STARTING & MAINTAINING YOUR GARDEN
Have your soil tested before planting next year's garden.
Make sure to draw a map of your garden every year, so you can keep track of your plantings from season to season. This will enable you to rotate your crops on a four year cycle.
Is your garden too small? Try using wide rows and growing your vine crops vertically.
Look into the use of a floating row cover. They are very easy to use and offer excellent protection from insects, plus they are not harmful to the environment.
Using mulch around your plants will keep down weeds and help retain soil moisture during dry spells.
TWO SEASON PLANTING
Here in Colorado both a Spring and Fall garden are possible. Due to hot weather conditions in the summer some vegetables which require a long growing season can be a failure if planted too early in spring. Planting cold crops late spring allows you to harvest late summer to autumn without bolting.
Plan for a Fall garden! Many vegetables grow better in the cool Autumn weather & salad greens do best in the cooler weather. In the warm summer months it is recommended to shade the salad green plants with taller plants.
Put simple lattice supports for cucumbers (made from 1" by 1/8 " lathe boards) over a framework of 1/2" square cedar garden stakes. The trellis is leaning and positioned to provide plenty of shade underneath during the afternoon sun. You can grow wonderful salad greens under these structures during the heat of summer. It also provides a little extra sun for the heat loving cucumbers that grow up the lattice work. Other vining crops such as peas, beans, small melons, tomatoes and some squash could also be grown on the trellis, by adjusting the height or size of the support to accommodate the size and weight of the variety you wish to grow. Using these supports, cool weather crops can be grown during the summer, and save space by growing the vining crops up, instead of sprawling on the ground.
Choose a 4 by 4 foot square in the garden. Place metal fence posts into the ground in each corner of the square. Fasten a piece of lattice work on the fence posts with twine, leaving one panel tied in a way that can easily be loosened, giving easy access to weeding and watering. You now have a 4 by 4 foot shaded box that can grow lettuce, spinach, radish and other cool weather crops in warm weather. It's also very easy to take down for storage, so it can be used again next year.
This will enable you to make the most of compost & fertilizers. Heavy feeders such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, cucumber, endive, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, spinach, squash, sweet corn, and tomato should be planted in soil newly fertilized with well composted manure.
Follow these heavy feeders with light feeders such as beets, carrot, radish, rutabaga, and turnip which also like finely pulverized raw rock and compost.
Legumes, the third group in succession planting include broad & lima beans, bush & pole beans, pea and soybean. These are the soil improvers which collect nitrogen in their roots and restore it to the soil.
PH levels in your soil indicate its active acidity or alkalinity, expressed in units. It’s important to know because many plants thrive only when the pH value of the soil is closely approximates the optimum for their particular kind. Soils acidity may be of 2 kinds: active & potential. It is a state in which the concentration of hydrogen ion (H+)exceeds that of hydroxyl ions (OH-). In an exact balance you have neutrality. When the OH- ions are greater than the H+ ions you have alkalinity.
Active soil acidity represents the excess of H ions over the OH ions present in the soil solution, expressed in pH units on the pH scale. On this scale 7 represents neutrality; higher readings indicate alkalinity, lower ones acidity. These can range from 3.5 to 8.0, and the relationship between the figures is geometrical. Acidity at pH 5 is 10 times greater than pH 6, and at pH 4 100 times.
One way to neutralize acidity in soil is to add lime. Add sulfurto neutralize alkaline soil. All soils, particularly alkaline ones benefit from compost or humus in the form of decomposed organic matter. A green manure crop plowed under also helps. To learn more, visit our Composting Page.
GREEN MANURE CROPS
Vegetable matter in the form of green manure is an extremely valuable additive to the soil. They encourage more earthworms, bring nutrients & minerals toward the surface, and help create healthier insect-resistant plants.
Green manures are cover crops achieved by planting any of the following:
Legumes have the ability to capture and fix large amounts of nitrogen from the air, adding this important plant food to the soil. Cover crops may be planted in the winter to prepare your soil for early spring planting. They act as an insulating blanket, keeping the soil warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. The benefits are that the roots reach deep to help revitalize the soil when turned under to decompose.
Note: Buckwheat will not grow well in warm weather. Rye is good for planting from February through March. Scatter seeds, cover with soil and straw and water daily until up. Grow until grass is 6 to 8 inches tall (6-8 weeks) and spade under to compost into soil. Breaks up clay and adds nutrients.
TWO LEVEL PLANTING: COMPANION GARDENING
Vegetables which occupy different soil strata often make good companions. Among those are:
asparagus with parsley & tomatoes
beets with kohlrabi
beets with onion
leeks with vine plants
garlic with tomatoes
carrots with peas
strawberries with bush beans
Many combinations are possible enabling the gardener with little space to double the yield and at the same time improve the health & flavor of vegetables planted together. But, do not plant those together which will compete for the same space and light such as sunflowers and pole beans, or plants whose root excretions are unfavorable for each other such as carrots and dill.
Look at this beautiful example of companion planting and a nice straw bed, which helps enormously with water retention and weed suppression.
FROST PROTECTION FOR PLANTS
Frost can occur through May in Colorado. Check the weather often once young plants are transplanted.
Protect young plants from frost by making a "teepee" out of newspaper. Simply use two or three pages of newspaper and roll into a cone. Keep the papers shape with a piece of tape. Cover the bottom edges with soil to secure the "teepee" in place.
For frost protection at night, close the top with a clothes pin. Remember to reopen the top during the day. The "teepee" must not remain on too long, or the plant will grow spindly and weak. This is a great way to help your early transplants through a little cold spell.
Heat loving plants get off to a good start with inexpensive wire tomato cages placed over each transplant in the garden. Wrap the cages with sturdy, clear plastic, leaving enough loose plastic at the top to fold over the cage. During the day, keep the top open, and at night when it gets cooler, close the top with a clothespin. These little "mini" greenhouses enable you to start your plants a little earlier in the season!
Colorado on average has approximately 120 days between the last and first frost.
Weeds can be beneficial to the garden by conditioning and breaking up the subsoil to help root crops penetrate the soil easier. Thistle, Pigweed, & Lamb’s Quarters bring up minerals from the lower soil through stalks & leaves. Sheep sorrel & plantain are rich in alkalinizing minerals such as calcium & magnesium. Turning these weeds under will allow these minerals to release back into the topsoil.
To kill weeds without using harmful chemicals fill a spray bottle with vinegar and zap the weeds with it. Make certain not to spray your nearby crops! This will work on weed seedlings as well as full grown plants. For particularly tough weeds, use cider vinegar, which has a higher acidity.
Hot water poured over young & mature weeds will kill them, but again be careful of nearby plants.
Thistles are rich in potassium and useful in compost, but only compost those that are young. If they get to maturity follow this procedure to kill them out: Be careful not to cut them before the blossoms are open or many more will grow from the rootstocks. Best to cut thistles just before the blossom heads and after the blossoms are pollinated. The thistles will then bleed to death and die out. For more information, check our Soil Care page.