Friday, November 9, 2018

Mountain Vegetable Gardening

By Ginger Baer
Every well-seasoned gardener knows that each new year is different from the last.  From variations in temperatures, to variations in moisture, wind, pests, to the variety of plants one can potentially grow.  For the non-seasoned gardener, take heart!  Every year has a new challenge, but isn’t it the challenge that keeps many of us going?

Troughs used in Community Garden
I grow at 9000’ in the Gilpin County Community Garden. As if the altitude alone is not enough of a challenge, in the growing year 2017 we had the added challenge of combating a large influx of Golden Mantled Ground Squirrels and a multitude of pocket gophers. In an effort to improve our plots in the community garden, the CSU Extension office in Gilpin County purchased some metal water troughs. These created a barrier the critters could not dig into, nor climb. And the troughs, measuring 10’ x 3’ x 2’, gave our seniors raised beds in which to garden.  Something that my knees appreciated!

As added protection for the raised bed, I also used a floating row cover.  This protected the plants from possible frost, winds and beating sun.  I made sure to keep a portion of the cover open to allow pollinators to get in. They obviously did their job as I did have a mostly successful harvest.

Since our growing season is so short (maybe 90 days if we are lucky) the common practice is to grow cold weather vegetables. Peas, greens, carrots, broccoli, radishes, turnips and such do very well.  Often a second planting of greens can produce a late season crop. It is recommended to select varieties that have the shortest number of days to maturity.

Not to be deterred by conventional wisdom, I just had to try to grow some warmer season crops.  I opted to grow summer squash, cucumbers, onions and green beans. Here is a list of what I grew (or attempted to grow) and my notes about each.

Radish French Breakfast- I love this one! It is a long cylindrical shaped radish with great spicy flavor. I will do this one again next year. I also was able to successfully plant and harvest several crops of this as it is quick to mature.

Carrot Little Finger- This is a crisp and sweet carrot. I was able to grow many up to 6' long. I think this can be attributed to growing in the trough garden.

Arugula Rocket Salad, Roquette- I love this one! Very quick to germinate and a wonderful spicy flavor. I got a successive harvest late in the season. I will do this one again.

Lettuce Salad Bowl Red, heirloom- Bright red, deeply lobed leaves with a smooth silky texture. This grew well all season without bolting. I will do this one again.

Spinach Palco Hybrid- This is a favorite variety of mine. I have had success with this one for a few years. The leaves can grow quite large, but stay tender and the ribs are even edible with a nice crunch. Very slow to bolt. I will do this one again.

Peas Sugar Ann, Snap- This is a "bush" pea that grew to about 3 ' tall. It really did not require support as I grew the plants close together so that they would support one another. My only error was growing it too close to other vegetable because the peas flopped over on top of the other things. I will grow it again, but will be more mindful of what is growing nearby. A prolific producer.

Summer Squash Grey Griller- Wow! This is a really great squash. It will give you zucchini like fruit within about 50-60 days. Large variegated leaves give the plant some interest as well. I will do this one again but do not need to have 4 plants, 2 will be enough. They took up about 25% of my trough and over produced for me. You know, close your car windows or you will get some squash from me!

Cucumber Lemon- This was what I would call a short season variety (70 days) but it did not do well for me. I only got 2 very small cucumbers from this. It could, in part, be from the squash overwhelming it, but also not suited to altitude in my experience. I also grew 1 plant in a pot on my deck and did not get but 1 cucumber to set. Some vegetables need warmer night time temperatures than what we have, and I believe that may be the case with this one.

Green Beans Denver: French/Filet- This is a lovely, slim bean that matures in about 66 days. I don't think I will do this one again though as it was slow to germinate and about the time we started getting frost only about 30% of the blossoms produced beans. They are tender and tasty, just not worth the space in my opinion.

Onion Mix: Red, White, Yellow- These were purchased randomly through the internet. I did not know if they were short day, long day or day neutral. I took a chance and planted approximately 60 sets. I feel this was a success because I was able to harvest some through the season to use as green onions for salads and then I did have a nice harvest at the end of the season of moderately sized and very flavorful onions.

In addition to growing my vegetables in the trough in the community garden I decided to give the pollinators somethings to thrive on.  In the ground next to the trough I planted Sunflowers: Florist’s Sunny Bouquet and some Cosmos. Both flowers did well at altitude and were loaded with pollinators once they started to bloom.

In another couple of months, the seed catalogs will be starting to arrive. I need to see about trying some new things, along with the tried and true.  I only hope that I have enough space to grow in, or else I may need to get a second trough!
Thank you, CSU Extension Gilpin County, for getting those troughs. They were a definite success!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Are Rutabagas?

Creamy mashed Rutabaga like my family makes
by Ed Powers
‘What are rutabagas?’ was the question I asked myself when introduced to this vegetable by my wife and in-laws.  They had a tradition of having rutabagas for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, a tradition brought over from England and Canada.  I must admit, I found rutabagas to be very good and we now have them every Holiday Season. It’s like having mashed potatoes, but they are rutabagas.  In Michigan, where we lived, rutabagas were easy to find (grown in Canada and shipped in).  Here in Colorado, not so much.  So, I had to do some research to see if I might be able to grow them at my altitude (7,600’).  When doing the research, I found some interesting information.

Rutabaga’s botanical name is Brassica napobrassica, and rutabagas are only called ‘rutabaga’ in the U.S. Throughout the rest of the world, they're known as swedes. This ordinary root vegetable is thought to have originated in Bohemia in the 17th century as a hybrid between a turnip and wild cabbage. It is a large, round, yellow-fleshed root that is eaten as a vegetable.  The earliest reference in print was from 1620 when it was noted that this vegetable could be found growing wild in Sweden.  Rutabagas first appeared in North America about 1817 where they were reportedly being grown in Illinois.

Turnips (Brassica rapa) are usually white or white/purple while rutabagas are usually yellowish and brown. Rutabagas are slightly sweeter tasting than turnips, and the most obvious visible difference between them is their size. Turnips for human consumption are harvested when small and tender. They tend to get woody when bigger. Turnips are also grown as a nutritious livestock feed. Rutabagas stay tender at larger sizes. Even though you might find some small ones, they are usually harvested at a larger size. So, the big yellowish ones are rutabagas, and the smaller white and purple ones are turnips.
Physical Difference between Turnip and Rutabaga
Difference between Turnips and Rutabagas

Rutabagas are also called Swede or Swedish turnips, yellow turnips, and "neeps." Many simply call them turnips. Best of all, turnips and rutabagas are easy to grow, and store, and are relatively pest-free.  Much of the crop's success depends on timing.

Rutabagas grown in raised gardens 
So, after finding this background information, I went on to learn how to grow them. What I needed to do is to sow a spring crop in early March 1/4 inch deep. Seeds may be broadcast and later thinned to three or four inches apart, or they can be planted in rows 18 or more inches apart. Give rutabaga plants six inches in which to grow.  I followed this planting routine for the first time in Colorado last spring.  Even though it was very dry this year I watered every other day.  The leaves grew huge and seem to cover the garden area.  I did not believe it was growing anything.  However, I harvested the second week in October and I had rutabagas anywhere from 3 to 6 inches.  So, we can grow them at our altitude!  We will be planting them again next year.

Michigan State University
Pictures Courtesy of:
Tablescence .com
Live and Learn-Toss and Turn

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Why do we Garden?

Nature's garden
For this blog post, I would like to consider the big picture of why we are drawn to gardening.  Taoist created gardens to improve human health, and in Mesopotamia the land was used as it was found, with hillsides, depressions, streams, paths and canals incorporated into the garden's plan.  A 17th century guide advises readers to ‘spare time in the garden…. there is no better way to preserve your health’.  Since the beginning of time, nature has been used for its restorative value. 
Many contemporary studies show the direct positive impact nature has on humans.  It has been proven many times that nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical well-being (reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones).  In one study, patients in a hospital healed faster on the side that had a view to a natural space.  Findings have become so convincing that some mainstream health care providers have begun to promote nature therapy for illness and disease prevention.

‘Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’. Albert Einstein
Connecting to Nature
Looking ahead, looking behind. 
How do you connect to nature?
Although we are part of nature, many in modern society are quite removed. We’ve become dependent on technology, removed from our senses or intuition.  People swirl unconsciously around their busy lives, oblivious to the natural world or where their sustenance comes from.  By spending time in nature improve our well-being, connect to that which gives us life and release pent up hormones and energy.  For example, when we lack serotonin (those feel good hormones) we are subject to depression. You can increase the serotonin in your brain by getting your hands dirty, getting in contact with the soil (and a soil bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae).  Feel better by playing in the dirt, this is where gardening comes in.
We don’t need to go deep into the wilderness to gain benefit from nature, often just out the back door. Nature provides answers, things to contemplate and learn, gets us curious and involved.  Consider the pine out back, can you appreciate its shade and the many winters it has withstood?  Be fascinated by how a little seed can metamorphosize into an edible plant...Observe how you feel the changing seasons…Be curious about the microbes affecting the character of the soil.  This is nature connection, this is when we are open to learning, growing and expanding. 
Nature's art...What can we learn to add to our garden?
The sights, smells, and sounds of the garden promote relaxation and reduce stress.  Observe the development of your plants, listen for the sounds of the wind and birds, appreciate the fragrance or texture of a plant.  And, what better way to take care of your body then to get stronger, or breathe harder, doing chores that come with having a yard and garden?  Makes 'exercise' much easier when you benefit in other ways!
From the National Garden Bureau, here are additional benefits of gardening-
* Garden for Exercise Get a good workout without even thinking about it.  Gardening can help reduce osteoporosis, strengthen or stretch muscles. And, after you're finished, you see immediate results in your garden as your physical health improves.
* Garden to add Beauty A house with a nice yard is a pleasure to look at and satisfying to live in. Think of the garden as another room to be enjoyed whether you are inside or outside.
* Garden to Learn Gardeners find that the more they learn about plants and gardening, the more they want to know. Gardening provides an outlet for creative and artistic expression.
* Garden for fresh, healthy Produce The satisfaction of nurturing and developing something for sustenance.  The food you grow yourself is the freshest you can eat.
Heart rocks in the natural landscape
* Garden for emotional needs and spiritual connections Gardens play an important part in our well-being. A garden might serve as a tranquil retreat or private escape from the demands of everyday life. The beauty of flowers can lift spirits, while pulling weeds can be a great release for stress and excess energy. A harvest of colorful flowers or tasty vegetables provides a sense of achievement and feelings of success.  On a higher level, gardening provides a spiritual connection to life. It's a miracle to take a tiny seed, nurture it, and watch it grow into a beautiful flower or delicious food for your table. Tending a garden also contributes to improving your own living space, the environment and our planet (from Why Garden? The National Garden Bureau's Top Ten Reasons).
So, why might you spend time in the garden?  Just by enhancing our awareness about why we garden may, in turn, increase our enjoyment and appreciation for the effort we put forward.  So, get out and play in the dirt, allow yourself to feel fascinated with the process of life, knowing we are part of all of this.  Gardening may be your therapy leading you toward a happier and healthier life. 
Joelle Dunaetz has a background in landscape design, wellness coaching and supporting people in getting out in nature. She enjoys educating people on how increase awareness, appreciate life and make healthy choices for their well-being and the well-being of the planet.  She also spends time at the Gilpin County Extension office and tinkers in her own garden.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Experience Counting Bees – Become a Citizen Scientist

by Jay Johnson
If you are an active gardener who loves growing all kinds of produce, or if you love to grow flowers and want to help support a national project as a citizen scientist and learn about the kind of native bees, bumblebees and other pollinators that may visit your garden, then you may find the following fun, useful and interesting. Or, if you are interested in science and the plight of bees and are thinking about starting a garden, I recommend you investigate a project I recently joined.

Bee's eye view
My journey started this year on one of my regular visits to the library, visits that include reading Horticulture. I live in Meeker, Colorado and am fortunate enough that they carry the magazine. In the March/April 2018 issue of Horticulture, the cover caught my eye: a picture of 2 sunflowers and the caption, “Be a Citizen Scientist in The Great Sunflower Project”. Intrigued, I checked out the magazine.

The Great Sunflower Project (GSP) was started by researcher Dr. Gretchen LeBuhn (LeBuhn) of San Francisco State University. At first LeBuhn wanted to find out the state of native bees (over 4,000) in the United States and Canada. The article continues to say she wanted to focus on bees since bees are queens of pollination and little is known how they are doing. With one research project being able to only focus on a small area at any time, she created the GSP.

The basis of the GSP is to count pollinator visits per hour per flower on the same kind of plant across the country. LeBuhn chose to focus on sunflowers because they are easy to grow and are visited by many kinds of pollinators. Some of the visitors are the most interesting in the bee world, in particular those in the genus Melissodes. The male has long antennae, and they are called long-horned bees.

The GSP began in 2008, when LeBuhn sent an email to people in the southeastern U.S. asking them to plant specifically ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers. LeBuhn didn’t ask them to be scientists such as an entomologist; they simply needed to be able to count. Therefore, anyone can join the project. I myself do not have entomological experience, but I love to grow flowers, though I hadn’t ever successfully grown sunflowers before 2018.

Honey bee, species unknown
A critical part of the GSP is growing the correct variety of ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflowers, of which there are two. The one needed for this project is an annual, a cultivar of Helianthus annuus. Also critical to the project is that neither the seeds nor the plants are treated with pesticides. They should also be neonicotinoid-free.

 If you are interested in the project, there are 3 seeds companies I would trust to provide the correct kind of seed: Botanical Interests, Beauty Beyond Belief (BBB Seed) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed (Rare Seeds). Botanical Interests has a bit of information on the GSP on the back of the ‘Lemon Queen’ sunflower seed packet. I am also willing to share seeds with anyone interested in the project.

Bumblebee, species unknown
Armed with the seed buying information, I set out to participate in the project. I ordered seed and shared with friends who either were willing to plant the sunflowers for the project or were just interested in growing the flowers. Fortunately, I was able to secure an extra plot at the Meeker Community Garden just for the sunflowers and planted in the June time frame. As of the date of writing this article, September 8th, 2018, I have been counting bees since August. I started on August 26th, 2018 and have counted 9 times so far. Though I haven’t been able to identify individual species to this point, I’ve noted mostly bumblebees, honeybees and other types of bee visitors.

The user friendly GSP website ( is where you go to submit your data, once you have registered.  Data to record includes: counts, plant species (as other flowers may be used if they meet certain criteria), number of flowers on the spike/bunch, date, time of day, number of minutes counted and name of pollinator only if certain of the name. The website also has tools to help you identify species if you are interested, as well as other information related to the project.

Sleeping bee
Overall, this has been a very fun and positive experience for me.  I would kindly ask you to join me this year if you have flowers that meet the criteria, or join me in 2019. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn and teach someone of any age about sunflowers and native bees. Happy gardening!

About Jay Johnson:
·         -  I grew up in North Dakota and moved to Colorado in 2007.
· I work in Natural Resource Management.
·  I took the Master Gardener training through CSU Extension in 2017

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Beautiful Zinnias

by Vicky Barney
For several years, I’ve been working on an easy to maintain garden that attracts wildlife.  Native perennial plants with low water needs have been carefully selected and have replaced non-natives that need more water or don’t appeal to pollinators.  I’ve kept a few favorite non-native plants, like my annual zinnias.

The zinnia is a member of the Asteraceae family and is a popular garden plant in much of the world.   Most varieties are native to Mexico and surrounding areas, mainly in North America.  They are easy to grow, bloom in a variety of bright colors, and, even though they are not native, provide nectar to adult butterflies including painted ladies and swallowtails.  (See CSU Extension Fact Sheet #5.504 Attracting Butterflies to the Garden.)

There is a perennial zinnia native to Colorado called the Golden paperflower or Plains zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora). It grows up to 8 inches tall in a clump, with long lasting golden flowers, and is found growing on the plains, deserts, and rocky slopes of eastern Colorado.  I don’t think it is found here on the western slope.  Like most Colorado natives, it requires little water and lots of sunshine.   (See CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.242 Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes.)

The non-native zinnia hybrids, also sun lovers, grow up to 3 feet tall and produce flowers in a variety of colors - white, yellow, red, orange, pink, rose –that may last through late fall. Like pansies (another one of my favorite non-natives), they can be planted earlier in the spring than other plants as they are cold tolerant and can withstand a late spring frost.   Both benefit from regular watering.  Warning: zinnias cannot tolerate a fall frost and must be covered when temperatures dip overnight, something I experienced firsthand.  It was a sad morning last fall when I discovered all my newly opened blooms had died after a seemingly not-that-cold night spent uncovered. 

Zinnias are easy to grow from seed.   Select a sunny protected garden area two weeks prior to the last frost, or when trees are starting to leaf out.  Soil should be tilled 6 – 10” and amended to produce a medium that will stay moist until the seeds germinate.  Be sure to use seed packaged for the current year, follow the planting directions on the packet, and keep the soil moist until the seedlings appear. 

My experience with zinnias has been with hybrid seeds planted in containers with good potting soil. Seeds can be planted as late as June and will produce beautiful fall flowers.  The challenge is to keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate, given our dry climate.  I was a bit lax this year with my watering, resulting in sparsely populated pots of flowers, still beautiful but not quite as colorful.  In spite of this, the colorful flowers have been a joyful addition to the garden and have attracted late season butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.  The zinnias have given me one more chance to see the pollinators before they disappear for the winter.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gilpin County Food Bank Garden

by Sandy Hollingsworth
Sometimes one’s love for gardening blossoms into a way to contribute to your local community. In Gilpin County there is a food bank for those living food insecure. It was started in 1995 by county Human Services and need has grown more rapidly in the past four years to now serve an average of 70 families a week. There is also a weekly summer lunch program for children, averaging 50 monthly, to come and select food from items displayed in a welcoming way. Like many food pantries fresh produce is lacking among the donated foods. To help address this need, a group of volunteers decided to install new beds at the nearby CSU Extension community garden located at 9200 foot elevation, to plant, tend and harvest produce each week. An experienced gardener already volunteering for the Food Bank recruited a Colorado Master Gardener and three waterers who set up a schedule to insure the gardens were nurtured throughout the growing season.

In May we started by constructing two raised beds with wire hardware cloth stapled to the bottom to keep critters from tunneling in from below. This means the soil in the beds is only 6” deep but it has worked great for growing more shallow rooted vegetables like arugula, chard, spinach, beets, turnips, carrots, snap peas, snow peas, kohlrabi, broccoli raab, kale, lettuces, dill and radishes. We started out by doing a soil test by the Colorado State University Soil Lab and learned that we needed to add nitrogen and more compost. We added alfalfa pellets, ammonium sulfate, blood meal and compost at rates suggested by the CSU lab to improve the soil over a few seasons. After amending we started planting seeds in half of the beds in early May then succession planted throughout the season until early September. I’d started seedlings of cucumber, chard, kale, cherry tomatoes, and lettuces at home which were added to the beds after the soil had warmed. We used floating row covers to deter critters and keep the plants protected from the wind and intense summer sun plus to regulate soil moisture and temperature.

In addition, the community gardens acquired large metal troughs and we were assigned two. One we drilled extra drainage holes in the bottom before filling with planting mix and the other we used as is with an open small drain plug near its bottom. The latter we designated to grow several varieties of small potatoes and the other was planted with deeper rooted vegetables like cherry tomato and broccoli, longer carrot, more beets & raab, plus onion and vegetables we weren’t sure critters would gobble like baby bok choy, cilantro, butter lettuce, yellow squash and cucumber. For fun and to entice pollinators we added marigold, petunia, annual vinca, and red salvia (the hummingbirds relished that). The real pollinator attractor ended up being the broccoli raab flowers.

In mid-June we were blessed with a large donation of beetroot, celeriac, and red Sorrel plants from the Ace Hardware garden center in Nederland. Luckily, we were given an unused plot to plant these after amending and weeding. This plot we did not install a raised bed or hardware cloth but did put chicken wire fencing around it and bird netting on top to deter browsing critters. This meant each planting area was set up a bit differently for our own demonstration comparison of methods.

All of this made for a bountiful harvest of cool season vegetables agreeable to being grown at high altitude in a shorter growing stretch. By late September we have harvested over 130 pounds of produce for the Food Bank to give people wanting some fresh vegetables to have raw or to cook.

Of course, as with all gardening, we have our list of lessons learned. Given that we had an ever-expanding garden with gifts of starts and seeds, plus since we had not gardened together as a team, our garden was not as planned out as it could have been. We added starts as they arrived in space available. This made harvesting less efficient with lettuce, chard, greens and root vegetables in multiple locations instead of grouped together. It also meant we didn’t group longer producing vegetables together and had some height competition. The broccoli grew so large it shaded out the cucumber and squash starts which were admittedly poorly placed in hindsight. 

Another lesson was that hardware cloth was impenetrable to critters so the in-ground bed without it got hammered and many of our beets and radishes in that plot were taken. Stomping on the underground tunnels to collapse those ended their shenanigans. Also, the fencing helped once we had added it later but it would have been best when we first planted. The floating row covers worked great if we had the edges well tacked down with metal poles, lumber, rocks or clips, so that there were no inviting openings. However, the hail poked holes in them followed by the wind tearing them so that the swiss cheese looking covers let in pollinators (Yae!) but also voles (Boo!). Replacing them with new covers and being sure to tuck in edges prevented more intruders which had already dug up most of the carrots and then beets plus clipping off the pea vines just because they could. Drat! 

The potato trough didn’t drain enough so the soil was muddy mid-season and some plants rotted rather than produced many potatoes. Maybe hilling potatoes too deep in the trough and enthusiastic overwatering added to the problem. We also found it a challenge to dig downward bending over the trough to harvest.

All in all, it was a fun, rewarding season with a wide variety of produce harvested and given to the Gilpin County Food Bank. We look forward to future years when we will plan the layout of our garden beds better, continue to amend to reach ideal soil nutrients according to the soil test, relocate some plants to better depth beds, plant vegetables like squash and cole crops in ground beds since critters don’t nibble them to reserve space in the troughs for critter enticing vegetables.

We also liked swapping stories with other community gardeners about what crop varieties work best. We’ll always need a team of volunteers to tend the gardens to succeed in growing fresh produce and help feed residents of our community.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Think Spring and Summer…Think Color and Variety!!! Mixing Bulbs in your garden beds

by Jan Boone
While we have watched our summer gardens produce their final fruits, and as flowers fade from this growing season, many of us procrastinate a bit longer regarding the chores of putting our gardens to bed before the coming cooler weather.  We’d prefer to enjoy watching the yellow leaves fall, or listen with awe to bull elk bugle as they pass through the neighborhood or across a nearby meadow. Relish the changing of the seasons but consider challenging yourself to recognize the potential of creating new focal point beds and new directions in your garden for next Spring and Summer.  

Take a good look at new garden catalogs now arriving in the mail and think through the different looks you can test by combining bulbs, or rhizomes with ground covers, natives, early blooming annuals or established later season perennials.  It’s easy to accommodate new looks with variety in heights, shapes, bloom textures, leaf variations and color.   Whether in containers or beds, we all know tulips and daffodils are the traditional stars in our Spring garden. Mix it up and see what sparkles the most in your eye! 

In preparation, and before getting too detailed, let’s revisit some basic considerations you should keep in mind. We all know as Foothills gardeners, that one or more of the following factors may come into play as you are dreaming about a Springtime woodland garden!

·        Are you desiring blossoms to appear in Spring, or Summer?  Are you aware of anticipated bloom times for your beds?
·        Are you gardening in a fenced or open area?
·         Is there good water available for bulbs during dormant winter months.  You can’t rely on snow-pack alone.
·        Do you have a bed of established ground cover or low shrubbery that needs a brighter approach in anticipation of the growing season?  Watch your bloom times and adjust according to your garden needs.
·        What’s your critter population?? I’ve had raccoons dig up bulbs; fox disturb small bulb plantings as they dig to bury a treasure; rabbits to nibble on new Fritillary greenery as well as our bigger garden bandits who’ll dine on container tulips about to bloom or graze leaves off of Oriental poppies, leaving the blossoms alone and just when you think you’re safe from attack!!
·        Do you prepare your soil properly to ensure good growth? Soil nutrients are essential.
·        Do you follow proper planting depth guidelines?  Mulching may help in higher elevations, especially in dry conditions.
·        Have you considered or even tried defensive interplanting of unappetizing bulbs around your more enticing bulbs?   
Refer to CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.410 on Fall Planted Bulbs and corms for additional helpful information on proper planting depths for bulbs.          

There are five basic bulb groups, easily recognizable to home gardeners: true bulbs (Tulips, daffodils, Narcissus, and lilium), corms (crocus, freesia), rhizome (iris)s, tubers (Begonias) and tuberous roots (Dahlias).  Obviously, you’re not growing begonias in the gardens at altitude unless you have a greenhouse.  So, for the purpose of exterior applications, let’s focus on more identifiable plant combinations.  See CSU Plantalk #1011 on Selecting Bulbs as well as CSU Fact Sheet #7.406 on Mountain Flowers.

Perhaps you have some Hellebores tucked in a garden bed?? These are early bloomers while Spring snows linger, maybe Dwarf Daffodils or Snowdrops could easily pair around the Hellebore. Native Pussytoes could be complimented with Dwarf Iris or Hyacinth, Fritillary or Crocus bulbs.  White Hyacinth bulbs with Purple tinged Allium could also be a striking combination planting.  How about Paperwhites with early Bell flowers or blue Hyacinth? This is also a good time to mention that small bulbs can be a challenge in getting through dormancy to bloom.  Make sure they are a good firm quality with no visible decay or cracks.  In a planter, they may be subject to damage from winter cold.  The same is true for larger bulbs in that quality DOES count! 

Here's a good example bed from a late Spring visit to the Denver Botanical Gardens that in another version could also be enhanced by additional compatible plantings.  Despite these blooms being a tad past their peak, I thought immediately about ground covers in greens and maybe more violas that would complement the bright tulip colors and help deter too many weeds in the bed.      

Two  additional photos from the Botanical Gardens highlight combining bulbs with annuals and perennials.  I was struck by the unique mix of Hosta and viola along with smaller tulips.  This would be very striking in a shadier area of your garden and could provide good color opportunity with the tulips.

Finally, we need not to forget our early summer and Fall bulb plantings for altitude.  Warm tone Daylilies against a background of White Valerian would be a welcome addition to a patio bed.  How about Snapdragons aligned in front of Daylilies or Barberry as a perennial shrub backdrop? Oriental Poppies with Irish Moss provides a soft, lush green base to the poppy color.

I truly hope these brief ideas end on a colorful note and will inspire plus test you to be creative in trying new combinations of bulbs and plant material for 2019!  Step out of your ‘ tried and true’ way of how you think of your bulb planting.  Perhaps I’ll see you hovering over a bulb display sometime very soon and we can talk about more about combinations you’ve discovered or are planning to try.  Happy bulb hunting!
All photos by Jan Boone

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Aphids and Spider Mites and Grasshoppers, Oh My!

by Penney Adams
With our recent hot weather and watering restrictions, your plants can get stressed and that is when we often see summertime pests in our Steamboat gardens. You may remember basic plant pathology from your high school biology class. If not, here are the basics: The roots of the plant gather nutrients and water from the soil which travels up the xylem and allows the shoot to grow and develop foliage. The leaves gather sunlight turning it into sugar molecules (photosynthesis), which feeds the plant via the phloem. This sugary liquid is called plant sap.

Aphids are tiny insects that love plant sap. Typically 2mm in length with a soft pear shaped body, long antennae and two short cornicles protruding from their hind end, they are often found in groups on the underside of leaves. They can range greatly in color as there are over 350 different species. They eat the plant sap which can result in leaf curling, yellowing or stunting.  Most aphids like new plant growth and excrete a sticky liquid called “honeydew” onto the leaves which attracts ants and sometimes bees, wasps and other insects and also encourages mold growth. Aphids multiply quickly so it is important to get them under control before reproduction starts.

To get rid of these pests:
  • Introduce some of their natural predators - lady bugs, lacewings or parasitic wasps
  • Spray the plant with a cold water stream physically removing them and their sap
  • Try using soapy water, an insecticidal soap, Neem oil or  a horticultural oil
  • As a last resort, insecticides containing the active ingredients acephate, bifenthrin, and imidacloprid can be effective (follow all label instructions)

Spider Mites
Spider Mites also eat plant sap. Smaller than the size of a pin head, they have eight legs and  can be red, brown, yellow or green. They also gather in groups on the underside of leaves in a web like silk spun to protect themselves from predators and their eggs. They have mouth parts that eat the plant sap leaving speckled leaves, leaf discoloration or leaf scorching. Hot, dry and dusty conditions attract mites. Some of the same procedures used to get rid of Aphids also applies to Spider Mites, suc as spraying to physically remove and washing with soapy water, an insecticidal soap, Neem oil or horticulticultural oil. Natural predators of spider mites include lady bugs, predatory mites, minute pirate bugs, big-eyed bugs and predatory thrips. Chemical control of spider mites generally involves pesticides that are developed specifically for spider mites (miticides or acaricides). The use of pesticides can increase the presence of spider mites, killing off their natural predators. A second application is usually required to kill the eggs.
Grasshopper damage

Grasshoppers are easily recognized insects and can be the most damaging insects and difficult to control due to their mobility. There are over 100 species of grasshoppers in Colorado alone. They lay their eggs in dry undisturbed soil encouraged by a hot dry spring. They are 1-2 “ long and feed voraciously with their mouthparts on grasses and foliage. They leave jagged and tattered holes in leaves.

To control these pests:
  • Introduce natural predators of grasshoppers such as Preying Mantis, chickens, ducks, or cats. Other natural predators are garter snakes. birds and coyotes.
  • Leave a tall grass area nearby with a short grass border. Grasshoppers are reluctant to enter the short grass where they are not protected from predators
  • Roto-till your garden in the spring to kill overwintering eggs
  • Use row covers
  • Use Neem Oil
  • Use Nolo Bait, an organic bait that kills grasshoppers and passes the infection on to others
  • As a last resort, spray an insecticide such as carbaryl (Sevin)
Spraying insecticide is most effective in early June but can be costly for large areas. Additionally, these sprays are broad spectrum, meaning they will kill pests including beneficial insects such as bees, lady bugs, and mantises.

The best way to prevent pests in the garden is to keep your garden well watered to encourage healthy plants.

Penney Adams moved here last June from Hilton Head, SC and recently completed the Master Gardener program.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Trowel and Error - Indoor Lemons

by Jackie Buratovich
When my parents left my childhood home, with its rich sandy loam and lovingly tended orchards and vineyards, for a postage stamp lot on a golf course, Dad planted a dwarf Meyer Lemon in a large pot and placed it in an area of dappled sun and, whenever I’d visit, that darn thing was covered in fruit.  I couldn’t get enough of the slightly sweet tangy flavor in ice tea, water and heavenly desserts.  Then I toured a friends’ greenhouse in the Reno Nevada area – elevation about 4,500 feet - and was surprised to find a mature Meyer Lemon tree covered in bright yellow fruit.  My friend said it was practically trouble free and produced consistently.  She too, loves the unusually sweet fruit, especially in mid-winter.

That did it! The first major botanic purchase I made when we moved into our rustic solar home was – you got it – a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree.  The little thing came wrapped in burlap with bare roots and a couple of strong branches.  We dedicated a pop-out in the south wall of windows and planted it in a good-sized pot with high quality soil.  Then we waited. 

Anytime you transplant a plant it takes time for the thing to adjust.  The root system needs to establish itself well enough to support above-ground growth. Sometimes they don’t make it.  This was late fall and sunny winter days in our solar home result in a toasty indoor space; snowy days are cold with warm areas around the pellet stove and much cooler temperatures at the windows.  I’m not sure my tree grew during those cold dark months, but it lived.  Then suddenly it was spring.  The daylight increased and new shoots appeared so fast I spent time watching for leaves to unfold.  But then it stalled.  The new leaves didn’t look so good, kind of dull.  It never flowered.

I’m a firm believer in organic growing methods – especially anything we will eat.  Citrus need a balanced fertilizer and since I used potting soil (not our native clay that’s practically void of nitrogen but high enough in potassium and phosphorus not to need these additions), my new project needed more nutrients than those found in blood meal and my suite of organic potions.  Finally I broke down and tried the non-organic Miracle Grow stashed in the garage.  Holy hand grenades!  Suddenly my little tree went crazy with life – flowers everywhere, more green growth.  You would walk in the front door and think, what is that wonderful smell?  Yum!! Citrus flowers!!

Citrus trees are usually self-pollinating, meaning that its flowers have both female and male parts.  The pollen on the male part (anther) falls onto the female part (stigma) and this “pollination” creates fruit.  Since the indoor environment doesn’t, in general, host pollinators or winds strong enough to move the pollen around and I wasn’t 100% sure it would make fruit on its own, I decided to help things along.  Armed with a small brush and buzzing like a bee (yes, really – family thought this was very amusing), I dabbed here then there, spreading pollen from flower to flower.  Soon tiny little green orbs appeared – botany is so miraculous!

So now you are wondering, did we actually eat lemons?  Well…part of being an avid gardener is what I call trowel and error.  As a Master Gardener, I tell people, don’t be afraid of failing.   Do your research (CSU and other Extension services are a fabulous place to start), keep good notes and once you’ve figured out your mistakes, try not to repeat them.  My tree still has lemons which are large, green and soft.  I just picked one and while it’s not as sweet as Dad’s, the flavor is unmistakably Meyer.   

My research has given me lots of information, some contradictory, so I focus on the “edu” or commercial grower sites.  Meyer lemons may stay on the tree for months before they turn yellow.  Temperature swings, which mine experiences in spades, can affect ripening, as can inconsistent watering and feeding.  When we travel, my poor pet is at the mercy of whomever is caring for our garden. The tree flowers periodically, which is common and not a bad thing from the fragrance perspective, and I’m careful to keep the stress on it to a minimum by removing only a few of the new lemons.  It is susceptible to and I constantly battle spider mites and thrips (the bane of my indoor gardening existence).

Consistent watering and feeding and insect wars are challenging, but what a reward those lemons are going to be...when they turn yellow!  I have faith.  I have lemons.  In Steamboat. At 7,000’!  Life is good: it’s giving me lemons and I just might make lemonade!

Jackie Buratovich was raised in a central California farm family and loves making things grow in and around a solar home here in Routt County.  She received her Master Gardener training in Boulder County in 2003, and acknowledges that while growing conditions here are more challenging, being back in an agricultural community is like coming home and being able to grow greens outside all summer long is a bonus!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Season Extension

by Yvette Henson
Earlier this year, March 22, I wrote an article for this blog about season extension and our High Altitude Season Extension research trials in the San Miguel Basin (San Miguel and West Montrose Counties in SW Colorado).  In that article, I said I would post a follow up article about the different crops we have grown under covers and how they have performed.  This is that article. 

We have been conducting season extension trials since 2011.  Our raised bed trial beds are located in Telluride at 8750’ elevation.  Telluride has about a 60 day frost-free growing season from mid to late June till the end of August/early September. In the previous blog post I gave a summary of what we have learned about growing under the different season extension covers that we chose and best uses for each cover based on how crops perform grown under them. 
The materials we chose for our covers are (left to right, in the above photo):  Agribon Ag30, a medium weight (0.9 oz/yd2) spun-bonded polypropylene row cover fabric; Insulated 5mm twin-wall SolexxTM XP paneling, a flexible polyethylene cover, fitted with an automatic vent opener;  Dio-Betalon (Tuffbell 3800N) polyvinyl alcohol film and no cover for our control bed.  Initially, we layered Dio-Betalon and 30% Row Cover but eventually we added another bed and separated the two layers.

In 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 we grew different greens ‘through’ the winter.  Eagle County and Teller County collaborated in the first two seasons by growing the same things along with us.  We trialed several different varieties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea), kale (Brassica napus), lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) and arugula (Eruca sativa).  In 2011, we planted in mid-September, got a very small harvest before the holidays and then started harvesting again in late February or early March.  We learned that mid-August is the better planting time because the plants get more time to establish and we get a better pre-holiday harvest.  All the greens did best under the Solexx cover followed closely by the 30% Row Cover + Dio-betalon layered.  Kale didn’t overwinter well.  Spinach and arugula produced the most with only some winter damage.  The lamb’s lettuce was the hardiest green and the earliest to mature.  It was also the only green that didn’t seem to be affected by day length and temperature.  The other greens would stop growing when the days were the shortest and coldest and would resume growing when days began to get longer in late February.
2012-2014 we grew 7 replications of many different lettuce (Lactuca sativa) varieties at 3 locations. The first year we planted seed in mid-May but by the 3rd year we had started even earlier – by the 3rd week in April.  We tried succession planting (2 weeks apart) and overwintering. Overall, 30% Row Cover + Dio-Betalon layered together gave the highest yield but Dio-Betalon alone gave the best quality.  The succession planting worked really well and give a longer season of head lettuce rather than a single large harvest.  We found that the lettuce needed to be about half way mature to overwinter well.  Lettuce loves growing in the mountains!  If you aren’t growing head lettuce give it a try next season.

In 2015 we grew 4 varieties of Open Pollinated carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus).  We direct seeded mid-March and harvested mid-June.  We could have harvested earlier.  We got the best yield and quality of carrots grown under Dio-Betalon, followed by 30% Row Cover.  Both of those covers get better light transmission and don’t get as hot as our Solexx bed.  So, it makes sense that carrots wouldn’t grow as well under Solexx since carrots are cool season crops.  An interesting fact about one of the carrot varieties we grew is that ‘Pusa Asita’ carrots are a short day variety that does well in the cool season of hotter climates.  Short season carrots don’t do well in the mountains.  

2016, we grew 3 varieties of Open Pollinated broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica).  We chose varieties that would produce both heads and side shoots to extend the harvest.  We started the plants from seed and grew them out to seedling stage before we planted them out in mid to late May.  Like carrots, broccoli is a cool season crop so it grew better under the more ventilated covers.  The Dio-Betalon cover produced the earliest and highest yield of heads and the 30% Row Cover produced the highest yield of shoots.  We found we preferred to eat the side shoots rather than the heads—they were tenderer.  Broccoli grows fine with no cover, in fact no cover produced better yield than the Solexx cover.  However, covers give the advantage of an earlier harvest and protection from cabbage worms, etc.
In 2017 we grew 3 varieties of bush green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).  We also grew a short trial of bush green beans in 2011 and a full trial in 2013, along with summer squash.  The results of the 2017 bush bean trials compared to the 2 earlier trials was so different and we are still trying to figure it out.  But in a nutshell, bush beans grow much, much better under cover than with no cover!  They are warm season crops so the additional heat that some type of cover provides is definitely needed to grow them in the mountains. 

This year we are growing 3 varieties of day-neutral strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa).  It has been a challenging year to try to establish strawberries because of the drought we are experiencing.  We will continue this trial in 2019 after we overwinter the plants under covers.

To summarize and remind you of what I wrote in the March article, growing under cover compared to growing in the open without cover improves the growth and yield of most crops and gives protection against insects, wind and harsh sunlight.  For the warm-season crops we’ve grown (beans, summer squash) most have performed best under Solexx and Dio-Betalon or 30% Row Cover + Dio-Betalon layered.  Cool-season crops (winter greens, lettuces, carrots and broccoli) haven’t done as well under Solexx as the other covers.  Sometimes they even grow better under no cover than under Solexx!  However, Solexx, has yielded earliest cool-season crops making it a good choice to get extra early harvest before it gets too hot in the summer.  It is also better at holding moisture in the soil than the other covers but the humid environment can contribute to disease.  Solexx also tends to get salt buildup in the soil because it doesn’t allow any rainfall through to leach it out.  

The Dio-Betalon cover gives early and good yields of all crops and so is a good choice for both warm season and cool season crops.  Dio-Betalon lets in a lot of light and has produced good quality crops, especially colored lettuces.  We’ve found the soil under this cover can dry out quickly.  Cool-season crops do very well grown under the 30% row cover fabric.  It creates a humid environment, the lushest vegetative growth and helps with seed germination.  However, the moist environment also promotes disease.  Dio-Betalon + 30% Row Cover layered increases the benefits as well as the drawbacks of either cover used alone.  Both together let in less light.  We don’t grow under both layers anymore.  For some cool season crops planted at the recommended time (not extra early) the only benefit of covers is insect and critter control, shade and wind protection.

I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have about growing under cover and/or the varieties we have grown.  Contact me at