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Teaching is inspiring others to learn; notes from an onsite visit from area teachers.

 

History: The evolution of agriculture in crop production.

We can study the transition from small farm agriculture and backyard gardening into large scale, mechanized, heavy water and chemical dependency production able to provide animal feed, biofuels, and food to the mass markets. Are we now witnessing another shift? This time, from mass market, monoculture, large farm production, back to local, small farms, and backyard gardening. Will we be able to justify both systems and find a balance, one learning from the other? Which tools and production methods can be refined and utilized to benefit either system used?

• Deep tillage
• Conservation tillage
• Monoculture
• Biodiversity
• Sustainable
• Organic


Innovation in agriculture: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Few people understand this old saying as well as those working in agriculture. Often it's the isolation of rural living compounded by the need for an immediate solution and the realization that the solution can be something quite simple. There is little doubt that the internet can connect people with a product literally overnight. It's also an important tool to discover innovations that can bridge problems and solutions. Accepting that there may be a better system or product to utilize, developing the skills to seek out those innovations, and having the determination to apply them into our operations are the first steps towards crossing that bridge.

• Weather stations
• GPS irrigation
• Genetic modification

• Crop coverings
• Programmable environmental control panels

• Tissue culture
• Chemigation
• Water and soil testing

Technology in greenhouse construction and production.

The goal of creating a controlled environment starts with choosing the greenhouse site, orientation, construction materials, and equipment. Start with a location that provides quality solar gain through the winter into spring growing season. Orient stand alone structures facing east to west and gutter connected houses north to south with vent openings facing prevailing winds. Choose durable construction materials for sidewalls, endwalls, and roofing that will withstand heavy snow load, strong winds, and provide insulation if any of these are an issue.

Heating, cooling, venting, environmental controller, and irrigation/chemigation equipment decisions are made prior to construction with allowances for needed modifications as equipment wears out and needs to be replaced. Technological advances available to replace worn equipment can usually be justified with the efficiencies gained. After cost analyses are made, companies may decide to simply tear down old greenhouses, scrap the equipment, and re-build from the ground up to take advantage of newer technologies available rather than retrofit.

Cost input to profit margin ratios need to be analyzed to determine the short, medium, and long-term gains to be made from applying a new technology without underestimating the value of labor input savings. Growing plants is regarded as a labor of love, but we all work to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and financial security.

Agriculture is based in science. Understanding plant taxonomy and physiology, along with a plant's potential growth and development is key to providing it with the optimal growing conditions needed for maximum output with minimum input.

• Photosynthesis
• Transpiration
• Substrate pH
• Water pH

• Macronutrients
• Micronutrients
• Pest identification
• Pest growth cycles

• Light transmission
• Heat loss
• Soil profile
• Growing media

Marketing: Connecting the crop to the consumer.

Requires a basic knowledge about the product and how its specific attributes can fulfill a specific consumer need. Leaning the demographics of a market region translates into an understanding of the best way to approach end-use consumers. People of different ages, income level, and cultural background, connect to and absorb information about any product in different ways. People skills are essential to a successful marketing campaign. A trust must first be developed and nurtured.

• Radio
• Printed media

• Website development
• Social media

• Television
• Billboards

Merchandising: Point of sale product promotion and information.

Retail must respond to every aspect of the sensory experiences a shopper has, starting with the conveniences provided in the parking lot, and ending, hopefully, with the ease of purchasing, and ultimately leaving with your product in hand. It must, at the very least, meet, or even better, exceed expectations in order for him or her to want to return to your business and repeat that pleasant experience. Was the sales staff courteous and knowledgeable? Was the signage useful and easy to read? Lighting bright enough...but not too bright? Warm...but not hot? Are the bathrooms clean and easy to find. Every successful retailer places him or herself in the role of a customer and bases every customer contact decision on that role.

 

Sampling of occupations in horticulture:

Grower; Must be associated with all aspects of growing a crop.

Landscape architect; Ties existing and proposed hardscapes, planting beds, and structures together in a cohesive plan/drawing.

Landscape contractor; Constructs hardscapes, walkways, retaining walls, irrigation systems, and planting beds according to a plan/drawing.

•  Greenhouse Coverings
  - Re: Light transmission
  -  Polyethylene
  - Polycarbonate
  - Plexiglas
  - Poly air bubble

• Growing Media
  - Re: Root development
  - Peatmoss
  - Perlite
  - Limestone
  - Pine bark
  - Coconut coir
  - Vermiculite
  - Biochar
  - Compost
  - Synthetic polymers

•  Pesticides
  - Class
  - Mode of action
  - Insect Growth Regulators (IGR)
  - Emulsifiable Suspension (ES)
  - Wettable Powder (WP)
  - Re-entry Interval (REI)
  - Neonicotinoid chemistries
  - Biocontrols

•  Production Management
  - Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
  - Plant Growth Regulators (PGR)
  - Broad spectrum pest control
  - Host specific pesticide
  - Certified Organic
 - Sustainable

•  Fertilizers
  - Slow release
  - Water soluble 

•  Worker Safety Regulators
  - OSHA
  - EPA
  - USDA

•  Marketing and Merchandising
  - Internet based marketing
  - Quick Response Code (QRC)
  - Point of Sale (POS)
  - Plant labeling

•   Breeding and Propagation
  - Hybrid
 - Genetic modification
  - Heirloom seeding
  - Tissue culture


Frequently Used Terms

Acclimate

Acclimating plants is the process of allowing plants time to become accustomed to their new growing environment prior to planting. Plants from the greenhouse have no experience with wind, direct sun, high daytime temps or low nighttime temps, so their tender growth needs time to toughen up, literally, to the conditions they will face once planted. We suggest at least 3-4 days and nights.

Amendments

A broad term which can include organic matter such as composted manures, wood mulch, peat moss, or kitchen compost that can be incorporated into the soil. I think of incorporating amendments as feeding both the soil and the plants. By improving/amending the soil, plantings are better able to develop a vigorous root system. This applies to intended lawn areas, beds, borders, hedges, and vegetable gardens. When you are ready to amend the soil prior to planting the area, the tiller's tines need to be brought up since amendments do their best work when limited to the top 4-6 inches of soil. Organic amendments break down as they are used and need to be replaced seasonally.

Annual

Plant that completes its life cycle in one season. In our area, it also refers to plants that need to planted every year because they will not winter over.

Biennial

Plant that completes its life cycle in two seasons. Typically, the plant is green in its first year, then flowers the second year producing seeds that ripen and fall to the ground. Without allowing the plant's flower to produce seeds that ripen and fall, the plant will die back and finish. An example of a biennial is Hesperis, common name, Dames Rocket.

Climate

Climate refers to the overall, seasonally average temperatures. The National Weather Service records daily high and low temperatures dating back decades and is interesting since it keeps "normal" in perspective.

Drought

Usually refers to periods of more than two consecutive years with below average precipitation.

Drought tolerant

Usually refers to plants that, once established, can survive with little irrigation through the heat of summer. These are the zeric plants best when grouped together and away from lawn areas.

Genus

Variety, cultivar, and species are words that are often used interchangeably in reference to the botanical name of a plant. We usually opt for genus since most plants that reach the mainstream trade via growers are from, but not the same as, plants found in the wild. Example: Echinacea purpurea 'Ruby Star' is the genus, species, and cultivar of a comon Purple Coneflower. Echinacea purpurea 'Cheyenne Spirit', same genus and species, different cultivar. There are also plants that are patented or branded, for example Proven Winners. Some series of plants are registered names, for example, Wave Petunias.

Growth

Every person who has worked in the sales area of a nursery has had the experience of a customer picking up a plant and asking if it will grow. Sardonic personalities must put themselves in check and determine the real question which may be: "What height does this plant reach at maturity?" Or, "Does this plant have an upright or mounding habit?" Or, "Will this plant spread slowly or aggressively through the growing season?" The USDA, through whom we are licensed and inspected, requires that plants be clearly labeled with accurate information. The labels we use are often furnished with the plants and the information ranges in size from microscopic to picture tags four times the size of the container the plant's growing in. Our challenge is to respect the customer's question and provide needed information, through signage, this website, or by simply re-asking the question.

Light: Full Sun, Part-Shade, Full Shade

Full Sun at this elevation, 5,800'+-, refers to either a south or west directional facing that is not obscured by nearby structures or trees and can include east facing gardens that receive a full 4-6 hours of direct light. Reflected light from walkways or buildings can intensify the light compounding the need to select plants within this catagory.

Part-shade is the comfortable light experienced with the morning sun or filtered light from a tree canopy. It refers to 2-4 hours of direct light. Plants listed for part-shade that are planted in full sun may not reach their full potential. Plants that are listed for either full sun and/or part-shade will tolerate full sun providing the soil is amended with organic matter so it holds extra water allowing it to stay cooler. Plants that need part-shade to full sun that get stuck in a full shade location quickly become spindly, don't bloom, flop over, or all of the above.

Full Shade is all about the structures and dense plantings that cast an all-day shade onto the foliage and roots of a plant. Not that beautiful, filtered light from small-leafed tree canopies, that would be part-shade. Not even the north side of a building that gets afternoon sun starting in late June. Plants listed for full shade that are planted in hot, dry, sunny locations will indicate leaf burn, wilt, and overall poor health. It is the most rigid of the three lightings we list and adherence will determine a plant's success or failure. It is our opportunity to provide plants that thrive under such conditions. The trend towards planting full to part-shade plants is on the rise since people also prefer to spend time through the heat of summer in cool, shady areas. 

Lean Soil

Soil that contains little or no fertility or organic matter. Sometimes refered to as poor soil and is generally thought of as the opposite of rich soil.


Mulch

Literally defined, means a protective covering spread on the ground to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds. Mulches include, chipped or shredded bark, clean gravel, ground fabrics, rubber (yuck!), and given the creative forces behind gardening, the list goes on. We don't use ground fabric in the gardens, but we do use it under the washed gravel in the outdoor retail areas and under bark in the gazebo area. Gravel as mulch in the gardens is preferred by xeric plants and designs that include rock gardens. I include small bark chips in my "mix" and use it between perennials and shrubs in the gardens after cutting back the perennials in late fall. So, you might be asking yourself, "What's the difference between adding an amendment, and using mulch?", short answer, not much. Typically, amendments are incorporated before planting, and mulch is used after.

Perennial

Plants that winter over given our zone 4 climate


Soil

The vertical section exposing a set of horizons (horizontal layers), from the ground surface to the parent rock, is termed a soil profile. Each main horizon is denoted by a capital letter and is generally known as the O-A-B-C:
O) Organic matter: Surface including organic layer of plant residues in relatively non-decomposed form.
A) Surface soil: Organics mixed with mineral matter. This layer of mineral soil contains the most organic matter accumulation and soil life.
B) Subsoil: Subsurface layer that accumulates iron, clay, aluminum and organic compounds.
C) Parent rock: The parent material in sedimentary deposits. Layer of large unbroken rocks.

Soil- structure (drainage)
Soil's ability to allow water to percolate through the soil profile providing ample water for roots and excess water to drain away allowing oxygen to fill pore spaces. Inorganic amendments include sand, gravel, and perlite. Organic amendments include finely shredded bark chips.

Soil- tilth (absorption)
Soil's ability to allow water absorption through the soil profile and be made available to root systems. Organic amendments to improve soil tilth include peatmoss, leaves, compost, coir, and aged manures.

Soil- fertility
Added as organic amendments or inorganic fertilizers to increase the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous, potash, and micro-nutrients (including calcium, magnesium, and iron) to improve overall plant health.

Soil- pH
High, 7-9 in many local areas, due to low annual precipitation (rainfall) preventing/blocking the availability of naturally occurring and applied fertilizers. Best practice to lower soil pH is to add organic amendments to the top 4-6 inches of the soil profile.

Soil- clay
The particles of clay soil are so small that the pores between them hold water tightly making it less available to plants. Nutrients also bond to these particles. Water often runs off the surface rather than sinking in because of the small size of the pores. Air, as necessary as water for root growth, also has difficulty moving through the soil. The important thing when digging or working around clay soil is to preserve the air spaces as much as possible. Never work with it when wet, or it will form a sticky, solid mass. You can often break clods into smaller pieces when somewhat dry and then preserve the air spaces by walking on it as little as possible, especially when wet. The best amendment for clay soil is organic matter. Not only does the fibrous material open the pore spaces, allowing for better penetration of water and air, but the sticky humus that is the end product of decomposition will glue the clay minerals into larger particles, similar to sand, that further open the soil. As the organic material decays, add more to renew the supply. A 2- to 3-inch layer of peat, coir, compost, or other organic matter should be dug in each year for best results.

Water-Wise

A term that refers to the plants, not the people who water them. It's a favorite listing because there's such a wide variety of plants available to choose from and because, let's face it...we live in a high desert and water-wise plants are a smart choice. I believe that most mortalities in the landscape can be directed to the amount of water a plant needs vs. the amount of water a plant gets. Water-wise plants have adapted over many years to hold the water they need in their roots and foliage. Pubescent foliage with its fine hairs, traps moisture, narrow leaves also tend to require less water. An example of a xeric (zir-ik) plant with both characteristics is Cerastium 'Snow in Summer'.

Xeriscape

There are seven Xeriscape™ principles that make a low-maintenance, water-wise landscape attractive and attainable:

  • Thoughtful planning for beauty and water conservation
  • Improving/Amending the soil if needed
  • Limiting turf areas
  • Efficient irrigation; no more "set it, forget it"
  • Mulching with organic products
  • Select appropriate plants and group according to water needs
  • Maintenance; proper weeding, pruning, and fertilizing

Zone 4

The Plant Hardiness Zone Map designated by the USDA, United States Department of Agriculture, is based on the range of average annual minimum temperatures. We used information provided by the National Weather Service that keeps records dating back thirty years, to determine that our "annual minimum temperature" is -30°F placing us between Zone 3@-40°F to -30°F and Zone 4@ -30°F to -20°F. Adherence to the Zone Map is important to us when evaluating perennials and even more so when choosing our product line for shrubs. Recently, we have been seeing an increased use of the American Horticultural Society Heat Zone which uses average maximum temperatures. Zones range from 1@ 1 day over 86° to zone 12@ more than 210 days over 86°. This area is listed as ranging from zones 4-7 and we have determined that the plants we offer are consistently within AHS Heat Zones for this area.