Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Week to cover-up

Mesclun growing under row cover fabric
A week of 30 mph winds on Colorado's Front Range with both daytime and nighttime temperatures below seasonal averages presents a great opportunity to talk about plant protection and season extension "cover-ups".

Using floating row cover fabric to grow early spring crops made even more sense this week. With soil covering the edges, this lightweight, spunbonded polyester or polypropylene fabric stays in place even though it flaps in the wind. Indeed it should be loose for plants to grow. The fabric provides just enough tempering to moderate wind and cold temperatures while water and light penetrate for plant growth.

If you haven't tried growing under row covers, do so to realize the benefits including wind protection; earlier and increased harvest; pest protection from insects, rabbits and squirrels; frost protection; water conservation and more (see here). Many local market growers are making extensive use of fabric covers for field production. They work equally well in home gardens. Just be sure to peek under the cover once in a while. Weeds find the tempered environment equally conducive for growth and you don't want to miss peak harvest quality because crops are "out of sight, out of mind".

Wall O' Waters set up to warm soil
Another forward looking cover-up this week is preparation for early planting of warm season vegetables. Use of Wall O' Waters to warm soil for future planting of tomatoes and other warm season crops made sense after last weeks warm weather and before this weeks cool-down. Made in Dillon, Montana, this product has a proven record of enabling home gardeners to plant earlier and protect tomatoes from winds and frost. The water-filled channels in the sides are heated by the sun to warm the soil and then protect the plant inside. The manufacturer recommends setting them up at least a week prior to planting to allow for warming the soil for roots.

Wall O' Waters used with black plastic mulch
Wall O' Waters can be used either alone or in combination with another cover-up, black plastic mulch. Even though clear plastic works better for warming soil, black plastic does a fair job and can be used around water walls to prep a garden soil even more for an early May planting of warm season crops. Yes, our average last frost in Denver is May 5 but cold weather often extends later in the month. Plant protection and season extension make sense in our climate.

Photo credit: Mesclun growing under fabric row cover, Wall O' Waters set up to warm soil, Wall O' Waters used in combination with black plastic mulch - All credit Carl Wilson.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring sowing of greens

Germination using straw mulch
Time remains to sow spring salad and greens crops in our March to April spring planting period. The nice thing with these crops is that they can be cut at any stage of growth with cut-and-come again harvesting. This means no waste from late sowings that can be harvested before they fade in June heat.

The seedlings in the photo were germinated under a layer of straw mulch. Straw is a useful organic mulch to use in spring before lawns green up and grass clippings become available.

Want to add some pizzazz to your salads? Red orach also called mountain spinach is worth trying. It's native to Europe and the Balkans. Adding red leaves with their mild spinach-like flavor to an otherwise green salad provides a nice complementary color contrast. Orach can be used for presentation purposes as a bed of red on a serving plate. It also can be cooked as a green in soups but red varieties lose their color.

Red Orach  Atriplex x hortensis
Several varieties are available from the magenta shown to purple and various shades of green. Red orach seed is widely available and easy to grow once soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F. Do not sow where spinach, beet or chard have been or will be grown in crop rotation

The best leaves to pick for salads come from the first 18 inches of plant growth made in 40 to 50 days. Orach is both alkaline soil and drought tolerant. It is slower to bolt than spinach but will bolt in summer.

Orach is an annual growing to 4 feet or taller and will self-sow readily if left to mature so be warned and harvest it young if you don't want it coming up all over your garden in future years. Seedlings from saved or naturally spread seed tend to have a lot of color variation.

Photo credit: Straw mulch for seed germination, Red Orach growing with drip irrigation - Both credit Carl Wilson

Monday, April 7, 2014

America turns to Food Gardening

One in three American households (37%) are growing their own food. This is an increase of 17 percent in the last five years to the highest level in a decade. Some 42 million households raise food according to a new report, "Garden to table: A 5-year look at food growing in America", from the National Gardening Association (NGA).
The satisfaction of harvesting your own food 

Of great note is that the largest increase was among younger, millennial generation households age 18-34 (up 63%) and households with children (up 25%).

Millennials are the fastest growing segment of food gardeners totaling 13 million in 2013, a 63% increase in 5 years. Millennials also nearly doubled their spending on food gardening to $1.2 billion in 2013.

Where people don't have their own land to garden, they are joining community gardens. The five year increase in community gardeners is 200% or 2 million more households.

What has caused this food growing revolution? The great recession of recent years may have caused some to turn to growing their own food; the report indicates that household with incomes under $35,000 participating in food gardening increased by 38% in five years. This doesn't explain the total increase as those households represent only 11 million of the 42 million total food gardening households.

The NGA credits the "Let's Move" and White House Kitchen Garden initiatives and strong national leadership from USDA and HHS to increase awareness of healthy eating and educational efforts towards food gardening. Public-private partnerships also receive credit for building more food gardens in communities.

The survey finds that 76% of food growing households grow vegetables. The rest by deduction grow fruit.

Locally in Colorado's Front Range blogs like this one, increased numbers of classes on food growing, a growing number of CSA's, strong community gardening organizations such as Denver Urban Gardens and more political focus on local food production are paying off.

Why not join the grow your own food movement if you haven't already?

Photo credit: Harvesting cabbage - Carl Wilson