Category Archives: Vegetables and herbs

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

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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.”

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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

Meet the Garden Squad

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

Apprenticeship and the Know-Nothings

An emotional dichotomy of actual knowledge vs. expectation.

Image by monica_vatalaro via McKenna Hynes

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.

Image via McKenna Hynes

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 Imposter Syndrome, 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

New Mexico Chiles

serrano-peppers pixabay.com

Serrano peppers Pixabay.com

Twenty one varieties of New Mexico chile peppers, Capsicum annuum, will be  on sale on May 18-19 at the CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale held at Denver’s Harvard Gulch Park.  Grown from the University of New Mexico’s Chile Pepper Institute’s (CPI) seeds, the fruits range from mild and flavorful to bold, smoky and hot.

poblano

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.

Scoville_Wilbur_Prof_med

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!

For more information:

Plant Talk Colorado: Chile Peppers

Growing Colorado Peppers, Colorado Farm to Table/Colorado State University

“What’s So Hot About Chili Peppers” Smithsonian Magazine, April 2009

Posted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener