Thursday, April 28, 2016


Sally Shriner (Master Gardener) and Rick Lewis (Ranger at Gross Reservoir) have been attracting Monarch butterflies to their home at 8,200’ for over 6 years.

At your elevation of over 8,000’ how do you attract monarch butterflies?

RICK:   Monarchs are attracted to milkweed, Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in our zone. It has a very distinctive flower that has a beautiful snowball formation.  It has one of the best perfumes of any flower on the planet.  Milkweed develops a very unique seedpod that is an elongated slipper.  In the fall it turns from green to yellow.  After they dry out, collect these seed pods before they pop open. The seeds have a plume attached to each seed that acts as a little parachute as it dries out, carrying it “up, up and away.”    

How do you plant the seeds? 
SALLY: Take the brown seeds and plant them in the fall so they will have that cold exposure over the winter. Do not remove the feathery plume. Milkweed grows 2’ – 4’ high in well-drained soils along roadways, in sandy ditches with lots of sun. They tolerate mild winds but if excessive, may need staking.  Our patch is in a sheltered area that protects the butterfly during all stages of life - egg, larvae, pupa (chrysalis), and adult.  New stalks are the diameter of thick asparagus.  Plants do not need much water, as spring snows and rain are usually sufficient.  If it’s dry for long periods you will want to supplement. Plants will spread so allow plenty of room.   NOTE:  Milkweed can also be started from seed indoors. Consult the Monarch Watch website listed at the bottom of blog and follow directions on the package.

When do the monarchs move in and what happens next? 

SALLY:  Come August, you will hopefully start to see Monarchs land on the leaves. The butterfly will dip her abdomen on the leaf leaving a cream colored egg – a pinprick.  One monarch lays many eggs in one planting area.  Prior to hatching, the eggs will get darker.  Look for caterpillars (larva) emerging, which first eat the eggshell, then start gorging on the leaves.  The caterpillars are the size of a half a straight pin when they emerge, green with white and black stripes.  They have beautiful little black antennae.  As it grows it sheds it skin (molts) 4 or 5 times.
Then comes the pupa stage.  The caterpillar hangs upside-down from its hind legs. They turn themselves inside out revealing a hard case – the chrysalis. We’ve had chrysalis under stools, under the eaves, in the siding…anything that they can get a hold of that protects them.  This happens from August into October.  They normally will not choose the milkweed for the chrysalis stage because the ichneumon wasp, earwigs and other predators see the chewed leaves and will eat the pupa. We had about 15 chrysalis survive under the leaves of nearby four-o-clocks. 

RICK:  The butterfly pops open the chrysalis and emerges with very compacted wings.
Over an hour or 2, they continue to hang onto the chrysalis as they pump fluid into the wings. The young butterfly is very vulnerable at this stage and may fall before it is able to fly.  We have had butterflies emerge after a snow. They are poor flyers when they first take off.  They prefer the aspen or other plants with big leaves where they can get a good purchase for rest.

What has been your success rate? 
SALLY: In the mountains monarchs will often lay eggs late.  The first year we were nervous about an early storm so we brought the branches with the chrysalis on them inside.  We had 38 butterflies!  After they hatched, we released them at a lower altitude.  We have since learned that they are very tough.  Earwigs like moist, dark places and they will eat through the chrysalis.  You can put out various traps to control them - no pesticides needed!

RICK:  Milkweed plant produces latex, a milky substance that exudes from the veins and the leaves to protect it from being eaten from various caterpillars.   The monarch larvae sequester toxic steroids, known as cardenolides, from milkweed and they use these cardenolides as a defense against predators.  Adult monarchs do not eat milkweed.

SALLY: The monarchs east of the Rockies go to Mexico and those west of the Rockies go to California. They will inhabit the exact same trees that their great great grandparents left the previous year!

Read more: Education, Conservation and Research at University of Kansas includes detailed information on propagation of milkweed  University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spring Lawn Fertilization by Kurt M. Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

The fertilizer bags are now available at many stores and garden centers in the area.  Many people dream about the “golf course” lawn.  But, that picture-perfect green lawn sometimes comes at the expense of our surface and ground waters that can absorb nitrate from the nitrogen that's meant for our lawns.   Learning how and when to apply fertilizers is the key to protecting our groundwater and surface water supplies.

A national EPA study has found nitrate, a form of nitrogen fertilizer, in groundwater around many urban areas.  Although lawn fertilization is only one possible source, chronic exposure to high nitrate levels has been shown to have adverse health effects, particularly among pregnant women.

Nitrate runoff in surface water alters the population balance of algae and other microflora
in rivers causing disruptions of living organisms up and down the food chain.  How can you fertilize the lawn to grow healthy grass while reducing the potential for
contamination of groundwater and river ecosystems?

The foremost turf fertilization tip involves the amount applied. Don't overload your lawn's system with more nitrogen than the turf can use at one time! Recommended amounts are given on a yearly basis but should be spread over several fertilizations of no more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each, the standard rate given on fertilizer products. Using more fertilizer than is recommended increases the potential for soil microbes to convert nitrogen into the easily dissolved nitrate form. This form can quickly bypass grass roots and move into water supplies.

The recommended amount for bluegrass, the most popular lawn in Colorado, is 2 to 4
pounds of nitrogen annually per 1,000 square feet. This means 2 to 4 fertilizer applications timed as follows: April, late May, late August, early October. Apply only in late May and early October with two applications and add late August with three. The fourth application (April) is only necessary for people desirous of growing extremely high quality turf requiring lots of mowing.

Skipping the April application is just one of the many advantages to what is now regarded as the most important lawn fertilization application time of the year - fall.  If you leave grass clippings on the lawn when you mow, you can apply less fertilizer than if you collected clippings.

A particular caution must be given if you grow a lawn on sandy soil. Sands don't hold
fertilizer nutrients in the same way as clay soils do. This means you should use nitrogen fertilizers that are slowly available such as the sulfur-coated ureas, IBDU, and natural organic fertilizers (in warmer months). These types of fertilizers will reduce the potential for fertilizer movement from the turf into surface or groundwater. The same fertilizer recommendations also apply to those with turf over or near wells.

For more information regarding lawn care, contact the extension office at 539-6447 or come visit us at the fairgrounds.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Accidental Indoor/Outdoor Tomatoes By Ed Powers

When we're adrift in a sea of tomatoes, why a column about growing more tomatoes?

Last spring/summer I planted several varieties of Russian and American heirloom tomato seeds.  At the same time a flower basket of Petunias I planted from the previous year seeded itself and began to grow. Unfortunately we had illness in the family and I was unable to plant in the garden. So they along with other vegetables and flowers were left under plastic covers in small pots not in the ground.

Outdoor tomatoes in the house in September.
By late September I decided to throw away all the plants and I discovered that several Tomatoes and the Petunias had survived and were growing in a limited way.  The root systems had broken through the plastic pots in a limited manner.  Most of tomatoes were 2 or 3 Russian varieties and 1 American variety.  I did not have the heart to destroy them.  So I researched CSU, Michigan State and the University of Nebraska (my alma mater) agricultural information on moving outdoor vegetables indoor for the winter.  There was no or very little info on this subject. So, I moved ahead and planted them in several larger pots and brought them and the Petunias inside.  
Tomatoes in the house in April.
Tomato Fruit started outdoor finished growing and ripening indoor
It is now the middle of April and the Tomato plants have ripened one fruit and the Petunias are blooming and continue to grow.  However, one thing I have noticed: the larger they all grow in the pots, the more water they are requiring. They require watering every day and have grown to over 24 inches in the pots.  They also need fertilizing every 1 to 2 weeks which is more than when they are outdoors.

The Tomatoes had flowers all winter but no fruit.  There is a yellow blossom in the upper left center of this picture.

Should they survive I will be moving them outdoors in late May or early June.  Needless to say they will go under clear plastic tents to begin with.

Petunias indoor in April.  They have bloomed all winter.