Organic gardening

Bats are Important Pollinators, too

two batsDuring National Pollinator Week, it’s important to celebrate all of our pollinators — including bats. If you’ve ever enjoyed a refreshing margarita, thank a bat. The blue agave plant, from which Tequila is derived, depends on bats as pollinators. Because bats are valuable, but often misunderstood, I thought I’d republish my bat article that originally ran in The Denver Post in 2005.

When Merlin Tuttle was growing up in Tennessee he made a remarkable discovery. The gray bats that resided in a nearby cave were migratory. His observations contradicted everything he had read about the bats.

“I got my parents to take me to the Smithsonian, where I politely informed leading authorities that I had found gray bats that seemed to migrate,” he recalled. “They were impressed with my observations, gave me several thousand bat bands and suggested I band them to see where they were going.”

The National Pollinator Network Needs Your Garden

bee on flowerPlant and bee counted!

We’re celebrating National Pollinator Week and need gardeners across the country to join in.

You don’t have to have a large garden; any size garden is an important part of the gardening network to help take care of pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and even bats.

Every seed or  plant that helps feed our pollinators counts.

In fact, your garden can count even more toward the One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

By 2016 we hope there will be at least 1,000,000 pollinator gardens registered at the Pollinator Partnership website.

The One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is the goal of the brand new National Pollinator Garden Network. The network is a collaboration between more than 20 different conservation organizations, gardening groups and seed companies.

One of the National Pollinator Garden Network organizations is one I’m very familiar with — the National Wildlife Federation. For more than a dozen years my landscape has maintained its status with the organization as a certified backyard habitat.

Organic Gardening Tip Protects Cucumber Seedlings

plastic berry boxI hate it when something eats my cucumbers before I do. Especially before they even get the chance to grow into those cool fruits.

Cucumber seedlings are especially attractive to garden pests, but I think I’ve found a simple, organic gardening method to outsmart the hungry critters, like cutworms and birds.

Last season, the trouble cropped up right after planting the seeds.

I’d soak the seeds overnight to soften them a bit for planting, then I’d prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds, and celebrate seeing the first seedlings pop up from the ground.

The next day their heads would be missing, leaving a tiny stalk standing.

My first thought was that cutworms were feasting on the cucumber seedlings, so I tried protecting them with collars, toothpicks, and other homemade guards.

But when these defenses failed, I knew I had other pests, probably birds and squirrels were snacking on the seedlings.

Organic Gardening Tips for Slugs

slug treatmentsBe on the lookout for slugs in your garden.

The rainy weather is sure to bring out these slimy critters. Slugs may look like harmless pinkish-blobs of goo, but they can cause a lot damage in the garden.

These disgusting pests usually appear in my garden after prolonged periods of rainy weather.

It can sometimes be difficult to find slugs because they do their damage overnight and hide out during the daylight hours. You can use a flashlight to go slug hunting at night or look for slugs along plant stems and under leaves in the early morning hours.

You can also search for their clusters of clear, round eggs by looking under rocks.

Slugs will feast on anything from vegetable and flower seedlings to ripe fruit. I’ve even found their telltale chewing damage on ornamental plants. Look for missing leaves or irregularly-shaped holes on the edges or in the middle of leaves.

Xeriscape Garden Finally in Full Bloom

xeriscape gardenHave you heard the old gardening saying about perennial plants?

“The first season they sleep, the second season they creep and the third season they leap.”

That saying sure proves true with the xeriscape garden I’ve planted in my backyard. This is the third year for most of the plants and they certainly have taken the leap. Of course, having rain nearly every day in May certainly helped.

I’ve been adding plants each season over the last few years — some ordered through mail order catalogs, some purchased as “gardener-grown” at plant sales, some free plants to test and many others that are volunteers that sprung up from seeds on their own.

One of the best choices I made for the garden was to plant in unamended slightly sandy soil and to use rock mulch. Xeric plants prefer a well-draining soil to keep roots on the dry side.

Planting Miniclover as a New Lawn Alternative

green cloverMiniclover could be the answer to questions on what works as a good bluegrass lawn alternative.

It’s worth a try.

The idea occurred to me when Outsidepride.com sent a small sample of Miniclover seeds (Trifolium repens) to members of the Garden Writers Association.

Miniclover is a perennial small-leaf clover that grows low to the ground.

Clover has few, if any, fertilizer needs, it uses less water than turfgrass, and there’s no required mowing.

If it grows thick enough there’s no need for pulling or killing weeds.

I asked Outsidepride for more free Miniclover seed to use for renovating a small backyard that needed help.

This yard, in southeastern Colorado, was in desperate need of something. A combination of drought, insect pests and neglect had turned the lush lawn into a weedy patch filled with my most-hated garden foe — crabgrass.

Start the Gardening Season with the New Edition of The Colorado Gardener’s Companion

Colo Gardener's Comp 2nd Ed Final Cover 72ppi blog The second edition of my first book is ready in time for gardening season!

I worked over the winter months to fill this new edition with more of everything to help Colorado gardeners grow great gardens starting now.

The Denver Post newspaper calls the new edition of my gardening book an “an essential manual” for gardeners.

What’s new in edition two?

The new edition features a colorful cover image of one of my flowerbeds from last summer.

That image, taken by John Pendleton, shows off some of the annuals and perennials that grow in one of the hottest, driest parts of my backyard.

In addition to a new look, there’s more of everything else, too! Since the first edition was published in 2007, a lot has changed in the wonderful world of gardening.

So I updated all of the information, included new technologies, expanded plant lists, added new resources and included about nine more inspiring gardens to visit.

New Gardening Ideas for 2015

What’s new in gardening this year? Here are some interesting ideas I saw at the ProGreen Expo last week. ProGreen is the premier Rocky Mountain regional green industry conference held annually in Denver.

Expanded shale soil amendment

Expanded shale is the new way to amend clay soil. When incorporated into soil, the expanded shale improves soil drainage, but it can also hold water during drought. The light-weight shale doesn’t break down like organic soil amendments so it should last for many years in the landscape or even in containers. Gardeners should be able to buy either in bulk or 40 pound bags from local nurseries or soil suppliers.

Ash tree treatment for Emerald Ash Borer

The dreaded Emerald Ash Borer has found its way into Colorado, and any gardener who has an ash tree should be concerned. The Expo had quite a few booths dedicated to either new tools for detecting EAB, treatments for trees, or general information about this destructive insect. One of the main concerns from gardeners is how to treat trees without harming beneficial insects and the environment. Some products, like TreeAzin from Canada, claim to be safer than other treatments.  Gardeners should wait until EAB is found within 15 miles of their ash trees before taking action.

Six Great Gardening Gifts for 2013

If you’re looking for gardening gift ideas for the gardener in your life, here are my top six for 2013. I can vouch for all of these items because I’ve either tried them or read them. Many companies send me free items to try and review and these are the ones that landed at the top of my list:

Baker Creek2 2014

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has produced the “World’s Largest Seed Catalog” for 2014. The catalog is much more than a list of seeds for sale, it’s like a must-have heirloom vegetable encyclopedia for gardeners. The same company that’s sold heirloom vegetable seeds since 1998 has produced this very special catalog for $7.95 (the company’s free catalog is also available). If you love heirloom vegetables as much as I do, you’ll love this book-like catalog for the 2014 gardening season.

Nosiest Eggplant is 2013 Weird Veggie Winner

The results are in for the 2013 edition of the Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit gardening contest. Entries came in from across the country, but in a strange twist (absolutely fitting for an oddball vegetable contest) the first and second place winners are from Colorado.

Gardener Geri Koncilja has judged the Weird Veggie contest since it started in 2009. She received the photo entries by email after the contest ended on Friday and had no idea where any of the wacky fruits were grown.

First place goes to The Nosiest Eggplant, submitted by Ashley Grabb. The eggplant was grown on Shepard Valley CSA farm located outside of Boulder, Colo. The farm also sustains the Farmer Cultivation Center called Everybody Eats!

1st Ashley Grabb eggplant 2013

First Place-The Nosiest Eggplant, Ashley Grabb, Boulder, Colo.

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