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January 2023

Key factors to consider now

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

Happy New Year and welcome to 2023! There is a lot that can go into planning a vegetable garden, whether you’re particularly “Type A,” or if you’re the type who can set some general guidelines and flex through the season as needed. However, there are some important considerations to make for even the most laissez-faire gardener. We’ll go into crop selection, how you want to get started, and considerations for the general maintenance of the garden throughout the growing season.

veggies-nug62

What do you want to grow? It can be tricky sometimes to know what you want to grow if you’re starting out, but there are always some good standbys particularly when you’re growing with the intent to donate in mind. The top 5 requested fresh foods at Hunger Relief Organizations are:

1. Tomatoes

2. Peppers

3. Onions

4. Lettuce

5. Carrots

(Also check out this Fresh Food Connect article for more details: What type of produce should I grow and donate?”)

Of course, this does not mean that your greens, your cucumbers, your beans are unwelcome, donate away (all of those are in the top 15!). If you’re in doubt reach out to your local HRO and check in about your specialty crop or variety. The best thing to grow is the thing that you know you will eat and donate, so it’s better to focus your attention on a few great crops than to try to grow a huge variety.

Are you buying seedlings, or starting from seed?

seedlings-5f2zr

The easiest way to get a garden started is to head to the garden center a few weeks before the last frost date, or around the last frost date and pick up ready grown seedlings. This approach can get expensive, and you’re more limited to the varieties that the nursery sells. If variety is important to you, or if you enjoy the thrill of seeing a dull brown seed turn into a vibrant green seedling (I’m afraid I’m letting my bias show here!) then seed starting may be your best choice. See more on seed starting at www.growandgive.org.

Be aware, however, not to start your seeds too early or you may end up with very large transplants that will struggle to establish once moved over. Tomatoes should have 5-7 leaves and have a stem about the size of a pencil (about 8-10 weeks before last risk of frost is over). The  cucurbits (melon, cucumber, squash) need less time, start them about 4 weeks early and transplant as the first true set of leaves have emerged. 

How much space do you have? Are you adding space?

I know it is far too easy to over purchase and over allocate your space. Vegetable gardens do best with good air flow. So, while it’s tempting to pack in the plants to increase your productivity it can have the opposite effect. If your garden has been the same for many years take the lessons from last season and apply them to this season. Buy/grow what you need and donate excess seedlings to someone who has more space or doesn’t start their own seedlings.

If you’re adding garden bed space, you can plan extra plants accordingly but do be sure to check on mature spacing needs for your specific crops. A winter squash plant may need over 6’ of space for one plant! Remember, also, that with almost every vegetable crop you can go vertical which gives even small spaces new opportunities.

How do you care for your landscape?

2023 January Fresh Food Connect .docx (1)-3kuzk

Watering – does your irrigation system need a check before plants get large and overgrow it? It’s always good to run a drip irrigation system to ensure there are no blowouts or large leaks, and that water is flowing freely. If you have overhead watering perhaps this is the year to plan to change over to drip irrigation, a far more efficient way to water! 

Fertilizer/soil nutrition – January is a great month (if you have no snow and your ground isn’t too frozen) to take a soil sample from your vegetable garden and send it to a soil lab for testing. Soil labs can assess your soil nutrient load and soil type to help you with recommended amendments, and fertilizer needs for the year ahead. 

Succession planting – many beginning gardeners eagerly plant their entire designated space for a crop in one go which is great for donation purposes if you want a large quantity but can be overwhelming and lead to not having enough of the crop for the rest of the season. Therefore, succession planting is a wonderful idea. Rather than planting all 10 rows of carrots you had planned out at once plant two rows now, and then two rows every 2-4 weeks. This ensure a continued small harvest through the growing season. Succession planting can be done with almost any crop, even short season zucchini (helps fight against powdery mildew issues). You can choose any length succession, even if it’s a spring and fall crop of beets, for example. 

That’s it for this month, hopefully you have a great time planning and thinking about the amazing vegetable garden you’re going to grow in 2023 and happy new year! As always, if you have additional questions you can reach out to your local county extension office. 


December 2022

Go beyond the garden center with seed catalogs

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

winter veggies-vekoc

Winter can be a peaceful and optimistic time for a gardener. You can take the chance to reflect on what went well in your garden last year and what you would like to improve. Perhaps there were some crops that failed that you want to try again, or something that did well but you didn’t get enough. 

Websites are great for ordering seeds, but for inspiration and crop-specific information? Seed catalogues all the way for sure! So, you can set out your garden plan after careful perusal in December and January of your seed catalogues.

A run down

seed catalog image-wsgt9

Most catalogues will organize alphabetically rather than by family, so tomatoes, peppers and potatoes will be in different places. Many will also give you a few pages at the beginning of the hot new types or options. Typically, vegetables take front and center in the catalogue and garden products and flower seeds can be found near the end. If the company provides live plants, they are also typically near the end. 

My approach has always been to sit down and flip through all my favorites (and some of those that I end up getting but have never requested—you never know there may be something you MUST try!) before making any decisions. Note down with a marker the things that sound interesting and then narrow your choices down to a reasonable(ish) number. Aim to find enough that you’re trying some new varieties, not so many that your family objects to the size of your seed storage area. 

Some Specifics

Some catalogues/companies are immensely useful for educating yourself on seed disease and pest resistance (looking at you Johnny’s) or other information about growing and planting. Others have gorgeous photography that gets your mouth watering (Baker/Rareseed). Some wow through artistic illustration (Botanical Interests), and some are focused on solid, reliable products (Territorial, Harris Seed, Park Seed, etc.). There are many focused and specific seed companies and catalogues as well such as Tomato Grower’s Supply Company or Maine Potato Lady.  This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m always excited to hear about more and new seed companies/catalogues that folks have found to be useful, fun, or adventurous. If I neglected to add your favorite on the list, my apologies. 

If you buy from a local seed company, you’re more likely to get varieties that do well in your area. If you’re buying from one that is outside of your area be sure to check that they fit in your growing season. As an example, I cannot grow German butterball potatoes at my house because their growing season is just too long for our season here in Colorado. This year, since we didn’t have a hard freeze until late October, I may have been OK, but it’s a big risk to take! To help with selection you may want to check out All America Selections: https://all-americaselections.org/. This is an organization that tests plant varieties (including vegetables!) around the nation to determine those that are best for a wide variety of areas.  

One thing to note, many seed catalogues tout their use of GMO-free seeds. GMO seeds are only available for agricultural use. If you’re growing in a small farm or backyard setting it’s unlikely any seeds you purchase would be GMO. 

Keeping Organized

seed packet - sm-8km3q

Winter is a great time to sift through some of your existing seed collection, prior to ordering new seed material from those tempting new catalogues. It’s also a great time to organize the seeds you have so you know what you do or do not need to buy again. 

Any seeds that are more than 7 or 8 years old should be taken out of rotation. Seed packets are required to have a packing year on them, so it’s usually simple to make the age determination. You can do a “germination test” if you want to try them out, especially if you’re a plant hoarder like me. This is a relatively simple process, take 5-10 seeds and place them in an airtight container (ziplock, Tupperware, mason jar etc.) with a wet paper towel. Check in frequently and if nothing has germinated after about two weeks it’s likely the seeds are too old. Most seeds have a good shelf life of around 1-6 years depending on type. Humid and excessively warm or cold conditions (above or below comfortable room temperature) can reduce the shelf life of a seed.  

We’ll be back in January to discuss planning your garden. As always, if you have additional questions, please reach out to your local Extension office for more information. 


November 2022

Facts vs Myths on the latest garden trends

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

Should you plant a cover crop this winter? What’s hugelkultur about? Need help sorting through the latest trends in home gardening?  Here’s a look at a few gardening facts vs myths, from hugelkultur to cover cropping. Some of these “hot” approaches have great scientific research behind them, some have good aspects, others may not live up to their hype. Let’s take a look!

Lasagna gardening

Lasagna gardening illustration
Lasagna gardening illustration

Lasagna gardening is a garden practice in which you layer “greens” and “browns” in lasagna-esque layers to provide a simple, no-till compost area. This is a great way to compost; it balances the two key components for compost (see our “Composting 101” article for details). However, although it’s a good system for creating compost, planting should not happen in the space until the composting process has been completed.

How long does Lasagna Gardening take? In some parts of America, or with the addition of a good amount of moisture for those of us who are in dry climates, this may not take very long, but left to its own devices it could take a season or longer. Patience is the name of the game for getting successful completed compost out of this process, but it can be a great way to start a new area. This system becomes complicated when combined into an active garden bed. Microbes that help break down the “browns” will consume available nitrogen to do so, which offsets the balance of Carbon and Nitrogen making plant growth challenging. 

Sheet mulching with cardboard 

Sheet mulching with cardboard is commonly touted as the best eco-friendly way to start a new garden area, smother weeds and as a general cure-all for problematic plants. When used appropriately it can work, but it’s not a long-term solution. Really, it’s best to mulch with 3-4” of mulch (wood chips, rock, straw or grass for veggie gardens etc.) with nothing underneath to allow for the best movement of air. If moisture is not present, the cardboard could potentially reduce gas exchange for plant roots. Unfortunately, there have not been very many studies on soil oxygen levels and sheet mulching, but if using this system be sure to keep an eye on your plants, if they start to look less than happy it may be time to pull some of the cardboard out. 

Hugelkultur 

Schematic of hugelkultur mound
Schematic of hugelkultur mound

Described as a centuries-old technique, the first references to hugelkultur actually begin in the 1960s. This garden technique creates a mound bed around a combination of large branches and twigs, grass sod, leaves, and compost in concentric layers. If you’ve read this far you may begin to see some similar issues as we have with the above two practices. Additionally, these systems require a substantial amount of moisture to ensure continued breakdown of the plant material. The carbon and nitrogen ratio may become problematic for plant growth. Anecdotally, I have not seen it be successful here in Colorado due to our dry climate. For a more in-depth look at hugelkultur see: https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/hugelkultur-what-is-it-and-should-it-be-used-in-home-gardens

Cover Crops

A variety of cover crops can improve your soil
A variety of cover crops can improve your soil

Now we get into a garden practice that I embrace whole heartedly, (provided you’re not afraid of a little labor). Cover crops are a great way to improve soil in a vegetable garden in the off season. Typically, they are sown at the end of the growing season, although some gardeners may allow a bed to remain fallow with a cover crop for a season. They can be comprised of many different things including mustard, daikon, winter wheat, annual ryegrass, clover, cowpea, winter pea, vetch, white clover. Cover crops can help increase moisture retention, soil organic matter, soil nutrients (if you use a nitrogen fixing legume crop), reduce erosion risk, they can even break up compacted soil layers. 

When planning what cover crop you want to use be aware that if you plant a perennial you must have a plan to kill it, this will depend on the crop, and can be laborious or you can use chemical control. However, if you plant an annual you could use the dead plant material as a mulch and plant your new vegetable crops directly into it the next year, this can cut down on weed issues. 

Crop rotation

Rotating crops can help improve soil nutrition and manage disease and pests
Rotating crops can help improve soil nutrition and manage disease and pests

Crop rotation can be an asset to the home gardener. This is the practice of changing where you plant your vegetable families each season. For example, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos are all solanaceous crops and should not be planted in the same area every year; it’s best to leave a year or more gap before planting in the same area again.

Rotating crops can help with soil nutrition. Planting corn in a bed the season after you’ve had peas or beans there could reduce your need to fertilize since both peas and beans are able to fix nitrogen from the are into a plant available form. 

Crop rotation can be recommended at times for insect control, however its more effective for disease than insects since insect pests are mobile. If planting in containers you can simulate crop rotation by using new potting soil rather than re-using the soil year after year. 

If you have more specific questions on any of these topics or need more specific assistance with your situation please contact your local county Extension office.


October 2022

Getting started with composting

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

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Composting in the garden 

Is your late-season garden still going strong? Ready to throw in the towel? Either way, you may be starting to see quite a bit of plant debris building up. This month we’ll share some basics of getting composting in your yard down to a “T,” if not an exact science. 

What is composting?

Composting, in its basic form, is a way of breaking down organic material into a long-lasting fertilizer that can help improve soil and provide a long-term nutrient source for plants. Most soils, particularly those used for vegetable gardens, benefit from at least 4-5% of the soil being organic material. This slowly releases nutrients such as nitrogen to help feed plants as they grow. Composting can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. 

How can I get started composting?

The first thing you’ll want to consider is how you want to accomplish composting. If you have a yard you can create a pile, a container, or purchase numerous styles of compost bins. For indoors you may need to rely on additional help from something like a red wriggler worm. 

What type of compost system should I use? 

Top: 3 bin system; Lower left: black open bottom bin; Lower right: rotating bins
Top: 3 bin system; Lower left: black open bottom bin; Lower right: rotating bins

Composting can be as simple as piling everything into one big mound in your yard, but many people prefer to use a container of some sort. You can build your own or purchase one pre-made.

If you’ve got the space it can be good to use a 3-bin system. You can find plans to build these through many DIY website and Extension programs across the nation. In this system you add to a section for a season, then the next one in the following year, and by year three the first section is typically ready for use in the garden.

Black plastic compost bins can be great, but it’s often wise to steer clear of the spinning ones, especially in warm and dry climates as they can prove difficult to keep sufficiently moist. Additionally, when you’re continuing to add materials it can be hard to get a finished product.

There are also numerous fancy in-home systems that promise a finished product fast. These are still new and may be good in certain applications, but they are expensive. 

What should I put into my compost bin?

 Your compost will need both
 Your compost will need both “Greens” and “Browns.” Aim for about a 50:50 mix.

So, you’ve figured out what type of composter you are, now for the details of how to be successful. Generally composting needs four different components. These are: brown material (high in carbon, dry, slow to break down), green material (high in nitrogen, moisture, quick to break down), water, and air.

Greens and Browns: Browns include leaves, straw, paper, sawdust, and woodchips. Greens include food scraps (even coffee grounds!), grass clippings, manure, garden debris and non-seedy weeds. Generally, you want at least 50% brown material and 50% green material, although different ratios abound on the internet. When possible, layer the two different types of material.

Water: When adding water to your system you want to aim for your pile to have the moisture of a wrung out sponge, not too wet and not too dry. In much of the nation this is easy to achieve, in drier climates, we may need to supplement water our systems if we want a quick composting process. Without all these your pile may be slow to decompose, could get smelly or be otherwise problematic.  

Air: If you want your compost finished quickly, you will need to introduce oxygen into the system by rotating the pile frequently. The more often you turn it, the quicker it will decompose, and you could see a finished product in months. There are large screws you can purchase to use in turning your pile, but a garden fork or even shovel will work as well. 

With good turning, moisture management, and a balanced addition of browns and greens it is possible to get a finished product within about 6-8 months, but due to winter it’s often reasonable to expect this season’s material to be ready for the following season. 

No animal or dairy products! Try to avoid adding animal or dairy products in your home compost system, the primary reason being to reduce pest attraction and reduce potential pathogens getting into your garden system. Commercial compost systems can manage them because they get to a high enough temperature to kill off the pathogens that can develop. 

Troubleshooting your compost project

There are several ways that composting can go wonky. Notice I did not say go wrong, because you can rectify almost any compost issue.

Stinky compost? If your pile is stinky you need to add more brown material (newspaper can work if you’re out of leaves, straw or wood), or to aerate the pile more effectively.

Compost not breaking down? If your pile isn’t breaking down or getting warm you may need more moisture, more air, or to add more green plant material. 

Can I just bury my food scraps in the ground in my vegetable garden? Unfortunately, this is not a best practice. The material is unlikely to finish before the next growing season so you may be unearthing pieces when spring planting. Additionally, they can throw off nutrient balances in the soil. 

Can I add diseased or woody plant materials to my compost? Home compost systems are typically small and are not able to get to high enough temperatures to kill pathogens in diseased plants or leaves. Best to leave these out, send them to a commercial facility, or put them into the trash. This is true for both viral and fungal issues in the plants. You also do not want to include any weedy plants that have gone to seed. Compost piles are an excellent nursery for new plants whether you want them or not! 

Skip diseased plant materials when
Skip diseased plant materials when “feeding” your bin. 

How do I know when my compost is ready to use? If you can still see what the material originally was, your compost is not yet ready for use in the garden. It should no longer have a food, or rotten smell, should be dark brown and relatively moist. Use and enjoy! 

If you have specific questions about composting, or about your fall garden be sure to contact your local Extension office. 


September 2022

How to keep your garden growing as the weather cools

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

Extend the season with a simple cold frame
Extend the season with a simple cold frame

Perhaps by now you are growing tired of your garden; the weeds, the endless zucchini, (or, in my case this year, cucumbers) and you’re ready for a frost to come and take it all away. However, if your goal is to contribute produce for as long as possible to your favorite local hunger relief organizations (hint! hint!) then season extension could be a great option to investigate.

There are varying levels of season extension depending on your commitment and your goals. They range from a sheet of plastic over your plants to a full greenhouse. We’ll go through what you’ll need for some basic season extension options. 

Row Cover 

Interested in learning more about Floating Row Covers? Check out this video from our partners at University of Colorado’s Grow & Give program!

The material typically lays directly over the crop and is made with woven or spun fabric. The use of row cover can increase temperatures by up to 15 degrees F during the day, but only offers 2-4 degrees of frost protection in spring, slightly more in fall with warmer soil temperatures. It’s important to keep the cover secured against the ground with rocks, sand bags, soil etc. especially if you’re in a windy area or if you suspect a particularly cool evening coming up. 

Plastic mulch

Pepper transplant in plastic mulch, Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Pepper transplant in plastic mulch, Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

This is a great way to warm the soil a little especially in the springtime. Plastic mulch does little to help with freezing air temperatures, so it is limited in its use for extending the season for warm season crops until air temperatures have warmed. Plastic mulch can give a jump start to germination for warm season crops at planting by warming the soil and speeding germination. Different colors of plastic mulch have different benefits. Clear plastic will warm the soil the most, but weeds are likely to grow in. Black plastic will warm the soil more slowly but is better at weed reduction. For soil cooling, white or reflective mulches are an option and research has shown they can reduce some insect pressure. 

Low Tunnel with plastic 

Low tunnels install quickly and work well in an established garden
Low tunnels install quickly and work well in an established garden

To build a low tunnel you need some type of support and UV resistant plastic. Generally low tunnels can be built over a standard garden bed whether it is a raised bed or in-ground. These are simple to install using rebar as ground support and PVC pipes bent over the garden bed. Fancier versions are out there if you look around. You can put spun row cover over your support structure but will get substantially better cold and frost protection with greenhouse plastic. Spun row cover is better at providing insect or sun protection. Avoid purchasing inexpensive sheet plastic like for painting projects unless you want to be cleaning up shreds of tiny plastic for the rest of your gardening career. Instead seek out plastic designed for greenhouses. On warm days it is good to have a way to vent the system even if that just means unclipping the plastic cover and pulling it up.

Cold Frame

A cold frame can be an easy DIY for the home garden
A cold frame can be an easy DIY for the home garden

A cold frame can be easily built DIY with wood and an old window. More permanent structures can be made with cinder blocks or bricks. Ideally, face the cold frame south or west to take advantage of the warmest part of the day. You can purchase temperature sensitive hinges that will open as the cold frame heats up, reducing the chances of cooking your plants if you forget to open them on a warm autumn day. These are effectively miniature greenhouses. Sometimes they are portable so you can move them around the garden if you so desire. 

High tunnel 

High tunnels for larger scale growing
High tunnels for larger scale growing

High tunnels are more involved than most homeowners want to go, they are a semi-permanent structure that give you a lot of growing area. Most are made using a UV resistant polyethylene, in one or two layers built over a metal frame. There are numerous kits available online. When planning it is important to have a way to vent the plastic during the day. 

Greenhouse  

The bigger the better for improved thermal mass which leads to less temperature fluctuation. Greenhouses are the most permanent season extension option, and with heat can be used to grow year-round. They are also the largest investment in both time and money. Contact your local extension office if you want to figure out an ideal greenhouse for your space. 

Add some holiday cheer

Incandescent lights are a quick - and pretty! - way to keep crops warm
Incandescent lights are a quick – and pretty! – way to keep crops warm

If you’re not looking to build a heated greenhouse but you need to get your crops through that first one or two light freezes to get a few more harvests, you can supplement the heat by using incandescent “C4” Christmas light strands. The heat they put off will provide you with many degrees of frost protection. It does require access to power. You could also use something like a thermal cloth or numerous layers of plastic to achieve greater frost protection. A good seal against the ground is very important for successful frost protection, as the heat in the ground will radiate up, and can be lost if there are gaps. 

If you have questions about any of these options for season extension, or any other yard and garden questions be sure to reach out to your local Extension office for more information. 


August 2022

Golden rules for harvesting your garden bounty

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

Where has the summer gone? If you’ve been lucky and persistent you should have ample vegetables in your garden by now, both for your own uses and plenty more to donate. Today we’ll talk about good harvest practices for some garden vegetables and some of the best things to consider for harvesting successful crops to donate. 

Three Golden Rules 

The three golden rules of vegetable harvesting are: 

  1. Keep it cool
  2. Keep it wet (when appropriate)
  3. Handle with care 

With almost any crop, harvesting is best done in the cooler parts of the day. Many crops can be harvested and placed directly into a container of cool water, or at least placed out of the sun if you’re continuing harvest. Using a sharp knife, scissors etc. is a better choice for harvesting than tearing off the main plant, it reduces stress, reduces the chances for damage and makes for a cleaner product.

Fresh garden herbs, ready for donation
Fresh garden herbs, ready for donation

Harvesting for donation 

When harvesting crops you intend to donate, it’s best to follow some basic food safety guidelines. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face, and if you’re ill, wait until you feel better before you harvest for the purpose of donation. As you harvest your produce, place directly into a container that has been washed each time before use. Do not use this container for other purposes like holding tools or compost. Clean your produce in a clean location with potable water. Once you have harvested and cleaned your produce be sure to use clean bins or boxes lined with chemical-free plastic bags (do not reuse grocery bags) but do not seal the bags. Keep harvested produce (except for tomatoes) cool in the refrigerator to store or before donation. 

Produce should not be chopped or cut, this will reduce the shelf life (an exception being removing the tops off root crops or dying leaves if necessary). Try to time your harvest so you can deliver as soon as possible. Only donate the material you would want to consume. 

Tips for Harvesting Popular Crops

Beans – pole and bush fresh beans. Harvest once the pods have grown round, but before the beans have begun to swell, the flavor decreases after beans mature in size. Clip off the vine rather than pulling to avoid damaging the main vine. For pole beans, ensure you harvest regularly (several times a week) to keep production high. For bush beans, the plants will throw 2-3 main crops before being finished. You can succession sow if you want a continued harvest.

A variety of freshly picked beans
A variety of freshly picked beans

Beans – dry beans. Allow the beans to fully mature and dry before storing, the pods will dry before the beans so check for any softness remaining in the bean before storing. if frost is threatening you can harvest the plant and hang to dry in a cool, dry space. 

Nutritious, colorful root crops
Nutritious, colorful root crops

Root crops – Carrots, Beets, Turnips etc. Loosen the soil around the plant and pull when at desired maturity. Beets can be allowed to grow up to 2”, much larger and flavor may diminish. Smaller roots may be sweeter. Turnips should be grown according to the seed package, larger storage types vs small sauté varieties. Carrots can be left in the ground for winter harvests with a thick layer of mulch. Remove greens before storing to ensure longer storage, as the leaves will pull nutrients from the root crop. 

Peppers – shade if the plants get late afternoon sun. Harvest when the pepper reaches mature size. It is possible to harvest when mature in size but not color and this can be OK for some crops (jalapeno) but not preferred for others (shishito). It’s important to clip the fruit when it’s cool and keep out of the sun to avoid sun scald damage especially for thinner skinned peppers. 

Green tomatoes on the vine
Green tomatoes on the vine

Tomatoes – Harvest when the fruit colors, dark green tomatoes are immature and can be used as green tomatoes. If there is a color at the blossom end it’s known as a “breaker” and will successfully ripen on the counter. For green varieties often a small pink blush may appear on the base. If you’re growing more heirloom varieties pick slightly early from fully ripe to prevent mushiness. For more exotic coloring check images of the mature fruit and do frequent taste tests! 

A healthy sized summer squash
A healthy sized summer squash

Summer Squash – these diverse garden providers can be harvested at any size, but generally harvest when 1-1/5” in diameter or 6-10” long and before seeds develop fully. If smaller harvests are desired, they are great for pickling. If a giant like the one pictured here shows up you can roast it. Clip from plant instead of pulling. If desperate to harvest your bounty of summer squash you can twist the fruit to release from the plant, but clipping is better. 

Winter squash
Winter squash

Winter Squash – This can apply to pumpkins or any variety of storage winter squash. It’s best to wait until the fruit has gained a mature size, then reduce watering over a few weeks. Pluck any existing blossoms from the plant to pump energy into the existing fruit (the blooms are tasty too!). Harvest when the skin cannot be dented with a fingertip and the stem begins to dry or the rind develops a color. Cure in a warm, dry location out of the sun for at least a week or two then put into storage for up to 6 months. 


July 2022

Worst weeds and how to stop them

by Cassey Anderson, CSU Horticulture Agent in Adams County

It’s July. If all has gone well you’ve got some flourishing plants, perhaps you’ve had numerous harvests of lettuce, beets, spinach, peas and other cool season crops. Perhaps if you’re very lucky some of your warm season crops are beginning to set fruit (peppers and tomatoes?). However, although your garden is thriving something else may be growing well in your garden beds too: weeds! 

Weeds are, by definition, a plant in a place we do not want them. So, an errant tree seedling (I get these all the time) in your vegetable bed is a weed even if you’d like it somewhere else in your yard. But I’m not here to talk about less common weeds like trees, rather let’s look at the top six heavy hitter weeds you may commonly see in your vegetable beds. It could be tempting to just leave them be, but weeds often outgrow desirable crops, taking valuable nutrients and water from our vegetable plants, so management is important. 

First, let’s define a few things. The first thing to know about your weeds is their life cycle. Are they annual or perennial? This will change how you manage them. Perennial weeds must be eliminated through persistence. Perennials have large taproots or large root systems, and some may reproduce via their roots. This means that if you let them grow, they can refill the energy storage in their root system undoing your hard work. Annuals grow from seed each year, so if you can prevent the seeds from germinating (pre-emergent, mulch), or remove them when very young (stirrup hoe, pulling) then you prevent them from going to flower/seed. 

For manual removal of weeds, you’ll want several tools: your hands (or even better, a willing helper!), gloves, a soil knife or digger (I use a Hori Hori and adore it), and a stirrup hoe. For perennial weeds you want to remove as much of the root as possible. Annual weeds can be removed successfully if only some of the root has gone, although too little may mean it can grow back.

Important tools for weeding: A stirrup hoe and a Hori Hori
Important tools for weeding: A stirrup hoe and a Hori Hori

There are many options for chemical control. If you want organic control you can use boiling water, or burn down agents such as clove oil, herbicidal vinegar, citrus oils etc. Be aware these won’t kill the whole plant and likely will need repeated applications once it regrows. Conventional systemic herbicides applied carefully can also get you good weed control. Focused treatment is always better than broadcast treatment so be sure to apply only to the weed. Contact your local Extension office for specific recommendations for your types of weeds. 

Now let’s get into some specifics. I’m going to provide the common name and scientific names so you can find more detailed information than I have time for here. 

PERENNIALS

Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensisi)

Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensisi)
Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensisi)

This is one of the most persistent weeds in the home garden. It’s not easy to eradicate. Remove it when young, scout numerous times a week and remove as much of the root system as possible. Herbicides in conjunction with pulling may be the best bet but control can take up to 3 years even with the use of herbicides. Root systems can be long (30’+) so do not let the plant grow and feed back into the root system. Try to pull before the plant flowers and produces seed (at the stage shown here is great), as bindweed seeds can live for up to 50 years. 

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Another perennial with deep, long lived root systems. Can grow rapidly and it is difficult to eradicate except through persistence. Remove when you see leaves emerging. If using herbicides, treat when young (as in the picture). Once they get more mature, they don’t take the pesticide up as well and control will be limited. Be sure to wear some tough gloves if removing manually as they are spiny and can poke through garden gloves. 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Commonly seen as both a garden friend and foe, the dandelion is a taprooted perennial. This means it has a root that looks like a carrot. Removing only part of the root will not eliminate the plant. Be sure to remove as much of the root as possible to get the best control. These are more common on the edges of the vegetable garden, and mulch can reduce the germination of new plants. If you’d like to keep a few as an early food source for pollinators, you can remove the flowers once they’ve closed and before they develop seed heads. 

ANNUALS:

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane is another weed that is friend or foe depending on your definition. It can produce up to 250,000 seeds that remain viable for up to ten years. Generally, this one is at least easy to control, pull before it flowers. You can use it as a tart addition to your summer salads. Because it is an annual it has a small root system and is easy to pull out by hand or with something like a stirrup hoe. 

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)

Lambsquarters are another that are weedy and common but can also be an addition to your spring garden salad if found early (before flowering). Control is going to be most effective when young as the root systems can get large and dense once more mature. Scout frequently. If an entire bed is overtaken with lambsquarters some herbicide control could be warranted. It’s easy to control, we need at least one like that!  

Pigweeds (redroot or prostrate are common) (Amaranthus spp.) 

Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.)
Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.)

Pigweeds are common but often overlooked in the vegetable garden when immature but can become many feet tall if allowed to grow. Pull young and they won’t come back. If they get large try to pull or remove before they develop seeds as seeds are long lasting. These are related to amaranth but don’t have the tasty qualities of the plant we grow for harvest. 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Grasses can be annual or perennial depending on type. If you use hay as a mulch this is a common annual weed. If you have turf creeping into your vegetable garden from your lawn, it’s likely perennial. Removing as you see growth and mulching for annual grasses are going to be your best bets for success in control. If your lawn tries to invade frequently you may consider a buffer or barrier. You can bury a metal “wall” to slow the grass or put in a wide strip of mulch at least 3-4” deep to keep the grass at bay. 

Whew! You made it through our whirlwind tour. There are many more weeds that we just didn’t have time to cover and so, as always, contact your local county Extension office if you have further questions. 


June 2022

June Gardening Tips from CSU Extension

by Cassey Anderson, Adams County CSU Extension

Watering, succession planting, planning the Fall garden 

There are many ways to successfully water a vegetable garden; overhead, drip irrigation, flood, hand watering. They all have benefits, although there are drawbacks for each as well, it’s up to your own space, the conditions and requirements of your garden space to determine what will work best for you. The basic principles of irrigation are that you want between 1-2” of water down on the crops and going 6-8” deep in the soil each week. Higher temperatures, dryer weather will mean a greater need for water, and alternately cool temperatures or precipitation will mean you can ease off the watering. It’s always good to test your soil before watering. Our fingers are excellent tools for determining soil moisture: put your finger in the soil up to your first knuckle and feel if the soil is moist underneath. If it is, you can likely hold back unless you’re seeing drooping from heat/dry. Be sure to let the soil dry out a little between irrigation as most vegetables don’t appreciate wet roots! 

OVERHEAD IRRIGATION
Overhead pros: this is one of the easiest, and lowest cost ways to water a garden, a hose and a sprinkler head that you can move around the space. Different types of sprinkler heads put water down differently. Fan sprinklers can cover a lot of area with a gentle large droplet type. Spot or circle sprinklers can put a lot of water down in a short period. In-ground systems can cover thoroughly if you’re converting a turf area into a vegetable garden. Overhead sprinklers can be especially effective in any garden system in helping to guarantee good seed germination and emergence. With an overhead system it can be easy to determine how much water you’re putting down (using several straight sided containers such as a tuna tin). 

A picture containing grass, outdoor sprinkler. Description automatically generated

Overhead cons: overhead can be wasteful, as much of the water can be lost to evaporation particularly in drier climates, or on windy days. Overhead irrigation can also promote disease in a plant. When the leaves and stems are regularly wet disease pathogens such as fungus, virus or bacteria can reproduce more effectively. Additionally, as plants get larger leaves and stems may grow up in front of the sprinklers potentially blocking uniform water movement to the ground.

DRIP IRRIGATION 

Seedling with drip irrigation 1/4" tubing

Drip irrigation pros: Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to get water to your plants. There are many different options for designing a drip irrigation system. Most nurseries and big box stores will stock plenty of drip irrigation supplies that put down water in the amounts you will need. There are some key components to drip irrigation namely: backflow preventer, pressure reducer and filter at the beginning of the system. After that you will typically use ½” black  or brown tubing which can feed ¼” drip tubes. The ¼” line can either have emitters built in at various spacings or can have emitters added on. If you ever did Lego or Kinex as a kid (or an adult), you, too can build your own drip system! For more details see https://youtu.be/H9nqeh29oHk.  

A picture containing drip irrigation, mulchDescription automatically generated

Drip irrigation cons: While much more efficient, drip is not a drop and go option, emitters need to be checked and maintained throughout the season and in between seasons. If you have hard water the emitters can get clogged as well. The system also will cost some money to get established. The components are plastic but are built with food-grade materials. They can be susceptible to UV damage. The solid plastic tubing will have more longevity than soaker hose lines. 

FLOOD IRRIGATION
Flood irrigation: much less common, but a very good way to get a lot of water in a space in a short amount of time. This is the least efficient system available for vegetable gardens, but common in some areas in the west with irrigation systems established. It can be made more efficient because the runoff water can be re-used. The ground will need to have a regular downward slope. 

HAND IRRIGATION
Hand Irrigation: hand irrigation is great if you have a very small area, and/or if you’re around a lot. It’s more effective for container gardening than for larger garden spaces. You need to ensure you’re really wetting the entire soil to at least a 6-8” depth, which can take a while if you’re using a watering can or even a hose with a sprayer. It’s a great option for getting seedlings established in their first 1-3 days after transplant. 

Finally, I wanted to discuss two of the best options for a successful full-season vegetable garden: succession planting and planting for a fall garden. 

SUCCESSION PLANTING

Succession planting is a great way to maximize the duration of harvest. It involves planting the same crop over the course of many weeks in the same space. So instead of planting 5 rows of lettuce that will all mature at the same time, you can plant one row every two weeks and get a longer season of harvest (plus not get overwhelmed with produce!). Don’t forget to make a plan to Donate! Plant two rows each time, and harvest one for your household needs, one to donate. 

FALL PLANNING
Fall gardens are also an excellent way to extend your harvest, and another form of succession planting. Many of our spring crops do well as a fall crop as well. Leafy greens, carrots, beets, peas etc. can all be planted in early to mid-July in most areas for a successful harvest in the fall before hard frosts begin. June is a great month to begin planning, ordering seeds and outlying your garden space. Because July is a very warm month you may need to take extra care with the seedlings to ensure good germination. Preventing soil crusting from drying out is very important for successful germination. This can be achieved with row cover, a thin layer of sand (prevents crusting), or regular light watering. 

As always, if you have specific questions for your garden space, reach out to your local Extension office! 


May 2022

May Gardening Tips from CSU Extension

by Cassey Anderson, Adams County CSU Extension

Vegetable Gardening in small spaces? Even if you don’t have a yard or outdoor space? Yes you can!

A picture containing outdoor, plant, gardenDescription automatically generated

There are so many ways you can get fresh vegetables, and for many you don’t even need all that much space. Growing can take place in any number of ways: small plots or containers both work. We’ll have a brief overview of growing indoors, on the porch or patio, in a small backyard in containers, and in ground planting in tight spaces.  

For any growing system you’ll need some material to grow in, a container to hold it, and access to water. You can grow nearly anything in a small space with enough willpower, but some things do grow better than others. Many seed companies have spent a lot of time and effort in the past few years to develop seed and plant varieties that are compact, that produce without taking up a lot of space. When looking for smaller options, seek out seeds or plants with names that include mini, micro, patio, petite, baby, dwarf, pixie etc. So, with that let’s dive into our different options!  

Indoors only!

If you have no outdoor space and no porch or patio you’re not out of luck. You can grow hydroponically with either a DIY system or a purchased hydroponic system. DIY systems can be inexpensive ($50-100) but a little more finicky to get started with. Purchased hydroponic kits tend to be more expensive ($250-1000) but come with support from the company, fertilizer schedules and guidelines and are fairly plug and play. If you don’t want to mess with hydroponics you can grow microgreens or other greens (lettuce, kale, spinach etc.) in an area with some natural light, and with supplemental LED lights to ensure good growth.  

Porch or patio pots

When growing on the porch or patio you’ll be seeking out medium sized containers. Generally, peppers and tomatoes need at minimum a one or two gallon pot (10-12” diameter) but will do better in something over 5 gallons (big box store 5 gallon buckets can work great if drainage is provided). You want to find a well-draining material to plant in such as potting soil. Avoid garden soil as it is designed to be dug into the ground. Many vegetables can thrive in a small container including peppers, chard, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash, root vegetables etc. It’s important to take into consideration the mature size of the plant and use the largest container you can fit for it. Root crops for example may not require a lot of width, but will require depth. Indeterminate tomatoes will need a much larger container that determinate tomatoes.  

No-digging!

If you have a small backyard but cannot dig into it then you can get larger containers. 15 gallon fabric pots are amazing for planting many desirable crops such as peppers, tomatoes, potatoes etc. You can also build raised containers that would allow gardening while seated in a chair, a more accessible way to reach your produce. Do be aware that raised containers, as well as containers in general, may dry out more quickly so regular irrigation is important.  

Planning how you will water your plants is important, drip irrigation is relatively inexpensive and can be automated if you’re not consistently home. However, if you only have a few containers you may choose to water manually. Ensure the plants are getting enough water for some to run out the bottom each watering cycle and let the surface get a little dry before you water again.  

Community gardens

Our final level of small space gardening is if you have a small plot in a community garden, or perhaps a small space in your yard. If you’ve not got a lot of space to work with you can grow vertically, and you can also practice block style planting. Vertical growing can be as simple as providing a vertical support for a bean plant to climb, or you can build trellis systems for vine crops such as cucumber, melon, or even pumpkins! If you are growing larger crops vertically you may need to create a support structure of some type (see the mesh on the squash image at right. Block style planting is a way to plant crops without as much space in between rows. So instead of rows of lettuce that are 6” apart in the row with 10” of space in between rows, you would plant the lettuce with 6” spacing within the block. This has many benefits such as keeping the soil cooler through shading, more efficient use of space, and easier harvests. See the following link for some great details on block style planting:   https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/713.pdf 

Hopefully this has inspired you to start your own small scale garden! If you have specific questions be sure to reach out to your local county Extension office. 


April 2022

April Gardening Tips from CSU Extension

by Cassey Anderson, Adams County CSU Extension

April is the month when many gardeners are really getting things going.

Perhaps you’ve planted some peas or kale in the vegetable garden already, perhaps you’re just getting things underway. Regardless, April is a busy month. You can plant your cool season crops: radish, spinach, lettuce, green onions etc. You can start warm season crops indoors: cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins etc.

What’s the difference between a warm season crop and a cool season crop?

Mostly it’s in the temperatures they’re willing to tolerate, and those that they will grow well in. Cool season crops can tolerate cold temperatures, and some can even tolerate light freezes (defined as anything between 28 F and 32 F). These crops are also typically done with their season by the time we really warm up in July. Many of these crops have produced their final fruit or bolted, i.e. gone to seed, once daytime temperatures go up into the high 80s or 90s. 


One thing that can be a little surprising for many of our cool season crops is that although they like to grow in cool temperatures, they germinate better and more quickly with warm temperatures. You can pre-germinate many of the cool season crops: peas, lettuce, kale, onions etc. Soak a paper towel and put it in a ziplock bag or other sealable container, place the seeds in with it for 12-24 hours at room temperature. You can get them warmer, many crops like to germinate between 70 and 80 F. See this Colorado Master Gardener Garden Note for specific crop temperatures:

https://cmg.extension.colostate.edu/Gardennotes/720.pdf.

You can get your perennial garden going as well: asparagus, rhubarb etc. are good to get started in mid- to late-April.  Perennial crops may take a few years to get their feet under them before harvest, but you can subsequently enjoy even decades of low-effort production. 

Planting asparagus

Asparagus can produce for over 15 years in a vegetable garden. You can start from seed but buying crowns will give you some time advantage. Choose a sunny, well-drained area, preferably somewhere not prone to freezes in your yard (not low-lying for example). Amend the soil with a well-rotted compost if needed. Plant crowns deeply in a 6-12” trench, cover lightly and bury as the crowns grow up. Place crowns “head to toe”, root tip to bud tip, typically with the crowns about 12” apart. Water regularly so the crowns do not dry out. Plant seeds about 1” deep, they may take up to 3 weeks to germinate. Mulch well for winter. Do not harvest for the first 1-3 years (sooner for crowns, longer for seeds), or until you begin to see numerous spears poking up. In the first year you should harvest for about two weeks and let the remaining spears turn into ferns that will feed back into the plant overall. In subsequent years you can harvest for 4-6 weeks, usually into mid-June or early July. 

If you have specific questions be sure to reach out to your local county Extension office. 


March 2022

March Gardening Tips from CSU Extension

by Cassey Anderson, Adams County CSU Extension

March is the start of many gardeners’ seasons, particularly if you’re starting a new garden, improving it, starting seeds, or even planting early season crops. Regardless of how involved you are in the garden; March is a great time to make plans for the season coming up.

If you’ve had a soil test and your nutrients and/or organic levels are below 3-5% it may be prudent to amend with compost. The type of compost will influence your choice for amendment type. A manure-based compost will be higher in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium etc. These, in excess in a soil, are also called salts. Plant-based compost will be lower in salts. You can amend more of the plant-based composts than the manure-based, levels will depend on need. See the chart below for approximate amendment values, reduce if your soil test shows higher salts or organic material. Incorporate compost into at least the top 6-8” of the soil, or crack into the soil with a broadfork if practicing limited tilling in your garden. If your organic material levels are over 5% it’s ok and even encouraged to take a year (or more!) off from amending your beds. More gardens are likely over-amended than under-amended. 

March is the ideal month to get your seed starting setup put together. Seed starting can be very basic (seed starting soil, water, container) or more elaborate for a better guarantee of success. To ensure the best start for your seeds you should seek out: sterile seed starting soil, good quality seeds, a heat mat, supplemental light, and containers that can help increase ambient humidity. Most seeds that can be started early will tell you how early to start. For example, tomatoes need to be started 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant in the soil. Be aware not to start too early as larger seedlings can be harder to transplant. 

Sterile media – important to eliminate seedling death from damping off, a common fungal pathogen present in soil 

a photo of a seed starter tray

Quality seeds – can be saved from good local sources (your local seed library) or purchased from commercial retailers. Be aware that there are currently no GMO products available to home sales, so don’t worry about sourcing GMO free seed, they all are. 

Heat mat – many seeds germinate OK at room temperature, but much better with an extra nudge. Peppers, for example, can take up to 4 weeks to germinate at low temperatures but may be as few as 2 weeks at 75-80 degrees F. 

cats on a heat mat

Supplemental light – LED lights reign supreme now for successful supplemental light, but if a new light is beyond your budget you can combine a cool and warm ballast in a traditional shop light. Just be sure to keep the light close to your young plants. 

Seed starting containers – can be repurposed or purchased. Low and flat containers are often the most ideal, especially those that have a lid or top. Repurposed salad bins can be a great way to go, or seed starting flats. Be sure to have some way to check moisture at the bottom or encourage drainage (see the algal growth that can happen with a little too much moisture below!). 

Timer – timers can ensure that you have good amounts of light (14-16 hours is great!) without having to remember to turn lights on/off. Heat mats should stay on 24 hours.

Check out seed starting on Grow & Give for a more in-depth discussion:  https://growgive.extension.colostate.edu/grow/general-gardening-info/ 

If you have specific questions be sure to reach out to your local county Extension office.