Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.
Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers
The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.
The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.
Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to email@example.com and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.
Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White
Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.
Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.
Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.
Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.
Photo provided by Nancy Downs
Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005
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?
Posted onAugust 6, 2019|Comments Off on 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!
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
An emotional dichotomy of actual knowledge vs. expectation.
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.
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 ImposterSyndrome, 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
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.
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!
Posted onMay 6, 2019|Comments Off on 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’ Burpee.com
‘Purple Cherokee’ Burpee.com
‘San Marzano’ Burpee.com
‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ Rareseeds.com
‘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.
‘Sun Gold Cherry’ Burpee.com
‘Chocolate Cherry’ Rareseeds.com
‘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.
Meet the DMG Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our dedicated volunteers.
Meet Jan Appelbaum
Most Master Gardeners know the value of making their own compost. But Jan Appelbaum discovered there’s more to compost than a good soil amendment.
“My best success last year grew out of the compost bin. There were three or four tomato varieties that grew out of the compost, and they were prolific.” She harvested hundreds of tomatoes from tomato seeds that decided to sprout and grow on their own.
Jan joined the CSU Extension Colorado Master Gardener (CMG) program in 2004, after retiring from a 30-year teaching career in Douglas County. She thought the program would be a good way to provide some structured activity to fill her time.
When she started, the Denver Master Gardeners’ office was located downtown in the Wellington Webb Building. Those were the “good old days” when the pace was quite a bit slower.
“We have the ability to get information faster now, almost instantaneously, and we reach more people now,” Jan said. “But sometimes slow is better, too.”
One of her favorite volunteer activities is interviewing Master Gardener apprentices because there are many different ages, levels of enthusiasm for gardening and levels of expertise. “It’s fun and interesting to hear why people want to be trained to be a master gardener,” she said.
Jan also volunteers as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) to track precipitation in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas. As a CoCoRaHS volunteer, she measures daily precipitation in her yard and keeps track of the results.
She also volunteers at the annual spring plant sale and helps answer questions at the farmer’s market. One of the advantages of volunteering alongside other Denver Master Gardeners is the collaborative spirit. “At the Master Gardener booth, four brains are better than one.”
The farmer’s market is a valuable and sometimes entertaining outreach opportunity. “It’s always fun when people come up to ask a question but have already made up their mind. Or when people from out of town say ‘That’s not how we do it in Michigan.’ But most people appreciate the help we can give.”
Jan grew up in Connecticut where she admits it was easier to garden. She helped in her family’s huge vegetable garden, but had to learn how to garden in a more challenging environment when she moved to Colorado in 1972.
Her advice to new gardeners, and those new to gardening here, is to be patient and learn by doing.
Some of that advice is based on her own early planting efforts. She recalled planting a miniature Japanese maple tree and giving it too much love.
“I thought it needed water because the leaves were curled, and I killed it by overwatering. Eventually I found out they don’t like to have their roots too wet.”
Jan said she’s grateful for the Master Gardener experience because it’s broadened her gardening knowledge. She thinks everyone who gardens should go through the Master Gardener training, too.
“Gardening for me is very therapeutic,” she said. “It helps connect us with the soil and Mother Nature. Having a sense of nature is getting harder and harder to do in the city, but I’m encouraged to see there are more people getting into gardening now.”
By Jodi Torpey Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2005
Colorado Master Gardeners from Denver Extension enjoyed sampling and voting for their favorite home-grown tomatoes during the annual picnic. (Photo by Merrill Kingsbury)
Just like location, location, location is the slogan for real estate, ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Sun Gold’ was the mantra at the annual Colorado Master Gardener summer picnic on August 25.
‘Sun Gold’ received the most votes and special recognition during the picnic’s tomato tasting.
Three CMGs from the Denver Extension brought their prized ‘Sun Golds’ to the tasting party: Linda McDonnell, John Ashworth and Barb Pinter.
‘Sun Golds’ are a perennial winner at tomato tasting contests because of their high sugar content and exceptional flavor. The bright orange fruits are also extremely prolific, growing bunches of sweet tomatoes on long vines throughout summer.
Other favorite tomatoes at the tasting included Dianne Rainville’s ‘Green Zebra’. One taster singled out this variety for its “nice acidity and beauty.”
Julie Householder and her husband David brought samples of their ‘Goliath’ tomatoes. These tomatoes were extra-special because the plant came from the Master Gardener Plant Sale in May. They also offered ‘Roma’ and ‘Red Siberian’ varieties for sampling.
CMGs John Ashworth and Renata Hahn each brought their favorite tomatoes to the tomato tasting. (Photo by Merrill Kingsbury)
Renata Hahn’s ‘Oh Happy Day’ tomatoes are a beefsteak type hybrid tomato that must get its name for the beautiful ruby-red tomatoes that are bred to be disease resistant.
Other tomatoes sliced and diced for the tasting included ‘Celebrity’, ‘Carbon Purple’, and two different ‘Tommy Toe’ heirloom cherry tomatoes.
The crowd of picnickers numbered 70 and included CMG volunteers and their families. Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener Program Assistant, and her husband hosted the annual social event to celebrate another successful gardening season.
The tomato tasting is a picnic bonus. It give gardeners an opportunity to compare different tomatoes for their future plantings. ‘Sun Gold’ could very well be at the top of many must-grow lists for next season.
What’s your favorite way to use the bounty from your vegetable garden?
Whether you’re a gardener who likes to cook or a cook who likes to garden, now’s the thyme to get busy in the kitchen.
August is when the fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables we planted in late spring start to come on strong.
Tomatoes and peppers and zucchini – oh my!
A vegetable garden is a lot of work, and we should celebrate the harvest as long as it lasts. I treat every home-grown tomato like a precious gem. Every eggplant gets the star treatment. Perfect peppers are sliced, diced, fried or dried.
One of my favorite simple salads is to cut thick slices of tomato, sprinkle them with ribbons of fresh basil and then drizzle with olive oil. I could also eat tomato, cucumber and cheese sandwiches (almost) every day. Squash that’s stuffed and baked is also a keeper.
But, like other foodie gardeners, I’m always on the lookout for creative recipe ideas. I know I’m not the only who wants fresh recipes that are quick, tasty and help make sure no garden-grown goodies go to waste.
How do you put your garden-fresh produce to use? Please share your favorite ways to serve up your homegrown treasures for appetizers, snacks, soups, salads, pasta , pickles, and anything else you like to eat. Ways to preserve the harvest count, too.
Use the “comments” section to add your own recipes and ideas or add a link to recipes you’d recommend to other vegetable growers.