Category Archives: Vegetables and herbs

Plan Ahead for Pumpkin Habanero Peppers

Pumpkin habanero peppers are perfect for Halloween. (Image by John Pendleton)

If you like to play practical jokes on your friends, how far in advanced have you planned to put one in place? I’ve waited two full gardening seasons, so far.

The devious prank occurred to me in 2019 when I read about a new “cooler hotter” chile pepper called Pumpkin habanero. These adorable pumpkin-shaped peppers look just like candy, and I thought they’d be a perfect trick for Halloween. I pictured how sweet they’d look sitting next to all the other seasonal treats on a party buffet table. (Cue fiendish laughter.)

Pumpkin habanero peppers are a cross between African and South American habanero peppers that were intentionally planted in the same field as part of a special project at Rutgers University. The two peppers mingled naturally and created a bright orange pumpkin-shaped habanero chile pepper.

These peppers were bred to pack less punch than Scotch Bonnets, more like a hotter jalapeno with a tangerine-like taste. Plant breeders wanted to produce peppers especially suited to the New Jersey climate and to give the state’s immigrant population a taste of home.

As a long-time vegetable gardener and chile grower, I didn’t let pepper facts stand in my way. Surely New Jersey habanero plants could also grow in drier and less humid Colorado.

But first I had to order seeds from the Exotic Pepper Project at Rutgers. The Exotic Pepper program began about 10 years ago as a special agricultural project to create new pepper varieties that were missing in the marketplace. The program was the brainchild of Albert Ayeni, professor of plant biology, together with professors Tom Orton and Jim Simon. They conduct their research at the New Jersey Agriculture Research Station in New Brunswick, N.J.

Pumpkin habanero chile peppers turn from green to orange with time. (Image by Jodi Torpey)

I spent $11 for forty Pumpkin habanero seeds that arrived in time for starting a few indoors in March. The seeds took about 8 weeks to sprout and grow into small, dark green plants with wrinkly leaves. They were ready for transplanting in May. Unfortunately, those first habanero plants struggled and never recovered from an early spring cold spell.

Rats! My Halloween prank would have to wait for the 2020 gardening season.

When spring rolled around, I started another batch of seeds and this time waited to transplant until temperatures really heated up in June. Two small, but healthy Pumpkin habanero plants began growing in containers placed in the hottest spot on the patio.

With a lot of extra TLC, the pepper plants each grew to over 24 inches tall. Every day I looked for small white flowers and then watched for the tiny green peppers to form. They were slow to grow and even slower for the first few to ripen to bright orange in September.

With warm October days helping them along, I had a good crop of perfect pumpkin-shaped peppers for my long-planned prank. But I’m foiled again! With no Halloween parties planned this year, I’ll have to wait for gardening season 2021 for my friends to be treated to my Great Pumpkin trick.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener since 2005

Growing Garlic in Colorado

By Felicia Brower, Master Gardener Apprentice, Denver County Extension

(Photo credit: Matthew Pilachowski)

As we wrap up our gardens this season, we can begin to think about all of the crops we want next year. If garlic is on your list, now is the time to act.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is easy to grow and a great crop for beginner gardeners. Even though you’ll harvest in July, you’ll need to plant before the end of October. When choosing which garlic you want to plant, know that you’ll need to purchase your bulbs from a garden center, a farmers market, a garlic farm, or a seed catalog (now is the time to place orders for garlic — they sell out quickly this time of year). Grocery store garlic is often treated with anti-growth products that will prevent you from being able to grow your own bulbs from those cloves.

If it’s your first time purchasing seed garlic, you might be surprised at all of the varieties that are available. Each variety has a distinct flavor and an average number of cloves to expect per bulb, so do your research, and choose accordingly.

Choosing Garlic Varieties

There are two distinct types of garlic to choose from: hardneck (ophioscorodon) and softneck (sativum).

Hardneck

Hardneck varieties are easy to identify because of the (you guessed it) hard neck or stem that you’ll find in the center of the bulb. While hardnecks don’t store as long as softnecks, the flavors are often described as being more intense. Hardneck garlic plants produce a scape, which looks like a curly spike with a small bulbous end. Scapes tend to show up a month or so before the plant is ready to harvest and need to be removed so that the plant can continue to send energy down to the development of the new bulb. Good news: scapes are also edible. Popular varieties of hardneck garlic include Chesnok Red, Music, and German Extra Hardy.

Softneck

Softneck varieties are often chosen because they tend to store longer than hardneck varieties, but they have a milder flavor. Most grocery stores carry softneck garlic, and the cloves tend to be smaller and more plentiful. Garlic braids are made with softneck varieties. Popular softneck varieties include Inchelium Red, Silverskin, and Lorz Italian.

Planting Garlic

Garlic plants don’t take up a lot of space and are known to repel rabbits and deer, so consider planting them around the edges of your vegetable and flower beds. Find a sunny spot and prepare your soil by digging a trench. If you notice you have heavy clay soil or very sandy soil, you should amend the soil with some compost prior to planting.

To prepare the garlic for planting, break apart each bulb into cloves, keeping the wrapper on each clove. Choose only the largest cloves to plant to ensure the best and biggest bulbs next summer, and use the smaller cloves for food. Plant the cloves immediately after breaking them apart from the bulb to reduce to risk of disease and excess drying.

Make a trench in the soil three times as deep as the clove. Plant each clove pointy side up four to six inches apart. Cover the cloves with soil, water well, and cover the trench with mulch, leaf litter, or grass clippings. Garlic needs water to grow and thrive, so make sure that you continue to water occasionally (about once every three weeks) throughout the winter season.

The tops of the the plants will start to come up through the winter, but don’t worry. Garlic is a hardy plant, and it should survive. Pull any weeds near the plant as it grows, as they will impact the size of the bulb.

If you plant different varieties in your garden, label each one so that you can make keep records of what grew best and which flavors you preferred for the next time you plant.

While garlic is an easy crop to grow, it is vulnerable to several types of rot. Avoid disease by planting only healthy cloves and being careful not to damage any bulbs while planting things nearby in the spring.

Harvesting Garlic

It’s time to harvest your garlic when the green tops turn brown and begin die down, which typically happens in July if you plant in October. If the soil is loose, you can pull the new bulb up by hand, but if it’s not, use a hand tool to get it out of the soil being very careful not to puncture any of the cloves. If you pull the bulb out of compacted soil, it can create wounds in the bulbs or the stem, which can quickly lead to fungal infections. When they’re removed from the soil, gently brush or rub the dirt off and let the remaining residue dry while the garlic cures. Fresh bulbs are very sensitive and bruise easily, so take care with the removal process.

Curing Garlic

If you want your garlic harvest to last, you need to cure it before you store it. After you pull the bulbs, spread them over or hang them in a warm, airy spot out of direct sun. Do not cover the bulbs with any heavy material, as that can prevent the air flow and encourage rot. If needed, use a lightweight cotton sheet. Store the bulbs at 40-60° F and cure for two to three weeks.

For a visual demonstration of how to plant garlic, watch How to Grow Garlic in Colorado – Produced by Tagawa Gardens, a partner in PlantTalk Colorado.

Make Your Own Herb-Flavored Vinegar

Photo credit:  Tim Sullivan

By Felicia Brower, Master Gardener Apprentice, Denver County Extension

Making herb-flavored vinegar is an easy way to get the most out your herb garden. The vinegars take on the taste of whichever herb or herb combination soaked in them, so you have an opportunity to get creative and to make a fun base for salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and other recipes. To make flavored vinegar, you can use herbs that are fresh, frozen, or dried – just make sure that there are no signs of mold or rot on any of them.

STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR VINEGAR BASE

You can use several different types of vinegars for your flavoring base depending on how you want the end product to taste. It is recommended that you only use commercially produced vinegar as a base to prevent any spoilage or unstable activity and that you keep a close eye on it as it soaks. Vinegar is high in acid, so it does not support the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria (which causes botulism), but some vinegars may support the growth of Escherichia coli bacteria (commonly known as E. coli).

Distilled white, apple cider, rice, and wine vinegars are all common options for bases. If your herbs will impart a color on the vinegar or if you want a visual component, keep that in mind when choosing which one you want to use. As a warning, rice and wine vinegars contain protein that provides an excellent medium for bacterial growth if not stored properly, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on them while they’re soaking.

STEP 2: CHOOSE YOUR HERBS

The quality of the herbs will greatly impact the flavor of your vinegar. Use only the best leaves and flowers, and discard any discolored, bruised, torn, or nibbled parts of the herbs. For the most flavor, pick fresh herbs just after the morning dew has dried.

Chive blossom vinegar next to the remaining old chive blossoms.

What herbs can you use? Chives blossoms (pictured above) give you a light onion flavor with a stunning color. Other popular herbs for flavored vinegars include rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, thyme, dill, oregano, peppercorn, mustard seed, and lemon balm.

If you’re unsure of the flavors you prefer, try experimenting with small batches. If you’re a novice at making flavored vinegars, this is a good way to start in case there are any issues with spoilage or mold along the way.

STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR CONTAINER

Before you make your vinegar, make sure that you have the proper storage containers. Use only glass jars or bottles that are free of cracks or nicks and can be sealed with a screw-band lid, cap, or cork. Make sure the containers are all properly sterilized prior to use.

STEP 4: MAKE YOUR VINEGAR

To make your vinegar, begin by thoroughly cleaning and drying your herbs. Make sure that you’ve sterilized your jars and then fill them with your desired amount and variety of herbs. Allow three to four sprigs of fresh herbs or 3 tablespoons of dried herbs per pint of vinegar.

You have two options: preparing a hot vinegar solution or pouring a room temperature one. If you want to prepare a hot solution, heat the vinegar to just below boiling (190F), and then pour over the herbs and cap tightly. If you want a room temperature solution, simply pour your vinegar over choice over your herbs and make sure they are fully submerged. With either option, cover the jar or bottle with a non-metal lid to prevent corrosive activity.

The herbs should begin to flavor the vinegar after a few days, but letting it sit in a cool, dark place for three to four weeks will bring out more flavor from your herbs. Taste it every few days to see how it’s progressing and to test if it’s finished. To test for flavor development, place a few drops of the flavored vinegar on some white bread and taste. The flavoring process can be shortened by a week or so by bruising or coarsely chopping the herbs before placing them in the bottles and adding the vinegar.

When it reaches the optimal flavor, strain out the solid herbs and pour your vinegar into a clean, sterilized jar. You should strain it a few times to make sure you don’t leave any small particles behind. Don’t leave the herbs in the vinegar for longer than two months, as the risk of spoilage increases after that time. If you see any signs of mold or fermentation, discard the vinegar and do not consume. (This is where the small batches come in handy!)

If properly prepared, flavored vinegars should retain good quality for two to three months in cool room storage and for six to eight months in refrigerated storage. If you notice any signs of mold or fermentation (such as bubbling, cloudiness, or sliminess) in your flavored vinegar, throw it away without tasting or using for any purpose. For the best flavor retention, store in the refrigerator.

HOW TO USE YOUR VINEGAR

Use your herb vinegar as a base for a salad dressing or as an alternative in any recipe that calls for plain vinegar. They add zest to marinades and interesting flavors to dressings for vegetable, salads, and pastas.

Photo credit: Patrycja Tomaszczyk

RECIPES TO TRY

Fresh Dill Vinegar
8 sprigs fresh dill
4 cups (1 quart) white vinegar

Wash dill and dip in solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach in 6 cups water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Place dill in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190 F); pour over dill. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks. Strain vinegar, discarding dill. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized dill, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 quart.

Herbal Vinegar
4 cups red wine vinegar
8 sprigs fresh parsley
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sage leaves

Thoroughly wash herbs and dip in solution of 1 teaspoon household bleach in 6 cups water. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water and pat dry. Place herbs in sterilized quart jar. Heat vinegar to just below boiling point (190 F); pour over herbs. Cap tightly and allow to stand in cool, dark place for three to four weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain out herbs. Pour vinegar into clean sterilized bottles with tight fitting covers. Add a fresh sprig of cleaned and sanitized parsley, if desired. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 quart.

For more information, refer to the CSU Extension Fact Sheet No. 9.340: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/flavored-vinegars-and-oils-9-340/

Easy-to-Grow Container Basil

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardeners since 2015

Container Vegetable Gardening

f2t-09378

Colorado State University

Want to grow vegetables but have limited outdoor space or no “dirt” of your own?  Like the ease of growing in pots versus in the ground? Sounds like container gardening is made for you. Here are some helpful tips for successful gardening in pots.

What to Plant

Peppers, squash, greens, potatoes, basil are among the many plants that grow well in containers – check this Planttalk Colorado publication for details and inspiration. When purchasing plants or seeds, look for cultivars described as compact, dwarf, patio or bush. Determinate tomato varieties work well but I also have great success with ‘Sun Gold’, a sweet, prolific indeterminate cherry tomato. (Determinate varieties tend to ripen all at once while and grow on bushier plants, while indeterminate ripen over a longer period and tend to be larger plants.)

Where and When to Plant

Generally, vegetables and herbs need 6-8 hours of sun a day. Placing your container on a strong dolly with wheels allows you to move the plant to find the ideal space. A dolly also helps you quickly shelter your plants from Colorado’s wicked summer hailstorms.

Warm season vegetables such as tomatoes should be planted when evening low temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees. Don’t rush things – in Denver, this generally means late May, even though Mother’s Day weekend is touted as the kickoff to the gardening season.

What Container to Use

squash

Colorado State University

The larger the plant, the larger the root system.  Salad greens successfully grow in pots that are 6-12” deep and at least 18” wide, while a tomato needs at least a depth and width of 14-16″ or more. Larger pots are less prone to drying out rapidly and because they hold more growing medium, the plant receives more nutrients and has plenty of room for root development. Generously sized, heavy containers anchor large plants in the wind and will help avoid tipping and broken branches.

Plastic, glazed or unglazed clay pots or wood whiskey barrels are popular choices. Unglazed clay pots can require more frequent watering, especially in the hottest part of the season. No matter what your container is made of, it must have good drainage holes.

Don’t forget to add support for vining or large plants – stake, cage or trellis your plant just as you would if it was in the ground. These plant aides are easiest to add before the plant needs it. Wrestling a metal cage over a sprawling plant is not fun and may not be successful. I’ve tried.

Soil and Fertilizer

Use potting media specifically for containers and/or vegetables, often labeled soilless.  “Soilless” potting soil sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  Just like traditional potting soils, it can contain peat moss for nutrients, vermiculite for water retention and perlite to aide in air movement around the roots. The mixture will weigh less and is good to use in heavy containers.

Container veggies grow vigorously and therefore require lots of nutrients. Some mixtures contain time release fertilizers, which help plants get off to a good start, but will not feed plants for the entire season. Excellent information on using soluble and time-release supplements  in our region can be found here.

Penn State Extension noted that time release fertilizers release nutrients faster in warm weather; a pellet fertilizer labeled to last 4-5 months will only last 2 months if the temperatures are above 85 degrees.

According to Colorado State University, “Organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion or blood meal can also be used if desired but may be available too slowly for actively growing plants or may develop sour aromas that attract pets and pests.”

63926

Parker County Texas Master Gardeners

I’ve always added gravel or broken clay shards to the bottom of  pots for drainage.  Turns out, it’s not necessary or even advisable. Studies by Washington State University and others found that a layer of inorganic material drives excess moisture up to the roots rather than helping with drainage.  Excess moisture suffocates roots and reduces oxygen flow.  So, this year, I’m simply covering the drainage holes with pieces of metal screen to keep soil from leeching out. Paper coffee filters can do the trick too.

When to Water

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this often-asked question. A best practice is to check plants daily, ideally in the morning. Poke your finger into the soil, if it is starting to dry out at your first knuckle, water at the soil line till water flows out the bottom of the pot. Consider factors such as temperature, wind, reflective heat from surrounding hard surfaces, and as mentioned earlier, the type of container used. In the heat of the summer, you will likely water every day, possibly twice.

Do not allow vegetables to dry out completely – they may not forgive you!  Results of underwatering can include deformed  fruit, poor growth, disease or even loss of the plant.

Conclusion

So there you have it, a round up of solid research-based advice for container gardening. Growing edible plants in pots is rewarding and can yield excellent results. It’s a reliable method for experienced and beginning gardeners alike.  If you’ve never given it a try, its a fun summer activity which can provide plenty of healthy, tasty rewards.

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginning Gardeners

New to vegetable gardening? We’re here to help!

A group of experienced CSU-Denver Master Gardeners answered the call to help new vegetable gardeners plant and grow their first gardens. These tips cover most of the basics for the best chance of success growing fruits, vegetables and herbs this season.

Their advice covers how to get your garden started, what to plant, when to plant, where to plant, how to care for your garden and a primer on growing tomatoes.

John Ashworth

John H. Ashworth, Master Gardener since 2014, shares his thoughts on various veggies that do well in Colorado vegetable gardens:

Radishes are the ideal crop to start with, especially if you get your kids involved. Radishes emerge very quickly, even in cold soil, and are ready for eating in 30 days or less.

Carrots can do well here, but can struggle if you have heavy clay soil in your garden. Before you plant in clay soil, mix in a healthy dose of play sand and mix in well. This will allow the carrot roots to grow down without extensive use of a garden fork for cultivating. Plant the shorter, stubbier carrot varieties, Nantes and half Danvers, if you have heavy soil.

Basil seeds can be started indoors under lights or in a sunny window, but  DO NOT plant them outside too soon!  Wait until early to mid-June. Basil grows well in containers — I plant ten basil plants in a large pot and get enough to make pesto all summer long. Be aware that Japanese beetles love basil, so pick the beetles off the plants early each morning.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and like rich soil. Add compost and fertilizer (either well-rotted steer manure or a balanced chemical fertilizer) to the planting hole. Fertilize every few weeks. Because our climate is dry and lacks humidity, some tomato varieties, like large beefsteak tomatoes, tend to split open prematurely. Instead, try Sungold cherry tomatoes, Early Boy or Early Girl varieties, or any of the heirloom varieties such as Brandywine,  or the Eastern European varieties such as Black Krim or Polish paste tomatoes.

John’s final piece of advice: Above all, have fun!

Mary Carnegie, Master Gardener since 2002, is also the Garden Leader for the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) Park Hill School garden. Her top three tips for new gardeners are concise and to the point:

1. Be willing to get your hands dirty; stick your finger in the soil to see if plants need water.

2. Know the “safe” planting dates; don’t plant too early. (CSU Extension’s Vegetable Planting Guide can help with planting dates.)

3. Learn as much as you can about watering and mulching. (CSU Extension’s Watering Guide and Mulches for Home Grounds are two good resources.)

Rikki Hanson

Rikki Hanson, Master Gardener since 2014, says something that stuck with her as a beginning gardener is that “Colorado gardeners do it for the challenge. Lucky for me, I like a challenge.” To meet that challenge, she advises to start small.

1. Start with a few veggies that you enjoy eating. Have a mix of things that grow quickly and slowly, that way you can enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner while you wait for the big-ticket items. Radishes and lettuces are great fast-rewards foods.

2. Make a plan for watering: early in the morning or after 6 pm. This is especially important when you have seeds and seedlings. We have a very dry climate that lends itself nicely to mulch.

3. Find the joy in your own plot of Earth. Vegetable gardening is something to be enjoyed and to help you destress!

Jill Fielder

Jill Fielder, Master Gardener since 2012, is happy to share her trio of tips:

Tip 1:  Many vegetable plants need sunlight to grow sturdy and strong. Planting  sun-worshiping  vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants in less than full sun (about 6-8 hours of sun) sets one up for heartbreak. Tomato plants aren’t going to be vigorous and productive in 3 or 4 hours of sun no matter how much you will it. If you don’t have adequate sun in your space, choose plants that will thrive in partial sun (3-5 hours) such as lettuces, chard, spinach, scallions, kale, beets, Asian greens and radishes. In Colorado basil, thyme, chives, mint, oregano and parsley grow beautifully with just morning sun.

Tip 2:  Find a place for bunching onions or scallions (also called Welch onions, spring onions and green onions). These onions are super easy, speedy and fun. They can be grown from seed or slender starts from the nursery. Choose the customary white variety or scoop up the pretty deep red ones if you can find them. Plant in mid spring and you can eat the greens during the summer (snipped into eggs, stir fries and salads) and harvest the whole onion plants in the fall. Left in the garden, they’ll usually overwinter.

Tip 3:  Start seeds for ruffled, loose leaf lettuces outdoors early, even if there will likely still be frosts and maybe snow. Lettuce seedlings are remarkably tough. Depending on the lettuce variety, leaves can be ready in 40-55 days. Don’t let your precious garden space go unused in the spring!

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld, long-time gardener and Master Gardener since 2017, reveals her 8 tips for tomato growing. These are the key points she wishes she would’ve known years ago when it comes to planting tomato seedlings:

1. Choose seedlings that are strong and relatively straight.

2. Harden off all seedlings for a good week after purchasing. “Hardening Off” means leaving them outside, in a sheltered location, with little exposure to the elements. Be sure to water the seedlings to keep moist before planting.

3. When ready, plant tomatoes in a trench. Cut off all the leaves and small branches EXCEPT for the top 2 inches. Plant the rest sideways in the trench. Those fuzzy little hairs on the stem will become roots! Planting the tomatoes more-or-less horizontally will produce greater numbers of roots and lead to a stronger plant.

4. Here’s the hard part. For the subsequent 3 weeks, remove ALL the flowers. Doing this allows the plant to spend its energy producing a strong root system. I sometimes compare this to humans in the following way: Although, say, young teenagers may be physically possible to bear children, they are not ready to. Similarly, the tomato plant needs to mature in the ground before producing tomatoes.

5. Pinch off all ‘suckers’ in indeterminate varieties. Suckers appear in the crotches of the tomato branches and can harm the overall plant by weakening the main stem.

6. Stake or cage the plants! Because you’ve trench-planted and picked the blossoms, the main stock will be thick and able to support many more tomatoes.

7. Water tomatoes ONLY at the bottom at soil level, trying not to wet any leaves. Keep only moderately moist. They will likely not need watering every day.

8. Enjoy the harvest!

A big thank you to John, Mary, Rikki, Jill and Elizabeth for generously sharing their hard-won secrets to vegetable-growing success.

Of course, Master Gardeners are available to answer specific questions through the Denver Master Gardener Helpline at 720-913-5278 or email denvermg @ colostate.edu. Also, please take a minute to review the list of Free CSU Extension Spring Gardening webinars and our new Grow & Give program.

By Jodi Torpey, Master Gardener since 2005
Photos provided by each gardener

Growing Hops in the Home Garden

Growing hops at home for brewing or ornamental purposes can be quite rewarding.  However, consistently producing healthy hop plants with good cone yields is a bit of an art, but with experience, it is a process that can be mastered by following a few easy steps.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a perennial in the hemp family (Cannabaceae) that produces annual bines from overwintering rootstock.  Hops are native to Europe, western Asia, and North America and are one of the key bittering and flavoring ingredients of beer.

Hops are described as “bines” rather than “vines” because they climb by wrapping around a supporting structure in a clockwise direction and cling to the surface using stiff downward-facing hairs.

Hop plants are dioecious; they have separate male and female plants. Only the female plant produces the cones and lupulin utilized in brewing.  Lupulin is a yellow, resinous substance produced by specialized glands within the cones. Lupulin contains the oils and resins that give hops their distinct aroma. Hops are rhizomes that have underground stems that can produce additional roots and shoots.

Step 1. Selection and Propagation

Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and CTZ varieties will grow well on the Colorado Front Range.  Nugget and Chinook varieties are prolific growers and are very resistant to both insect pressure and diseases.  Rhizomes can be purchased from some homebrew stores, through mail order from many growers, or by propagating established plants.

In Colorado, rhizomes should be divided in late February to early March while plants are dormant. If possible, untrained bines should be coiled around the base of the plant during the growing season and covered with soil. The covered bines will convert to rhizomes, which can be removed in the winter by digging adjacent to the plant and cutting the rhizomes from the plant using a sharp, sterile knife. Ideally, cut the rhizomes into approximately 3-inch lengths with multiple buds.

Stem cuttings can be taken throughout the growing season but are more likely to root when obtained in the spring through early summer before flowering. Several cuttings can be taken from one bine. Dissect the bine so that each cutting has one node at the top, dip the stem bottom in a root toner, and place the cuttings in sand or florist’s fam. Keep the rooting media wet, and roots should develop within 2 weeks. Once roots are well formed, transplant the cutting into a pot with soil and fertilize with a basic fertilizer such as 16-16-16.

Step 2. Establishment and Care

Hop bines normally grow from 15 to 20 feet high but may grow higher depending on the climate and available climbing support. They require full sun (12 hours), good air circulation and well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5 for high productivity.  A large container such as a half whiskey barrel can also be used and allows you to manage your soil conditions and help keep any unwanted spreading of the rhizomes into your yard.

Once the threat of a killing frost has passed in the spring, transplant the hops into the desired outdoor site. Dig a narrow trench 12 inches deep and slightly longer than the rhizome. Plant one rhizome per hill with the buds pointed up and over with 1 inch of loose soil. They should be spaced three feet apart. Initially, provide consistent watering while being careful to not over water because hops do not like to have “wet feet”.

After establishment, provide climbing support such as a pole or trellis at the planting site. Ideally, string a top wire about 15 to 18 feet high, then attach strings the hops will climb. As an alternative, erect a single pole, which is what most commercial yards did until well into the nineteenth century, and run strings to the top.  The string needs to support plants that will weigh 20 lbs when mature.  If planting two or more hop plants side by side, allow 24 to 36 inches of spacing between plants. If growing for ornamental reasons, a standard trellis or arbor can also work and keep bines pruned to keep desired form. The cones will grow on sidearms as the plant grows.

The focus in the first year of planting is root establishment and not cone production, thus it may be beneficial to limit the plant’s ability to climb during establishment by supplying only a 4-foot stake or pole. Be careful not to remove foliage during the first year because the plants require as much leaf material as possible to develop and store carbohydrates in the root system for the following year’s growth. Plants usually reach full production in their second or third growing season.

Step 3. Train the Bines

As the shoots grow to approximately 3 feet in length, choose the 2-3 most vigorous to grow and remove all remaining shoots. As the shoots elongate, train them onto the support structure by winding them in a clockwise direction, which follows their natural growth habit. Plants may be fertilized during spring and early summer, but fertilizer is not typically required after mid-July. Nitrogen is usually the limiting nutrient for adequate hop growth. You can apply nitrogen as urea (46-0-0) or in combination with other nutrients such as a 16-16-16 fertilizer.

Step 4. Irrigation

Hop plants require consistent moisture throughout the growing season. The plant roots want to be wet but not waterlogged. You may let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Hop plants grow very rapidly during the heat of summer, so it is important to deliver consistent, even moisture to prevent drought stress. A hop plant may require several gallons of water per day during the summer. Water at the base of the plant to minimize wet foliage which can lead to disease issue.

Step 5. Common Diseases and Insects

Powdery mildew is a common disease affecting hops in our climate.  It is caused by the fungus Podosphaera macularis.  Although unsightly on the foliage, powdery mildew is most problematic when it attacks developing cones during the summer. Cone tissue infected with powdery mildew becomes necrotic and deformed, and chemical composition may be negatively affected. Control measures include spring pruning to remove infected tissue and fungicide application with products such as sulfur.  Many varieties of hops, such as Nugget or Chinook are resistant to the disease.

Spider mites are a common insect problem. A minor infestation causes bronze leaves, while a severe one results in defoliation and white webs. Spider mites are most dangerous during warm dry weather and not usually a problem for well-watered plants.

Step 6. Harvesting and Storage

Hops typically mature between mid-August and mid-September. Hop cones harvested for beer brewing can be used fresh after picking, or dried and sealed in an airtight container in the freezer for later use. Mature cones will have a dry, papery feel, and the lupulin inside of the cone will be golden yellow and have a pleasant “hoppy” aroma. Immature cones will feel soft and vegetative, and the lupulin will be pale yellow with a mild vegetative aroma.

After harvest, cut the bines off the trellis leaving 2 feet of bine above ground.  Do not cut down the last green matter until after the first frost, then prune bines to a few inches and cover with mulch.

Sources:

Hieronymus, S. (2012). For the love of hops: the practical guide to aroma, bitterness and the culture of hops. Boulder (Colorado): Brewers Publications.

Growing Hops in the Home Garden: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9115

Powdery Mildew Fact Sheet: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/powdery-mildews-2-902/

Aphids on Shade Trees and Ornamentals: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/aphids-on-shade-trees-and-ornamentals-5-511/

Spider Mites: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/spider-mites-5-507/

Organic Hops Variety Trials and Over-wintering Study: https://specialtycrops.agsci.colostate.edu/organic-hops-variety-trials-and-over-wintering-study/

 

Written by Kevin Ritter, a Denver County Master Gardener as well as Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s Laboratory Technician and Sensory Specialist.

Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images

Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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 gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org 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

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

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.

https://gardenerd.com/

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.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

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.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

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.

Epic Gardening

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!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

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.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

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

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

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.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

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

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

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?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

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!

Additional reading: https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/faq/why-are-my-tomatoes-cracking

Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Posted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener