Growing on the High Plains

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." —Robert Louis Stevenson 

 To be a successful gardener, one must remain resilient despite disappointments. For me, the wily carrot has been a point of contention. There have been some victories, but this root vegetable has indeed been a challenge in my experience. So today's Growing on the High Plains will root down deep on how to make a pleasant bed for a nice carrot harvest. From soil tips to little-known facts about "baby carrots," this edition should inspire you to take a crack at these ancient root vegetables available in all the colors of the rainbow. Plus, an old friend make an appearance as a likely, iconic spokes-rabbit. (At age 80, he looks as spry as the day he hit the big screen. Must be the carrots!) 

Trees tend to be few and far between in many parts of our region.But knowing how practical they are when it comes to providing a wind shield, I knew I wanted to curate a one-of-a-kind shelter belt on our property. Among the mix of many, I selected the great honey locust as a primary player. These thorn-thronged, bean-laden beauties have some upsides and downsides. So today's Growing on the High Plains will take a look at some of the perks and pitfalls of the mighty honey locust. 

On today's edition of Growing on the High Plains, I'd like to reminisce about my experience with a peculiar plant I've known since childhood. It's one of those plants that's considered a "noxious weed." Some called it "witch's shoelaces," others called it "dodder," but we always called it "love weed." This odd vampire has no roots, no leaves, and hardly any green chlorophyll. And while it's true that loveweed is not very nice to other plants, it has a loving folklore attached to it. I wish a Happy Valentine's Day to all of our HPPR listeners! 

While parts of the High Plains aren't exactly known for having an abundance of trees, Growing on the High Plains has been spending these last few, frigid weeks cycling through the state trees of HPPR's listener region and nearby territories. Today, we'll pop out in a purple haze with the Eastern redbud—which Oklahoma designated as the official state tree in 1937. Related to the pea family, redbud tree flowers are also edible; some use them in baked goods and on top of salads, and Native American tribes used them extensively in their diets.

Pinyon? Pinion? Piñon? However you spell it (or say it), today’s Growing on the High Plains concerns another regional state tree. New Mexico lays claim to the pleasant pinyon pine, a fairly small evergreen that thrives across the Southwest. Because these hearty trees don’t need a lot of moisture, the pinyon tends to do well in xeriscaped spaces across the High Plains. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the aromatic wood of the pinyon around a campfire, or a pinch of pine nuts as a snack? Though the pinyon bears many gifts, they don’t come easy.

We've been keeping warm these past few weeks of winter by leafing through the various state trees of our High Plains region. Today's Growing on the High Plains take a peek at the mighty pecan tree, a beloved fixture of my Oklahoma childhood and a prominent producer of nut crops in Texas. While the name "pecan" has a handful of regional pronunciations, the shells also come in both hard and soft-shell varieties.

To continue our series of honoring state trees of the High Plains, today Growing on the High Plains has a tidy two-fer in the Eastern Cottonwood, which holds the title for both Kansas and Nebraska. A symbol of survival, these gentle giants often signified the hope of nearby water, a bounty of firewood, and potential wildlife in the area. Today, most are familiar with the cottonwood as a source of fluffy white floaters from the female trees, downy puffs clogging up curbs and tickling our noses.

As the weather continues to chill our bones, I thought we might take a moment to appreciate one of the prettiest sights on our High Plains winter landscape. Whatever the variety, the Colorado Blue Spruce remains among the more striking trees in our region. On today's Growing on the High Plains, we'll look at this slow-growing conifer, which is also the state tree of Colorado. It serves as a welcoming home for many winged creatures across the High Plains due to its wide growing range and adaptability across a range of different types of soil.

Every year's end marks the beginning of planning season for gardeners that enjoy making cold winters a study in preparation for the Spring planting to come. I'm no exception, and today's Growing on the High Plains will let you in on a little tradition I have as the calendar flips from one year to the next. Perusing the impressive variety of seed catalogs offers a spark of excitement of what's to come. What strange fruits might make the cut in the coming year's garden? How will I honor the  memories of gardens past  as I plot the layout for Spring?

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If you got a live Christmas tree this year, consider using it as mulch or planting it in your yard to share with the birds after the holidays. 

On today’s Growing on the High Plains, I share some tips on replanting Christmas trees in your yard. Replace ornaments and trimmings with strings of berries, fruit and bird seed for your feathered friends to enjoy.

Whether this Spanish winter melon goes by the name Santa Claus, Piel de Sapo (or “Toad Skin”), cucumis melo, or Christmas melon,  it’s one of the few that are sweet as honey that “dew” well in the colder seasons. Today’s Growing on the High Plains shares my experience with cold-weather melons, while peeling back the shiny, blotched skin of this rare treat.

As we spend this week honoring the thousands of HPPR members that support this station, I'm reminded that the end of the year is upon us—as is the chill of the holiday season. Today's Growing on the High Plains takes flight with one of the brightest spots on the pale, winter landscape to which we all come accustomed during the cooler months on the High Plains. Let's talk about our bright buddy, the cardinal. Of all the birds spotted on a snowy bough, he's the one you simply cannot miss.

Prick up your ears, because today's Growing on the High Plains takes a dig at the exquisite Christmas cactus. While it's not as popular as other holiday plants like the poinsettia, it's a seasonal delight that will brighten up your indoor space during the chilly winter months. Not your standard cactus, since it hails from the jungles of South America (so it's made of tough stuff!). So listen up for tips on how to best care for your Christmas cactus, including the ideal plan moisture, location, and transplanting.

Today’s Growing on the High Plains comes after catching up on some reading—something the relaxed days of the pandemic have finally allowed. I came across an article about an alarming invasive plant, giant hogweed. It’s taking over parts of Russia, and so far it’s seemingly impossible to contain. While that might seem far away, the dangerous weed is also in the US. Growing up to 16 feet, it emits a smelly, toxic sap which can harm the skin and eyes.

There’s hardly an animal in our High Plains ecosphere more recognizable than the skunk. And once you see them, you worry that you might also SMELL them. However, today’s Growing on the High Plains will take a long look at these roving carnivores. With a little research, you’ll see that skunks surely earn their stripes in pest control. We’ll also talk about their infamous spray; it turns out you have to really get them angry before they would dare unleash their sulfuric mist.

There's nothing like falling leaves to make us stop and contemplate the coming changes of our lives. Bidding our withered, weathered summer plants "adieu" can feel somber, but the bright hues of autumn always pop up to offer consolation. Today's Growing on the High Plains waxes poetic on our sometimes fleeting seasons across this region. As we prepare for fiery fall colors on our often treeless landscapes, it's remarkable to reconize what our climate offers (and what that can bring). 

Today's Growing on the High Plains might feel ready for Halloween as we discuss the ominous "assassin bug." Despite their moniker, rest assured that you'd actually WANT to see these predatory friends in your garden. But no matter where your garden is right now, given our recent winter weather, be grateful for the many insect friends you've hosted this season...and don't worry: they'll be back next year!

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Snakes, toads, spiders and bats – the stuff of nightmares, especially for gnats.

On today’s Growing on the High Plains, these friendly foes are featured as the honestly helpful hombres for ridding your garden of the not-so-friendly creatures.

Listen for some ways to keep these garden guardians guarding your garden.

Get ready, because today’s Growing on the High Plains is on fire! In fact, we might even call it “Burning on the High Plains.” As you’ve surely noticed, autumn temperatures are descending across our region. It takes me back to memories of enjoying the brisk outdoors with my grandmother – a woman who thrilled at the prospect of lighting a warming bonfire. For what it’s worth, I seem to have inherited her “firebug” gene, though I’ve learned caution the hard way after a few close calls with careless burn piles. But now I have a tidy solution: my chimenea—an upright, clay patio fireplace that’s both front-loading and features a vertical smoke vent. This oblong oven allows for a well-positioned, safely-contained, and on-demand fire show. And as the evening glow grows dimmer, it keeps your outdoor relaxation station toasty and lit.

Today’s Growing on the High Plains will line up some facts about the energy and environmental benefits of planting a windbreak on your landscape. If you’re not sure what a “windbreak” is, perhaps you know it as a “shelterbelt”—those tightly-spaced rows of trees or shrubs that you might notice up and down the High Plains region. They provide shade in the summer and reduce the blasts from our High Plains wind on your abode throughout the year. But they also offer a lot of energy benefits.

Now that we've tied off our deep dig on weeds, invasive plants, and other garden irritations, I'd like to take this week to discuss a smart, simple solution for keeping your veggies going strong well into the Fall. As the weather cools across the High Plains, I know many of us have a hard time saying goodbye to the summer bounty. But I recently read about an easy way to grow greens, root vegetables, and other autumn-friendly edibles in a bag. It's easy to move so it stays situated in the sun, and it's small enough to perch on a bench or table so it's easy on the back.

Today's Growing on the High Plains continues our series on garden headaches—hearty residents like weeds, invasive vines, and other pains-in-the-grasses. Now it's time to talk about the beguiling presence of pests that masquerade as benevelont with their pretty blooms. Don't  be fooled by wild poinsettia, "devil's claw," or chinese lantern plants! They may look fetching on the edge of your growing space, but trust me: they're up to NO good.

These last few weeks, Growing on the High Plains sure has been annoying! Well, that's the aim as we continue our series on garden gremlins. Today, we'll be poking at some of the spikiest inhabitants in High Plains horticulture. Living in our region means we have to endure a full quiver of prairie shrapnel that might find its way onto our shoes, socks, jeans, and pets. But if you know what to avoid, you can make your time outside much less painful. Listen now for a crash course in thorns, stickers, prickles, punctures, burrs, and witchy weeds.    

Today's Growing on the High Plains continues the exploration of our deep-rooted frustration with hearty High Plains weeds. While we've previously poked at their peskiness, I thought it was time to ingest some info about how very edible some of them are. From the more common dandelion wine and greens to sheepshire, lamb's quarter, and bindweed, there are a lot of reasons to give them a try. Sure, advocating a meal made of foraged weeds might sound hard to swallow, but the flavors vary from sour to savory and many are quite rich in nutrients.

To continue my series on things that irk the High Plains gardener, I'll be weilding a blade at the terrible grasses that pester even the most persistent green thumbs. Today's Growing on the High Plains will offer a snapshot of some of the grasses that have bothered my space—some known, and some that began as a mystery. I'll provide tips on how to best the beasts, tame the tails, and starve the stalks.

What makes a weed? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some have a lot in common with wildflowers, but good luck beating them back if you choose to introduce them into your space. Today's Growing on the High Plains regards the eternally pesky presence of weeds. We'll dig in on some of our region's most common weeds, like dandelions, loosestrife, Johnson grass, and more. The coming weeks will bring more discussion of gardening challenges, so stay tuned. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me directly here.  

Shucks, it's already late in the season, so check out today's installment of Growing on the High Plains where we'll celebrate the welcome gold of late summer sweet corn. I'm lucky enough to have arranged a produce exchange with a northerly neighbor, swapping melons for corn. So when their crop is ready, I'm "all ears." Of course I have my own thoughts about how best to clean and prepare it, and it's a bit of a departure from methods taught to me early childhood methods.

Image from WikiHow

Many cats long for the green, green grass of home...or anywhere they can get it, for that matter. Today on Growing on the High Plains, we'll talk about cat grass, which  many at-home pet owners have been growing during the pandemic lockdown. There are many varieties, and your homebound furry roommates might enjoy having a little taste of the outdoors. 

Keeping a garden going is a lot of work. Sometimes it would be nice to have a helping hand on the sidelines to do some of the tough and tedious tasks requires. When the sun grows hot, the time seems short, and the yard work feels endless, that's when I let my mind wander to the glorious prospect of getting a hired hand to whom I could delegate upkeep. Today's Growing on the High Plains is a reflection of sorts, and it makes me think of one of the legendary "hired hand": Shane. Who can forget that final scene: "Pa's got things for you to do...and mother wants you.

Summertime gardening often means spending some serious quality time with your own thoughts as you tend the plants, forage the foliage, and pluck out your harvest. I find that there's no better place to ruminate than while hunting down leggy legumes in my bean rows. Today's Growing on the High Plains will share some insight about a common regional garden  success story: the green bean. Whether you prefer "string," "jade," or "snap," climbing beans can yield a hearty crop in our zones. So get out there!

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