For food, flowers and wellbeing. Gardening in Colorado has its own challenges and rewards.
Have you heard? Gardening like that of our grandparents is back in trend (minus the mass use of DDT). The decision to grow an old-fashioned, sustainable garden can mean focusing on a number of things: growing your own clean food, creating habitats and sources of food for urban wildlife, growing plants that bind more carbon than grass alone, or an office or to create an office home garden that can fight indoor air pollution. Gardening also has therapeutic benefits. And who doesn’t like to see a garden full of colorful, blooming flowers?
Start gardening forever
Before you put a seed or onion in the ground, you need to do this Choose a place where your garden will thrive. If you already know what type of plants you want to grow, you should choose a location with the amount of sunshine you need (full, partial, or shady). Remember that you can improve the soil and watering almost anywhere, but you cannot move the sun. Spend time researching your plants before planting.
Soil can be difficult in Colorado. Gardening experts recommend buying or renting a tiller to break up dry, clay-rich soil. To get really good, loose loam soils, it can take three to five growing seasons for organic matter to be processed and added. According to the National Gardening Association, the ideal soil is included 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. You can easily test your floor at home or with the help of professionals. Knowing the contents of your soil can help you make adjustments. Remember that every year of gardening your soil will get better.
Once you’ve thought about the sun and soil, you have to make a water plan. In our high desert climate, watering should be given serious consideration. Traditional overhead sprinklers are useful when it’s very hot and you need to cool your crop, but it shouldn’t be the main source of irrigation. Installing drip irrigation is a far more efficient use of water.
If you want to be even more water conscious, consider active or passive rainwater harvesting if you can. With an active irrigation schedule, you are using water that has been collected in rain barrels. Contrary to the name, the passive use of rainwater requires a little more planning. CSU Horticulture Extension Agent of Boulder County, Deryn Davidson describes the process as storing water in the soil. “That would design your landscape to catch water so that it stays in your yard instead of hitting your roof, down the gutter and spout, down the driveway and sidewalk, and into the drain of your storm,” says they. The Colorado Stormwater Center has resources that you can use to create a rainwater harvest plan.
When you are ready to buy your plants, your choice is seeds, bulbs, or transplants. Seeds tend to offer more variety, but are nowhere near as convenient as transplants. Seed sharing events held in the spring are a great way to discover new and interesting fruits, vegetables, and flowers. At this year’s Slow Food Boulder seed exchange event, growers got their hands on Makah Ozette potato seeds that have been eaten by the Makah Indians of the Pacific Northwest for 200 years.
Slow Food USA has curated this for even more types of fruit and vegetables Ark of Taste. The program catalogs traditional foods that are endangered, endangered, or of cultural value. The Makah Ozette potato is part of this catalog. The Slow Food website has a list of retailers selling Ark of Taste seeds.
The choice to grow food, especially with Heritage seeds, can be an important step healthier eating habits also.
“Instead of using the phrase ‘food is medicine’, food should be our guide to health,” says Jodie Lindsay Popma, the vice-chairman of Slow Food Boulder.
If you’re unsure about whether to focus your time, energy, and limited garden space on food or flowers, there is nothing wrong with choosing both with a mixed garden. Lauren KelsoThe site manager at Boulder’s Growing Gardens is committed to the symbiotic relationship that the two categories of plants can have. Flowers eventually attract pollinators that aid the harvest. Products can be a nice addition to a flower garden (especially chard or cabbage). And herbs, as Kelso says, “are incredibly beautiful, most bring pollinators very well with them, they look really good in a flower garden and then add a little something to your kitchen too.”
Do you need more basic or expert advice? The National Gardening Association website provides a free online course that covers the basics of gardening. Organizations like Growing Gardens and Denver Botanic Gardens also offer a variety of courses, from design to pest control. Master gardeners from the Boulder County’s CSU expansion office are also available for diagnostic questions about gardens, lawns, and trees.
“Sustainable gardening on the front range includes pest control: big, small and in a different way.” says Kelso. A big part of this is understanding that you’ll need to share some of your greens with urban wildlife, but there are ways to make it more difficult for pests to find. Physical barriers Fences and heavy nets are best at keeping animals like deer or rabbits away.
Kelso also recommends useful insects– such as green lacewings, ladybugs, praying mantises, and certain parasitic wasps – as a natural way to alleviate harmful pests.
Create pollinator-friendly habitats
Pollinators go beyond bees and butterfliesthat tend to get most of our attention. Moths, bats, birds, beetles, flies and wasps are all very important pollinators. Creating habitats that promote healthy pollinator populations will not only help your garden but the surrounding ecosystem as well. Each group has its own specific needs.
Moths are attracted to white and pale flowers that open in the late afternoon and evening, like hummingbird yucca and trumpet flowers. Because of their long beaks, humming-bird consume nectar from tubular flowers like columbine or bee balm. Flies and beetles– the two largest groups of pollinators – are not fussy, but prefer malodorous plants. There are also smartphone apps like BeeSmartThis will help you select region-specific plants and filter by flower color, pollinator, sunlight and soil type.
If you don’t live near a body of water, skip a water-filled bird bath or plastic bowl. A few rocks sticking out of the water ensure that smaller flying creatures can enjoy without drowning.
Bird and bat houses are common shelters, but it is bees that need the most support. Seventy percent of Colorado’s wild bees nest in the ground. Mere patches of undisturbed soil (not even mulch) are great nesting sites for these pollinators. Apiaries can be bought from most gardening stores.
The permaculture approach
The word “permaculture”, coined in 1978 by Bill Mollisonis a combination of permanent (as in sustainable) and agriculture. More recently, the word culture has also caught on, as practice is a way of life. The concept is essentially an agricultural system designed and maintained in a way that is resilient, sustainable and in harmony with nature. There are courses available to help you become fully acquainted with the technical details of permaculture. However, here are some guiding principles to get started:
- Let nature do the hard work. By watching things grow and flourish on their own, we can mimic the processes and take a break.
- Your garden should function in a closed loop. For each input there is an output that can be used as an input. Passive rainwater harvesting is an example of this, although it is referred to as earthworks in permaculture.
- Think strategically when choosing and growing crops. Although many food plants are annual, choosing as many perennials as possible will prevent the soil from being overworked. Rotate where to grow your annual crops in each season to prevent erosion, control weeds and disease, and make your soil more fertile.
- Every part of the landscape should serve a dual purpose. Fences can be used to keep unwanted animals out, as well as a grid to support more plants. A pond or water feature can act as part of your passive rainwater harvesting and also attract dragonflies, which eat a lot of pests.
On Labor Day weekend, the Colorado Permaculture Guild is hosting the Colorado Permaculture Convergence in Loveland. The weekend will include music, workshops, local food and lots of permaculture networking.
Beyond the garden
18 percent by people not in the garden due to limited or no outdoor space.
According to a survey by the Garden Media Group in 2017, 18 percent of people do not work in the garden because there is limited or no outdoor space. For others, the time investment is difficult to manage. People who rent, especially millennials, are working on these challenges by investing in houseplants that are less hassle-free to store but that are similarly enjoyable in return.
There is now an industry for home delivery of plants as well. E-commerce companies like Bloomscape deliver potted plants straight to your home. On their website you will also find lots of tips on plant care and a resident “Plant Mom” who is available virtually to solve plant problems.
Caring for plants can be both time consuming and physically and financially demanding. Whether the plants span your entire yard or sit humbly on your windowsill, growing them provides a sense of accomplishment and cleaner air for our lungs. Plants promote a more sustainable planet and maintain our body and mind.
“Doing a little and being the best you can is better than not doing everything.” says Kelso.