Garden report: Moving the farm and blooming time

Mother’s Day weekend traditionally marks the last frost date here in our high-desert valley at 7,000 feet elevation. Which means it’s time for our indoor “farm” of tomato, oriental eggplant, basil and annual flower starts to move to its summer home out in the garden.

First to go out are the tomato plants, because while they’re cute when they’re seedlings, once they get big, they grow into a jungle that takes over my yoga space. So one nice morning late last week, I moved their flat to the garden door to let them get used to the idea of the wild outdoors.


(The post-it labels help me keep straight on which plant is which of the eight varieties of tomatoes I grow: Yellow mini-pear, Chianti rose, Black krim, Costuluto, Persimmon, Pompeii roma, and Super bush, all from Renee’s Garden seeds; and Cherokee purple from Botanical Interests.)

Richard helped me lay out the red membrane that keeps moisture from evaporating up through the surface of the soil (a nod to our dry climate, where evaporation always trumps rainfall), and also reflects green waves of light back to the plants, encouraging them to grow more and produce more flowers (helpful in our short, high-elevation summers). 


We spaced the plants carefully so they could grow without crowding each other. I cut Xs in the membrane for each plant, popped it quickly out of its pot and into our rich black organic soil, and then before it had time to go into shock at the bright, high-altitude sunlight and searing mountain wind, Richard lowered a tomato tepee (also called a wall-o-water, and red for the same reason as the membrane) over the plant.


We worked together to fill the tubes in the plastic cocoon with water to hold the “tepee” upright and insulate the tender plant from the weather, and pretty soon, there was our tomato farm, all planted.


On Mother’s Day, we planted the basil and the oriental eggplants, and seeded in the first summer planting of lettuce to replace last fall’s salad greens bed, which is almost mature, and will be planted in summer squash next weekend. (We rotate plantings of salad greens around the garden to economize on space and cut down on the chance of developing populations of soil-resident pests.)


(That’s the basil “plantation” in the photo above, behind a garlic plant that I planted last fall. I use garlic as a deer deterrent. It’s not working this drought year, when the deer are eating anything green just to keep from starving.)


What else is happening in the garden? The peonies are up and budding between the last of the daffodils in the bed just outside the kitchen garden. And our restored native meadow yard is beginning to green up, since we finally had half an inch of moisture in the form of a wet spring snow on May Day. Half an inch may not seem like much, but it increased our annual tally by fifty percent. Did I say it was a drought year here?


For Mother’s Day, my love bought me a wonderfully abundant basket of petunia and verbena to hang from the porch off our living room, where I can admire it from the couch. And our restored bunchgrass meadow yard produced one of its miracles, the first Indian paintbrush flower (Castilleja integra).


Those neon-vivid scarlet bracts delight me every year with their shameless food-for-sex advertisement, luring hummingbirds to sip the nectar within and thus pollinate the tiny greenish flowers concealed by the bright bracts. Blooming time comes, even in a drought year–that’s one of life’s miracles.


We’re off over the mountains to Denver tomorrow afternoon. We’ll help my dad finish setting up his new Macintosh computer and then I’ll attend the annual banquet of the Colorado Authors League while Richard rests and stores up energy. (My WILDLIVES CD is a finalist for the CAL award.) Wednesday morning, we’ll talk with Richard’s oncologist, and if all looks good with the bloodwork from today, he’ll spend an hour and a half in the infusion center getting his first dose of Avastin.

May it bring his blooming time and the miracle of recovery…