Monday, November 17, 2014

Want to be a Colorado Master Gardener? by Christine Crouse

“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.”~Josephine Neuse

Grow your love of gardening by becoming a Colorado Master Gardener!  Starting in January, this 10-week (one day/week) college-level course offers students in-depth horticulture classes taught by experts in the fields of Plant Health Care and the Diagnostic Process, Botany, Soils, Fertilizers and Soil Amendments, Entomology, Plant Pathology, Lawn Care, The Science of Planting Trees and Identifying Shrubs, Weed Management, Vegetables and Native Plants.

Contact your local CSU Extension office for details.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Caring for Our Bird Friends in the Winter by Molly Niven

Pygmy Nuthatches, the authors favorite
Do you want to attract birds all winter long? Regulars at our house in Golden Gate Canyon at about 8,800’ include:  Cassin’s finches, house finches, and (in the shoulder season) brown capped rosy finches; mountain and occasional black capped chickadees; dark-eyed and slate colored juncos; pygmy nuthatches (my favorite!), pine siskins, and red crossbills; hairy and downy woodpeckers; Steller’s Jays, Northern (Red Shafted) Flickers, Clark’s Nutcrackers, magpies and common ravens.  That’s a start!

o   Landscape with plants that produce berries, seeds and nuts.  Delay garden cleanup until spring, leaving seed heads on flowers.
o   Put out a variety of feeders: suet, large and small seed feeders.  If you are going to put out just one feeder, make it a sunflower seed tube feeder.
o   Favorite food:  black oiled sunflower seeds are at the top of the list for most birds.  Add striped sunflower seeds for large beaked birds and millet for small beaked birds.   Finches love niger seed, but these require a special feeder.   Most birds discard milo, wheat and oats but beware, rodents love these.
o   Try a homemade suet feeder (1” deep and 1” diameter holes in a log).
o   Make your own suet:  one part peanut butter, four parts cornmeal, and one part vegetable shortening or lard.  Add seeds, nuts and dried currents.  Suet and nuts provide protein.
o   Clean your feeders at least once a year with a 10 percent bleach solution-one part bleach to nine parts water to ward off salmonella and other diseases.
o   Create a microclimate around your birdbath to keep the water from freezing or build a solar birdbath.  An electric stock tank heater in a shallow dish of clean water or a heated birdbath will work. 
o   Keep water away from food so droppings, seeds and hulls do not contaminate it.
3.      PROVIDE PROTECTION from the elements and predators
o   Wind blocks include landscaping, woodpiles, stonewalls and other man made structures.
o   A variety of shrubs, deciduous and conifer trees provide perches, cover and nesting areas. 
o   Keep your house cats indoors – EVEN those with bells!  Cats account for about 30 percent of birds killed at feeders.
o   Glass windows cause more than one billion bird deaths every year.   BirdSleuth at Cornell Ornithology Lab says the best bet is to install a taut, small-mesh net or screen (a net 5/8” in diameter works well) at least 3 inches from the glass.  Little success is had putting bird images and other decals on your windows.  When a Northern pygmy owl crashed into our kitchen window, I vowed never to wash my windows again!
o   Bring your feeders in at night until bears go into hibernation!

Read more:
·     CSU Plant Talk/Fact sheet: Attracting birds
·     The ‘go to’ web site for learning about birds sponsored by Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
·  “The Winter Banquet” by Stephen Cress
·    to find out everything you need to know to get started, from buying a feeder to selecting seed to identifying birds.
·  Front Range Organic Gardeners has a great plant list to attract birds and butterflies and wildlife

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Garden Tool Maintenance by Tina Ligon

Fall is a great time to do garden tool maintenance
Fall is a great time to clean up and maintain all those garden tools before storing them for the winter. Many Farmer's Markets have booths to sharpen tools (for a fee) if you don't want to take it on yourself. However, there are several good videos available to guide you through the process.

The first step is to gather up your tools if you are sometimes like me and leave them where I last used them.
Give them a good cleaning, sharpen if needed, do any needed repairs, lightly sand wooden handles and coat with linseed oil, oil any metal parts with a light machine oil.

Here is a link to a short video about using oily sand to clean garden tools by Jefferson County Master Gardener, Gail Wilson.

University of Nebraska Extension General cleaning and sharpening video.

I include garden hoses in the garden tool category. Don't forget to disconnect, drain and put away.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Re-Purposing Materials for the Garden by Cherie Luke

Local home stores and nurseries sell garden structures and ornaments for the home garden that for the most part are dull and boring.  With materials gathered from yard sales, thrift stores, salvage yards, and recycle centers you can create interesting, fun and useful structures and ornaments for your garden.

This greenhouse was made from all recycled windows, door, and materials you can see at the Steamboat Springs reuse center at their landfill. 

This is another example of a greenhouse made from all recycled windows, door, wood, etc. that also came from the Steamboat reuse center.

The inside of this greenhouse uses granite pieces to create a raised bed garden inside the greenhouse.

A headboard from a thrift store makes a pretty support for a clematis.

Making something useful for your garden out of something some people would find worthless is fun and gratifying.  So visit salvage yards, reuse centers etc. and have fun using your imagination to reuse, repurpose, and recycle in the garden.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Things I Would Change for Next Year's Garden by Ed Powers

Plants undercover
2014’s garden was my second full year of gardening at 7500 feet in Evergreen, Colorado.  It was a disaster!!  It started off with me planting my seeds indoors much too early for my area.  I planted the bulk of my seeds in late January instead of looking at the germination time on each packet and factoring in my altitude (7500 - 8000 feet).  I should determine when the expected transplant date will be and back calculate the starting date.  This year, the young plants ended up being too leggy, a few died early in the seed starting soil while the others ended up difficult to plant because they were too big.

Plants started from seed

Some starts became a bit "leggy"
I planted in early June, shortly after what I thought would be the last frost.  They started off well but I had another major frost in late June and I lost all of my plants.  I consulted CSU fact sheets and guide lines and decided not to give up.  So I planted my second attempt in late June (I had some seedlings left from my seed starting).  I planted tomato seeds that I had saved from last year which were San Marzano, Roma, Black Krim, and Red Siberian (the latter two are both Russian varieties suited for a short growing season).  In addition, I planted eggplant, short seasoned peppers, zucchini and spaghetti squash, and cucumbers.  All were heirlooms because I planned to save seeds for next year.

My plants started very slowly and at the end of July I decided to cover them with tents in hopes to lengthen the growing season.  I was planning to uncover them around the first week in October.  At that time I had little or no fruit on anything.  In late August we had 2 heavy hail storms that did a lot of damage.  But I covered everything again and hoped that the plants would produce fruit and ripen.
Covers added

This week I uncovered my garden and 1 tomato had produced 2 small fruits.  My 2nd year of gardening has been my worst.  However, there were many good lessons learn.  So while it was a bad year for saving seeds and producing fruit I learn a lot of good gardening lessons.

Here is a list of things that I noticed in my garden:
  •      Build raised gardens at this altitude.  Although my garden area has very good, fertile soil; a raised bed assists me in taking better care of my garden.
  •     Do more research through CSU before starting my seeds and planting my garden.
  •     Start seeds (both flowers and vegetables) according to germination time and planting time in my area.  This means not all seeds get started on the same day.
  •     Transplant plants after the last frost (yes a bit of a best guess) and cover them with a hoop covering with a white or opaque cloth like lawn fabric as the covering.
  •     When the temperatures warm-up, drop the cover to the side (or use a summer weight row cover) to protect from overheating.
  •     If I notice there is expected hail, pull up the cover over hoop to protect the plants in the garden.
  •     In mid-September leave cover over plants 24 hours a day but leave the ends open for ventilation.
  •     Put a string of small Christmas lights (non LED) for night heat in each tent.
  •     Harvest in the first week of October.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Now is the time to sow wildflower seeds - by Irene Shonle

If you take your cues from the garden centers, you would think that the best time to sow wildflower seeds is in the spring.  That’s when all the packets of seeds go out, beckoning with their promises of future glory.

Wildflower seed packets
But really, the best time to sow wildflowers is in the fall.   As in right now!  Or anytime late September until the ground freezes. If you think about it for a second, it makes sense – this is, after all, when Mother Nature sows her seeds.  Most native plants actually need that period of cold and wet in order to break dormancy.  When the days lengthen and warm in the spring, the seed coat is softened and ready to germinate.   It’s not to say that you won’t get any germination if you sow in the spring, but for the most part, you’ll have better success in the fall.  And since there are often no wildflower packets to be found in the fall, buy your packets in the spring and keep them in a cool dry place until fall.

Weed your site thoroughly before planting.  If using a commercial packet, follow the recommendations for square footage covered; if you plant too thickly, the plants will be spindly and crowded and will never reach their full size or floriferousness.  Rough up the top few inches of soil, sow the seeds at the recommended density, and then rake them in lightly.  Finally, walk on the soil in order to tuck the seeds firmly into the ground.  Lightly mulch with a weed-free straw (don’t use wood mulch because it’s too chunky to allow good germination) or put a floating row cover on top.

A word about seed selection:   in the mountains, you’ll  usually have best luck with native seeds.  The mixes that contain annual plants will give some instant gratification the first year (and native perennials will not), but will seldom seed themselves for future color, so they do not offer as much bang for the buck.
Native wildflower sowing at the Gilpin Extension Office

For more information, please see the following fact sheet:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer’s Over, Here Comes Frost! by Sharon Faircloth

Unprotected basil after the first frost
Just as I was starting to think about the coming frost and trying to give up summer, we got a quick cold snap and good-bye basil and most of the annuals that had been so happy all summer!

This time of year, it’s probably best to watch the weather to protect your plants and extend your growing season.  There are two types of frost, advective which occurs when a cold front comes through dropping temperatures to severe levels; and radiation frost which occurs on those crisp, clear nights that allow heat to dissipate at night.
Cover those plants you want to protect

Typically, the soil warms during the day so whatever you can do to hold that heat in, the longer your cool season veggies will last. There are several ways to protect your garden at night.  The critical thing is to make sure to allow the sun back in the next day to bring the temps back up.  For ideas on how to mitigate colder temperatures both fall and spring, check out CMG Garden Notes #722 and #715
Row covers do help to hold the heat 

You might want to keep soil and air temperatures as part of your garden journal.  A journal has helped me remember what I planted, what worked and what I might add or do differently next year.  We have so many microclimates in the mountains, it’s very useful to track the frost dates with the rest of the data we keep to maximize our efforts each season.  My first frost this fall may have not affected you at all!  There can be as much as a 1 degree drop in temperature for 300 feet of elevation but there are mitigating factors like rocks and wind shelter.  Historic dates may assist as a guide but you’ll find tracking your own temps will be more informative to your own personal microclimate.

So keep track of your dates, mitigate the cold snaps and prosper through the fall!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Herb Harvest Wreath by Tina Ligon

Wreath of Herbs
It is late summer; as a matter of fact it is the last day of summer, fall officially starts in a few hours. Here at 8000’ in the Front Range of Colorado, we have already had a small snow and temperatures down to 29F. As usual, after the freeze, it has warmed back up quite nicely. The tender plants died with the cold but the herbs are doing great. Some of the herbs still growing here unprotected are – parsley, thyme, culinary sage, winter savory and mints. The more tender herbs such as basil are still alive but in the protection of a greenhouse. There are some years that sage and thyme can be harvested for Thanksgiving dinner but not always.

This is a great time to harvest some of those late summer herbs. There are several ways to save them for later use but one of my favorites is to make an edible wreath. The herbs can be attached to a metal wreath form with florist wire. Add a hanger, I used raffia, and hang in a convenient place in the kitchen. You now have your home grown herbs right at your fingertips for cooking. Just think how great it will be to clip some off for a nice pot of soup on a cold winter day. You can have a nice memory of your herb garden as well as great soup.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Steps to Beneficial Fall Soil Preparation by Pete Biggam

Healthy Soil Surface - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
A traditional fall activity for many gardeners is preparing the soil for its upcoming winter slumber as well as getting a head start on improving the overall health of the soil in advance of the spring planting season.

There are a few simple steps to fall soil preparation, whether you're working a large garden plot or individual raised beds. 

1. Remove all weeds that are flowering or have gone to seed, along with any large or coarse plant materials from your garden.
Removing any existing weeds along this year's plant debris is a good, general sanitation practice. Weed seeds as well as those from various garden plants, if left on site, may be the first plants you see emerging in the spring, so you can get a head start to your spring gardening chores by removing as many as possible in the fall. Plant refuse makes a great place for insects and disease to overwinter if left within the garden plot.  If you had any issues with disease or pests on your tomatoes or peppers, you should remove these plants completely from the garden.  Other garden refuse is a good candidate for composting.
2. Work on improving your garden soils health by adding organic material and implementing wise cultivation practices.
An example of good soil aggregation after minimum cultivation - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Keeping our garden soils healthy and productive is an important concept to consider every year.  Adding organic matter from the compost bin or other sources is a good practice to perform in the fall when the soil is still warm and workable, and the soil biological community is still actively performing it’s beneficial organic material decomposition process.

Incorporating these organic amendments into the soil is important, but be sure to not over cultivate the soil, as this can impact the overall existing health of the soil. Consider working your soil gently but deeply by using a garden fork, or even a broad fork to aerate the soil and allow for the organic material to be redistributed throughout the soil, and maintaining beneficial soil structure and aggregation.  This will also minimize the impact on your soil biological community and keep them content, situated at a depth they have been comfortable with, through the remainder of the growing season.

Below is a link to a video on use and application of a Broad fork for beneficial low impact soil cultivation. 

The USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service has recently updated information regarding Soil Health Awareness and has developed a series of videos and factsheets that are applicable to gardeners as well as farmers. 

3. Minimize soil erosion over the winter and early spring by adding mulch or even consider planting a cover crop.
Take care to make sure all of your hard work does not blow away with winter winds or early spring rains. You can mulch the plot with materials such as fallen leaves or even additional compost to protect the soil surface from wind and water erosion.
Another alternative is to plant a cover crop in the fall to both enrich the soil as well as prevent erosion, and keep and weeds at bay.
While our cold winters limit the variety of cover crops that we can successfully grow there are several plants that seem to do very well.  
A great reference on the use, application, and benefits of cover crops can be found in this can be found in CSU Garden Note # 244 on Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops
 4. Have your soil and compost analyzed

Fall is a great time to collect soil samples for testing in order to keep current on your garden's nutrient status. Testing in fall allows plenty of time to receive your results and act on recommendations.

If you have been composting and plan to add this to your garden, you can also have this analyzed so you have an idea of what you are applying to the soil.

The Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory at Colorado State University can perform these analytical services for both your soil and soil amendments and is open year round.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Planting Garlic in the Mountains
Garlic, Allium sativum, a member of the lily (Liliaceae) family or Alliaceae family depending on your source, and 2004 Herb of the Year, is a great plant for mountain gardens.  Originating some 6000 years ago, it traces back to the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan, evolving from a wild species to the cultivated treat we know and love today.  Its bulbs have been used for food and medicine by our earliest ancestors.  At one time it was even so highly prized, it was used as currency.  Like many of the minor bulbs, it craves a period of cold, does not require a lot of water and has the ancestral qualities that make it work in the mountain areas.