Monthly Archives: March 2017

Denver Master Gardeners Share Their Favorite Gardening Tools

What’s your best loved, most used, can’t be without garden tool?  Or, if you are new to gardening, what tools will help you the most? According to a recent survey of Denver Master Gardeners, implements that multi-task and are non-mechanical are among the most prized.

horiThe hori hori or Japanese garden knife is favored by more than half of our respondents. One  master gardener describes it as “the Swiss Army knife of garden tools as it is especially helpful in working in tight spaces and bad soils where larger tools can’t get a grip. It weeds, digs, divides, cuts, scales and pries.”

Hori means “to dig” in Japanese and reportedly the tool was designed hundreds of years ago to excavate plants from the mountainsides of Japan. It is nearly indestructible with a sturdy 6-8 inch pointed blade which has a serrated edge on one side, straight on the other. Its simplicity is in keeping with Japanese design principals and some might say it has a bit of a Samurai appearance. Perfect for attacking Colorado’s tough clay soil!

Shovels, troughs, hand spades, pitchforks, hedge shears, hand pruners and narrow rakes with flexible tines all received high praise in our survey, too. Ergonomics are important and many said that the ideal tool is the one that fits you best. A petite gardener reports her favorite small rake is actually a child’s tool, which she didn’t realize for years. It has just the right reach for her and easily fits between plants to clean up leaves and spread mulch.

Pat McClearn found an old-fashioned, rubber handled dandelion digger at the house she purchased in 1963. She’s been weeding and transplanting with it ever since. I’m in awe of Pat’s 50-year-old weeder! Like many others, I find brightly handled tools help me save time not looking for that darn stray trowel.

Breaking up ground with a broadfork

Deb Neeley recommends a broadfork. “It loosens the soil down to 14″, is fun to use and provides a good workout too!  Much kinder alternative for your soil than rototilling.”

The Denver Compost Program  received rave reviews for its ease of use. “The green compost bin – a reason to live!” proclaims Nancy Downs. Anne Beletic is equally enthusiastic about her reciprocal saw for pruning and her cordless electric mower, which makes easy work of mowing her small, hilly lawn. Better for the environment, too!

Several respondents suggested repurposing items from inside the house such as long kitchen scissors, screwdrivers or a chef knife to pull weeds, divide perennials and deadhead. Fancy? No. Effective? Definitely. A retired pillow also makes a great kneeling pad and an apron that covers the knees will keep you tidy. Extra kudos if it has pockets.

Garden clogs got a mention for being comfortable, waterproof and good for trekking through the garden in any weather. Jodi Torpey is a fan of Atlas nitrile touch garden gloves, which are “tough and act like a second skin to protect my hands. They’re the only garden gloves I’ve found that I can use for a full day of work in the garden and hold up for more than one season too.”

So there you have it, some great suggestions for making gardening more enjoyable. Any gardening helpers we’ve missed?

Written by Linda McDonnell with thanks to the  many Denver Master Gardeners who shared their expertise for this post. There were lots of suggestions and every effort was made to mention all of them!

Advertisements

Grow a Garden Workshops Take Root

Pallas Quist, DUG Master Community Gardener, leads a Growing Green workshop in Denver.

What do you get when you mix 25,000 seed packets with 29,000 vegetable transplants and 18 organic gardening workshops?

Thousands of happy Grow a Garden participants for the 2017 gardening season.

Grow a Garden is the new name for Denver Urban Gardens Free Seeds and Transplants program. This program helps income-qualified individuals, families and gardening groups by providing free seeds, plants and know-how for growing productive vegetable gardens.

This year DUG is partnering with CSU Extension to present the “Growing Green” vegetable gardening workshops. This collaboration represents a full circle of gardening education because CSU Extension initially offered similar workshops to the community about 20 years ago.

DUG developed the workshop content and slide show to focus on organic gardening basics for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. The goal is to help gardeners of all levels plant, grow and harvest their homegrown fresh produce to help stretch their grocery dollars.

Teams of facilitators—a DUG Master Community Gardener and a CSU Master Gardener—met at a train-the-trainer session led by Jessica Romer, DUG’s director of horticulture and Dan Goldhamer, CSU Extension horticulture agent.

Facilitators then joined forces to present information for getting started, planning and designing the garden, amending the soil, timing the planting, and maintaining the garden.

“I feel like I’ve been launched,” said beginning community gardener John Anduri after one of the Denver Grow a Garden workshops. “I thought the information was perfect because I don’t know beans about gardening.”

Like CSU Extension Master Gardeners, DUG’s Master Community Gardeners attend horticultural training classes, but they also have specialized training in community gardening and community organizing. It was a unique and satisfying collaboration for volunteers from both organizations.

After the workshop, Grow a Garden participants picked up their supply of seed packets so they could start planting their cool-season gardens. Warm-weather transplants, like tomatoes and peppers, will be available at distribution centers in May.

As continuing support through the season, Grow a Garden participants can attend any of DUG’s other gardening classes for free.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Science in our Back Yards

We love our gardens for their beauty, color and scent. We love seeing the movement that passing breezes create and the hoar frost shining on bare branches in winter. Maybe our gardens provide food for our family and friends. And for sure, our gardens nurture our spirit and exercise our bodies. But behind all that beauty there are hard sciences at work.  And yet, the nearest we get to thinking in scientific terms is the NPK (nitrogen/phosphorus/potassium) information on a bag of fertilizer.

Now, my chemistry and physics education is minimal, and my math is not much better, so I struggle sometimes to understand the more scientific explanations and explorations that are going on in modern horticultural (and other) research. Still I’d like to share with you some of the fascinating ideas I’ve come across.

Origami

The Japanese art (or, science?) of paper-folding is more than a fun party trick. We can learn to make a paper airplane, a bird, a star, a frog. But did you know that origami exists in the natural world?

ladybug-55056_1280Think of a how a ladybug’s wings unfold from below her bright red outer “wings” when she takes off into the air. Her flight wings are much bigger than her outer protective wings, so they need to be folded away when not in use.  See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P335P-LtA10.

 

A butterfly’s wings sibutterfly-1518060_1280 (7) - Copymilarly are folded tight inside the chrysalis and must be unfolded as it emerges before it can fly.  See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5QH3bGF4uU.

beech-754155_1280The buds of a beech tree are long, slim and pointed – a little like a furled umbrella. Yet they contain a full-size beech leaf. When the bud opens, the leaf which is tightly folded, gradually opens out by unfolding. See it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nUi-kmr-8k

Even our brains are folded to provide a much bigger surface area than our skulls could contain if the brain had a simple smooth surface. Folds not only enable large surface areas to be contained in small spaces but can also produce extremely strong structures.

Using mathematics and computer programs, scientists are studying the complex folding techniques that occur in nature to produce everything from huge light weight aeroplane wings and solar arrays for use in space to creating to tiny robots and medical implants, e.g. arterial stents, which unfold once injected into the body.

For more on this watch the PBS Nova program, ‘The Origami Revolution’ here http://www.pbs.org/video/2365955827/

Fibonacci (fib-on-arch-ee)

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who lived in the 12th century. He identified the mathematical sequence of numbers where the following number is always the sum of the preceding two numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and on and on

This sequence or pattern is found all over the place in the natural world. It exists in the number of petals on a flower, the number of seeds on a plant, the arrangement of a plant’s branches and leaves as well as in the shape of a nautilus shell and a hurricane.

cranesbill-123289_1280

Examples of Fibonacci petal arrangements include Lily and Iris (3), hardy Geranium (Cranesbill), Columbine (5), Delphinium (8), Cineraria, Ragwort (13), Chicory, Shasta daisy (21), Plantain, Pyrethrum (34), Asteraceae family (55, 89).

columbine-1154950_1280   oxeye-daisy-538024_1280

That is not say that all flowers have petals that follow the Fibonacci sequence. For example, there are many flowers with four petals. Wallflowers and Evening Primrose are just two.
wallflower-2006127_1280

primrose-59902_1280

Pine cones are arranged in two spirals which conform to the Fibonacci sequence.  The seeds of a sunflower are arranged in a complex ‘Golden Spiral’ to pack the maximum possible number of seeds onto the seed head.

pinecones-287569_1280  sunflower-917920_1280
It is thought that the precise arrangement of petals, leaves and seeds enables plants to obtain the optimum in terms of available sunlight and rainwater and the maximum seed production.

The shell and the hurricane conform to the ‘Golden Spiral’ which is based on the ‘Golden Ratio’ which is based on the Fibonacci sequence. For more on these, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number

Of course, you can argue that we see the sequence in nature because we look for it. That is, it’s not an immutable “law of nature” which was just waiting there for a mathematician to spot. Either way, it is interesting.

For a more detailed look at mathematics in nature, go here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/describing-nature-math.html

Chemistry as communication

Research taking place all over the world is revealing that plants and their relationships with the surrounding environment are  much more complex that had been realized.

Mychorrizae (soil fungi) in the soil combine with plant roots and create pathways between separate plants. These pathways allow the exchange of moisture and chemicals between plants and the mychorrizae. Plants stressed by drought will communicate that with other surrounding plants prompting those other, as yet un-stressed, plants to close their leaf stomata, reducing transpiration and so conserving water.

Plants can also communicate through the air, by way of air-borne VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Experiments have shown that beans give off VOCs when attacked by aphids. The VOCs prompt nearby bean plants to give off different VOCs that attract aphid-eating wasps and repel the aphids.

Mature trees “help” seedlings and saplings by providing them with extra carbon through the mychorrizal network. The suggestion is that these young trees might not survive otherwise on the shaded forest floor.

It is known that some plants use allelopaths to inhibit growth of nearby plants thus reducing competition for light, water and nutrients. Examples include Acacia, Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven) and Juglans nigra (black walnut).

See more here http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38727/title/Plant-Talk/ and here http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet

Apologies to the scientists and mathematicians among you for my low level take on all this. I just think it is fascinating to see these features and connections in our natural world. Many of them are things we can identify in our own back yards if we just look a little more closely. Many of them occur too in the vastness of outer space (and beyond?). Unseen connections in the atmosphere and underground are shaping the way our world develops and grows as well as our own back yard spaces.

Anne Hughes
A Denver County Master Gardener

All photos courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com, a source of royalty free images.

Save the Date! Denver Master Gardener Annual Spring Plant Sale May 20 & 21

Saturday May 20th 8am – 3pm & Sunday May 21, 2017 10am – 3pm

CSU Denver Extension, 888 E Iliff Ave, Denver CO 80210

For more information: (720) 913-5270 or denvermg@colostate.edu

12th annual Denver Master Gardener plant sale featuring heirloom tomatoes, New Mexico chiles, annuals and perennials! Master Gardeners on hand to answer all of your questions! Rain or shine. Credit cards, cash and checks accepted!