Monday, September 26, 2011

Garden on Through Fall and Early Winter

Sound impossible? If Master Gardener Eliot Coleman in Harborside, Maine can grow vegetables through December, why not here in Colorado?

Create a cold frame. Then over the cold frame create another layer of protection such as a high tunnel or a low tunnel. If that sounds like too much work, then use a row cover for your crops and extend the season late into the fall.

Better yet, in your high tunnel create a hotbed using compost that is still decomposing. These hotbeds will create the natural heat that you need to keep the temperature levels high enough for growing your fall crops.

Fall crops do better if the temperatures dip below freezing. Kale is one of those fall crops that needs to have the temperature into the low 20's and below in order to have a superior flavor. Some good choices for varieties are 'Black Tuscan', 'White Russian', 'Red Russian' and 'Winterbor'.

Other choices for fall vegetables are radicchio, swiss chard, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, spinach, beets, collard, arugula and cabbage.

According to research trials by the Organic Seed Alliance there are some fabulous choices of hardy varieties for growing in fall and winter. Go to the website: for more detailed information.

Here are some choices of those hardy cultivars:

Broccoli : 'Marathon' and 'Packman'
Carrots: 'Bolero'
Lettuce: 'Winter Density' a bibb type, 'Rouge d'Hiver' a romaine type
Swiss Chard: 'Fordhook Giant'
Radicchio: 'Variegata di Luisa Tardiva' an Italian variety
Arugula: 'Sputnik'
Beets: 'Red Ace', 'Chioggia Guardmark'
Collards: 'Champion'
Spinach: 'Olympia'

If you are planning to do a high tunnel, according to Master Gardener Eliot Coleman each layering of plastic covering over your fall crops will put you in a zone equivalent to one and a half USDA zones further south of where you live. So if you live in Zone 4 and apply a covering then you are well in Zone 5. An additional covering will give you moderate temperatures of Zone 6.

With a little ingenuity, we can garden throughout the year - almost. If you do decide to extend the garden season well into winter, then be planning on using some cover crops and creating some hotbeds to provide a fertile soil for future planting areas or to give your beds a boost now.

Just think about having fresh beets or spinach for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Tired yet? With all the grocery money you are saving, take a vacation to a sunny destination.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Xeric Plant: Red Yucca

Red yucca is xeric once established. It spreads to six feet with a flower stalk of six feet tall and six feet wide. The evergreen plant is three feet tall without the stalk. It begins to bloom in April and lasts through November. It survives in elevations up to 2500 feet in elevation.

Hummingbirds are attracted to this plant.

These plants like alkaline, well-drained soil the best.

This plant needs full-sun since it is very drought tolerant as well as heat tolerant. They are relatively pest free and they have a wonderful arching structure which makes them appear as a graceful plant. This plant can be grown in mass plantings with several plants in a section. Place this plant in the hottest, driest place with full-sun exposure that you have in your garden. Then sit back and enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Favorite Ornamental Grasses

Some of my favorite grasses which are native that can be used in your landscape and help you conserve on water and still have a fabulous landscape.

Andropogon gerardii cv. 'Pawnee' is commonly called Big Bluestem has purplish red inflorescence and stems that are a bluish purple in the fall. See for yourself in the pictures below:

Big Bluestem grows in dense stands. This grass grows in moist well-drained soil. It has deep roots that he It is the tallest grass on the prairie. Once it was food for the American bison. This is the grass of the tall grass prairie that kept the wind from blowing the soil away before the land was cultivated before the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.

Panicum virgatum featured to the left, commonly called Switch Grass has different fall coloration for the foliage depending on the cultivar. The flower panicles are reddish-pink. This plant gets to three feet tall and stays compact, narrow and erect. This grass likes well-drained soil that is moist and needs full sun exposure. The old foliage can be cut back to the ground in late winter or early spring. There are now a number of wonderful cultivars that you can add to your garden:

Panicum virgatum cv. 'Prairie Fire' and Panicum virgatum cv. 'Heavy Metal' :

Both grasses are beautiful in the landscape and have changing features throughout the season that can enhance your landscape. Overall grasses are low maintenance and soften areas in the garden.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Medusahead Grass

Yet another invasive species of grass. The movement of the grass Taeniatherum caput-medusae resembles the snake-like tresses of Medusa. This grass orginated in the Mediterranean. The photo to the left is from Oregon State University showing this growing on the their range land.

Due to the high level of silica in this grass and the stiff awns of this grass it is unpalatable. As cattle and other livestock and wildlife attempt to forage on this grass, the seeds and spiky heads cut their mouths. It grows faster and blooms longer than other grasses that it crowds out the space for native grasses which livestock and wildlife can forage. Medusahead even out competes cheatgrass and like cheatgrass it is a winter annual that is a non-native species orginating from Eurasia. Cheatgrass came to this country about 1898 to Washington State. While Medusahead came to Oregon in 1883.

Medusahead grows 6 to 24 inches tall. It can be confused with foxtail barley which has similar stiff, barbed awns. Foxtail barley has longer awns.

The seed germination rate is quicker than other native grasses. So space for native grazing grasses is being taken away. Most ranches have lost 40 to 70 percent of their grazing capacity.
It is important to have this grass identified correctly and for landowners to participate in control efforts.

Control efforts most likely to be used are prescribed burning, tillage, herbicide treatments, judicious grazing management and seeding of desirable perennial grasses and forbs.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ballyneal Golf Course: Their Water Conservation and National Audubon Cooperative Santuary Program

Ballyneal Golf Course is a course certified by the National Audubon Cooperative Santuary Program. It is an award winning education and certification program that helps the golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf. A golf course earns certification by their environmental management practices. Here is a list of those practices that must be met to be certified:

  • Environmental Planning
  • Wildlife and Habitat Management
  • Chemical use, reduction and safety
  • Water conservation
  • Water quality management
  • Outreach and education
Below is information provided by the superintendent of Ballyneal, Dave Hensley:

Water use at Ballyneal Golf Club in Holyoke, CO has been a hot topic to those involved in the project since the idea was created in 2002. Ballyneal is built in the inland Sand Dunes of Northeastern Colorado and the sand profile is deeper than you can dig. Its grassing choices which consist of Fine Fescues, Colonial Bentgrass, and Kentucky Bluegrass present a surface that mimics the traditional playing surfaces of golf. The primary grass, a mix of five Fine Fescues, generally likes a Mediterranean climate but can be very heat and drought tolerant. We have sowed approximately ten different varieties of the Fescue giving our turf stand many characteristics that thrive at different times of the year.

Although we work hard at all aspects of stewardship our biggest challenge is water conservation. The choice to use our water wisely challenges the maintenance staff at Ballyneal to learn and practice watering techniques that will ultimately present the best playing surface while conserving our water inputs.

The irrigation system is equipped with individual head control and a winter watering system. We continually monitor turf conditions not only by aesthetic appearance above ground but also by what the soil is telling us underground. The deep and infrequent irrigation philosophy is our goal. We very rarely use over head irrigation if it is not a scheduled irrigation event and never use over head irrigation on the greens to spot water. We use soil probes that show what the soil needs in order to provide the plant the water it needs to survive, not the amount it needs to stay green. This is a science and we spend a lot of time training our employees what not to water.

We have also spent a lot of time “tweaking” and auditing our irrigation efficiency with individual heads and our computer control system. We make changes daily in the field by adjusting run times for areas receiving too much water. We can change percentages of run time in our control system and this has greatly reduced water usage in areas that do not require or were at one time over watered. Our irrigation heads also have adjustable arcs and angles of throw so we can control wasteful watering into native areas. We have recently done a thorough audit of each sprinkler head to adjust the gallon per minute, radius, and the arc and angle. In 2008 we conducted a nozzle inspection and conversion to control drift from the winds we experience at Ballyneal.

We implement all drought management strategies, these include; the use of wetting agents, eliminating irrigation in select areas, reducing rough irrigation, hand watering, adjusting fertilization practices, reducing fairway and tee irrigation, increasing mowing heights, and modifying irrigation control systems.

It has been a challenge and although we have had success we have also had some setbacks. As our turf ecology grows water use will decline on the short grass we have currently. We are proud of what we have achieved in the growing seasons of 2008 and 2009 as we have applied approximately a third less water each year than what we have used in each of the previous three years.

We are currently members of the Audubon Society and sponsor the 4th Grade class at Holyoke Elementary School in their efforts in the Audubon Society and educating about the environment. We welcome the opportunity to show off our property and would be happy to give you a tour of our stewardship efforts, our native habitat, or our gardens.

We are also constantly looking for volunteers to help with bird and wildlife watching and inventories. Please call Dave Hensley at (970) 571-3901 with any inquiries.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Seniors: Tips for Gardening with grace

In the United States, in the next ten years, the 78 million baby boomers will be reaching retirement age. Those that already enjoy gardening as a hobby will need to adjust some of their gardening techniques as they age.

Here is a brief list of age related considerations that should be taken into consideration for gardeners:

Physical attributes that decline with age, below is a list:

1 Vision - there are changes in the eye lens structure. The lens thickens, yellows and becomes opaque. This impacts our clarity. Blue, violet and green are harder to see. Depth perception is diminished. There is a loss of peripheral vision as well.

  • Paint tools a bright color.
  • Make paths firm, level and smooth.
  • Create good drainage off paths.
  • All paths should be wide enough to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
  • For those pushing the wheelchair and others, place ample seating throughout the garden.
  • Each path needs to have a clear beginning and ending.
  • Use contrasting colors and textures to help with visibility.
  • Have good lighting.

2 Skin - the elderly are more susceptible to sunburn, bruises and bumps because of thinning of our skin.

  • Limit exposure to the sun during the time when the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants or loose protective clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen with (SPF) 15 or higher to dry skin 30 minutes before going out into the sun. If an elderly individual's health and age allow one to be outside for more than two hours, reapply the sunscreen every two hours.

3 Body Temperature - as the body ages it does not adjust quickly to temperature changes. So we may not know that we have stayed out too long in the sun or cold. Heat stroke and dehydration and hypothermia are as much health concerns as arthritis and rheumatism, heart disease, kidney function and osteoporosis.


  • Garden in the early morning or early evening.
  • Drink lots of fluids which do not include alcoholic beverages.
  • Splash water on your body or shower frequently.
  • Eat light meals.
  • Wear gloves.

4 Muscular/Skeletal - there is reduced agility, balance and strength. There is an increase in tremors and broken bones.

  • Create more raised beds in the garden.
  • Use ergonomic tools.
  • Design vertical gardens or lots of trellis work.
  • Add more pots or containers or window boxes for gardening.
  • Add window boxes or hanging baskets.
  • Add miniature garden planters.

Other key considerations of gardening as we age are as follows:

1 Cognitive abilities - this may decrease with age especially if the individual is not socially active. Alzheimer's and dementia increase our loss of memory and increase our difficulty in learn new skills.

  • Simplify the garden design. Less is more.
  • Favorite plants can trigger a memory.
  • Focal points can help orientate an individual to location in the garden. Make them original.

2 Economic Dependence - older family members may become more dependent on their children. With this comes a lose of control over aspects of an individual's life. As family and friends pass away, this can create isolation. If an older member of the family is forced to move to one of their children's homes because of economics or care this reduces self-esteem and self-confidence.

  • Give loved ones a place to garden that is all theirs. They get to chose what plants and how to care for them in their area.
  • Create social activities in the garden.
  • Create inter-generational time in the garden.
  • Be creative and use recycled materials to keep the cost low.
Happy gardening for the next decade and more!