Black tomatoes make a garden complete

These are prime examples of Paul Robeson tomatoes, a Russian heirloom named for the famous singer, actor and activist.

The deep flavor of a black tomato is not easy to describe. It’s earthy but intense, sweet and tangy, smoky and bright.

My first black tomato was a Black Krim that I bought at a garden club sale a few years ago. Now my garden wouldn’t be complete without several varieties of black tomatoes growing there.

This year in addition to Black Krim, I added black cherry tomatoes and Paul Robeson tomatoes to my garden. I ordered seeds from Tomato Growers Supply in February and started them in the basement in March.

The plants were ready to place in the garden in May, but I waited for the weather to settle down which it never really did, but I planted them the second weekend in June anyway.

If you’d like to learn more about Paul Robeson and his remarkable life, PBS has a bio of him as part of its American Masters series. He absolutely deserves to have a wonderful tomato named for him.

Lime basil a refreshing addition to garden

This was my first year growing lime basil and I haven’t been disappointed.

lime-basil-blogLime basil (Ocimum basilicum americanum) is a refreshingly delicious culinary herb that I grew from seed as another one of my backyard experiments.

I picked up a packet of seeds at the Colorado Garden and Home Show for two reasons: I love basil and I really love basil. The lime was just an added bonus.

I sowed the seeds in early June in a long, narrow and shallow plastic patio planter by sprinkling them on top of the soil, lightly covering them and keeping them moist.

The planter receives direct sun all morning into early afternoon.

I’m delighted with the results. The plants are vigorous and they filled in the entire container. The leaves are small and narrow and have a wonderful lime aroma and citrusy taste.

I’m especially pleased with the plants because they don’t seem to flower as quickly as other varieties of basil, so it’s easier to keep up with them.

New Zealand spinach can take the heat

New Zealand spinach, planted in a shallow container, was another of my successful garden-grown experiments.

new-zealand-spinach-blogYesterday I wrote about the good luck I had growing green beans in a large container. The New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia) seeds I planted also did well even though they were planted in a narrow, shallow plastic container.

New Zealand spinach is an old heirloom plant introduced to England in the late 1700s.  Even though it’s called “spinach” it’s not a true spinach.  The seeds are large and look a little like dull burrs found on a puncturevine.

The leaves are a bit thicker than the spinach we usually grow or buy at the grocery store. However, the taste is similar and can be cooked like other spinach. I’ve tried it raw, but others might not like its wild taste.

Green beans keep gardeners busy

Planting and growing pole beans in a large planter was a successful garden experiment this year.

green-beans-blogI like to think of my garden as one big experiment. In my outdoor laboratory I’ve planted unusual combinations of perennials together, put tall plants in front of short plants, planted some where they might not grow and let others go wild. Every year I also plant veggies in large planters just to see how they’ll grow.

My experiment this year was growing Kentucky Wonder green beans (pole bean type) in a large container with a trellis for support. I found a packet of seeds for only 20 cents early in the season.

The planter I used has a 22″ top diameter x 20″ high and is made of a lightweight Styrofoam. It probably holds about 64 quarts of potting soil.

Slugs in the garden? Cheers!

Thanks to the continuing cool and wet weather, I’ve been finding unwelcome visitors to my garden.

slugs-blogSlugs love to feast on lush vegetation and our current wet weather is attracting them to my garden like never before. I’ve always heard about slugs, but I’ve never seen them in my typically dry garden until now.

Each morning I have to check for slugs on the container plants on my patio. I carefully look over each of my pepper plants to find the slimy things clinging to peppers, hiding under a leaf or casually lying on the soil. So gross!

These pests are 1-2 inches long and look like snails that have lost their shells. Slugs like damp garden soil and you know you have them if you see plant leaves with large holes chewed in them or holes in the fruits. It seems they’re especially fond of my jalapenos.

A big crop of disappointed gardeners

A promising crop of heirloom tomatoes was still on the vine when the big hail storm hit Pueblo July 29.

green-tomato-on-vine-blogThis may turn out to be one of the most disappointing gardening seasons on record for gardeners along the Front Range, especially because there were so many new vegetable gardeners this season.

New gardeners who planted Victory Gardens this year in an effort to save money on groceries, learned one of the hard lessons experienced gardeners know all too well: staying optimistic despite a season of bad weather and devastating hail storms.

A chilly May delayed planting warm-weather crops and then there were the drenching rains in June. In fact, Denver recorded it’s second wettest June on record.

While this weather was great for flowers and cool-season vegetables, like the peas and lettuces I had growing, it didn’t do much for their warm-weather veggie friends. The tomato and peppers didn’t budge for a month.

The Great Sunflower Project needs you

Every summer for the last four years, a cluster of male bees (genus Melissodes) finds this  Miscanthus sinensis the perfect place to spend each night.

sleeping-bees-blogEver since I interviewed bee expert Stephen Buchmann a few years ago, I’ve had a soft spot for bees. He told me that one-third of our food supply is derived from insect-pollinated plants and that hundreds of fruits and vegetables would disappear if anything were to happen to the honey bee.

“It’s been stated that if there were no bees and other pollinators, it’s doubtful that the human population could survive for more than a few months,” he said.

Over the last few years, the decline in bee populations across the country has been well-documented. That’s why I was especially pleased to read about Gretchen LeBuhn in the August issue of Sunset Magazine.

Gretchen is an associate professor of biology at San Francisco State University and the founder of the Great Sunflower Project. Thank you, Gretchen!

Organic lawn care and weeds

I was surprised to learn there isn’t a universally-agreed upon definition of organic lawn care.

green-lawn-blogOne of the classes I took during CSU’s Short Course day in July was “Organic Lawn Care: Is it Sustainable?” taught by Tony Koski, the extension turf specialist. I’ve taken Tony’s classes in the past and he always presents good information and in an interesting way, too.

His workshop focused on the current research for testing organic fertilizers and pest management products for managing organic lawns.  My biggest take away from the session is that if you grow an organic lawn, you should expect weeds.

This made me feel pretty good about my lawn, because the weeds have taken over the backyard.

Tony explained the reasons for weed problems in an organic lawn include poor cultural practices, improper species or cultivar selection and planting poor quality seed or sod.

The bottom line is that weeds grow because the turf isn’t strong enough to compete with weeds.

Plant a seed, grow a gardener

The Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins, Colo., has a delightful Children’s Garden that made me wish I were a kid again.

childrens-garden-spg-crk-blogOn my way home from CSU after the short course a few Fridays ago, I took a little detour to The Gardens on Spring Creek and I’m so glad I did.

I learned about The Gardens earlier this summer because it’s a Plant Select demonstration site. The Gardens is a community botanic garden on 18 acres along the Spring Creek corridor and is a public and private partnership. The Gardens are located at 2145 Centre Ave.

It was late in the afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance see everything I would’ve liked to see, but I did get to spend some time in the Children’s Garden.

New perennials on trial at CSU garden

In addition to its annual flower trials, CSU has three garden beds devoted to testing new perennial plants.

csu-perennial-trials-blogAcross the street from CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden are three beds for testing new perennial plants. Perennials undergo two years of testing and include cultivars that have been introduced within the last three years.

The top performers from the 2007-2008 perennial trials are available now.

Plants being tested in the gardens include one bed of Achillea, Geranium, Lavendula and Pulmonaria; a second bed of Heuchera and Salvia; and a third bed of Achillea, Coreopsis, Echninacea, Euphorbia and Gaillardia.

Seeing all the different varieties of Coreopsis gave me the idea to create a bed in my yard featuring only tickseed plants like Coreopsis ‘Red Shift’, ‘Full Moon’, ‘Sienna Sunset’, and ‘Big Bang Galaxy’. With all the different flower colors and plant sizes I think it would make an interesting and beautiful new garden.

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