Monthly Archives: March 2016

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.

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Master Gardeners Plant Flowers and Ideas

CSU's annual display at the Colorado Home and Garden Show starts with a plan. But it's the master gardener volunteers who take the plan from paper to planting.

CSU’s annual display at the Colorado Home and Garden Show starts with a plan. But it’s the Master Gardener volunteers who take the plan from paper to planting.

Master gardeners fill each garden bed with soil, cover it in mulch and add the larger plants. Space is reserved for garden details, like a concrete bench, fire pit, lawn chair and table.

The demonstration gardens are like a blank canvas. Volunteers cover the planting beds in mulch and add the larger trees and shrubs. Space is reserved for special garden details, like a concrete bench, fire pit, lawn chair and table.

Racks (and racks) of plants wait for their cue. Sometimes plants fit perfectly into the design, other times last-minute changes need to be made to adapt to floppy flowers or clashing colors.

Racks (and racks) of plants wait for their cue. Sometimes plants fit perfectly into the design; other times last-minute changes need to be made to adapt to floppy flowers or clashing colors.

Master gardeners put their heads together to make sure the garden plan comes together. Mike Archer and Laura Roiger confer on plant placement while Linda McDonnell starts planting.

Master Gardeners put their heads together to make sure the garden plan comes together. Mike Archer and Laura Roiger confer on plant placement while Linda McDonnell starts planting.

Planting at the show's display garden is almost as difficult as planting a garden at home. The main difference is plants are planted in their pots. But no containers can be showing!

Planting at CSU’s display garden is almost as difficult and messy as planting a garden at home. The main difference is plants are planted in their pots here. But no containers can be showing!

Plants have to be kept fresh, so there's no drooping before the show. Anne Beletic takes time to make sure the spring flowers have that just-bloomed look.

Plants have to be kept garden fresh, so there’s no drooping before the show. Master Gardener apprentice Anne Beletic takes time to ensure the spring flowers have that just-bloomed look.

When visitors stop by CSU's demonstration garden at the show, they probably don't think of all the hours and hands that go into creating it. What they can count on is inspiration and reliable information to take home and put to use in their own gardens.

When visitors stop by CSU’s demonstration garden at the show, they probably don’t think of all the hours and hands that go into creating it. However, what they can count on is reliable information and inspiration to take home and put to use in their own gardens.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Take a Soil Test to Start the Gardening Season

soil sampleWhen it comes to growing a garden, if a little fertilizer is good, a lot is better. Right?

Not really. Fertilizer applications should match the needs of the soil and plants. Too much fertilizer, especially applied to smaller areas, can create more problems. One proven way to avoid overfertilizing is to invest in a simple soil test. It’s a tool that gives the most accurate method to tell the fertility of a garden, lawn, field or pasture.

“It’s important to get a soil test to know how your garden will grow over the season,” says Tegan Deeney, a lab tech with CSU’s Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab in Fort Collins.

“I tested my soil when my pumpkin plants started dying when they were only two inches tall. My soil test showed there wasn’t enough nitrogen nitrate in the soil, and there was a simple fix.” She says a lot of pumpkins grew that year after she amended the soil with the recommended nutrients.

“The earlier you test, the better. You won’t run into the issues of trying to amend the soil around plants,” she adds.

Instead of guessing what your soil needs, a routine garden and landscape soil test will give you the specifics. For the $35 fee per sample, you’ll get results on soil pH, EC (Electrical Conductivity measures the available nutrients in the soil), organic matter, nitrate, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, boron, lime, and texture estimates.

In 2015 CSU’s Soil Testing Lab evaluated 2700 soil samples from horticulture alone. That total doesn’t include research soils or soil samples from farmers.

A soil test uses samples collected from the yard, garden or field. Soil sample collection kits are available from CSU Extension offices or some garden centers. CSU’s Soil Lab website has soil collection forms, instructions and a list of participating garden centers. For more information contact the lab at 970-491-5061.

A typical sample uses only two cups of soil that’s a combination of 5 to 15 samples (depending on the size of the area). Here are the basic steps for collecting a sample:

1. Use a clean, rust-free trowel or spade.
2. Collect samples at a depth of 6 inches; dig straight down, not at an angle.
3. Take at least 5 samples of soil from the area and combine in a clean plastic container.
4. Remove about two cups of soil and allow to air dry.
5. Place the sample in a CSU soil container or a sandwich-size plastic bag.
6. Seal and label with name, address and location of the sample.
7. Send the sample to the testing lab.

The turnaround time for results is about two weeks. Results will be mailed to you or include an email address for a faster reply. The lab results will tell you which nutrients your garden needs or if there’s an overabundance of nutrients.

With all the time, money and effort it requires for successful planting and growing, it makes sense to invest in a simple soil test. Consider it a gardening investment, almost like buying a plant insurance policy.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

What is a Seed Bank?

A seed bank is a secure, climate controlled collection of seeds that are saved in case of annihilation of all plants, at least that is how I currently understand it,

There are two international seed banks.  These are a back-up for National Seed Banks.

Most countries have a National Seed Bank.  Unfortunately, these can be, and have been, destroyed by natural disasters or wars.  Recently, one of the international seed banks sent Syrian seeds to other countries that are not currently affected by war; so that there is a regional source and so that seed scientists can continue to grow, test and collect the seed.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault  is buried in a mountain on an inland in Norway, close to the Arctic Circle.  This TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talk is a good place to start.

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership in London has a slightly different philosophy.  This TED Talk is an excellent explanation.  

Can you identify the difference in the philosophy behind the two international seed banks?