Category: Gardening

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: Plan Ahead for Seed Saving

Seed assortment

Kuna Melba News, January 15, 2014

Any gardener worth his or her salt saves a few seeds every now and then. I have my own favorite plants that I save seeds from, mostly flowers, but for other types of seeds, you probably need to buy them fresh every year. This is because many types of plants are either too difficult to gather seeds from because they are too small or require special preparation, or the species tends to hybridize with other plants and you cannot get true seed. Some seeds, such as coriander and celery, can also be used as spices either whole or ground.

If you are interested in saving seeds, here are a few guidelines.

Root crops such as beets, parsnips and carrots, along with other similar plants like parsley and cabbage, are biennials. They do not produce seed the first year. During the second growing season they will put up flowers that will then produce seed. The other benefit of having these types of plants is that the flowers produced by them attract beneficial insects to your garden. After the flowers have wilted and died, for a plant such as carrots with small seeds, you can tie a small bag over the seed heads to catch the seeds.

Some plants are hybrids and only a cross between two unique parents will produce true seed, not the hybrid offspring. Another thing to consider is that for open-pollinated plants, you need to make sure you don’t have similar varieties in your garden otherwise you may create your own hybrid seeds. Tomatoes are the exception. They are mostly self-pollinated and will produce true seed from their fruits as long as they are not hybrids to begin with.

Peppers and eggplants are great to save seeds from but you need to separate varieties by at least 500 feet to avoid cross-pollination. Squash, cucumbers, gourds, and melons are pollinated by insects and need a half-mile or more between varieties. A gardener friend of mine once saved seeds from a cantaloupe and grew them the following year. He grew a magnificent punkaloupe, a cross between a cantaloupe and a pumpkin. It was large like a pumpkin but had the skin of a cantaloupe and smelled great. Not all curcubits will cross-pollinate but it is usually safer just to buy new seed every year.

Saving tomato seed takes a little care. Harvest ripe tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds from the fruit. Then let that gooey mixture of seeds and goop ferment. This removes the coating on the seeds that prevent them from sprouting inside the fruit. It will take about  three to four days for a bowl to get sufficiently ripe. This mimics the natural rotting process that would happen out in the field. Don’t be afraid of any mold that forms on the seeds. It is part of the process. Keep it outside in the shed or garage as it will most likely stink up a bit. Once it starts bubbling, add water and stir. The good seeds will fall to the bottom and you can drain off the mold and water. Dry them quickly in a low-temperature dehydrator or with a fan as you don’t want them to begin germination.

As with any seed saving, you want to keep them dry and out of the sun.


PAY DIRT – A Gardener’s Column: Thumbing Through the Catalogs

Kuna Melba News, January 8, 2014

This time of year gardeners are keeping warm and looking through the dozens of seed catalogs that fill their mailboxes. With their green thumbs stained with ink, they pick and choose between old favorites and the new ones that plant breeders either have created through select breeding or resurrected from extinction by dedicated seed growers. In the old days, neighbors would trade favorite seeds with each other, encouraging a proliferation of unique strains of plants and vegetables. While I would like to share with you my Texas hummingbird sage flower seeds, my hollyhock seeds and even some of my nasturtium seeds that I harvest in the fall from my garden, instead I’ll share with you some of my favorite seed.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is not only a big player in the home gardener’s seed choice, but they offer bulk seed for the mid to large market gardener. They carry a variety of heirloom and organic seeds and every year have unique offerings. This employee-owned company has an amazing selection of cut flower seeds and has some varieties only available through them. Their catalog has lots of useful information in it too. You can shop online at or you can request a catalog.

p06WHOLE-SEED-CATALOGBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and when their 2014 catalog came in the mail I though I had received a phone book. As one reads the The Whole Seed Catalog, one discovers beautiful photographs of fruits, vegetables and lots of down-home folks holding said vegetables. The writing is great too. All of their seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. They respect the tradition of seed saving and through their growers have saved many heirloom plants from extinction. They travel the world and bring back unique vegetables from around the globe and claim seeds from over 70 countries. The 350 page catalog will cost you $7.95 but they have a free 212 page one. Visit where you can order a catalog.

If you have a taste for exotic vegetables then you have to have the Kitazawa Seed catalog. This catalog features no color photographs but it does have great illustrations of unique varieties of Asian vegetables. Especially unique is the wide array of Asian greens, many of which grow in cold weather. One of my favorites is misome that I use for my famous lettuce wraps. Visit to order online or request a catalog.

p06PayDirtSouthernExposure2014Southern Exposure Seed Exchange mainly offers seeds for plants that do well in the southeast and mid Atlantic states, they do have some varieties that you can’t find anywhere else, especially cowpeas and over 20 varieties of okra. Just make sure you check the days to harvest to determine if we have enough growing days. You can get around this by starting some of them early in a greenhouse or sunny window. Visit to peruse their 700 seed collection or order a catalog.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Garden from Hell

Kuna Melba News, May 23, 2013

A  couple of weeks ago I was taken to task for using a curse word in this column. The reader, who objected to the use of the word repeated in the headline above, felt that she needed to express her objections and for me to reconsider the use of such language for the sake of the children. I stopped her short as she rambled on and told her that I doubted children would be reading a column about gardening. She did inspire me, however, to think about curse words and the plants that sometimes go with them.

In the garden I tend to utter many curse words as I dig up weeds, discover broken sprinkler lines, or after cutting my hand on a wayward piece of glass in the dirt. This past weekend, with each curse word I uttered, I paused to reflect on the word and the nature of good versus evil.

While ruminating on the evil part after a particularly nasty curse word had been uttered, I was sorting through my packets of last year’s seed and came across a half-used pack of castor plant seeds. A castor plant is a beautiful, tall, large leafed plant that has a somewhat tropical look to it. It’s beans can also be made in to ricin, one of the most powerful poisons around and somewhat in the news lately having been mailed in envelopes to President Obama, a senator and a judge. I sincerely hope that the federal government does not ban the castor plant from the garden. The bean does have a useful purpose after all… they are used to make castor oil.

During an afternoon water break and catching up on an episode of Psyche, I was reminded that the beautiful flower foxglove has some not so pretty side effects if accidentally ingested. While most adults will avoid the flower, children or even some animals cannot resist putting a little in their mouths. While not generally fatal among adults it can be among children who accidentally drink the water from a vase containing foxgloves or even with the plant accidentally mistaken for comfrey and brewed into a tea. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress and even hallucinations.

I look over at my tomato plants, those kings of the summer garden, and recall that any plant from the nightshade family (including potatoes) has toxic alkaloids in the leaves. Although the concentrations are low, there has been at least one death resulting from tomato leaf tea. And, if your dog likes to eat tomatoes, you best be careful, the plant and fruit can be toxic to dogs.

In fact, as I looked around the garden I couldn’t help but utter the Lord’s name in vain as I noticed how many toxic things there were that could not only seriously make me ill, but some kill me as well. I ran inside to my well-stocked library and found my well-worn copy of a great reference book, Wicked Plants.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview the author, Amy Stewart. The book, a highly recommended read, is about garden plants that have a darker side and list many plants that poison, kill and maim. Damn, that book is good.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Almighty Tomato

Kuna Melba News, May 8, 2013

The average last frost date in our area is about May 10 and I’m having a hard time seeing any snow on Shafer Butte. Furthermore, since Mother’s Day is this weekend that means I’m going to have a big planting weekend in the garden. I’ve already got my tomatoes in the ground but all my other plants (except my peppers) will be going out.

Tomatoes, however, are the king of the garden. It is the prize awarded for the fruits of our labors. It is the blue ribbon, for without the all-important tomato, what would gardeners strive for?

Now anyone who is a serious gardener will already have tomatoes in the ground. But for those who are just starting out gardening, or who are a little tentative about taking on the king of vegetables (OK, it’s actually a fruit), here is a tomato primer.

Tomatoes come in two types, determinate and indeterminate. Think of it this way. A determinate tomato plant has a determined size. It is also known as a bush tomato or a patio tomato. These plants are genetically programed, most of the time bred to only grow to a certain size. They typically do not need staking or trellising and are great for small spaces, patio containers, or small tomato cages. They will not take over your garden and some varieties have all their fruit ripen at once. Determinate sauce tomato plants (Romas are a great variety) are wonderful if you are planning one big giant canning session.

An indeterminate tomato will grow and grow and grow. It will usually put fruit on all summer long and harvests happen when the individual is ready, not all at once. Trellises, cages and a contraptions that include a variety of devices that would make a bondage deviant envious are usually built for these plants to grow in, on and among. Pruning these plants is usually necessary to keep them contained. If no trellising is used, these plants can grow like a vine across the ground, rooting wherever the stem touches and creating a tomato mat, a very difficult gardening situation.

The second big vocabulary item for tomatoes is “heirloom.” You can buy hybrid plants, or genetically engineered tomato plants that might have an increased resistance to disease, or their fruits have an extended shelf life like store bought tomatoes, but these usually sacrifice taste. Heirloom varieties are numerous and bring with the variances an incredible array of flavors, sizes and shapes. These are the plants that your grandmother grew, with seeds passed down from generations of gardeners. Green, red, yellow, white, purple, pink and black tomatoes are not uncommon. The reason you may not see these types of tomatoes at anywhere other than a farmer’s market is because they do not last very long on the shelf after picking. Take a chance and grow at least one new variety each year.

My favorite heirloom varieties are Black Cherry, a dark, sweet cherry tomato and the purple tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple or Black Krim. Both have a very earthy and salty taste when eaten ripe. My least favorite heirlooms tend to be the green varieties because I can never tell when they’re ripe.

While insects do not typically cause a problem for area tomato growers, we do see a lot of blossom end rot in this area. If you have black spots on the end of your tomatoes, this is because of a calcium deficiency. This is easily taken care of by adding calcium based supplements (such as bone meal) at the time of planting. If you still have problems then you can find a calcium spray at area nurseries. While it may look bad, blossom end rot can be cut out of a tomato, the rest of it is fine.

One creative solution to other pests such as squirrels or deer eating your tomatoes is to pull out your red Christmas ornaments and hang a few on the outside edges of your plants before your tomatoes ripen. It’s really funny to see a squirrel try to bite one of those.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: To Spray or Not to Spray?

There are those that garden organically and there are those that garden chemically. I have done both in the past and currently, I have evolved into a gardener that gardens naturally. What the hell does that mean? It’s pretty simple.

Kuna Melba News, May 1, 2013

My personal gardening rules are that I do not spray or use chemicals designed to kill things, mostly plants, in my garden that I also eat from. But when it comes to areas of the yard or garden where I need to use a nuclear device to kill a noxious weed, I sometimes rule in favor of saving time and effort.

My go-to chemical when I need firepower to kill has usually been Roundup. Roundup is an herbicide produced by Monsanto, a company that is no stranger to protestors who fight against bioengineered Frankenfoods, chemical overuse and accusations of chemically polluting the environment. Monsanto, in many people’s minds, is the opposite of organic. For me, Roundup has always done the job it claims to, as long as the directions are followed.

Using a harsh chemical like Roundup always makes me feel a little guilty, much like the guilt one feels when slaughtering a farm animal for the family to eat. You feel bad about the killing, but it’s part of the process to get the job done. I consider it a necessary evil.

However, a recent report in the scientific journal Entropy (keep italicized) has me reconsidering my choices about Roundup. The report states that heavy use of Roundup could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases. These include Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.

The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate and is sprayed over millions of acres of America’s food crops. Residues of glyphosate have been found in food. This study states that these residues enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues.

“Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” stated the study, authored by Stephanie Seneff at the Massachusetts Institute of Tehnology and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc.

Farmers like Roundup because they can spray it directly on bioengineered crops (mostly produced by Monsanto) that resist Roundup and do not harm the crops. But is the chemical hurting humans down the line?

Unlike other herbicides used solely for crops, Roundup is heavily used by homeowners and landscapers on lawns, gardens and golf courses. It is perhaps the most popular herbicide on the retail market and definitely the most advertised on television. Roundup makes it directly into our communities, our neighborhoods and our gardens. And even if you don’t use Roundup, most likely your neighbors do. And wind does not mind fences.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2007, it is estimated that approximately 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. Farmers; double the amount used in 2001.

Monsanto has said for years that glyphosate is safe and has a less damaging impact on the environment than other commonly used chemicals. Even with Monsanto’s own studies claiming it is safe, the EPA is conducting a review of glyphosate with a 2015 deadline to determine if it should be limited.

I know that if I use Roundup in the future on my garden, I’ll think twice about it. At least I’ll put on twice the amount of protective gear if I do.

Paydirt – A gardener’s column: Gophers

Kuna Melba News, April 25, 2013

I have an image in my head of my grandpa and my father on a hot Texas summer day, leaning across the hood of the farm pickup truck. My father had a cold beer my granddad had a glass of iced tea. Both had a rifle perched with sandbags on the hood aimed at a fresh pile of dirt in the garden, just waiting for something to stick his head up.

I wasn’t allowed to go out there for fear of scaring whatever it was they were trying to kill but I do remember my grandpa advising me, “Killing gophers you must undershoot.”

I’m not sure what that meant at the time but I surmise that gophers are quick, and by the time you shoot, they’ll be “duckin’ on down the hole.” Therefore, a shot aimed just a bit little lower on the dirt pile might get them. I’m just guessin’.

Gophers are a huge problem in gardens and farmland. Last year 32-year-old Sonia Lopez from Melba was killed by gophers. OK, so there wasn’t a pack of rabid gophers running around attacking people. The gophers had dug a tunnel through an irrigation ditch that caused water to run underneath the highway. That, in turn, created a sinkhole. Apparently Sonia didn’t see the three-foot deep hole at 4 a.m. in the morning when she was driving to work at Dan’s Ferry Service to make donuts. She did not survive the crash.

Gophers can do serious damage when their burrows become erosion tunnels for water, especially in farmland irrigation ditches. And this time of year is when we begin to see them become active again.

“Already this year, it is apparent that gopher damage is on the rise,” said Matt Brechwald, owner of Idaho Gopher Control in Kuna. “I have been inundated with calls from heavy gopher damage, and breeding season has just begun. I have spoken with colleagues in the gopher-control business in Eastern Oregon who are seeing high densities of gophers.”

Gophers not only cause damage to farmer’s ditchbanks, but can be the bane of the home gardener when they kill trees and other vegetation by eating the roots.

While sitting with a rifle and a beer waiting for the gophers to show up might not be the most effective way of ridding gophers from the garden or farm, there are other methods available. Luckily, gophers are territorial, so unless you are dealing with a female and her pups, usually you will only be trying to kill one at a time.

Poisoning gophers works well but you might risk dogs, cats, other animals, and even potentially small children, eating the bait. Even after death, a gopher eaten by a bird or other animal can continue to poison.

Explosives, like in the movie Caddyshack, are not only dangerous, but may do more damage than the intended result. And if you remember the movie, the gopher got away.

Water is another method people have tried. Filling gopher tunnels with water may seem like a good idea but it may take a long time. Gophers can make tunnel systems up to 600 feet long. Filling a tunnel system like that could take over 30 gallons of water without factoring in absorption into the soil. And, gophers are pretty smart sealing off tunnels pretty quick. They also can jump out of their flooding holes and make a run for it so you better have a quick gopher-killing dog or fairly fast with a Samuraii sword. You also end up with a big muddy mess.

You can dig out a burrow but plan on spending several days with uncertain results. It also makes a huge mess.

You can buy gopher smoke bombs from nursery and farm supply stores but you have to find an active hole to drop the smoke bomb in to. Once all the holes are plugged, this method suffocates the gophers. Some say road flares work really well and put out a lot of smoke too. But, again, with smoke, a gopher’s keen sense of smell can detect smoke-out efforts and they can seal off a tunnel quickly from the bad air.

When you have a serious gopher problem, it might be time to call in the professional like Matt Brechwald. He is in the business of killing gophers all over the region. His method is similar to the smoke bomb, death by asphyxiation. He inserts a probe into a gopher’s burrow and pumps pressurized carbon monoxide at 110 psi. This floods the burrow with odorless gas quickly that puts the gophers to sleep and kills them. It’s perhaps the most humane method other than capturing them in no-kill traps and setting them free somewhere else.

I don’t recall if my grandpa and father ever got that gopher but they sure had a good time hanging out. It gave me an idea. Perhaps I might take my son out some day for a little bonding over a gopher hole myself. This time we’ll both have a beer.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: Spring Cleanup

Kuna Melba News, April 17, 2013

There are those that clean up their garden in fall and there are those that do not. After a long hard summer of watering and weeding followed by a flurry of harvesting I’m one of those that does not clean up his garden. I let the whole dang thing sit and rot through the winter much to the chagrin of my neighbors. Already they look at me strangely for converting my entire front lawn to garden space. They often drive by slowly, as one drives by that strange old man’s house to wonder what the heck he is doing out there.

The garden, after a summer of growth begins to decay with the first frost in fall. My unharvested tomatoes become green balls of gooey goodness for the deer that make their way through the neighborhood late at night. My flower heads slowly crumble with each rain and snowstorm. My hops and grapes hold on to their flowers and fruit for as long as they can, turning brown and withered with each shorter day. Sometimes the grapes offer me a withered snack on the vine as late as December. There’s nothing like a cabernet raisin. In spring, when the snows melt deep within the shadowy corners of the yard, I see the harsh love that winter has brought to my urban oasis.

This past weekend I got out and pruned my fruit trees, saving the best flowering branches for a nice vase inside. I raked the leaves from my beds. I pulled the last of the dried up weeds from last summer and removed the tomato cages in preparation for next week’s rototilling marathon.

Some gardeners argue that by leaving my leaves, refuse, seed heads and a few late weeds around I’m encouraging pests and giving those pesky weeds a chance to spread their seed into the next generation.

I argue that the stuff I leave laying around also provides habitat for spiders that eat the pillbugs and earwigs, mice that snack on the grubs, frogs that eat just about everything. The frogs and mice attract the neighbor cats, which scare off the squirrels and birds that love to go after my fruit trees. If that fails, a glass of iced tea and a relaxing day on the porch with my super squirt gun takes care of the tree rats.

One thing I noticed this year was that the dandelions and mallow, with their deep taproots, emerged quickly underneath the refuse. Insulated with leftover leaves and plants, they were happy little beasts until I dug them all out, root and all.

Only the hardiest of root-based weeds are emerging this time of year anyway. Canada thistle, the bane of my yard’s existence, is a constant effort all year long. At this time of year I can easily spot it, tracking the deep root along where it puts up the rosettes of prickliness. I try to wait until they are big enough to not break the roots off but I conjure Sisyphus as I dig and dig but it keeps growing back.

Sisyphus’s twin brother, bindweed is much the same. I have one area of my yard that it seems to come back in every year. I’ve let that region of the garden starve for a whole year, no water, no attention, just scraped back down to the bare earth, and still, that darn bindweed will come back the next year. I know it will be a lifelong battle. I’ve thought of a concrete barrier but I’m afraid I’d eventually have a border edge of bindweed encircling it.

Although I’m generally an organic gardener, or as they called it in my grandfather’s day, a gardener, I have been known to use a bit of the stronger, modern chemical stuff to kill things, but only on those weeds that give me the most grief. And only then, I’ll use it on areas where I’m not going to be harvesting vegetables for a while. Sometimes you need a tank to kill a mouse.

This year, as I pulled back the layer of leaves, stems and the occasional dried out husk of a zucchini from my garden this spring, I leave a little bit of the slightly composted stuff behind. This, along with the results of my meager compost pile out back, I work back in to the soil giving it the much needed return of organic material last year’s plants pulled out of the earth. I’m also too cheap to spring for store bought compost year after year.

Will I have weeds? Sure. Will I have more bugs? Maybe. I also have a micro landscape to look out my front window on throughout the winter. Besides, my gnomes would be bored in a deserted, barren wasteland.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Frost Monster

Kuna Melba News, April 10, 2013

As my thumb turns a deeper shade of green this time of year I spend a lot of time in the nurseries scanning the seed racks and taking a look at what plant starts they have. I want to make sure I get the varieties I want before they are sold out. But that same eagerness too often makes me want to plant them early. Often much too early for my own good.
So over the years I’ve experimented with a few ways to get an early start on the garden and keep my plants from getting fried by the frost monster.
Naturally, anyone who is a hard-core gardener probably already has snow peas in the ground. For that matter, garlic should already be a couple inches tall because it was planted last fall. My green onions planted from seed last fall are already close to four inches tall. Starts or seeds for kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and all the Brassica family should also be fine to put in the ground.
Other seeds can be planted early as well. A trick I learned from an old gardener was to take lettuce seeds and sprinkle them on the snow covering the garden in February. As snow melts and freezes, expanding and contracting the soil, the seeds find their own way down. Then, when nature decides they are good and ready, they’ll sprout and you will have the earliest lettuce of all your neighbors.
Other things I like to plant early are spinach, some types of Asian greens and beets. Carrots are also OK to plant a little early.
So what happens when the weatherman says to expect a light frost and your seedlings are up? Same thing you do in the fall. Take your plant blankets, plastic, or coverings and simply cover them up. Make sure to remove them in the morning or the Spring sun will bake your precious darlings.
For summer vegetables, I suggest waiting on squash, melons, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers and any of the larger vegetable items until after the average last frost date. You will notice a huge difference when you transplant them in to warm soil. I’ve found that planting them early gives very little boost to yields. I just wait.
Tomatoes are another beast altogether. I challenge myself every year to see how early I can get a ripe tomato from my vines. I get big transplants and plant them deep, as any stem under the ground will develop roots. And deep roots will help sustain my plants through the hot summer.
I used to put Walls-O-Water, a plant insulator available at local nurseries, around my tomatoes but have invested over the years in Aqua Domes. These are hard plastic shells that have a hollow wall filled with water. I used to find them at D&B Supply but they are also available on They cost more but are durable and well worth it. They heat up during the day, warming the soil and then at night it keeps the plant warm and protects it from frost. By mid May I usually have flowers on the toms and I’ve been known to snack on cherry tomatoes from my garden before the end of May.
A cheaper alternative to Walls-O-Water is to take five milk jugs. Fill four with water and place in a square pattern around the plant. Take the fifth one and cut the bottom out and remove the cap from the top. On cold nights, place the cut out one over the top of the plant. This acts as a frost protector while the gallon jugs surrounding the plant keep it nice and warm at night.
Mark Barnes is a former University of Idaho Extension Service Master Gardener.
If you have topics or suggestions about what to cover in this new column, please contact

PayDirt – A Gardener’s Column: Planting Early

Kuna Melba News, April 3, 2013

It is always a gamble to put your plants in the ground too early in spring but taking certain precautions can pay off for a quicker harvest. Knowing when the average last freeze happens in your yard usually requires the services of an oracle, but we have some tips for you.
Although you might be eager to get an early start to your garden, tender plants can be damaged by a freeze, even a mild one. And when the weatherman says it will just get down in to the mid 30s, one still has to be careful or Jack Frost will make an early morning visit and wipe out lots of money you just spent on those expensive heirloom tomato plants.
There are four things you should consider when trying to up the schedule on your tomato or pepper plants. First, you need to know when to plant. Second, you should know where to plant in your yard. Third, you should know what plants you can get away with putting in early and, finally, how one should insulate those plants if you do plant them early.
So when should you plant? It really comes down to where you live. And, more specifically, what kind of microclimates you might have around your house. Those little nooks and corners of your yard can trap and keep just enough heat to keep a frost from settling down on your tomatoes. But by the time you figure out where those are, you are probably a gardener with enough experience to know when to plant.
Let’s look at the bigger picture for more novice gardeners. According to the USDA Gardening and Plant Hardiness Map for Idaho, Kuna’s last average frost date in spring is usually somewhere between May 21 and May 31. In the Melba area, which is a little lower in elevation, the last frost date is May 11-20. Be aware that in any given year you could have a last frost in early April, or even one as late as June. In 1978, the temperature in Kuna hit 31 degrees on May 25 and 30 degrees on May 31st. As recently as 2007, Kuna saw on May 28th a low temperature of 31 degrees. Melba, although usually warmer, has seen a freezing temperature in mid to late June. In 1995, the low temperature records were set for Melba on June 7 with a low of 29 degrees and just 13 days later it hit 32 degrees.
While these temperatures are barely below freezing, they can stunt the growth of hot weather plants such as peppers and severely damage newly sprouted seeds. The old wife’s tale of waiting until the snow is off the mountain, or after Mother’s Day works for some, but keeping an eye on the weather and planning ahead usually works better.
Next week, we’ll look at plants you can get away with planting early and how to get an early start to your garden. We’ll even give you some tips on how to protect those tender plants by using some simple materials around the house.

Mark Barnes is a former University of Idaho Extension Service Master Gardener.
If you have topics or suggestions about what to cover in this new column, please contact

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: Growing A Garden

Kuna Melba News, March 27, 2013

I was once told that a good garden takes at least three years to get going from scratch. As I look out my front window, I think about this fourth year and I’m just now beginning to get to know the intimate areas of the yard where certain plants work well and where they don’t. The garden has definitely evolved over the years, as has my skill as a gardener. I know I’ll need a lifetime to get my garden where I want it to be. Perhaps it will be those that inherit my dirt who will do it.
gardeningWhen my partner and I, along with her and my genetic offspring, removed 3,600 square feet of sod in the front yard a few years ago the neighbors were concerned. I was embarking on an urban gardening career planning to sell vegetables at the local farmer’s market. The front yard, once an expanse of green dotted with yellow dandelions and blue green spiked leaves of Canada thistle, was to be my flagship plot. I trucked in 20 yards of organic dairy manure compost and used the cut sod pieces to form berms along the front edge of the yard near the street.
That year I used the gravity irrigation pumped from the access ditch in the back of the property to water everything. The produce was abundant and tasty. My customers were happy. I constantly flashed back to the times on the family farm hoeing and planting vegetables on my parent’s seven acres of tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and corn. I hated it then. I love it now.
For two years I managed several lots around the city, collecting the produce from each to supply a small vegetable booth at the farmer’s market, have vegetables for my small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription program, supplying a few local restaurants with specialty vegetables and having a little bit left over for my family.
Now, several years later, as I have returned to somewhat of a desk job being the editor for a small paper once again, I only manage the plants in my own yard. These years, however, I have many more flowers, shrubs and trees as opposed to vegetables. I think I’m also ready to talk about gardening in the medium I love so well… newsprint.
During my “growing” years I managed to fulfill the requirements for the University of Idaho Extension Service Master Gardener program. Becoming a Master Gardener was one of my life’s bucket list items. While I was one of the younger folk in the classes, I felt I had an advantage. I had the opportunity to learn from all of the older gardeners who had decided to pursue the MG program in retirement. I was going to put what I was learning to use on a business level. I’d recommend the program to anyone with a passion in gardening.
While according to the rules, since I am not actively in the program I am not allowed to call myself a Master Gardener anymore, the skills I learned through the program allow me to advise others. This is what I hope to do with this new gardening column.

Mark Barnes is a former University of Idaho Extension Service Master Gardener.
If you have topics or suggestions about what to cover in this new column, please contact