Monday, May 19, 2014

Veggie gardening, Front Range style

We did very little vegetable gardening at our Chicago house. In our last couple of years there, we put in a small raised bed and successfully grew radishes, cucumbers, and lettuce, but then I got busy with other stuff and left the garden to go feral. (You're welcome, bunnies!)

Growing food has always been a desire of ours, and now we finally have the space to do it right. TMCH and I plotted (ha!) our ideas independently, and are gradually phasing them in. He put in a raised bed on one of the burn scars south of the house, for direct outdoor planting. Instead of planting in rows, he's following the principles of Square-Foot Gardening. The bed is surrounded with logs (of course) and filled with bagged garden soil. Long-term, we'll think about getting several yards of soil delivered, but Year 1 is for low-cost experimentation!

So far, TMCH has planted spinach, onions, carrots, and lettuce. Despite the often sub-freezing overnight weather and a very amusing 21-inch snowfall on May 11, his little seedlings are popping up and looking good!

Meantime, I decided to try starting seeds indoors for the first time. I invested in a cheap shoplight with daylight spectrum bulbs, a couple of plastic humidity trays, and some seed-starting mix. I also "liberated" some large aluminum baking sheet-type-things from a "Surplus" pile in the hallway at work. They make lovely sturdy drip trays. I set up in the laundry room with the light on a timer, and planted all sorts of stuff.

The tomatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli I recently transplanted into larger containers with soil and compost. I planned to do the same with the peppers, but time and weather have really not been conducive lately. When transplanting, I learned that one plant per cell really is ideal. If you have multiple seedlings in one cell, getting their roots disentangled is tough, and pinching off all but one seems so heartless! I water as needed with a weak solution of fish emulsion. It seems to do a great job but holy cow does it smell bad. On the plus side, the dogs love me!

Yesterday afternoon I started the "hardening off" process. Hardening off, it turns out, means "take your plants outside, totally forget about them, leave them out overnight, then shrug and say 'They didn't die so I guess they're done hardening off.'" I'm not sure this was the lesson I was supposed to learn, but whatever works, right?

Next weekend, I plan to get all these juniors into containers. I will probably keep them all inside the yard to protect them from the deer. The rabbits, however, are another story...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Almost 2 years after the High Park Fire

The 2012 High Park Fire, and the 2013 flood (it doesn't get a fancy name, it's just The Flood), underlie every thing that happens here in Rist Canyon. Neighbors who decided to rebuild post-fire are slowly returning, families are still fighting with insurance companies, and parts of Buckhorn Canyon are still impassable after the roads washed away. A plague of locusts is wryly predicted this year. We and many others have received dire-sounding letters from our insurance companies about fire mitigation steps that must be taken OR ELSE.

Even though our house survived both fire and flood, the wet ground saturated the bases of our many dead, burned trees and weakened them into mush. Ever since last September, we've been hearing the crash of falling trees in the woods, sometimes really close by and sometimes resulting in inconveniently blocked trails. The trees would have fallen eventually, but the flood has hastened it.

Today I took a walk with Foley into the lower part of the woods, by the mill site where the logs for the house were milled back in the late 1970s. The site was still intact when we visited in April 2012. Now it's an array of charred things - axles, cinder blocks, fencing, mysterious hunks of iron. The fire burned hotly there. There were so many trees down that the usual walking path was impassable.
Oil drums, cinder blocks, an old solar water heater panel, and a lot of trees that fell since last fall

Even trees that survived the fire often became bent from the heat

Dead, burned, flood-weakened trees break off at their bases

Blackened circles of ground, usually where a treeful of needles burned hotly, are starting to be filled in with moss, an early successional plant that will help to reestablish organic matter in the soil

I saw lots of baby Douglas-firs. Doug-firs are not shade-tolerant, but the fire opened up areas of the Ponderosa-pine-dominated canopy and has provided opportunity for the Doug-firs to spring up. These seedlings are a reminder that the fire is part of the normal ecology here, and someday the forest will return.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Still alive!

It's been over a year since I posted! What the heck?!

Right now I'm very much missing my old blog, which I largely used to unload and vent and complain about stuff. Having a place to vent is pretty useful sometimes. I've been working at Colorado State University since April 2013. It's mostly good but the last week has been especially difficult. I'm experiencing the joys of being a whistleblower, and the crushing feelings of guilt and betrayal that go along with that. Hopefully it will all blow over but for now I'm pretty unhappy. General emotional instability is making me feel constantly weepy and prone to bouts of crying. Last night at the grocery store I caught sight of the Apple Jacks and started crying for Jazzy, who's been gone for over 7 years now. Sheesh.

Focus on the good! I've been having such a good time watching eagle nests on webcams. The Berry College (Georgia) nest has one eaglet, and he's the cutest little drunkenly swaying thing! Watch Here

Then there's the Decorah, Iowa nest. I've watched this one for several years. It's still just eggs at this point but hatching should happen in the next couple of weeks. Mom and Dad are beautiful and fierce.

First tiny peek of crocus leaves coming up in our garden this week. I have big plans to install one raised bed for vegetables in this spring, down the hill near the gully. Seems like a good way to hide one of the (many) burn scars. I've been pinning ideas for building raised beds on slopes, like this:

[Image from]

Hopefully we can build it with logs. The one thing we have NO shortage of, is logs! TMCH and I are trying hard to reuse and harvest items from our land whenever we can. Plus, I picked up a few bags of free compost from Whole Foods last year. Free is good!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I like plants. Have I mentioned that? When we moved from Chicago I had to harden my heart and leave behind, sell, or toss many of my Juniors. The ones I kept were moved into the basement during the house-selling process so they wouldn't look cluttery (except in the basement, of course). Some plants didn't mind the reduced light, others not so much. And the move itself claimed a few little green lives. R.I.P. little Juniors.

Rhipsalis capilliforma, and our truly awful curtains

Two plants in particular, however, not only relished the move, but have thrived beyond my expectations! The first, Rhipsalis capilliforma, Old Man's Beard, was in a south window for years. It grew some, it died some, it was cool but never showed any obvious signs of life or joy. Suddenly now it's growing like a crazy thing, and it's in full flower! What the heck?? I didn't even repot it.

The other plant that is exhibiting unbridled enthusiasm is this Euphorbia tirucalli. This also hasn't been repotted lately, but somehow the southeast-facing window is so much better than its old southeast-facing sunroom that after years of not a single sign of growth at all, it is growing all over the place. I guess having dogs crash into it once in a while does it some good!

Euphorbia tirucalli. New growth is strange and yellow but hey, at least it's growing

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pruning the Deuterocohnia

Even though my plants are my babies, sometimes I totally drop the ball and neglect one even though it's crying for help. I can't explain why.
I got this Deuterocohnia brevifolia (pretty sure on that ID) at the Garfield Park Conservatory when they had their post-hailstorm fundraiser sale. (The hoya I bought that day died almost immediately.) Carrying this huge thing to the cashier station was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Those spines are SHARP!
I love this sassy, prickly, historical thing. It's unlike my other bromeliads, being terrestrial and desert-adapted, and it's pretty unusual.

So yeah, I dropped the ball. Moving it across the country was hard on it, with those stiff branches getting bent and roughhoused, and then I put it in front of a window where the dogs can knock into it occasionally. I noticed after a few months that some of the stems had died. I put off working on it (did I mention it's SHARP?) but finally sucked it up and did it.
I started from the ends and worked backwards, removing everything dead. There are some remaining stems that may be dying from the proximal ends outward, but since even the living stems look dead at that end, I will wait and be sure before doing any more butchery.

I discovered in the process that the silly plant flowered at some point. D. brevifolia has green flowers so it's not surprising that I missed it. IMG_0278
I also took a few stem cuttings and many leaf cuttings. I don't expect the leaf cuttings to work at all, and nothing online suggests that they could work, but hey, why not try? The cuttings are callousing and will be planted soon. I invested in some rooting hormone to give them a better shot at rooting. IMG_0280
The stems in cross-section are interesting, very fibrous with distinct dark brown vessels. I don't know what special role the brown vessels play. Desert plants are often fibrous because fibers provide strength with very little water content.
The finished product. Fingers crossed for a healthy recovery!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Window garden, part 2

In a sudden burst of creativity, I went to the workshop today and built a shelf for the window. It's 52"x8" with raised sides; no real reason for the raised sides except I thought it would look nice, and maybe it will reduce the chance of pots getting knocked off. Installed, the window trim will form the 4th side. All the wood is scrap pine we had in the garage. The sides I ripped from a ratty-looking 2x4 that was much nicer on the inside.
Now that I know the shelf fits correctly, I just need to give it a quick sanding, stain it, and wait for the cast iron brackets to arrive. (I've discovered the joys of buying hardware on eBay!) And if it all turns out the way I hope, I'll make a similar shelf for my office window, and I can move some of the plants off the Majestic stove.
I mean, it's cute, but it is a *stove* after all.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's a new year! Let's grow stuff!

One of my goals this year is to finally get a window garden underway. We have a south-west facing window in the dining room that will suit just fine. I dug out my shoebox of seeds and potted up a few things I thought would do okay indoors, mostly leafy stuff.
We have mesclun, cilantro, parsley, basil, rosemary, and thyme (no sage, sadly). Most are from Renee's Garden Seeds or Botanical Interests. I used my usual mix of 2 parts soil (Fox Farms organic) to 1 part perlite (which makes me sneeze!). For now they must live on the table until I get the windowsill shelf built.