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

Friday, September 7, 2018

What to do with all the Bounty! (canning)

“My mom put up lots of fruits and vegetables but never showed me how,” my friend said wistfully as she helped me prepare peaches for the canner.  “Even my in-laws canned but always said it was too much work and I wouldn’t want to do it.”  I put that sentiment in the same disappointing category as not sharing the European language my parents spoke at home when I was growing up because they didn’t want us to start school “sounding foreign.”  Fortunately, we were a 4H family and food preservation was just what everyone did in summer and fall.  There were community packing/processing plants that welcomed the public and even provided “seconds” (blemished or off-size fruits) for pennies that we peeled, cut, and placed into cans for their facility to safely process.  The local 4H food preservation instructor let my city-raised mother join us kids to learn the art and science of preserving nature’s bounty for the lean times. 

Too much work, you say?  Yep, it takes some time, planning and some specialized equipment, but there’s a certain magic to opening a jar of local peaches in the dead of winter and tasting summer.  My step daughters help in the process without me even asking because they want peach jam that tastes of peaches (not sugar syrup), or crunchy pickles with garlic from our garden, or applesauce from apples they prepped with our silly corer/peeler tool. 

Too dangerous you say – all that risk of botulism?  I still reference my mom’s heavily annotated Sunset and extension publications for ideas (and to see mom’s handwriting before I try to channel her endless kitchen energy), but I stick strictly to the processing times and modern lower-sugar syrup recipes found in the CSU Extension Service publications.  “Canning can be dangerous if tested methods are not followed, and this is especially true in Colorado,” says Extension Specialist Marisa Bunning of CSU, “because adjustments often need to be made for elevation. Many canning recipes available to the public do not account for higher elevation, and that can lead to food spoilage or even contamination with botulism toxin. Although it is critically important to adjust for elevation to ensure the temperature is adequate to destroy bacterial spores, this is a science lesson that is not very well-known.”
Now here is where the wonderful CSU Food Science and Human Nutrition department and Extension experts have really outdone themselves:  there’s an app for this!  Preserve Smart is available for both Apple and Android platforms and there is an online version as well at  The app focuses on food preservation methods and basics. Users can choose whether they want to preserve fruits or vegetables, and then select their particular type of produce. Preservation options vary depending on the type of produce, but include freezing, canning, drying and making spreadable preserves, like jams and jellies.  Preserve Smart differs from any food preservation magazine or book because it allows users to set their elevation before starting the preservation process. Elevation needs to be taken into account when canning, especially in Colorado and other high elevation locations, because if not done correctly, it can be a serious health threat.

Too much equipment needed?  Not really, and what you don’t already have in your kitchen is all available locally at our hardware, grocery and even thrift stores. You’ll need a water-bath canner:  this is a large enamel pot with a rack in the bottom to hold the jars.  If you’re going to tackle acidic fruits like tomatoes (more advanced food preservation) you’ll want a pressure cooker.  A jar lifter is a nice tool as it makes lifting full jars easier and safer; a plastic canning funnel is a necessity in my book.  An enamel Dutch Oven or heavy stock pot is needed to cook the fruit or syrup, a pasta pot is nice to sanitize jars and rims, and a small sauce pan is needed to boil the lids.  Lots of towels, some kitchen tongs, sharp paring knives, mixing bowls, a ladle, large spoons, and oven mitts are also needed.  You’ll want pectin for jams and jellies and there are low/no sugar brands out there.

Now – jars!  There’s a dizzying array of jars out there these days and I’ve seen good used ones at our thrift store for pennies:  4-ounce jelly jars to 2-quart spaghetti sauce monsters.  The boiling water in your canner needs to be at least an inch above the jars when you process so take the depth of your canner into consideration when buying jars.  There are two choices of openings: standard and wide mouth.  Wide mouth are easier to pour and place through.  Also consider the serving size of a jar and how long it will take to use the contents once it has been opened.  A quart of peaches doesn’t last long at our house, but a pint of jam will go bad because we are only using a tablespoon at a time.  I tend to use pints and quarts for whole or sliced fruits and 4-oz and half pint jars for jams and compotes.  For gifts – and who doesn’t love a homemade jar of jam at Christmas – smaller jars will give you more goodies.

Finally – rims and lids.  Just like the jars, these come in regular and wide mouth and they are 2-piece: the rim is a metal band and the lid is a flat metal disk with a rubber seal that sits on the jar rim. You can reuse jars and rust-less rims, but never reuse lids.  Lids and rims and can be purchased together and separately.

Of course, there are lots more details and every recipe has its own requirements – but it is all in the app.  Remember - there is just nothing like the taste of summer during a snow storm, or your own jalapeno jelly on cream cheese at the holidays, or wrapping up your homemade preserves to give to friends at Christmas.  The latter is a tradition my mother started when we both learned to can, and everyone looked forward to her creations.  Luckily for us, the CSU Extension is making it safe and convenient to apply the science – it’s up to you to add the art.  Download Preserve Smart today and get started!

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!