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Archive for the ‘wildlife’ Category

So it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post.  I figure I had better get caught up.  Last year’s potatoes were harvested early due to the fact that the ground squirrels or chipmunks figured out how to climb up the potato cages and get inside to eat the growing tubers.  I had a few carrots to harvest and not many tomatoes from the greenhouse.  But this is another year and another gardening season begins.

I had my first chance this past weekend to get out into the garden to survey what Mother Nature had wrought this winter.  The big snows have melted except in the shaded parts so it was easy to check out the garden.  The voles have been very active this year.  I planted the majority of my garlic last fall in a different area  of the garden and it looks like the voles have made a lot of trips through that area.  I hope they didn’t eat too many of the cloves that were planted.  I did not see any little green sprouts coming up in that area.  I have another smaller area with garlic and they have sprouted and are coming up nicely.  No vole damage in that area.

I weeded in the walls o’ water and around them (in the big garden) so I could get the peas planted, which I did.  And that was great, because last night we had another 2-3 inches of snow.  The peas will be well watered and I hope they sprout soon.  After I finished that project, I moved over to the greenhouse to check things out.

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This was the view that caught my eye as I headed to the greenhouse.  There were several plexiglass pieces blown out of the greenhouse by the wind.  This picture shows the largest piece from the east side.  There were two other smaller pieces, one from the roof and one from the south side of the greenhouse that were also blown out.  The dead aspen fell at the edge of the potato cages, with just some minor crunching of the top of the hardware cloth cages.  The poor lupines under the plexiglass managed to survive and were growing very nicely.  I hope that they survive this spring snow now that they are not protected by the glass.

On the positive side, the daffodils by the greenhouse are almost ready to bloom.  The daffodils planted in the large garden are emerging and should bloom around the end of May.  It appears that most of the roses survived the winter as did the bearded iris.   Most of the lupines up by the greenhouse have nice leaves. It’s spring, and I hope the weekends stay nice so I can continue to get things cleaned up.  I’m hopeful………again.

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Well…….I did it. I got out the big guns yesterday and used a grass selective herbicide on the smooth brome in my garden. It will take about 10 days to 2 weeks to start seeing results, but I am hopeful. I got up early to spray and it’s a good thing, there was no wind yesterday morning. That doesn’t happen very often but it was perfect timing yesterday. I didn’t do anything else in the garden yesterday because I wanted the herbicide to dry before I went back out.

So, out I went this morning and I am hopeful once again. The potatoes are recovering from the freeze last week and are putting out new growth. They got hilled up again this weekend, which will be the last time this season. Now I just need to keep up the watering.

Frosted potatoes slowly recovering

Frosted potatoes slowly recovering

The cabbage and aspabroc that I put walls o’ water around last weekend are doing much better. Out of six plants, five of them have put on new leaves. They’re trying to make it. The peas are going gangbusters with the walls around them. Nothing is nibbling on them and the soil is staying moist so they have really jumped up.

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are trellised and are doing great. I have 4 pepper plants that were loaded with aphids this morning, but I washed most of them off the plant with water and crushed a lot of them. I hope they don’t find their way back on to the plants.

Something is eating my lupine. I thought they were deer resistant, but I don’t think this is deer damage. This lupine has been there for about 3 or 4 years and was starting to look fabulous. Don’t know if it will survive this.
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My bearded iris have nice flower buds and should be blooming in the next week or so. Looking forward to seeing the colors.

My next big project is to do something about the ground squirrels. They are out of control. They are now digging into my greenhouse, not just out in the big garden. Hopefully all the containers in the greenhouse are high enough off the ground to deter the little ^&^%^&$$%(*@#@#’s. I’m hoping that once the grassy weeds are gone and they don’t have the vegetation cover, they will move out of the garden to someplace else. We’ll see. As always, one can only hope.

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Well, it has been a while since I posted, however, I did manage to graduate this year, so that is one huge accomplishment that is off my to-do list!  And now, to recap the year……………..

I planted the outside garden squashes too late this year and consequently, did not get any fruit.  I think it is just too cool during the summer for these plants outside.  The only recommendation I can make (and one I might try next year) is to create a hoop house over the area where I planted the squash.  This may allow for a longer growing season.

All things being what they are, for the amount of potatoes that I planted, my harvest this year was small.  I did, still, have more than I can personally use, but the harvest should have been bigger.  I blame the majority of this on the lack of water.  We did not receive any significant summer moisture and as a consequence, everything suffered.  Before planting next year, I will definitely have to remedy that situation.  The tomatoes under the row cover grew beautifully, but unfortunately did not produce that much fruit.  The row cover and walls o’ water did keep the heat in during the majority of the summer so the tomatoes could grow, but also reduced pollination so there was not much tomato set.  I also think that there was not enough heat early in the season to get them going.  Next year, I am going to try an insulated cover which should protect the tomatoes from early and late frosts at our altitude.

I also managed to weed almost the entire garden.  I still have about 10 square feet that will need to be weeded and mulched, but that is reduced significantly from the previous year.  And in all that weeding, I discovered another rose that made it through the trial bringing the total number of survivors to 13.  Pretty good, considering they are surviving drought and herbivore feeding.  The deer managed to eat most of the leaves on the apple trees, so we will see if they survive another winter.  And I think, in part due to the drought, the deer also managed to eat a lot of potato foliage, something they normally do not do.

In the greenhouse, I managed to get a fair amount of roma tomatoes harvested and they did make a great marinara.  The winter luxury pumpkin never did fruit, although it did produce a few flowers.  I did get a nice crop of basil, but the other herbs did not get harvested in time so they froze in the greenhouse once we got cold temperatures.

All in all, it was a pretty decent year even though we had to contend with drought conditions and increased herbivory.  And as always, I’m looking forward to next year and how to improve my garden.

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Today’s post is a mish-mash of information and random thoughts on the progress of my veggie garden.

The greenhouse tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are doing great.  I have several Roma tomatoes on one tomato plant and there are lots of flowers on most of the other tomatoes.  The eggplants are all flowering and I hope some of them will be setting fruit.  The peppers are all flowering as well and I even have a few little nubs of peppers starting to grow on some of them.  I definitely learned my lesson from last year and am leaving the greenhouse door open all the time so that the bumblebees can get in to pollinate and it doesn’t get too hot in the greenhouse.  I also planted a couple of cucurbits in the greenhouse this year in hopes of getting some summer squash and pumpkins.  I planted an heirloom variety of zucchini, Costata Romanesco and the best pie pumpkin ever, Winter Luxury, in the greenhouse.  I can trellis the cucurbits like I trellis the tomatoes in the greenhouse and the critters can’t eat them either.  I harvested quite a bit of basil this weekend from the greenhouse.  There were several different varieties and they all smelled wonderful.  This harvest I am just drying down to use a dried basil through the winter.  I also planted fennel in the greenhouse and it loves it in there.  The plants are starting to form nice bulbs.

Outside in the garden, most of the potatoes are looking wonderful.  I had four varieties that have never sprouted, so even though I thought they had eyes, they must not have had enough ‘ooomph’ to get them up and out of the soil.  Of course, this doesn’t mean I won’t get any potatoes, because I do still have 9 other varieties that are doing wonderful.  I planted some pole beans and peas along the cordon system that I set up for the grapes that I removed earlier this spring, and of course, they have been eaten by some critter.  They germinated well and I was hoping to get some produce, but doesn’t look like that will happen.   I also tried to plant some winter squashes outside along the same cordon system.  It appears that critters will eat the cotyledons of the cucurbits as the seeds germinate, but once they start producing true leaves, they leave the plants alone.  The leaves of cucurbits can be a bit prickly and not at all palatable to critters.  I do have a couple of Kabocha and Acorn squash that might survive, but I don’t think I will have a long enough season for them to set fruit.  I may have to transplant them to the greenhouse if I can find room in there in order to get some winter squashes.

The tomatoes and eggplants outside seem to be doing well.  I do have one tomato fruit on the ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato.  This past weekend I put a floating row cover over the tomatoes to help protect them from the cool night temperatures.  The temps at night are starting to dip into the 40’s and 50’s and this can inhibit the tomatoes from flowering.  I am hoping that the row cover along with keeping them in the walls of water will keep enough heat on the tomatoes that they can produce quite a bit of fruit.  I had a setback when I planted them since we had a dip in the evening temps on June 10th and it settled on a few of the tomatoes and actually killed them.  I lost a ‘Mr. Stripey‘, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Zapotec’ and one of the Romas.  I replanted with a couple of tomatoes that I got at the store and some ‘Indigo Rose’ that I had started in the greenhouse.  Hopefully the row cover and walls of water will extend the season so I can get a lot of tomatoes.

My garlic will probably be ready to harvest in about a month.  The tops have not started to dry down yet, but they did produce scapes, which I cut off and have been using in several dishes that I cook.  They impart a very nice, mild garlic flavor to omelets and salads.  I even used them as a substitute for chives on a baked potato.  I am thinking I might try to find some garlic to plant now, so it has time to set roots before winter hits and I might actually get an earlier harvest next year.  I also have a lot of volunteer potatoes in the allium area.  Apparently, I did not get all the potatoes harvested last year from this area before I planted the garlic.  It will be interesting to see what varieties they are.  I kind of remember what I had planted where, but not totally.

The apple trees all survived the winter, which is good.  They did have some flowers on all the trees, but when we got that frost/low temperature night in June, it killed all the flowers, so there will be no fruit this year on the trees.  It is probably just as well, since root establishment for the first couple of years is more important than producing fruit.

I am getting a lot of weeding done in the vegetable garden and it is a good feeling. I can look out at the progress and it feels great.  I am adding more mulch to the areas that I have weeded to help keep any future weed growth to a minimum.  It is a very noticeable difference in weed growth, the areas that have a lot of mulch vs. the areas where the mulch has thinned.

As the summer moves along, it will be interesting to see what happens.  I’ll be keeping you posted.

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I started this blog as a way to inform folks of plants (edible and non-edible) that will do well at high elevation.  This is also a way to help me remember what works and what does not, because if you are like me, I don’t often remember from year to year what I have done because I simply don’t write it down.  Living in the mountains, there are other considerations and concerns to having a garden.  The availability of water (or lack thereof), wildlife and, of course, fire.  For the past two weeks, I have watched the High Park Fire grow from a mere 50 acre fire to over 75,000 acres, encompassing over a hundred square miles.  As of this writing, it is only 45% contained.  Last weekend I was working in the garden and saw a plume of smoke that looked much closer than it actually was.  This is a bit disconcerting when you live in the mountains, in the middle of a drought and in an area that has seen the forests decimated by the Mountain Pine Beetle.  And even though the fire is a good ten miles from our house, to a fire that is nothing, as evidenced by yesterday’s events.

I was on my way home yesterday afternoon only to find Red Feather Lakes Rd closed at mile marker 7.  The fire had crossed Hwy 14 to the north and was threatening the Hewlett Gulch and Glacier View Meadows subdivisions.  The authorities were evacuating both subdivisions so traffic was only going east, they were allowing no traffic to go west. I took this photo as I was coming up to mile marker 7.

Another unintended consequence of a fire of this magnitude is the increase of wildlife in our area.  They are migrating to higher ground to escape the fire and find food.  Of particular concern is the increase in the bear population.  We’re lucky in our area.  The Division of Wildlife has established a volunteer program here called ‘Bear Aware’.  They educate folks on how to avoid bear confrontations, how to deter bear break-ins to residences and campers and provide information on who to call if they spot a bear.  These volunteers teach people how to keep trash from being bear bait, that feeding bears (or any other wildlife, for that matter) is actually detrimental to the animal and can provide simple steps to keep bears from being able to gain access to structures.  If a bear becomes habituated by being fed by humans or finding easy sources of food around homes, it usually ends badly for the bear.

So you might be asking yourself after reading this post, why am I trying to grow a garden up here?  Am I not just providing food for the wildlife?  And the answer to that is yes and no.  For the majority of the years, the wildlife is not a problem as we do not have huge populations of any one species and there is usually an ample food source of the native berries and grasses that they eat.  This year, with the influx of wildlife fleeing the fire, it will be different.  The natural flora and fauna may not be enough to sustain the populations.   But, my garden is enclosed by a 7 ft. electric fence to deter the large wildlife from gaining access to the garden.  I grow a lot of Alliaceae, Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceous plants which are, for the most part, not palatable to the wildlife due to compounds the plants produce or the texture of the leaves of the plants.  And I am vigilant about harvesting and storing the produce so that it is not accessible to wildlife.  I will continue to garden, but will be careful to make sure it is not food for wildlife.

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The fall planting of alliums is done.  The 24 rows of 7 varieties of garlic, perennial onions and shallots were in the ground and mulched before the snow started to fly and now that the snow cover is most likely permanent for the rest of the winter, they should be in good shape to sprout in the spring.  The greens planted in the greenhouse for fall/winter salads suffered a setback. About a month ago, over the weekend we had the worst winds that we have ever experienced here, lost power for 36 hours so the heater in the greenhouse was not working and the temperatures went below zero at night.  Most of the greens were toast.  It is now time to start over planting some more greens. 

The new area for potato planting had compost added and tilled in before the snow came so another tilling in the spring and it will be ready to plant.  Potatoes had been planted in the same location the last three years and it was time to move them. The alliums are planted in the former potato area.   As a plant pathologist, I need to ‘practice what I preach’ and rotate crops to prevent disease.   The varieties of potatoes that have been planted the last couple of years have been seed saved from the previous years, so some new varieties are looking good this year.  The seed catalogs are starting to arrive in the mail so planning can begin. 

This last summer tomatoes, peppers and herbs were planted in the greenhouse hoping to get a nice harvest, but the lesson here is: one needs to open the greenhouse door in the morning and close it in the evening.  Thinking that more heat would be good for the peppers and tomatoes, the door was left shut the majority of the time.  This is not the case.  It got too hot in the greenhouse so flowers aborted and fruit did not set, there was no air exchange and the bumblebees that have been in the greenhouse in years past could not get in to pollinate anything.  Next year, the door will be opened in the morning, closed in the evening. 

An experiment was tried outside with “Walls o’ Water”, growing tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and artichoke outside in the walls all summer.  The lesson learned here is that you cannot plant warm season crops that need long growing season in mid-June or later and expect to get a harvest.  There was fruit set on the tomatoes and tomatillos below the tops of the walls, but the frost we had on labor day weekend pretty much toasted them so the fruit never matured and there was no harvest.  The artichoke never did set fruit.  The peppers had flowers and a few nubbins of pepper starting, but again, no time to ripen.  Next year, the walls can probably be set out in mid-May to start warming the soil, and the seedlings can be planted earlier.  Of course, if Mother Nature would cooperate and not provide frost quite so soon in the fall, things would be better. 

Spring or cool season plants are also in the planning stages for next spring.  Vegetables like broccoli, spring peas, spring greens (chard, kale, spinach, etc) haven’t been tried up here in the outside garden yet, and since this is all an experiment, need to be planted to see if they survive either the weather or wildlife.  Some of the root crops (beets, carrots, parsnips, etc.) also look good for planting up here.  Winter squashes are another group of plants to experiment with to see if they can grow at this elevation as well. 

Enjoy your seed catalogs and happy planning.

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Critters!

One cannot really stay out of the garden for very long.  I went to a conference, was gone for about two weeks and during those two weeks, some sort of critter (or critters) had discovered my potato patch, which I realized when I returned and got back to my garden.  Mind you, the damage didn’t look like much from afar, but on closer inspection it was evident that there were quite a few potatoes that had been feasted upon.  Now, they don’t eat the whole potato, they just take bites out of a lot of different potatoes and they seem to have a discerning palate.  While the russets were mostly left untouched, the specialty potatoes were really hard hit.  They loved the Colorado Rose, Russian Banana Fingerlings, Nicola, not so much on the German Butterballs or Yellow Finns and the Purple Majesty’s were all intact.  Apparently, they are not a fan of purple potatoes.  Maybe the color stains their teeth or the taste is not to their liking, who knows?

So, which critter(s) are we talking about?  It appears there are a couple of different varmints at work here.  I think there are marmots, judging by the size of the openings of the burrows.  My spouse says they are wyoming ground squirrels.  A brief search for photos on the internet yielded these photos from Wikipedia and Greg Lasley Nature Photography: 

The marmot looks to be a bit bigger than the wyoming ground squirrel and frankly, it doesn’t really matter, because something was feasting on my potatoes. 

 So what to do?  Let’s harvest.  So that’s what I did for the last couple of weekends, harvested all the potatoes.  Finished harvesting this past weekend, gathering up the last of the russets.  The harvest this year is not as bountiful as last year, but we will still have plenty of spuds to eat throughout the winter months.  Ultimately, the potatoes only had about a three month growing season since they got planted mid-June, so all-in-all, we did really well.  Now if only my tomatoes would start producing, but that’s another story.

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