Plant Spinach in July for a Fall Harvest

spinach in containerHere’s a little known gardening fact: If not for a misplaced decimal point, Popeye the Sailor Man might have gained his incredible strength from eating kale instead of spinach.

The comic book hero helped build spinach’s reputation as a power-house vegetable because of a chemist’s simple mistake.

Instead of recording spinach with 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, he wrote 35 milligrams. With that much iron, it’s no wonder Popeye sprouted instant biceps whenever he squeezed opened a can of spinach.

Even with the decimal in the right spot, spinach is still considered one of the healthiest superfoods around. These good-for-you greens are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium and, of course, iron.

Spinach is an easy-to-grow cool-season vegetable that belongs to the Goosefoot family with beets and chard.

One of the other great things about spinach is that it grows as well in fall as it does in spring. So get ready to plant your spinach in mid-July.


 

 

Companion Gardening Expands Options for Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

companion plantingThere are just some things in life that make ideal combinations.

It’s peanut butter and jelly for lunch; cookies and milk for dessert.

When it comes to the garden, there’s tomatoes and basil; radishes and spinach.

These combinations of vegetables and herbs make perfect partners when grown together in the garden, especially if you’re gardening in a small space.

Basil makes the tomatoes tastier and radishes attract destructive leafminers away from the spinach. These botanical buddies are two examples of how plants team together to help each other.

Companion planting is the art and science of arranging combinations of two or more plants to benefit one another. Planting certain crops together saves garden space, controls pests and encourages healthy gardens.

Native Americans practiced companion planting for centuries by growing corn, beans and squash together. These vegetables are called the Three Sisters because they complement each other when planted in the same hill.


 

 

An Herb a Day Keeps Mosquitoes Away

green leavesThe American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) wants you to know this is National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.

You are aware of mosquitoes, aren’t you?

That’s what I thought!

Mosquitoes are certainly annoying, but they can also spread West Nile virus. That’s why it’s important for gardeners to do all they can to control these insect pests.

“Over the last few years, the U.S. has had increased cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the West Nile Virus and other exotic diseases such as dengue fever and Chikungunya threaten our shores,” says AMCA Technical Advisor Joe Conlon. “To ensure the safety of family, friends and pets, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re taking the proper steps: first, reducing mosquito breeding through water management and source reduction, and second, reducing adult
mosquito populations.”

The AMCA says one of the easiest and most crucial thing to do is to remove any standing water around your property. Empty pots, tarps, tools and trash cans of any water that has collected as they are all breeding grounds for mosquitoes.


 

 

Defining Seed and Plant Terms Avoids Confusion

seed packetWhile answering questions after a recent vegetable gardening talk, a beginning gardener asked me to explain some common seed terms found in garden catalogs and on seed packets.

Because there’s a lot of confusion these days about seed and plant terms, I thought I’d share my answers to help you with your seed sorting, too.

Common Seed Terms Defined

GE—Genetically Engineered seed describes the method of incorporating genes directly into an organism. These seeds are not found in nature, but they are genetically engineered in the laboratory. Some examples of genetically engineered crops include corn modified to protect itself from corn borer damage and herbicide-resistant soybeans, canola and other crops. It’s unlikely that home gardeners will see any packets of GE seeds in garden centers or catalogs.


 

 

What’s so special about honeybees?

close up of a beeToday may be the official end to National Pollinator Week, but the work of bees — and gardeners — continues.

Please keep adding plants to your garden that attract bees with the nectar and pollen they need.

Stop using pesticides in your garden that can harm bees.

Register your pollinator garden with the Pollinator Partnership Network so we can reach 1 million gardens by 2016.

And while you’re at it, consider all the ways honeybees are special:

Bees evolved from wasps, but bees are chubbier and usually quite hairy.

All bees have some branched hairs on their bodies.

Cave paintings show that for thousands of years, people all over the world have risked physical harm in the pursuit of honey.

It’s safe to be around bees in the garden while they’re foraging for food.

Worker honey bees transform floral nectar into honey by adding enzymes and reducing the moisture.


 

 

Behold Some Important Facts About Bees

bumblebee on sunflowerI hope the idea of National Pollinator Week has inspired you to consider ways to help the pollinators in your garden. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, there’s a book I’d like to recommend to you. “Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind” is a book from Dr. Stephen Buchmann, an important member of the Pollinator Partnership. The book (Bantam, 2005) will give you new insight into the hive and the vital role bees play in our history, culture and kitchens.

I had the chance to interview Dr. Buchman in 2005 when his book was first released. This interview originally was published in The Denver Post newspaper at that time.

The most overworked and under-appreciated garden helper is the bee.

Like their human commuter counterparts, bees leave their nests early each morning to go to work. Their day is spent flying from flower to flower searching for nectar and pollen. At dusk they return home to rest before the start of another busy workday.


 

 

Moth emerges from garage, lives to tell about it

empty cocoon When John was trimming the red twig dogwood shrubs earlier this season, he found a cocoon clinging to one of the newly pruned branches.

The cocoon looked like a tightly wrapped bunch of leaves and it had some weight to it, too.

He left the cocoon, still attached to its branch on the patio table for me to find. To keep it from getting soaked in the daily deluges we experienced throughout May, I moved the cocoon and branch into the garage and left it on my workbench.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

That is until one day last week when he called me outside to see a moth that was lying on the ground.

“I was in the garage and felt something fluttering at my feet,” he said. “I saw this moth and moved it outside. I hope it’s okay.”

“It looks like it’s drying its wings,” I said. Then I took a few pictures and went back inside the house.


 

 

Solitary Bees Like These Simple Homes

homes for solitary beesThere’s no place like home for a solitary bee, or so the old saying should go.

While this week in June is set aside as National Pollinator Week, we really should celebrate pollinators every week of the year.

One way to celebrate is to invite bees into your yard with little bee houses.

The simple “insect hotels” in the picture are part of a display at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There’s a wide variety of found materials here — from bricks to dried bamboo stalks to grasses.

“Many of the more than 500 species of bees native to the region use cavities like these to build their solitary nests,” the signage explains.

The display at my house isn’t as elaborate, but I still have plenty of bees. Orchard mason bees are one of the solitary bees that are especially fond of my landscape.

These bees are smaller than honeybees and have a shiny bluish-black color.


 

 

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.


 

 
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