Category Archives: Resources

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

Advertisements

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

Celebrate the Unsung Insect Heroes During Pollinator Week

It’s Pollinator Week 2018, a time to show some garden love to the bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators that provide services essential to our food supply.

This year, let’s put the emphasis on other insect pollinators.

It’s easy to admire beautiful butterflies sailing effortlessly from flower to flower. We all know how important it is to provide nectar and pollen for native bees. But how many gardeners really, truly appreciate flies? How about other non-bee insects, like moths, wasps and beetles?

These less lovable insects are what some researchers refer to as the “unsung heroes of the pollination world.”

Bees certainly get the most notice for their important work, but they couldn’t do all the pollinating on their own. They need help from other less attractive insects.

In a revealing research study, one Washington State University doctoral student discovered that flies are an important pollinator, too. During her research, Rachel Olsson found that about a third of the insects visiting farm crops were syrphid flies, also known as hover flies.

These flies mimic the behavior of bees, help with pollination and do a bit more. In their juvenile stage, syrphid flies help control aphids, too.

Rachel’s research was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She spent several years studying whether non-bee insects contribute to sustainable crop pollination on a network of 24 organic farms in Western Washington.

During her study, she learned pollinators were drawn to one type of crop over another. She had hoped to observe bee and non-bee insects interacting in a way that could improve pollination efficiency.

Still, these overlooked pollinators provide a valuable service and need to be part of conservation efforts, too. That’s why Rachel thinks the results of her research are applicable to Colorado gardeners. It’s important to understand and protect all pollinators, especially the underdogs of the insect world.

An especially useful guide is a booklet Rachel co-authored called, A Citizen Guide to Wild Bees and Floral Visitors in Western Washington. Published by Washington State University Extension, the online guide provides tools for observing and identifying wild bees and other important floral visitors.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

10 Tips for Shopping the Spring Plant Sale

crowd at plant saleSpring 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.

pepper plantsGet 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.

plant sale wagonTry 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. garden grown plantsThe 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

Denver Gardeners Needed for Research Study

community gardenWould you like your gardening efforts to contribute to important scientific research? If you live in Denver and are relatively new to gardening, CAPS needs you.

CAPS stands for the Community Activation for Prevention Study. The University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver Urban Gardens are working together on a randomized controlled study to discover how community gardening affects health. Other partners include Michigan State University, the University of South Carolina and Colorado State University.

The three-year study is funded by a grant from the American Cancer Society. Gardeners are now being recruited for the second wave of the study. When CAPS ends, more than 300 gardeners will contribute to the study and help researchers understand if and how gardening can prevent serious health issues, like cancer.

Study participants will be randomly selected for one of two groups: those who grow a garden in a DUG community garden and those who are on a DUG wait list (the control group). Researchers measure both groups and compare the results based on their diets, physical activity levels and other health indicators.

CAPS is looking for Denver-area folks who are over 18 and have an interest in gardening. The participants need to be new gardeners or gardeners who haven’t been actively gardening for the last two years. Study participants will be matched to a nearby DUG community garden and their garden plot fees are covered.

Experienced Denver-metro gardeners are encouraged to spread the word about CAPS to beginning or lapsed gardeners. Find out more about the study, the investigative team, and the study’s partners at the CAPS website or get in touch with Angel Villalobos, program coordinator, at 303-724-1235 or Angel@dug.org.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

How to Enjoy a Living Christmas Tree

When considering the price of trees these days, it makes sense to buy one that offers the biggest return on investment. That’s why I’m a big fan of living Christmas trees.

A living tree is one that makes the season bright, but also adds beauty to the landscape long after the holiday is over.

Before investing in a living Christmas tree, there are a few things to keep in mind about its care:

1. Buy a tree that fits both inside and outside the house. A smaller tree will be more manageable for moving into the house for the celebration and then outside for planting. In addition, smaller sized trees will take less time to get established in the yard after planting.

2. Select the planting site and prepare a planting hole for the tree before the ground freezes. Dig a saucer-shaped hole that’s at least three times the size of the root ball. The hole should be shallow (no deeper than the root ball) and wide. Planting too deep slows root growth and can harm the tree. Be sure to reserve the soil to fill in the hole at planting time.

3. Locate a cool spot to store the tree after getting it home. Keep it in its original container in the garage or on a sheltered porch or patio until it’s time to move it indoors.

4. Unlike a cut tree, a living Christmas tree can be indoors for just a short amount of time. Plan ahead to move the tree indoors for 5-7 days around the holiday. Then move it back to the garage.

5. Place the tree in the coolest room in the house. Avoid placing it close to the fireplace and keep it away from furnace vents that cause hot-cold temperature swings.

6. Water wisely to keep the soil moist. One easy method for watering is to put the tree’s container in a larger container, like a metal tub. Elevate the tree off the bottom of the container with a layer of gravel to keep roots away from sitting water.

7. After the holiday is over, allow time for the tree to get re-acclimated to the outdoors before planting. Place it back in the garage or cool, sheltered spot for a few days. Then take it outside and plant.

CSU Extension gives all the best practices for tree planting in the Garden Notes called The Science of Planting Trees. Be sure to remove any burlap or wire baskets before backfilling the hole and watering in the tree.

Keep your new tree watered through the winter, at least once a month or more frequently if the weather is dry and warm with a lack of snow cover.

A living Christmas tree may need a little extra TLC, but it’s one of the best ways to keep the holiday spirit alive throughout the year.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

A Poison Plant Primer for Halloween

While on a garden tour a few years ago, I crossed over to the dark side. Instead of admiring the frilly flowering ornamental plants, I spent my time inside the Poison Plant garden. 

The gate, decorated with a large iron spider in a large iron web, creaked eerily on opening and then slammed shut behind me.

The spider signified the potential dangers that grew inside that garden, like Oleander (a glycoside). This innocent-looking plant can cause respiratory difficulties and heart problems. Although this Mediterranean shrub can be a fragrant addition to the landscape, every part of the plant is poisonous when eaten. The smoke is also toxic if plant parts are burned.

Other glycosides in the garden included foxglove and lily-of-the valley.

Why would a perfectly nice botanic garden include harmful plants among the others? For the same reason so many other plants are on display: to educate gardeners and the general public.

We can’t escape poisonous plants because they can grow anywhere. Jimson weed and nightshade; soapwort and poison ivy; stinging nettle and even St. Johnswort were a few of the other plants growing in the garden.

“A recent increase in herbal usage has given rise to misuse and mistaken identities,” explained a sign near the poison garden’s entrance. “It is important to consider means of preventing a toxic encounter as well as enjoying the contributions of poisonous plants around us.”

Because Halloween is a time for delightful frights, I recommend taking a read through Amy Stewart’s entertaining book called “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009).

She includes poisonous plants familiar to most gardeners, like Castor Bean, Henbane, Hemlock and Deadly Nightshade. But she also includes some surprises like Habanero Chile, Sago Palm, Tobacco, Junipers and Bermuda grass.

“We assume if it grows out of the ground, a plant is natural and natural is good for you,” says Amy. But cyanide is also a natural substance that comes from some plants, and it definitely isn’t good for you.

Speaking of deadly plants, what do you think is the world’s most wicked plant? Scroll past the following poison plant resources section to learn the answer.

Resources

A nice addition to Amy’s book is a list of poison gardens throughout the world and a well-research bibliography with many poisonous plant resources and identification guides. Here are a few links to help get you started:

CSU’s Guide to Poisonous Plants database lists trees, shrubs and perennials that can be harmful to animals.

Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a searchable database of plants that are poisonous to livestock and other animals. The color images help with plant identification.

The University of Illinois Extension has a comprehensive list of links to poisonous plant information. 

The World’s Most Wicked Plant?
Tobacco

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

10 Reasons for Becoming a Denver Master Gardener

If you like to plant and grow things, you may be a Master Gardener in the making. A desire to help your community is another plus. In case you need more convincing, consider these 10 benefits of joining us and then take the next step to become a Colorado Master Gardener.

Number 10: You’ll be a better gardener. Becoming a Denver Master Gardener doesn’t mean you’ll be a perfect gardener, but at least you’ll know why the daisies died, what’s wrong with your tomato plant, why the lawn has brown spots, and what the heck is eating those roses. The CSU Master Gardener program is like getting a mini-degree in horticulture.

Number 9: You’ll help with important research. Master Gardeners are often called on to help with CSU Extension research projects. One recent project included collecting tree data as part of the Rollinger Tree Collection Survey project, a collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens and other partners to understand the past, present and future of Denver’s urban forest.

Master Gardeners like to meet, mingle and break crab legs together.

Number 8: You’ll meet and mingle with like-minded folks. Gardeners like to talk—and listen. Whether you’re a social butterfly or just like to belong to a tribe with similar interests, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.

Number 7: You can share your knowledge. People have questions and now you’ll have the research-backed information to provide answers in person at farmer’s markets and special events or by answering email questions from home. There’s a lot of gardening misinformation out there, but you can help dispel the myths (except when it comes to marijuana).

Number 6: You can volunteer in meaningful ways. Community outreach is an important part of being a Denver Master Gardener and others appreciate your contribution. The vegetables grown in the Harvard Gulch Demonstration Garden are donated to help feed the hungry; The Haven at Fort Logan offers another chance to serve others with your gardening skills.

Master Gardeners plan and plant the CSU Extension exhibit at the Colorado Garden and Home Show.

Number 5: You’ll get to work behind the scenes at the Colorado Garden and Home Show. A favorite volunteer project is being part of the annual show whether helping to build the CSU Master Gardener display or answering attendee’s questions. Free entry to the show is an added bonus.

Number 4: You can stretch your leadership skills. Being a Master Gardener lets you take the lead on a special project in a safe and supportive environment. Creativity, innovation and new ideas keep the program interesting.

Number 3: You’ll receive a well-recognized credential. Anyone who’s been paying attention has heard of CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program. The title is a well-known and well respected credential in the gardening world and in every state across the country.

Number 2: You’ll be supporting an important educational program. Becoming a Master Gardener isn’t free, but the nominal annual fee ensures the Denver Master Gardener program can continue its mission.

Being a volunteer at the City Park Greenhouse refreshes gardening skills for the new season.

And the Number 1 reason for becoming a Denver Master Gardener: Volunteering at the City Park Greenhouse.  It’s one of the most revitalizing volunteer gigs, and it happens at a time of year when gardeners need it the most.

Those are my top 10 reasons. What are your top reasons for becoming a Denver Master Gardener?

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener since 2005

When it Rains, Let’s Measure It

Nolan Doesken of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU demonstrates how to read a rain gauge.

Denver Master Gardeners had the chance to learn why Colorado’s climate can be so frustrating during an entertaining presentation by Nolan Doesken of CSU’s Colorado Climate Center.

The July program was one half continuing education on the basics of our state’s climate and one half recruiting effort for more rain gauge volunteers. Both halves are important to anyone who’s affected by Colorado’s crazy weather.

Doesken is the state climatologist and the founder of CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. What started as a small volunteer effort in 1998 to track and map precipitation in northern Colorado has expanded to include thousands of volunteers in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas.

CoCoRaHS volunteers measure and report the amount of precipitation that falls in their yards. The combined data gives a comprehensive precipitation picture that’s important to natural resource education and research.

Colorado’s early weather reports were sent by telegraph from the top of Pikes Peak beginning in 1873.

Colorado started tracking climate data in the 1870s, but that data was collected only at weather stations. Some of the first official weather measurements were on wind pressure, speed and direction.

But there’s an ongoing need for data that helps tell the weather story in more detail. The combination of Colorado’s high elevation, mid-latitude location, complex mountain topography plus our location far from the continent’s moisture sources make for a challenging climate, Doesken explained.

We can also blame those confounding 40-degree temperature swings from one day to the next on those factors, too.

Anyone who has an interest in being a citizen scientist or learning more about the weather is invited to join the CoCoRaHS network. Volunteers use high-capacity rain gauges placed wherever rain can land without interruption.

Because precipitation can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, volunteers are needed in all areas. Each time it rains, hails or snows, volunteers measure the amount of precipitation and report it on the program’s website.

The rainfall reports get used every single day, Doesken said. Even 0″ precipitation reports are important. Data users include weather forecasters, hydrologists, researchers, farmers, ranchers, engineers and many others.

Interested volunteers can learn all the details at CoCoRaHS.org. Many helpful video tutorials are available on YouTube, too.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener