Tag Archives: vegetable gardening

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

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

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

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