Category Archives: Vegetables and herbs

Slow Food Helps Grow Kids

An important part of the children’s garden was helping kids connect to nature by learning about the colors and magic of fruit. Other beds were filled with all the plants needed to make salsa, a nutrient scavenger hunt and salad greens as an equation for success.

There was a lot to love about the Slow Food Nations festival in downtown Denver over the weekend.

The celebration of local, organic and sustainable foods included free food tastings offered by Slow Food groups from around the world, educational programming and vendors selling to the thousands of foodies that attended the event.

But one of my favorite displays was the children’s garden, located on the sidewalk just north of the Taste Marketplace.

In this series of raised bed gardens, kids had the chance to get their hands dirty by exploring gardens filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and flowers.

One of the premier gardens included a sample of the modular Learning Gardens, created by The Kitchen Community. The Kitchen Community’s mission is “Community through Food” and it accomplishes that goal by building outdoor classrooms on school playgrounds around the country, including Denver and Fort Collins. There are more than 400 to date.

The customizable gardens are designed to fit into each school’s landscape and become part of the educational process. As a teaching tool, the gardens help students learn about growing and eating nutritious foods and gaining healthy habits to hopefully last a lifetime.

A bowl of dried corn and a grinder were placed next to a bed of corn plants. Kids were encouraged to try their hand at turning corn into a grain for cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Low Tunnel garden bed introduced kids to the the concept of helping plants grow before and after summer. Books on year-round gardening surrounded the bed as resources for kids and their parents.

 

 

In addition to all the herbs, fruits, and vegetables, there were beds of flowers to promote planting for pollinators. A sensory garden helped kids see, smell and feel the benefits of plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Where Does Baby Corn Come From?

A few weeks ago, one of my vegetable gardening friends asked me where she could buy seeds to grow baby corn.

She thought the tiny rows of corn stalks would look cute growing in her elevated garden bed.

I thought about it for a minute before telling her, “Baby corn comes from the same place as baby carrots.”

She looked confused until I explained what I meant. Then we both had a good laugh.

The baby corn found on appetizer plates and in stir-fry recipes isn’t a special variety of sweet corn. The tiny ears are the second ear from the top of regular sweet corn that’s been handpicked before the plant’s been fertilized. The top ear is left on the plant to keep growing into full size.

Because handpicking little ears of corn is especially labor intensive, almost all the baby corn we eat is grown and harvested overseas in countries like Thailand. Of course, there may be a few industrious U.S. growers who grow and harvest the baby ears of corn to sell in their husks at farmers markets.

But large farms steer clear of the early harvest because it can’t be mechanized.

The packages of baby carrots at the grocery store aren’t a special variety of carrot either. Baby cut carrots start out as full-size, slightly imperfect carrots that are sliced into smaller pieces, run through a mill and then polished into perfectly round “baby” carrots.

The idea for baby cut carrots came from one creative carrot farmer who was trying to find a way to increase carrot sales and reduce the amount of carrot waste from irregular or “ugly” carrots.

The leftover carrot scraps from the milling process don’t go to waste either. They’re usually composted, used as animal feed or turned into carrot juice.

The good news for vegetable gardeners is there are real baby carrots we can plant and grow in our gardens. These miniature varieties of carrots are sold in seed packets with names like ‘Romeo’ baby round carrots, ‘Baby Little Fingers’, and ‘Short ‘N Sweet’ carrots.

As for growing baby corn, you can always plant any variety of sweet corn and then start picking those little ears just after the corn silks emerge and before they have a chance to grow.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Grow a Garden Workshops Take Root

Pallas Quist, DUG Master Community Gardener, leads a Growing Green workshop in Denver.

What do you get when you mix 25,000 seed packets with 29,000 vegetable transplants and 18 organic gardening workshops?

Thousands of happy Grow a Garden participants for the 2017 gardening season.

Grow a Garden is the new name for Denver Urban Gardens Free Seeds and Transplants program. This program helps income-qualified individuals, families and gardening groups by providing free seeds, plants and know-how for growing productive vegetable gardens.

This year DUG is partnering with CSU Extension to present the “Growing Green” vegetable gardening workshops. This collaboration represents a full circle of gardening education because CSU Extension initially offered similar workshops to the community about 20 years ago.

DUG developed the workshop content and slide show to focus on organic gardening basics for growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. The goal is to help gardeners of all levels plant, grow and harvest their homegrown fresh produce to help stretch their grocery dollars.

Teams of facilitators—a DUG Master Community Gardener and a CSU Master Gardener—met at a train-the-trainer session led by Jessica Romer, DUG’s director of horticulture and Dan Goldhamer, CSU Extension horticulture agent.

Facilitators then joined forces to present information for getting started, planning and designing the garden, amending the soil, timing the planting, and maintaining the garden.

“I feel like I’ve been launched,” said beginning community gardener John Anduri after one of the Denver Grow a Garden workshops. “I thought the information was perfect because I don’t know beans about gardening.”

Like CSU Extension Master Gardeners, DUG’s Master Community Gardeners attend horticultural training classes, but they also have specialized training in community gardening and community organizing. It was a unique and satisfying collaboration for volunteers from both organizations.

After the workshop, Grow a Garden participants picked up their supply of seed packets so they could start planting their cool-season gardens. Warm-weather transplants, like tomatoes and peppers, will be available at distribution centers in May.

As continuing support through the season, Grow a Garden participants can attend any of DUG’s other gardening classes for free.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

Tweaking Tomatoes Produces Faster Fruit

tomatoesNew research in plant biology has the potential for earlier and larger harvests of sweet cherry tomatoes. The question is, would you eat a tomato that’s been tweaked?

Scientists are experimenting with Sweet 100 tomato plants to fine-tune genes and speed up flowering and fruiting. Scientists have found these tomatoes grow bushier plants that produce ripe tomatoes faster by several weeks. A report on the research appeared in a recent article published in Nature Genetics.

The research, conducted at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Springs Harbor, N.Y., engineered mutations to “cause rapid flowering and enhance the determinate growth habit of field tomatoes, resulting in a quick burst of flower production that translates to an early yield.”

It all has to do with changes to the plants that eliminate day-length sensitivity. The lab provides more details about its research in this press release.

The technology scientists use for modifying plants is known as CRISPR (pronounced crisper). The acronym stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – a precise laboratory method for editing plants’ genes. Because these plants contain no foreign DNA, they aren’t genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In addition to harvesting earlier tomatoes, gene editing may help grow larger yields of crops and lead to crops that resist drought and diseases. Some current applications include a fungus-resistant wheat and larger harvests of rice. Gene editing technology may also allow some crops to grow in places where they wouldn’t normally thrive.

While gardeners are always interested in getting ripe tomatoes to their tables faster, do you think there are any potential downsides to this new technology?

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Grow Local Colorado and the Harvard Gulch Park Vegetable Garden

The Denver Extension CSU Master Gardeners (CMGs) in partnership with Grow Local Colorado have been growing a vegetable demonstration garden at Harvard Gulch Park on the corner of Emerson St. and Iliff Ave. in Denver for several years.  Produce from this joint project is donated to the Community Ministry Food Bank and the Food Bank at the University Church of Christ.

Harvard Gulch Park vegetable garden

Harvard Gulch Park vegetable garden – June 2016

Every year beginning in March while there is still snow on the ground, the CMGs start vegetable plants from seed at the City Park Greenhouses.   They nurse the seedlings until late May when the plants are big and sturdy and ready to be planted at Harvard Gulch Park.  With the help of Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado,  the CMGs plant tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, squash, peppers, cabbage,  lettuce and chard in the demonstration garden.  Over the course of the next several months, CMG volunteers water, weed and harvest the bounty for donation to local food banks.  As of the middle of August, the Harvard Gulch garden has produced more than 440 pounds of produce and the season is just kicking into high gear.

Our partner, Grow Local Colorado is an organization dedicated to promoting local food, local community and local economy.  The Harvard Gulch Vegetable Garden is one of several Grow Local sponsored gardens in Metro Denver including a number of Denver parks and the Colorado Governor’s Mansion.  These Grow Local sponsored gardens are providing thousands of pounds of fresh produce to communities that do not have easy access to healthy food.  The garden partnerships are just one of several projects Grow Local is engaged in to encourage Coloradans to grow and share produce with others in their communities.  Visit the Grow Local website to find out more.

If your garden is producing more vegetables than you and your family can consume, consider donating your garden surplus to area organizations that help those experiencing food insecurity.  The attached link at the Denver Extension website is a guide to organizations in your community that will gladly accept your surplus bounty.

Harvest from Harvard Gulch Park vegetable garden

Harvest from Harvard Gulch Park vegetable garden

The City and County of Denver is working with members of the community to ensure food security for all Denver residents through the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council.  To learn more about the Sustainable Food Policy Council and Denver’s food system from production to distribution to consumption check out the Denver Department of Environmental Health’s Food Systems Policies website.    Find out how our food system works (or doesn’t) and its impact on the health of our citizens.

If your green thumb was too green this summer, join Grow Local Colorado, the Denver Extension CSU Master Gardeners and others in helping bring healthy produce to all members of our community.

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

4 Ways to Share the Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

CSU Webinar Helps Solve Garden Mystery

Deformed tomato leavesEvery summer is different in the garden, but this year I found something I hadn’t seen before with two container tomato plants. The new leaves on these  plants was stunted and twisted into odd shapes.

Like many gardeners, I’ve seen plenty of tomato problems in my garden over the years. Early blight, late blight, blossom end rot and insect damage have cropped up from time to time, but these twisted leaves had me stumped.

I looked for images of similar problems online and checked my Tomato MD app, but I couldn’t find anything else that looked like that deformed growth.

In a great gardening coincidence while I was finishing my Colorado Master Gardener continuing education requirements, I clicked on a Small Acreage Management (SAM) webinar, and the mystery was solved.

These SAM webinars are posted on YouTube, so any gardener can watch them for free. The one that helped me diagnose my tomato plant problem is called “Herbicide Carryover and Fall Garden Care” led by Darrin Parmenter of CSU Extension in La Plata County, dated Sept. 4, 2013.

Herbicide carryover can happen when gardeners use herbicide-treated hay, straw or grass clippings as mulch or compost in their gardens. Herbicide carryover can also occur if gardeners apply manure from livestock that ate treated pasture or crops. Tomatoes and members of the tomato family are especially susceptible to herbicide carryover.

I’ve used well-aged horse manure in my garden for years and there’s never been a problem until this season. It turns out that herbicide carryover from horse manure is the top pathway because herbicides can pass through horses so quickly.

As soon as I understood the problem, I started a remediation program to improve soil microbial activity in the two containers with the affected tomato plants. I’ve cultivated the soil to increase oxygen, added a different kind of organic matter to increase beneficial soil organisms and used a home-made organic mulch. I’m also keeping the soil evenly moist and using a liquid fertilizer once a week.

According to Darrin in the webinar, the tomato plants may recover if there’s enough vegetative growth. I’m certainly going to be more thoughtful with how I amend my garden soil in the future.

By Jodi Torpey
A Colorado Master Gardener

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Have you ever noticed your perfectly healthy plants wilting at the end of a hot, sunny day? This is the plant’s way of protecting itself from the elements, much like our bodies adjust to temperature changes. Plants routinely gather moisture and nutrients from the soil through their roots and move it up transpirationtheir stems and leaves. Moisture is then emitted back into the air through pores on the underside of the leaves, called stomata. This process is called transpiration. On an especially hot day, the leaves will begin to emit more moisture than the roots can supply, which triggers the pores to close. As a result, the leaves lose rigidity and wilt but the plant is protected from further loss of moisture. While all plants transpire, broadleaf plants such as cucumbers, squash, hydrangea and many annual flowers are especially susceptible to heat wilt.

To  help your plants recover:

  • If the soil is moist about an inch under the soil line, the plant will likely recover on its own in the cooler night air. If it is dry, water the plant at the soil line and check in the morning; again, the plant should have perked up.  If the coming day will be another scorcher, consider a bit more morning water to avoid further late day stress.
  • Be gentle around the limp foliage, it is stressed and can easily break.

To reduce the potential for heat wilt:

  • Add 2″-3″ mulch around  plants, stopping at the outer edge of the plant so water can be absorbed easily.
  • Promote healthy roots by routinely watering deeper a few times a week versus a daily short spritz.
  • When adding new plants, loosen soil deeply and add organics such as compost to aid in drainage and root development.
  • Consider location when planting. Afternoon sun is very likely to wilt plants that need only partial sun. Also pair plants needing the same water and light conditions together.
  • Add succulents and plants requiring less water to your garden. They will thrive during the dog days of summer.

Transpiration fun facts and resources:

  • An acre of corn can transpire 3,000-4,000 gallons of water a day.
  • Transpiration is to thank  for the comforting shade under large trees. Eighty percent of the cooling effect of a shade tree comes from the evaporative effects of transpiration.
  • Much more on the transpiration process can be found on CMG Garden Notes 141 and at http://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycletranspiration.html

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hail Season is Here – Don’t Despair!

Gardening along the Front Range of Colorado is not for the faint of heart. We have to deal with poor soil, wild temperature swings, intense sun, a short growing season and hail. Somewhere in the Denver Metro area someone will experience the heartbreak of hail this season. It is hit or miss from year to year, but it is inevitable. The results can be devastating. In a few minutes,  a gardener’s hard work can lay in ruin.

Hail June 2015

Hail – June 2015

The first thing to remember when you experience hail damage is not to panic or lose hope. That is hard to do when everything in your garden has been shredded to confetti.  The initial inclination is to give up for the year and pull everything out. Don’t do it. Take a deep breath and stand back. Some plants may be done for the year, but others will come back even if they look terrible right now. Plants want to grow. They have an amazing ability to come back.

In 2015, our garden experienced two severe hail storms: one at the beginning of June and one the last week of June. We knew that most of our perennials would come back with time, but our vegetables were in a sorry state. Most were reduced to green sticks with a few tattered leaves hanging on for dear life. At that moment, it was hard not to throw in the towel for the season and head to the farmers market for produce. After much wailing and hand wringing, we went out in the garden and cleaned up the dead plant material. We took care to leave any foliage that looked like it might have a bit of life left.  Then we waited. Within a week or so, our tattered vegetable plants showed signs of renewed growth. Soon they were leafing out with abandon. We helped them along with light applications of liquid kelp fertilizer. By the end of July, we were harvesting vegetables from the same plants we thought were lost in June.  It was not our best harvest, but it was very good given the challenges we faced.

One small confession – we did buy a few new plants to hedge our bets. It was late in the season to buy vegetables at the garden center. The selection was not great.  The replacement plants got a late start and needed to get established. In the end, the replacements did not do as well as the original plants. Although the foliage on the original plants was shredded, those plants had been in the ground for over a month and had strong established root systems.  It’s not always what you see above ground that matters most.

If you have the misfortune this season to be hit by hail, remember:

 

  • Don’t panic.
  • Clean up the dead foliage.
  • Leave foliage that still has life.
  • Do light applications of fertilizer.
  • Be patient.
  • Click here for more tips.

By Mark Zammuto,  Denver County Master Gardener