Time to wind down and bring in the harvest Essay

Savor Indian summer now: frosts can begin in earnest soon. Meanwhile,some plan-ahead chores need doing.

The main job for gardeners inhigh-elevation and cold-winter parts of the West is preparint the soilfor spring planting. Columbine from seed: easy care, lots of choices If you sow seeds of columbine (Aquilegia) in the garden this month,in two years you can expect to enjoy tall-stemmed flowers with trailingspurs from May through August. These graceful but tough perennials willbloom for at least three summers.

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Western native species to try include A. caerulea, which grows1-1/2 to 3 feet high with blue-and-white flowers 2 inches across; Achrysantha, reaching 3 to 4 feet with 1-1/2-to 3-inch yellow flowers;and A. formosa, 1-1/2 to o feet high with 1-1/2 to 2-inch red-and-yellowflowers. MCKana hybrids (to 2-1/2 feet high) come with sepals and petals incombinations of yellow, lavender, white, and red. Dwarf species andvarieties range from 6 to 18 inches high. If you live above 8,000 feet, choose a sunny location for yourcolumbines. At lower elevations, partial shade is best.

Work organicmatter a foot deep into the soil. Scatter seed, and cover it thinly (itneeds some light for germination) so it won’t blow away or geteaten by birds. A thin mulch of pine needles also helps. Don’twater; melting winter snows will provide moisture later. Columbine seeds germinate during the first warm spring days. Waituntil plants are up and growing to fertilize.

Clay soils need work now If your soil is slippery when wet, nighthard hwen dry, it’sclay. It will be more workable and better aerated next spring if you digin lots of organic matter now. In fact, this should be an annualroutine. Collect organic leftovers such as fallen leaves, compost, manure,moldy hay, pine needles, and sawdust until you have enough to spread atleast 3 inches deep over beds. Or buy sphagnum peat most. It’s good idea to dig soon after you pull a summer crop out ofthe ground; soil will be loosened and still somewhat moist from summerwatering. If you are starting a new plot, try pushing a spading fork into the soil. If that’s very difficult to do, irrigate the plotwith sprinklers.

Wait a week, then gather a handful of soil from 6inches below the surface and press it into a hall. Does the hall breakeasily when dropped? Then the soil is ready for digging. If itdoesn’t break, wait a few days and test again. Rotary-till or roughly turn soil and amendment to a depth of 6inches to a foot. For hand digging, use a spading fork, spade, orshovel.

A rough surface holds rain and snow, so don’t break up clodsor attempt to mix the organic matter thoroughly with the soil. Freezingand thawing help level and soften clods. Another tilling in spring willblend the soil and amendment. Add fertilizer at this time.

Gettingyour potatoes out of the ground Don’t worry if potato vines start looking forlorn later thismonth. At this point, the tubers are as big as they are going to get.A couple of hard frosts will kill vines to the ground. Wait two weeksto allow tuber skins to thicken (so the potatoes will last longer instorage), then dig.

Using a shvel or four-tined spading fork, start a couple of feetaway from the plant. Potatoes develop on stolons that extend in everydirection, some 6 inches deep, some just at soil surface. Potato skin exposed to sunlight turns green and tastes extremelybitter.

Discard such potatoes or pare off the green part. Lay tubers on the ground just long enough to dry. Rub off loosedirt, then store in a cool, dark place. If you’ve cut into anywhile digging, eat them at once. Newsletters for mountain gardeners These two publications can help you meet the challenges of lowhumidity, limited rainfall, winter snows, and alkaline soil. Bothrecommend hardy plants and give good intermountain garden advice. Rocky Mountain Gardening. George Kelly, long-time back-yard growerand author, emphasizes Colorado in this newsletter of about 12 pages.

For a one-year (six-issue) subscription, send $12 to him at 15126 CountyRd. G, Cortez, Colo. 81321. Westscape Gardening Newsletter. Rick Hassett of Salt Lake Cityedits and publishes this six-page quarterly.

It costs $10 per year, $1for a sample; write to 369 East 900 South, Salt Lake City 84111.

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