Category Archives: Fruits

Heirloom and Modern Tomatoes at CSU’s Master Gardener Plant Sale

The 14th annual CSU Master Gardener plant sale fundraiser will take place at Denver’s Harvard Gulch Park, 888 E Iliff Avenue (at Emerson) on Saturday, May 18 from 8 am to 3 pm and Sunday May 19 from 10am to 3pm or till sold out.

In preparation for the sale, Denver Master Gardeners have been busy nurturing over 7200 fruit and vegetable plants from seed in the City of Denver’s City Park Greenhouse. When the plants make their debut you’ll find a dizzying selection of strong, healthy specimens for your summer garden. Herbs, annuals and perennials round out the offerings.

The tomato plants are definitely one of the stars of the show – forty seven varieties in all – including heirloom and modern (hybrid) cultivars.

What differentiates a heirloom from a modern tomato?

Horticulturists define heirloom seeds as those that are “open pollinated” by  insects, birds, wind or other natural means and retain the same traits from generation to generation. Seedlings will produce the same size and color fruit on a plant with the same growth habit and the same flavor from one generation to the next.

Depending on the variety, heirloom tomatoes can be red, purple, green, yellow, speckled or bi-colored. The fruit can have smooth skin but many varieties have a beautiful ribbed surface. Popular indeterminate (produce fruit throughout the season after maturity) heirlooms available at the sale include:

 

‘Brandywine Red’ – a large, flavorful red-pink beefsteak fruit which matures in 90 days.

‘Purple Cherokee’ – pink-purple fruit with a rich, sweet flavor. Excellent in salads and on sandwiches. Matures in 80-90 days.

‘San Marzano’ – Favored by Italian cooks for a meaty, complex, sweet flavor which is especially delicious on pizza and in sauces. Matures in 85-90 days.

‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ – Large (up to 1 lb!) green fruit with a strong, sweet fruity flavor. A frequent taste test winner which slices especially well. Matures in 85 days.

Many experts define heirloom seeds as those introduced prior to 1950. By contrast, modern (hybrid) varieties were introduced to the market after World War II for the purpose of improving disease resistance and increasing shelf life and yields. The modern varieties became popular because the home gardener could avoid battling tomato diseases and commercial growers could count on reliable, cost effective crops.

If you are thinking that modern tomatoes lack classic, true tomato taste, you are not alone. Some hybrids sacrifice flavor for other traits. However, in fairness, taste is highly subjective!  

Modern varieties are popular taste-pleasers and are definitely worth adding to your garden. We’ve grown ten hybrid cultivars including two crowd pleasing indeterminate cherry varieties.

‘Cherry Sun Gold’ – Prolific golden-orange cherry-sized fruit with high sugar content. A frequent taste test winner which can be grown in a large pot. Matures in 70 days. Kids eat ‘em like candy!

‘Chocolate Cherry’ – Clusters of 1” port wine fruit with a rich, tangy flavor. A productive plant which matures in 70 days.

As Plant Sale Chair Maureen Horton explained here, two heirloom marriage tomatoes ‘Cherokee Carbon’ and ‘Genuwine’ are new this year. Heirloom marriage tomatoes are hybrids that cross two heirloom varieties to produce a tomato with the best qualities of each heirloom.

Truly the “best” tomatoes are the ones you enjoy the most and thrive in your garden. It’s also fun to introduce a new variety to your garden and palette. If you join us for the sale, master gardeners will help you make your selection and share tips for success.

For more information:

www.facebook.com/CSUDenverhort

CSU Fact Sheet: Recognizing Tomato Problems

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

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Colorado Blueberries: A Success Story

Blueberries grown in peat moss bales

Make no mistake about it, blueberry plants want what Colorado’s soils can’t deliver – high acidity. Attempts to grow them in our alkaline soil will frustrate the most accomplished gardener. However, research at Colorado State University found the plants can be grown successfully in this region when planted directly into a bale of peat moss, which has been tucked into the garden bed. The process is described in detail here.

Five years ago, armed with bales of peat, solid research and determination, Denver Master Gardener Jill Fielder decided to add blueberries to her raised beds. Given the proper environment, regular care and careful plant selection, she’s been enjoying berries every summer since.

According to Jill, “Blueberries are both insect and wind pollinated and the bees love ours. Most experts believe that blueberries set great yields when there’s cross pollination with another variety that flowers at the same time, so we have a couple different cultivars.” Northcountry Blue (small, flavorful berries, upright habit), Bluegold, (productive with a somewhat sprawling habit) and Bluecrop (large berries, the newest addition) are 3.5′ to 4.5′ feet tall and doing well. Northblue didn’t produce well and was replaced.

Spring buds

Plants were purchased on-line from reputable growers and were planted in the spring. The plants are feed monthly during the growing season with a water soluble fertilizer for acid-loving plants. A drip irrigation system provides moisture.

Jill’s raised beds are in a protected area of her yard, bordered by a fence and garage so she has not covered or wrapped the plants in the winter. However, winter protection is recommended in less protected areas. Late in the winter, plants are trimmed to remove dead or damaged wood and maintain shape.

If you’re looking for a new gardening challenge and can commit to the specific needs of these plants, why not give them a try?

Posted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver Master Gardener, with thanks to Jill Fielder for supplying inspiration and photos.

 

 

 

Espalier Tree: An Experiment

Espaliers are a beautiful addition for: a kitchen garden wall, the side of a house, plopping under window, a privacy screen or employed as yard zone divider. Espaliers take up very little space and are easily accessible for people with limited mobility, and also a fun height for children to harvest. Moreover, espalier fruit trees have surprisingly bountiful fruit production. And interestingly espaliers often live longer than more naturally grown trees/vines, including some very old specimens. These plants have the advantages of sunlight that reaches all the branches, less breakage, and importantly if planted against a wall they have the added protection against a late frost, and so potentially retain more blossoms.

 

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Photo Credit: Le Potager Garden DBG

When we first moved into our house there was a wall in a small garden that I felt needed a pear espalier. I didn’t feel brave enough (or patient probably) to start a bare-root dwarf fruit tree and establish the training from scratch. So a couple of years ticked by as I waited to win the lottery for a nursery grown one (a four tier espalier can cost over a thousand dollars). The more affordable two tier plants, that are more commonly sold, are perfect for planting under a window, but not for a taller height. To add to this, most of the nursery grafted espaliers have a different variety of fruit on each branch, which although theoretically sounds exciting can actually present aesthetic and practical issues, and not surprisingly the rootstock can dominate in time too.

My experiment was – could I take a mature sapling and train it into an espalier. I am writing this blog as I did not find the information I needed on the internet, and so I plunged ahead into the unknown and broke pretty much every gardening rule. This is an experiment that may or may not succeed.  Any input will be gratefully received! The ideas below are not endorsed by any educated gardener.

I did follow one cardinal rule: “Right Plant- Right Place”. I had my heart set on a pear tree.  But at the nursery I chose the European Stanley Plum as the “right plant”.  It is a hardy choice for Denver, and a larger tree (not a dwarf fruit- the regular espalier choice) should be alright for my wall? Moreover, this sapling had the right growth pattern, as it was fairly two dimensional and symmetrical.  This young tree also sported the required flexible branches for training. Then for the location: the eastern wall, which is bathed in sunlight but not unrelating heat was I felt this “right place”.  I followed correct planting rules! CMG How to Plant a Tree Continue reading

4 Ways to Share the Harvest

Share the HarvestOn August 8 I saw a picture on social media of three oversized zucchini squashes lined up against someone’s front door.

Apparently it was National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day and gardeners were making the most of it to get rid of their giant zucchinis.

I know summer squashes can be the punch line to gardening jokes, but I didn’t know there was a whole day devoted to surprising neighbors with jumbo fruits that might go to waste.

Good gardeners know that zucchinis are best when they’re small and tender. To avoid club-sized fruits, harvest early and often, when fruits are about 5-7 inches long. It pays to remember at the height of the season, fruits can be ready to pick within a week of flowering.

Instead of unloading zucchinis onto unsuspecting neighbors, why not donate the extra produce to people who will appreciate it? Here are four ways to share the harvest with a food pantry that will distribute it to our neighbors in need:

AmpleHarvest.org
Ample Harvest is a national charitable organization that connects gardeners with local food pantries by zip code. On the website homepage there’s a Find a Pantry button at the top of the page. When I keyed in my zip code, I found a dozen pantries within a 9-mile radius.

Colorado Hunger Free Hotline
In addition to being a food resource, the Colorado Hunger Free Hotline can help gardeners find a food pantry that accepts fresh produce. Call 855-855-4626 (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and ask about food pantries located in your zip code. Then get in touch with the pantry for details about dropping off your fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fresh Food Connect
Fresh Food Connect is a local project of Groundwork Denver, Denver Food Rescue and Denver Urban Gardens. The program has three goals: reduce food waste, collect fresh produce and employ low-income youth. Fruits and vegetables are collected from your front porch and either donated or sold at a youth farm stand. If you live in zip code 80205, you can sign up and get a weekly email asking if you have any produce to donate. Someone on a bike with a trailer will ride by and pick it up.

Fresh Food Connect organizers say the program will expand to other neighborhoods, so even if you don’t live in the 80205 neighborhood, sign up so they’ll have an idea of where to expand the program in the future.

Project Angel Heart
Project Angel Heart takes fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and turns them into healthful meals for their clients with life-threatening illnesses. Project Angel Heart has a list of accepted items, especially chard, tomatoes, zucchini! and yellow squash (see the full list and other details on the website).

Produce must be harvested and dropped off on the same day: Mondays, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the Denver office and kitchen (4950 Washington St.).

If you have a favorite drop-off spot, please add it to this list and help other gardeners find the best use for their extra produce. And let’s start celebrating zucchinis for their important role they play in our gardens — and kitchens.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

How to Grow Blueberries in Colorado Gardens

BlueberriesColorado gardeners who fall in love with the idea of growing their own blueberries may be disappointed with the results. There just isn’t enough room on a planting tag for all the information they need.

Even if they carefully follow the basic planting instructions, blueberries need much more than “Full sun, acidic soil (incorporate peat moss or organic matter into soil), good drainage, fertilize in early spring, moderate watering.”

That’s because blueberry shrubs arrive in Colorado from growers in the northeast or the northwest where conditions are ideal for growing the plants. The climate on each of those coasts is significantly different from Colorado’s land-locked and semi-arid climate.

The two main challenges the blueberry planting tags don’t cover are the soil pH problems and the way winter dries out plants in our region.

Both of these problems can be solved, but it takes extra effort.

Thanks to CSU Extension blueberry experiments, gardeners have a proven blueprint for blueberry success.

The experiments, conducted by Joel Reich while he was a CSU Extension Horticulturist, are detailed in a one-hour webinar recorded in August 2012 called Blueberries for Colorado Gardens.

Anyone with online access can view the free program to learn all about the best blueberry varieties to plant, where to find them, how to plant and fertilize them, best practices for winter protection and how to keep birds and deer from getting to the juicy fruits before gardeners can enjoy them.

The blueberries growing in CSU’s trial gardens in Longmont show that if gardeners plant in sphagnum peat moss and provide special winter protection, they can enjoy fresh blueberries season after season.

Joel grew blueberries in the trial garden for more than 16 seasons in the same bales of peat moss. He devised a fertility maintenance program with a special combination of acidic fertilizers to use on a May, June, July schedule.

Planting

Best practices for planting blueberries mean planting directly inside the sphagnum peat moss bales. The bags are opened only part way to help retain moisture. Holes in the bottom of the bag provide drainage. Drip irrigation is important to make sure the soil stays consistently moist.

The bags are placed in trenches so they’re at grade level, but they could also be placed in a raised bed. Gardeners could grow plants in patio or balcony containers if they select the blueberries classified as “half-high.”  Plants growing in containers will need even more protection from wind in winter.

Protection

The key to providing winter protection is to prevent the damage caused by dry weather, low humidity and winds. It’s especially important to wrap or cover each plant so winter winds can’t suck the moisture out of the dormant buds.

The blueberry shrubs need to be wrapped in layers of burlap with the branches tied up and together. An alternative is to cover each plant with a trash barrel that’s weighted down.

By Jodi Torpey