My summer garden wouldn’t be the same without a container of basil growing on the patio. Not only is basil a beautiful plant, but it’s one of the most versatile herbs around. The fresh leaves get tossed into green salads, stacked with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for a Caprese salad, blended into pesto, and plenty more.
One packet of basil seeds means dozens of fresh summer recipes. (Photo by Jodi Torpey)
Every year I grow a container of basil so I can clip the fresh and fragrant leaves all summer. This method of container planting is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to plant basil, and it uses only one packet of seeds. My favorite is the Genovese basil because of the large leaf size.
The basil plants grow well with a limited amount of morning sun, then afternoon shade to keep tender leaves from burning.
Any container that can hold a good quality potting soil and has holes in the bottom for drainage is a potential for planting. My go-to basil container is a plastic window box that has a matching tray to catch water. Paper coffee filters cover the drainage holes to keep soil in.
Here are the three planting steps:
Sprinkle (broadcast) the entire packet of seeds evenly over the top of the potting soil. Gently pat down and cover seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil.
Spray the seeds and top of the soil with water from a spray bottle or plant mister. Spraying keeps the seeds on top of the soil.
Spritz daily or whenever the soil starts to dry out until the little plants begin to grow. Continue gently watering the container with a watering can or hose and nozzle.
Basil seeds sprout and grow quickly. Start clipping the leaves when plants have three to five sets of leaves. Don’t worry about pruning the leaves, because that encourages healthy new growth and branching, plus it keeps plants from flowering too quickly (although the flowers are tasty, too).
Fertilize with your preferred water-soluble plant food or gently dig in a slow-release fertilizer about once a month to keep plants green and healthy.
One of my favorite quick salads is sliced garden-fresh tomatoes, topped with several tablespoons of snipped basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served at room temperature.
How do you like to use the fresh basil from your garden? Please share your recipe ideas in the comments section below.
By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones. Here are a few of my favs:
Gardenerd Tip of The Week
Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.
My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices.
On the Ledge
I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.
Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.
Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives.
My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back, fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them
Plant Daddy Podcast
We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.
My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.
The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!
My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge.
Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants
Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.
My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!) On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.
You Bet Your Garden
You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.
My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.
Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden
My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.
A fav episode:
If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.
Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?
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 Maureen Horton
The first CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale was a small community event on a Saturday in May. Only a few hands planted seeds for the 1400 plants available that year.
Over the last 14 years, the fundraiser for Denver Master Gardeners has grown to include 25 pairs of volunteer hands planting and tending more than 7,200 fruit and vegetable plants. The sale dates are May 18 and 19 this year.
While many things about the sale have changed, there’s something that’s remained the same: the work of Master Gardener Maureen Horton. She’s volunteered every year of the sale since the very beginning. She’s taken on the important task of coordinating all the planting in the City Park Greenhouse for the plant sale.
“I love filling the pots, planting the seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow,” she said. “It’s almost like a mother thing, nurturing them and then they go away, like your children.”
Maureen joined the Master Gardener program around 1999, but she’s been interested in nurturing plants since she was 5 or 6 years old. Her earliest gardening memories are of walking with her grandmother and uncle to tend the family garden plot in New Hampshire.
She recalls her grandma explaining the shoveling and watering to her, as well as harvesting lettuce and “lots and lots of potatoes.”
Now her Denver garden includes xeric plants, roses and her favorite ‘Purple Cherokee’ and ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes, among others.
Maureen’s approach to her own garden is all about nurturing, too. “Once I plant it, I nurture it to its maturity with care and the proper nutrients to grow the healthiest plant possible. It’s all about loving the soil and earth.”
She must really love the soil to commit to leading the greenhouse planting effort over six months each year, from November to sale day in May.
“We start in November and go through all the seeds we didn’t use the year before,” she explained. “We’re cost conscious and want to use all the seeds we can.”
Then the what-to-grow lists are compiled. One list includes the most popular plants from the previous sale. There’s another list of plants that are researched to find new, reliable varieties to add to the sale. Because of the heat and extreme weather from last summer, heat-tolerant tomatoes were researched for this year.
That list includes favorites like ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Red Brandywine’, ‘Burbank Slicing’, ‘Costoluto Genovese’, ‘Great White’, ‘Green Giant’, ‘Marble Stripe’ and ‘Purple Calabash’.
In addition, two new heirloom marriage tomatoes are now growing for the sale: ‘Cherokee Carbon’ and ‘Genuwine’. Heirloom marriage tomatoes are hybrids that cross two heirloom varieties to produce a tomato with the best qualities of each heirloom, plus the disease resistance and improved yields of a hybrid tomato.
Chile pepper research also figured into the list for this year’s sale. Of 23 pepper varieties, 21 are from New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute in Las Cruces.
“We’ve really babied those peppers,” Maureen said. “We’re introducing 18 new varieties of chile peppers to the sale.”
One of the new varieties is ‘NuMex Trick or Treat’. This pepper looks like a habanero and has all of the flavor of one, but with none of the heat. Another unusual pepper is ‘NuMex Twilight’ chile, an edible ornamental with peppers that mature in color from purple to yellow, then orange to red.
Once the seed order is placed, Maureen figures how many total flats of seeds to plant and the number of flats for each variety. Much of that is determined by how many benches the greenhouse allocates to the Master Gardeners for the sale.
In exchange for the space in the greenhouse and the use of a couple of their machines, the greenhouse also benefits from the help of Master Gardener volunteers.
Once the call for volunteers goes out, “people come running. It may be 40 degrees outside, but it’s 72 degrees in the greenhouse,” Maureen said. “It’s wonderful in there.”
While the planting is serious business, there’s always time for a few laughs. “We love it. There’s a lot of camaraderie and there’s a passion for it. Everyone works hard during their three hours to meet the goal of planting 40 flats.”
Once planting is complete, there’s twice weekly maintenance needed right up to the time the plants leave the greenhouse headed for the sale.
Last year the plant sale raised $36,000 to support Master Gardener programs in the community. More than half of that total came from selling the plants grown in the greenhouse.
It’s easy to imagine a high level of stress goes with the responsibility of nurturing more than 7,000 plants for the biggest fundraising event of the year.
“From doing it all these years, there’s not much stress,” said Maureen. “You have to roll with the punches. The only stress is if a flat of seeds doesn’t come up.”
By Jodi Torpey Master Gardener volunteer since 2005
Stormy weather failed to dampen the spirits of gardeners at the 13th annual Denver Master Gardener plant sale. In spite of cloudy skies and cool temperatures, the cash registers recorded around 4000 transactions! “We definitely had our best sale ever,” … Continue reading →
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Posted onApril 19, 2018|Comments Off on 10 Tips for Shopping the Spring Plant Sale
Spring plant sales have a way of turning otherwise sane people into excited gardeners who lose control at the sight of tables full of NEW PLANTS!
I’ve seen single-minded shoppers move through a crowded plant sale with laser-like precision. I’ve also seen some deer-in-the-headlights shoppers wandering through the sale, empty-handed and overwhelmed at all the planting choices.
That’s why it pays to be ready for plant shopping. Here are 10 ways to get the most bang for your plant sale buck when the Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale opens at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 19:
Arrive early for the best selection. Never has the saying, first come, first served, been more heartfelt than at a plant sale. The early worm gets first choice of heirloom tomatoes, culinary herbs, cool-season vegetables and specialty plants. Even in cool, cloudy weather, gardeners start lining up before the sale to ensure they get their favorites.
Get your peppers while they’re hot—and sweet. The pepper tables are typically the most popular spots at the sale, so if you want peppers stop here first. This year there are 10 hot pepper varieties and 10 sweet and bell pepper choices.
Bring a sturdy box, wagon or cart. Plant boxes are usually available, but they can run low. Bring your own carrier with handles or something with wheels. Try to keep at least one hand free to keep shopping without juggling.
Come prepared. Create a list of your must-have vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennial plants — and have an idea where you’ll plant them. A plant sale is a bit like a polite feeding frenzy. If you know what plants you want, you can zero in on those.
Try something new. Gardeners typically stick to the tried-and-true, but every year it’s fun to try something you’ve never planted before. There are dozens of new-to-you varieties that may become next year’s must haves. Think about Jack B Little pumpkins, Cocozella Di Napoli squash or Sugar Baby watermelons. Consider helping feed Monarch Butterflies with a few milkweed plants.
Ask questions, get planting tips. The master gardener volunteers want you to ask questions and tap into their expertise. Don’t be shy. Ask for their recommendations for a too sunny or too shady spot. Get help with whatever’s been bugging you in your garden.
Shop the bargain table. Master gardeners are a generous bunch and they like to clear out their sheds and garages to make way for something new. The bargain table is a frugal gardener’s best bet to score gently-used containers, garden gear, tools, books and other great garden stuff at discount prices. This fundraiser supports CSU Extension outreach efforts and other programs.
Give garden-grown perennials a try. The garden-grown section is one of the best ways to expand a garden on a budget. Because they’ve been grown by master gardeners, these plants are a reliable and frugal investment.
Stop by the CSU Hospitality Tent. New this year is a special addition from CSU Denver Initiative. There will be CSU door prizes and other surprises as a way to thank the community for supporting the Denver Master Gardener plant sale for 13 lucky years.
Please share the plant sale details with friends, neighbors, coworkers and anyone who likes to plant and grow!
The Master Gardener Plant Sale is Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20, at Harvard Gulch Park (888 E. Iliff Ave., Denver). For more information: 720-913-5270
By Jodi Torpey A Denver Master Gardener
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It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.
One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs. It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.
Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground. To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees. A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.
To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close
Shop light suspended from chain.
over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture. The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.
To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.
Seed tray and clear cover
The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.
Heat mat for starting seeds.
Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.
Partial set up showing one light fixture.
Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.
As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture. Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,
Trays under lights after germination.
keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level. Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.
About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind. Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast. Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.
After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.
For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:
Posted onJune 20, 2016|Comments Off on Four Ways to Celebrate National Pollinator Week
Today’s the official start of summer and it coincides with another important annual event — National Pollinator Week. From June 20 through June 28, agencies, organizations, companies and ordinary gardeners bring attention to ways to help build healthy environments for bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other vital pollinators.
Here are four ways to celebrate pollinators this week. Please add your ideas to the list:
Become one in a million by registering your pollinator-friendly garden as part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to register 1,000,000 public and private gardens and landscapes that give pollinators what they need: nesting sites and plants that provide pollen and nectar.
2. Learn more about pollinators.
There are many free pollinator guides available if you need help deciding which plants give the biggest bang for pollinators. There’s also a new book written by a gardener for gardeners. Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes explains that no matter the size of your garden, there are dozens of good plants for helping pollinators. Her detailed plant lists simplify selecting flowers, herbs, vines, shrubs and trees.
3. Become a Habitat Hero.
Encourage more feathered friends to gather in your landscape through the Habitat Heroes program with Audubon Rockies. Apply to have your landscape recognized as a Habitat Hero wildscape. Some of the basics include planting bird-friendly native and regionally-adapted plants, reducing herbicide and pesticide use, and controlling invasive plants.
4. Plant zinnias.
A single packet of zinnia seeds will give you a summer full of color and plenty of lovely nectar-filled landing pads for bees and butterflies. Zinnias are some of the easiest annual flowers to grow whether in garden beds or containers on the patio, balcony or deck.
Please keep pollinators in mind and let’s work together to create a lot of buzz during National Pollinator Week!
By Jodi Torpey
A Denver master gardener
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Posted onMay 16, 2016|Comments Off on Hardy Gardeners Make for a Blooming Great Sale
Cloudy skies and the threat of rain weren’t enough to stop gardeners from shopping for plants at the Denver Master Gardener’s annual plant sale. The number of gardeners on Saturday surely set a record, because by Sunday morning there wasn’t a single pepper plant left on the tables.
“We have never seen as big a turnout from the public as we saw on Saturday morning,” says Merrill Kingsbury, CSU Extension Master Gardener coordinator. “The turnout was phenomenal.”
It takes months of planning and an incredible volunteer effort to make sure the annual sale is a success. In addition to the hours of planning meetings, there were days spent seeding and tending plants in the greenhouse, potting up garden grown plants, writing labels, and transporting plants to the sale.
An army of volunteers showed up to organize tables, staff them, and then tear them down at the end of each day.
The annual plant sale is a fundraiser and also an educational outreach to the community. At the CSU Extension information table, gardeners could enter to win a hanging basket and pick up handouts on best practices for growing their vegetable gardens. Posters provided suggestions for planting creative containers, plants for butterfly gardening, and ways to control Japanese beetles.
Denver Master Gardener apprentice Susan Hoopfer offers advice for planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to a gardener interested in attracting Monarch butterflies to her garden.
Beginning gardeners buy plants and ask questions to get ready for planting their first vegetable garden.
At the houseplant and patio table, Master Gardener Barb Pitner helps a new gardener find the perfect indoor plant.
Apprentice Chad Thompson spends his first plant sale at the annuals table, answering questions and offering planting advice.
Now it’s time for Denver Master Gardeners to take a deep breath and nurse sore muscles before starting to plan next year’s sale.
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You may be familiar with the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. As a member you can buy or exchange seeds with other members. They encourage heirloom seed saving. You can grow the same variety of Hollyhock or Sunflower that your grandmother grew because people have saved the seeds and passed them along for other gardeners to grow.
A relatively new organization is the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. The founders of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke at the Denver Botanic Gardens in September 2015 – “Seed: the Future of Food”. Seeds saved from successful plants are uniquely adapted for the local environment which makes local or regional seed groups important.
Posted onMarch 28, 2016|Comments Off on 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 retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.
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.”
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.