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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Native or noxious? Distinguishing scentless chamomile from Porter Aster. By Irene Shonle

The petite and charming Porter aster (Aster porteri or Symphotrichum porteri) is out in profusion right now.   This is a lovely, late-blooming native plant.
Porter aster, a late-blooming native plant
There is another less-friendly white daisy that is also  blooming right now that some people confuse with Porter aster – this is the State List B noxious weed called Scentless chamomile (Matricaria perforata or Tripleurospermum inodorum).  This weed  is rapidly increasing in population in our mountain counties, forming monocultures in places like Winter Park, Fraser, Nederland, and many other locations. The reason it can spread so fast is that in a single year, one plant can produce up to 300,000 seeds!  I swear that it often seems as though each one of those seeds germinates and becomes a plant.  Yikes!  Please remove it from your property if you have it – and the task will be MUCH easier if you do it early in the game, before the exponential explosion occurs.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When to plant wildflowers? by Tina Ligon

It has been a great wildflower year here in the Colorado foothills. Fall is a great time to plant seed for next year's crop of flowers. Come and learn all about collecting wildflower seed and how to plant for success for next year.

Class on Sept 4th, 6:30 pm Exhibit Barn, $5.00:  The fall garden: Collecting/sowing wildflower seeds and ideas for fall color.  Fall is the best time to collect and sow wildflower seeds, but it’s not always that easy to figure out how to do it. We’ll include some hands-on activities in the garden if the weather holds; dress warmly.  Class will also give some ideas for fall color in your mountain garden. Call to reserve your spot - 303-582-9106

CSU Extension Gilpin County
230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422  

Mother Nature puts together the best combinations!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Distorted Aspen Leaf - by Irene Shonle

Have you been noticing any distorted or deformed aspen leaves?  They're becoming evident at this time of year, and because they look so odd (possibly even alarming), they cause concern.
Eriophyid mite on aspen leaves
The distortion is a gall caused by a tiny mite called an Eriophyid mite.

The good news is that the gall does not affect plant health, and usually the same tree is not hit two years in a row. So, it is just an aesthetic issue.  The affected leaves can be cut out if they are really bothersome, but it is not necessary.

The distortion is caused by  chemical secretions produced during feeding or egg laying. The chemicals act like natural plant growth hormones.  The leaves only become distorted when the leaf is attacked early in the growing season when it is rapidly expanding.  Fully expanded leaves do not have the same reaction.

For more information, please see this fact sheet:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Microclimates: what a difference a side makes! By Irene Shonle

Microclimates are much more dramatic in the mountains than in lower elevations.  The intense sun can really warm up the south side of a house, while the wind and shade on the north can keep plants in a deep freeze for much longer.

Here is what I saw when poking around my house this morning (8,700')
I noticed my catmint blooming already on the south side:

Catmint in bloom June 1 at 8700 on south side

But on the north, this is what it looked like:

Catmint nowhere close to blooming on the north side
Same for Golden Banner:
South side -- Golden banner in bloom!
North side -- Golden banner tightly in bud
This shows the dramatic effect of microclimates.  Observing the same plant in different stages around your house can inform you about the microclimate, and help you choose the best plants for certain areas (or help you figure out what to plant where for that first dose of color for the season!)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Voles or pocket gophers -- what's eating your garden? By Irene Shonle

I get a lot of calls and questions about critters in the garden.  People almost always think that voles are the ones wreaking havoc in their gardens, when often pocket gophers are the actual culprits. The confusion arises when both species are present -- the vole spends much of its time above ground, and so is often seen (and therefore gets the blame), but the pocket gopher, which almost never emerges, usually causes far more destruction.

Here's how you can figure out what's eating your garden:

1.  Look at the holes/tunnels.

Voles have small, oval,open holes - about 1-2" wide.  These are never plugged with soil, and there is often a "runway" in front of the hole.  This can be easiest to see when the snow melts and the grass is not too high, or in the winter.

Vole holes - note that they are open.  The winter picture shows the runway clearly.

Northern Pocket Gophers' holes are about 2-3.5 inches wide, but are almost always plugged with soil.  In the summer, the holes are surrounded by large fan-shaped mounds of dirt  that are 12 to 18 inches wide and 4 to 6 inches high.

Pocket gopher hole -- note that it is plugged, and the fan of dirt.  The "hole" is not always this obvious.
In the spring time, just after the snow melts, if you see long tubes of solid soil  (eskers) snaking about on the surface , that is a definite sign of pocket gopher.  This is due to ongoing excavation of burrows during the winter -- they pack the excavated dirt into the snow, which shapes them into the eskers, rather than the fan-shaped mounds when there is no snow.

2. Look at the damage - is it above-ground or below-ground?
The most common voles we have are meadow voles and montane voles, and these two species mostly eat above-ground parts of plants, including  leaves of flowers, grasses and sedges and fungi  in the summer.  Dried grasses, bark, and twigs are winter staples.

Voles are of most concern when their winter bark-chewing girdles trees and shrubs (they are also problematic in lawns, but lawns less common in the mountains):
During the winter, a vole girdled this lilac by chewing the bark off all the way around the shrub

Pocket gophers mostly eat the roots of plants (below-ground).   They only rarely come above-ground to eat, and then only a very short distance from their burrow.  They use their sense of smell to locate the roots of plants, and then will eat the entire root system.  This causes a sudden and unexpected "wilt" of the plant.  They can even pull an entire plant underground -- sometimes even under the astonished eyes of a gardener!
The middle columbine's roots were eaten by a pocket gopher -- look for sudden, unusual "wilting"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Early May Bloomers at 7900' by Tina Ligon

Early Larkspur (Delphenium nuttallianum)

It is May 8, 2014 and we have bright sun and an inch of snow that fell last night. You gotta love spring in the Rockies. I took a stroll, OK, navigated an obstacle coarse, around the property to see what is blooming. Below are some pictures of these tough little plants, that will laugh at this little snowfall.
I discovered two new to me plants, the Clematis hiruitissima and the Collinsia parviflora.  I am amazed at  how some flowers seem to come and go, the conditions needed for some to germinate make them more like guest appearances. What is blooming in your neighborhood?

Sugar Bowl Plant (Clematis hirsutissima)
Blue Eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora )

Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri, ssp glauca)

Mountain Parsley (Cymopterus montaus)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata)

Mouse -Ear Chickweed (Cerastium strictum)

Golden smoke (Corydalis aurea)

Wild Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Sand Lily (Leucocrinum montanum)

Kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Golden Banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa)

Cut leaf Fleabane (Erigeron compositus.)