Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Community Gardens

In Akron, Colorado the picture to the left shows the beginning of a community garden. The community players were people who work for the county, Colorado Master Gardeners, Washington County Connections, the local greenhouse and other community residents all came together to start implementing an old vacant lot. A run down building was taken down on this lot and the city needed to place a frost-free faucet on the lot for water.
All these community players came together to build a dream. This dream was to create access to fresh food for the seniors and low-income families, the Washington County Connection which is the local resource center and teach young children how to grow their own food.
In the picture to the left, this is the children's garden. Regularly, under the direction of the owner of the local greenhouse and a local Colorado Master Gardener children were educated on growing plants throughout the season.
The sections in this garden were kept in small managable squares of 4' x 4'. By keeping the spaces smaller the participants were not overwhelmed with gardening. The squares embrace the raised bed concept as well.
We were in cooperation with Kansas State University with a Brownfields Grant. We were scheduled for having field plots in this garden to test for levels of contaminants in the crops grown here. After the testing, we could not participate in the funding because the contaminant levels were within a safe range or below normal. Being a vacant lot with an old structure recently removed, sometimes contaminants such as lead can be found a above normal levels.
When starting a community garden, this is one of the things to bear in mind. Test the soil. You have a starting point with all your nutrients: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus and the micro-nutrients. With a starting point, you know what needs to be added and how much needs to be added. Do soil testing every 5 years to keep a clear picture of understanding your soil composition.
Other than soil composition, what is the composition of the landscape within your community garden? What does it represent? The picture to the left demonstrates how participants bring their own creativity to the garden. This creativity builds a certain cultural dynamic within the community garden. In every garden having rules is necessary. A few rules to set parameters such as clean the tools before putting them back in the garden shed. Pick only what you can use for your family at one harvest. Rules for safety and consideration for others are important. You do not want your rules to stifle a creative and fun garden space.
The Akron community garden was started in 2010 and was filled with participants immediately. It is now a source of great pride for the town of Akron.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Phillips County Event Center Garden

In Holyoke, Colorado at the Phillips County Fairgrounds, there is a Plant Select demonstration garden outside the Phillips County Extension Office. This garden was funded by Colorado Garden Show, Inc. This is an educational garden that demonstrates to the public a variety of plants that do well in our landscapes.
Beyond the plant select plants in the garden there are herbs and host plants for butterflies as well as hummingbirds. The plants used in mass arrangements within the garden. Since this garden is located at the entrance to the Extension Office, we want the color and textures to draw people to our garden.
Other features have been added such as two birdbaths, benches and statues. Every plant is labeled. So if you ever travel to Holyoke, Colorado come visit our Plant Select garden.

Visit our Plant Select Gardens

Come and visit our Plant Select gardens if you are ever in Washington County and stop in the fairgrounds in Akron, Colorado.
What is a Plant Select garden? Plant Select is a cooperative program administered by Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State University. The purpose of the program is to seek out, identify and distribute plants the best plants for our landscapes and gardens from the intermountain region to the high plains.
Throughout the state of Colorado there are several demonstration gardens like our demonstration gardens in Akron, Colorado. Each garden trials plants selected from a short list of 7 plants. These seven plants are selected by a committee. Each garden volunteer(s), Extension Agent or Colorado Master Gardener reports on how the plants performed each year. There is a comprehensive list of information from around the state on how a particular plant performed for that year.
Certain plants have become more popular because of this program. The yellow and purple ice plants have gained such popularity. Other plants such as Apache Plume have been a native to our landscape for years and now because of the exposure are being used in the landscape.
These plants are helping people lessen the amount they spend on water usage, fertilizers and pesticides. In doing so people contribute to a cleaner environment. The less fertilizer we use, the less nitrogen there is around to contribute to sewage and contaminate the water supply with nitrate. According to the United States Geological Survey too much nitrogen in the form of nitrates in drinking water is harmful to infants and young livestock. In infants it can cause blue baby syndrome because infants under 4 months do not have an enzyme to help with oxygen transport in the blood.
Overall, these plants lower the maintenance of a garden. Go to the website and view the wide range of perennials, annuals and woody plants there are to chose from for your landscape.
And the next time, you are in Akron, Colorado go over to the fairgrounds and view the gardens. All plants are labeled.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January is the time to sit back with all your catalogs and add plants that add flavor to your cooking: herbs. If you do not want a separate herb garden, then plan the herbs of your choice in areas where you have empty space. While doing this, keep in mind the requirement for caring for herbs is full-sun and well-drained soils. Herbs make good companion plants that contribute to the health and flavor of other plants as well as repel insects.

Once your herbs are planted, keep cutting them frequently in the first stage of their growth called the leaf stage. Harvesting herbs at the right stage is very important with a few exceptions. Picking your herbs at the leaf stage gives you the opportunity to capture optimal flavors. If you wait until the second stage of growth, the flowering stage, the leaves slow down or stop growing. Once the leaves slow, the taste changes and they can yellow. The tastes can change to grassy, woody and bitter. Who would want to eat herbs at this point? Flowers do have their purpose. At the flowering stage, some herbs are used as fragrant garnishes for salads or deserts.

What can herbs do for you besides add flavor to your food? Herbs are a natural food. Food that has nutrients, enzymes, proteins, vitamins and minerals which your body uses. Eat well and you have a better chance of staying well. So why not add herbs to your garden for fragrance and to enhance the flavor of the foods you love and add nutrients to your diet from a fresh food.

What herbs should you add to your garden? The kitchen herbs are the basic essential herbs for cooking. There are eight essential kitchens or culinary herbs: basil, coriander/cilantro, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme. Basil, cilantro and rosemary are all annuals. Mint, oregano, sage, tarragon and thyme are perennials.

Basil is an annual which you can easily reseed in the garden each year. It is a very aromatic herb which can be used as a culinary herb, condiment or spice. The best way to use basil is fresh, or if not fresh, then dried. During the growing season, it is important to keep basil watered on a regular basis. Basil is intolerant of water stress. It is also best to keep cutting basil. The first main cuts should remove up to half the stem. And keep pruning to keep the basil bushy. If you wish to plant basil in the vegetable garden, it will improve the flavor and growth of tomato plants. Repelling thrips, flies and mosquitoes, basil is also beneficial for peppers, oregano, asparagus and even petunias.

Coriander aka Chinese Parsley is often mistaken for parsley and easily reseeds itself each year in the garden. With this herb, Cilantro refers to the leaves and Coriander refers to the seeds of the plant. The leaves are best used fresh, added to the dish before serving. When the leaves are dried or frozen they spoil rapidly. The seeds are used in cooking as well. As a member of the carrot family, coriander using this in the vegetable garden to repel aphids, spider mites and potato beetles.

Mint is a perennial herb which can be very aggressive in the garden. Create an underground barrier or place the mint in an area where it can go wild. Some of the mints are hardy, such as peppermint which can grow in zone 3. Spearmint, on the other hand, tolerates the heat best in zone 11. Mint can be used in teas, with lamb, added to fruits such as berries and melons, and even vegetables such as beans, carrots, potatoes and peas. If you wish to use mint in the vegetable garden, you can use cuttings of the plant around any member of the brassica family which would be cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Mint deters a number of pests including cabbage moths, ants, rodents, flea beetles, fleas, aphids and improves the health of tomatoes and cabbage. The flowers of mint attract hover flies and predatory wasps.

Oregano is a perennial which can seed itself in your garden. The ideal soil is well-drained and slightly alkaline with full-sun exposure. Oregano is a slow grower. It is good to keep the soil free of weeds around the plant to help oregano get established. Like Basil, keeping the plants pruned will keep them bushy and full. If you wish to plant oregano amongst your vegetables, it is very versatile. It can be beneficial for most all crops, especially cabbage.

Rosemary is difficult to start from seed. It is best to take cuttings of this every year to keep inside for the winter. Rosemary will not tolerate our cold winter temperatures. A temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit is about the lowest temperature before the plants are damaged. Rosemary can be used to enhance any food. The key words are any food. Rosemary is often added to meats, but is equally great with salads and desserts. So add rosemary to lamb, veal, rabbit, poultry, fish, eggs, pickles, fruits, jellies, jams and cookies. If you wish to use rosemary in amongst your vegetable plants, they deter cabbage moths, bean beetles, and carrot flies. So place your rosemary next to cabbage, carrots, and beans.

Sage is another strongly flavored herb that is a perennial which requires slightly alkaline, well-drained soil and full-sun. Every spring sage needs to be pruned back. Take away half of each stem. This way it will retain a bushy habit. For its culinary uses, sage can be used in salads and omelets. Since sage is a rather strong flavored herb like rosemary, the best way to use it is lightly, if you have no experience with it. To use sage lightly, we need to use the younger leaves and sometimes you may want to use only 1/3 of the leaf. For those with experience in using sage, using the older leaves will bring its strongest flavor out in cooking. If you wish to plant it in the vegetable garden, sage deters cabbage moths, flea beetles, beetles and carrot flies. So plant it next to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots.

Tarragon is a perennial herb with an aromatic smell similar to anise. It is an herb that is difficult to grow from seed. It is best grown from a root division. If tarragon is not divided regularly, the roots can choke the itself out. Besides that, it thrives on neglect. Our climate of hot and dry in the summer is what tarragon prefers. Tarragon is one of the basic herbs used by the French in their cooking. Tarragon is used with chicken, fish, lasagna and eggs. The most interesting characteristic of tarragon is its scent and taste. Insects dislike both, so tarragon is used as a companion plant. Tarragon has the ability to enhance both flavor and growth of nearby vegetables in the garden.

Thyme is a perennial herb that can be picked at any time of the year, but as one of the exceptions, the best time is when it is in bloom. It prefers full-sun and well-drained soil. It can be easily started from seed, stem cuttings or division. Thyme is used in soups, sauces, poultry stuffing, fish and other meats. Thyme can be dried or frozen without damaging the quality of the herb. Thyme is said to deter cabbage worms, if you choose to use it as a companion with cabbage in the vegetable garden.