By Andrea Sutherland
Hundreds stood in line outside Horace Mann Middle School March 10 for a seat at the March Veggie Garden Class hosted by Pikes Peak Urban Gardens.
“They’re going to need a bigger place next time,” said Karen Brand, first-time community gardener.
Brand said this was the second workshop she attended and she was excited to use lessons learned in her community garden near Woodmen-Roberts Elementary School.
“(Gardening) is a good way to interact with my kids,” she said, adding that she hopes to grow tomatoes. “These classes have so much information.”
It was the fourth class in a monthly series and offered educational tips to first-time and veteran gardeners. Attendees came armed with pens and pads of paper. One attendee even brought his typewriter.
“I always come,” said Robin Boutilier. “The information is fabulous.”
Boutilier has gardened in the Pikes Peak region for 40 years and has attended meetings since they began three years ago.
“I still come in and get new tips,” she said. “I am always up for trying something new. I wanted to try ghost chilies this year, but I didn’t get the seeds in time.”
Many attendees said they enjoyed the classes because PPUG Director Larry Stebbins tailors classes for gardeners growing in the Pikes Peak region.
“People shouldn’t be planting until mid-April,” said Stebbins. “They need to be planning for what they want to plant, get the seeds and request seeds not sold in stores.”
Because of the mountainous climate, Stebbins recommended growers stick to what he calls “cool-season plants,” which include onions, broccoli, kale, collard greens and cabbage.
“For those who live in the mountains, start indoors,” he said. “Use a heat pad and place plants in a location that gets eight hours of sunlight. Don’t let them dry out. Or, buy healthy, stocky plants and transplant them in late April or early May.”
One tip Stebbins said is essential for all gardeners regardless of location: good soil.
“If you feed your soil, it will feed your plants,” he said. “A good rule of thumb: don’t put anything in your soil that your earth worms won’t eat.”
Stebbins discourages the use of pesticides and weed killer and does not allow those products, even if organic, in his gardens. Instead, he opts for water to knock off aphids and other harmful insects and places wire fencing over his garden beds to discourage animals looking for an easy meal.
Last year, Stebbins and a friend developed the “Starry Magonator,” a mesh row cover placed over the tops of seedlings that allows in sunlight and water, but prevents insects like the onion root maggot from burrowing into plants.
It is this kind of innovation that attendees said attracts them to the gardening classes.
“Larry has been doing this for 20-plus years,” said Allen Johnson. “He has the knowledge and the feedback from the community.”
Johnson said he has been a vegetable gardener for four years and plans to try potatoes this season.
“I learned a couple new methods today,” he said. “This is why I come to these classes.”
Throughout his hour-long presentation, Stebbins shared tips on growing beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, lettuce, peas, potatoes and perennial vegetables including asparagus, rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes.
Audience members asked questions and offered their own tips throughout the presentation.
“We’re very excited about this season,” Stebbins said, listing several projects members of the PPUG will take on. “We’re building another off-grid greenhouse and we’ll continue the ‘Pick and Pay’ at Harlan Wolfe Ranch.”
Stebbins said the PPUG will also organize a Kids’ Corner at Harlan Wolfe Ranch to educate children about gardening and eating healthy.
The PPUG hosted four community gardens last year and will add a fifth on Mill Street and South Cascade Avenue. Plots are still available for those interested.
The next gardening class takes place April 14 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Horace Mann Middle School. Classes cost $5 or entry is free with donation of a gardening book.
Visit http://www.ppugardens.org or call 719-651-3416 for more information on PPUG and future gardening classes.