for the light source.
  • Light under Lights: if you're growing seedlings three inches from the light bulbs and they are doing well, then that's good. But what happens to the plants when they're transplant size and ready to go outside and it's still mid-March and too cold for them? You can continue potting them up, watering and fertilizing regularly (don't take any long trips). Plants like tomatoes will get very leggy if growing under lights too long indoors. Play it safe with warm-season crops like peppers, tomatoes and eggplant, start them by seed (mid to late March) which is 4-6 weeks before transplanting them outdoors. Peppers can use a couple extra weeks of indoor growth so they can be started earlier in March. Again, look for my seed timing chart coming soon.
FOURTH - seed starting for beginners - these reputable links are short, easy primers on seed starting.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Planting Seeds Indoors Video

FIFTH Seed starting Tips: 
  • Test your seed viability if the packet is a few years old. Scatter about ten of the seeds on a damp paper towel. Fold and put in a plastic bag (tie) near a sunny window. If less than half the seeds have sprouted after ten days, buy new seeds. 
  • In addition to store bought seed trays and kits, don't overlook items from home - yogurt cups, butter tubs, egg cartons, plastic lettuce packages, even wooden boxes that clementines are sold in. Just be sure to sterilize them well - which means after cleaning with soap and water, wipe them with hydrogen peroxide or a 10% bleach solution. 
  • Poke or drill drainage holes in all containers.
  • Use deep - at least 6-inch pots for Spanish onions seeds.
  • Use a label system for each plant or tray. You think you'll remember, but things happen. Buy a permanent marker and use store bought sticks or cut up some of the plastic tub or lids. Sterilize the markers too.
  • ALWAYS use sterile seed starting mix. Moisten it before filling the trays or containers.
  • Lighting - yep, regular shop lighting works fine - low cost cool-white bulbs. But you'll like the growing results with the newer florescent grow lights or LED. T-5 skinny bulbs won't fit in the fixture with your T-8s or T-12s. Use a timer and keep the lights on for 12-16 hours each day. 
  • Place a fan near the seedling trays, not too close. Keep it on 24/7 - low setting. Air circulation is the best defense to damping off disease where the seedlings seem to die or suddenly collapse.
  • Seedlings prefer to be watered with room temperature water so fill a clean garbage can with water and leave it close to the seeds. Cold water may slow seedling growth and lead to damping off. 
  • Other ways to ward off damping off is to not overcrowd seeds, avoid over watering and never let the trays or containers stand in water for any length of time. Remove plastic or cover domes immediately after germination to lower the humidity levels. 
  • My backup for water lapses is using a capillary mat under the seed tray. They feel like felt and are very absorbent, usually sold in rolls or sheets at garden centers or online. I've seen them in black or white. Cut to the size of your tray, they are re-usable from year to year and machine washable on the gentle cycle (air dry). Simply pour some room temperature water over the mat about every other day or as needed and leave it to the seeds to soak up what they need right to the plant roots.  
  • Use a heat mat for quicker germination and growth on warm loving seeds like basil and tomatoes. Don't plug the heat mat into the light timer, the heat needs to be on all the time.
  • Please check back soon for my seed timing and transplanting chart.  

Capillary mat roll and fitted mat below the plastic container and seed tray

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mail Time

No matter how comfortable I am with electronic media, news and connecting socially, there's still nothing that compares to receiving mail from the friendly uniformed person wearing blue. Maybe I speak more for those over a certain age, then again, maybe not - what grandchild doesn't like receiving a birthday card with a check (or iTunes gift card) from Grandma? And what gardener doesn't like the flood of seed and plant catalogs that arrive in January - some come in December amid the holiday cards and Harry and David fruit. Two more catalogs arrived at my house today. Heaven, joy...turn off the T.V. computer, cell phone, pour a cup of tea and wake me in the morning - I'm going to be busy this evening (and all week) dreaming and dog-earing catalog pages.

What about you, are you getting catalogs by snail mail? No criticism if you're new school and prefer to save resources by only subscribing to on line looking. Please don't hold it against me, I recycle. 

So, where does one go from here after the catalog items are circled, the pages are bent or drooled on, "sorry if that is too graphic, maybe I should leave out this reference, too late." Do you have decision fatigue over what to purchase or are you totally in control and stay within budget which in fantasy could be anywhere from $5.00 to $500,000. "Wouldn't it be great if the publisher clearing house van arrived right after the mail carrier?"

Here's why it is so hard to choose - many of the descriptions sound so wonderful...a la J Peterman Style from Seinfeld.

Description from Tomato Growers Supply Company, just an example and no endorsement intended:

'Stellar VF Hybrid' 
"What a fitting name for a beautiful round, red tomato with greater yields and high resistance to late blight plus intermediate resistance to early blight and Septoria Leaf Spot. Stellar gives gardeners who experience high disease pressure (THAT'S ME) a slicing tomato they can count on. Smooth, lovely fruit is medium-sized at 5 to 7 ounces, perfect for tucking into sandwiches or cutting up into salads."  

Forget diamonds, give me 'Stellar' tomatoes!

What I do is order a few seed packets (well under $500K) and shop my local garden centers. The key is getting an early jump. Some of the new seed introductions or plants sell out early, so get your on line orders placed (they'll ship when it is planting time, now or later for seeds). Get out to the garden stores soon because their 2017 seed racks are filled to capacity. Grab some other supplies too, new seed trays, potting soil, and if you have some dollars left over from the holidays, trade out your old fluorescent shop lights for higher efficiency full-spectrum or LED bulbs. For the thin T-5 bulbs you may need new fixtures. Here are two quick grow light primer videos - how to choose a grow light and wikiHow to grow vegetables with grow lights.

I need to close now, there's a lull in the wind, no snow predicted (except in the mountains) and the stores open soon. Happy shopping!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Front Range Garden Class Resources - 2017

In my experiences New Year's resolutions are rarely kept, at least for the long term - not that a person shouldn't give it a go. This year I'm going to try very hard to keep thrips away from the tomatoes. In truth a more attainable pursuit might be inventing a new fangled dandelion picker. No, that's already out there - a straight edged screw driver. For all of us, a new garden year means a fresh start, a clean palette to dream, design and do. Resolve to sign up for some classes or workshops and get the brain energized and filled with the right stuff. Happy New Garden Year 2017, let's enjoy it together!

Denver and the Front Range is very fortunate in having many free or low cost outlets for garden classes and seminars. Below is a list with links for ones that I know of right now. The first group - seminars, workshops and conferences charge fees, unless otherwise noted. Public and botanic gardens also charge for classes. Garden center classes are often free so check their websites for more information. Also consider attending or joining a garden society, group or club. You will meet other friendly people. Most meet monthly, have low cost dues and offer educational seminars, garden tours and trips, plant sales and judged shows through the year. Obviously if you don't reside in this area, check out what's offered in your neck of the woods. Please check back often for updates to the lists.

Denver Rose Society Educational SymROSEium

Native Plant Master Program - in 2017

Cottage Food Safety Training - Dates and locations for March, April and May 

Adams County Extension Spring Vegetable Gardening Classes, 2017 Brighton

Backyard Compost Colorado Beginning April through early May, locations along the Front Range 

Wild West Gardening Conference, April 22, 23, 2017 Laramie, WY

Colorado Dahlia Society Tuber Sale, April 22, 2017 Denver 

Vegetable Gardening Seminar April 25, 2017 Colorado Springs 

Basic Botany April 27, 2017 Golden

NYFC Water Bootcamp and Western's Farm to Table Conference 
March 30, Gunnison
Harvesting Rainwater Make and Take a Rain Barrel, May 13, 2017 Colorado Springs

Wildflowers of Green Mountain May 14, 2017 Lakewood

Basic Botany May 16, 2017 Golden

Colorado Plant Families May 18, 2017 Golden 

Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival May 19-21, Colorado Springs

Painting the Native Landscape May 24, 2017 Evergreen

Four Corners Horticulture Conference, June 8-10, 2017 Durango

Discover Colorado Wildflowers at Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve June 18, 2017 Golden 

Native Plant Master Course on Wetland/Riparian Plants June 19 to August 7, 2017 (3 outdoor field sessions) Littleton

Plant Field Sketching Class June 27 and 28, 2017 Golden

DIY Native Plant Landscaping Installation June 30, 2017 Littleton

Discover Native Shrubs for your Landscape July 21,2 017 Littleton  

Wetland/Riparian Plants of the Front Range July 24, 2017 Littleton 

Discovery Tour of Spain, November 26-December 8, 2017 through the extension office of Pueblo County 

Butterfly Pavilion Westminster

Denver Botanic Gardens
The Gardens on Spring Creek  Ft. Collins

Growing Gardens Boulder 

The Hudson Gardens  Littleton

Pikes Peak Urban Gardens Colorado Springs

AREA GARDEN CENTERS:  too numerous to mention, so call around or check their websites or Facebook for their 2017 classes.


Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society
Colorado Native Plant Society
Colorado Water Garden Society
Denver Field Ornithologists
Denver Orchid Society
Denver Rose Society
Front Range Organic Gardeners
Ikebana Denver Chapter
Rocky Mountain African Violet Council
Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society 
Rocky Mountain Koi Club
Rocky Mountain Unit of The Herb Society of America

January 2017

Happy New Year !