Blessed Bee, Thy Name

Last week I attended a bee info session with Thaddeus Gourd, Director of Extension for Adams County to introduce new-bees to Dat Buzz Lyfe (I can’t believe this hashtag hasn’t been acculturated into the lexicon). Thad walked us through the bees we may encounter locally, how they got here, some typical and atypical behaviors, as well as a truly charming attempt at convincing me to bring bees to my own yard, regardless of my wife’s severe allergy, as he shows us his son bare-handing his GoPro at the bottom of a brand new bee abode. The bee community, it turns out, is pretty righteous. They are passionate about the bees livelihoods and are nearly involuntarily bursting with facts and love and recruitment strategies. As far as I can tell (and I’m pretty far), not only are bee keep-have-and-lovers informed of the goings-on of the world around them, they are also deeply involved in their communities with the idealism that we still stand a chance. 

One of my favorite parts of preparing for this post was reveling in how smitten everyone who writes, studies, or just enjoys, bees cannot help themselves to the low hanging fruit of the ever-accessible bee puns. I won’t go so far as to say it’s obligatory to at least dabble in the punny when writing about bees, but it’s pretty darn close (how’d I do?). 

To my surprise, North America has no native honey bees that produce large amounts of honey, and the bees we have working for us now were imported (intentionally and accidentally) by European colonizers. The European honey bees are typically docile and too busy to be bothered by folks approaching or tending to the hive-unless of course, the alarm is sounded and whatever intentions the intruder has are being interpreted as a threat, which apparently smells a bit like banana. File this under Lessons I hope never to encounter, and yet, how interesting! 

If you do happen to get stung, Thad informed us that the venom sack dislodges from the honey bee (essentially causing it to bleed to death, major bummer) and will continue pumping venom for another minute or so after the initial sting. To stop this, simply scrape the stinger from the entry point with a credit card or fingernail. DO NOT try and pluck it with your fingers or tweezers–this just pumps all the venom directly into the wound all at once. Expect the site to be a bit itchy after the initial shock and scramble settles, and write it off as an ouch! and a thank you for your service.

Of course, a small sting is literally nothing compared to the plight the bees face. Documentaries and campaigns are beleaguering (the opportunities for bee-utifying this entire post are just too much) the fate of our planet, and news reports of the extents of human willpower and reliance on the honey makers to keep the decline in bee population discussions plentiful. The main threats include loss of habitat, diseases and mites, pesticides, and climate change. 

As lovers of the living, albeit animal or vegetable, pesticide-speak can draw that line as firmly in the sand like many of our other hot button political issues. Be ye not afraid, comrades. We don’t have to go to the polls with this one, but we do have to follow the law (cue that GBU soundtrack). Treating plants–weeds included–with pesticides (neonicotinoids) while the plant is flowering transfers the chemicals into the nectar, and the feasting bees bring the toxins back to the hive. Truly, this seemingly innocuous move one time could kill an entire hive. Always read the labels, folks. Take your time and educate yourself on all the possible management strategies before grabbing the glyphosate. 

We are inundated with problems and presented with conveniently packaged solutions. We have come to a place that is moving so quickly that it’s too easy to keep in motion and miss the very real consequences each step incurs along the way. Unfortunately for bees, they are getting caught in our wake of rapidity. How can you take one extra breath, second, or step to consider your impact?


For those with a burgeoning interest in the apiary, one great way to check yourself is to plug into a community of other beekeepers/havers/enthusiasts. From what Thad was telling us, many organizations and groups are looking to help you get started, problem solve, or just ponder the wondrous life of bees. CSU Extension is an excellent resource for research and education on bees; they are continuing to compare hive designs to determine which work best for Colorado. There are also lots of beekeeper mentor programs, beekeeper associations, and even folks who you can hire to set-up and care for a hive on your own property. These folks have lots of experience and want to propagate more interest in beekeeping by mentoring and sharing. Getting into bees is definitely not something to go at alone or from a quick study. Taking risks is part of beekeeping, why not expand yourself right at the start by making new connections and community building?

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

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The Leafcutter Bee in Action

Rose leaves with leafcutter bee damage

Leafcutter bee damage to leaves is cosmetic and won’t harm the plant.

Have you noticed any circles missing from the edges of your rose leaves? Do some leaves look like little violins?

If you answer yes to those questions, congratulations! Leafcutter bees have taken a fancy to your garden.

Leafcutter bees are native bees and important pollinators for our native plants. These bees are a bit larger than a honeybee and are dark gray with hairy white bands.

Female leafcutter bees cut circular snippets from rose leaves to create wrappers to line brood cells for their young. Think of these rose snippets as blankets for baby bees.

It can take as little as 10 seconds for a leafcutter bee to use her mandibles (jaws) to cut a snippet and fly off to her nesting site. Check for yourself on my short film called The Leafcutter Bee I posted to YouTube.

After seeing the speed at which she can land, snip and fly away it’s no wonder leafcutter bees are included under the family Megachilidae which means “big-lipped.”

pink roses

The Canadian Explorer ‘John Cabot’ climbing rose is a favorite of leafcutter bees.

It’s not easy to catch these bees in action  because they’re so speedy. However, earlier this season I staked out a spot near their favorite climbing rose and patiently waited with camera in hand. Finally one bee flew in and tried landing on a leaf or two before finding the perfect one.

After cutting the leaf, she flew off to her nesting site. The site could be in holes found in a piece of old wood, stems of plants with pithy centers or anything with a hollow center. One year I found leaf snippets stuffed in a piece of unused garden hose.

These pieces of leaves are the construction materials for brood cells that are packed with pollen to feed the young. In CSU Extension Fact Sheet 5.576 on Leafcutter Bees, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw explains that leafcutter bees are solitary bees and don’t produce colonies like honeybees.

Instead, leafcutter bees construct “nest tunnels that may contain a dozen or more cells forming a tube 4 to 8 inches long. The young bees develop and will remain in the cells, emerging next season.”

Every summer I watch for evidence that leafcutter bees have been busy in my garden. As soon as I see rose leaves that start to look like Swiss cheese, I know leafcutter bees are happily at work.

Text and images by Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

Preventing Tomatoes From Cracking and Splitting

After months of anticipating ripe, sweet tomatoes, my first harvest came a week ago. Unfortunately, several of the inaugural ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes were cracked around the equator, exposing healthy flesh underneath. Why did this happen and how can it be prevented?

Cracks and splits are a fairly common occurrence. They can start at the stem and run down the side of the fruit, or circle the width of the fruit, like mine did. The good news – the fissures are not the result of a disease, virus or insect. The cause? At least in part – me! On the bright side, I can easily fix it.

Tomatoes crack due to fluctuations of moisture and/or temperature that occur when the fruit is nearly fully mature. In my case, forgetting to water or underwatering a container grown plant on the first few 100 degree days, followed by “forgive me” overwatering for the next few days is the culprit. (Another tip – tomato plants don’t like to get heat wilt. Mine did that too.)

Here’s what happens to cause the fruit to split – during the dry spells, the exterior skin (epidermis) of the fruit toughens. When the plant is watered again, the fruit rapidly takes in the moisture and the fruit plumps up. This expansion causes the toughened skin to burst. Cherry tomatoes and large beefsteak varieties are particularly prone to these stretch or growth marks.

These tips will help prevent tomatoes from cracking and splitting:

  • Tomatoes like consistent moisture at regular intervals. Think of Goldilocks – not too much, not too little. Sounds simplistic, but the point is there’s a delicate balance. Watering on a regular schedule really helps.
  • Use natural mulch such as grass clippings or shredded leaves to keep the plant roots cooler.
  • Fertilize with low dose, slow-release fertilizer; high nitrogen fertilizers stimulate growth which can increase cracking.
  • Pick fruit just before it is fully mature and allow it to ripen on a sunny windowsill.

Some tomato varieties are bred to have more flexible skin and therefore are less likely to crack. When researching next year’s garden tomatoes, look for varieties labeled crack or split-resistant. You may want to give them a try.

Perhaps most importantly – is it OK to eat a cracked tomato? It really depends. Don’t take a chance if the split is deep, the fruit has been on the vine for a long time or you simply aren’t sure. Bacteria can develop in the opening with time. But if the crack has just appeared and the fruit looks healthy despite the scar, it is likely fine. Did I eat mine? I did. And it was worth the wait!

Additional reading: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/why-are-my-tomatoes-cracking

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Posted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

A Denverite Visits New Orleans in July, Leaves in Awe That Anything Grows in Colorado, Like, Ever.

Image by McKenna Hynes

I recently returned from a little summer vaca in the South. New Orleans in July (a questionably timed vacation, albeit) is showy and fragrant; the ferns suckle lovingly to any crack and crevice providing green brush-strokes and blots everywhere, palms fill beds and pots alike, all of my houseplants are thriving in the wide open, the sun is scorching, and as our pilot reminded us as we prepared to de-plane, its humid enough to confuse a frog. I was constantly amazed at how effortlessly everything seemed to grow.

While in New Orleans, I was frequently amused by how the rest of the country (mis)understands Colorado living conditions. For the most part, folks think we spend most of the year dreaming of gardens as we stare out our frosty windows waiting for the snow to melt, visiting floral places abroad, and wearing multiple layers of socks at all times. Soooo… basically gardening at 10,000+ feet? While these perceptions are laughable, I started thinking that even though we don’t live in perpetual wintry wonder, the challenges we face to make anything grow aren’t necessarily less surmountable than our fam in the lofty-actual-mountains.

We were welcomed back to Denver with a remarkable storm featuring lightning, torrential rains, booming thunder… and hail. Of course, the very next day was smokin’ hot with nary a whisper of the siege.  Maintaining a vibrant garden in the Front Range is an extreme sport with our baffling daily fluctuations; the entire notion of keeping anything alive here seems impossible at times, but we’ve gotten pretty good at strategizing. Here are a few resources I’ve tracked down this year to help us all maintain beauty, build our skills, and be stewards to our land and community.

Image by McKenna Hynes

Resource Central is a nonprofit organization based in Boulder that helps communities conserve resources and build sustainability efforts simply and cost-effectively. Their water-saving initiatives include native plant sales with simple designs for home gardens and often include low water perennials. They also have a tool library in Boulder where you can borrow for a couple of bucks per day so you don’t just buy the tamper, hedge trimmer, turf roller, or post hole diggers you need so infrequently. 

The cities of Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville partnered with Resource Central to give customers a Garden In A Box for turf-removal. Their Grass to Garden initiative is available to all communities with tips and resources to convert high water-consuming turf to low water garden areas. For the North Metro area, they have resources for assistance removing and disposing of turf, landscape architect recommendations, and more.


Denver Water coined one of our most successful water-wise strategies with xeriscaping. And to keep sharing the good water word, Denver Water also partnered with local landscape architects to provide us mere civilians with some FREE! FREE! FREE! creativity. For those of us who are new (it’s me) who struggle with vision (all me), and are easily overwhelmed by the thought of starting fresh with a blank canvas (still, totally, all me), they’ve curated a bunch of plans for a variety of situations. They have plans for sloped xeriscaping, budget-friendly xeriscaping, narrow bed xeriscaping, year-round beauty designs, and many more. July is also Smart Irrigation Month! Head to Denver Water for tips on maintaining irrigation systems, watering rules, and efficiency strategies.

And for the grand finale top-notch gardening game-changer, check out Plant Select for all your future dreaming. Plant Select is a nonprofit partnership between Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists to identify smart plant choices for the Rocky Mountian Region. Their mobile-friendly site has a tool to help you find plants that will suit the conditions you’re facing. I tend to challenge the tool to see how obscure or specific I can get, and it always provides me with something unique and gorgeous. Plant Select: taking “right plant right place” to an accessible and fun platform. Say So Long! to the multiple Google tabs researching the same plant with contradicting information on each site; Goodbye! Big Box Store swindlers promising “You REALLY can’t kill this one!” and go get yourself some good, wholesome, ACCURATE information quickly and easily from Plant Select. They also feature some garden designs and ideas.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Creep

After a few wild weather days in my garden, yesterday morning I was out assessing hail damage to my new perennial bed and dahlias when I spotted a metallic bronze and turquoise body perching on one of the unshredded dahlia leaves. For a moment I marveled at the size of the beetle–much larger than I expected–and then the color and pattern. So lovely and kind of mesmerizing. And then it hit me. I’ve been heeding the warning of the onslaught of the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) but had yet to see one with my own eyes. Frankly, I couldn’t remember what they looked like or where they like to hang out, except that they are badbadbad.

Image via McKenna Hynes

I managed to snag two fairly mediocre photos and then took a quick swipe at it into a bowl of soapy water AND MISSED! It seemed to vanish into thin air! It had been sitting and sunning NOT nibbling on the luscious leaf unto which it perched for seemingly ever, and the moment I gave it a little nudge to its sudsy impending doom, it disappeared. Cursing, bewildered, picking, and digging madly, no dice. 

Meanwhile, my wife is watching this ridiculous mission at six in the morning from the front stoop with her first cup of coffee and casual observance of just another peculiar garden act (she literally has footage of me scrambling to plant “just one more” seedling well after dark with a headlamp affixed to my noggin). She is curious, patient, surely entertained, and finally asks what I’m doing.

I explained to her the grave danger our flora faces and that the invaders have arrived. I showed her a photo of the insatiable beast to formally introduce the target. I did my best to order her into the cause. There are bowls of soapy water conveniently located throughout the premises, I flag to her with my best flight attendant gestures. She is charged with taking immediate action, and regular surveillance of all the beds. The alarms are sounding!

Fortunately, this is not a new issue in our area. We covered the arrival of the Japanese Beetle in 2018 and continue to reference the fact sheet from CSU to prepare you for the onslaught. According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Metro Area has a high population level of the Japanese beetles comparatively to the rest of the state, due to water usage and higher moisture levels in residential areas. The Japanese beetle doesn’t love our dry arid climates but thrives in our commercially and privately maintained lawns and gardens that use external sources of water to imitate a moist and humid environment for the beetle to thrive.

Integrated pest management strategies can help prevent the Japanese beetle from settling into your garden area,  including picking them off individually, reducing water in turf areas where they lay eggs and their larvae grow big and strong and demolish your lawn, selecting less appetizing foliage, and even getting chickens or ducks! Also, Party with a Parasite presents the Tachinid fly, a parasite that lays their eggs on a living host– a la JB–which hatch quickly and get to feeding. Cue: Bye Bye Beetle, Bye Bye. I’m not sure how to recruit this insect to the yard but will refrain from swatting at this time, just in case. Please use caution, good judgment, and safety when reaching for chemical management strategies by using only according to the label, and educating yourself on possible collateral damages; what else might be impacted by the use of this product?

I’ve been checking each plant several times since yesterday morning and have not seen another invader. My wife, on the other hand, casually mentioned last night that she saw one. It was so pretty. Was it in the Dahlias?! Yeah. Did you plunk it into the soapy bowl??? No. 

Sigggghhhhh. My attempts at recruiting more defenders are plighted. New strategies underway. 

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Meet the Garden Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Mark Zammuto

Retirement seems to agree with Mark Zammuto. Gardening, biking, hiking and volunteering keep this “recovering attorney” busy. Mark spent about 25 years working as an attorney in the public sector, including the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

Mark Zammuto and Charlotte Aycrigg are active CSU Extension Master Gardeners in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

His work kept him from doing many of the things he always wanted to do, like becoming a CSU Extension Master Gardener. In 2009 his schedule finally opened up to allow time to attend classes and commit to being a volunteer.

He’s taken that commitment to heart. Many of his volunteer hours are spent organizing the plantings at the Harvard Gulch vegetable demonstration garden. For the last several years, he’s worked at the City Park Greenhouse starting seeds and tending more than 450 vegetable plants before they’re moved to the demonstration garden at the end of each May.

That’s when other Denver Master Gardeners and volunteers from Outdoor Colorado and Grow Local Colorado gather to complete a mass planting in the vegetable bed located at the corner of E. Iliff Ave. and S. Emerson St.

About 1000 pounds of produce are harvested each year and donated to the food pantry at the Community Ministry of Southwest Denver, as well as other food banks in southwest and central Denver.

Mark’s interest in growing plants dates to when he planted little gardens as a kid growing up in Illinois. He had older relatives there that gardened, too, but he credits one of his grandfathers as an exceptional garden inspiration.

“He had an incredible green thumb,” Mark said. “He lived in California and when I’d go out in summers to visit, I’d see him graft trees and other things like that. He was an Italian immigrant and grew all kinds of fruit trees, avocados, lemons, plums and many traditional Italian foods like squash, tomatoes, basil and eggplants.”

A path leads through the many plantings in Mark and Charlotte’s garden. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

Mark and his wife Charlotte Aycrigg, who’s also a Denver Master Gardener, have a big vegetable garden, a water-wise perennial garden and whatever else will grow in their yard that’s steadily getting shadier. To make up for that, they have a plot in the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden at Congress Park.

When he’s not out hiking and biking with his wife, Mark volunteers with the Botanic Gardens answering questions at the Help Desk, working with the Plant Select division for the DBG plant sale and volunteering at the Steppe Garden.

Interacting with other Master Gardeners is what Mark enjoys most about being a Master Gardener. “They’re all pretty nice people,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot because there’s so much cumulative knowledge.”

If he had to offer advice for other gardeners, he’d say to concentrate on planting the right plant in the right place. That advice is especially important when it comes to the long-term consequences of planting trees, he said.

“Before we did the Master Gardener training, we were novice gardeners when it came to planting trees. Looking back, I would’ve made better tree choices but we didn’t know and nurseries were selling trees not suited to this environment.”

If he had it to do over, he said he’d take time to do the research and study what kind of trees to plant for the best results.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Mosquito Control: Separating Fact From Fiction

Mosquitoes seek me out in a crowd, leaving behind swollen, ridiculously itchy welts. They seem to ignore everyone around me. Admittedly, this is an annoyance and not a serious medical condition. However, nearly a billion people are affected by mosquito-borne diseases worldwide, so controlling mosquitoes is a serious and much researched topic.

There are definitely ways to lessen the chance of being the mosquito’s victim and a few popular beliefs which are not widely supported by research.

The scented geranium (Pelargonium citrosum, “Van Leenii”) has become known as “The Mosquito Plant.” Unfortunately, repeated studies have proven that the plant has no mosquito repellent properties, either in plant form or when the leaves are crushed to release the volatile oils. While the leaves have a lemon scent, they do not deter mosquitoes. Grow this scented geranium to enjoy it, not for bug protection.

Likewise, fragrant plants  such as rosemary, catnip, lemon thyme, eucalyptus and peppermint will not repel mosquitoes. According to Colorado State University, although widely touted for repellant abilities, there is no reliable data to support that these plants or the oils released when the leaves are dried will repel mosquitoes.

The volatile compound from the citronella grass (a hard to find tropical plant) does have satisfactory mosquito properties, discussed below.  But it can’t be stressed enough: simply growing any plant in the landscape won’t deter mosquitoes.

So what is effective?

Eliminate standing water. Stagnant standing water is an invitation for the female mosquito to lay her eggs. She can breed in as little as one teaspoon of water.  The egg-to-adult stage takes just four days. With one human bite, the mosquito extracts enough protein (our blood) to lay up to three hundred eggs. Yikes.

Check drip trays, gutters and downspouts frequently. Birdbaths and water features are big breeding grounds. Change the water often (twice a week is recommended) or use a bubbler to keep the water moving.

Mosquito dunks, a larvicide which is harmless to organisms other than mosquitoes, can be added to ponds to kill mosquito larvae. Rain barrels should be installed with a protective cover and spigot.

Encourage beneficial visitors. Spiders and other insects feed on mosquitoes so avoid or limit the use of insecticides. Bug zappers which indiscriminately target the “good guys” have been shown to have little effect on mosquitoes, too.


DEET repellent. Skin lotions and sprays containing DEET, a highly effective chemical compound, have been used since the1950’s and are often combined with citronella oil.  While not without its detractors, DEET offers relief to many. Apply it on top of sun protectant and not under clothing. Always wash it off when you go inside.

Dress defensively. Mosquitoes won’t bite through clothing. Closed shoes, socks, long sleeves and long pants do help. Clothing treated with permethrin also offers some benefit. 


Burn citronella candles.The smoke or vapor from citronella candles provide some protection in the immediate area, such as a patio. 

Create air movement. Mosquitoes dislike moving air so a fan on a porch or patio will discourage visits.

I’ve not had the first bite of 2019 yet and by practicing some of these tips, I’m trying to reduce the bumps and lumps left behind by these buzzing nuisances. Here’s hoping…

References:

Mosquito Management. Drs. Frank Peairs and Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University 

Do Plants Repel Mosquitoes?  Plant Talk Colorado #1400-20

Controlling Mosquitoes. University of Maryland Extension

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com




Apprenticeship and the Know-Nothings

An emotional dichotomy of actual knowledge vs. expectation.

Image by monica_vatalaro via McKenna Hynes

Hello friends. My name is McKenna, and I’m a plant murderer. There. I said it. Got it out of the way. It’s the sentiment that creeps on me whenever I find myself in the company of OG MG’s. I often feel fraudulent, or like I won’t ever have enough information, or that I’m simply wrong. Vulnerability can be quite uncomfortable, can’t it? So, in this maiden post, before I can publicly embrace my love for gardening, and how I’m still pretty bad at it–I’ve just got to get this one out of the way. Mastery is a misnomer, I’m here to learn and connect, and grow–ideas, feelings, and hopefully some plants.

I am a 2019 Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener and have been patiently awaiting the new growing season (I think we’ve finally made it, right?) by stewing in my own self-doubt and wild ideas. What about moss instead of lawn? Why do my houseplants always struggle–let’s be real, 50/50 shot of survival–after I transplant? I’ve wanted to be a Master Gardener for ten years, and when I finally acquired a flexible schedule, I dove right in and devoured the curriculum. When classes were over, I took pause and thought I don’t feel any smarter. Or better. In fact, I feel like I know less now because now I know the breadth of how impossibly huge the knowledge base for this light, relaxing, and joyful “hobby” can be. Merely dabbling in entomology, ornithology, edaphology, biology, and botany. No worries. No things to be worried about here. Just taking on some of the most vast and complicated sciences for fun on the weekends sometimes. Gulp. Cue the continued fraudulent feels.

Image via McKenna Hynes

I acquired my first hours as an apprentice CMG at the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society’s annual plant show in April. I knew no one and wasn’t a member, but somehow got word of the show and volunteered anyway. The show is magnificent; put it on your calendar for 2020. There was a cactus that was over 20 ft tall, cacti over 25 years in the making, blooms in every shade of wow, and some of the finest ceramicists slinging their genius with complimentary repotting. Ten minutes before the doors opened for the mob to pillage the room, I hear a man in a brightly colored, southwestern-ish shirt and a funky Australian-looking cowboy hat start shouting that he needed a volunteer. I don’t recall his name, but he was one of the vendors who raised and planted gorgeous succulent baskets. He needed assistance in applying the price tags to several flats of plants. While quickly pricing the items, he abruptly asked me if I was a biologist. I nearly guffawed at the thought and said no, but I am an Apprentice Master Gardener. He had no idea what that was and asked what I like about plants. I blurted that I liked knowing about them and learning how to care for them, and I experiment somewhat unsuccessfully. He stopped, made deliberate eye contact with me, and stated with the seriousness of Stalin, that “plants have been thriving for millions of years without us. If there’s something wrong with your plants, it’s your fault.” I was a bit dumbfounded… then embarrassed… then conceded. He’s totally right. What a relief! Somehow, I still find this comforting, and use it to further propel my desire for more discourse. It’s that just keep swimming idea.  

I work full-time so, out of necessity, I needed to find alternative ways to get some hours. I connected with this blog and decided to put my insecurities and self-doubt aside to start posting. I’m going to write about my own path to the garden, Colorado, water-wise gardening, creativity in design and functionality, mindfulness and plant identification, and lawn removal! I flooded my own inbox with ideas and links and resources and then stared into the chaos without blinking for several minutes wondering how a person gets started.

And then, I procrastinated. I sat down to write and couldn’t. Ah yes, again, hello incertitude. All of a sudden, the struggle to get anything down was perpetually defeated by my own insecurity that I have no expertise, I don’t know anything, I have nothing to offer, and I can’t write. And I’m probably a terrible human being. Hold. Up. Take pause, woman! This isn’t real, and it certainly isn’t true. A quick rabbit hole visit to explore Imposter Syndrome, and I’m back in the saddle. Blog post or not, here it comes….

The title [Apprentice] Master Gardener holds a lot of expectation, maybe for ourselves, but also for our community. A shift at a farmers market will show you that folks see our sign and make a beeline to talk plants–or honeybees without stingers in Costa Rica; or relatives who work for the Extension Office in another state; or to ask the world’s most complicated diagnostic question, to which you have no idea where to even begin except to breathe and look about furtively for another CMG for backup. But we are also volunteers, and many of us are quite new to the field; armed with eagerness, child-like wonder, and a passion to share what we’ve learned. I’m always amazed when a fellow CMG comrade can pull the most perfect answer out of their hat that is informative, accurate, and easily digestible. So grateful to be in this with folks like you.

Hello, my name is McKenna. I’ve killed a lot of plants. I’ve also learned a lot about them. I’ve shared bold ideas, and resources, and connected with new friends with the information I’m learning. Did you know there is a magical woman in Denver who has a hydroponic garden on top of a building downtown where she is growing oodles of greens to be used in her restaurant? (As far as I’m concerned, she is a mythical creature that I’m trying to track down. PM me with serious leads only, please.) I’ll be posting on this blog here and there to supplement my own education, to investigate some of my wild ideas, and to encourage others to talk to one another and connect and share. That initial writer’s block was plain and simple fear. But I’m finding just noticing it and calling it what it is, helps me realize my goal as a(n) [A]CMG is not at all to be an expert or to provide expertise. I’m here to explore and share what I’ve found. Happy Monday, folks. Let’s do some learning.

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Meet the DMG Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Newton Linebaugh

Technically speaking Newton Linebaugh isn’t a CSU Extension Master Gardener apprentice anymore, but he’s not sure when he’ll stop feeling like one. While he completed his apprentice training in 2018, he understands that learning about gardening never stops, no matter where he puts down roots.

Newton Linebaugh signed up for CSU Extension Master Gardener training in 2018. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton moved to Colorado from Florida in the spring of 2017. He agrees that gardening here is more challenging, but he thinks it’s also more rewarding.

“The things we grow as houseplants here, grow into tall trees in Florida,” he said. Tampa Bay and Miami are subtropical and tropical climates that offer special challenges, too. Gardeners there have to cope with moist soil, high humidity and insects like mosquitoes and flying cockroaches.

Florida gardeners face growing challenges with moist soil, humidity and flying cockroaches. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton was a Master Gardener in Florida until 2015. That’s when he retired as director of payroll and benefits for the New York Yankees. The job he held for about 18 years meant he had the responsibility for managing many companies, multiple unions and thousands of employees.

“My partner and I had a business plan for retirement and everything fell into place in a few days,” he said. They moved to Colorado because it was the top choice when they compared it to other parts of the country.

Even though he’s been a gardener for more than 50 years, he signed up for CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program to learn how to garden in a different climate with different kinds of plants.

“When you become a master gardener, you embark on a lifelong learning adventure with plants,” he said. “You’ll be amazed at what works and what doesn’t, and shocked at what you think you know is wrong.”

During his time as a Colorado Master Gardener, Newton has already enjoyed volunteering at the Cherry Creek Farmers market and running the cash register at the annual plant sale.

His earliest gardening experience was helping his grandmother in her Pennsylvania garden. When he was 19 he moved to Florida and had to relearn how to garden there.

While his Florida gardening is decidedly different from planting in Denver, he’s familiar with working in heavy clay from his Pennsylvania days. He also recalls how spring storms there knocked plants down, but then they’d spring back up.

His garden plan for this year is grow some of the plants that don’t thrive in Florida, like peonies. He’s also using this season as a test to see how the sun falls on his yard in Congress Park before creating a garden plan for next year.

As a long-time gardener, he’s developed a practical philosophy about gardening. He believes some plants have to grow on their own to see if they survive the environment he provides for them. If not, he plants something else.

“Always plant a garden and plan that it’s going to change because every day is different. Then adapt to that,” he said. “Everything changes and you have to flow with that.”

By Jodi Torpey
Colorado Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

New Mexico Chiles

serrano-peppers pixabay.com

Serrano peppers Pixabay.com

Twenty one varieties of New Mexico chile peppers, Capsicum annuum, will be  on sale on May 18-19 at the CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale held at Denver’s Harvard Gulch Park.  Grown from the University of New Mexico’s Chile Pepper Institute’s (CPI) seeds, the fruits range from mild and flavorful to bold, smoky and hot.

poblano

Poblano peppers New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute

The plants will mature in late summer and grow well in Colorado conditions. Mild selections include ‘Conquisstador’ (nonpungent, smooth fruit, strong vines) and ‘Trick or Treat’ (no heat with habanero flavor). ‘NuMex Heritage 6-4’ (award winning fruit, great for green chili), ‘NuMex Joe. E. Parker’ (high yield, excellent for red and green chili) and ‘NuMex Sandia Select’ (high heat level) are among the hot cultivars we’ll have on hand. Find the complete plant list here.

Read on to learn more about New Mexico chile origins, research and growing techniques.

Chiles are native to South America, where they are perennial shrubs. In the United States, with few exceptions such as southern California and parts of Florida and Texas, the plants are grown as annuals. It has been said that New Mexico is to chile peppers what Napa Valley is to wine grapes. The area’s arid climate, hot summers and soil make chile growing conditions ideal. Given Colorado’s similar conditions, the plants grow well here, too.

Scoville_Wilbur_Prof_med

Wilbur Scoville, 1865-1942 New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute

Heat and flavor of chile varieties vary greatly and have been studied extensively.  In 1912, mild-mannered appearing Wilbur Scoville developed a system for measuring the feisty flavor of chiles that is still in use today.

According to the CPI, “The heat level of a chile pepper is expressed in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Scoville Heat Units are intended for comparison only because heat levels can fluctuate greatly from location, and even from pod to pod on the same plant. Chile peppers range in heat from 0 SHU (Bell Pepper) to more than 2,000,000 SHU (Trindad Moruga Scorpion).”

Chile peppers contain chemical compounds called capsaicinoids.  When ingested, capsaicinoids send a message to our brains that the pepper is hot. In large doses capsaicin can burn and irritate humans and mammals. As birds do not have the brain receptors to register this heat sensation, they feel none of the adverse effects of the compound. Because of this, birds are responsible for spreading wild pepper seeds.

The seeds are often, but erroneously, touted as the hottest part of the pepper. In reality, the white flesh near the seeds contain the most capsaicin. When cooking with peppers, leave or remove the ribs depending on your sensitivity.

Beyond heat, chiles offer a wide range of complex flavors. Dr Paul Bosland of the CPI identified five heat profile components. Chile lovers have surely experienced these sensations:

  • Development: Is the heat sensation felt immediately or 5, 15 or 30 seconds later?
  • Duration: How long does the heat linger?
  • Location: Where is the heat sensation felt? Lips, front of mouth, tip of tongue, throat?
  • Feeling: Is it a pin-prick sensation or an overall sensation or does it coat the area?
  • Intensity: Measured by Scoville Heat Units and commonly called mild, medium or hot fruit.

If you’re eager to plant your chiles right now, a word of caution. Plants should be hardened off after the danger of frost by exposing them to outdoor temperatures for longer periods of time daily. Plant in the ground when daytime temperatures hover around 70 degrees and over night temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees.

Before planting, incorporate compost to fortify the soil. Throughout the season, use a balanced fertilizer (5-10-5 or 10-10-10).  Watch for the inevitable dry spells  as plants need at least 2 inches of moisture a week, especially after fruit sets. Night time temperature is critical for flowers to set and is ideally between 65-80 degrees.

What’s your favorite chile pepper? Please share in the comments!

For more information:

Plant Talk Colorado: Chile Peppers

Growing Colorado Peppers, Colorado Farm to Table/Colorado State University

“What’s So Hot About Chili Peppers” Smithsonian Magazine, April 2009

Posted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener