Wild Men on the North Fork

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Wyogrow...where the tough get growing, by Fred Jacquot
I have been an active gardener in the Casper area now for over 30 years. Back when I first started no one could tell a beginner what kind of carrots or tomatoes grew best here. Because I have been taking notes all these years, you can find out what plants do best in Wyoming on the 'vegetable varieties' pages, whose links are above.
Along with my partners Mark McAtee and Paul Combe I have done a lot of experimenting and research. You can find the results of this activity on these many pages. Please click on the links and start viewing our work. I think you will find that there is a huge amount of information available here for you. Enjoy!

Below are a few links to some nice garden sites.

Raspberry De Light Farms
Texas A&M Vegetables
Here is a link to Garden Guides!
Rocky Mountain Garden Forum
Garden Humor
About Composting

Between Seasons 2010 - 2011

December 27, 2010

Here are links to two new pages on this site:

Barry Franck


Now that the beds are cleared from this past growing season, we begin the next season. For me that means looking at new varieties. This is a process that will continue through the end of January.

There is a triumverate of main factors that determine your success in your garden:

Today I will tackle the first Factor: Seed Choice. Later, I will hammer away at the other two Factors.

What the catalog does not say is very important.

As I said earlier, there are three factors which determine success in the garden: Seed (variety) Selection, Soil, Weather. You have the most control over the first two factors. Your success in choosing the right variety may well begin soon as the catalogs come to your houses. We are in the catalog season. I have received most already, and will get more in the next 4 weeks. I have found that catalogs have to be read very carefully. Let me give you an example. Here is the description of Big Bertha Pepper from the Totally Tomatoes Catalog:

We grew this pepper for a lot of years. So I can say with authority that everything in the above quote is accurate. But beware. The problem we always had with Big Bertha is that is has very thin walls. There is not much pepper in that pepper. A quick re-read of the description will reveal that Totally Tomatoes never said it did have thick walls. If you want thick walls on your pepper, you had better read the descriptions very carefully to make sure your seed supplier says the pepper has thick walls.

I love it when a description for a vegetable says that it is a 'vigorous grower'. If it does not mention how many fruit it produces, all you may get is a wonderful plant with not much fruit on it. You have to read carefully. The seed catalog will not lie, but it may omit.

On the links above you will find 'Vegetable Variety Pages'. For the vegetables you are interested in, click on the appropriate page and scroll down to find information about that vegetable. On these pages you find varieties that we recommend, and also links to online catalogs where you can order the seed. Here are those links to my Vegetable Variety Pages below:

Beans - Carrot

Cauliflower - Corn

Cucumber - Peas

Peppers - Squash

Tomato - Watermelon

On each page I recommend specific varieties and list varieties we are considering. On the left side of each variety listing are four-letter codes and a number. The four-letter code is a link to the site of a seed vendor that offers the variety in its catalog. The number is the 'days' that company lists for that variety to reach maturity. For plants like tomatoes and pepper, which are not usually direct seeded, the number represents the days to maturity from the time the start (already started) plant is set out into the bed. I list all of this information as an aid to you, fellow gardener, to help you find varieties that will work in your Wyoming garden.

I list Seed Choice, or Variety Choice as the first because I feel it is the most important choice a gardener makes. What you plant makes a huge difference in what you get by the end of the season. A good Selection will help to overcome negatives in Soils and Weather. That is why I am constantly reading and re-reading my seed catalogs. I am always searching to improve the productivity of our garden plots, and to improve the quality of what we grow. What is the point of setting a tomato plant out that will not perform well in our climate? Who wants to waste a growing season on a plant that gives you ten tomatoes that don't taste that great? Our main production tomato, Applause, outperforms, per square foot, any other tomato I've seen grow here in Casper. In addition, it got a One-Star rating in our tomato taste trial at the end of the 2009 season. It is a Determinate that really loads up! We grow the Indeterminates to produce better tasting tomatoes than even Applause. And we are constantly looking to improve both production and taste from our Indeterminates. In this process, Selection is everything.

The One Third Rule...

If you live in the Rocky Mountains, or at high elevations, and you are reading a seed catalog or the back of a seed packet, apply the One Third Rule to what you read.

Here is how that would work.

Let's say that Tomato 'X' information says that those tomatoes get to be 9 ounces. If you live at high elevation apply the one third rule, and you can expect to get 6 ounce tomatoes. If Tomato 'Y' information says that those tomatoes get to be 12 ounces, you will get 8 ounce tomatoes at high elevations.

Let's say you are looking at Tomato 'X' and the information says it is '70' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 93 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. If you can get the average tomato from that seed packet to mature in 93 days, you have a winner.

If you are looking at Tomato 'Y' and the information says it is '90' days to maturity. That makes the real days to maturity, here at high elevation, about 120 days. I calculate that here in Casper our season is about 114 days. The average tomato from that seed packet is not going to be ripe when the season is over. Most tomatoes from that seed packet will not even be fully sized when the season ends. Tomato 'Y' is a loser.

The top line of the chart below are the days given by the seed supplier. The second line shows the approximate days here in Casper. The third line shows the weight given by the seed supplier. The fourth line shows the approximate weight here in Casper.

Days Given: 60 63 66 69 72 75 78 80 85 90 95 100 105 110 115 120
Casper Days: 80 84 88 92 96 100 104 107 113 120 127 133 140 147 153 160

Weight Given: 2 oz 4 oz 6 oz 8 oz 10 oz 12 oz 14 oz 1 lb 2 lb 3 lb 4 lb 5 lb 10 lb
Casper Weight 1.3 oz 2.7 oz 4 oz 5.3 oz 6.7 oz 8 oz 9.3 oz 0.67 lb 1.3 lb 2 lb 2.7 lb 3.3 lb 6.7 lb

I figure that the absolute maximum days, given on a seed packet or in a catalog for a tomato variety, that will work is 80 days, and that is pushing things too far in a cool season. 80 day tomatoes will only yeild in very hot seasons. Try to stick with tomato varieties that are 75 days or less. That is what the chart above implies. This rule applies to most other vegetables with the exception of squash and pumpkin. The one third rule applies to them in a different way. Instead of taking more days to produce fruit, or producing smaller fruit, squash and pumpkin seem to produce at least 1/3 less numbers of fruit.

January 18, 2011

A reader from the Midwest recently sent this note.

Thanks Matt for your note and information. I have long suspected that what we learn here in Wyoming about gardening would apply to many other regions in the country. This note is confirmation.

February 25, 2011

I have all my seed orders in now, and it is time to give the catalogs some rest. Here are some things to note. I have changed my thinking about Pumpkins. I will try to grow more short-season varieties, pumpkins we can use for baking purposes. So, in the Guide at the bottom of this page, you will find some new varieties listed under Pumpkin. I also realize now that I did not emphasize enough how good Carmen Pepper performed last season, a very cold season. It was, far and away, the best pepper we grew last year. It is a non-bell sweet pepper with thick walls and intense 'pepper' taste. Barry Franck at Westside Nursery will be offering them again this season. I am so impressed that I am also going to trial this coming season Margaret's Pepper from Jung, which is another non-bell sweet pepper with thick walls. My general thinking is that in our harsh climate, perpaps non-bells will perform better. I will, of course, report on what I find.

Another new pepper this season will be Mucho Nacho. The testimony online about this pepper is very mixed. About half the gardeners report this variety to be a 'mild' Jalapeno. The other half report that this is an 'extra hot' pepper. I think soils may have a lot to do with the level of heat. They call it "chilated" iron for a reason. A little extra iron in the soil around a hot pepper will make it hotter. A lot of extra iron will turn a red hot pepper purple, and the heat will melt your scalp!

Below is a discussion of Factor Two (behind Variety Selection) in having a sucessful garden.

About Soils:

Our soils are geologically 'young'. That means they don't have the humus that older soils have, like in the midwest.

Close to Casper Mountain you will encounter heavy clay soils that come from the sedimentary shales that form the foothills. The shallow seas that existed in the Casper area in earlier geological times, and which produce a lot of clam fossils, had muddy bottoms. Shale, before it formed into rock, was clay. Close to the North Platte River and north of the river you will find sand that has been deposited by water and wind.

So, what's so great about humus? Humus adds nutrients to the soil in small amounts that are readily available to roots. Humus also keeps soil loose, and that makes it easier for roots to get water. In addition, humus cuts evaporation. It increases the ability of soil to hold moisture, keeping water available to plants for longer periods of time. Humus provides a place for microbes to live, and microbes are essential to the health and life of your plants. The decaying process that happens when humus is in the soil provides vital nitrogen to roots in a natural way that will not "burn" the plant. Chemical fertilizers burn plants when applied in amounts large enough to overload the plants' abilities to deal with them. Finally, humus helps soil resist compaction.

Clay soils, in particular, will compact through the process of watering. So even if you never trod on tilled soil you can be compacting it every time you water. Always take the opportunity to mix some humus in as you till, and to mix it into the soil surrounding trees and bushes. Humus is available in the forms of peat moss, manure, and compost. Peat can be purchased by the bag, or by the bale. It comes to us mostly from Canada It is dug there from old lake beds, and contains the plant remains of hundreds, even thousands of years of lake-plant growth. Peat moss provides great humus that is slightly acidic. That acidity will neutralize some of the alkali in our soils.

Manures have different degrees of "hotness," or concentrations of nitrogen. Sheep manure is the hottest available to Casper residents. To obtain some you may have to drive out into the countryside to ranches that feed herds of sheep over the winter. Never use fresh sheep manure. Use only aged sheep manure, and use it sparingly. Even aged sheep manure can burn plants if it is too concentrated.

Horse manure is "hotter" than cow manure, and has fewer active seeds. Use manure that has aged in a pile for a least a year, as that composting tends to kill a lot of seeds in the manure.

Tiny grains of clay in freshly tilled soil are widely separated. During compaction there is less and less space between them. Because they are very thin they orient horizontally during compaction, forming a barrier that is virtually impossible for roots to penetrate.

Clay is what we have, for the most part, here in Wyoming. It is pretty awful stuff to be planting anything in. It is slippery, it absorbs water and then swells. It packs into impenetrable layers.

Our clays erode from a particular kind of sedimentary rock: shale. Before shale became rock it was......you guessed it......clay! Certain Wyoming soils are mined for use in the oil patch. Through some simple grinding and heating they become 'gel' which is: slippery, absorbs water, and swells. Bentonite is another ash - clay product that is used to seal off pits of all kinds. When water hits it, it swells and forms an impenetrable barrier. Where have we heard all this before? Bentonite is that gray soil in which nothing grows. Do not try to drive on that stuff after a rain. It is like trying to drive on gelatin.

Rocks and sand:

Not too long ago I planted my garden in soil that was about half pea gravel, little rocks all about the size of a pea. In some ways it was pretty good. But, I found that by the end of a growing season, I could water my tomatoes for as long as I wanted, and the water never puddled. The soil absorbed all the water I wanted to pour on it, and it still wanted more. There was not enough 'soil' left between the gravel to hold any water at all.

Pea gravel is just sand writ large. Sand will do the same thing for your garden soil as pea gravel did for mine. It will provide great drainage, if that is what you desire. It also leaves great channels for aeriation for plants like peas that need that to the 'nth degree'.

Sand and clay mixes, without anything else added, should be avoided in the garden. The results can be a mixture that has the temperment of concrete. Sand and clay with humus and possibly some animal droppings, in the right proportions, is the ideal garden soil.


Humus is the third, and probably most important soil ingredient. Humus is rotted, decayed, or composted plant or animal material. It is the organic portion of your soil. The most common mistake made in Wyoming is not having enough humus in the soil. The obvious source for humus is grass clipping and fall leaves. These need to be composted before being added to your soil. The reason for this is that left uncomposted, they will try to draw Nitrogen from your soil as they decay there, thus competing with your growing plants for the available Nitrogen. Another souce is bagged Spagnum Moss. One of the purposes of adding humus to your soil is to keep it loose and broken up, allowing water and air to reach the plant roots in the propper amounts. Very small beads of styrofoam or vermiculite will aide this effort. But do not mix in more than 3 percent of styrofoam beads because they tend to swell a bit with water.


Animal droppings are a form of humus and are particularly rich in nitrogen. The best stuff is from birds. Sheep droppings are 'hotter' than cow or horse. Fresh droppings can chemically burn plant roots, causing permanent damage to the plant. Droppings are best after being aged for a year or two. Some gardeners use fresh dropping below a layer of soil in a cold frame to heat the soil the plants are growing in. Decaying droppings can give off considerable heat. After a couple of years you may want to add more droppings to your soil mix because the plant roots will have used up much of the Nitrogen in the droppings.

I caution the gardener about using horse manure. Horses have the most inefficient digestive system of any four-legged animal. Their systems just don't process seeds very well. So their manure is loaded with weed seeds. Using horse manure may require letting it 'rest' for up to 5 years to allow the weed seeds to die.

Soil Mixes:

Below I include a chart of soil mixes and what plants do well with those mixes. Please bear in mind that the chart is just a guide. There really are no hard and fast rules for this. For instance, lettuce prefers to grow in a medium mix, but will do just fine in a loose mix. Onion prefers a loose mix, but will grow in just about any kind of soil. This past year (2001) we had very heavy crops of peppers that were planted in a mix of half clay and half humus.

Note that I still recomend you use some clay in your soil. Some plants prefer the alkalinity of our clay, and clay does help to hold moisture in the soil for the roots to use. But do get used to the idea that more than half of the clay that occurs naturally will have to be removed from your garden.

Soil Mixes

Nitrogen Rich
  • Clay: 1 bucket
  • Sand: 1 bucket
  • Humus: 1 bucket
  • Droppings: 1 bucket
  • Broccoli (side dress with bone meal at planting)
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Squash
  • Sunflower
  • Watermelon
Medium Mix
  • Clay: 2 buckets
  • Sand: 2 buckets
  • Humus: 3 buckets
  • Droppings: 1 bucket
  • Beans (not too much potash, potassium, or alkaline soil)
  • Beets
  • Brussel Sprouts (Like potash, potassium, magnesium)
  • Musk Melon
  • Pumpkin
  • Tomato (side dress with bone meal at planting)
Loose Mix
  • Clay: 1 bucket
  • Sand: 1 bucket
  • Humus: 3 buckets
  • Droppings: None
  • Carrot
  • Chard
  • Lettuce (likes slightly alkaline soils)
  • Onion (likes potassium, and phosphorus)
  • Pepper (likes magnesium)
  • Potato ( likes potash, potassium)
  • Radish (likes potash, potassium, alkaline soil)
  • Watermelon
  • Peas

March 8, 2011

Here is a late report on the 2010 season by Bill Simpson

Beets Planted Ruby Queen again. With the cool summer I didn't have to use a partial sun block. Good year for them.
Bell Peppers North Star did a little better than the Sweet Midway. I was surprised they produced so good in the cooler year.
Broccoli Started some 'Captain' from seed to compare it to Packman. Packman wins. Cantaloupe—Sweet 'n Early, over the years this one is hard to beat. Also planted Burpee's Early Hybrid, it’s more of a muskmelon, ripened towards the end of the season.
Carrots Danvers Half Long, left some of these in the ground last year so they would go to seed this year. Worked out good. Great carrots, especially after the first freeze.
Corn Silver Choice, total bust on the corn this year, just too cold.
Cucumber Sweeter Yet, our big surprise of the year. I wanted a European cuc that produced Early and I sure got it. Easily beat out the Marketmore 76 that we also planted.
Kohlrabi Kossak Hybrid, did very well.
Early White Vienna, stayed neck to neck with the Kossak.
Early Purple Vienna, did poorly, surprised how bad it did compared to the White.
Onions Planted yellow, white and red sets. Another good year.
Potatoes With the cool wet spring, got hit with potato rot, so most of the seed potatoes didn't come up. Getting to be a big fan of Viking potatoes.
Squash 'Multipik' from Shumway. A straightneck that really cranks out the squash. Powdery mildew showed up towards the end of the season.
Tomatoes Marglobe (determinate) Put all its energy into vegetation instead of tomatoes. Had different shaped tomatoes on the same plant.
Bloody Butcher (indeterminate) Once again one of my favorites. Harvested seeds from last season did better than store bought. If it was only a bigger tomato.
Homestead (determinate) nice surprise. Medium size plant with a lot of tomatoes. Harvested seeds for next year. Too many cracks, could be a problem.
Bush Early Girl (determinate) Like any year, I get my early crop of tomatoes from these plants and then they start to get problems.
Heinz 1439 (determinate) did so-so. Lost half the plants.
Campbell’s 33 (det.) Had to yank most of these plants, because of diseases or ??
Watermelons Crimson Sweet, did OK came in second place.
Dixie Queen, third place, but was coming on strong.
Verona, did the best for early production and ripening, but things were close. It would be interesting to plant these in a warm year.
Zucchini Dark Green Zucchini, another great year. Have given up on the Yellow Zucc's

March 15, 2011

A reader just sent me this note. Comments within brackets are my own.

This is my reply.

I'm so glad you are going to raised beds. I think you will be happy with your results.

On fencing and support: this is Wyoming, and we have wind. I always fence my peas, and yes, two rows planted close together can help support each other.

Beds, be they three or four feet wide do present a problem of spacing for peas. To harvest the crop, one has to have access to the plant from all directions. Now, you can run your rows the long way in the bed, or you can run them the short way. But I have a third method, which my partners and I employ. This method is also in keeping with our intensive planting methods. We will be planting two pea beds in 2011. We put our fence up in the beds in a zig zag manner to maximize the number of pea plants and to maximize our ability to reach in and harvest the crop.

Please note that there are large spaces in the bed that are not being used by the pea plants. Because there are few flowers anywhere close to the plots where we garden, we plant flowers into those spaces. The presence of flowers and herbs in and around the garden is important because these are powerful attractants of insects that are beneficial - even crucial to the success of the garden. You could also do some companion planting and put in lettuce, carrot, or onions into the spaces. Here is a photo of our pea bed in 2010 after the vines have been removed. This photo was taken from the end of the bed.

Fred Jacquot

Growing Season 2011

March 25, 2011

My gardening partner, Mark McAtee, sends this link to a very nice article about Composting. I have added this link to the others above.

Everything we were going to start is now in the peat pots.

Barry Franck started a lot of his before us. Here are two short notes from him.

March 27, 2011

Dafodil Watch:

Each Spring I remind my readers that here in Wyoming it's not really Spring until the dafodils have been snowed upon at least three times. Yesterday, I said there was a light snow, and there was. But my critics (including my wife) point out that our dafodils are not blooming. So the count should not begin until they are. So, I offer this chart.

Snow count on Dafodils poked out of the ground:
Snow count on Dafodil Blooms:

April 3, 2011

We were blessed with a good rain last night, after a nice warm day. This morning we awoke to see it snowing.

Dafodil Watch:

Snow count on Dafodils poked out of the ground:
Snow count on Dafodil Blooms:

Barry Franck sends this note:

April 7, 2011

On the evening of April 5 we had a light snow that did not last long, and which melted as soon as it touched the ground. But it counts as a snow. My gardening partner, Mark McAtee, claims that he had a dafodil blooming before the snow before that. So I have modified my chart accordingly.

Dafodil Watch:
My Count
McAtee's Count
Total snow count on Dafodils poked out of the ground:
Snow count on Dafodil Blooms:

Last night my wife and I went to our favorite big-box-discount store. We went to the outdoor section of the garden center there. The store had pink hyacinth bulbs - covered with soil - in containers made of peat. They are about 8 inches across. Each of the bulbs were sprouted. We bought two identical units last year and put them in - container and all - into the perennial beds we have in the back yard. Not only did they bloom last Spring, but last Fall we pulled the container out and settled the bulbs back in. Now, those hyacinths are up and getting ready to bloom. This is a cost effective way to get some early color into your beds. But please do remember to remove the container from the bulbs in the Fall. Peat containers are supposedly biodegradeable. In wetter climates I suppose they are. They don't degrade well here in Wyoming. So, you have to remove them.

And that reminds me to tell you to never leave any vegetable in a container made from peat. Carefully remove the container before planting. Roots need room to roam. And peat containers do not degrade well in our dry climate.

April 10, 2011

We had light snow this morning that melted when it hit anything. We now have dafodil blossoms, so the count is running.

Dafodil Watch:
My Count
McAtee's Count
Total snow count on Dafodils poked out of the ground:
Snow count on Dafodil Blooms:

The case in favor of Wasps

I see that many garden departments now have wasp and yellow jacket traps for sale. If you don't like wasps, I'd like to pursuade you to give them a second chance, and to urge all gardeners to prepare a place for them in the garden and yard.

When we were first married, we lived on upper Odell street in Casper. We had three big lilac bushes across the back yard. One day my wife was back there trying to cut dead wood out of them. Unbeknownst to her, she was also disturbing the nest of a large colony of wasps who had built their home in the roots of one of the lilac bushes. They attacked her. Not only that, for the rest of the summer, they kept her ten feet away from that bush. I could stroll around it all I wanted. But they remembered her scent and went into alert mode whenever she came out the back door. Further, the next summer, the next generation of wasps also considered my wife an enemy and would swarm her in the same manner that their parents did. It took two more years before the wasps would let her near that bush again.

My wife, understandably, was not crazy about wasps when we moved into our present house. She set out wasp traps on the back patio. Almost as soon as she did that though, an infestation of aphids began to wipe out the flower plants in the beds along the patio. So we took in the wasp traps, and immediately noticed a difference in the aphid infestation. The wasps were all over the aphids. We were so grateful that we made sure there was plenty of water for the wasps all summer long. Now we have a watercourse back there that the wasps adore. We never have an infestation that lasts more than two days. Wasps are voracious carnivors. If they sense you are a friend they will never sting you. They sense that my wife and I are responsible for the water flowing and if it is not on, they will fly right into our chests to 'remind' us to turn it on. But they do not sting. They are strongly attracted to sweets and to meat. They can smell either from over a mile away. If you grow strawberries, you may have to put netting over the plants to keep the wasps off, like we do.

Our wasps are strongly attracted to the 'warm' colors: red, orange, yellow. They also like to build nests in metal objects like the electric meter or the barbeque. You might consider building a high rise for them out of black steel pipe. They will love it. Keep water around and they will stick around and eat those pests that are destroying your garden.

April 11, 2011

Idea: the geographic origin of species

It is clear to me that maize (corn to us Americans) originated in Central America, and Tomatoes originated in Peru (but were first domesticated in Central America). The oldest domesticated varieties, and the wild related species are still in these areas. It has been claimed that Peppers have two homes of origin: Southeast Asia and the Amazonian slopes of the Andes. I believe, once all the genetic investigations are done, that the Asian origin for Peppers will be discounted. Here are two links.

Sweet pepper/Capsicum: botanical classification

Genetic resources, chromosome engineering, and crop improvement: Vegetable crops

We know that the Tomato moved quickly from Spain, to Southern France, and then to Italy. We are probably talking about many different varieties making this journey. Then, the Tomato spread quickly from these areas across the rest of Europe.

When the Tomato arrived in Russia, it underwent breeding that gave it a browner, more mahogany, flesh, and often a dark 'shoulder'. These Russian varieties often have the word 'black' in them, like Black Krim.

When Germans arrived in the colony of Pennsylvania (often called Pennsylvania Dutch), they were probably already familiar with Tomatoes. When these settlers came into contact with Native Americans, they may well have encountered Native Tomatoes. Out of this mixing of both people and Tomatoes, came new varieties. These varieties often have the word 'German' in them, like German Johnson. Pennsyvania Germans get the credit for breeding these varieties, but some may just have just been growing 'Gramma's' tomato....and Gramma may have been a Native.

But the reason I believe that Peppers have but one place of origin is that the wild varieties are in South America. I think that the Peppers then traveled from America to Asia. There is the strong evidence for travel by people between Asia and the Americas long before Columbus. Mayan pyramids resemble those found in Southeast Asia. A close examination of the art on Mayan ruins reveals two distinctly different art styles present. One is a realistic depiction of Mayan people and of animals with which they were familair. The other style is an ornate Asian depiction of mythical creatures including and especially the dragon. There is pre-Columbian pottery produced in Japan and Mexico at the same time that is identical, including decorations.

Further, when the Spanish got to the New World they brought European chickens with them. But they found the Natives already had Asian type chickens, which laid blueish eggs.

Finally, when Magellan's ships arrived in the Philippeans, his crews took on foodstuffs that included Maize (Corn).

April 14, 2011

Here is a quote from 'From Vines to Wines' by Jeff Cox.

Sound familiar? It should. Every spring I write on these pages that the three most critial factors in successful gardening in Wyoming are in this order: