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BEACON Senior News

The power of observation: What is your garden telling you?

Aug 23, 2021 12:15PM ● By Paige Slaughter
A honeybee sits on a flower

Here in the mountains, striped Sunrise Bumble Bee cherry tomatoes are just beginning to flourish. Tasting the little tomatoes week after week told me the plants were getting too much water, as they became slightly less flavorful and crisp. Sure enough, the meter had been reset to water daily instead of every other.

My garden is two feet deep, and even narrower in some places. Gold and red sunflowers stand alongside daikon radishes and cilantro, adding unplanned canopies of shade and landing places for bees to an already packed garden that’s nearly 30 feet long and full of life.

Do bees sleep the way we do? I looked it up after finding bees perfectly still on my sunflowers. Honeybees sleep between five and eight hours a day, and for forager bees, this occurs in day-night cycles, as darkness interrupts their excursions for pollen and nectar. Researchers even discovered sleep-deprived honeybees can’t communicate properly. Their dances fail to translate the direction of a good food source, and they struggle to find their way back to the hive. When they do sleep, it’s possible they might even dream.

Gardening encourages observation. It can guide our actions, pique our curiosity, and remind us that we are part of this incredible thing called nature.

Enjoy the bounty

In subtle ways, our bodies crave and benefit from the exact nutrients and types of food that nature provides throughout the seasons. In the heat of summer, when we’re active, sugary fruits are in abundance, and we have plenty of herbs and veggies to dry and otherwise preserve for the seasons to come.

Likewise, in fall’s cooler weather we turn to root vegetables and hearty soups. Eating in sync with the seasons helps us tune into nature and experience our gardens as bridges to a more connected, natural world. 

There are multiple ways to tap into nature’s interconnectedness:

Support local growers by visiting farmer's markets. Talk to different vendors to learn about how they’re growing their food and what produce they have an abundance of to support their farming.

Share your bounty. Take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor by sharing or swapping harvests with neighbors and loved ones. Or consider spreading your bounty even further. In Mesa County, Colorado State University Extension has a “Grow and Give” program that connects backyard gardens to food donation sites across the county. Grow and Give’s core mission is to distribute fresh, home-grown produce to those in need. Learn how you can donate some of your harvest to help address local food insecurity at

Preserve the abundance. ‘Tis the season of preserving! Locally grown produce harvested at the peak of its growing season is both tastier and healthier than what you’ll find in grocery stores. Drying and dehydrating herbs, fruits and vegetables is an easy and great way to capture the nutrients of plants for winter. Alternatively, can fruits and vegetable for sauces and jams. I blend my tomatoes (peels and all!) into a sauce, and roast peach halves in the oven for winter pies. Finally, pickling is one of the easiest methods of preservation. My favorite recipe is diced sweet peppers, black peppercorn, mustard seed and rosemary in apple cider vinegar.

Post-harvest tips
Tidy up flower beds by cutting back perennials that are done blooming, and divide perennials as needed. Replace perennial plants (like lavender) as desired to give them time to establish before winter. Now’s also a good time to plant cacti.

Take cuttings from the plants you want more of so you can establish them indoors in pots through fall and winter. 

Leave winter squash on the vine as long as possible, harvesting just before the first frost. This will allow them to sweeten! Cut squash from the vine carefully, leaving two inches of stem attached if possible.

Pulling plants out of the garden will likely leave behind areas of bare soil. Rather than leaving soils exposed and vulnerable, use cover crops and mulch to protect and nourish garden beds. 

Not only do cover crops protect the soil from the elements through winter, but they also add crucial organic matter to the soil, increase fertility, improve structure to prevent soil erosion and compaction, and can help suppress weeds in the spring.

Our Western Slope climate offers the opportunity to explore both winter-killed and winter-hardy cover crops. Winter-killed cover crops die from frosts during the winter. Sown in summer, winter-killed cover crops will grow rapidly, then die back after a few hard frosts. Their winter-killed plant and root mass will add organic matter to the soil and hold it in place until spring.

Winter-hardy cover crops stay alive through winter and thrive again in the spring. These can be annual or perennial plants that add fertility to the soil and provide a living mulch for your garden beds. By sowing a mixture of winter-killed and winter-hardy seeds, you’ll learn directly from your soil what it needs by way of observing the crops that flourish.

Encourage decomposition by covering bare soils with mulch, like leaves and grass clippings. Opt for plant material that hasn’t been sprayed with herbicide so you’re feeding your soils nutrient-rich material and not harmful chemicals.

Let nature’s continuous cycle influence and inspire your garden, even beyond harvest time.

More like this: Prep your garden for changing seasons 

Send your questions to Paige directly at [email protected]