Spring-ish Garden Update

June 6, 2010 at 8:38 am

Plumeria (Kauai plant) in bloom!

Yes, I know, mid-June is hardly “spring” any more, especially in places outside of Colorado. Around here, we just turned off our furnaces a couple weekends ago, and the world is green and lush! I’m sure summer will be hitting us soon, any day now.

This spring, gardening got a bit of a sideline due to morning sickness, but it was the first activity I turned to when I could get off the couch. Mark has really chipped in more than his share as well, and we’ve managed to pull together a good looking set-up this year.

Early summer container garden

Subtle Changes

Another reason I managed to pull together a garden between bouts of yaking is that I have manged to build up a good infrastructure for containers, a raised bed, and watering in the last few years. Based on my experiences from last year, though, we made a few little changes.

Lots of little oranges on the orange tree

First of all, we wanted a tomatillo, but didn’t want it crawling all over the lawn this year. I’ve stuck it in a container hoping that will help restrain its growth slightly. We had discussed putting a tomatillo in an up-side-down grower of some sort, but Mark felt that if the plant wasn’t anchored to the earth, it might get free and run around the neighborhood, making “RAWR” noises and wearing it’s little green topsy-turvey hat.

We moved the big mountain tomato to a container as well, as I didn’t like my tomatoes hanging into the basement window-well last year. This left plenty of space for our pepper plants in the raised bed. They fit very nicely, but haven’t seemed perfectly happy this year. They got some hail damage over Memorial Day, and may be wanting more sun than that east-bed gets.

Peppers, lettuce, cilantro and peas in the raised bed

Lots of strawberries this year

Little Successes

One of my proudest moments as a container gardener came last week when we decided to crack open the compost bin. I’ve had this homemade compost bin behind the garage for two years now. We made it out of a small black trash can, covered in holes and lined with window screens. I’ve spent two years filling it with leftover veggies from the CSA, egg shells, coffee grounds and other random greenness. And finally, it has all paid off. Under a layer of dry leaves, sat some of the prettiest, lovely dark compost I could have hoped for. I grew dirt! WOW!

Homemade Dirt!

We pulled about a cubic meter of the lovely dark organic matter out of there, and used it to fill in a new tomato container. Those two years of composting have now officially saved us $5 in bought soil!

If everything works out, we should be looking at a big load of crops this year. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, pumpkins, sugar and snow peas, bush and pole beans, lettuce, carrots, onions, cilantro, basil, and lavender!

Eating the fruits (and veggies) of our labors

September 8, 2009 at 6:18 pm

It’s been a summer of bounty from the gardens and our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Every day something else is ripening on the vines and every week we get a new big box of fruit and veggies.

Each summer is a learning experience for us, both in learning how and what we can grow in our own gardens as well as how and what we can eat from the CSA! One of the hardest parts of our summer food bounty is researching and finding interesting ways to eat all of these veggies. Here are some of the big hits of the 2009 Summer season!

Mango, Peach and Pineapple SalsaUses peaches, tomatoes, onion, peppers and cilantro
2 mangos, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 peaches, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar, or to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl. Refrigerate at least one hour. The longer the ingredients mingle, the better the salsa!

Thai pepper chicken with basilUses basil, onions, peppers, tomatillos and lettuce
1 bunch of thinly sliced basil
1/4 cups veggie oil
6 large coarsely chopped shallots or onions
5 cloves of minced garlic
1 piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
2 fresh Thai chili peppers or jalapeño peppers and/or tomatillos or other peppers to taste, thinly sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
lettuce leaves

1. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a wok over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add shallots, garlic and ginger; cook and stir 1 minute. Add chicken and stir-fry about 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Push the chicken up the sides of the wok, letting the juice remain in the bottom.

2. Continue to cook about 5 to 7 minutes or until all liquid evaporates. Stir in chili pepper slices, brown sugar and salt; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat.

3. Lay lettuce leaves out on plates, serve chicken on top.

Garbage PastaUses almost anything you need to get rid of.
1/2 onion
1 or 2 tomatoes
1 small summer squash
1 small zucchini
1 bunch kale
1 bunch basil
1 cup of peas
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
a large handful of spaghetti
(optional other veggies include carrots, broccoli, egg plant, mushrooms, green onions, spinach, etc)
a pile of Parmesan cheese

1. Boil spaghetti in salty water until done. Drain, toss with a little olive oil, and set aside.

2. Saute all veggies in olive oil with garlic, except tomatoes and basil. Steam veggies if preferred (as for carrots, broccoli, spinach or peas).

3. Combine cooked veggies, garlic, raw tomatoes and basil, salt and pepper with spaghetti and just enough of the cooking olive oil to coat. Sprinkle liberally with cheese. Enjoy!

And this is just the tip of the iceburg. I think it’s very interesting to see the traditional food cultures that our local produce seems to fit best with. With all of the root veggies and dark green leafies, I think we could fill a Tuscan or Northern Italian table without any problem. But also, our peppers, onions, peas, beans and cabbage make some darn tasty Thai food. I never would have thought, but local food grown in Colorado meshes very well with the tropical cuisine of Southeastern Asia! Now I just need to start growing our own coconut trees!

High Summer Garden

July 30, 2009 at 8:55 pm

It’s been a crazy summer in the garden this year. I decided to plant more than I might should have, and Colorado responded with more rain than we’ve seen in a decade. The result? Truly epic.

The tomatillos are looking really good

Snow Peas
Part of my plan this year was to plant some early season veggies, which I did far too early. By the time May and June came around, we finally had a huge crop of lettuce and cilantro. I also grew a giant pile of unruly snow peas. These plants grew to almost four feet tall (long), but took months to get around to flowering.

I had this problem last year, I had one pea plant that grew and grew and never flowered. Eventually, last year, I went insane and actually PRUNED the plant down to a managable size, and it burst into bloom immediately afterward.

This year, I had 30 unruly pea plants, all growing forever with no blooms, and I didn’t want to put up with their shit. So I hacked them down to size in the second week of June, and they burst forth into huge bloom. They kept growing though, and the ball of pea plants was too dense to harvest or even monitor, plus they looked horrible, so I pulled them all out in frustration at the beginning of July. I may not plant peas again.

Baby tomato plants share a pot with the lettuce

Spring to Summer Transition
As mentioned previously, the lettuce crop was pretty great this year. I have 6 different containers for plants in front of my house, so I got clever this year and tried double use. Once the lettuce was well established, I planted new tomato plants in the center. This actually worked really well. The tomatoes grew nicely in the same pots as the lettuce, until the weather got really warm, and the lettuce started bolting. I pulled out the lettuce and left the tomatoes to take over.

A beautiful blooming bit of the tropics in my front yard!

Kauai Plant!
Three years ago, Mark and I had a beautiful week of vacation on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. I was so in love with the place, that I brought a cutting from one type of flowering bush back with me to Colorado. This litle stick in a pot has been a huge challange to my plant growing skills ever since.

This year, I managed to keep four (4!) leaves on the plant through the winter, so I repotted the little plant and it got very happy. I put it outside for the summer, and it actually grew a bloom! For the last month, my little kauai plant has had the most beautiful, wondeful smelling globe of blooms on it. It takes me back to the islands.

Lots of green tomatos still about

Produce ripening
Much like the peas that never bloomed, I now have four tomato plants covered in green tomatoes, which refuse to ripen. Last summer, I had the same problem, my tomatoes never did get ripe, and in the fall, I pulled out plants covered in little, hard, green tomatoes. I am determined to not let this happen again.

So, I’ve been doing some research to figure out tricks and tips for helping your tomato plants ripen their fruit. The most promising leads are shock and awe. It seems some plants may need a distinct change of some sort to determine it is time to ripen fruit. Some feeling that the summer is getting late. So, to shock them, I have turned my watering way up, and pruned a few branches. The ‘awe’ part follows from the fact that ripening fruit is an energy intensive process. So I re-fertilized the tomatoes and peppers pretty intensely.

In the last week since these changes, I have had two tomatoes start ripening and several of my peppers move from green into the yellow and orange regions! Yey!

But this one has started to ripen! Success!

Why I’m planting high-tech in my garden

April 30, 2009 at 10:08 pm


The early spring planting season is upon us in Colorado, and I’ve been picking out seeds and starting plants for the ever expanding container garden and community garden plot. I’ve been learning a lot each growing season, and the major lesson that I learned last year: Plant hybrids. Lots of them.

Judging from the Burpee Catalog, garden stores, and plant centers which I visited this year, it seems most garden plants and seeds can be separated into four broad categories: Heirlooms, Organics, Hybrids and Unknowns. Heirloom plants are “older” genetic varieties, usually plants or seeds grown before industrial agriculture. Organic seeds are simply certified by government agencies to be the product of plants that are grown organically.

Organics and heirlooms have been growing in popularity in the last few years. When I started my garden, I devoted myself to cultivating only heirloom plants, if I could, and grew them with classic organic gardening techniques. The typical arguments for these older varieties include keeping genetic diversity alive, that the older types of produce taste better than newer varieties, and that heirloom plants have adapted over time to be resistant to local pests, diseases, and weather extremes.

Last summer, I learned that these arguments are, mostly, not applicable in Colorado. Let’s take, for instance, my problems with heirloom tomatoes. The first major issue is that there are no real heirloom varieties of tomatoes in Colorado. Colorado is not a friendly climate in which to grow tomatoes, and, as far as I’ve found, no tomato was traditionally grown in Colorado before industrialized agriculture. While we do get a lot of sun on the Front Range, our soils are sandy, our weather is very dry, our insects are ravenous, and our nights are cold.

For two summers I have devoted myself to coaxing heirloom tomatoes to life in my garden, and I have managed to over- and under-water them constantly, had them eaten whole by huge grasshoppers and little flea beetles, and watched the tomatoes sit green on the vines for the entire (short) growing season.

Yes, it’s frustrating. And for what? To keep genetic diversity? If my tomatoes never ripen, I’m not getting any new seeds to move on to the next generation. Because they taste better? Actually, the new garden hybrids I tried last summer tasted much better than the heirlooms. Because they’re better at resisting local pests? Not at all. In the end, I can’t justify the time, expense, energy and effort required to get a few heirloom tomatoes (or beans, or melons) off of fragile, dying plants, when I could get so much more food, and tastier food, from the new hybrid plant varieties.

So, this summer I’m avoiding any plant or seed labeled as “heirloom,” and that’s a hard and fast rule. Instead, I’ve invested in seeds and plants engineered for the lazy gardener in a harsh climate. These hybrids have been engineered to be very hardy, much higher producing (more veggies per plant), and very tasty in the garden. I’m buying piles of seeds to grow plants that are resistant to heat and cold, resistant to over- and under- watering, and producing tons of extremely good food. Because life is hard for plants in my mountain garden, and if I want tasty eats, I have to go high-tech.

What do you think? Are you devoted to heirlooms in your garden, or feel they have been over-hyped? Do you think engineering plants for a lazy gardener is a good idea or dangerous? Do fast-growing beans and seedless tomatoes make you excited about the newest developments in garden genetics or scare the begeebies out of you?


March 26, 2009 at 7:42 am

As I’ve started to grow my garden, I’ve also started to grow a few houseplants. I have a couple succulents, including the ever useful and difficult to kill Aloe Plant. I also have an incredibly hardy orange tree, that I’ve tried to kill several times in the last year and half, but it just keeps plugging on. It’s got three little green oranges on it right now! In Colorado!


Last weekend, I repotted the tree into a much larger pot, and noticed a handful of these little wormy/catapillar bugs in the tray below the plant. When I repotted the tree, the roots seemed in good shape, and I sunk the tree deeply in moist, rich, dark compost and then brought it back inside. A few days later, I was examining the roots and noticed that there was an explosion of the little wormies. I pulled a few out and eventually identified them as millipedes.

Millipedes from the Orange Tree 03-09

I always thought millipedes were much larger, and lived in outside gardens. However, this tree sat outside all summer last year, and seems to have picked up a bit of an “infestation.” The new, moist compost has made them VERY happy as well.

I’m left with a sort of a quandary here. The tree is big, and the pot is huge and heavy, so soaking the plant or roots to kill the buggies is not really possible. I have, after reading a bunch on the interwebs, learned that potted plants should only use sterilized potting soil. But this is a tree. Do trees grow in potting soil?

In a few weeks, it will be warm enough outside to move the tree back out, and then I don’t really care if there’s millipedes in the pot. They don’t seem to be harming the tree at all, especially if they’ve been in there all winter. My current line of attack is to fill the top inch of the soil with Diatomaceous Earth. I think this will keep the ‘pedes in the pot, at least until I move the tree outside again.

Millipedes from the Orange tree 03-09

August Garden Update

August 19, 2008 at 10:56 am

Well, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I haven’t gotten around to taking more pictures of the gardens.

Sunrise on a foggy morning in the big garden

Let’s start, though, with some other gardens in the area. As mentioned previously, we’ve had some pretty epic weather in the past week. This morning, we got the bad news from our CSA (Grant Family Farms).

In their words:

Last Thursday night at 4:30 in the afternoon our (yours) farm took a violent blow from the sky. Much of the farm was barraged by a 25 minute hail storm. The ground was white in some places and the drifts still present the next morning. In the following 2 days we received over 4 ½” of rain. As of August 1st we had only received 3.8″ all year. We were set to begin harvest this week on beautiful peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers……..as you will see in some pictures coming…….these plants were destroyed. The current lettuce, chards, kales, tomato, pepper, eggplant, edamame, melons and parsley fields were also all destroyed.

The aftermath at Grant Family Farms

Every time we’ve signed up for a CSA, we’ve been made aware of the risks. You shell out $400 in April, and hope to receive a huge pile of food every week for 22 weeks. But there is no guarantee. The farm is organic, and anything can happen. This year has been good so far. A lot of lettuce. The squash and tomatoes and peppers seem to be late coming. And now, they seem to be not coming at all.

Not only did Liz loose her garden, but fully two-thirds of the huge Grant Family farm was destroyed in 25 minutes of blinding, pounding hail. I expect farms to falter in drought, or floods. But you never expect a half hour of bad weather to wipe out everything you’ve been working and hoping for all year.

We talked to some farmers at the Market on Saturday, who were all stony faced in the rain. “This is the last harvest we’ll have at market for the year,” one farmer told me. “Everything else is gone. At least my truck is ok.”

Liz's garden is in sad shape

My gardens managed to escape much damage. The tomatoes (which are finally starting to turn red) are all protected by the eves of my house, but I’m starting to see some splitting after the huge amount of rain we got this weekend. We are still expecting a tomato harvest of epic proportions at the Calder house!

A bigger issue is the plague of grasshoppers.

I’d love to get a photo of these huge (4″ long!) hoppers soon, but they move fast and seem to be able to sense my approach. I can see them eating away happily from inside the house, but when I get out to the garden, they’ve all hopped off into the bushes.

So far, soapy water and bleach have not made a dent in their appetites. I’ve tried a Grasshopper Relocation Program where I capture the bugs and release them directly below my distant neighbor’s bird feeders. This doesn’t seem to stop them. I’m now catching them and drowning them in vodka. This seems to work quickly, but is not a preventative from more of them jumping out of the prairie in front of my house and attacking my plants.

So far, I’ve lost all of my bean plants and a good chunk of my orange tree to the ugly beasts. I’ve been doing research and haven’t found any good advise on how to manage the pests. Has anybody out there discovered a decent way to get rid of a swarm of grasshoppers?

I’m thinking about getting some garden snakes, but Mark really doesn’t like that idea.

Walking Through the Fog

Big Big Storms

August 17, 2008 at 4:56 pm

It’s finally starting to dry out a bit here. I took advantage of the wet weekend and spent two days stocking up the freezer with fresh farm food from our CSA and markets around the area. I’ll be happy right now if I never see another summer squash.

Wall Cloud

Last Thursday, I was dropping off food at D-Liz’s house when the NWS came over the radio and declared a severe thunderstorm warning for our area. This was pretty obvious, because the clouds heading my way were huge, dark, swirling, ominous walls of doom.

There’s pictures in the gallery.

The wall cloud spins above me

It hailed for a good 20 minutes at Liz’s place. We sat and watched the little ice bullets shoot out of the sky and destroy her garden.

The hail lasted for almost half an hour. It accumulated in drifts nearly six inches deep in Liz’s back yard and around my tires. All of the leaves were stripped off of her lovely garden plants and splattered on the fence surrounding. It was the bad start to three days of steady summer rain. Ah, August.

The tomato plant is in really bad shape

June Garden Update

June 26, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Last summer I experimented with a container garden outside of our townhouse for the first time. I learned a lot, and I grew some really good food in the process. This year, I expanded the garden and diversified a bit, growing peas, beans, cilantro and raspberries along side the tomatoes and strawberries of last summer.

Comparison view of the whole garden

I took a series of pictures of the garden a few weeks ago, and by the time I got around to writing this post, the plants had all grown several feet! So, I went back this week and snapped a few more shots. The cool thing is that now I can set up comparison shots, and show how fast the crops are growing!

Amazing growth on the Pea and Bean plants

So far, I’ve only harvested a few strawberries and a bit of cilantro. This weekend, I’ll be harvesting most of the cilantro and several of the peas. Gardening is an interesting pursuit, it’s far more engrossing and time consuming than I expected, but I love every minute of it.

Bird/squirrel defense for the smaller patch of strawberries

More shots are in the gallery.