Winter Gardening, City-Style

A picture of my winter garden!
My fledgling winter kitchen garden
One of the reasons that people who know me found our move to Helsinki so shocking is, I think, because we were moving from a very rural setting (town of ~2,000, huge yard, close to open space) to a totally urban setting. The shock increased when I told everyone that we intended to live in an apartment in city center, especially since the generous housing allowance would have allowed us to have a detached house with a good-sized yard out in the ‘burbs. “But what about your gardening?” is a question I heard more than once.

And it’s a good one. Gardening is more than a hobby to me. The challenge of figuring out how to grow a new plant (from orchids to celeriac), doing battle against the changeable Colorado weather, growing something unusual, especially tasty, or heirloom, and then cooking something fabulous with it, growing something so local that no gas is required to grow it, harvest it, or bring it home, and doing so organically, is nearly religion for me. But now I have a new challenge–how to get my gardening fix in a city, and a city as far north as Helsinki at that. Read more

Try Something New in the Vegetable Garden

Photo of a fava bean sprout
Fava Beans sprout with the peas in the early spring garden
The old adage “variety is the spice of life” was never more true than in the vegetable garden. If you’ve been planting the same varieties of tomatoes, bell peppers, bush beans, and lettuce for years, it’s time to try something different.

I try new varieties of the old favorites (tomatoes & peppers) just about every year. But recently, I’ve expanded my range a bit so that I try a whole new variety of vegetable each season. There have been failures (bronze fennel was not my favorite, black turtle beans were delicious, but not very productive, and I’m still trying to come up with a variety of cauliflower that is edible in our hot, hot climate!), but there have also been some vegetables that have moved from a garden trial to an annual favorite. Read more

Hardening Off Seedlings

Photo of trays of seedings
Four trays of seedlings waiting for their time in the sun!
With a month to go until Boulder County’s average last frost date, it’s time to start thinking about hardening off cool-season crops! If you have season extenders like cold frames, row covers, or Wall-o-Waters, you can even harden off a few tomatoes and peppers too.

Why Harden Off?

Plants are wildly adaptable, which is part of the reason they grow all over the planet, inside and out. But that means that the structure of the plant itself (from the thickness of its stem to how open its pores are) is different based on whether it was started outside in the sometimes harsh and variable conditions of early spring or indoors where light, moisture, food, and wind are constant. You can replicate some outdoor conditions for your seedlings by directing a fan at the seedlings as they grow and by putting them somewhere where the temperature is a bit variable, but they’re still in for a shock when they move to your garden bed. Read more

Wildflowers of Early April

Photo of Townsendia hookeri
Townsendia hookeri - One of the earliest daisy-type wildflowers
In 2007, I began working on my Native Plant Master (NPM) certification down in Jefferson County. We were in the process of moving to Lyons, but Boulder did not yet have a NPM program, so I hoofed it down to Morrison every Saturday for a month to begin learning about native plants. Three years later and I’m preparing to co-teach my first Native Plant Master courses right here in Lyons at Rabbit Mountain next month.

Usually, I’d say the wildflower season in this area begins in March. But we’ve had a cool, wet spring, so I think things are getting off to a late start. That’s part of the reason I was delighted to find so many little treasures blooming on my first Rabbit Mountain hike of the season yesterday afternoon. Read more

Spring = peas

photo of peas, leeks & spinach in the spring garden
Easter morning seems like an appropriate time for the peas to sprout!
This year I was expecting a wet and snowy March, so on a warm afternoon at the very beginning of March, I planted my peas and fava beans. Today, a full month later, the peas have finally sprouted! Unlike vegetables planted at a more hospitable time of year that fairly reliably germinate per package instructions, peas generally germinate when the soil temperature is right, whether that’s a few days after planting, or, in my case, a full month after planting. That said, determining exactly when soil will warm enough for the peas to germinate is a mysterious art since it happens at a slightly different time every year, so best to plant them early and know that they’ll be there waiting when the time is right.

With peas germinating in early April, we should be eating peas by early June. And after a long, cold winter, that’s sweet spring music to this gardener’s ears. So whether you’re celebrating Passover, Easter, the beginning of spring, or something else all together, have a great day!

Peas and bulbs and phlox, oh my!

a photo of crocuses
Our crocuses are finally in bloom! Gorgeous photo courtesy of Matthew Artz
Tomorrow April begins, and with it us Zone 5-ers can at least begin to expect warmer weather (I have just guaranteed, by making this statement, that we will get one more snow storm here in Colorado. Sorry!). Yesterday it hit 80 here for the first time and that warm weather following so closely on the heels of the moisture last week has caused a flurry of activity in the garden.

As such, I thought I’d divide this post into what you should be doing in the veggie garden and what you should be looking for (or potentially planting later in the season) in your flower beds. Seeing the first crocus of spring (which we had just this week–a full month later than usual!) is as exciting to me as seeing the first spinach and pea sprouts, and my recent posts have been so veggie-focused that I want to give flower gardening a bit of love today too! Read more

Weed Now, Drink Beer Later

Picture of some common spring weeds
Common Colorado weeds (clockwise from upper left): thistle, mallow, dandelion, bind weed
Everyone’s heard the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But I prefer my own slight variant when it comes to spring gardening: “Weed a little in March, sit back and drink beer in July.” That’s right. When many folks are out in the blazing sun pulling deep-rooted perennial weeds this coming July, I’ll be drinking a beer on the patio. Read more

Transplanting Seedlings

Picture of seedlings
Seedlings that are just about big enough to transplant

OK, you’ve identified how much garden space you need, chosen your veggies, planned some container gardensstarted seedlings, completed all of your March garden tasks, and chosen a seed company, now you’re probably ready to transplant some of those seedlings you started!

Check your seedlings and if they’re not quite big enough to transplant, be ruthless and thin to one plant per cell on all vegetables except perhaps onions and basil. Thin by pinching the extra seedlings off at soil level with your fingernails so that you don’t risk disturbing the roots of the one strongest-looking seedling you want to keep in each cell. It has taken me years to get up the courage to murder plants I started from seed, but doing so has made my plants better in the long run. So do it. Read more

Choosing a Seed Company

In December last year, the first gorgeous, glossy seed magazine arrived in my mailbox. After fleeing to a private spot to drool review it in detail, I started thinking about how we choose where to buy our seeds. If the early bird truly does get the worm, Seeds of Change, sender of that first beautiful catalog, would have gotten my money this year, just as they have the past several years. But this year, I’m choosing my seeds from other sources and perhaps explaining my reasoning will help you make your decisions too. Read more