The beginning gardener’s quick guide to success

By Larry Stebbins

Gardening in the Rockies can be daunting for beginners. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Choose a very sunny location, eight hours or more of direct sun each day.
  • Plant in good soil.
  • Visit your garden daily to check on water needs and to check on bugs.
  • Harvest when your crop is ready. Don’t delay.
  • If your seeds are not sprouting, replant.
  • In Colorado Springs, do not plant on mounds. Plant in a small trench (1 inch deep or so).
  • For your tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and squash, use planting techniques that protect your plants from harsh winds and keep the soil warm.
  • Read the instructions for proper spacing of vegetables: do not overcrowd.

The details

Choose a sunny, level site. In Colorado Springs it is necessary for your garden to get full sun for 10 hours a day (eight hours is the absolute minimum) and the more the better. Morning sun (by at least 8 a.m. starting May 1) is a must for a successful garden.

If it is a new garden and you want to garden right away, you will need to improve the soil. Add five cubic feet of well-rotted cow manure for every 50 square feet of garden space. Rake, dig or till this deeply into the soil (about 8 inches). After you have added the manure now add a 3-inch layer of Composted Cotton Burr Mulch (highly recommend in new planting beds) over the entire planting area. Work it only into the top 5 or 6 inches of soil. It comes in 2 and 3 cubic foot bags. You can get cow manure in a 1 cubic foot bag at your local garden shop or most big box hardware stores. Composted Cotton Burr Mulch can be purchased at Ricks Garden Center on Uintah and 19th , Phelan Gardens on Austin Bluffs Parkway or Good Earth Garden Center on Walnut Street, just north of Uintah and one block west of I-25. All are located in Colorado Springs. For those with pick-up trucks or trailers there are some great landscape and soil supply companies in town that offer bulk prices when you pick up from their yard. We especially like Don’s Garden Center (east side of town) and Rocky Mountain Materials and Asphalt (west side of town).

Build and plant in raised beds, whenever possible. Plant your seeds in wide rows, three to four feet wide. Follow the instructions on the package and plant in shallow trenches. In this dry climate, it will help to retain moisture. There is no need to plant your squash on mounds. For best results plant your seeds in shallow depressions in the soil. Squash and cucumbers will do better if seeded directly in the soil rather than planted from transplants. Ricks Garden Center, Phelans Garden Center and Good Earth all offer a good variety of seeds that are selected to grow well in this area.

Do not overcrowd your garden beds. It is better to give them more room than expected. This allows for good ventilation, excellent access to work and harvest, keeps the bugs from finding good hiding places and reduces disease. Your harvest will also be larger.

If you buy veggie plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, harden them off outside before planting. This means expose your plants to the sun for one hour the first day then place in the shade, two hours the next and three the next. Be sure they do not dry out. Now they are ready to plant in the garden. A good variety of garden veggie plants can be purchased at Good Earth Garden Center on Walnut St. just north of Uintah, Phelan Gardens or Ricks Garden Center.

Check your garden daily to see if it needs water. In the very hot summer it may need water daily or every other day. Never let your garden go into drought stress. It is better to water deeply and less often than to water just the surface and more frequently. Check to see if the water is going deep into your soil by sticking your finger into the soil as deeply as you can. Your finger should feel cool and moist. Remember it is the roots that need the water. Larry uses a wand type hand sprinkler. It is gentle on the plants.

Fertilize once monthly with fish emulsion and seaweed extract (sold at your local garden shops) as per instructions. Also each month sprinkle a handful of well-rotted cow manure around your plants. Scratch it into the top two to three inches of soil.

Harvest your garden when the beans are ripe, the zucchini are small and the lettuce, spinach and other greens are young and tender. When your veggies get old on the vine they will slow down or stop producing. It is amazing how many more squash, green beans and cucumbers you will get if you harvest often.

If your seeds don’t sprout in the expected time, replant. If bad weather such as hail gets the better of your crop, replant.

When you harvest a carrot, plant another seed in its place.

Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Contact Pikes Peak Urban Gardens at: larry@ppugardens.org

Or visit theweb page at: www.ppugardens.org Click on “Gardening Tips”

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