The Garden Sleeps

The Garden Sleeps

The Garden Sleeps

By Jan Koehler, SCMG

There comes a time each year when even the most engaged gardener appreciates the declining day length and cooler temperatures which signal that the end of arduous toil, however be-loved, is winding down for the year. The amount of time spent watering pots or plots, denuding an area of unwanted plant growth, commonly known as weeds, and deadheading flowers to encourage yet one more flush of lively color or harvesting those tasty morsels of homegrown vegetables is finally coming to a close for the season. The gardener finally gets to rest while the garden sleeps.

With the shortening of daylight hours, the deciduous tree leaves turn colors other than green as now these omnipresent pigments which have been masked by the vibrant green produced by the plant machinery for photosynthesis are no longer hidden and present their own beauty to the garden. Some of the most temperature sensitive plants such as annual flowers and vegetables cease to exist in a climate zone which would only support them for a single season. Their brown and lifeless leaves and stems may become natural mulch if left alone and close enough to tender perennials that may or may not re-turn depending on the severity of the winter cold. Perennials too, lose that blush of life and lay dormant in the ground with most if not all of their above ground structure looking tired at best with a few species giving interest to the space by the stalks sup-porting their seed heads or the twisted leafless woody vines providing new elevated designs to observe. Decorative pots once overflowing with lush vegetation have probably been cleaned up for the fast approaching winter weather and become a simpler focal point while the garden rests.

Only the ever-green plants and trees continue to greet the garden visitor with nature’s color palette beyond the shades of brown.

Hopefully, the winter season brings the always welcome moisture supplying storms to the garden for, although resting, water addition to the ground is as necessary as it was in the heat of the summer albeit less is necessary to keep the trees and perennials healthy until the days lengthen again toward springtime and the garden growth starts to re-emerge. A blanket of snow, as infrequent as it is in our desert area, acts an insulator for the young perennial shoots that may otherwise emerge in a warm spell mid-winter only to be stunned and stunted by a return to below freezing temperatures.

Winter is also the time when a well rested gardener starts to dream of “playing in the dirt” and reconnecting with nature. Catalogs of garden perennials, flower and vegetable seeds, tools, raised beds,ceramic and clay pots, and other garden ornamentation flood the mailbox and inspire the gardener to take measure of last year’s plantings, harvest, and beauty to see just where changes can or should be made for the upcoming season of dream implementation. The gardener’s excitement soars as the laziness of the garden itself lingers for yet another couple of months while the garden sleeps.

Yes, the garden sleeps, storing energy in the roots of trees and perennials so it may emerge from that slumber and bring forth the miracle of new growth in the spring of the year. Since our winter is relatively mild, allowing the garden to sleep for a few short months not only renews plant vigor, but also restores the energy of this gardener for another interesting and fruitful season upon which to contemplate. Pleasant dreams, my beautiful garden space.

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Winter Gardening – Planning for Spring Season by Loren Meinz Master Gardener

Winter Gardening – Planning for Spring Season by Loren Meinz Master Gardener

Winter Gardening – Planning for Spring Season by Loren Meinz Master Gardener

So, rather than winter boredom watching TV all day, there are some things we gardeners can and should be doing to get ready for spring season.  First, if you have fruit trees, January/February is the time for pruning.  After several years of my pruning efforts, my two trees are somewhat “odd” shaped, so this year I am hiring an arborist to give them a professional crew cut.  After pruning, consider applying dormant oil spray to rid the tree of left over pest bug eggs that may hatch in the spring and invade your tree fruit.  Dormant oil spray can also be beneficial to many of your landscape trees and shrubs.

These winter days, you should be receiving the catalogues for mail order seeds.  I read those seed books as faithfully as my classic car magazine.  I order seeds for spring and summer planting at the same time – it saves on shipping costs, and you have your seeds in hand when you want to plant.  The varieties of vegetables available in those catalogues are amazing.   Garden space is usually limited, so I try to raise the vegetables that I enjoy eating and are expensive to buy (like heirloom tomatoes).  I don’t plant potatoes, large onions, and corn because they take lots of garden space and water, and are cheap to buy in stores.  When buying seeds, ask yourself if you really want to raise plants from seed or do you want to buy plants from the nursery?  Growing plant starts like tomatoes can be difficult, and if you leave on vacation?  Most of the seeds I buy will be “direct seeded” in the garden, like spinach, zucchini, winter squash, beans, beets, parsnips, and chard.  Planting most of these will have to wait until late April because they will not germinate until the soil warms.

Winter is the best time to prepare garden soil.  Add 3-4 inches of compost to the garden area, then, broadcast granular fertilizer on top (a 10-20-10 granular fertilizer, or similar blend, following the application rates on the package), and till in the mixture of soil, compost, and fertilizer to a total depth of about 10-12 inches.  I use 5 foot wide raised beds with wood board edges to control the garden area – it helps for tilling, planting, watering, and harvesting.  For obtaining compost, check the Sandoval County Landfill & Composting Facility at 2708 Iris Road or call the local County Extension office for sources of bulk compost.  You can also purchase bags from the local nursery supply stores.

Now that your soil is prepared, wait until mid-March and begin planting sets of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, peas, and other cold-weather crops.  Be prepared for hard night time freezing – I cover my bed with old sheets or whatever else I can find.  But once these cold crops start rooting in, they will stand moderate freezing and bounce right back.  Soon, you will be enjoying the wonderful taste of home-grown vegetables.

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Growing Neomexicanus Wild Hop

Growing Neomexicanus Wild Hop

Growing Neomexicanus Wild Hop

CAUTION: — Growing Neomexicanus Wild Hop Can be addictive — and it is just about as practical as a mid-engine sports car.

I have learned enough to know better over the past eight months, but I am more motivated now than ever to grow more next year. NoGrowing Neomexicanus Wild Hopt so much for my successes, but because of my experiences nurturing this amazing, fast-growing vertical giant that lights up the morning with bright fragrant cones that pack a delightful pungent bouquet.

It was last October that I hiked into the Jemez Mountains with my teenage son and older daughter to discover and dig up wild Neomexicanus rhizomes to bring home and plant in our backyard garden in Bernalillo, (that we lovingly call, “Hop 313.”)

In the warm winter months of January and February, I designed and built ten vertical structures to become the foundation for my experimental vertical garden. By March 1st the structures were in place and my son and I divided the wild rhizomes into about 60 separate shoots and crowns.

By May, the first young hop sprouts were beginning to spring up, although only 25% of the plantings produced hop shoots. Of those, a few were very slow growing, some were early to rise and produced small cones by June. About a dozen of the 60 planted became productive and capable of reaching the ten-foot limit of my structures, and about six of those became beautiful, vigorous producers by September, resulting in large healthy leaves and cones with multiple branching that is characteristic of Neomexicanus.

My greatest nemesis and the most time-consuming annoyance was discovering that my field becomes a bindweed factory when water is applied and it will attack anything and everything in its path. The hours I spent bending down to pluck bindweed became my Zen workout and while I hated it, mitigating the weeds to protect my plants was worth it, and spending time outside and working the garden became my therapy, both physical and mental. Yet, the more I plucked, the faster it grew. Bindweed is nationally recognized as one of the most noxious weeds in the US. It is virtually indestructible because, as a rhizome it can live up to twenty-five feet deep and become active upon watering the ground above it. The only way to eradicate it is to dig up the roots. Therefore, manually removing it periodically is the only solution to protecting your garden from bindweed suffocation.

Growing hop is a multi-year commitment. The first season, you just let it grow and establish its roots, which over time can reach up to twenty-five feet deep, reaching underground water resources. By the third year, it becomes important to dig up the mature rhizome “crowns” and divide the shoots for replanting or resale. Left alone over time the hop can become highly unmanageable, much like bind¬weed in fact. Growing hop is labor intensive. Even picking is tedious unless mechanized.

I began harvesting in early-September. You can tell when it is time to pick hop by feeling the cones with your fingers. If the outside petals feel and sound dry as you touch them, it is time to pick. If they feel soft and pliable, they are still ripening. My first batch yielded a half-gallon mason jar, once dried and cured. Fresh dried hops hold the highest values of aromatic properties and is ideal for home brewers, who typically produce about five gallons of beer at a time. A commercial brewer would need me to produce about a thousand half-gallon jars to create a viable local commercial product. I would need more grow space to supply a local commercial brewer. For now, we hope to find a following of local home brewers at the local growers markets who will enjoy our fresh dried Neomexicanus.

Just recently, Hop 313 received notice to vacate because the property (which we rented) had been sold. At first, we were devastated. Our labor of love seemed suddenly over. Unless we could find another suitable location and rebuild. Fortunately, within a couple of weeks we found a new home for Hop 313. We are relocating only a mile North, where our new grow space is fourfold larger and we have a functioning well pump for irrigation. And . . . there is NO BINDWEED!

Unquestionably this is an unexpected and abiding blessing for Hop 313. Dismantling the structures and replanting the first season over again is a setback — but eliminating the bindweed and expanding our grow space is significant. There is joy in growing hop and watching it climb. It is worth the extraordinary effort. Consider growing some Neomexicanus in your garden next year. But, be warned — you could become addicted.

by Jim Dodson, SCMG Master Gardener 2016

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Watering Seeds and Seedlings

Watering Seeds and Seedlings

Watering Seeds and Seedlings

Have you ever washed out the seeds you were trying to get to germinate by applying too much water?  Have you ever used a mister to avoid washing out seedlings, only to discover that they dried up due to lack of soil moisture? That has happened to me on too many occasions, so I decided to look for a way to apply the right amount of water on my seeds and seedlings and discovered a very economical way to do it.

I drilled holes of various numbers and sizes in orange juice bottle lids and got no cost watering devices. Water can be applied to delicate plants by using a lid with tiny holes and squeezing the bottle gently. As the plants grow, you can switch to larger holes and squeeze a bit harder. I found that a lid with two holes is ideal for watering multi-packs. All you have to do is move the bottle lengthwise while squeezing, and you can apply water quickly to both sides of the pack.

Little water is wasted with that method, and there is not much water to clean up. If you don’t own a drill, the holes can be made with a hot nail or pin, or a nail can be driven through the lid with a hammer by laying the cap on a scrap board flat side down.

by David Pojmann

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Puncture vine (a.k.a. Goathead) Tribulus terrestris

Puncture vine (a.k.a. Goathead) Tribulus terrestris

Puncture vine (a.k.a. Goathead) Tribulus terrestris

If you are new to gardening in New Mexico, you may not be familiar with the puncture vine, but once you step on one, you will become acquainted with this invasive weed very quickly. They are built to survive in an arid climate, and the seeds may last upward of twenty years, just waiting for the right climate in which to sprout. They are called goat heads because the fruit resembles the head of a goat or a bull. The fruits break up into several sections with very sharp barbs that stick to shoes, tires, and pets’ feet. They are very painful when stepped on. My first encounter with the weeds was shortly after we moved here and we decided to take a walk on a levee along the Rio Grande. When we returned to our car, the soles of our shoes were full of the spikes. I was finally able to get them out of my shoes, but my wife threw her shoes away because the spikes were embedded so deeply that they could not be removed. If you are not familiar with the plants, it’s best to go to the Internet, such as (http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74128.html) for a fuller description, and to see pictures; but here is a brief summary of what to look for. The plants are prostrate with hairy stems that branch from the crown, and the leaves are opposite and pinnately compound to 1/8 inch long The flowers are yellow and about 6mm wide. Plant size varies. They may be a few inches wide as the vines trail out from the root, or they may reach several feet under the right conditions. They usually grow in barren or disturbed locations such as construction areas, parking lots, driveways, and vacant land, as they do not compete well with other plants. They are annuals, and will die with the first frost, but will leave behind seeds that may remain dormant for several years. Because it may take only a few weeks for new plants to sprout from some of the seeds, it is important to remove the plants and any fruit quickly when discovered. I favor physical removal because chemical treatment may leave the seeds behind.The only known way to destroy the seeds is fire. A propane torch will work well on a driveway or vacant lot, but if the goat heads are growing among other plants, they will go up in smoke also. You definitely do not want to put goat heads in your compost bin, because some of the seeds may survive the composting process. Chemical treatment will at least take care of the existing weeds, but the seeds will remain.
by David Pojmann

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Vegetables for Decoration?

Vegetables for Decoration?

Vegetables for Decoration?

If your garden is space challenged, and you can’t decide to use the available area for vegetables or flowers, you might consider using vegetables within the flower garden. For example, lettuce makes an attractive border in a flower garden. Nasturtiums are edible flowers. Other salad ingredients, such as spinach and arugula can also be integrated with flowers. I let a patch of arugula go to seed, and last fall, found arugula growing along the garden path. By late winter, it had grown to almost two feet tall. By mid-March, it had begun to bloom. It beat the daffodils and tulips to the bloom stage. It is growing in the vegetable garden, but next year I may try arugula as a border plant.

The added advantage of the arugula is that it is an excellent ingredient (green stuff) to mix with the fall leaves (brown stuff) in the compost pile.

The picture shows arugula hiding my stored tomato cages. Broccoli will survive a mild winter, and we have been harvesting small stalks since February. I let some go to seed for next year’s crop and to donate to the seed library. It makes an excellent border plant in a flower garden and provides color until the flowers get going. It’s also attractive to pollinators and helps them to find your garden early. Note the honeybees.

By Dave Pojmann

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