Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Phenology by Irene Shonle

March and April are such variable months in the mountains.  March is usually one of our wettest months of the year, at least on the Front Range, with the highest average amount of snow.

This March (at the time I’m writing this, anyway), has been much warmer and drier than usual. I’m seeing signs of spring that I don’t usually see until well into April, such as aspen catkins swelling, and wildflower seeds germinating.  I even had a crocus blooming at 8,700’ on March 20 -- the first day of spring!  Last year, I didn’t get my first crocus until April 10.  Some years (ones with an early spring and late Easter) even see Pasque flowers (the name refers to Easter) blooming at Easter up here, and we might see that this year.  My Pasque flower buds are already starting to swell.
What causes such dramatic differences from year to year in plant growth?

Plants rely on two main cues to come out of dormancy/germinate.  One is day length – plants in the Northern Hemisphere get the message that spring is here by the increasing day length.  This photoperiodism, as it is called, is helpful to trees to keep them from breaking dormancy during a warm spell during the winter.

But temperatures are also important – on cold, snowy years, even though the days are lengthening dramatically, the plants will stay dormant until suitable temperatures are reached.   This dual mechanism helps plants to maximize the growing season while minimizing the risk of freezing.
Long term data sets have showed that spring leafing out is arriving earlier than it used to – by an average of two weeks, depending on the species (  And this year, spring is up to 20 days earlier than usual in the southeast part of the US, and it’s too early to see what will happen in the north ( It’s hard to say with certainty what the consequences of this trend towards earlier springs will be, but it will no doubt have a big impact on ecosystems and agricultural production.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Transplanting by Jeff Pieper

About this time every year, I start hearing folks say that they already started seeds for their vegetable transplants. As if it is a competition, the dates seem to get earlier and earlier each year. While it is none of my business who starts their seeds when, I always take the opportunity to address my concerns of starting too early when I hear about these early start dates.

While you may never truly be safe planting warm season vegetables in mountain communities, it is typically recommended that no warm season plants should go in the ground in my community before the first week of June. To find average frost dates for your area, check the dates here.

Now of course, this completely depends on your gardening style, and the season extension tools you may utilize in your endeavor to be the only one in the county with tomatoes. Season extension aside, let’s look a little more closely into using transplants and some of the difficulties you face growing your own vegetable transplants are home.

The most important thing to avoid is what is called transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when plants undergo various environmental stresses. These stresses include root damage, temperature extremes, or strong winds. Plants subjected to transplant shock are often stunted or delayed meaning you could lose some of your early seeding advantage.

To avoid transplant shock, the first thing to identify is what prefers to be transplanted versus direct seeded? Some plants like curcubits (melons, cucumbers, summer squash) don’t like having their roots damaged or disturbed, so proper care needs to be taken when planting such varieties. Solutions such as peat pots that can be directly planted into the soil can be a good solution. Other vegetables, due to their longer growing season requirements have to be transplanted or you won’t get a crop before that pesky fall frost returns. A general rule of thumb is to start transplants 4 - 6 weeks prior to the last frost. Check this link for more specific details on starting plants from seed. The biggest difference between your transplant seeding dates for vegetables is going to be the crops cold hardiness. Some cool season crops like brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower) will tolerate much cooler temperatures than warm season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes or eggplant.  To learn more about the hardiness of vegetables click here.

Growing vegetable transplants inside 4 - 6 weeks prior to planting means you need supplies or tools that will grow sturdy and strong transplants not tall, spindly ones. Most vegetable varieties will not grow to be healthy transplants just sitting in a sunny window, so if you are gonna invest the time, make sure you have the tools. Supplies needed include a heat mat to keep the roots at a consistent temperature, a humidity dome to maintain heat and moisture, trays that retain water but don’t drown the plants, a fertility program, and grow lights.

If you don’t have the equipment, or aren’t willing to invest in it, look for local growers who do. In my area, we are fortunate to have several vegetable farmers who take great pride in producing vegetable transplants. For many of them, the early season sales help to offset the high upfront costs vegetable farmers incur at the beginning of the season.

Remember, transplant shock can take away any added benefit of starting plants early, so invest in the proper equipment or invest in a quality product where someone already has.

Happy Gardening….

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My New Love by Gina Wells


My husband and I dreamt of a mountain home, with a year round running creek and easy access to Denver. After a year of searching for that perfect place, we put an offer in on a property in December 2012. After five months of waiting we closed on the house and moved in a month later.  We discovered that summer we had 27 dead or dying Cottonwood trees on our property and needed to have them removed because of the possible damage they could cause. Once they were removed, our property felt barren. We decided to invest in 8-10 foot trees to provide a sound barrier, a wind break, privacy and beauty to our landscape. Oh, did I mention that we figured we may not have 20 or 30 years to see the trees grow in all their glory so we decided to start big. This was the beginning of my passion for trees. We admired the many 30-40 foot Colorado Spruce trees on our property and knew that more would be a perfect fit. We thought our landscape would be more visually interesting if we chose a variety of trees. We chose 3 Fat Alberts, 8 Hoopsii Blue Spruce, 2 Canadian Chokecherry trees, 1 Spring Snow Crabapple tree and 3 large and 48 small Aspen trees.

I fell in love with the perfect “Christmas Tree”, the Colorado Blue Spruce, “Fat Albert” also known as Picea pungens. Not only is it a show stopper with rich blue-green coloring throughout the year, a perfect cone shape, but it is dense, sturdy, extremely hardy and makes a statement.  This tree will survive the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter. It is native to the Rocky Mountain area, so it will tolerate poor quality soil. It provides winter interest, shelter for the birds, and a great backdrop for shrubs and perennials. The Fat Albert is highly resistant to most pests, deer, rabbits, air pollution and drought. It may fall prey to budworms, aphids and spider mites on occasion. These trees need full sun, a soil pH 5.5-7.0 and require wet soil if you want them to reach their full growth potential of 10-15 feet tall and 7-10 feet wide. The life span of a Colorado Blue Spruce can live beyond 150 years with little maintenance. All that is needed, is regular irrigation and unobstructed drainage. Note: plant any evergreen at least 30’ away from buildings to decrease fire risk.

This experience started out as a way to increase our property value by adding beauty and privacy to our home.  Little did we know that the trees we planted would give us so much more.  They have stimulated our spirit, given us many hours of joy, and enhance our relaxation. Somewhat miraculously by caring for them they reduce our stress from a fast paced life and, last but not least, they are good for the environment.  Trees are simply amazing! I encourage you to plant a tree (or several) on Arbor Day. One question still remains for my husband and I; can we stop planting more trees?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Planning and Getting Ready for Garden 2017 by Ed Powers

I live between Conifer and Evergreen at 7600 feet.  I have lived here for more than 5 years with gardening challenges galore.  Last year I built 2- 4 feet by 4 feet raised gardens.  Quite frankly, even at that size I had the best garden I have had up here.  I also grew some tomatoes indoor over the winter that produced the largest best fruit I have ever had gardening.  So moving forward this year, I decided to start my tomatoes, squash and peppers along with several flowers in December/ January in 2017.  I will also start a second crop in February.  My hope is that they will survive to be larger plants in June.  My belief and experience from last year is that this l will produce a better garden.  I also intend on building another raised garden 8x3 feet.
I have started the process by planting seeds I saved from last year since they are all heirlooms.  This will include Russian Black Crim tomatoes (this is the 3rd season for these seeds so they should adapted somewhat to our climate), Mortgage Makers, Nebraska Wedding, an unknown store bought cherry tomato and a black cherry tomato. These last tomatoes where saved from seeds of last year.  I am also growing heirloom banana peppers, hot peppers, spaghetti squash and butternut squash indoors early in hopes to be able to transplant successfully outdoors in June.  Again, these last items are seeds from last year.  I realize that it is not a good idea to transplant a plant that is too large, but I had so much success last year I am going to try it again.

I am now in the process of buying or ordering heirloom seeds from reliable seed dealers.  I want to add zucchini and yellow squash, Casper and a small purple squash, beets, turnips, rutabagas, carrots and spinach.  I plan to plant the beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas and spinach in late March to mid-April.

Of course, I will be working and adding mulch my raised gardens as this is as important to my growing as getting the right seeds.