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Happiness comes with a plant or two, and your hands in the dirt

Grow yourself some sanity

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Some tomato varieties do well in pots. - OKSANA ROM / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Oksana ROM / Shutterstock.com
  • Some tomato varieties do well in pots.

There are so many reasons why you should plant a garden right now. With COVID-19 all up in our faces, we’re kind of insane, and research keeps telling us that planting and tending green things reduces depression and anxiety and increases psychological well-being and cognitive function. Just digging in the dirt apparently frees up microbes that, when inhaled, can stimulate production of serotonin, making us happier.

So although you may be a beginner, and your garden only a pot of herbs (and maybe a tomato vine), your plants will reconnect you to the Earth.

To make sure you start out right, we’ve consulted local treasure Larry Stebbins, author, blogger and founder of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens. He has shared with us his “Top 7 Musts” for gardening in our area and “Larry’s Secret Garden Tips,” harvested from a long life working the soil.

Larry’s Top 7

1. Sun: Full-day sun is a must. Eight hours of direct sun is a minimum. Vegetables here in Colorado Springs do not grow well in the shade.

2. Soil: Use good, rich, crumbly, organic soil. Adding mushroom compost is good, as is your own homemade compost.


3. Warmth:
Plants need warm weather to grow. Root vegetables, leafy greens, onions, and peas can be planted in cool (not below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) weather. Tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans need the soil temperature to be above 55 degrees before being planted or seeded.

4. Consistent care: Visit your garden daily, water when needed and check for bugs or disease.



5. Harvest veggies at their peak: Harvest lettuce when it is young (old lettuce is bitter), and once beans start to form they should be checked daily. Zucchini can go from 6 inches long (great size) to 12 inches (too big) almost overnight.

6. Provide seasonal protection: Use anti-hail netting over hoop tunnels to keep hail from damaging your plants. When transplanting out small veggies, protect them with a 1-gallon clear plastic milk jug with the bottom cut out and top left off. Remove in 10 days.

7. Fertilize regularly: Every three to four weeks use the recommended amount of a good organic fertilizer. After fruits form on your tomato plants or peppers fertilize using just one-third the recommended amount.

His secret garden tips

Larry Stebbins, “The Garden Father” - LARRY STEBBINS
  • Larry Stebbins
  • Larry Stebbins, “The Garden Father”
• Grow a garden no bigger than you can joyfully take care of.

• Never plant in a dry hole. When you dig the hole for your tomato plant, add a generous amount of water to the hole. Remove the tomato from the pot and gently place it into the water in the hole. Once the root ball is thoroughly moistened, tuck soil in and around your newly planted vegetable.

• “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow” (author unknown). This implies that the time you spend in the garden carefully tending your plants is the best thing for your plants.



• If you are making a new raised bed, use at least 50 percent of your own soil from your yard (if the soil is extremely poor quality then this tip is not for you). Mix that with 50 percent of a good quality soil mix. Ask your local nursery or garden center for advice.

• If you don’t have much space, plant herbs and salad greens. They both grow well in containers and will give you the most produce for the space. Herbs can turn ordinary meals into gourmet feasts, and greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, Swiss chard) are very nutritious.

Learn more with Stebbins’ blog and free video gardening classes at thegardenfather.com, and at extension.colostate.edu.

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